Georgia authorities arrested a white father and son Thursday and charged them with murder in the February shooting death of a black man they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighbourhood.
The charges came more than two months after Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed on a residential street just outside the port city of Brunswick. National outrage over the case swelled this week after cellphone video that appeared to show the shooting.
Those close to Arbery celebrated the news but also expressed frustration at the long wait.
“This should have occurred the day it happened,” said Akeem Baker, one of Arbery’s close friends in Brunswick. “There’s no way without the video this would have occurred. I’m just glad the light’s shining very bright on this situation.”
Gregory McMichael, 64, previously told police that he and his son chased after Arbery because they suspected him of being a burglar. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, has said she thinks her son, a former football player, was just jogging in the Satilla Shores neighbourhood before he was killed on a Sunday afternoon.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the slain man’s father, Marcus Arbery, said it was outrageous that it took so long for arrests to be made.
“This is the first step to justice,” Crump said in a statement. “This murderous father and son duo took the law into their own hands. It’s a travesty of justice that they enjoyed their freedom for 74 days after taking the life of a young black man who was simply jogging.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced the arrests the day after it began its own investigation at the request of an outside prosecutor. The agency said in a news release that Gregory McMichael and his 34-year-old son, Travis McMichael, had both been jailed on charges of murder and aggravated assault.
The GBI news release said the McMichaels “confronted Arbery with two firearms. During the encounter, Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery.” No other details were immediately released.
It was not immediately known whether either of the McMichaels had an attorney who could comment on the charges.
Gregory McMichael served as an investigator for Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson. He retired last year. The connection caused Johnson to recuse herself from the case.
At a news conference before the arrests were announced Thursday, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp told reporters he was confident state investigators would “find the truth.”
“Earlier this week, I watched the video depicting Mr. Arbery’s last moments alive,” Kemp told a news conference in Atlanta. “I can tell you it’s absolutely horrific, and Georgians deserve answers.”
Gregory McMichael told police he suspected the runner was the same man filmed by a security camera committing a break-in. He and his grown son, Travis McMichael, grabbed guns and began a pursuit in the truck.
The video shows a black man running at a jogging pace on the left side of a road. A truck is parked in the road ahead of him. One of the white men is inside the pickup’s bed. The other is standing beside the open driver’s side door.
The runner crosses the road to pass the pickup on the passenger side, then crosses back in front of the truck. A gunshot sounds, and the video shows the runner grappling with a man in the street over what appears to be a shotgun or rifle. A second shot can be heard, and the runner can be seen punching the man. A third shot is fired at point-blank range. The runner staggers a few feet and falls face down.
Brunswick defence attorney Alan Tucker identified himself Thursday as the person who shared the video with the radio station. In a statement, Tucker said he wasn’t representing anyone involved in the case. He said he released the video “because my community was being ripped apart by erroneous accusations and assumptions.”
Tucker did not say how he obtained the video. He did not immediately respond to a phone message or an e-mail.
The outcry over the killing reached the White House, where President Donald Trump offered condolences Thursday to Arbery’s family.
“It’s a very sad thing,” Trump said in the Oval Office, “but I will be given a full report this evening.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has called Arbery’s death a “murder.” During an online round table Thursday, Biden compared the video to seeing Arbery “lynched before our very eyes.”
The outside prosecutor overseeing the case, Tom Durden, had said Monday that he wanted a grand jury to decide whether charges are warranted. Georgia courts are still largely closed because of the coronavirus.