A Glynn County grand jury on Wednesday returned a murder indictment against the three men in custody for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through a neighborhood near coastal Brunswick.
Both malice and felony murder charges were obtained against Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shots; his father, Greg McMichael, once a local police officer; and William “Roddie” Bryan, who recorded the video of the shooting on his cellphone. Lawyers for the three men have said their clients committed no crimes.
Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes announced the charges in a hastily called news conference on the steps of the courthouse in Brunswick.
“This is another step forward in seeking justice for Ahmaud,” Holmes said. “We will continue to be intentional in the pursuit of justice for this family and the community at large as the prosecution of this case continues.”
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was unarmed, was killed Feb. 23. The McMichaels and Bryan are white.
Holmes said Arbery’s family had been notified of the indictments. “The family was ecstatic to hear it happened,” the DA said.
» COMPLETE COVERAGE: THE AHMAUD ARBERY CASE
Ben Crump, a lawyer representing Arbery’s family, predicted the case will end with convictions of all three men.
“This confirms what Ahmaud’s father has been saying for months — that this was a lynching,” Crump said. “This is a significant step on the road to justice, and while nothing will bring back Ahmaud’s life, it is important that a grand jury recognized his life had value and was wrongly and ruthlessly ended.”
Arbery’s killing burst onto the national news scene when Bryan’s cellphone video of the shooting first surfaced on May 5. Two days later, after the GBI was assigned the case, the McMichaels were arrested and charged with felony murder. Bryan would be arrested a few weeks later.
For a time, the Arbery case dominated a social narrative about Black men being killed by the unjustified actions of white people. But on May 25, another video emerged of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Massive protests, some violent, erupted in Minneapolis, Atlanta and other cities, surging for days. The anti-racism demonstrations soon spread across the nation and the globe.
Then on June 12, Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by then-Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe at a Wendy’s parking lot in south Atlanta, fueling fresh protests throughout the city. The indictment in the Arbery case comes a day after Brooks’ funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Arbery was shot and killed as he ran through the Satilla Shores neighborhood about 2½ miles from his home. Greg McMichael, a 64-year-old former DA’s Office investigator, saw Arbery pass by his house and thought he may have committed a burglary. He grabbed his .357-Magnum revolver and called for his 34-year-old son, Travis, who got his 12-gauge shotgun.
With Travis behind the wheel and his father in the passenger seat, they followed Arbery and tried to get him to stop, Richard Dial, an assistant GBI special agent in charge, testified during a preliminary hearing earlier this month. Bryan, 50, got in his truck and joined in the chase, trying to block Arbery and pin him down, Dial said.
Bryan’s video, which has been seen by millions, shows Arbery run up behind the pickup truck with Greg McMichael standing in the cab, holding a handgun. His son can be seen standing just outside the driver’s side door, armed with a shotgun.
It looks like Arbery, who was unarmed, wanted to avoid the McMichaels. He ran around the passenger side of the truck but Travis McMichael was there to meet him with his shotgun raised, Dial said. Instead of turning his back and trying the flee, Arbery chose to fight, the agent testified.
Travis McMichael shot Arbery three times, once in the chest, once near an armpit and once in his wrist.
Dial said when Bryan was interviewed by investigators he recounted what he heard Travis McMichael say as Arbery lay dying and they waited for police to arrive. “F—-ing n——-,” McMichael said, according to Bryan, referring to a profanity followed by a racial slur.
During her press conference, Holmes said that although the Legislature just enacted a hate crimes bill, it could not be used for an alleged offense that occurred before the law’s passage.
Holmes became the fourth DA to get the case because the first two DAs recused themselves and a third said his office was not equipped to handle it.
All three defendants now stand indicted of one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and one count each of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Bob Rubin, one of Travis McMichael’s lawyers, said the DA’s office only had to present its side of the case to get the indictment.
“It’s unfortunate the DA did not seek to present to the grand jury all the facts in the case or seek our input to what evidence we would ask them to consider,” he said. “There’s more to this than has been revealed to the grand jury and we expect to plead not guilty to these charges and present the rest of the evidence in court.”
At the preliminary hearing, Frank Hogue, one of Greg McMichael’s lawyers, said his client committed no crime. While it may not have been a good idea for McMichael to leave home with a firearm, he was trying to intercept someone he believed may have been breaking into a nearby home under construction, Hogue said.
Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, said his client was merely a witness to what happened, not a party to any crime.
“Roddie did not act out of hate or prejudice that day but rather acted as would any patriotic American, whether white, Black or martian, in the same circumstance,” he said.
The indictment came as a surprise because Georgia is under a state of judicial emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. But a recent order signed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton allowed for those grand juries impaneled before the crisis to reconvene, and that is what happened Wednesday, Holmes said.
The grand jurors, all wearing masks and practicing social distancing, met in the large jury assembly room to consider the indictment, the DA said.
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