Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes has been appointed to prosecute charges against Gregory and Travis McMichael, the coastal Georgia father and son accused in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.
In a case that has sparked widespread outrage, Arbery, 25, was gunned down in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick on Feb. 23. Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, were booked into the Glynn County jail last Thursday on murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from the shooting.
Appointed by Attorney General Chris Carr to oversee the case, Holmes is Cobb County’s first woman and black district attorney. She previously served as the chief magistrate judge for Cobb County Superior Court and replaced Cobb’s former district attorney, Vic Reynolds, who was tapped as director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation last year.
The arrests last week of the two McMichael men came about 36 hours after Reynolds of the GBI formally launched a probe of the shooting.
A video showing the fatal encounter circulated online last week, prompting widespread outrage and comparisons to other high-profile killings of unarmed black men in recent years.
The video shows the final moments when the McMichael men, who were armed, blocked Arbery’s path in a truck. A struggle breaks out between Arbery and Travis McMichael, who is armed with a shotgun. Three shots are heard before Arbery stumbles to the pavement.
Arbery’s family claims Arbery, who is black, was jogging in the neighborhood when he encountered the two McMichael men, who are white. Gregory McMichael told police they suspected Arbery of having committed recent burglaries.
News of Holmes’ appointment Monday as prosecutor met with support from members of Arbery’s family and one of their attorneys, Ben Crump.
“In order for justice to be carried out both effectively and appropriately in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, it is imperative that the special prosecutor has no affiliation with the Southeast Georgia legal or law enforcement communities,” said a joint statement by the family and Crump. “We implore District Attorney Joyette 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.”
Meanwhile, Carr has also asked federal authorities to investigate how coastal Georgia officials handled the case from the start.
The attorney general requested the U.S. Department of Justice to step in Sunday following revelations of several conflicting interests between persons involved in the shooting and two district attorneys who oversaw the case prior to state investigators intervening last week.
In a news release Sunday, Carr’s office outlined the timeline of the case in which Brunswick Judicial Circuit Attorney General Jackie Johnson initially recused herself on Feb. 27, since Gregory McMichael formerly worked in her office as an investigator.
At that time, Carr’s office appointed Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill to take over the case. Barnhill then recused himself on April 7, at which point the case passed on to Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden.
But it was not revealed until recently that Barnhill, before being appointed to the case, had already reviewed evidence in the shooting and advised the Glynn County Police Department not to arrest the McMichael men, Carr’s office said.
Additionally, Barnhill’s son works for Johnson’s office as a prosecutor in Brunswick and had previously prosecuted Arbery on unrelated charges prior to the Feb. 23 fatal shooting. It was also revealed then that Gregory McMichael had investigated the same prior prosecution of Arbery.
No explanation was given initially as to why Barnhill waited more than a month between Feb. 27 and April 7 before recusing himself in the case, according to Carr’s office.
Barnhill also wrote in a Feb. 24 letter to Glynn County police a day after the shooting that arrests should not be made in the case, Carr’s office said.
Those facts prompted Carr to request a “complete and transparent review” of the case’s handling by Johnson and Barnhill’s offices. U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine of the Southern District of Georgia is leading that review.
“The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers,” Carr said in a statement. “And we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers.”
Gov. Brian Kemp praised the move by Carr, calling it “another positive step to ensure truth and justice prevail.”