Witness: Ahmaud Arbery's killer used racial slur after he was shot

I’m a tiny bit suspicious of this.

Only a tiny bit, and it has nothing to do with doubting that the McMichaels might have had a racist motive in chasing Arbery.

The suspicion has to do with the witness: William “Roddie” Bryan, the third man arrested for Arbery’s death, who pursued him in his own truck and made the now famous recording of Arbery’s final moments.

Here’s what Rick Dial, an investigator for the GBI, testified to today in court:

Moments after Ahmaud Arbery collapsed to the ground, felled by three gunshots, his killer blurted out, “expletive N-word,” one of his co-defendants told police.

Travis McMichael, 34, fired the fatal shots. William “Roddie” Bryan, who used his pick-up truck to help trap Arbery inside the Satilla Shores neighborhood on Feb. 23, said he overheard McMichael use the racial epithet, according to Rick Dial, the GBI’s lead investigator in the case…

Dial, testifying Thursday at a probable cause hearing for the three defendants charged with Arbery’s murder, said the 25-year-old victim was killed after he was trapped a second time between the vehicles driven by Travis McMichael and Bryan, 50.

The feds have been sniffing around possible hate-crime charges against the McMichaels but until now the evidence of racism was purely circumstantial. It sure looked bad — armed white men in Georgia forming a mini-posse to chase down a black man whom they suspected of a crime with no hard proof. But would the DOJ really bother with the time and expense of a federal trial to try to convict the two of a hate crime with nothing more in their arsenal than “it sure looked bad”?

Now they have something concrete. Maybe that federal trial won’t be fruitless after all.

But back up. How did Bryan hear what Travis McMichael said in the “moments after” Arbery collapsed? Did McMichael shout the slur? Bryan was still in his truck after Arbery collapsed and, from the looks of it, was a good 20 feet away in the “moments after.” His camera didn’t pick up any audio in those moments.

Maybe Bryan got out, approached the scene, and then heard McMichael say it. We’ll have to wait for more clarification on that.

But it’s worth asking: Might Bryan have reason to lie?

Another bit from today’s hearing: “Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael’s co-counsel, noted Bryan didn’t tell law enforcement about the epithet until May 13 — eight days before his arrest.” Remember that Arbery was killed in late February and that the case didn’t explode in the media until around May 6. Apparently, and conveniently, Bryan never mentioned to police that McMichael had used a racial slur until the three of them — Bryan included — were suddenly in serious criminal jeopardy. Absent any recorded footage, Bryan would have been a key witness for the prosecution at the McMichaels’ trial in describing what happened between them and Arbery. (In a perfect world, I mean. In our world, the McMichaels never would have been tried if Bryan’s footage hadn’t been recorded and leaked, outraging the public.) But because the footage does exist, the state doesn’t really need his testimony. Bryan is without meaningful leverage to extract a favorable plea deal for himself.

…unless, that is, he comes up with something damning about the McMichaels that wasn’t captured in the footage and which requires his eyewitness testimony, something that might be useful to the feds too in their pursuit of a hate-crime case.

Plain and simple: Did Bryan fabricate the story of McMichael’s racial slur after the fact, hoping to trade it for leniency once he realized he might be charged? Remember that he’s been slippery before. He assured reporters before he was arrested that he had nothing to do with the McMichaels’ pursuit of Arbery, but Dial testified today that that wasn’t true. Not by a long shot.

As Travis and his father Gregory McMichael attempted to head him off, Arbery turned and ran past the truck of Bryan, who filmed the killing, and Bryan struck Arbery with the side of his truck, Dial said

Investigators found a swipe from a palm print on the rear door of Bryan’s truck, cotton fibers near the truck bed that “we attribute to contact with Mr. Arbery” and a dent below the fibers, he said…

Bryan “made several statements about trying to block him in and using his vehicle to try to stop him,” Dial said. “His statement was that Mr. Arbery kept jumping out of the way and moving around the bumper and actually running down into the ditch in an attempt to avoid his truck.”

So Bryan’s a liar. If he was willing to lie to the media about his involvement to cover his own ass, why wouldn’t he lie to the cops about what Travis McMichael said, expecting that they might cut him a break if he proved useful to their case? Dial noted on the stand this afternoon that Bryan never mentioned the racial slur when they interviewed him on May 11; two days later he somehow finally recalled it. See why I’m a tiny bit suspicious?

But only a tiny bit. Dial has been combing through Travis McMichael’s social media and also testified today about what he found:

However, the agent said, there were “numerous times” on social media and via messaging that McMichael used the same slur, replying to an Instagram message sometime before the shooting by saying things would be better if someone had “blown that N-word’s head off,” Dial testified. Dial did not say to whom McMichael might have been referring and was not asked for more context.

So Travis McMichael is in fact known to drop the N-bomb, and apparently is brazen enough to do it in forums like social media where the public and prospective employers might see it. In that case, maybe there’s an alternate explanation for Bryan’s long silence about it. He may have withheld the information from cops until May in the belief that there was no sense complicating a situation in which the three were being let off scot-free. Once that changed, though, and suddenly public pressure all but compelled charges in the case, it was every man for himself. Time for Bryan to come clean about what he knew and to separate himself from the McMichaels. I think that’s probably what happened, but stay tuned.

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David Strom 5:00 PM | May 23, 2024