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Inside Politics

Defense Delivers Closing Arguments in Arbery Murder Trial. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 22, 2021 - 12:00   ET



JASON SHEFFIELD, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: And then his dad says go back and I'm not going back there. I'll go from - around the home. And that's what he does, he drives around.

Now his dad is in the back of the truck. His dad is old and infirmed, he's sitting on this bench in the back of the truck. Travis says he's going with his foot on the brake pretty much, three or four miles an hour, drives all the way around, thinking, I'm not going to go back into this mess down here. I'll drive around.

And when he drives around, you've now learned about this dogleg, that black line, essentially, is the dog that you can't see past it. Travis tells you the first thing he sees is Mr. Arbery, doing a U turn right there at the crest of that turn. What does he do? He watches.

Does he drive at him? No. Does he try to tackle him? No. Did you just put a shotgun at him? No. Does he yell at him? No. He's trying to continue to assess the situation in a reasonable prudent fashion. Then he drives across the dogleg comes all the way the industry and he sees Mr. Arbery again with this truck, again, with this truck tangled up with this truck.

And what looks like again, aggression at the truck. So Travis stops, he stops. He's thinking to himself, why is this guy not running through this open yard? This is Satilla right here. This is Holmes. This is where he sees the truck. What is with it that this guy's not going this way who and who is that truck?

What's happening? Instead, they both run around Travis back up around the dogleg. Travis says, OK, I'm watching, I'm looking, and I'm going to pull forward stop in my car at the end of the street. And I'm just going to take up a spot right here. I'm going to take up a spot here. I know that he's currently not over here. I know he's not behind me. I can see my house right there. I can see up Satilla drive.

And I'm looking up Holmes. I'm just going to take up residence right here. And I'm going to watch to see what happens next. Because maybe this guy will come back and we can stop him. Or maybe he'll just keep running that way. Maybe he'll keep running that way. And I can tell the police. I'm pretty sure he's not this way. Pretty sure he's not over here. He's not there. He's headed that way. What he doesn't know is that Mr. Arbery is turning around, up on the other side of the dogleg and this is where our video picks up with Ronnie Bryan by now it should be clear, Travis doesn't even know where Ronnie Bryan is to save it Ronnie Bryan's turn up there and end to follow him.

Travis has no idea what's happening behind the blind side of that curve. And still doesn't know who this truck is and why this gentleman is interacting with it in the way that he is. But this is what's happening unbeknownst to Travis, Mr. Arbery turns around you, you get a quick glimpse of what's up the street. And it isn't Travis McMichael's' truck.

It isn't there. It's because it's all the way back down homes near Satilla. The state is going to play the recording that you heard of Mr. Bryan, turning, driving and revving and doing all this stuff. This will be the third interaction that Mr. Arbery will have coming at this truck. And Mr. Bryan is freaked out to say the least.

So freaked out, he drops his phone. This is where the phone drops. In goes pitch black for about a minute. And in this time, you'll hear sounds you'll hear engine noise, you'll hear turning, you'll hear shifting, you'll hear seatbelts clanking, you'll hear the three point turn eventually he says well, you know what, I'm going to head back that way.

But what you don't hear on that phone even after audio enhancement, even after any kind of working with audio specialists and digital specialists, you'll never ever hear any yelling and no communication between Travis and Greg. The state wants you to think that it's at this moment.

Greg McMichael drives by and says I'm going to blow your GT head off. Like he said it you'd heard you've been on that telephone and they'd have played it for you. It isn't there. So Ronnie Bryan is all the way up this blue mailbox down here closer up picture is where Mr. RB turns around.

This is the demonstration video was - and this is Mr. Bryan's actual video. This is how far up the road he is. This is the minute that he's been with this phone down on the floor. And in this minute, two times Mr. Arbery is going to run towards Travis. First time, turn around and go back in the second time he'll turn around and go back and that's where that video will pick him up on the second time.


SHEFFIELD: So the first time Ahmad Arbery comes across that dogleg he's coming at Travis. At this moment he's looking into Travis's eyes. And he's coming at him and ultimately is going to get within 10 feet of him running. While Travis is saying, stop, do not come any closer. Stop right there, stop.

No gun in his hand, just saying stop, do not come any closer. At this moment, Travis has already had his experience, obviously, where he reached for the gun before where he was acting bold; he's not going to forget that he's not going to forget that he just saw what looked like attacking this truck.

