DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta-area district attorney now prosecuting the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery spoke for the first time about the case on Friday, pledging to “make sure that we find justice” for a “broken” family and community.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation director Vic Reynolds appeared alongside Cobb County D.A. Joyette Holmes, saying that "at this point we feel confident the individuals who needed to be charged have been charged.”
Their news conference at GBI headquarters in Decatur followed the arrest Thursday of 50-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. Bryan is the man whose cellphone video of Arbery’s shooting led to the arrest of Gregory and Travis McMichael on murder and aggravated assault charges more than two months after the slaying.
Asked how Bryan could be charged with murder if he didn't pull the trigger on the weapon used to kill, Reynolds referred to Bryan's arrest warrant, which said he tried “to confine and detain" Arbery without legal authority by “utilizing his vehicle on multiple occasions” before Arbery was shot.
“We are going to make sure that we find justice in this case. We know that we have a broken family and a broken community down in Brunswick,” Holmes said.
Bryan's attorney, Kevin Gough, has said his client played no role in Arbery's death, asserting that “Roddie Bryan is not now, and has never been, more than a witness to the shooting.”
But the GBI director said Friday that "if we believed he was a witness, we wouldn’t have arrested him.”
Under Georgia law, a person can be charged with felony murder for committing any felony that causes the death of someone else. It does not require intent to kill and carries an automatic life sentence.
Arbery was slain Feb. 23 when the white father and son armed themselves and pursued the 25-year-old black man running in their neighborhood. Gregory McMichael told police he suspected Arbery was a burglar and that Arbery attacked his son before being shot.
Bryan lives in the same subdivision just outside the port city of Brunswick, and the video he took from the cab of his vehicle helped stir a national outcry when it leaked online May 5. Gov. Brian Kemp called it “absolutely horrific.” The GBI soon took over the case from local police, and the arrests of the McMichaels followed on May 7.
In the Glynn County police incident report on the shooting, Gregory McMichael told an officer that at one point Arbery “began running back the direction from which he came and `Roddy' attempted to block him which was unsuccessful." It's the only mention in the police report of any potential involvement by Bryan.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, did not immediately return email and text messages Friday. He did not answer his phone and his voicemail was full. His statement Monday said Bryan “is not a vigilante. Roddie did not participate in the horrific killing of this young man. Mr. Bryan has committed no crime, and bears no criminal responsibility in the death of Ahmaud Arbery.”
Attorneys for Arbery's parents cheered the news of Bryan's arrest.
“We called for his arrest from the very beginning of this process,” attorneys S. Lee Merritt, Benjamin Crump and L. Chris Stewart said in a statement. “His involvement in the murder of Mr. Arbery was obvious to us, to many around the country and after their thorough investigation, it was clear to the GBI as well.”
Bryan's video of the shooting was taken from the driver's seat of a vehicle following Arbery as he runs along a residential street. A pickup truck is parked in the road ahead of Arbery, with one man in the truck's bed and another standing beside the open driver's side door.
The video shows Arbery run around the truck to the right before he cuts back in front of it. Then a gunshot can be heard, followed by a second shot. Arbery can be seen punching a man holding what appears to be a shotgun, who then fires a third shot point-blank. Arbery staggers and falls face down in the street.
Gregory McMichael retired last year after more than two decades as an investigator for the local prosecutor's office. Because of those ties, Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case. Two other outside prosecutors stepped aside in succession before Holmes was appointed.
Now Bryan is behind bars along with the McMichaels in the Glynn County jail. A judge has yet to decide whether to free them on bond pending trial. Attorneys for the father and son have urged people not to rush to judgment.
Bynum reported from Savannah, Ga.