Posted on May 12, 2020

Georgia’s Attorney General Appoints Black Woman as the Fourth Lead Prosecutor in the Ahmaud Arbery Case

Luke Kenton and Jennifer Smith, Daily Mail, May 11, 2020

The Georgia attorney general on Monday appointed a black female prosecutor to oversee the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old African-American man who was shot dead by two white men while he was reportedly out jogging on February 23.

The prosecutor, Joyette M. Holmes, is from Cobb County in the Atlanta metropolitan area, where she is the first African-American to serve as district attorney.

She will be overseeing the prosecution of Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, who were charged with murder and aggravated assault after a video of them pursuing Arbery in a pick up truck and then shooting him dead in a Brunswick, Georgia street surfaced online last week.

The US Department of Justice is considering whether to also pursue federal hate crime charges against the McMichaels, officials confirmed Monday.

Holmes becomes the fourth prosecutor to take the case, superseding Tom Durden, who reportedly requested to be replaced by a prosecutor with a larger staff citing the cases’ growth ‘in size and magnitude.’

‘District Attorney Holmes is a respected attorney with experience, both as a lawyer and a judge,’ state Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, said in a statement. ‘And the Cobb County District Attorney’s office has the resources, personnel and experience to lead this prosecution and ensure justice is done.’

Holmes served four years a magistrate judge in suburban Cobb County before Gov. Brian Kemp appointed her to fill the vacant district attorney’s position last July. According to the Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys Council, Holmes is one of only seven black district attorneys in the state.

An attorney for Arbery´s father, Marcus Arbery, applauded the appointment of a new lead prosecutor.

‘In order for justice to be carried out both effectively and appropriately in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, it is imperative that the special prosecutor has no affiliation with the Southeast Georgia legal or law enforcement communities,’ attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement. He asked that Holmes ‘be zealous in her search for justice.’

Arbery was hit by three shotgun blasts, according to an autopsy report released Monday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. One shot grazed his right wrist, and the other two struck him in the chest.

The 25-year-old had no drugs or alcohol in his system, and was carrying two tan bandannas which were soaked with blood.

It has taken nearly three months and several different prosecutors for Travis and Gregory McMichael to be arrested and charged with his killing. Georgia’s Attorney General is now investigating the handling of the case amid claims that prosecutors passed it off to protect 64-year-old Gregory, a former police detective who recently worked in the local district attorney’s office.

The case was first assigned to Jackie Johnson in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, who recused herself because Gregory McMichael was previously an investigator in her office. It was then handed to George E. Barnhill, district attorney for Georgia’s Waycross Judicial Circuit, who recused himself under pressure from Arbery’s mother amid claims Barnhill’s son used to work with Gregory McMichael in the Brunswick district attorney’s office.

Durden then took over the reins, and said last week he planned to present the investigation to a grand jury before a video of the incident leaked and the GBI was assigned to the case. The McMichaels weren’t arrested until after the video became public.

The case has sparked outrage around the world and some say it is proof of persistent racism in the South. Over the weekend, people ran to honor what would have been Ahmaud’s 26th birthday and armed protesters took to the street.

The McMichaels’ defense has been that they were making a citizen’s arrest after suspecting Ahmaud of breaking into and robbing homes in their neighborhood. They said Travis, 34, then exercised his stand your ground right by shooting Ahmaud, claiming the unarmed 25-year-old reached for his gun.

On Monday, DoJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said: ‘The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia have been supporting and will continue fully to support and participate in the state investigation. We are assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate,’ Kupec said in a statement.’

The McMichaels have both been charged by the state of Georgia with murder and aggravated assault which carry maximum prison sentences of life.

Georgia has no hate crimes as a state but the federal charge carries a maximum prison sentence of life when the hate crime results in death. A federal prosecution would supersede a state case and could negate it if the defendants were found guilty and the need for a state prosecution reduced.

It comes as new surveillance video Arbery walking into a construction site on the day of his death, looking around the property and then leaving empty handed the day he was gunned down emerged.

But the new video obtained by News4Jax appears to undermine their shaky burglary suspect claim. It shows Ahmaud walking into an under-construction house in Brunswick, looking around and then leaving without taking anything.

In the two months before Ahmaud’s killing, there were no reports of suspected burglaries in the area, and the owner of the under-construction property has spoken out to say they have no links to the McMichaels whatsoever.   

The video was shared by the property owner who said they had never had any contact with the McMichaels let alone did they call for them to investigate any break-ins.

The attorney representing Ahmaud’s family says the video shows that at most, Ahmaud would have been guilty of trespassing.

It’s unclear what time the video on the construction site was taken.

According to the police report into his death, Ahmaud was shot dead at 1.46pm.

A time stamp on a different surveillance camera video says he entered the construction site at 2.13pm. It’s possible that camera was inaccurately running an hour fast.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says it is now investigating the video along with the cellphone footage of Ahmaud’s killing that went viral.

The property is owned by Larry English.

Over the weekend, he released a statement through an attorney to say he neither called for the McMichaels to go after Ahmaud, nor did he condone in any way how they killed him.

‘First, and most important, the English family — the homeowners — want Ahmaud Arbery’s parents to know that they are very sorry for the loss of their son and they are praying for them.

‘Second, it is crucial to understand that the English family — the homeowners — were not part of what the McMichaels did.

‘The first accounts suggested a link between the McMichaels and the homeowners, but there is none.

