If convicted on the murder charges, the defendants would face a minimum of life in prison and could face a death sentence.
“This is another step forward in seeking justice for Ahmaud,” said Joyette M. Holmes, the district attorney in Cobb County, who was specially appointed to handle the case. “We will continue to be intentional in the pursuit of justice for this family and the community at large as the prosecution of this case continues.”
Outside the Glynn County Courthouse, Holmes said the grand jury had taken only 10 minutes on Wednesday to formalize the charges. “The family was ecstatic to hear that it had happened this morning,” Holmes said.
The announcement suggested that the case against the three men is moving forward swiftly after criminal justice advocates objected to what they saw as a long initial delay in seeking charges.
“This confirms what Ahmaud’s father has been saying for months — that this was a lynching,” Arbery family attorney Ben Crump said in a statement. “This is a significant step on the road to justice and while nothing will bring back Ahmaud’s life, it is important that a Grand jury recognized his life had value and was wrongly and ruthlessly ended.”
Arbery was killed on Feb. 23 after the men followed him through a neighborhood after he jogged by. Arbery was fatally shot after the men confronted him, but no charges were filed in the immediate aftermath. It was not until video surfaced of the killing that pressure grew on prosecutors, and charges against Gregory and Travis McMichael — father and son — were announced in May. Bryan, who filmed the killing, was charged later.
The grand jury indictment means that jurors found probable cause to send the case to trial.
Bob Rubin, an attorney for Travis McMichael, said in an email to the Associated Press that his client intended to plead not guilty and that “we look forward to presenting all of the facts regarding this tragic death in a court of law.”
Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, told reporters that the indictment was “an important step in the process to moving this case closer to the speedy trial that Roddie has demanded.” Gough said Bryan, 50, was a witness to the killing, not an accomplice. An attorney for Gregory McMichael has said his client is innocent and plans to fight the charges in court.
Arbery, who was 25, was shot dead by Travis McMichael, 34, as he ran through a residential area of coastal Brunswick, Ga. Before charges were filed, Arbery’s mother contended that the case had been “mishandled from the very beginning.”
The killing sent shock waves through the community. But it was not until cellphone video was leaked online in May that the case began receiving national attention. It contributed to the widespread sense of racial injustice that swept the country this spring, culminating with protests following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Gregory McMichael — a former police detective whose law enforcement certification and power to arrest was stripped a year before — has told police that he and his son pursued Arbery after McMichael recognized him from “several recent break-ins in the neighborhood,” according to a police report.
The father and son tracked Arbery down in their pickup and blocked his repeated attempts at escape, video shows. Prosecutors say Bryan assisted the chase in a separate vehicle. With Arbery cornered, Travis McMichael got out of the truck and fatally shot Arbery following a brief scuffle, according to the video and authorities.
In May, Holmes became the fourth prosecutor to handle the investigation of Arbery’s killing, after she was appointed by Georgia’s attorney general. The first two prosecutors who reviewed the investigation recused themselves because of previous work connections with Gregory McMichael, and the third, Thomas Durden of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, requested that the case go to someone else, according to a statement from Attorney General Chris Carr (R).
At a preliminary hearing earlier this month, attorneys for the McMichaels argued that their clients had acted lawfully in their pursuit of Arbery and that Travis McMichael had fired at Arbery in self-defense. But Richard Dial, with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, testified that it was Arbery who had acted in self-defense.
In his testimony, Dial also said that Bryan told investigators after the incident that the younger McMichael uttered a racial slur as Arbery lay dying in the road.