ATLANTA (AP) – Three white men have been charged with murder for killing Ahmaud Arbery, a black man fatally shot while running in a neighborhood on the coast of Georgia.
Prosecutor Joyette Holmes announced on Wednesday that a grand jury Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. has been charged on charges of, among other things, malice and felony murder in Arbery’s death.
“This is another positive step, another great step to find justice for Ahmaud, to find justice for this family and the community beyond,” said Holmes at a news conference outside the Glynn County courthouse in Brunswick broadcast online by newscasts.
Arbery’s death is often invoked during protests against racial injustice that have broken out across the country since the death of George Floyd last month under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. Arbery’s death also fueled a renewed commitment to a state hate crime law in Georgia, which state legislators passed on Tuesday.
McMichaels attorneys have warned against an emergency verdict and said the full story will be brought to trial. A Bryan lawyer has alleged that his client was only a witness.
Arbery was killed on February 23 when father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased the 25-year-old black man in their neighborhood. Greg McMichael told police he suspected Arbery was a burglar and Arbery attacked his son before being shot. Arbery’s family said he was jogging.
Bryan lives in the same subdivision, just outside the port city of Brunswick. Bryan said he saw the McMichaels pass by and join the chase, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, Richard Dial, testified earlier this month on a suspected cause.
It wasn’t until May 7 – two days after Bryan’s cell phone video leaked online and sparked a national protest – that the McMichaels were arrested. Bryan was arrested on May 22, and according to an arrest warrant, he attempted to “lock up and detain” Arbery without legal authority by “using his vehicle multiple times” before Arbery was shot.
Bryan told investigators that Travis cursed McMichael and said a racist slur standing over Arbery just after killing him, Dial testified.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case after the video surfaced. The attorney general appointed Holmes, the prosecutor in Cobb County near Atlanta, to prosecute after the local prosecutor charged himself with Greg McMichael’s work for her – and two other outside prosecutors also stepped aside.
In addition to charges of murder and felony, the McMichaels and Bryan are each charged with two counts of serious abuse and one each of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Under Georgia law, a crime murder charge means that a death occurred while committing an underlying crime and does not intend to kill. Homicide crimes require “premeditation, explicit or implicit.” Any conviction for murder in Georgia has a minimum life sentence, with or without parole.
The functions of the courts in Georgia have been severely limited in recent months due to a statewide judicial emergency proclaimed by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Holmes said they could bring in a grand jury bred prior to the judicial emergency.
Lawyers for Arbery’s mother and father made statements applauding the charges and emphasizing their desire that the three men be convicted and convicted of his death.
Bob Rubin, a Travis McMichael attorney, 34, said in an email that prosecutors choose the facts they want to present to a grand jury when they bring charges. The defense team found other facts “that are an integral part of the case,” he wrote.
“Travis McMichael will not plead guilty to this charge, and we look forward to bringing to trial all the facts related to this tragic death,” Rubin wrote.
Attorney Kevin Gough, who represents 50-year-old Bryan, spoke to reporters in the county courthouse just after Holmes announced the charges.
“We welcome the grand jury action today,” said Gough. “Although we disagree, it is an important step in the process of bringing this matter closer to the fast-paced process Roddie demanded.”
He said his client did not commit any crime and worked with law enforcement officers from the start.
Greg McMichael, 64, attorneys did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
Even if Governor Brian Kemp signs the state hate crime law passed this week, it cannot be retroactively applied to this case, Holmes told reporters. The United States Department of Justice has said it assesses whether federal hate crime charges are appropriate.
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