BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The three Glynn County men accused in the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery appeared via video conference Friday at an arraignment hearing, pleading not guilty to all charges. During a hearing on a motion to grant bond following the arraignments, it came out that one of the defendants is under federal investigation for sex crimes.
Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory, are accused in the shooting of Arbery in late February as he jogged through their Satilla Shores neighborhood. William “Roddie” Bryan recorded on his cell phone the final moments of Arbury running for his life and being gunned down. All three were formally charged Friday morning in connection with the case Friday morning and each entered not guilty pleas.
The three men were arrested more than 70 days after the shooting of Arbery after Bryan’s cellphone video of the incident went viral. What was seen in the video conflicted with what the three men told Glynn County police after the shooting.
After the arraignment hearing, the Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley heard motions filed by Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, including asking that his client be released on bond pending trial.
“Keeping him in jail isn’t accomplishing anything,” Gough said prior to entering court Friday. “Roddie is struggling in there. He’s not used to being in jail. He lost his house, his car, his job and everything, everything he has left in the world is in storage. If he can get back out, he can reclaim his life.”
During witness testimony in on the bond motion, the prosecutor revealed that Bryan is under investigation for sex crimes.
“There are texts to support the DOJ’s investigation,” Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans said. “I can confirm as of yesterday, the GBI has opened an additional parallel investigation into sex crimes that stemmed from this. This now also heightens the risk of flight, as well.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, asked the judge to keep Bryan in jail pending their trial.
“Each time I visit there, I fear running into either man who killed my son,” Cooper-Jones said. “William Bryan does not feel he did anything wrong. What is to stop him from doing it again?”
Walmsley denied the motion to grant Bryan bail and a second motion requesting a gag order in the case.
Gough also argued a motion requesting that District Attorney Joyette Holmes be removed from the case, calling into question the way she was chosen. That motion was denied.
The circumstances of the case are unique in that prosecutors did not file criminal charges against the McMichaels and Bryan for more than 74 days.
Arbery’s lawyers accuse the Brunswick district attorney and Waycross district attorney of trying to protect the McMichaels because they have ties to law enforcement. However, when Georgia state investigators took over they found enough evidence within 36 hours to file charges.
While it wasn’t a formal motion, during the proceedings Gough objected to the Arbery’s lawyer, S. Lee Merritt, wearing a mask in the courtroom that bears the words “George Floyd.” While Judge Walmsley said he had not noticed the mask and didn’t want to rule on the legality of wearing it, he did ask that people wear content-neutral masks in court and that “no political statements should be made.”
After the hearings, Merritt spoke about the defendants describing their actions as a citizen’s arrest and that they killed Arbery, who was unarmed and running to get away from them as self-defense.
“We’re not looking for an apology, we’re looking for a conviction,” Merritt said. “I understand an apology will move us toward an area of remorse, but our greater concern is they believe murdering a man who’s jogging is OK. Their behavior and the reason why they represent such a danger to this community. In their mind (it) was perfectly legal.”