Glynn County Chief Magistrate Judge Wallace E. Harrell found Thursday that the state had sufficient probable cause to charge three men for the death of Ahmaud Arbery, sending the case to Superior Court.
Judge Harrell heard testimony about the final 15 minutes of Arbery’s life during the preliminary hearing at the Brunswick Courthouse and live-streamed to various news agencies on Facebook.
During his opening statement, Cobb County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans said Arbery, who is black, “was chased, hunted down an ultimately executed, we believe the evidence will show based on what’s about to be presented to the court.”
Evans asked Georgia Bureau of Investigation Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Dial, the lead investigator in the case, to recount the details of the morning of Feb. 23, the day Arbery was killed while jogging through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick.
Dial testified Arbery was hit prior to the shooting by the pickup truck Bryan, who is white, used during his pursuit.
Dial said his investigators found white fibers on the truck matching an article of clothing Arbery wore that day and a dent on the front of the truck.
Dial also testified suspect William Bryan heard suspect Travis McMichael call Arbery a racial slur moments after shooting him. He added that similar racial slurs were found on several of Travis McMichael’s social media posts and cell phone text messages.
Gregory and Travis McMichael, both white men, watched the testimony from the Glynn County Jail. Bryan did not attend the hearing, choosing instead to let his attorney, Kevin Gough, represent him in person in the courtroom.
Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes, who was assigned as the lead prosecutor to the case by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, was in the courtroom but it was Evans who presented the case.
The McMichaels are charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. Bryan, whose video of the fatal shooting went viral online, is charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Arbery was said to be jogging through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick when he was allegedly confronted by the father and son duo, both armed.
The confrontation resulted in the death of Arbery, a former Brunswick High football player.
Travis McMichael is represented by Robert G. Rubin and Jason B. Sheffield, who said Travis acted in self-defense.
“It appears the history of activity in the neighborhood is what caused Travis McMichael to seek and stop and talk with Mr. Arbery,” Sheffield said. “That escalated. It was Mr. Arbery running at him that caused Travis McMichael to fear for his safety. Mr. Travis McMichael used self defense when he was attacked by Mr. Arbery.”
Gregory McMichael’s attorney Franklin Hogue argued that the state failed to show probable cause based on the arrest warrant for their client, stating he aided and abetted with his son in the death of Arbery.
He said his client thought Arbery was a possible burglar and just wanted to talk with him.
“The warrants against Gregory McMichael charge him with aiding and abetting Travis McMichael in the discharging of a firearm shooting Ahmaud Arbery,” Hogue said. “The question comes down to the intent behind Greg McMichael’s actions at the moment the shooting occurred. So, while we may agree that leaving his home that day with a firearm may not have been a very good idea. The reason he did it though…he had a thought, a feeling, a gut instinct…to believe this person (Arbery) had been here before that he wanted to stop and question, or have police question him.”
Dial testified that Bryan used his vehicle to confine and cut off Arbery during the pursuit. Bryan’s attorney Kevin Gough argued that his client is merely a witness in the case and also feared for his safety.
Gough said his client didn’t know what was happening when he saw the McMichaels in their pickup truck and Arbery running down the road. He said his client got in his vehicle to check out what was going on.
Gough said Arbery attempted to open the driver’s side door, so Bryan hit the gas in reverse to escape from harm.
Dial said Bryan’s deposition never mentioned that he reversed away from Arbery and that Bryan continued to pursue Arbery after their brief interaction.
Dial said it was Arbery who acted in self-defense after being hunted down the road by the three suspects.