ByWright Gazaway|May 27, 2020 at 6:11 PM EDT - Updated June 4 at 10:14 AM
GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Three men charged with Ahmaud Arbery’s death appear before a Glynn County judge Thursday, marking the first time prosecutors and investigators lay out some of the evidence against them.
Defense attorneys for Greg and Travis McMichael and Roddie Bryan will also offer their first defenses; all three are charged with felony murder in Arbery’s death on Feb. 23.
It took two and a half months for an arrest, after the release of a video in early May showing the shooting sparked nationwide outrage. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case andarrested the McMichaelswithin 2 days. Theycharged Bryan, the man who filmed the video, last week.
Attorneys for Arbery’s parents said there was a sense of relief after Bryan’s arrest. The family and their attorneys pushed for the arrest for weeks. Bryan and his attorney have maintained that he is just a witness, though the GBI Director said his agents did not believe that. GBI agents outlined Bryan’s alleged involvement in an arrest warrant signed last week.
The warrant said Bryan attempted to block and detain Arbery with his car without legal authority, leading to a charge of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
The three men are each charged with underlying felonies, and state law allows investigators to charge them with felony murder since Arbery died during the alleged felonies. One of the attorneys for Arbery’s parents, Lee Merritt, is hopeful more people are held accountable.
The attorneys and Arbery’s parents met with the US Attorney about federal investigations on the case last week; the Department of Justice is looking into how Brunswick DA Jackie Johnson, Waycross DA George Barnhill, and Glynn County police handled the early stages of the investigation, as well as whether federal hate crime charges apply.
Johnson and Barnhill were the first two prosecutors to review the case, despite Greg McMichael’s previous employment with Johnson’s office and Barnhill having not been given the case by Georgia’s Attorney General.
"We are satisfied with those arrests at a state level. We believe that the federal government’s investigation, the FBI, the DOJ investigation, may find additional evidence to hold people like Jackie Johnson, George Barnhill, and Robert Rash accountable as well,” Merritt told WTOC in an interview Wednesday.
Robert Rash is a Glynn County officer who sent atext messageto a homeowner in that neighborhood telling him to call Greg McMichael with problems.
Merritt said any civil suit filed by the family will focus on other things as well.
"Implicit bias is arguably not a hate crime,” Merritt said. “I can see an argument for that. The truth is: we're not hanging our hat on the hate crime nature of these claims, but really the lack of due process afforded the family of Ahmaud Arbery's following this investigation."
Prosecution on a hate crime requires proving that the motivating factor in Arbery’s death was race. A spokesperson for the DOJ did not rule out other charges in a statement earlier this month.