Judge Denies Bond to Father and Son Charged With Killing Ahmaud Arbery
A judge denied bond on Friday to the white father and son charged with murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man shot by the son after they chased him down a quiet road in Georgia.
The decision came on the second day of hearings over whether the men, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael, should be freed on bail as they await trial over the Feb. 23 killing, which was captured on video by a third man, William Bryan, who has also been charged with murder. Mr. Arbery’s mother wailed in the courtroom on Friday as prosecutors showed a video of the shooting.
The Arbery killing initially received little attention, but after The New York Times published an article about the case and the video of the killing was leaked, the men were arrested in May. Many activists saw the more than two-month delay between the killing and the men’s arrest as a sign of corruption and racial bias, and the Arbery case was frequently referred to by protesters at the racial justice demonstrations that swept the United States over the summer.
Bond hearings rarely last longer than a few hours, but prosecutors and defense lawyers introduced a trove of evidence during the public hearings this week that shed new light on the case. Jesse Evans, a prosecutor who is trying the case, read messages on Thursday that he said were written by Travis McMichael, who the authorities have said shot Mr. Arbery. Mr. Evans said he had once used an anti-Asian slur on Facebook and, in a text message to a friend in November 2019, had talked about shooting somebody while using an anti-Black slur and stereotypes.
Mr. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, also spoke at the hearing on Thursday, arguing that the men should not be freed on bond.
“These men are proud of what they’ve done, and they want to go home because in their selfish minds, they think that they’re the good guys,” she said. “I continue to suffer mentally and emotionally while I wait for justice for my son.”
Judge Timothy Walmsley said he had significant concerns about Travis McMichael’s bias and was worried that Gregory McMichael had been willing to “place the law in his own hands” and influence the investigation. The father and son, each wearing a suit and appearing on a video feed from jail, could be seen speaking to each other briefly after the judge’s ruling but their microphone was muted.
Mr. Evans had argued that the men should be denied the opportunity for bond because the killing showed they posed a danger to others. The prosecutor also played recordings of phone calls in which the men had suggested that a woman delete her Facebook account and a man not talk to investigators, arguing that they showed that the men may try to obstruct justice. Gregory McMichael is a former police officer and investigator with the local district attorney’s office, ties that some argued may have helped him evade arrest.
Mr. Evans also played a recording of a phone call that Gregory McMichael had made to Jackie Johnson, the local district attorney whose office he had worked in, shortly after the shooting, in which he asked her for advice. Ms. Johnson, who was voted out last week, later recused herself from the case.
Lawyers for the McMichaelses argued in court this week that the men are upstanding citizens and that there was no real risk that they would try to flee before trial. Both lawyers sought to paint Mr. Arbery as a repeat burglar from whom the father, son and other residents were trying to protect themselves.
Robert Rubin, a lawyer representing Travis McMichael, said his client had responded only when he was “put in danger” by Mr. Arbery. Laura Hogue, a lawyer for the elder McMichael, said the father was acting in self-defense and that the case was about whether he was “authorized to protect his neighborhood against crime the way that he did.”
Ms. Hogue said the state was pursuing the case so passionately because Mr. Arbery was Black, and suggested they would not do so if the victim was a hypothetical white man — “Arnold Arbery” — who had been suspected of stealing things from houses and then “attacked” Travis McMichael.
Judge Walmsley at times grew frustrated with the lawyers’ extensive arguments, calling the bond hearing a “marathon” and telling prosecutors that they were effectively trying the case before the trial had begun.
But, ultimately, he seemed to find many of the prosecutors’ arguments persuasive, and said he would write a more detailed explanation of his ruling.
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