Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, told reporters on Friday the arrest constitutes a “substantial expansion of criminal liability in Georgia.
Gough, who has maintained his client’s innocence, said there is no precedent for Bryan’s prosecution.
“Mr. Bryan has committed no crime, and bears no criminal responsibility for his death,” Gough said. “Roddie passed a polygraph examination that effectively exonerates him of any criminal responsibility in this matter.”
Atlanta criminal defense attorney Jackie Patterson, who is not involved in the Arbery case, said Gough is misreading the law.
“He’s being charged as a party to a crime,” Patterson said. “That’s been the law since 1968. What the state is going to show is that he was not just merely present, but he was an active participant.”
In Georgia, a person can be charged with murder if charged with an underlying crime that leads to someone’s death.
Bryan has said he was merely a witness to the Feb. 23 incident. The GBI earlier this month announced the arrests of Travis McMichael, 34, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64 on charges with felony murder and aggravated assault. The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery of burglaries in the area and that he became violent when confronted. Greg McMichael also told police that Bryan had tried to block Arbery “but was unsuccessful.”
Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, the second prosecutor assigned to the case, mentioned Bryan in a letter to Glynn police.
The McMichaels and Bryan were in “hot pursuit” of Arbery, Barnhill wrote, believing the 25-year-old had committed burglaries. Barnhill also expressed his opinion that no arrests were warranted. He and Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused themselves due to conflicts. Greg McMichael, now retired, once worked as an investigator in Johnson’s office; Barnhill’s son works there now.
Reynolds said a separate investigation into how the case was handled by Johnson and Barnhill is also nearing an end. It’s being conducted in coordination with federal authorities, Reynolds said.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, in a letter to Bobby Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, reqested a “complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset.”
“The request to the U.S. Department of Justice includes, but is not limited to, investigation of the communications and discussions by and between the Office of the District Attorney of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit and the Office of the District Attorney of the Waycross Judicial Circuit related to this case,” Carr’s office said in a statement.
Johnson has said all actions she’s taken were aimed at upholding justice, while Barnhill said in a statement he couldn’t comment.
“Let the courts and the criminal justice work,” his statement said.
Hinesville area District Attorney Tom Durden was briefly tasked with the case but stepped aside having concluded his small office lacked the manpower to take on a matter that’s drawn national attention. Media outlets from around the globe descended on Brunswick after the video clip Bryan filmed appeared online. Members of Georgia’s Congressional delegation from both sides of the political aisle this week pressed for federal investigators to get involved.
Holmes appeared with Reynolds during the Friday morning news conference.
“We are going to make sure we find justice in this case,” she said.
Reynolds thanked Arbery’s family, along with the city of Brunswick, state of Georgia and the entire nation for showing patience while investigators worked.
“It’s a case that’s generated a great deal of emotion and passion,” Reynolds said. “We respect that.”