How the Ahmaud Arbery Trial Almost Didn’t Happen

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

The three notorious white men caught on video chasing and fatally attacking Ahmaud Arbery last February are now officially convicted murderers.

But Gregory McMichael, his son Travis, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are not the only villains in the gruesome case plagued by allegations of initial prosecutorial misconduct before arrests were made 70 days after the 25-year-old Black man’s shooting death in Georgia.

The prosecutors who won the case argued that Arbery was on a jog through Satilla Shores, a mostly white neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia when the trio chased him down the street after wrongly suspecting him of burglary. Travis McMichael was caught on video footage—filmed by Bryan—firing the fatal shots. ​The defense for the three men argued that they were trying to perform a citizen’s arrest on Arbery in connection with suspected break-ins in the area.

After nine hours and two days of deliberation, a Glynn County jury on Wednesday found the three men guilty of felony murder in the Feb. 23, 2020 homicide death of Arbery. But Arbery’s murder was almost never prosecuted. And when the case did make it to trial, defense attorneys stepped over themselves to engage in ugly arguments rife with racist innuendo.

Every murder saga has its share of morally flexible defense lawyers, and prosecutors who fail to protect the rights of people of color are not exactly hard to come by in America. But this crew stands out from the pack.

Former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson

Last February, Johnson was the Brunswick District Attorney in the midst of a re-election campaign when Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and one-time investigator in her office, called her after his son shot Arbery to death in the street. Eventually, Johnson referred the case to Waycross District Attorney George E. Barnhill, recusing herself. But investigators now allege she meddled in the case before handing over the reins.

On Sept. 2, after losing her re-election bid, Johnson was indicted on several charges—including obstructing police—after allegedly directing officers to not arrest the McMichaels after the incident. The indictment also states that Johnson showed “favor and affection” to Gregory McMichael and failed to treat Arbery’s family “fairly and with dignity” when she recused herself from the investigation. Johnson has not yet entered a plea in her case, and her attorneys could not be reached for comment.

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SOURCE: The Daily Beast, Pilar Melendez

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