By Russ Bynum and Ben Nadler, AP
Georgia authorities charged a father and son with murder and put them in jail in the February shooting death of a man they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood.
The charges Thursday came more than two months after Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed on a residential street just outside the port city of Brunswick. National outrage over the case swelled this week after cellphone video that appeared to show the shooting was released.
Those close to Arbery celebrated the news but also expressed frustration at the long wait.
“This should have occurred the day it happened,” said Akeem Baker, one of Arbery’s close friends in Brunswick. “There’s no way without the video this would have occurred. I’m just glad the light’s shining very bright on this situation.”
Gregory McMichael, 64, previously told police that he and his son chased after Arbery because they suspected him of being a burglar. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, has said she thinks her son, a former football player, was just jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood before he was killed on a Sunday afternoon.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the slain man’s father, Marcus Arbery, said it’s outrageous it took so long for arrests to be made.
“This is the first step to justice,” Crump said in a statement. “This murderous father and son duo took the law into their own hands. It’s a travesty of justice that they enjoyed their freedom for 74 days after taking the life of a young black man who was simply jogging.”
The GBI announced the arrests the day after it began its own investigation at the request of an outside prosecutor. The agency said Gregory McMichael and his 34-year-old son, Travis McMichael, had both been jailed on charges of murder and aggravated assault.
The GBI news release said the McMichaels “confronted Arbery with two firearms. During the encounter, Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery.” No other details were immediately released.
It was not immediately known whether either of the McMichaels had an attorney who could comment.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation director Vic Reynolds said in a Facebook post that his agency could only get involved at the request of local authorities, and that didn’t happen until this week.
“I realize that emotions are running high in this community, and they’re running high throughout this state. And the last thing anyone wants to do is extend us any patience. But I also realize that this investigation must be done correctly, and therefore I must ask for a little of your patience,” Reynolds said.
Gregory McMichael served as an investigator for Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson before retiring last year. The connection caused Johnson to recuse herself from the case.
At a news conference in Atlanta before the arrests were announced Thursday, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp told reporters he was confident state investigators would “find the truth.”
“Earlier this week, I watched the video depicting Mr. Arbery’s last moments alive,” Kemp said. “I can tell you it’s absolutely horrific, and Georgians deserve answers.”
Gregory McMichael told police he suspected the runner was the same man filmed by a security camera committing a break-in. He and his grown son, Travis McMichael, grabbed guns and began a pursuit in a pickup truck.
The video shows a black man running at a jogging pace. The truck is stopped in the road ahead of him, with one of the white men standing in the pickup’s bed and the other beside the open driver’s side door.
The runner attempts to pass the pickup on the passenger side, moving just beyond the truck, briefly outside the camera’s view. A gunshot sounds, and the video shows the runner grappling with a man over what appears to be a shotgun or rifle. A second shot can be heard, and the runner can be seen punching the man. A third shot is fired at point-blank range. The runner staggers a few feet and falls face down.
Brunswick defense attorney Alan Tucker identified himself Thursday as the person who shared the video with the radio station. He did not say how he obtained it. In a statement, Tucker said he wasn’t representing anyone involved. He said he shared the video “because my community was being ripped apart by erroneous accusations and assumptions.”
Tucker did not immediately respond to a phone message or an email.
The outcry over the killing reached the White House, where President Donald Trump offered condolences Thursday to Arbery’s family.
“It’s a very sad thing,” Trump said in the Oval Office, “but I will be given a full report this evening.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called Arbery’s death a “murder.” During an online roundtable Thursday, Biden said the video shows Arbery “lynched before our very eyes.”
The outside prosecutor now overseeing the case, Tom Durden, had said Monday that he wanted a grand jury to decide whether charges are warranted. Georgia courts are still largely closed because of the coronavirus.