December 3, 2021

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Georgia man who called police on Ahmaud Arbery describes ‘shocking scene’ in the street after shooting – USA TODAY

6 min read
  • Matthew Albenze was the first witness who is not a police officer to testify in the murder trial of father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan.
  • Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Arbery’s father, spoke outside the Georgia courthouse, calling it “concerning” that the jury doesn’t reflect the diversity of the county.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A man who called police to report Ahmaud Arbery inside a house under construction testified Wednesday, giving jurors a new perspective of what happened moments before Arbery was chased down by three other men and fatally shot.

Matthew Albenze, who has lived in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick for more than 30 years, said that minutes after he called the police nonemergency number, he heard shots and came across a “shocking scene,” where Arbery’s body was splayed on the road.

Albenze is the first witness who is not a police officer to testify in the murder trial of father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan. Travis McMichael shot Arbery at close range in February 2020, and Bryan captured the incident on a cellphone video.

Albenze said he was splitting wood in his front yard early last year when he saw a stranger standing in front of a neighbor’s house under construction. Albenze said the neighbor, Larry English, had once showed him a video of someone walking around the open construction site, and Albenze believed it to be the same man.

“He was just standing there looking around,” Albenze said. 

Ahmaud Arbery:Greg McMichael didn’t know if Arbery had a gun, but ‘I don’t take any chances,’ he told police

Albenze said he went into his house, grabbed his phone and a pistol, and came back outside. That’s when he saw the man inside the siteand called the police nonemergency number. He testified he didn’t call 911 because he “did not see an emergency.”

Prosecutors played a recording of Albenze’s phone call in court on Wednesday. An operator can be heard asking Albenze if the man was breaking into the house, and Albenze can be heard telling the operator that the man was not breaking in.

“No, it’s all open,” Albenze said.

The operator asks: “OK, what is he doing?”

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski shows a video of Ahmaud Arbery entering a house under construction during the trial of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan in the Glynn County Courthouse, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga.

“He’s running down the street,” Albenze says.

The operator adds: “I just need to know what he was doing wrong. Was he just on the premises and not supposed to be?”

Albenze responds: “He’s been caught on camera a bunch before at night. It’s kind of an ongoing thing out here.”

Albenze said he did not call the McMichaels or communicate with them in any way. 

Meanwhile, the McMichaels got in a truck and pursued Arbery.

“In a few minutes, I heard gunshots,” said Albenze, who reported hearing three gunshots.

Travis McMichael, left, listens to his attorney Robert Rubin during a recess in his trial in the Glynn County Courthouse, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Travis McMichael along with his father Greg McMichael and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

Albenze told the court he rode his bicycle down the street to see what happened and came upon Arbery’s body, a police car and Travis and Gregory McMichael.

“I stopped and went home. It was kind of a shocking scene,” Albenze said.

On cross-examination, defense attorneys questioned Albenze on why he felt compelled to call police in the first place. Albenze said he was part of a neighborhood Facebook group where residents were posting about property crimes in the area.

Asked if he was concerned about property thefts in Satilla Shores, Albenze said, “Of course. … It’s our home.” Albenze said he was also aware of car break-ins in the neighborhood.

‘I didn’t hit him. I wish I would have,’ William ‘Roddie’ Bryan told police.

Stephan Lowrey, a former Glynn County police officer who led the investigation, spent much of the afternoon testifying about his interview with Bryan.

Bryan told Lowrey he angled his truck at Arbery multiple times and tried to steer him off the road. Prosecutors had Lowrey read statements from Bryan aloud from a transcript of the interview.

Bryan said he believed Arbery was trying to get into his truck at one point during the chase, and Lowrey later found fingerprints and white fibers on the driver’s side door of the vehicle.

“But I didn’t hit him,” Bryan told Lowrey. “I wish I would have, might have took him out and not got him shot.”

William "Roddie" Bryan listens to opening statements in the trial of the accused killers of Ahmaud Arbery at the Gwynn County Superior Court on November 5, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia.

When asked if the shooting had anything to do with Arbery being Black during a lengthy cross-examination, Lowrey said no.

Lowrey also agreed with defense attorney Kevin Gough that if he believed Bryan deliberately attacked Arbery or committed a felony like aggravated assault with a motor vehicle, he would have read him his Miranda rights during the interview.

“That wasn’t the way I interpreted it at the time, though,” he said.

Also Wednesday:

  • Kellie Parr, who grew up in a house near where Arbery was shot, testified that she had been visiting her parents in late December or early January when she drove by a house under construction and saw a tall Black man standing in the doorframe. Parr said she wondered what the man was doing there but thought to herself, “No Kellie, don’t be racist.”
  • Investigator Roderic Nohilly with the Glynn County Police Department told prosecutors he spoke briefly to Gregory McMichael after the shooting, with McMichael describing Arbery as being “trapped like a rat.” “His (Arbery’s) intention was to grab that shotgun and probably shoot Travis,” McMichael told Nohilly, who said he has known McMichael professionally for at least 16 years.

Ben Crump, Rev. Al Sharpton raise concerns over predominantly jury

The trial has drawn scrutiny over the nearly all-white jury considering charges against the three white men accused of killing Ahmaud, who was Black. Several public figures have called Arbery’s killing a “lynching,” and Judge Timothy Walmsley has acknowledged the “racial overtones” of the case.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Arbery’s father, were in the courtroom Wednesday. As Nohilly testified, Crump spoke outside the courthouse, calling it “concerning” that the jury doesn’t reflect the diversity of the county.

In Brunswick, more than 55% of residents are Black, and more than 26% of residents in Glynn County are Black, according the U.S. Census Bureau. One Black man is serving on the jury.

Who’s on the jury? Here’s what we know about them

While jurors are told to follow evidence and the law as instructed by the court, Crump said they are told they can use their life experiences and perspectives.  

“When they do that, do they understand the life experiences of Ahmaud? His background? His culture?” Crump asked. “Or will they be more akin to the perspective and background of the killers of Ahmaud Arbery? It is concerning and we have to call out this intellectual justification of discrimination of our entire legal system.”

Sharpton, who said he was invited to Brunswick by Arbery’s mother and father, Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery, led Arbery’s family and supporters in a prayer vigil.

“I didn’t want to just pray with the family in Savannah or put them on TV, I wanted to sit with them today with the trial,” said Sharpton, who called Arbery’s killing “a lynching in the 21st century.”

Sharpton also raised concerns about the jury failing to reflect Glynn County’s population, but said he is encouraged by knowing that some white people in Brunswick have spoken out against the defendants’ actions.

“This is not limited to race. There are white people who see this as disgraceful and don’t want their town known for this,” he said.

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