If deaths truly come in threes, then a district attorney in Georgia who “justified” the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery as the case’s lead prosecutor could soon join two other DAs in the state who were recently criminally indicted, effectively killing all of their legal careers.
George Barnhill, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney, took over the case last year after then-Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself because Gregory McMichael, one of Arbery’s accused murderers, was an investigator in her office until he retired in 2019.
A conflict of interest
But Barnhill — who had a similar conflict of interest that he kept concealed — immediately defended Johnson’s decision against criminally charging McMichael and his son, Travis, who, along with William “Roddie” Bryan, were recorded on video trapping the 21-year-old Black man with their vehicles before shooting him dead in the street as he was out for a routine jog in the town of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Without hesitation, Barnhill decided that Arbery was a “criminal suspect” whose shooting was “perfectly legal” in Georgia.
“It appears Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and (William Bryan) were following, in ‘hot pursuit,’ a burglary suspect, with solid firsthand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/telling him to stop,” Barnhill wrote in a letter sent to Brunswick authorities. “It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia law, this is perfectly legal.”
But after it was revealed that Barnhill’s son worked in Johnson’s office alongside Gregory McMichael, calls grew for him to recuse himself, including an online petition demanding he be disbarred that garnered more than 1 million signatures. Barnhill ultimately recused himself, suggesting in a letter to Captain Tom Jump of the Glynn County Police Department that he still doubted whether there was “sufficient evidence on which to make a Grand Jury presentation.”
(For perspective’s sake, Bryan told investigators that Travis McMichael called Arbery a “f**king ni**er” after shooting the jogger three times at close range with a shotgun. The McMichaels were finally arrested and charged with murder more than two months after Arbery was killed. Bryan met the same fate two weeks later. Testimony from a bond hearing confirmed the three suspects frequently exchanged text messages replete with racist slurs. Citing phone records, a judge said Bryan also used the N-word and other racial slurs frequently. Jail phone records also revealed Gregory McMichael downplayed the broad day killing as a virtue and not an immoral act, asking, “You’ve heard the saying that no good deed goes unpunished?”)
Georgia AG investigating
As a result, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr in May of last year opened up an investigation into the handling of Arbery’s case. Without calling Barnhill by his name, Carr referenced “the conduct of the District Attorneys of the Brunswick and Waycross Judicial Circuits.”
Carr said that “many questions and concerns have arisen regarding, among other things, the communications between and actions taken by the District Attorneys of the Brunswick and Waycross Circuits.”
Jackie Johnson indicted
Fast-forward to last week and a grand jury returned an indictment against Johnson for one felony count of violating her oath of office and one misdemeanor count of hindering a law enforcement officer. Johnson was arrested on Wednesday.
During a press conference last week after Johnson was indicted, attorneys representing Arbery’s mother suggested that Barnhill could be next.
Is George Barnhill next?
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said there was not “a concrete timeline” for Barnhill to possibly be indicted. However, he explained that he saw criminal charges “as the next step in accountability” as the investigation continues.
“George Barnhill withheld material information,” Merritt said before adding later that the Waycross DA “began to advise [Johnson] about ways her friend and former employee [McMichael] could avoid accountability.”
Merritt, a candidate for attorney general in Texas, said Barnhill “accepted the responsibility of taking over the investigation knowing he had a dog in the fight.”
Merritt said the door for Barnhill to still be indicted was still open “as long as the grand jury’s convened,” which he said means there’s still a chance he could be charged.
Merritt said he had filed a parallel civil suit against Barnhill and Johnson and that Carr has been consulting with his office about that lawsuit, suggesting that the AG’s investigation is far from over.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who also represents Arbery’s family, echoed Merritt’s sentiments at the press conference on Friday.
“It seems to lend itself to some conspiracy between Jackie Johnson and George Barnhill and that is something that had to be answered,” Crump said.
He said that was important because “far too often DAs have put their fingers on the scales of justice where you have Black victims killed by white hands.”
