On Thursday, during preliminary hearings in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, an investigator revealed damning evidence against Travis and Greg McMichael and William Bryan, the three men charged with Arbery’s death.
Richard Dial, the special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, testified that William Bryan heard Travis McMichael utter a racial slur moments after shooting Arbery, according to the New York Times. Bryan was the man responsible for filming the graphic video of Arbery’s death.
Dial noted that McMichael had a history of using the slur on social media, replying to a message on Instagram by saying things would be better if “blown that N-word’s head off,” CNN reports. It’s not clear who McMichael was referring to in that message. The Department of Justice has opened a hate crime investigation into the case, according to Arbery family attorney S. Lee Merritt, potentially making the revelation about the slur even more notable. The hearings are taking place to find if probable cause exists to support the charges against the three men.
Investigators also provided a detailed timeline of what happened in the moments leading to Arbery’s death. While the video released gave the impression that Arbery was on a jog before being confronted, CNN reports that the men engaged in a prolonged chase of Arbery. Bryan has repeatedly stated that his participation in Arbery’s death was limited only to recording the video. Dial’s testimony stands in contrast to that assessment.
William Bryan joined the chase after witnessing the McMichaels pursue Arbery in front of Bryan’s home. Dial says that Bryan made multiple statements to investigators about trying to block Arbery from escaping. “His statement was that Mr. Arbery kept jumping out of the way and moving around the bumper and actually running down into the ditch in an attempt to avoid his truck.” Dial said.
As Travis and Greg McMichael attempted to head him off, Arbery turned and ran past the truck of William Bryan, who filmed the killing, and Bryan struck Arbery with the side of his truck, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Dial said.
Investigators found a swipe from a palm print on the rear door of Bryan’s truck, cotton fibers near the truck bed that “we attribute to contact with Mr. Arbery” and a dent below the fibers, he said.
Though Bryan’s attorney has contested allegations his client took part in the killing, Dial said Bryan first became involved by yelling to the McMichaels, “Do you got him?” when he saw them chasing the 25-year-old jogger. The McMichaels and Bryan have not entered pleas, but lawyers for all three men have proclaimed their innocence.
Dial pushed back against the notion that Travis McMichael was acting in self-defense when he shot Arbery. “I believe Mr. Arbery was being pursued, and he ran till he couldn’t run anymore, and it was turn his back to a man with a shotgun or fight with his bare hands against the man with the shotgun. He chose to fight. ... I believe Mr. Arbery’s decision was to just try to get away, and when he felt like he could not escape he chose to fight.” Dial said in his testimony.
On Feb. 23, Arbery was out for a jog in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Ga., when Travis and Greg McMichael armed themselves and gave chase after seeing Arbery. The men believed Arbery was responsible for a series of break-ins at a nearby construction site. Travis McMichael confronted Arbery with a gun, which resulted in Arbery being shot three times and dying on the scene.
Much controversy has surrounded the handling of the case. The three men weren’t arrested and charged until May after three months had passed and two prosecutors recused themselves from the case due to conflicts of interest. Gregory and Travis McMichael face charges of felony murder and aggravated assault. Bryan faces charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. All three men are currently being held in Glynn County Jail.