Nearly a year after a video surfaced showing 25-year-old Black man Ahmaud Arbery being chased down the street of a South Georgia neighborhood, and eventually shot to death, the three men accused in his murder have been indicted on federal hate crime charges.
The video recording the deadly encounter sparked nationwide protests last year and triggered state investigators to take over the case. Within 24 hours investigators arrested two of the men involved who had faced no charges in the months before the video was released to a local radio station.
The suspects — Travis McMichael, 35, his father and former district attorney investigator Gregory McMichael, 65, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan — were each charged with one count of interference with Arbery’s rights. Specifically, prosecutors allege the three men chased Arbery through the neighborhood on a public street “because of Arbery’s race and color.” They were also charged with one count of attempted kidnapping.
Travis and Gregory McMichael were charged with one count of using, carrying, brandishing and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.
Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, has sat through multiple hearings over roughly a year where she has listened as prosecutors showed text messages and social media posts laced with racial slurs from the suspects accused in her son’s death.
“The evidence was there. I’m so glad that they reviewed the evidence and took all that into play,” Jones told News4Jax. “It’s been disheartening coming from our community where I chose to raise my children to know that we were in a community they had such, such racial bias with it and it’s very disheartening.”
Special agent Richard Dial testified during a preliminary hearing on June 4 that co-defendant Bryan said during a May 13 interview he heard Travis McMichael say, “f---ing n-word” seconds after Arbery was shot.
Dial also testified about another instance when Travis McMichael, a former member of the Coast Guard, used the n-word saying he made the statement that “he loved his job because he’s out on a boat and there aren’t any n-words anywhere.”
The four attorneys representing the McMichael’s say they are disappointed in the indictment returned by the grand jury suggesting Arbery’s death was motivated by race.
“To say the McMichael’s pursued Mr. Arbery, when they knew he was the person who has been in that house, solely because of race and color belies the facts that were known and reported in 9-1-1 calls and police reports and actually testified to the grand jury down in the Southern District,” said attorney Jason Sheffield.
“You have to remember that what the prosecution has offered in the state’s case at these hearings are private messages between Travis and friends. Some are them are pretty awful jokes to them and references, but none of them speak to actions,” said attorney Robert Rubin.
Kevin Gough, the attorney representing Bryan, said in a statement “we are very disappointed with the decision of the Department of Justice to pursue the prosecution of Mr. Bryan. Roddie Bryan has committed no crime. We look forward to a fair and speedy trial, and to the day when Mr. Bryan is released and reunited with his family.”
The three men are expected to have their first appearance in front of a federal judge on May 11 in Brunswick. The next day, the prosecution and defense will meet for a hearing on the state charges in connection with Arbery’s death.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office is also in the middle of an “active investigation” into the handling of Ahmaud Arbery’s case by the first two prosecutors, Jackie Johnson and George Barnhill.
Johnson employed one of the suspects, Gregory McMichael, for more than two decades. During a bond hearing for the McMichael’s, prosecutors played a voicemail where Gregory McMichael called Johnson after the incident asking for advice.
In response to questions from News4Jax, the Attorney General’s Office said the investigation is active and “remains a top priority.”