Georgia’s attorney general appointed a black district attorney from the Atlanta area Monday to take over the case of a white father and son charged with killing a black man, making her the third outside prosecutor in a slaying that’s prompted a national outcry over suspicions that race played a role in delaying arrests.
Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was fatally shot Feb. 23 by the men who told police they chased him because they believed he matched the appearance of a burglary suspect caught on surveillance video. Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, were arrested last week, more than two months later, after video of the shooting appeared online and provoked outrage. Federal prosecutors are also considering hate crimes charges, the Justice Department said; that would allow for a separate case in federal court.
Cobb County District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes takes over the case from prosecutor Tom Durden, who the state’s attorney general said asked to be replaced by a prosecutor with a large staff as “this case has grown in size and magnitude.” Holmes is based in metro Atlanta, more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) from the coastal Georgia community in Glynn County where the shooting happened.
“District Attorney Holmes is a respected attorney with experience, both as a lawyer and a judge,” state Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, said in a statement. “And the Cobb County District Attorney’s office has the resources, personnel and experience to lead this prosecution and ensure justice is done.”
Holmes served four years a magistrate judge in suburban Cobb County before Gov. Brian Kemp appointed her to fill the vacant district attorney’s position last July. According to the Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys Council, Holmes is one of only seven black district attorneys in the state.
An attorney for Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, applauded the appointment of a new lead prosecutor.
“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,” attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement. He asked that Holmes “be zealous in her search for justice.”
Arbery was hit by three shotgun blasts, according to an autopsy report released Monday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. One shot grazed his right wrist, and the other two struck him in the chest. Blood tests for various drugs and alcohol all came back negative.
Many have expressed frustration with the investigation, questioning whether the arrests took so long because the suspects are white and the victim black. The killing happened in a subdivision bordered by marsh just outside Brunswick, a working-class port city of about 16,000 that also serves as a gateway to beach resorts on neighboring islands.
The McMichaels weren’t arrested until after the video became public and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was asked to look into the killing. Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, have been jailed since Thursday on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
With courts largely closed because of the coronavirus, getting an indictment needed to try the men on murder charges will take a while longer still. The soonest a grand jury can convene to hear the case will be mid-June.
It was not known Monday whether the McMichaels had attorneys to represent them. They had no lawyers at their first court appearance Friday.