On Monday night, CNN’s Chris Cuomo spoke to the man behind the video of the Ahmaud Arbery shooting in one of the more bizarre interviews to come out of this increasingly convoluted case.
On Thursday, 64-year-old Gregory McMichael and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, were charged with murder and aggravated assault more than two months after the February shooting death of 25-year-old Arbery. In a cellphone video of the incident, Arbery, who is black, is seen running down a street while the McMichaels—white and armed—wait for his approach from a white pickup truck. Arbery runs around the truck but is approached by Travis McMichael, shotgun in hand. After a brief struggle, a series of gunshots are heard and Arbery collapses to the ground. The McMichaels said that Arbery resembled a burglar suspect; the Arbery family says their son, an avid runner, was ambushed by wannabe vigilantes during an innocent jog.
The man who filmed the incident, William Bryan—known as “Roddie”—spoke to Cuomo alongside his lawyer, Kevin Gough, about witnessing the Arbery incident. But “spoke” is perhaps too strong a word, as Gough resorted to doing most of the talking for his client. For a majority of the 20-minute-long interview, Bryan was kept quiet, offering his opinions mainly through a handful of facial expressions while his lawyer blabbed on his behalf.
Several facets of this case remain unclear, most importantly the true relationship between Bryant the McMichaels and whether Bryan was a witness or a giddy participant in this modern-day lynching. But one thing is crystal: Gough was attempting to paint Bryan as a simpleton who was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Two questions that Cuomo asked right off the bat—whether Bryan was the “Roddie” described by the McMichaels in the police report, and what prompted Bryan to videotape the incident from his car that day—were received with dodges and silence.
“You’re afraid of the facts of this case, counselor, why?” Cuomo asked.
Gough insisted that he wasn’t scared before launching into a series of compliments about Cuomo’s competency as a prosecutor, before suggesting that Bryan is not intelligent enough to answer Cuomo’s questions.
“My client is a mechanic with a high-school education, and if you’ve ever been to the high schools around here, that’s not necessarily saying much,” Gough said. “And I don’t mind if the Board of Education doesn’t like it, I’m not their friend either. You can’t be asking him questions about the substance of the evidence.”
Cuomo wasn’t moved.
“For the record, I do not believe that a level of education is in any way commensurate with common sense or savvy or understanding everything you need to know about this case just through life experience,” Cuomo said. “I don’t care that he only went to high school. Plenty of people have done that and achieved great things, let alone know why the heck they were in a car videotaping something like this.”
Cuomo then shifted to safer territory, asking Bryan about his feelings about the situation.
“I would just like to say, first of all, I’m very sorry to the [Arbery] family,” Bryan said. “I pray for them every night as well as my own family.”
It didn’t take long before Gough resorted, once again, to insulting his client in an attempt to prove his lack of participation in the Arbery killing.
“This is a terrible matter, and some people are going to have to answer for what they did,” Gough said. “But my client is not responsible for that. My client was unarmed, my client hasn’t shot anybody, my client hasn’t been in so much as a fistfight since [he] was in high school! And you can take a look at him—he’s five-six, five-seven—this is not a gentleman who’s out there looking for a fight or looking for trouble.”
“I don’t care about the size of the people involved, it’s about the size of their heart and the size of the brain,” Cuomo said.
Gough insisted that there is no relationship between Bryan and the McMichaels. He also said that the Arbery family “weren’t treated right” during their quest for “justice.”
“I know some of the people who were trying to help [the Arberys]—” Gough said.
“Is your client one of the people who was trying to help the Arberys?” Cuomo asked.
“He was helping that day, yessir,” Gough said.
This is vague law-speak: Gough seems to believe the tape alone helps the Arbery family, so Bryan’s intentions or whether Ahmaud’s welfare was on his mind while he was filming are—conveniently—moot. But intentions matter, and a question from Cuomo toward the end of the interview underscored this point.
“Why didn’t [Bryan] call 911?” Cuomo asked.
After some hesitation, Gough said, “Well, first of all, he can’t use the phone for a phone call while he’s using it as a camera.”
“I know,” Cuomo said. “But you can hang up and call 911. You can stop videotaping and call 911.”
“I can tell you that in the real world, things are much different. It’s one thing to watch it on TV, it’s another thing to do it in real life. And, he’s not a young man—”
Cuomo couldn’t quite understand what age had to do with any of this. Meanwhile, Bryan looked over at Gough, as if trying to suppress an embarrassed smile.
Gough wanted CNN viewers to believe that Bryan is too uneducated, too short, and too old to have been culpable of any wrongdoing in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. He wants viewers to believe that Bryan’s participation was such a boon for the Arbery family that he stopped just short of saying they should be grateful that Bryan hopped in his car and filmed their son’s final moments. But Gough did not adequately explain why Bryan had the impulse to film a black man getting chased down by white men with guns, but not the sense to help Arbery by calling an ambulance when time was of the essence.
Maybe short men just don’t dial 911.
A previous version of this post misspelled Bryan’s nickname; it is “Roddie,” not “Roddy.” Jezebel regrets the error.