The federal hate crimes trial for the three White men convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, featured testimony from more than 20 witnesses – several of whom spoke about racist messages used by the defendants.
A former Coast Guard colleague told jurors Travis McMichael, who shot and killed Arbery, called her a racist slur for dating a Black man. A New York woman testified that during a visit she made to Brunswick, Georgia, Gregory McMichael went on an angry rant about Black people. An FBI agent said in court that William “Roddie” Bryan’s word of choice was “bootlip,” which she described as a derogatory term for a Black person, referencing a stereotypical characterization of their face.
The remarks shared in court, which had been made privately and publicly, reveal the three men talked about Black people in derogatory terms and used racial slurs in conversations with others – key evidence prosecutors used to prove the men acted out of racial animus. Defense attorneys have acknowledged their clients used racist language but deny that’s what motivated their actions in Arbery’s February 23, 2020, killing in south Georgia.
The three defendants were found guilty of all counts in the hate crimes trial.
Video of the fatal shooting sparked nationwide outrage after it was released in May 2020, weeks before the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that set off a summer of widespread protests against racial injustice.
After a state trial last November that largely avoided discussions of race, the McMichaels and Bryan were sentenced to life in prison – with Bryan eligible for parole once he serves 30 years – for their conviction on a raft of charges, including felony murder.
The defendants were additionally charged with interference with rights, a hate crime, and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels also each faced a weapons charge. They could now receive sentences of up to life in prison for the federal convictions.
These are the messages of racism that were revealed in this trial.
Former coworker said Travis McMichael called her a slur
When FBI intelligence analyst Amy Vaughan took the stand last week, she testified about a litany of messages and social media posts between Travis McMichael and his friends that included offensive language and racial slurs.
In one March 2019 text exchange entered into evidence, Travis McMichael messaged a friend about liking his new job because he didn’t have to work with Black people. “They ruin everything,” he wrote, according to Vaughan. “That’s why I love what I do now. Not a n***er in sight.”
In another instance, he and a friend texted about “committing hate crimes,” referring to the instances of bullying they participated in during high school.
In a conversation Vaughan read aloud in court, he suggested Cracker Barrel change its name to a racial slur after a friend messaged him that the restaurant they visited was “full of some other kinds of people.”
He sent a friend a video that included a Johnny Rebel song containing a racist slur which had been edited onto a video showing a segment from the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” with a young Black boy dancing. The actual video from the show does not use the offensive song.
Under a Facebook video appearing to show a group of primarily Black teenagers beating a White teen, Travis McMichael commented, “I say shoot them all,” and referred the group as “monkeys.”
In response to a video sent by a friend showing a Black man putting barbecue sauce on a White man’s head, Travis McMichael replied he would “kill” the Black man, and used a racist slur. Both the prosecution and Vaughan described the video as something that was intended to be humorous and not about race.
Kristie Ronquille testified that Travis McMichael was her Coast Guard supervisor in 2011 while they served in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The two had a professional relationship but would occasionally see each other in social settings because she was dating his roommate, Ronquille testified.
One day, Ronquille went to grab a snack at a shared dining facility when McMichael and his roommate entered, she testified. Ronquille turned on an NBA game, commenting that a Black man she used to date was playing in it, she said. Travis McMichael began making crude remarks about her being sexually active with the basketball player, she said.
“He called me an n-word lover,” Ronquille said, adding he called her the slur on more than one occasion.
Ronquille said she spoke to her father shortly after that incident. She “wasn’t raised to use language like that,” she testified. Ronquille was seen crying outside the courtroom after her testimony.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jason Seacrist told jurors that after reviewing the body camera footage that was taken at the scene of Arbery’s killing, he noticed a vanity license plate that was on Travis McMichael’s pickup truck had been removed. He did not know who removed it, Seacrist said. The plate displayed an old Georgia state flag, with the state seal on the left and a Confederate flag on the right, he said.
There was also a toolbox attached to the truck that had a blue Confederate cross with initials on its inside lid, he testified. Underneath the decal were the initials G.O.B., but Seacrist said he did not know what that stood for.
Greg McMichael went on angry, racist rant, woman testified
Kim Ballesteros, a former neighbor of the McMichaels, described for the court a conversation in which Gregory McMichael used racist language to describe a tenant he had.
“She was a large Black woman who did not pay her rent very well,” Ballesteros told the jurors. “Their name for her was the walrus.” She testified the elder McMichael told her the woman didn’t pay her rent on time, so he disabled her air conditioning unit from the outside. That was during the summer, when temperatures were high.
“You should have seen how fast her big fat Black a** came with the rent check,” Gregory McMichael said, according to Ballesteros’ testimony.
Carole Sears was the the 20th and final witness for the prosecution.
Sears, from Larchmont, New York, testified Friday she was attending a legal hearing in Brunswick in 2015 with her daughter. Gregory McMichael was assigned to be their driver, she said.
On the way back to the airport, Sears testified she commented about finding out about civil rights leader Julian Bond’s death. Bond was a board chairman of the NAACP and founding president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I wish that guy had been in the ground years ago,” McMichael responded, according to Sears’ testimony.
“All these Blacks are nothing but trouble. I wish they’d all die,” he continued, according to her testimony.
McMichael continued onto an “angry rant” about Black people, Sears testified, describing his words as angry and mean.
“It was really shocking,” she said.
William ‘Roddie’ Bryan regularly used offensive words, analyst testifies
There was also evidence in Bryan’s phone showing racial bias, Vaughan testified, including uses of the n-word and the word “bootlip,’ which she described as “Mr. Bryan’s word of choice.”
He regularly used slurs against Black people in messages on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Vaughan told jurors.
A friend referred to him as the “Grand Marshal” in a message appearing to joke about the idea that Bryan would be the grand marshal of an MLK Day parade, the FBI analyst said.
“He would never do that, because he doesn’t particularly care for Black people or MLK Day,” Vaughan explained to jurors.
In a message to a friend on MLK Day in 2020, Bryan wrote to a friend, “Happy Bootlip Day.” The message was read aloud in court.
“I worked like a n***er today,” Bryan added in the message.
Another set of messages between Bryan and a friend on February 19, 2020 – four days before Arbery’s killing – discussed Bryan discovering his daughter was dating a Black man.
‘She has her n***er now,” he wrote, according to the messages quoted in court. The relationship remained an ongoing theme in his messages, Vaughan testified.
When someone sent Bryan a picture of his daughter and her boyfriend together on April 8, 2020, he responded, “Like I said, she don’t give a f**k about herself, why should we?”
CNN’s Pamela Kirkland, Alta Spells, Denise Royal, Kevin Conlon and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.