Georgia jogger was shot dead in 'cold blood' and yet killers roam free: 'They thought he was a burglar'
BRUNSWICK, GEORGIA: More than two months after he was shot and killed while innocently jogging in Brunswick, a coastal city between Savannah and Jacksonville, the family of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery may finally get justice.
Georgia prosecutors said they are planning to present evidence to a grand jury for possible charges against Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, both of whom have been free in the aftermath of the horrific incident.
The announcement came in light of a new video that appeared to have been taken by a passing motorist and captured the last moments of Arbery's life. It showed him being chased down and killed by the father-and-son duo despite doing nothing to provoke them.
He had been running through the quiet neighborhood of Satilla Shores on February 23 when he was confronted by Gregory and Travis, who had a .357 magnum and a shotgun respectively. It was Travis who ended up shooting Arbery twice, causing the 25-year-old to collapse and die on the spot.
His death came just three days before the anniversary of the 2012 killing of Travon Martin, the unarmed African-American teenager whose death at the hands of Florida neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, helped kick off the Black Lives Matter movement.
According to the Glynn County police report, Gregory told investigators he thought Arbery was a burglary suspect and had ordered him to stop. The 64-year-old claimed that Arbery did not listen, and instead, "violently" attacked his son. The two then fought "over the shotgun" before Travis shot him twice.
"McMichael stated (that) the unidentified male began to violently attack Travis and the two men then started fighting over the shotgun at which point Travis fired a shot and then a second later there was a second shot," the report read.
Both of them were taken in for questioning but were released soon after.
The problem, so far, was Gregory's history as a former law enforcement officer that saw him work for the local district attorney. Due to conflicts of interest, two prosecution offices had to recuse themselves from the case.
The New York Times obtained a document from one of those prosecutors that pointed out Arbery's criminal past — he had been convicted of shoplifting and violating probation in 2018 — and argued there was no probable cause for an arrest because the McMichaels had been legally carrying their weapons under Georgia law.
And because Arbery was a "burglary suspect," he said they were within their rights to follow him, and were able as private persons to "arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge".
Arbery's mother, Wanda Jones, said the video showed beyond any doubt that her son had been ruthlessly murdered without reason. "Proves that my son was not committing a crime. He was out for his daily jog and he was hunted down like an animal and killed," she said.
Lee Merritt, the attorney who is representing the family, was of a similar view.
"The video clearly shows Mr Arbery jogging down the road in the middle of the day," he said in a statement. "Mr Arbery had not committed any crime and there was no reason for these men to believe they had the right to stop him with weapons or to use deadly force in furtherance of their unlawful attempted stop."
The case eventually came to the doorstep of District Attorney Thomas Durden, based in Hinesville, which is 70 miles away from the shooting scene.
"I am of the opinion that the case should be presented to the grand jury of Glynn County for consideration of criminal charges against those involved in the death of Mr Arbery," he said this past week.
He received some serious support from to-be Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who recently tweeted about the incident.
"The video is clear: Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood. My heart goes out to his family, who deserve justice and deserve it now. It is time for a swift, full, and transparent investigation into his murder," he posted.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp backed the investigation as well, tweeting that "Georgians deserve answers."
"Director Reynolds has offered resources & manpower to DA Durden to ensure a thorough, independent investigation into the death of #AhmaudArbery. Georgians deserve answers. State law enforcement stands ready to ensure justice is served," he wrote.
There is still one problem, however. The coronavirus pandemic means that it is still unclear when a grand jury can be convened to hear evidence, with courts in Georgia prohibited from empaneling any grand or trial jury at least till June 12.
"I have no control over the suspensions due to the pandemic; however, I do intend to present the case to the next available grand jury in Glynn County," Durden insisted.