Hearing, rally planned hours apart in Ahmaud Arbery case

Credit: Glynn County Jail

Credit: Glynn County Jail

The three suspects accused in the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery will appear in court next week for a hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for the case to move forward.

Due to coronavirus concerns, Greg and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan will appear via video in the courtroom on June 4 and will remain at the Glynn County jail. Still, local law enforcement officials are preparing for an eventful day at the Glynn County courthouse. A rally is planned near there hours after the hearing.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: More on the Ahmaud Arbery case

The case has made national headlines and has become part of a larger conversation since the Minneapolis death of George Floyd. Floyd, who was black, died Monday after being pinned down by a white police officer, seen in a widely circulated video. The four Minneapolis police officers who responded to the call that ended with Floyd’s death have been fired, but protesters are demanding their arrests.

After two nights of riots that left several buildings burned to the ground, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday it has made the federal investigation into Floyd’s death a top priority.

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

The Justice Department is also weighing whether to pursue federal hate crime charges in the Arbery case. He died in February in a neighborhood just outside of Brunswick. The GBI announced the arrests of McMichaels, a father and son, on murder and aggravated assault charges within 36 hours of becoming involved with the investigation earlier this month. Bryan, who filmed the cellphone video that captured the encounter that left Arbery dead, was charged last week with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

All three suspects, who are white, are being held without bond. Arbery was black.

This week, the Brunswick area is still reeling.

“We are kind of still in shock, but we are watching and praying to make sure that justice is done for” Arbery, said Jeff Clark, who grew up in Brunswick and who directs services for the homeless for Safe Harbor, a local nonprofit agency. “The community is ready for some form of healing eventually.”

A memorial to Arbery is growing in the front yard of a home near where he was killed in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. A cross-shaped marker placed amid the red, white and blue flowers there quotes from the Bible: “Walk by faith, not by sight.” An unmarked police cruiser patrolled the neighborhood Wednesday evening.

Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey is urging demonstrators to remain peaceful in his city of roughly 16,000 people.

“A lot of our young people are trying their best to be as patient as they can with this situation. I know it is hard for them,” Harvey said. “They are demanding that something be done.”

All three suspects in the case are represented by different attorneys.

Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, has filed motions in recent days including one seeking to prevent “prejudicial and inflammatory” statements released on behalf of the Arbery family. Gough is also asking for a speedy trial and for bond to be set for Bryan.

“The District Attorney has expressed a desire to try this case in the courts rather than the court of public opinion, a desire shared by all the parties to this case and their counsel, but the District Attorney has made no overt effort to rein in the malicious, prejudicial and inflamatory statements that continue to be put out by those purporting to speak on behalf of Ahmaud Arbery,” the motion states.

Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes has been appointed the prosecutor for the case. That move came after Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson and Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill recused themselves due to conflicts. George McMichael, now retired, once worked in Johnson’s office. Barnhill’s son works there now. Hinesville area District Attorney Tom Durden stepped aside having concluded his small office lacked the manpower to take on the case.

Glynn County Commissioner Allen Booker, who lives in Brunswick and represents most of the city, hopes the three suspects are convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

“People are pretty resolved and committed to the long-term fight for justice for this young man and his family as well as the black community,” he said. “The systemic racist attitudes have to change because we are not going anywhere and we are going to continue to fight them until they do.”