The Georgia father and son who are jailed on murder charges in the February shooting of Ahmaud Arbery have been denied bond.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley on Friday ordered that Gregory and Travis McMichael remain behind bars until trial, after prosecutors argued they had tried to interfere in the investigation.
The McMichaels have been jailed since their arrests in May, more than two months after Arbery was slain. The McMichaels, who are white, chased and fatally shot the 25-year-old black man after they spotted him running in their neighborhood just outside the port city of Brunswick.
The bond ruling followed a marathon two-day hearing in which the defendants brought forth character witnesses to testify that the father and son don’t harbor racist sentiment, while prosecutors introduced explosive text messages, and called on Arbery’s mother to deliver an emotional victim-impact statement.
At Friday’s hearing, prosecutor Jesse Evans showed the court a mysterious coded letter, saying the state had intercepted it in June when father Gregory McMichael tried to send it from behind bars.
Gregory McMichael (left) and Travis McMichael (right) react to the bond verdict on Friday in Georgia. A judge denied the bond and ordered them held until trial
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley on Friday denied bond for the father and son, citing an ‘absolutely indefensible explanation’ one witness gave for racist text messages
The father and son are charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery (left and right) in February
Gregory McMichael tried to send this mysterious coded letter from behind bars to witness Zachary Langford, prosecutors said. The letter was intercepted but its meaning is unknown
The letter was addressed to Zachary Langford, who appeared as a character witness for the defense in one of the hearing’s most memorable moments on Thursday.
Evans did not reveal whether investigators were able to decode the message, or any suggestion of what message it might contain.
The prosecutor pointed out that letters written in code are forbidden by the Glynn County Jail policies, and argued the letter demonstrated a ‘significant risk of intimidating witnesses and obstructing justice’.
He also argued that it called into question whether Gregory McMichael would be ‘willing to follow the rules of the court if bond conditions were imposed on him.’
On Thursday, Langford, who is Travis McMichael’s friend, took the stand and was questioned by the prosecutor about an incendiary text message exchange from November 2019.
Travis McMichael texted Langford about ‘shooting a crackhead c**n with gold teeth with a Hi-Point .45,’ according to the state.
Langford at first said he didn’t recall receiving the message. Then after reviewing a transcript of the exchange, he answered: ‘He was referring to a raccoon, I believe.’
‘A raccoon with gold teeth and a Hi-Point .45?’ the prosecutor asked, referring to the model of pistol. ‘He was being facetious,’ Langford replied.
Travis McMichael’s friend Zachary Langford (above) testified that McMichael’s November 2019 text message about ‘shooting a crackhead c**n with gold teeth’ was in reference to a raccoon
The envelope of Gregory McMichael’s coded letter to Langford was shown in court
Evans also cited a photo Langford posted to Facebook last year to which Travis McMichael replied: ‘Sayonara, ch**k f***s,’ using an offensive slur for Asians.
Defense attorneys for both McMichaels have denied any racist motives in the shooting. Right after the February 23 shooting, Gregory McMichael told police that he and his son armed themselves and got in a pickup truck to pursue Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar.
At the bond hearing, the defense attorneys also argued strenuously that the father and son had any intent to tamper with witnesses or obstruct justice.
Judge Walmsley was not convinced, however. ‘The court heard a lot of evidence,’ he said while delivering his ruling.
‘I have to comment on the record on what I found to be an absolutely indefensible explanation from one of the witnesses,’ he continued, referring to Langford’s ‘raccoon’ defense.
Walmsey said that Langford’s statement called into question the rest of his testimony, and ‘potentially other testimony’ from defense witnesses.
Regarding Gregory McMichael, Walmsey expressed concern that he ‘was willing to place the law in his own hands and felt that he had the ability to influence an ongoing investigation.’
The McMichaels have been jailed since their arrests in May. Above, they are seen conferring during the hearing, where they appeared via video link from the jail
On Thursday, Langford’s wife, Ashley Langford, testified that Travis McMichael expressed remorse about shooting Arbery.
‘He told me he wished it never happened like that,’ she said. ‘He prayed for Ahmaud’s mother and his family daily.’
However, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, took the stand and gave an emotional victim impact statement saying the McMichaels are ‘as dangerous today as they were on February 23’ and are ‘proud of what they have done’.
‘They tried to explain that they believed my son was a trespasser… that he was someone engaged in a criminal enterprise,’ she said.
She said the defendants believe ‘their defense of grabbing their guns, chasing, boxing my son in with their vehicles, pursuing him and eventually shooting him to death, ripping his body into pieces’ was ‘the right thing to do’ and she believes ‘if given the opportunity both men would do the same again.’
