The three Georgia men who killed Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 appealed their federal hate crime conviction earlier this month — with two of them claiming that their prior racist comments did not prove they killed Arbery because he was Black.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, attorneys for Gregory McMichael and William Bryan Jr. said in a March 3 federal filing that pair pursued Arbery, 25, because they thought he was a criminal not due to his race. While chasing Arbery in his truck, Bryan filmed Gregory and his son, Travis, pursuing Arbery on foot before Travis shot him with a shotgun at close range.
Conversely, Travis’ appeal asserts that prosecutors did not prove he killed Arbery on a public street despite posing that allegation in the indictment that led to criminal charges. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Travis’ appeal does not mention race.
During their trial, witnesses testified that Bryan used racial slurs in text messages to express upset about his daughter dating a Black man. Additionally, Gregory was accused of saying, “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble,” in response to the 2015 death of civil rights activist Julian Bond.
“I’d kill that (expletive) (racial slur),” Travis allegedly wrote in 2018 in response to a Facebook video of a Black man pranking a white person.
In January 2022, Gregory and Travis were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Bryan received life with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
Ahmaud Arbery/Family Handout
The elder McMichael — who was an investigator for the Glynn County District Attorney’s office for 24 years — claimed that Arbery resembled a suspect in a series of recent burglaries in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. However, police said the only recent break-in was on January 1 of that year, when a 9mm pistol was reportedly stolen from an unlocked truck outside the McMichaels’ home.
Bryan, who filmed the fatal encounter, claimed he was only a witness — but he used his vehicle to confine and detain Arbery in the minutes leading up to his murder.
In September 2021, former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson was charged with obstructing and violating her oath of office and hindering a law enforcement officer. She lost her bid for reelection in November 2020, nine months after Arbery’s murder.
Johnson said she had no involvement in the investigation weeks after Arbery’s murder in February 2020. While Johnson immediately recused herself from Arbery’s case due to her link to Gregory, she allegedly instructed Glynn County police not to arrest Travis.
Prosecutors also released records indicating that Johnson kept Gregory informed about the ongoing investigation into Arbery’s death even after she recused herself.
Reportedly, Gregory left a phone call on Johnson’s answering machine an hour after the deadly shooting in which he asked Johnson to call him as soon as she can as he and his son were involved in a shooting. Gregory and Johnson allegedly had 15 phone calls between the day of Arbery’s February 2020 murder and the three men’s arrests in May 2020.
A grand jury alleged that on the day of the shooting, Johnson asked Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill to provide legal guidance to Glynn County police. After refusing herself, she allegedly recommended Barnhill to take the case — without disclosing their prior correspondence regarding Arbery’s case.
Johnson was also accused of saying it was not necessary to arrest the McMichaels for Arbery’s murder. Johnson’s alleged comments possibly influenced Glynn County police to hold off on arresting the pair.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said he did not know of Barnhill and Johnson’s conversations when he reassigned Arbery’s case to Barnhill. When Carr reassigned the case, he was reportedly also unaware of Barnhill previously advising Glynn County police that the shooting appeared to be self-defense which had occurred during a citizen’s arrest.
Barnhill also recused himself on April 7, 2020, saying that his son worked in Jonhson’s office and worked a prior case with Gregory that involved prosecuting Arbery. Reports indicated that Barnhill knew of this conflict of interest early on — but he only resigned from the case following Arbery’s mother’s request to do so.
However, the Attorney General’s Office said Barnhill never disclosed that he was involved in Arbery’s case before it was officially appointed to him. A day after Arbery’s murder, Barnhill allegedly told Glynn County police that he did not see any legal justification in arresting the three men involved in the fatal shooting.
Upon Barnhill recusing himself, the Attorney General’s Office assigned Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden to the case. Barnhill has not been criminally charged for his role in the controversial investigation.
Arbery’s three killers remained free for more than two months after the slayings.
However, in May 2020, footage filmed by Bryan depicting Arbery’s murder was released to the public — leading Durden to open an investigation. The McMichaels were arrested two days later while Bryan was arrested weeks later.
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[Featured image: Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan/Glynn County Detention Center]
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