Looking back at the Arbery case and where do we go from here?

Looking back at the Arbery case and where do we go from here?
Ahmaud Arbery (Source: WMC)

GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Three months after Ahmaud Arbery’s death, an attorney leaked the graphic video of Arbery’s killing.

The video went viral and drew national attention. It led to a criminal inquiry by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Two days later, on May 7, the two men seen in the video were arrested on felony murder charges. Father and son, Greg and Travis McMichael.

Two weeks later, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. was charged with felony murder. He’s the one who took the video.

All have pleaded not guilty. According to the defense, they pursued Arbery in their Brunswick neighborhood because he looked like a burglary suspect.

The key evidence for the McMichaels’ defense, in this case, will center around an old state statute known as Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law. It says ordinary citizens have the power to arrest someone if they see someone else commit a felony offense.

As for Bryan’s role, WTOC recently obtained a copy of Glynn County Police body camera footage as they arrived on the scene.

Here’s what Bryan told police about his involvement:

Police: “How are you doing, sir? All right so you are a passerby?”

Bryan: “No, not necessarily.”

From there, the officer and Bryan step out of the street, and Bryan explained he was working on his porch when he saw a man run by and a truck following the man.

Bryan: “I just hate to see people broken into around here. So I hollered out ‘you got ‘em?’ And he just kept running, full bore.”

And later after Travis shot Arbery:

Police: “Did it look like he was defending himself?”

Bryan: “Yeah, yeah. I mean, if the guy would have stopped to find out what was going on. He obviously was up to something. I mean, this would have never happened.”

“Should we have been chasing him? I don’t know, *chuckle* you know?”

In June, during a preliminary hearing, a GBI agent revealed a shocking new detail about that day.

Special Agent Richard Dial testified about a racial slur - the N word - used during the killing. He said it’s a detail Bryan later told investigators he heard Travis say moments after he shot Arbery and as Arbery lay dying.

The detail along with racially charged text messages and social media posts are part of the evidence file in the case.

It’s also why prosecutors have said federal agents are considering hate crime charges. Charges that have not been filed.

A judge later denied bond for all three saying they pose a significant threat or danger to the community.

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WTOC spoke with attorney Jason Sheffield who represents Travis McMichael. He says Travis did not use a racial slur. And he pointed out that Bryan only revealed that detail after several subsequent interviews with investigators about what happened on the day of the shooting.

While this was a portion of the interview Bryan gave police on the day of the shooting, WTOC has watched the entire interview, and Bryan did not mention hearing a racial slur. He did say he heard someone yelling stop just before the shooting.

In addition to malice murder and felony murder charges, the McMichaels and Bryan each are charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count each of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

What happens next?

For the murder case of Ahmaud Arbery and other criminal cases across the country, the pandemic has slowed the wheels of justice to a crawl.

It’s unclear when the case will go to trial. And where the case is right now, is far from that moment.

Attorneys WTOC spoke to in the case say what’s ahead are evidentiary hearings, and they want those proceedings to happen in-person, in front of the judge.

Right now, in-person hearings are not happening in Glynn County because of the pandemic. It’s unclear when they will resume.

Evidentiary hearings are when the defense and prosecution discuss and argue which evidence a jury should be allowed to hear. It’s also when we can expect to get a more detailed look at the defense evidence.

Thus far - most of the documents entered into the court file are evidence from the prosecution. That’s because the burden for criminal cases is on the state to prove its case.

You’ll remember early on in this case - defense attorneys talked some about Ahmaud Arbery’s mental health condition, a diagnosis and his run-ins with police.

We can expect to learn more about those details as the case moves ahead to trial.

Another key piece - the list of witnesses.

You’ll remember the investigation into Ahmaud Arbery’s killing case has been investigated by multiple agencies and handled by several different prosecutors.

And the killing of Arbery happened during daylight in a neighborhood.

The list of witnesses could include neighbors who were home at the time or whose properties were involved.

That includes homeowner Larry English. You’ll remember his home was under construction at the time, and it’s where the McMichaels say they first spotted Arbery in the neighborhood that day.

Surveillance video provided to WTOC by Mr. English likely will be part of the evidence argued. And past police calls to the neighborhood.

As of today, there are no hearings or court dates scheduled in this case.

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