BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The Georgia man whose cellphone video of Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting helped reignite the case was charged with murder late Thursday, making him the third person arrested this month in the Feb. 23 fatal shooting.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said 50-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. was arrested Thursday on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. News4Jax cameras later captured agents swarming Bryan’s home to search it.
“There are a number of pieces of video that helped us get to this point,” GBI Director Vic Reynolds said Friday morning.
Arbery was slain Feb. 23 when a father and son armed themselves and pursued him after spotting the 25-year-old man running in their neighborhood. More than two months passed before authorities arrested Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
The McMichaels both told police the day Arbery was shot that Bryan had attempted to block Arbery prior to the confrontation where he was shot three times.
The GBI wouldn’t answer questions about specific evidence in the case but said there was enough probable cause that Bryan was involved in Arbery’s killing to prompt his arrest. According to arrest warrants obtained from GBI, Bryan attempted “to confine and detain” Arbery “utilizing his vehicle on multiple occasions" during the encounter that ended with Arbery’s killing.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said Bryan turned himself in Thursday at the request of GBI and again repeated his assertion that Bryan was a witness who committed no crime and “bears no criminal responsibility” in Arbery’s death.
“If we believed he was a witness, we wouldn’t have arrested him," Reynolds said, adding that the GBI’s part of the investigation is nearing an end and no further arrests are expected.
The GBI’s separate investigation into whether there was any prosecutorial misconduct in the 2½-month delay before the McMichaels were arrested is continuing.
Gough said he has found no precedent in Georgia law for the prosecution of his client, calling the charges against him “ground-breaking” and “a substantial extension of the existing law.”
He said he is demanding a speedy trial for his client rather than waive the right to a speedy trial, which is a typical step defense teams take to give themselves more time to prepare. Gough insisted he will be ready to move forward to trial by July 4 and said the case should proceed despite the limitations of the pandemic.
“We agree with the Arbery family that justice delayed is justice denied," Gough said.
Jacksonville attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case, believes a speedy trial for such a complex case is not what any attorney would typically do for their client.
“This usually doesn’t happen in most situations you don’t demand a speedy trial especially in a homicide case because of the amount of discovery the amount of evidence,” he said. “The issues at play are tremendous, so rarely do you see any lawyer request a speedy trial.”
In fact, Nichols questions how a speedy trial for Bryan would impact the case of Gregory and Travis McMichael.
Gough even suggested that he and Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes, who was appointed special prosecutor in the case, agree to accept the first 12 jurors out of the box rather than go through a lengthy jury selection process.
Holmes was handed the case after two Southeast Georgia DAs recused themselves. During a news conference Friday, she pledged to “make sure that we find justice” for a “broken” family and community.
Holmes said she anticipates the question of a change of venue will come up but it’s too early to begin those discussions.
Gregory McMichael told police the day of the shooting that he suspected Arbery was a burglar and that Arbery attacked his son before being shot. According to a 911 call, the father and son tried to stop Arbery in the neighborhood after seeing him leave a property where a home was under construction. The homeowner, who has surveillance video of multiple people stopping at the open property, has said that nothing was taken from the construction site.
That property owner had been sent a text message from Glynn County police officer Robert Rash telling him to call Gregory McMichael, an ex-District Attorney investigator, “day or night” if he caught trespassers on his cameras.
Reynolds addressed that text message Friday.
“What I would ask people to remember is that sometimes things happen in a case where perhaps acts were foolish, or perhaps acts are something that socially speaking we frown upon -- doesn’t mean they’re criminal," Reynolds said.
Reynolds also said Facebook messages, including ones posted by neighbors in the Satilla Shores Facebook page about trespassers, could end up in the case file handed over to prosecutor Holmes.
Bryan lives in that same Satilla Shores subdivision just outside Brunswick, and the video he took from the cab of his vehicle helped stir a national outcry when it leaked online May 5.
Bryan’s video of the shooting was taken from the driver’s seat of a vehicle following Arbery as he runs along a residential street. It shows a pickup truck parked in the road ahead of Arbery, with one man in the truck’s bed and another standing beside the open driver’s side door.
The video shows Arbery run around the truck to the right before he cuts back in front of it. Then a gunshot can be heard, followed by a second shot. Arbery can be seen punching a man holding what appears to be a shotgun, who then fires a third shot point-blank. Arbery staggers and falls face down in the street.
A coroner’s report showed Arbery was struck by three shotgun blast -- one in the wrist and two in the chest.
The video quickly drew a strong reaction from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who called it “absolutely horrific.” The Georgia Bureau of Investigation soon took over the case from local police, and the arrests of the McMichaels followed on May 7.
Under Georgia law, a person can be charged with felony murder for committing any felony that causes the death of someone else. It does not require intent to kill and carries an automatic life sentence.
In the Glynn County police incident report on the shooting, Gregory McMichael told an officer that at one point Arbery “began running back the direction from which he came and `Roddy' attempted to block him which was unsuccessful." It's the only mention in the police report of any potential involvement by Bryan.
Arbery’s aunt said his family was relieved by Bryan’s arrest.
“I was really overjoyed, I was so happy because we always knew that he played a part in this and to see him still being out, we had so many questions, but now that the GBI has gotten involved, it seems like everything is starting to work out in our favor,” Thea Brooks said.
Attorneys for Arbery’s parents also cheered the news.
“We called for his arrest from the very beginning of this process,” attorneys S. Lee Merritt, Benjamin Crump and L. Chris Stewart said in a statement. “His involvement in the murder of Mr. Arbery was obvious to us, to many around the country and after their thorough investigation, it was clear to the GBI as well.”
Gregory McMichael retired last year after more than two decades as an investigator for the local prosecutor’s office. Because of those ties, Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case. The prosecutor that she handed the case off to also stepped back after it came to light that his son had worked with McMichael in Johnson’s office.
A judge denied Bryan bond on his charges.
The McMichaels remain jailed in Glynn County waiting for a preliminary court hearing and for a judge to decide whether to free them on bond pending trial. Attorneys for the father and son have urged people not to rush to judgment in the case.