News and Commentary

Fourth Prosecutor Takes Ahmaud Arbery Case After Third Prosecutor Steps Down
BRUNSWICK, GA - MAY 07: A cross with flowers sits near the intersection of Satilla Rd. and Holmes Rd. in the Satilla Shores neighborhood where Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed May 7, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia. Arbery was shot during a confrontation with an armed father and son on Feb. 23.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has assigned District Attorney Joyette Holmes, the former chief magistrate judge of Cobb County, to prosecute Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael, the father and son who were charged last week in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery back in February. 

Holmes was assigned after prosecutor Tom Durden decided to step down due to the changing “size and magnitude” of the case, according to the Georgia attorney general’s office. 

“The most important thing is we make sure justice is done,” Carr said in a statement announcing the appointment of Holmes. “She’s been a prosecutor, a defense attorney and she’s been a judge.”

After the announcement, the Arbery family released a statement calling for Holmes “to be zealous in her search for justice, as she works to hold all of those responsible for the unjustifiable execution of an unarmed young Black man in broad daylight,” reports Georgia Public Broadcasting

The fourth prosecutor, Holmes, has been tasked with reviewing a case that has received widespread national attention not only for the shooting but for prompting repeated recusals from prosecutors. 

District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself within days of the case on the account that Gregory McMichael previously worked for her office. Two county commissioners recently accused Johnson’s office of telling police to not issue arrests in the case, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution

In a statement, Johnson’s office said that the commissioners were making “false accusations” in an effort to “ignore the problems at the Glynn County Police Department, for which they are ultimately responsible,” according to News4Jax

The second prosecutor, George Barnhill, recused himself at the request of the victim’s mother, who pointed out that Barnhill’s son worked at the same office as the previous prosecutor. In a letter to the police department announcing his recusal, Barnhill argued that there was “insufficient probable cause to issue arrest warrants at this time.”

Prosecutor Tom Durden was assigned to the case in mid-April and was responsible for sending the case to a grand jury, the same day the graphic video of Arbery’s final moments circulated online. Before stepping down for the case, Durden requested an investigation from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. 

The bureau arrested both Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael 36 hours after receiving the case file on charges of murder and aggravated assault last Thursday. 

Gregory McMichael told police at the time of the incident he was pursuing a man he believed was a suspect in a recent series of break-ins. Arbery’s family has said he was jogging at the time of his death. 

Lee Merritt, an attorney for the family, told NBC News last month that Arbery may have gone through a construction site before his death, which he emphasized did not legally constitute a break-in or warrant a shooting. 

“That dwelling did not have doors or windows,” said Merritt. “Under the law in the state of Georgia, in order to commit a crime by entering someone’s dwelling, you have to break a seal, break a door, forcibly enter something that is otherwise locked.”

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