BRUNSWICK, Ga. (Reuters) – A jury was shown videos on Thursday of Ahmaud Arbery walking around a vacant property on earlier visits to the mostly white southern Georgia neighborhood where the Black man was chased and shot by three white men who are now on trial for murder.
The videos were pulled from surveillance cameras installed in an unoccupied, half-built house in Satilla Shores that plays a crucial role in the case. Arbery visited the site multiple times at night in the months before his death, the final visit taking place just minutes before he was shot.
“I got a trespasser,” Larry English, the property owner, said in a call to police after the first recorded visit made by Arbery on the night of Oct. 25, 2019, which was played in Glynn County Superior Court on Thursday.
Gregory McMichael, 65; his son Travis McMichael, 35; and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, have pleaded not guilty to murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment. They face life in prison if convicted of murder.
The visits to the unoccupied property have become a central part of the defense case.
The McMichaels say they were aware of reports of an unidentified Black man wandering around the property and that Travis McMichael had even glimpsed Arbery on the property on an earlier visit in February.
They thought Arbery might have been that same man when he ran past the McMichaels’ driveway in Satilla Shores on Feb. 23, 2020. Prosecutors say Arbery was an avid runner out for a Sunday afternoon jog.
The men pursued Arbery in pickup trucks before the younger McMichael pointed a shotgun and fired as Arbery ran toward him and reached at the weapon. Their lawyers say this was justified self defense.
In a video deposition recorded in September and played to the jury, English said he had been slowly building his riverside house in Satilla Shores.
“My dream was to have a place on the water,” he said. He knew local kids sometimes roamed about the property, which was unfenced. He testified that he worried about people having an accident around the boat dock out back so installed surveillance cameras that sent videos to his phone.
The clip of Arbery walking around the dock during the visit in October 2019 was played, along with a recording of the call English made to police to report a trespassing “colored guy” with tattoos on his arms and curly hair. English told police the man may have been drunk or on drugs as he was “plundering around” the property.
In the deposition, English said he decided soon after that it was more likely the man was not intoxicated but moving cautiously in the dark in a way that looked odd on the night-vision video.
Nothing was taken that night, English said. A clip from November showing a man and woman, both white, wandering through the property at night was also played, along with the call English made to police to report them.
Videos of three other night-time visits made by Arbery in November, December and February were played. Some fishing equipment and a cooler had gone missing from one of English’s boats at some point, but nothing was taken on the days Arbery was seen there, English said.
English showed the clips of Arbery to some of his neighbors, and the McMichaels have said they knew about the reports of an unknown Black man roaming around the English property when Arbery ran by their driveway on Feb. 23, 2020.
English said he sometimes made friendly chitchat with the McMichaels, and that he had never met or spoken with Bryan.
He said he asked only one neighbor to keep an eye on his property, and it was not any of the defendants. He later heard that Travis McMichael had joined that neighbor and called 911 during the visit Arbery made on the night of Feb. 11, 2020, to report an unfamiliar Black man on the property.
English has also said through a lawyer that he later concluded that Arbery had been stopping by for a drink of water from a faucet on his property, which was not in the view of any of the surveillance cameras.
(This story was refiled to include dropped word ‘in’ in headline.)
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Alistair Bell)