Cooper-Jones also told of her grief as authorities continued to find ‘pieces of her son’ in the street after his death.
‘Someone contacted my attorney on behalf of Glynn County this past spring during the course of the GBI’s secondary investigation,’ she told the court.
Wanda Cooper-Jones (center in July), mother of Ahmaud Arbery, gave an emotional victim impact statement where she pleaded with the court to deny the McMichaels’ bond request
‘They discovered what they believed to be one of Ahmaud’s bone fragments near to where he was murdered at Satilla Shores. They wanted to know what we wanted doing with those pieces of my son that they were still discovering in the street.’
Arbery’s mother urged the judge to deny the McMichaels’ request to be released on bond so they can return home to their families because they ‘refused to let [her son] go home.’
‘He ran this path many times and our home was just a light jog away. But, for him, no matter how he maneuvered, no matter how fast he ran or how quickly he turned, these men refused to let him go home,’ she said.
‘They should not go home now to prepare for their defense, to enjoy their children and grandchildren and be embraced by the community.’
She added: ‘Ahmaud wasn’t allowed to go home. Ahmaud wasn’t even allowed the chance to live.’
Cooper-Jones also told how she and her family ‘continue to suffer mentally and emotionally’ as they ‘wait for justice’, with her daughter Jasmine having just had her first baby without her brother ‘and best friend’ around.
Evans also read out an impact statement from Arbery’s father Marcus Arbery Sr. where he described the McMichaels as his son’s ‘judge, jury and executioner’.
Friends of the McMichaels also testified Thursday, saying they were willing to put up their homes as collateral for bail if the father and son were released before the trial.
Lee McMichael, wife of Gregory and mother of Travis, also took the stand, appealing for their release on bond pending trial
Lee McMichael, wife of Gregory and mother of Travis, also took the stand, appealing for their release and saying that Travis McMichael would never flee and abandon his three-year-old son.
‘He loves home, he loves his son, he will stand up to his responsibility and he wants his day in court,’ she said of her son on the stand.
She also testified that her husband had never shot anyone after working three decades as a Glynn County police officer and an investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit district attorney´s office .
Arbery’s killing stirred a national outcry in a year marked by protests over racial injustice.
An investigator testified previously that a third defendant, who took cellphone video of the shooting, heard Travis McMichael, 34, utter a racial slur after he blasted Arbery three times with a shotgun.
The McMichaels’ attorneys say that never happened, and that the third defendant was lying because he wanted to protect himself from prosecution.
They weren’t arrested until the cellphone video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case. Prosecutors say Arbery was merely out jogging.
In video of the killing, Arbery can be seen grappling with Travis McMichael over the shotgun and punching him before being shot at point-blank range
The video shows the truck stopping in the middle of a residential street and Travis McMichael getting out before Arbery tries to run around the vehicle.
Arbery can be seen grappling with Travis McMichael over the shotgun and punching him before being shot at point-blank range.
William ‘Roddie’ Bryan Jr, who shot the infamous video of the killing, was also charged with felony murder and attempted false imprisonment
Prosecutors say Arbery was no criminal but was merely out jogging and the McMichaels acted as ‘vigilantes’ motived by racist views. They also showed the judge photos of a home near the shooting scene that was damaged by gunfire.
‘You can interpret the video in a number of different ways,’ Judge Walmsley told attorneys while denying the men bond at the hearing Friday. ‘But the video tells me there´s a significant risk and danger to the community’.
In June, a grand jury indicted both McMichaels and a neighbor, William ‘Roddie’ Bryan, on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Travis McMichael’s attorneys, Robert Rubin and Jason Sheffield, wrote in court documents requesting bond that he lives with his parents, has a three-year-old son and doesn’t have a passport.
They cited his past service as a U.S. Coast Guard machine technician as proof of his character.
Travis McMichael is arrested in Brunswick, Georgia in May. The father and son were denied bail
Gregory McMichael is taken into custody in Brunswick, Georgia in May
Gregory (left) and Travis (right) McMichael have been jailed since their arrests in May, more than two months after Arbery was slain
‘In no way, shape or form is Travis hateful towards any group of people, nor does he look down on anyone based on race, religion or beliefs,’ Curt Hall, a former Coast Guard roommate of Travis McMichael who described himself as ‘multiracial,’ wrote in a letter supporting bond for his friend.
Gregory McMichael, 64, is a retired investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit district attorney’s office and a former Glynn County police officer.
The McMichaels’ attorneys also asked the judge to reject the indictment’s malice murder charge, saying it was written in a way that improperly ‘charges two crimes in one count.’
They made a similar argument for tossing out a charge of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Bryan was previously denied bond. His attorney has argued in court motions that the entire indictment should be dismissed.
No trial date has yet been set in the case.