More than two months after 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was chased down and killed while jogging down the street of a suburban Georgia neighborhood, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested and charged Gregory and Travis McMichael with his murder.
The murder of Arbery was passed through three district attorneys in the time period between his death and the shooters’ arrest.
First, Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case because one of the men seen in the video, Greg McMichael, is a retired investigator from her office.
Then the case was assigned to Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill, who wrote, “The autopsy supports the initial opinion we gave you on February 24th, 2020 at the briefing room in the Glynn County Police Department after reviewing the evidence you had at that time. We do not see grounds for an arrest of any of the three parties.”
In a memo to Glynn Country Police Capt. Tom Jump, Barnhill explained why he did not see grounds for an arrest of the McMichaels or the man who recorded the shooting from his vehicle.
“It appears Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William Bryan were following in “hot pursuit of a burglary suspect with solid first-hand probably cause,” Barnhill wrote. “Arbery initiated the fight. … At that point, Arbery grabbed the shotgun (that Travis McMichael was holding). Under Georgia law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.”
“It appears it was their intent to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived,” Barnhill wrote. “Under Georgia law, that is perfectly legal.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Jones-Cooper, said she started researching Barnhill’s connection to the gunmen, “Once I learned that there was some relationships between the DA in Glynn County and Ware County. I did that just by going on the internet and looking on Facebook and finding that these people were actually friends. … And then I found out his son was actually working at the DA there.”
In his letter to Jump, Barnhill acknowledges that Jones-Cooper shared her concerns with him.
“The victim’s mother has clearly expressed she wants myself and my office off the case. She sees a conflict in that my son works in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office where Greg McMichael retired some time ago,” Barnhill wrote before requesting that the state should assign another prosecutor to the case, adding, “I appreciate there is immediate pressure on your department as to the issue of ‘Arrest.’”
The video of Arbery’s killing — and the fact that no one had been arrested in the months since it happened — led to a wave of outrage nationwide via social media, marches in the streets, and from public figures such as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., basketball star LeBron James and Russell Moore, a prominent leader of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The case is now being led by Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden, who on Tuesday of this week formally requested the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the killing. It took the bureau two days to investigate and arrest Gregory and Travis McMichael.