Arbury murder trial reveals racist social media posts, slurs, and graphic autopsy pics
Note to readers: This article contains disturbing content.
The federal hate crime trial against the three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, sank to an unsettling level this week. An FBI intelligence analyst provided several hours of disturbing testimony using their own hate-laced words.
After being sentenced to life in prison in January by a state court, Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan is now on trial for federal charges for attempted kidnapping and using force or the threat of force to intimidate Arbery based on his race. The three men chased Arbery in their pickup trucks and shot him as he jogged through their neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. The jury was told of their history of racist behavior prior to killing Arbury.
FBI analyst Amy Vaughan walked jurors through more than two dozen instances of racist language and violent sentiments that were posted to the social media accounts by the three killers.
Comprising three Blacks, eight Whites and one Hispanic person, the jury in the federal trial listened attentively as Vaughan testified to finding racial slurs, racist memes, and violent comments about Black people that were not heard during the first trial.
So disturbed by what they heard and saw in court, several jurors inquired with the judge about counseling services for themselves. U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood confirmed that federal funds were available for them to receive these services.
Vaughan testified about the repulsive messages directly from Travis McMichael’s phone months contained on his devices long before he fatally shot the 25-year-old Arbury while neighbor Bryan filmed the shooting.
In his online posts, Travis McMichael frequently referred to Black people as “savages” and “monkeys,” often associating them with criminality in private messages with friends and public social media posts.
McMichael exchanged texts with someone on March 16, 2019, who texted that he went bar-hopping the previous evening but complained he had encountered too many Black people. “They ruin everything,” McMichael responded, according to Vaughan. “That’s why I love what I do. Not a (n-word) in sight.”
On Jan. 21, 2019, McMichael and a friend were about to meet at a Cracker Barrel when N.J. texted he had parked and saw a number of Black people there, said analyst Vaughan “Need to change the name from Cracker Barrel to (N-word) Bucket,”
On Feb. 11, 2019, a conversation between McMichael and a friend included a photo of a man who appeared to be disabled. The man was wearing a jersey that read, “At least I’m not a (n-word).”
Also collected from the 36-year old’s social media accounts was a video of a Black child dancing on the daytime show “Ellen.” The sound on the video had been edited and dubbed over with the song “Alabama (n-word),” which included disparaging lyrics about Black people.
The FBI also uncovered a racist post-Greg McMichael made on Facebook depicting Black people as lazy and looking for government handouts.
In addition, Vaughan said agents were able to access Bryan’s cell phone and found that he sent racist messages including sarcastic and vile remarks about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019 and 2020. Vaughan noted that someone identified as P.T. messaged Bryan that he must be taking off from work to be the “grand marshal” of the MLK Day parade. “The joke, I think, is that he would never do that because he doesn’t care for Black people or MLK Day,” Vaughan said.
Derek Thomas, Travis McMichael’s close friend from high school, testified Wednesday about some of their conversations on social media. Thomas sent McMichael a viral video showing a Black man playing a prank on a white man in a mall. “I’d kill that (expletive) n-word,” Travis McMichael responded, Thomas, testified.
Another of McMichael’s posts seemed to celebrate violence against Black Lives Matter protesters. In others, he advocated harming Black people seen breaking the law in news reports and viral videos. “These thugs need to be taught a lesson,” he wrote. “I would beat those monkeys to death.”
When graphic photos taken during Arbery’s autopsy were shown to the jury, Travis McMichael stared straight ahead. Renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Edmund Donoghue, who conducted Arbery’s examination the day after he was killed, walked jurors through the grievous injuries Arbury suffered after being twice shot at close range during a struggle over McMichael’s 12-gauge shotgun. Donoghue explained that Travis McMichael fired three shotgun blasts, but the first shotgun blast alone was enough to kill Arbery. His injuries included a gaping wound to the center of his chest, a large graze wound to his right wrist, a fractured humerus, five fractured ribs, and a paralyzed left arm.
Federal prosecutors spent the week meticulously laying out their case to prove that the defendants’ actions against Arbury were motivated by racism.
In addition to social media posts, Prosecutors called witnesses who testified they heard Travis McMichael and his father make racially incendiary remarks about Black people. A woman Travis McMichael supervised during his time in the U.S. Coast Guard told the jury that he repeatedly insulted her after discovering she had previously dated a Black man. Travis said disparaging things and began calling her a “(n-word) lover,” she alleged.
A different witness, Carole Sears told the jury that Greg McMichael made crass remarks about Black people in 2015 while driving Sears and her daughter back to the airport during his time as an investigator with the local district attorney’s office. As McMichael drove them, Sears expressed sadness over the death of Atlanta civil rights leader Julian Bond. “I wish that guy had been in the ground years ago,” the elder McMichael allegedly told them. “All these Blacks are nothing but trouble. I wish they’d all die,” Sears testified. Sears said the encounter stuck with her and that she recognized Greg McMichael after seeing his mugshot in the spring of 2020.
After calling 20 witnesses, the prosecution rested its case Friday. The defense also rested after calling just one witness, a 48-year resident of the neighborhood where Arbery was killed.
Per Judge Godbey Wood, closing arguments in the high-profile trial are expected Monday morning.
Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, told reporters outside the courtroom, “You cannot grab your guns and chase down a Black man because he’s running.”
Arbery’s father Marcus said he and his family were disgusted about what they heard. “(I’m not) really in shock. I knew all that hate was in those men. … It’s hard, but I’m just glad the world can see this.