LaFAYETTE, Ga. — Michael James Gobert woke up one night last October to the sounds of people yelling outside. He flipped on his lamp, pulled on his boots, grabbed a Glock 22 and rushed to his front porch.
Through the dark, he could barely make out three men in the yard with his stepdaughter. Gobert, 52, and Nicole Carroll live in trailers on the same property on Straight Gut Road, and Carroll had invited two of the three men into her single-wide. The third man, the uninvited one, was now yelling something at her.
Gobert fired a shot in the air.
"Hey!" he yelled, twice.
The man who was arguing with his daughter, later identified as Edrius Putman, hollered something back. Gobert couldn't understand him.
"Halt!" Gobert yelled. "Halt or I'll shoot!"
"You shoot me," Putman responded, "you'll get a murder charge."
"I don't think so," Gobert said. "You came onto my property and started this trouble."
Turned out, Putman was correct — kind of. Gobert opened fire that night, and he did shoot somebody, and the Walker County Sheriff's Office did charge him with murder. But Gobert didn't hit Putman. He hit Johnny "JJ" Montgomery II, killing him.
Seven months later, Gobert is on trial in Walker County Superior Court, facing charges of malice murder, felony murder, four counts of aggravated battery and five counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime. Gobert's attorney, David Dunn, has argued that Gobert killed Montgomery in self-defense, that his client held a reasonable fear he would lose his own life if he didn't fire a series of .40-caliber bullets.
On Wednesday, through a recording of Gobert's interview with Walker County investigators about four hours after the shooting, the jury got insight into what Gobert was thinking that night. They also heard a police interview with Deisman Harrison, the third man who had visited Gobert's stepdaughter with Montgomery and Putman that night.
The two interviews provide the scene for the last minutes of Montgomery's life.
After firing his warning shot on the porch, Gobert moved to the yard. He heard somebody — either Harrison or Montgomery — shout to Putman, "Come on. Get in the car!"
Putman pulled away from Carroll, whom he had been fighting with inside the trailer. Carroll told investigators the fight started when she wouldn't let him finish having sex with her; she told the jury she never even let him start.
After Putman hopped in the passenger's seat and Harrison in the back, Montgomery put the car in reverse. Gobert, who is white, felt the three black men were acting aggressively as they backed up, toward Gobert's right, the headlights flooding his vision.
That's when he started firing shots. Montgomery put the car in drive, pushed forward, then swerved left. Gobert continued shooting, all of his bullets slicing through the passenger's side of the car. One of the shots pierced Montgomery's right temple and cut through his head, exiting out the left side.
The car crashed into a shed on Gobert's property. He continued to shoot. Putman hopped out the window and ran into the nearby woods. Gobert continued to shoot.
He rushed to the car and found Montgomery slumped against the driver's wheel, unconscious. He found Harrison in the back seat, holding a beer. "He was more concerned about that beer bottle than anyone else," Gobert would later tell a detective.
Gobert told Harrison to get out of the car.
"Don't shoot!" Harrison yelled. "Don't shoot!"
Then, Gobert said he saw Carroll. Cuts covered his stepdaughter's face. Though Gobert didn't know it, these were the result of a fight with Putman. Carroll would tell police that Putman choked her and punched her and hit her with a pool cue and threw a dehumidifier at her.
Seeing the marks, Gobert become more angry.
"What did you do to my stepdaughter?" he yelled at Harrison, not knowing that his stepdaughter would later say Harrison helped break up the fight.
"Sir," Harrison started.
"You don't have the right to call me sir!" Gobert said.
He told his wife to call the police. According to his own interview with the sheriff's office, Harrison recalled Gobert yelling something else at him.
"I'll end you right now," he said. "Get on the ground, boy."
Hours later, in an interrogation room, Gobert said he was in fear for his life when he found Montgomery, Harrison and Putman in his yard.
"I don't know what they're going to do," he explained. "I didn't know if they had any weapons."
During the trial Wednesday, Dunn argued the interviews the night of the incident might not be accurate, given what Gobert had just been through. He pointed out that police officers stay away from work on administrative leave after their own shooting incidents, given the potential psychological trauma of the incident.
Gobert's trial will resume this morning.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfree press.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LetsJett.