Investigators Say One Man Shot Ahmaud Arbery. Why Are Three Charged With Murder?

  • In US
  • 2020-05-24 15:29:15Z
  • By The New York Times
Investigators Say One Man Shot Ahmaud Arbery. Why Are Three Charged With Murder?
Investigators Say One Man Shot Ahmaud Arbery. Why Are Three Charged With Murder?  

ATLANTA - Three shots were fired in the confrontation that killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was chased by white men as he ran through their southeastern Georgia neighborhood. The authorities said Travis McMichael, who with his father and a neighbor pursued Arbery, pulled the trigger.

Yet all three men have been charged with murder.

Arbery's death was captured on a graphic video and posted online more than two months after he was killed Feb. 23, provoking widespread outrage. It also instigated sweeping investigations into the killing, the Glynn County Police Department's handling of the case and eventually the murder charges.

McMichael and his father were charged with murder and aggravated assault this month. And Thursday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested William Bryan, who recorded the video. He faces charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, the authorities said.

Here are the key facts of the case, and why the authorities said all three men were charged with killing Arbery.

Playing a part in the fatal confrontation justifies a murder charge, prosecutors said.

Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator for the local district attorney, had joined in the pursuit, the authorities said. According to a police report, McMichael said he saw Arbery running through his neighborhood and thought he looked like the suspect in a rash of nearby break-ins.

In Bryan's case, the authorities said, he had tried to help detain Arbery, which contributed to his death.

"Felony murder is a crime in Georgia where you're committing a felony crime and that crime ends up in the death of another human being," Vic Reynolds, the GBI director and a former district attorney, explained at a news conference Friday.

"As the warrant indicated, he's charged with an underlying felony and he's also charged with felony murder," Reynolds added. "So, we believe the evidence would indicate his underlying felony helped cause the death of Ahmaud Arbery."

Arbery's family pushed for additional charges.

S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer for Arbery's family, recently said he believed that because Bryan had participated in the chase and "corralled" Arbery, he should be arrested along with the McMichaels, who were charged May 7 with murder and aggravated assault.

"We know it's not only the man who pulled the trigger," Merritt said.

Most states have laws similar to Georgia's.

There have been cases where people have been sentenced to death for having a contributing role in a murder case.

A recent example was the execution of Nathaniel Woods, who had been convicted in Alabama in connection with the fatal shooting of three police officers in Birmingham. Another man fired at the officers in what prosecutors described as an ambush. Still, prosecutors argued that Woods had helped orchestrate the attack, making him just as guilty as the gunman.

Woods was put to death March 5 against the backdrop of considerable criticism, as his supporters argued that the handling of his case had been rife with flaws. The gunman remains on death row.

Bryan's lawyer argues that prosecutors have gone too far.

Kevin Gough, Bryan's lawyer, said his research had indicated that "there is no precedent" in Georgia law for the prosecution of Bryan.

"This is a groundbreaking prosecution - a substantial extension of the existing law," Gough said in a statement Friday. "These charges, if sustained, constitute a substantial expansion of criminal liability in Georgia that many - in the fullness of time - will likely find troubling."

Lawyers for the McMichaels said their clients maintain their innocence.

"So often the public accepts a narrative driven by an incomplete set of facts, one that vilifies a good person, based on a rush to judgment, which has happened in this case," Laura Hogue, one of Gregory McMichael's lawyers, said in a recent statement.

"While the death of Ahmaud Arbery is a tragedy, causing deep grief to his family - a tragedy that at first appears to many to fit into a terrible pattern in American life - this case does not fit that pattern," his other lawyer, Frank Hogue, added. "The full story, to be revealed in time, will tell the truth about this case."

Who was Ahmaud Arbery?

Arbery was a former high school football standout who was living with his mother outside the small city of Brunswick. He was shot dead in a suburban neighborhood called Satilla Shores. Friends and family said he liked to stay in good shape, and he was often seen jogging in and around his neighborhood.

On Sunday, Feb. 23, shortly after 1 p.m., he was killed in a neighborhood a short jog away from his home after being confronted by the McMichaels.

How was he killed?

Arbery was running when Gregory McMichael, standing in his front yard, saw him go by, according to a police report. McMichael told the authorities he thought Arbery may have been involved in several area break-ins and called to his son, Travis McMichael.

According to the police report, the men grabbed a .357 Magnum handgun and a shotgun, got into a pickup truck and chased Arbery, trying unsuccessfully to cut him off. According to the police report and other documents, Bryan was also involved in the pursuit.

In a recording of a 911 call, which appears to have been made moments before the chase began, a neighbor told a dispatcher that a black man was inside a house that was under construction on the McMichaels' block.

During the chase, the McMichaels yelled, "Stop, stop, we want to talk to you," according to Gregory McMichael's account in the police report. They then pulled up in front of Arbery, and Travis McMichael got out of the truck with the shotgun.

Gregory McMichael said "the unidentified male began to violently attack Travis and the two men then started fighting over the shotgun at which point Travis fired a shot and then a second later there was a second shot," the report states.

The police report and other documents obtained by The New York Times do not indicate that Arbery was armed.

Why did it take so long for someone to be arrested?

Shortly after the shooting, the prosecutor for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, Jackie Johnson, recused herself because Gregory McMichael had worked in her office.

The case was sent to George E. Barnhill, the district attorney in Waycross, Georgia, who later recused himself from the case after Arbery's mother argued that he had a conflict because his son also works for the Brunswick district attorney.

But before he relinquished the case, Barnhill wrote a letter to the Glynn County Police Department. In the letter, which was obtained by The Times, he argued that there was not sufficient probable cause to arrest Arbery's pursuers.

Barnhill noted that the McMichaels were legally carrying their firearms under Georgia's open carry law. He said the pursuers had been within their rights to pursue what he called "a burglary suspect" and cited a state law that says, "A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge."

Barnhill also argued that if Arbery attacked Travis McMichael, McMichael was "allowed to use deadly force to protect himself" under Georgia law.

Anger over the killing and the lack of consequences for the McMichaels grew when a graphic video surfaced, showing the shooting on a suburban road.

What does the video show?

The video is about a half-minute long and shows Arbery running along a shaded two-lane residential road when he comes upon a white truck, with a man said to be Travis McMichael standing beside its open driver's side door with a shotgun. His father is in the bed of the pickup with a handgun.

Arbery runs around the truck and disappears briefly from view. Muffled shouting can be heard before Arbery emerges, fighting with Travis McMichael outside the truck as three shotgun blasts echo.

Arbery tries to run but staggers and falls to the pavement after a few steps.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2020 The New York Times Company


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