In emotional testimony Travis McMichael, 35, recounted to jurors the deadly encounter he had with Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, after he and his co-defendants pursued the unarmed man through Satilla Shores in their trucks, suspecting he was a burglar who might be armed.
McMichael –- who is on trial alongside his dad Greg McMichael, 67, and his neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan, 52 –- said he stopped his truck and was standing next to the driver side door when he spotted Arbery and they locked eyes.
"He was like a running back ready to bolt or move any way he wanted but he's focused on me," Travis McMichael, wearing a gray suit and tie, told the panel in Glynn County Superior Court. "I'm pretty sure he's going to attack."
McMichael said he raised up his shotgun to deter Arbery, who then darted right toward the passenger side of the truck near where his dad was standing in the vehicle's bed. Arbery then circled around the front of the vehicle back toward McMichael.
"He turns and is on me, he's on me in a flash. He grabs the shotgun," said McMichael, whose eyes welled with tears.
"What were you thinking?" asked defense lawyer Jason Sheffield.
"I was thinking of my son," replied McMichael, his voice quivering. "It sounds weird, but that was the first thing that hit me."
McMichael, a former Coast Guard, told jurors that Arbery was overpowering him, and it was a "life-or-death situation" when he pulled the trigger.
"I shot again because I was still fighting," he testified. "He was all over me, he was still all over that shotgun and he was not relenting."
After the third shot, Arbery disengaged, stumbled a few feet and collapsed facedown on the pavement, according to video taken by Bryan that captured part of the tragic slaying. "I was in shock," Travis McMichael said.
His father checked whether Arbery had a weapon. He did not.
There had been a rash of thefts and break-ins in the prior months in Satilla Shores, a mostly White neighborhood in southern Georgia, Travis McMichael said.
A few days earlier, on Feb. 11, he saw Arbery "creeping" around an under-construction house a few doors down and had called 911.
Arbery had been spotted on surveillance footage at least four times in the unoccupied house, including on the day he was shot. There is no evidence Arbery ever took anything from the property.
On Sunday afternoon, the day of the killing, Greg McMichael spotted Arbery "hauling a--" by his house and called his son.
The two men grabbed their guns, hopped into a pickup and pulled up beside Arbery, who Travis McMichael said he recognized from the Feb. 11 encounter. Travis McMichael told Arbery to stop and tried to speak to him, he told jurors.
"He looked very angry," Travis McMichael testified. "He was mad, which made me think something is happening."
When he told Arbery the police were on their way, the young man turned and took off running, he said. Arbery never uttered a word. The chase continued for four minutes before ending with the tussle over the shotgun and Arbery dead.
On cross-examination, Linda Dunikoski questioned the wisdom of pursuing Arbery.
"You didn't tell your dad this was a really, really bad idea that could go really wrong for us and we should just call 911?"
"No," he replied.
Prosecutors have said the Arbery was an "avid jogger" who lived less than two miles from where he was killed. The three men had no legitimate reason to suspect Arbery of wrongdoing and had no legal right to detain him, Dunikoski has argued.
Bryan's attorney, Kevin Gough, tried to distance his client from the McMichaels. Bryan, who was unarmed, witnessed the commotion and joined the chase in his black truck because Arbery's behavior seemed suspicious, he told investigators.
"When Mr. Arbery passes Mr. Bryan's house, with all due respect, we know why," Gough told jurors Wednesday.
He said Bryan never intended to harm Arbery.
"Mr. Bryan was at that time attempting to take a video and record Mr. Arbery rather than shoot him or hurt him or be a part of that," the attorney stated.
He added that Bryan immediately shared the video he took with police – a key piece of evidence in the case.
The three defendants are charged with murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for which they face up to life in prison.