The three white men were charged with federal hate crimes after they pursued and shot the unarmed black man.
Three white men from the U.S. state of Georgia are scheduled to appear before a federal judge on hate crime charges in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was chased and shot after he was seen running around the accused’s quarters in February 2020.
Indictments before US investigating magistrate Benjamin Cheesbro are scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, with federal prosecutors continuing their case as a state murder trial is still pending against the three defendants: Greg McMichael, his adult son Travis McMichael and his neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan.
A Georgian judge has set a trial in the state’s case for October and will hear preliminary motions later this week.
Arbery’s murder preceded a summer of racial justice protests across the United States, sparking particular outrage that the defendants were left free for two months after the incident.
The men were not charged with the murder until the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police after cell phone footage of the murder – taken by Bryan – emerged.
On February 23 of last year, the McMichaels, who had armed themselves, pursued Arbery, who was unarmed, in a van after running past their home, authorities said.
Bryan followed in another vehicle and took a cell phone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times at close range with a shotgun.
On April 28 of this year, the Justice Department also charged McMichaels and Bryan with violating Arbery’s civil rights as well as attempted kidnapping for using their trucks and guns to attempt to detain him. The McMichaels have also been charged with using firearms in the commission of a crime.
The federal indictment says the three men unlawfully used force to “hurt, intimidate and interfere with” the young black man “because of Arbery’s race and color.”
If they are found guilty of violating Arbery’s rights, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Repeal of Civil War era law
Defense attorneys for the McMichaels and Bryans insist they have committed no crime.
Lawyers for the McMichaels said they sued Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar who was videotaped inside a nearby house under construction. They say Travis McMichael shot Arbery fearing for his life as they grabbed a shotgun.
Prosecutors say Arbery was just jogging and there is no evidence Arbery stole anything from the house.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley on Friday ordered jury selection in the state case to begin Oct. 18, with the McMichaels and Bryan trial once a jury is seated.
The judge has scheduled hearings on 12 preliminary motions for Wednesday and Thursday.
Walmsley must decide whether the trial jury should be allowed to hear unflattering evidence from Arbery’s previous clashes with law enforcement as well as racist text messages and social media posts created or shared by the men who pursued and killed him.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on Monday repealed a Civil War-era law that allowed citizens to make arrests if a crime was committed in their presence. The law was cited by a prosecutor originally assigned to the Arbery case to argue that the shooting was justified.
Civil rights advocates say the law is steeped in racism and was used to justify the lynching of blacks.
In May 2020, Georgia’s Attorney General announced an investigation into local prosecutors who initially dealt with the Arbery murder case – Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson and Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill – for misconduct in matters of prosecution. Johnson had a conflict of interest because she had previously worked with Elder McMichael, a retired police officer. She had referred the case to Barnhill, who, it later emerged, also had a connection to McMichael.
Barnhill later concluded after meeting with Glynn County Police that the trio had committed no crime.
Last month a jury in Minneapolis, Minnesota former convicted policeman Derek Chauvin second and third degree murder and manslaughter for the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man.