Acting violent, being bold. And none of what he experienced that day will be forgotten, trying to talk to him. We want to talk to you what's going on. You've called the police and noting that he's not acting right, something is off and dad saying going back there. He said no way. I'm not going back to that. But now, he's running at Travis.

We have proof that he was on that truck, because his palm print is right there. And it's consistent with a right thumbprint right there. That's just one piece of proof that his hands were on the door that supports Travis his belief that he was trying to get into that truck. And here he comes. And Travis finally takes a stand and says do not come any closer to me.

Ultimately, Travis when he gets about 10 feet, reaches into the truck like this. And that's what causes Mr. Arbery turn. He runs all the way back. Travis testified I ran to him for about 10 yards. I don't know because my main concern is this guy's got a gun. We're trying to avoid the whole situation from happening. So he watches there are two options here.

There's watching him until the police arrive and giving directions and there's also stopping them. But he's not going to chase him to stop him. But he is going to try to stop him and detain him, especially when he's coming at him. So he watches again, taking up looking out trying to be ready.

And by the way, where are the police? Where are they? They should be here by now. When he says to his dad, where are the heck of the places did you call the police? No, I don't have my cell phone on me. Like what dad?

Yes, the half the number gives it listens gives it to him. Again, it's what it's what they do; they call the police and now - coming back for the second time. Travis felt and it was through rehabilitation on redirect examination that we learn during his interview with no hilly, he was telling no hilly the same things.

There's something not there he did it. He's not the stillness, not connecting it up. Something's not right. I'm telling him to quit stop coming at me. I see where it's going. The second time around, I see where this is going. And by the way he was acting prior to I don't I don't know if he had a weapon on him.

An aggravated assault, by the way, is a felony that can be committed by the use of fists the threat of the use of a dangerous object or weapon, the threat of it the intent to use your fist to create serious bodily injury. Fists are that weapon.

And right now, as Ahmaud Arbery was running toward Travis B. Michael he could have a gun, and he definitely has fists, and he's coming straight at him after being told the first time to stop and turn around and didn't do it until Travis had to reach inside his car that has now put him on alert. The second time that Mr. Arbery comes down the street Travis says he gets 30 to 40 feet from him. He's afraid that he will be on him in a matter of seconds. He is afraid that he will beat him with his fists or whatever weapon he might have. And he's scared.

And so he's done what he thinks the law allows him to do, which is to try to de-escalate that approach by showing force; showing force necessary to prevent Travis himself or his father from getting beaten and possibly killed. And so he raises the gun.


SHEFFIELD: And he does it to defend himself to protect himself. They call a 21 foot rule so he was a little early; he was in 30, or 40. But he did it because he was afraid. And what happens is it causes a reaction from Ahmaud, he changes from the left side of the road to the right. But then he starts coming back at Travis across the road again, and then gets even closer.

He starts on the left, it causes him to change. But then he comes back again. Once the gun is down, he comes back again. And changes to the left side of the road and now we see him going back over toward the right. Now, Travis, this is his truck looking down on it. Travis is here, originally in the door jamb.

But he told you, as Mr. Arbery came closer; you did this and may have changed direction. Now he's coming. He's wavering on the road. And so Travis is walking away. He's backing up. He's not charging at him. He's backing up to try to create space and distance. He has this gun here.

And he is literally watching him. We see his foot plant right there. And Travis is thinking to himself. Please turn. Please turn please turn. What he told y'all what he told no hilly, please turn into this yard. Please don't come at me. I am backing up.

I'm just trying to keep an eye to make sure you please don't come at me. And as he comes around to the far side of the truck, he can't see him. He's backed up over here. But so he's stepped up over here to try to get a look at what's happening because he's afraid that Mr. Arbery is going to be down or finally go for the gun or seek cover or something.

Please turn please turn. Please go off into this yard. He never ever left his driveway that day thought that things would in this way. Not ever. He told us I'm on the left side of my truck. I'm waiting for him to get by. He told us if he would have run by me no problem, I was giving him the opportunity to run by me.

Travis doesn't have a duty to retreat. He's allowed to stay where he thinks he is lawfully allowed to be and to try to defend himself and others. And then Ahmaud takes that turn this turn this one and you'll see his feet comes his elbow raises and Travis is thinking that this guy gets a hold of my shotgun.

This is not going to end well. He's going to end up with a shotgun and kill me. Travis is thinking my son. Ahmaud comes around, squares up and you will see Travis' head is right there. His head never comes past that seat post but you will see Ahmaud come across to Travis in the first shot happens right over here.

