A Georgia grand jury has indicted three men in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was pursued and shot dead as he jogged through a Brunswick neighborhood in February. Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes announced the nine-count indictment Wednesday.
The indictment charges Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan with malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Ahmaud Arbery's killing, captured on a disturbing video, drew a national outcry. Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, who are white, told police they chased Arbery because they thought he was a burglary suspect and acted in self-defense during a confrontation. Two and a half months passed before they were charged with murder and aggravated assault, shortly after the state began investigating and the video became public. Authorities say the third man charged in the case, Bryan, boxed Arbery in with his truck.
It was Bryan who filmed Arbery's death on his cellphone. An investigator later testified that Bryan said he heard Travis McMichael using a racial slur as Arbery lay dying.
Though the Georgia legislature on Tuesdaythat would allow prosecutors to seek enhanced sentencing for those convicted of targeting a victim because of their race, Holmes said the bill is not retroactive and can't be applied to Arbery's case. The bill has been passed to Georgia governor Brian Kemp, who said he intends to sign it pending a legal review.
"If this bill were signed prior to the incident, then it might be something we'd be able to look at in this case," Holmes said.
While states are the primary prosecutors of hate crimes, the federal government also has the authority to bring charges under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Department of Justice can act as a "backstop" to prosecute hate crimes in states without the statutes or where state laws don't cover the crime. The Department of Justice has said it is reviewing the Arbery case to determine whether federal hate crime charges are appropriate. It's also weighing a request by the Attorney General of Georgia to investigate the conduct of the first two district attorneys assigned to the case. They recused themselves amid questions over their links to Gregory McMichael, a former law enforcement officer, and handling of the case.
Bryan has maintained his innocence, and lawyers for Gregory McMichael say they have information that points to "a very different narrative" that will be revealed in court.
Holmes said Arbery's family was "ecstatic" to learn of the grand jury indictment.
"This is another step forward in seeking justice for Ahmaud," Holmes said.
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