Travis McMichael, 35, his father Greg McMichael, 65, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan, 52, are charged with murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for the Feb. 23, 2020, fatal shooting of Arbery outside Brunswick, Georgia.
Judge Timonthy Walmsley barred damaging information about the defendants and the victim — calling some of the material too inflammatory and prejudicial.
After Travis MicMichael shot Arbery, who is black, in the torso twice, he allegedly blurted "F—ing n——" as the 25-year-old took his final breaths, according to Bryan's statement to an investigator.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski pushed last week for the Glynn County Superior Court judge to let her cross Travis McMichael on the alleged racial slur — but he ruled against her.
Defense lawyer Jason Sheffield has denied that Travis McMichael used the slur.
Walmsley also shot down the prosecution’s bid to introduce alleged racist comments the men made on social media and in text messages — including the use of the n-word by Bryan, court papers show.
Dunikoski has argued that racial "animus" was behind the killing. The defense has countered that the men suspected Arbery was a burglar who might have a weapon and were trying to detain him until police arrived.
Travis McMichael testified that he acted in self-defense, opening fire only after Arbery, who was unarmed, attacked him and grabbed for his shotgun.
The McMichaels allegedly recognized Arbery, who had been spotted on surveillance video inside their neighbor’s under-construction home on five occasions. There is no evidence he ever stole anything.
In a major blow to the defense, Walmsley ruled that they could not admit any evidence of Arbery’s troubled past — including brushes with the law and mental heath history.
Lawyers for the McMichaels argued in court papers that Arbery’s criminal record stretching back to 2013 showed he had "used running or jogging as a cover to commit crimes" and that he had a pattern of either fleeing when confronted or aggressively challenging his accusers.
In at least two police encounters, Arbery allegedly cursed at and threatened officers, the papers say.
When Arbery was killed, he was on probation for two crimes. He had carried a handgun onto school property in 2013 and fled from police when confronted. Six years later, he tried to shoplift a television, the papers say.
Robert Rubin, one of the attorneys representing Travis McMichael, said Arbery was known as the "jogger" for dashing into convenience stores, allegedly grabbing food and running out.
In June 2018, his mom, Wanda Cooper-Jones, called 911 after he refused to hand over her car keys. She allegedly warned the operator that her son had a mental condition and could become violent if police were too confrontational, Rubin wrote.
Arbery’s mental health was allegedly spiraling, and he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder later that year, according to the filing.
The judge ruled that Arbery’s past was irrelevant because the defendants weren’t aware of it when they chased him.
On the day he was killed, Greg McMichael spotted Arbery on a Sunday afternoon "hauling a—" by his house, called for his son and the pair grabbed their guns and hopped in a truck. Bryan soon joined the chase in his own pickup.
Travis McMichael testified last week that he tried to talk to Arbery, who he recognized from the surveillance footage — but the young man kept running.
Dunikoski told jurors that the men pursued Arbery for five minutes, as Greg McMichael threatened, "Stop or I'll blow your f---king head off!" The men then used their trucks to trap him, she said.
After Travis McMichael flashed his shotgun, Arbery rushed toward him. The two tussled over the weapon before Travis McMichael squeezed off three shots. Bryan filmed part of the encounter on his cellphone.
Prosecutors said Arbery was an avid jogger, who lived just two miles from where he was slain.