You could watch up top as he moves across. You see the white shirt moving across in between those two headrest and you see Travis's head never comes beyond that front end of his truck it's all appear with the T-shirt right here.

His head is down he's in full charge. First shot has already happened. You can see the same movement under the truck. If you look here, this is the shadow. It's kind of eventually becomes kind of circular like a stop sign. But you'll see it moving in between these wheels right here. See there it is moving back coming forward coming all the way across.

Charging with his feet Travis is trying to brace himself. Is there any question that Ahmaud Arbery had his hands on this firearm? Any question at all. Travis in his interview, told you. I was under shock. I was under stress. I don't know if he had a gun.

I think he did. I think he did. I think he had my shirt. I think he was punching me. Travis is in a state of disrepair there's no question that Ahmaud's hands are on this gun.


SHEFFIELD: And the medical examiner from that stand told you that if Ahmaud Arbery is grabbing this gun and trying to pull it away, that as the gun gets pulled out of his hands and fired, it could fire right on that wrist and shoot into the chest and go across the body.

Pull it straight out. No question. This is about this man. Travis turns into a mob trying to use his entire body pulls the end of the shotgun away from him gets pushed across the road into the grass and the second shot goes off. Here's the plume and it's believed that it didn't hit Mr. Arbery.

Travis coming out of the grass now trying to yank this gun from Mr. Arbery again trying to yank it away from him Ahmaud's hands still on it Ahmaud's fist now raising. Is there any question that Ahmaud Arbery is assaulting Travis McMichael right before that third shot? Not one single bit of question.

And that third shot those off. And these two minutes end where they started face to face looking into each other's eyes. Never a word being spoken by Mr. Arbery and it is absolutely horrific and tragic that this has happened. And again, this is where the law is intertwined with heartache and tragedy.

You are allowed to defend yourself. You are allowed to use force that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, if you believe it's necessary. At that moment Travis believed it was necessary. This is a law that is for a person in Travis's situation.

And you can do it to prevent death to yourself or a third person or to prevent the condition of a forcible felony like aggravated assault. Aggravated assault is a felony which can occur by use of fists. Greg McMichael, with a hip replacement, heart attack, stroke back of that truck Travis was afraid for him.

If this was a case about wanting to murder a black jogger, if this was really a case about that Travis would not have reacted the way he reacted. It was described to you by Brooke Perez (ph), she talked about how he totally freaked out he looked? How totally discombobulated he was? And she was right.

The officer saying; just breathe, just breathe. Take a minute just breathe. Calm down. I know. I know, just hold on a second. It was from that spot to this spot within just an hour and a half of what had happened, where he would be brought for several hours of questioning.

He was afraid. He was in shock because adrenaline was still going through his body. You guys know how fear and worry works. You sat here through jury selection all day and probably felt that just by getting asked questions for an hour.

Travis testified even though he didn't have to; the judge will give you the law that cloaks Travis in sort of a shield of silence. You don't have to testify. You are presumed innocent. You have the right to remain silent. State has to prove that you did that you don't have to get up there and testify.

He did because he wanted you to understand what happened from him. He told you about the thefts and the burglaries, the totality of the facts, why he believed what he did? But he wanted to follow him that he wanted to talk to him that he wanted to stop him for the police to detain him.


SHEFFIELD: Don't be fooled by this word arrest you don't have to announce you're under arrest. He told you why he raised the gun because he was afraid that he would be on him within seconds. And the gun did exactly what he hoped it would be deterred him. And why ultimately, he shot?

The state wants to criticize Travis for testifying. The thought of this example is the state was talking about bias and prejudice, Travis a liar. He's a liar, because he has everything to gain by testifying here. He's got to lose by testifying. We are judgmental people.

He's got two hours to tell you what happened at the risk of all of you sitting in judgment of him and saying I don't believe him. He's got everything to lose. But should he be labeled as so biased because the state indicted him for murder, and brought this case to a trial, where he has the right to testify if he wants to?

Should we label him biased and motivated and a liar because he took the stand - how about I say to any of you, prove your name; prove to me what your name is? I'm going to make up a name since we're not naming you or not identifying you. My name is Patricia. OK, Patricia, prove your name is Patricia. Well, OK. My mother, I'll bring my mother into court. What are we going to say about your mother? Well, of course, she wants to help you prove your name is Patricia because she's your mother. She loves you. She's on your side.

That's how that works. Well, here's a piece of paper that says my name - this piece of mail that says my name is Patricia. Well, of course you bring that document where that comes from? You could have doctored that up. This kind of stuff, while credibility is for you to determine this whole assuming that somebody is biased simply because they elect to come and tell you what happened is a game. It's an unfair game.

