Travis McMichael, one of the men accused of chasing and fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020, has filed a motion to have the court ban the use of a photo of his license plate as evidence in his upcoming trial.
The vanity plate is described as showing the old flag from the state of Georgia—out of use since 2001—that incorporates the Confederate battle flag. McMichael’s attorneys argued that using the photo of his plate as evidence is “not relevant and is prejudicial.”
Court documents show the state asked the court on October 1 to deny McMichael’s defense team’s motion, arguing that the plates were on the defendant’s truck when Arbery was shot and killed and are thus permissible evidence.
The state’s attorneys wrote that “the fact that defendant Travis McMichael knowingly, intentionally and purposefully attached a vanity plate to the front of his truck for all the world to see has nothing to do with the State’s strategic decision regarding third party communications that show racial animus.”
The attorneys continued, “Defendant Travis McMichael’s choice, and the fact that this vanity plate was on the front of his pick-up truck on Feb. 23, 2020, are intrinsic evidence in this case and can be fully be used by the State to illustrate the intent and motive of Travis McMichael.”
The documents also describe the plate as depicting “a representation to the State of Georgia State Flag from 1956 through 2001.” The flag was amended in 2001 to remove the Confederate flag imagery.
Along with Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, was also charged with murder on May 7, 2020, for the shooting of Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed Black man, who had been jogging in his Georgia neighborhood at the time of his death.
William Bryan, who witnessed and filmed the shooting, was later charged with murder as well. Jury selection for the trial of the three men is scheduled to start October 18.
On October 1, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley ruled that Arbery’s mental health records couldn’t be used as trial evidence. He concluded that a registered nurse’s “highly questionable diagnosis” that Arbery suffered from mental illness, which was made during a 2018 visit to a mental health services provider, might unfairly prejudice a trial jury.
In September, Walmsley also ruled that evidence of Arbery’s past run-ins with law enforcement, including two arrests, could not be used in the upcoming trial.
Arbery’s death—along with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others—helped ignite the Black Lives Matter movement that led to protests across the country in 2020.