‘The English family had no relationship with the McMichaels and did not even know what had occurred until after Mr. Arbery’s death was reported to them.

‘After seeing Mr. Arbery’s photo in news reports, Larry English did not even think Mr. Arbery was the person that appears in this video.

‘Even if it had been, however, Mr. English would never have sought a vigilante response, much less one resulting in a tragic death,’ his attorney, Elizabeth Graddy, told First Coast News. 

Ahmaud’s parents’ lawyer confirmed that it is him in the video.

‘This video is consistent with the evidence already known to us.

‘Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog. He stopped by a property under construction where he engaged in no illegal activity and remained for only a brief period.

‘Ahmaud did not take anything from the construction site. He did not cause any damage to the property,’ Lee Merritt said.

Last week, after growing global outrage, the case was taken out of local prosecutors’ hands to be investigated by the state.

Gregory and Travis were both charged with murder and aggravated assault.

Greg McMichael had investigated Arbery before when he worked as an investigator in the Brunswick DA’s office.

In a letter to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr recusing himself from the case, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill said that his own son and Gregory ‘both helped with the previous prosecution of (Ahmaud) Arbery’.

Arbery had previously been sentenced to five years probation as a first offender on charges of carrying a weapon on campus and several counts of obstructing a law enforcement officer.

According to the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he was also convicted of probation violation in 2018 after he was charged with shoplifting.

Arbery had previously been sentenced to five years probation as a first offender on charges of carrying a weapon on campus and several counts of obstructing a law enforcement officer.

According to the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he was also convicted of probation violation in 2018 after he was charged with shoplifting.

Gregory, who retired from the DA’s office in 2019, had not mentioned his involvement in the case to police.

George E. Barnhill was the second DA to recuse himself in mid-April following pressure from Arbery’s family. He claims he only learned of his son’s link to the victim ‘three or four weeks’ ago.

In his letter, Barnhill added that criminal charges against the McMichaels was unwarranted, citing the criminal history of Arbery’s brother and cousin.

Georgia state investigators announced on Sunday that they have arrested a 20-year-old man suspected of creating a fake Facebook account and using it to post a ‘hoax’ threat against protesters angry over the killing of unarmed black man 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Sunday said state police arrested Rashawn Smith and charged him with dissemination of information relating to terroristic acts.

Smith allegedly created a fake Facebook page and used it to make threats against the protesters.

He was taken into custody in Midway, a town about 50 miles north of Brunswick.

Earlier in the day, the GBI said it had ‘been made aware of a Facebook post that contains a threat to future protests related to Ahmaud Arbery’.

It was not immediately clear if Smith has an attorney who could comment on the charge.

Hundreds of people gathered alongside some 300 bikers in Brunswick on Saturday to honor Arbery.

The bikers were seen kneeling at the spot where Arbery was fatally shot on February 23 by two white men who claim they were making a citizen’s arrest as they suspected him of a neighborhood burglary.

Several of those in attendance near the Sidney Lanier Bridge wore face masks and t-shirts with the phrase ‘I run with Maud’ in tribute to Arbery.

The memorial ceremony on Saturday was held just a day after protesters gathered at the same site demanding justice for Arbery on what would have been his 26th birthday.

Georgia’s attorney general on Sunday asked the Department of Justice to investigate the handling of Arbery’s killing.

‘We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,’ Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement.

‘The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers, and we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers.’

Under Georgia law, someone who isn’t a sworn police officer can arrest and detain another person only if a felony is committed in the presence of the arresting citizen.

Georgia’s attorney general on Sunday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the handling of the investigation into the killing of Arbery.

Arbery was killed on February 23 but no arrests were made until Thursday after national outrage over the case swelled last week when video surfaced that showed the shooting which was blasted as a ‘lynching’.

‘We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,’ Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement.

‘The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers, and we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers.’

Attorneys for Arbery’s mother and father applauded Carr for reaching out to federal officials.

‘We have requested the involvement of the DOJ since we first took this case,’ attorneys S. Lee Merritt, Benjamin Crump and L. Chris Stewart said in a statement.

‘There are far too many questions about how this case was handled and why it took 74 days for two of the killers to be arrested and charged in Mr. Arbery’s death.’

Last week, a Justice Department spokesman said the FBI is assisting in the investigation and the DOJ would assist if a federal crime is uncovered.

It comes after it emerged the Georgia district attorney who recused himself from the case told investigators that the fatal shooting was a ‘justifiable homicide’ and that the father and son duo who killed Arbery should not be charged.

George Barnhill, Sr, the top prosecutor for the Waycross Judicial Circuit, told police in Glynn County on February 24 – the day after the shooting – that there was insufficient evidence to charge Travis McMichael, 34, and his 64-year-old father, former police officer Greg McMichael.

The Glynn County Police Department released a statement to The Brunswick News on Saturday saying Travis and Greg McMichael were brought in for questioning at around 3.30pm on February 23.

Earlier this week, two Glynn County commissioners said that the current Brunswick District Attorney, Jackie Johnson, also blocked police from arresting the McMichaels because she was friends with Gregory McMichael.

Officers investigating the scene of the fatal shooting on February 23 told Johnson’s office that they had cause to arrest the father and son at the time but the DA shut them down.

Gregory McMichael had worked as an investigator in her office until his retirement in 2019 causing Johnson to recuse herself from the case a few days after the shooting.

‘She shut them down to protect her friend McMichael,’ Glynn County Commissioner Allen Booker told The Atlanta Journal Constitution.