BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A man who called police to report Ahmaud Arbery inside a house under construction testified Wednesday, giving jurors a newperspective 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 cell phone 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.
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?”
“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.”
Asked by a prosecutor if he had any idea what Arbery was doing inside the house or why he ran from the house, Albenze said no.
“I don’t know why he took off running. I don’t know if he saw me or not,” Albenze added on cross examination. “Maybe if he hadn’t seen me, he wouldn’t have run away.”
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.
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.
Earlier Wednesday, investigator Roderic Nohilly with the Glynn County Police Department told prosecutors he spoke briefly to Gregory McMichael after the shooting while he was being interviewed by another officer.
Nohilly said he has known Gregory McMichael professionally for at least 16 years. McMichael is a retired investigator for the Brunswick district attorney’s office and a former officer for the Glynn County Police Department.
Gregory McMichael told Nohilly that Arbery matched the description of a man Travis had previously seen near the house under construction in their neighborhood.
Gregory McMichael described Arbery being “trapped like a rat” and “fleeing,” and that he would have shot Arbery himself during the altercation if he had the opportunity, Nohilly said Wednesday.
“His (Arbery’s) intention was to grab that shotgun and probably shoot Travis,” McMichael told Nohilly.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump continues to raise concern over nearly all-white 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 the trial 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.
Who’s on the jury? Here’s what we know about them
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.
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.”
Following Arbery’s death last year, thousands of people across the U.S. joined in virtual “I Run With Maud” runs, and the incident propelled a nationwide protest movement against the treatment of Black Americans in the U.S.