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McMichael called the woman walrus, because she is big and black

Travis McMichael and his lawyer, Jason B. Sheffield, spoke last month when he was sentenced for a murder charge.
Travis McMichael and his lawyer, Jason B. Sheffield, spoke last month when he was sentenced for a murder charge.
After calling one person as a witness, the defense in the Arbery hate crimes trial is done.

Close arguments will be heard by a federal jury on Monday, and then they will decide whether the three men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery killed him because he was black.

Three white men were convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery because of their race. On Friday, the defense rested its case against the three men. They only called one witness.

Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor, William Bryan, didn't take the stand in their own defense.

The men were found guilty in a state court last year of running after and killing Mr. Arbery in their South Georgia neighborhood. Life in prison for all three. In the federal trial, they are charged with killing Mr. Arbery because he was black.

On Friday, only the lawyer for Gregory McMichael gave evidence to the jury. This was to support the defense's main point that the men chased Mr. Arbery because they thought he was going to break into homes in the area, not because of his race.

The only witness for the defense was a woman who lived in the Satilla Shores neighborhood where the defendants lived and where Mr. Arbery died. She told the court that in 2019 she saw a white man who looked suspicious under a bridge near the entrance to the neighborhood. It was the lawyer for Mr. McMichael, A.J. Balbo, who played the recording of a call Mr. McMichael made to the police this summer after he saw a white man under the bridge and thought he was suspicious and might have been involved in a lot of the burglaries in the area. There have been a lot of break-ins in the area recently, and the defendants have said that they were on guard because of this.

An advocate for Mr. Arbery's family said they were not sure about that argument.

In court, Lynn Whitfield, a senior lawyer with the Transformative Justice Coalition who has been sitting with Mr. Arbery's family, said that the defense tried to use this witness to show that their clients weren't racist. They called the police on a white man because they were concerned about crime, but just because you called the police on a white person doesn't mean you're not racist, she said. With guns, they did not chase the white man around the neighborhood until he died.

As he was being tried for murder, William Bryan looked at video footage from the day that Ahmaud Arbery was killed.
As he was being tried for murder, William Bryan looked at video footage from the day that Ahmaud Arbery was killed.

The jury has to decide if the men took away Mr. Arbery's right to use a public street because he was black, not if they killed him. Another charge against the men is that they tried to kidnap a woman. The McMichaels are each charged with one count of using a weapon in a violent crime, as well. If they're found guilty, they could spend the rest of their lives in prison. It would be bad for the men if their state convictions were overturned on appeal.

Prosecutors had called 20 witnesses and shown many pieces of evidence over three and a half days, including text, WhatsApp and Facebook messages and comments with racist language that the men sent and posted. On Friday, the defense called a witness.

Kristie Ronquille was one of the witnesses for the defense. She testified on Friday morning.

Her supervisor in the Coast Guard in Pascagoula, Miss., Travis McMichael, made racist remarks about Black people after learning that she had previously dated a Black man, Ms. Ronquille told the New York Daily News. On the stand, Ms. Ronquille broke down and said that after Mr. McMichael called her a "N-word lover," he called her that more than once after that.

After Amy Lee Copeland asked Travis McMichael's lawyer, Amy Lee Copeland, why she didn't report him, Ms. Ronquille said she was new to the Coast Guard.

"It would be like telling on your boss," she said. People who know your boss:

Prosecution also called Kim Ballesteros, a neighbor of the McMichaels, on Friday. She said she remembers standing at the end of a driveway and telling Gregory McMichael that she had a new rental home. McMichael told her about his tenant, a Black woman who had lived in his home. He told her that he had turned off the woman's air-conditioning in the summer to make her pay her rent, but she didn't pay.

She says that Mr. McMichael said, "You should have seen how quickly her big fat Black ass came with the rent check." Because the woman was "big and black," she said, Mr. McMichael called her a "walrus."

Ms. Ballesteros said, "I didn't expect that." The racist and uncomfortable thing made me feel bad, and I was also disappointed.

It was Gregory McMichael's lawyer, Mr. Balbo, who said Ms. Ballesteros kept in touch with Mr. McMichael even after the incident.

An other person who was there, Carole Sears, said that she heard Gregory McMichael "rant" about Black people after learning that Julian Bond was a civil rights leader who had died. During that time, Mr. McMichael was an investigator for the local district attorney's office, and she was riding in his car because she was involved in a legal case in Brunswick, Ga. This is how it works: Ms. Sears was sad that Mr. Bond died, but Mr. McMichael was happy, she said. This is what Mr. McMichael said: "I wish that guy had been dead years ago." Those black people are a mess, and I wish they all died.

Because she was afraid, Ms. Sears said that she didn't talk for the rest of the car ride.

This week, defense lawyers said that their clients used racist language, but they also said that using such language doesn't mean that the men killed Mr. Arbery because he was Black.

Balbo said that the men chased Arbery "not because he was Black, but because he was the man," and that was the reason.

On Monday, the jury will hear the last arguments from the government and the people who are being sued.


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