When the viral video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death shocked the world, what had been a stalled homicide investigation moved quickly. After months of inaction, three arrests were made within weeks. One year after his death, where do things stand in the justice system?
The short answer is that the cases against the three men are slowly working their way through Georgia’s superior court, thanks in part to delays from the pandemic. No trial date has been set.
Glynn County’s government posts all court filings from the three cases on its website.
Who’s in jail?
Travis McMichael is the man who shot Arbery while he and his father, Greg McMichael, were chasing him through their suburban Brunswick neighborhood in their pickup truck.
William “Roddie” Bryan is a neighbor who joined in the chase but did not fire a shot. He filmed the now-viral video of Arbery’s death with his cell phone.
They were all arrested in late May 2020, within weeks of the video’s leak.
Lawyers for all three men have tried unsuccessfully to get them released on bond, but the judge overseeing the case, Timothy Walmsley of Chatham County Superior Court, has denied all those requests.
Walmsley argued that the McMichaels “pose a significant danger to persons, community or property” because of their actions against Arbery, and that they “pose a significant risk of influencing witnesses and obstructing justice” because Greg McMichael had tried to influence the investigation, including asking his wife and daughter to delete social media posts.
Who is prosecuting the cases?
After the then-Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself because Greg McMichael had worked in her office, a nearby prosecutor, Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill, decided not to pursue a case against them. He argued, Gregory and Travis McMichael were trying to conduct a citizen’s arrest.
However, there was no evidence Ahmaud Arbery had committed any crime that would warrant a citizen’s arrest, and the video depicted something different. After the national outrage, the case moved to two other prosecutors, finally resting with the Cobb County District Attorney’s office in metro Atlanta. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and federal authorities also came on board to help.
Then-Cobb DA Joyette Holmes was defeated in the November election, but her successor Flynn Broady has not changed the team of lawyers assigned to the case. “Immediately after being elected, I met with ADA Jesse Evans, the lead prosecutor on the case, to assure Mr. Arbery’s family that our office remains as committed as ever to seeking truth and ensuring justice,” Broady said in a statement.
“The pandemic certainly doesn’t help the criminal justice process, but we will proceed as quickly as possible toward trial.”
What are the next steps?
No additional hearings are scheduled just yet. In late January, Judge Walmsley informed both sides that no further in-person proceedings would take place until the public health emergency has subsided, so additional hearings will only occur if both sides agree they can happen via video.
The Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorney in Savannah also opened an investigation into Arbery’s case in May for possible federal hate crimes charges. The Georgia Attorney General has an ongoing probe into any possible prosecutorial misconduct, which a spokeswoman for the office called a “top priority.”