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Georgia attorney general assigns fourth prosecutor in killing of Ahmaud Arbery

Newly released video shows a person walking through a house under construction in the neighborhood where Arbery was shot.

By Michael Brice-Saddler and Cleve R. Wootson Jr., The Washington Post

Georgia’s attorney general announced Monday that he has named a new district attorney to handle the investigation into the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black 25-year-old whose family says he was out jogging Feb. 23 when two armed white men pursued him in a pickup truck.

Joyette M. Holmes of the Cobb County Judicial Circuit is the fourth prosecutor to take the case. Two other prosecutors recused themselves because of previous work connections with one of the suspects, Gregory McMichael, a retired police detective in the southeastern Georgia community where the fatal shooting occurred.

According to local news reports, Holmes was appointed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) last year as the first Black woman to serve as the district attorney for Cobb County, a suburban area north of Atlanta.

Separately, a Justice Department spokeswoman announced Monday that the agency is “assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crime charges are appropriate” in the racially charged case.

The assignment of a new prosecutor in Arbery’s killing marks the beginning of yet another chapter in a winding case that has garnered tremendous national attention, prompting advocates to call for the resignations of some authorities involved in the original investigation. It took more than two months and the publicization of a graphic, viral video in the incident before authorities arrested McMichael and his son, Travis, on charges of murder and aggravated assault in connection to the incident.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is also looking into the involvement of a third man, William Bryan, who recorded the video, according to documents reviewed by The Post.

Holmes takes over the prosecution from District Attorney Tom Durden of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, who was named the third prosecutor on the case in April. Durden had requested that the case go to someone else, according to a statement from Attorney General Chris Carr.

“This case has grown in size and magnitude since [Durden] accepted the appointment,” Carr wrote. “And as an experienced District Attorney, Tom has recognized that another office is better suited from a resource perspective to now handle the case.”

In a statement confirming Holmes’s appointment, her office wrote that “the call to serve will not be taken lightly.” The Cobb County District Attorney’s office said it had already received investigative materials from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and would move “as expeditiously as possible to move the case forward.”

Lee Merritt and Chris Stewart, attorneys for Arbery’s mother, applauded the decision in a statement Monday. The attorneys said they had asked Carr to name a new district attorney in Arbery’s killing, “because the south Georgia prosecutorial community was tainted by the delay in action prior to the video being released.”

“The family is pleased that Mr. Durden will no longer be responsible for prosecuting two of the killers of Mr. Arbery,” the attorneys wrote. “This case has been mishandled from the very beginning and we look forward to a comprehensive third-party investigation by the Dept. of Justice into the previous prosecutors.”

The case was first assigned to Jackie Johnson in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, who recused herself from the case in February because Gregory McMichael was previously an investigator in her office. Then it went to George E. Barnhill, district attorney for Georgia’s Waycross Judicial Circuit, who recused himself under pressure from Arbery’s mother after she complained that Barnhill’s son used to work with Gregory McMichael in the Brunswick district attorney’s office, according to documents obtained by The Post.

Durden was up next, and said last week that he planned to present the investigation to a grand jury before a video of the incident leaked and the GBI was assigned to the case. The McMichaels were arrested days later.

Carr previously said that he wanted to look into how the investigation of Arbery’s killing “was handled from the onset.” In a Monday afternoon tweet, Kemp commended the decision to put Holmes on the case, writing, “I am confident that she will serve with integrity and transparency to ensure Justice is served.”

The announcement comes one day after Carr called on the Justice Department to investigate how authorities handled Arbery’s death. In a statement Monday, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the agency is considering the request.

“We will continue to assess all information, and will take appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law,” Kupec’s statement read.

Gregory McMichael told police after the shooting that there had been burglaries in the neighborhood, and when he saw Arbery jogging down a residential road on Feb. 23, he believed he was the culprit.

Surveillance video recorded moments before Arbery’s death shows a person believed to be Arbery walking into a house under construction in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. Larry English, who owns the house, told The Post that nothing was taken.

English’s attorney, Atlanta lawyer J. Elizabeth Graddy, said the homeowner on several occasions received alerts from a motion sensor-activated video camera inside the house in the months before the shooting. The incidents usually happened at night, she said, sometimes with as many as four people inside the house.

English notified police on two occasions, Graddy said, but never requested an investigation. Mostly, he wanted them to keep an eye on the property since he lives a 90-minute drive away.

“Even if there had been a robbery, however, the English family would not have wanted a vigilante response,” Graddy said in an email to The Post. “They would have entrusted the matter to law enforcement authorities.”

Graddy said English never asked the McMichaels or any other neighbors to protect or secure his property, and he never forwarded the security footage to them.

English was beekeeping at his home 90 miles away when his phone buzzed with an alert from the camera on Feb. 23. The alert contained an image that turned out to be Arbery peering inside the under-construction house. Graddy provided that eight-second clip to The Post on Monday, showing a man in a white t-shirt and khaki-colored shorts — similar to the clothing Arbery was wearing in the video of the shooting — walking into the house and looking at the wooden beams.

English’s “hands were covered with honey, and he had to wash the honey off,” Graddy said. “He called a neighbor and said ‘Hey, is somebody in my house? Is somebody back in there?’ The neighbor said ‘They’ve killed him.’”

Hannah Knowles and Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post.

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