By Emanuella Grinberg
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (Court TV) — The Satilla Shores resident who called police on Ahmaud Arbery expressed regret on the witness stand Wednesday for his part in the chain of events that led to Arbery’s death.
Matt Albenze was the first civilian witness to testify in the murder trial of Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Roddie Bryan. Testimony so far from police witnesses focused on the defendants’ claims that they pursued Arbery because they thought he was a burglary suspect and wanted to detain him until police arrived.
A Satilla Shores resident since 1989, Albenze said he was splitting wood in his front yard the afternoon of February 23, 2020, when he looked up and saw Arbery standing in front of the construction site a few houses away.
Immediately, Albenze said he thought of surveillance video that the property’s owner showed him in fall 2019. The footage showed a Black man on a dock behind the house at night, one of four confirmed instances of Arbery on Larry English’s property. Police witnesses said no evidence suggests Arbery took anything from the property.
Upon seeing Arbery, Albenze said he went into his home, grabbed his phone and his handgun, and walked over to the property at 220 Satilla Drive. He peeked inside a window, saw Arbery, and dialed Glynn County’s non-emergency number. When asked by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski why he didn’t call 911, Albenze said, “I didn’t see an emergency.”
Albenze told the operator the person in the house was captured on surveillance video “a bunch of times before.” Albenze testified he wasn’t sure if Arbery saw him, but suddenly Arbery sprinted off the property.
Nevertheless, Albenze agreed with defense lawyer Bob Rubin that the incident weighs on his heart.
“I felt maybe if he hadn’t [seen me] he wouldn’t have run away.”
Arbery took off into the neighborhood past the McMichael home, catching the attention of Greg McMichael, who was reupholstering boat cushions in the driveway. “He was hauling ass and he was running like people don’t run normally,” he told police. “He wasn’t out for a Sunday jog, it was like he was running from somebody.”
The defense portrays Satilla Shores as a neighborhood on edge amid reports of property crime. Albenze said he knew about the break-ins through the community Facebook page. He agreed with the defense that he never saw Arbery running through the neighborhood February 23, 2020.
Kellie Parr testified on Wednesday that her parents reactivated their alarm system six months before Arbery’s death in response to safety concerns in the neighborhood. Parr grew up in Satilla Shores and visited her parents nearly every Sunday with her son. During one of those visits in December 2019 or January 2020, she testified she saw a Black man standing in the doorway of 220 Satilla Drive, who she now suspects could have been Arbery. Parr recalled questioning what he was doing there, then checked herself. “Kellie, don’t be racist,” she said, remembering thinking to herself. She made eye contact with the man, she testified, then went on her way.
Travis and Greg McMichael were among those who called in reports related to suspicious behavior in the neighborhood in the year before Arbery’s death. Prosecutors played three of those calls jury on Wednesday.
Describing himself as a “retired chief investigator” with the district attorney’s office, Greg McMichael called 911 in July 2019 to report a “really shady fellow” that caught his attention. “We’ve had a lot of automobile break-ins and my son and I just discovered a guy, he may be living under the Fancy Bluff bridge,” the elder McMichael said. “He might be the person breaking into the cars.”
The jury heard two 911 calls from Travis McMichael – one on January 1, 2020, to report a stolen firearm from his truck, and another on February 11 to report another suspicion person.
“I just caught a guy running into a house being built two doors down,” he told the operator, seemingly breathless. He said the stranger reached into his left pocket when he approached him. “I don’t know if he was armed or not but he was acting like he was.”
The phone calls marked the first time the jury heard the defendants in their own voices instead of through a police officer reading a transcript of their statements.
So far, prosecutors have questioned either members of the Glynn County Police Department about their interactions with the defendants in the shooting’s aftermath. The bulk of their testimony centered on statements the defendants made at the scene, a few feet from Arbery’s body, and at the Glynn County Police headquarters a few hours later.
One of those officers, Sgt. Roderick Nohilly, testified on Wednesday about his interview with Greg McMichael at the station. An investigator at the time, Nohilly asked McMichael to speculate on what was going through Arbery’s mind while chasing him: “He was trapped like a rat. I think he was wanting to flee, and I think he realized he was not going to get away.”
The elder McMichael also described what was going through his mind as Arbery ran toward his son Travis, who had his gun pointed at Arbery. “I thought he was going to grab the gun, that’s what was in my mind, that’s what I saw. And in my mind, if he’d gotten that shotgun and there was any separation between him and Travis, I was going to cap his ass.”
McMichael repeated to Nohilly what he told other officers about Arbery that day, saying he didn’t know if Arbery had committed any crime. But he was confident Arbery matched the description his son gave the 911 operator on February 11. And he felt certain Arbery was the person he’d seen on Larry English’s surveillance video.
Roddie Bryan, the McMichaels’ codefendant, also gave several statements to police. In one of them, he expressed regret for not having struck Arbery, saying it might have saved him from being shot to death, former GCPD investigator Stephan Lowrey testified Wednesday.
Bryan handed over the now-infamous cell phone video of Arbery’s final moments to police shortly after they arrived at Satilla Shores. Hours later, in an interview with the lead case investigator at the police station, he described “angling” his car to prevent Arbery from fleeing. GCPD Investigator Stephan Lowrey agreed with Bryan’s attorney that Bryan was cooperative and gave them everything they asked for. Lowrey said he considered Bryan a witness before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case. And, Lowrey said he didn’t suspect Bryan of committing a felony.
After court Wednesday, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, identified Lowrey as the person who called her to deliver the news of her son’s death and told her he had committed a burglary. “Finally put a face to the name,” she said.
For the latest news and trial updates on MN v. McMichael, et al., visit www.courttv.com/arbery