3 men charged with federal hate crimes, attempted kidnapping in Ahmaud Arbery death

ATLANTA — A federal grand jury has charged the three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery with federal hate crime charges.

The grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia handed up the indictment on Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors said Gregory and Travis McMichael, along with William “Roddie” Bryan, used force and intimidated Arbery because of his race. The trio already faces murder charges after Arbery’s death last February in Satilla Shores.

[SPECIAL SECTION: The Ahmaud Arbery investigation]

Former Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes told Channel 2′s Matt Johnson that she never doubted Arbery’s death was a hate crime. She was the special prosecutor in the murder case against the three suspects until last year. She said the federal hate crime indictments against them send a message.

“It’s telling the story of what this case was just bringing forward for the public. Unfortunately, the evil that was seen and that was done to Ahmaud Arbery on that day,” Holmes said. “I was very happy to hear that the indictments came down.”

An investigator testified last year that Travis McMichael was heard using a racial slur after shooting Arbery.

In a statement, an attorney for Travis McMichael said:

“We are deeply disappointed that the Justice Department bought the false narrative that the media and state prosecutors have promulgated. There is absolutely nothing in the indictment that identifies how this is a federal hate crime and it ignores without apology that Georgia law allows a citizen to detain a person who was committing burglaries until police arrive.”

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Frank Hogue, an attorney for Gregory McMichael, said in court that the trio acted in self-defense without factoring in race.

“We believe this murder case in Glynn County as defensible. We view any hate crime prosecution by the federal government as immensely winnable,” Hogue said.

“The federal may wait for the state to complete, but they don’t have to. It’s completely separate,” said attorney Chinwe Foster, who isn’t connected to the case.

Foster said each separate case could bring its own sentences.

“In this case, I’m sure that they could try to stack life sentences if they were found guilty,” Foster said.

Holmes left the case after being voted out of the Cobb County DA’s office last year.

A state trial date has not been set, and a new lead prosecutor was announced this week.

Holmes said she’s optimistic a jury will deliver justice.

“I would hope that they would find the three defendants in this case guilty of the charges,” Holmes said.

Attorney Lee Merritt, who represents Arbery’s family, released a statement on Wednesday night:

“On behalf of the family of Ahmaud Arbery, we are grateful that a federal grand jury has handed down these important hate crime indictments. Hate cost Ahmaud Arbery his life and has done catastrophic damage to his family and community. This federal prosecution is an indication that racial violence will not be tolerated and will serve as a fail-safe to the prosecution at the state level. Next week Ahmaud’s family will celebrate what would have been his 27th Birthday with the official launch of the Ahmaud Arbery foundation. It is our hope that this news will provide his community some reprieve as we continue to honor his legacy.”

Bryan’s attorney released a statement Wednesday night, saying:

“We are very disappointed with the decision of the Department of Justice to pursue the prosecution of Mr. Bryan. Roddie Bryan has committed no crime. We look forward to a fair and speedy trial, and to the day when Mr. Bryan is released and reunited with his family.”

Arbery’s family has repeatedly said during the past year that Arbery was only jogging through the neighborhood.

The McMichaels and Bryan never faced state hate crime charges in Georgia because the law passed after the incident happened. Since this case started, the state has also abolished the citizens arrest law that dated back to the Civil War.

The men also face a federal civil rights lawsuit that Arbery’s mother filed on the one-year anniversary of his death. The lawsuit also names Glynn County police and Jackie Johnson and George Barnhill, the district attorneys who originally handled the case.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump released a statement Wednesday, saying:

“Today is yet another step in the right direction as we seek justice for Ahmaud Arbery and his grieving family by holding those responsible for his death accountable to the fullest extent of the law. This is an important milestone in America’s uphill march toward racial justice, and we applaud the Justice Department for treating this heinous act for what it is -- a purely evil, racially motivated hate crime.”