Judge Rules Defendants in Ahmaud Arbery Death Will Stand Trial

June 5, 2020 Updated: June 5, 2020

A judge ruled on June 4 that all three defendants charged in the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery will advance to the trial court for murder.

In a preliminary hearing on Thursday, Magistrate Court Judge Wallace Harrell concluded that there was enough evidence for the cases against the defendants to proceed with a murder trial.

Arbery was fatally shot on a residential street on Feb. 23 as he ran through the small Georgia neighborhood. Last month, three men were arrested in connection with his death after video footage of the incident emerged on May 5.

A father and son, Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault on May 7 in the fatal shooting of the 25-year-old. The individual who captured the 36-second mobile footage of the violent encounter, 50-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., was arrested on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment on May 21.

The footage, which was captured from a vehicle near the scene, showed the father, a former county police officer, confront Arbery. Shortly afterward, his son shot Arbery, the video showed.

The elder McMichael told officers previously that he and his son thought Arbery could have been a burglar, and so chased after him. According to a police report filed Feb. 23, the pair were in possession of a shotgun and a .357 Magnum revolver, and tailed Arbery in a white pickup truck as he ran.

The 64-year-old also claimed his son was attacked violently by Arbery, which is not evident in the footage. The video footage shows that at least three gunshots were fired.

During the probable cause hearing Thursday, the lead Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agent in the case testified that the three defendants used their pickup trucks to chase down and box in the 25-year-old as he attempted to escape the confrontation.

GBI agent Richard Dial said that after examining the footage of the incident, it was clear that Arbery was first shot in the chest, then in the hand, and the third shot hit his chest before he collapsed. Bryan told investigators that the gunman used a racial slur as he stood over Arbery as he lay dying, Dial testified.

Dial testified that the elder McMichael told police that “he didn’t know if Mr. Arbery had stolen anything or not, but he had a gut feeling” that Arbery had committed prior break-ins in the neighborhood.

Special prosecutor Jesse Evans told the judge during the hearing that Arbery was “…chased, hunted down and ultimately executed.”

“He was on a run on a public road in a public subdivision. He was defenseless and unarmed.”

News that the younger McMichael made an inflammatory remark as Arbery lay dying comes after the attorneys for Arbery’s family last week said the Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating the his murder as a hate crime.

Georgia is 1 of 4 states in the United States that doesn’t have a hate crime statute. However, the victim’s family attorneys said an active hate crime investigation is underway.

They said the Justice Department had been sent excerpts of social media posts and emails from individuals who knew the McMichaels for years, suggesting a history of “hateful” statements. The DOJ is able to act as a “backstop” to prosecute hate crimes in states without a hate crime statute, or where the crime isn’t covered by state laws.

Dial testified Thursday that investigators found at least two racial slurs in messages on the younger McMichael’s phone, and police body camera footage showed a Confederate flag sticker on a toolbox in his truck.

Meanwhile, comments on Bryan’s cellphone provided evidence of “racist attitudes in his communications.”

The DOJ, when contacted by The Epoch Times, pointed to a statement made earlier this month that it was reviewing the evidence in Arbery’s shooting death to “determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate.”

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones called the release of new details in court “very, very heartbreaking.”

“He was afraid,” Cooper-Jones said of her slain son. “Life had placed him in a position where I couldn’t protect him, and he wasn’t able to protect himself.”

All three defendants remain held without bond at the Glynn County Detention Center.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.