Former Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes attended the 37th annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Dinner held in Tattnall County on April 14, where she briefly spoke with reporters about her role in the Ahmaud Arbery case.
Holmes, the first female African American to serve as District Attorney in Cobb County, was the fourth prosecutor appointed to the case.
Arbery was hunted down and killed by three white men on Feb. 23, 2020, while jogging through a neighborhood in Brunswick. Former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case because one of the suspects, Gregory Mc-Michael, a former police officer, had worked in her office as an investigator.
The case was turned over to Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill. At first, Barnhill wrote a letter stating that Gregory McMichael and his co-defendant son, Travis McMichael, would not be prosecuted because their actions were in self-defense. Barnhill later recused himself because his son had also worked with Gregory McMichael and Jackie Johnson.
The case was then appointed to Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden. It was Durden, working with State Attorney General Chris Carr, who formally requested that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation take over the investigation into Arbery’s death in early May 2020. Up until that time, no one had been charged, but by May 7, 2020, the father and son duo were arrested. Shortly thereafter, Carr appointed Holmes as prosecutor.
“Just the emotions of knowing what that family went through and to think that our office was going to be appointed to serve as the special prosecution, emotions were probably everywhere,” Holmes said. “Our office was fully equipped to handle what was necessary to get that case through.”
However, Holmes lost her re-election bid in November 2020 and was unable to see the case all the way to trial. But she said she knew her team would finish the work and that she was pleased with the jury’s verdict.
It was Holmes and her team who took a second look at William Roddy Bryan, the third defendant in the case. It was his video, which went viral, that captured the last five minutes of Arbery’s life.
“At the time that our office got the case, the father and son had been arrested already, but Mr. Bryan had not been arrested yet,” Holmes said. “So, at that time, we were able to review the evidence that the GBI had collected, because they had been on the case at that point. We took all that information and the information we knew prior to that and went ahead and advised for charges against Bryan.”
Bryan was arrested May 22, 2020.
Holmes said she believed that what they found in the investigation would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bryan was involved and as a party to a crime, the actions that he took individually led to the death of Arbery.
Asked about the way the case was handled by the first two prosecutors, Holmes said: “Since we took it, we knew what we believed, based on what we saw and the evidence that had been collected. And as our investigators went out to talk to more people about the case, we knew that how it had been handled before was not the way that we saw it based on that evidence.”
Holmes said the sentencing imposed on the defendants after their convictions at the state’s criminal trial was fair. She said her office was able to share evidence for the federal hate crime case, in which all three men were also found guilty and await sentencing.
On Sept. 2, 2021, Carr announced the indictment of former District Attorney Jackie Johnson on charges related to the investigation surrounding the shooting death of Arbery. The indictment charges that Johnson violated her oath as a public officer, a felony that carries one to five years, and that she obstructed and hindered a law enforcement officer, a misdemeanor that carries up to 12 months. The state is also investigating Barnhill.