Suspects in Ahmaud Arbery’s killing are indicted on murder charges

Last Updated 25 June 2020, 04:34 IST

The three white men accused of the killing Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot dead after being chased in a south Georgia neighborhood, have been indicted on murder charges by a Georgia grand jury, the prosecutor in the case announced Wednesday.

The men — Gregory McMichael, 64; his son Travis McMichael, 34; and their neighbor William Bryan, 50 — were arrested and charged last month with murder and other crimes in connection with Arbery’s death, which prompted nationwide protests and indignation, particularly after a graphic video of his Feb. 23 killing was released online.

On Wednesday, the office of District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes of Cobb County announced that the grand jury in Glynn County had returned an indictment with nine counts against each of the three defendants: malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

The men could face life sentences without parole.

“This is another step forward in seeking justice for Ahmaud,” Holmes said in a statement, adding, “We will continue to be intentional in the pursuit of justice for this family and the community at large as the prosecution of this case continues.”

Arbery, 25, was spotted in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, outside of Brunswick, Georgia, while running on a Sunday afternoon. A surveillance camera showed that Arbery stopped for a few minutes inside a house under construction before resuming his jog. Gregory McMichael later told the authorities that he thought Arbery was a suspect in a series of break-ins in the neighborhood.

He and Travis McMichael armed themselves, they told the police, got into a pickup truck, and tried to catch Arbery. Bryan, who is known as Roddie, also gave chase in his vehicle, a state investigator said, and used his cellphone to film the killing of Arbery.

The video shows Arbery running toward a pickup truck with Travis McMichael standing next to it. Arbery tries to run to the other side of the truck to avoid the younger McMichael, who is armed with a shotgun. But the two struggle, and eventually McMichael shoots Arbery.

In a court hearing this month, Richard Dial, an investigator with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said Bryan heard McMichael use a racial slur after shooting Arbery.

According to the six-page indictment, which was returned Wednesday morning, the men are charged with trying to “unlawfully confine and detain” Arbery while chasing him, using their vehicles “offensively” and in a manner “likely to cause serious bodily injury.”

The most serious charge is malice murder, which under Georgia law is “the intentional killing of a person with malice of forethought,” said Charlie Bailey, an Atlanta-area lawyer and former assistant district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia.

Bailey noted that this malice did not need to have been developed over a long period of time. “Malice can be formed in an instant,” he said.

The shooting death of Arbery has become an integral part of the broader wave of protests against racism, racial profiling and the police killings of Black people that have broken out across the country in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, the state Senate in Georgia, largely because of Arbery’s killing, passed a hate crimes bill that had been approved last year by the House. Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said he would sign it into law pending a legal review.

Benjamin Crump, one of the lawyers representing Arbery’s family, said in a statement that the indictments confirmed “what Ahmaud’s father has been saying for months — that this was a lynching.”

The three suspects remain in custody in Glynn County and have not been arraigned. Lawyers for the McMichaels could not be reached Wednesday afternoon, but Kevin Gough, a lawyer for Bryan, reiterated that his client was innocent.

“We’re disappointed that the district attorney chose to indict Mr. Bryan,” he said. “But at the same time we’ve been demanding a speedy trial from day one. The presentation of this case to the grand jury brings us one step closer to our day in court.”

(Published 25 June 2020, 04:34 IST)

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