I wanted to show you the law about arrest and what it says that it doesn't require you actually announcing that you are under arrest. It's doing any seizing or taking or detaining, either by touching or by any act indicating an intention. Stop where you are stop right now. And at the last moment, he said stop and get on the ground.

Even along Holmes, or Burford stop. He was trying to detain them. Travis could have not got in his car. Travis could have told his dad, it's not going to work today, Dad, you can't sit in a baby seat. Let's just go back inside.

Travis could have watched a mod run down the road; he could have done everything other than what actually happened. And he could have done any of that, and wishes that he would have. But that does not mean that his actions on that day weren't rooted in the law that enabled him to go out there based on everything he knew to do what he did that day.

Travis could have is another red herring. It's a flawed argument to take you off and to make you feel emotional about this case that we would be here but for - but for - but for? Well, of course that's true. But then we could go back and say Travis wouldn't be here but for his grandparents, taking his mother and father, but for is loose. That is not what we're talking about here.

We're talking about probable cause totality of circumstances, actual events. But for some - goosey illegitimate term, we will not see it in the definition of probable cause. Travis told you understanding that what he could have done differently that day would mean that Ahmaud Arbery was still alive.

He told you I know that. I know that I killed somebody and meet him and our families we will never be the same. And he carries that with him every day.

The murder charge along with the felony murder charge, the intentional acts, that's what those are broken down to? Intentionally choosing to commit a crime that either intends to take the life of somebody or ultimately takes the life of somebody the only time in this case where life was in danger was at the very end of Holmes when with Mr. Arbery chose to cut that turn and go all the way across the front of that truck.

[12:25:00] SHEFFIELD: Every time they encounter each other on this road three times in front of Ronnie Bryan's house. Two times at the end, two times down here, if he wanted to kill him, that's just a nonsensical argument. This was not about taking someone's life that day.

Mr. Rubin (ph) mentioned to you in his opening statement about duty and responsibility. And I agree with that. Travis felt a duty and responsibility. He has felt it when he served with the Coast Guard; he felt it to his community. And he felt it on this day, on the 23rd of February.

And he felt it during this trial; he took the stand and testified he felt it was his duty and responsibility to do that. The state too has a duty and responsibility. They have a responsibility to be honest with you to incorporate all of the facts and take on their burden.

The state spent two thirds of their opening argument saying what we were going to say. It was like two kids getting in trouble. And the first one that gets to the parent says so and so did something and the parent needs to say well hold on a second, let's hear from the other child.

They have a duty to you to prove under the law that Travis at the time he raised that gun was not in fear. That at the time Travis shot Mr. Arbery as he came across the front of that car and held a gun and punched him that he was not in fear of receiving a serious injury or death.

And they have a duty to prove to you that when Travis stopped to talk to Ahmaud that he did so to commit a felony of aggravated assault. It's every time you're walking your neighborhoods, and he pulls up a truck next to you and says hi or hey, they've committed an aggravated assault, or false imprisonment.

Where's the evidence of that? Last duty that is here is yours. And this is a very, very tough. You all understand and I will not be labeled the links that we have gone to, to meet you to understand who you are, to understand your background, to understand the thoughts that you have about certain things.

And the way that we communicate with each other for several hours to arrive at the point where we felt in our hearts and our minds, that you all would carry the banner of the duty and the responsibility that is yours as jurors. This courtroom is sacred. It is our last place for truth.

It is where we pull it from the witnesses if we have to. And we present it to you. And we ask that you hold dear and that you accept your duty to not erode the law as you sit here and think about what the law allows a citizen to do. It is going to take courage.

It's going to take courage to set aside what you think and feel what may be trying to penetrate you from other sources that you have tried to do your best to avoid. And to focus on the bare facts of this case that have been captured on photograph and on video that have been testified to in this court. It will take courage. In every count in this case, you're going to be asked to make a decision about each person accused Travis McMichael will have his form - Ronnie Bryan has and you will be given the option every one of these charges for not guilty or guilty. The evidence that's been demonstrated to you I think is overwhelming.

But it doesn't come without hardship on you consequence for these families. I think the evidence is clear in this case. Travis had spent nine years in Coast Guard, Search and Rescue Policing the water sometimes 200 feet offshore going into situations that were very difficult working with law enforcement reaching out and extending his hand as a firefighter, law enforcement officer combination.

For the first time in his life Travis is now in those waters.