41ºF

What we learned during two-day bond hearing for father, son accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery

It wasn’t your typical bond hearing. Chatham County Judge Timothy Walmsley listened to arguments over two days in the Ahmaud Arbery case.

Video of the shooting of the 25-year-old Black man while running through a South Georgia neighborhood sparked nationwide protests over Arbery’s death and the way prosecutors handled the case.

On Thursday and Friday, defense teams for Greg McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, made the case that the father and son abide by the law and have a record of public service.

State prosecutors made the case that the men had already made attempts to influence the investigation into Arbery’s death and were a danger to the community.

The judge ultimately denied bond for both men, but attorneys made new revelations over the course of the hearing.

Voicemail to the district attorney

On the last day of the hearing, Cobb County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans played a voicemail Greg McMichael made to current Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson after the shooting.

“Jackie, this is Greg. Can you call me as soon as you possibly can? We’re, uh, my son and I have been involved in a shooting. And, uh, I need some advice. Please call me as soon as you can,” Greg McMichael said in the voicemail.

Johnson is Greg McMichael’s former boss. Greg McMichael worked as an investigator in her office for more than 20 years before retiring. The shooting was technically hers to prosecute before the case was reassigned to a different district attorney.

Evans told the judge that he wasn’t suggesting Johnson called Greg McMichael back or helped him in any way but argued it was an attempt to influence the investigation.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations just completed its investigation into how Johnson and the next district attorney assigned the case, George Barnhill, handled the case. The findings were given to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, but it’s unclear what will happen next.

The judge expressed concern over the voicemail after denying bond for the father and son.

“There does appear to be evidence that Mr. McMichael was willing to put the law in his own hands,” Walmsley said. "He felt he had the ability to influence an ongoing investigation, and I think the facts are still developing on this, but there’s a possibility that it’s why this case took so long to get where it is right now.”

Body camera videos from the day of the shooting

For the first time, state prosecutors showed a snippet of body camera video from the deadly shooting. The video picks up once police have arrived in the Satilla Shores neighborhood.

In the video, Greg McMichael tells police how he ran into his home to grab his gun -- a .357 Magnum-- adding that it was issued to him by the Glynn County police.

“He makes frequent trips into the neighborhood and gets caught on video camera breaking into places, and nobody’s been able to catch him. Having recognized him from the video I’d seen not too very long ago, several days ago, I’m standing out in my front yard when he comes running -- I’m not talking about trotting, I’m talking about hauling a**,” Greg McMichael told police on body camera video Feb. 23.

But the attorney for the owner of the then-construction site that Arbery was seen coming out of the day of the shooting said Arbery was never seen on camera taking anything.

Damage to homes in Satilla Shores

State prosecutors also showed the court pictures of bullet holes in homes in the Satilla Shores neighborhood after the shooting.

Evans, the Cobb County prosecutor, argued that the damage to homes in the neighborhood constituted a risk to the community.

Background of Greg and Travis McMichael

Defense teams for Greg and Travis McMichael spent much of the two days talking about the father and son’s record of service, family life and following the law.

Travis McMichael is a father to a 4-year-old and a former Coast Guard member.

“Everything about his life has been consistent with upholding his oath to abide by the laws, to follow orders when given and to go above and beyond the call of duty. That’s who Travis McMichael is,” attorney Robert Rubin said during closing arguments.

On Thursday, Allison McMichael, Greg’s wife and Travis’ mother, took the stand and shared that at least four family friends agreed to offer their land as a property bond to get the men out of jail.

“He loves home. He loves his son. He will stand up to his responsibility,” Allison McMichael said of her son.

A longtime friend of Travis McMichael, Ashley Langford, said Travis McMichael prayed for Arbery’s mother in the days following the shooting.

“He said he never wanted it to happen like that,” Ashley Langford said.

What’s next

There’s no date set yet for the next hearing or a trial.

But the prosecutors said they are ready to try the case.


About the Author: