Three men accused in Ahmaud Arbery killing plead not guilty to hate crime charges
(BRUNSWICK, Ga.) — Three white Georgia men already facing state murder charges for allegedly tracking down and fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery as the 25-year-old Black man jogged through their neighborhood in 2020 all pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal hate crime charges.
Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were arraigned in federal court in Brunswick, Georgia.
The men appeared at the hearing without defense lawyers, and each asked to be represented by a public defender. They are being held in custody without bond.
During the Tuesday hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Benjamin Cheesbro read the federal complaint against the three men, which alleges they “did willfully, by force and threat of force, injure, intimidate and interfere with Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man, because of his race and color.”
The three indicted suspects are charged with one count each of interference of rights and attempted kidnapping, while the McMichaels were also each charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
The McMichaels and Bryan are also awaiting a trial in October on state charges of felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal contempt to commit a felony in the death of Arbery. The defendants have all pleaded not guilty to the state charges.
The new indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury on April 28 and alleges that all three men chased Arbery “in an attempt to restrain [him], restrict his free movement, corral and detain him against his will and prevent his escape.”
Arbery, 25, was killed while jogging in the neighborhood of Satilla Shores in Brunswick, Georgia, on Feb. 23, 2020.
Gregory McMichael, 65, a retired investigator with the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office who previously served as a Glynn County police officer, saw Arbery and assumed he was the person who committed “several break-ins” in their neighborhood, according to a police report. He and his 35-year-old son grabbed their guns — a .357 Magnum and a shotgun, respectively — jumped into a pickup truck and chased down Arbery, authorities said.
Bryan, 51, is accused of using his pickup truck to help the McMichaels corral Arbery, and prosecutors allege he struck Arbery with his vehicle. He also recorded cell phone video that captured Travis McMichael shooting Arbery with a shotgun during a struggle.
The three men claimed they were exercising the state’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest statute when they attempted to detain Arbery. Travis McMichael has also claimed he shot Arbery three times in self-defense.
During a preliminary hearing last June on the state charges, Richard Dial, a special agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, testified that Bryan told investigators he heard Travis McMichael yell a racial slur at Arbery as he lay dying on the ground.
Minutes before the fatal encounter, Arbery was recorded on surveillance video entering a home that was under construction in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, looking around and leaving empty-handed. Attorneys for Arbery’s mother said he could have been searching for a water source when he entered the construction site.
On Monday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law repealing the state’s citizen’s arrest statute, banning private citizens from arresting people they suspect committed a crime. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, attended Kemp’s signing ceremony.
“After the tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery,” Kemp said, “we knew that action was needed to ensure an antiquated, Civil-War era statute could not be used to justify rogue vigilantism in the Peach State.”
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