(NEW YORK) -- In a high-stakes move, Travis McMichael, the man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery, took the witness stand in his own defense Tuesday afternoon.
The 35-year-old McMichael was the first defense witness called to testify a day after the prosecution rested its murder case against him, his 65-year-old father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, 53.
Under questioning from his attorney, Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael began his testimony by saying he was aware he had no obligation to testify.
"Do you want to testify?" Sheffield asked.
Travis McMichael responded, "I want to give my side of the story. I want to explain what happened and to be able to say what happened from the way I see."
The McMichaels and Bryan have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, aggravated assault and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
The defense began putting on its case after Judge Timothy Walmsley rejected each defendant's request to acquit them after their lawyers argued the state had not met its burden of proof.
Crime spike in Satilla Shores
Travis McMichael testified that when he first moved into his parents' home in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia, the waterfront community was mostly peaceful, full of retirees and young families with children.
"It's one of the typical small-town neighborhoods," he said. "You'd have people ride around golf carts, people walking dogs, people with their kids, the little power wheels... And it's just a real quiet community."
But Travis McMichael testified that after moving to Satilla Shores, he and his neighbors began to experience a crime wave with frequent burglaries and "more suspicious persons lurking around."
"It was rare at first, but it started building up," he said of crime in Satilla Shores.
He said his own car was burglarized multiple times to the point he would just leave it unlocked. He also said a Smith & Wesson pistol was stolen from his truck parked outside his parents' house on Jan. 1, 2020.
Travis McMichael said the crime spike was the talk of his household and became a major topic of discussion among his neighbors and on a community watch Facebook page.
Coast Guard training
Sheffield then asked Travis McMichael about his background as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard between 2007 and 2016. He said he had extensive training in law enforcement, including the use of deadly force and de-escalation, while in the Coast Guard and that besides his primary job as a mechanic, he also participated in search-and-rescue operations, and immigration and drug enforcement operations.
He said one de-escalation technique he was trained to do was to use a firearm as a deterrent.
"You pull a weapon on someone from what I've learned in my training that usually causes people to back off or to realize what's happening," McMichael testified.
He added that on two occasions as a civilian he once scared off would-be robbers at an ATM machine and on another occasion deterred a potential carjacker.
He said that as part of his training in the military he also learned never to let someone take his gun in a confrontation because if that occurs they could use it to harm him and others.
Encounter with prowler
Sheffield directed Travis McMichael's attention to an incident that occurred on Feb. 11, 2020, twelve days before the fatal encounter with Arbery.
He testified that he was driving to get gas when he saw a man dart across the road in front of him and start "creeping through the shadows" outside a home under construction down the street from his parent's house.
"I got out of the vehicle to ask him what he was doing, maybe run him off," Travis McMichael said.
He said the man came out of the shadows toward him.
"He pulls up his shirt and goes to reach for his pocket or his waistband area," he testified. "It startled me. It freaked me out."
He testified that he went home and called 911, armed himself and returned to the house with his father, but the prowler had vanished.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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