Crump said he was looking to set a precedent for prosecutors to be held accountable.
“We look forward to making sure that Barnhill is also investigated thoroughly and we have justice for this family on all levels,” Crump said.
DA Mark Jones indicted
Unrelated to Arbery’s case, Chattahoochee Circuit District Attorney Mark Jones was indicted on Tuesday for trying to influence a police officer’s testimony, offering bribes to prosecutors in his office and trying to influence and prevent the testimony of a crime victim.
Jones’ indictment suggested that Georgia authorities were taking Crump’s demands for prosecutorial accountability seriously.
There is one former Georgia district attorney who was involved in the Arbery case and has managed to avoid any criminal scrutiny. Joyette Holmes, a Black woman Republican who is the former district attorney in Cobb County and former judge who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to take over prosecuting the case, was one of five district attorneys in Georgia to lose their bids for re-election last year. In July, Kemp appointed Holmes to the Georgia State Board for the Department of Juvenile Justice.
The trial for Arbery’s murder is scheduled to begin next month in Glynn County, which has recently seen a surge of COVID-19 infections, which could potentially delay the court case.
A Disturbing Timeline Of Ahmaud Arbery's Killing And Murder Investigation In Georgia
1. October 20191 of 39
2. November 2019
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This video is from 11/17. Larry English called 911 on 11/18 and said he had a problem with "other people" the night before. This appears to show that day and is from English's attorney. There is no record of neighbors calling 911 this day, based off records from Glynn Co 911 pic.twitter.com/BXlyYEaBcL— Wright Gazaway (@WrightKATU) May 15, 2020
3. Dec. 20, 2019
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Police told the homeowner where #AhmaudArbery was last seen to contact Greg McMichael if his cameras caught someone on his property. McMichael in turn gathered a posse & began hunting for Ahmaud, or someone who fit his description, catching up with him on 2/23/20– killing him. pic.twitter.com/BmlmW636f5— Lee Merritt (@MerrittForTexas) May 16, 2020
4. Dec. 20, 2019
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This is the man that set the plan in motion that led to the murder of #AhmaudArbery.— Lee Merritt (@MerrittForTexas) May 18, 2020
ROBERT RASH is a Glynn County Police Officer.
He instructed a homeowner to contact Gregory McMichael to deal w/ trespassers.
McMichael and his son formed a posse and murdered Ahmaud Arbery. pic.twitter.com/ZqZg567Agp
5. Feb. 11, 2020
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Larry English’s attorney gave me this video from Feb 11. It shows the incident outlined in my story when Travis McMichael called 911 and saw someone in the home. On 2/23, he and his father thought the Abrery was who they saw on the 11th pic.twitter.com/C2gVJCJ3xQ— Wright Gazaway (@WrightKATU) May 14, 2020
6. Feb. 23Source:Getty 6 of 39
7. Feb. 27, 2020
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This is the DA who blocked the arrest of 2 white supremacist TERRORISTS after they murdered an innocent black man execution style while he was jogging in his neighborhood— StanceGrounded (@_SJPeace_) May 9, 2020
JACKIE JOHNSON NEEDS TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR OBSTRUCTING & ENDANGERING THE LIVES OF BLACK MEN
ARREST HER pic.twitter.com/ngSIEGMCq1
8. Feb. 27, 20208 of 39
9. Feb. 29, 2020Source:Getty 9 of 39
10. March 2020
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If you’re wondering why no charges were initially filed on the murderers of #AhmaudArbery, it’s because D.A. George Barnhill immediately concluded Arbery was a criminal & that he attacked the men who were hunting him.— Benjamin Dixon (@BenjaminPDixon) May 7, 2020
This is letter Barnhill sent to the Brunswick authorities pic.twitter.com/vsGCboful7
11. April 2, 2020
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Police report sheds more light on Satilla Shores shooting https://t.co/Zi6YVGTkhK— The Brunswick News (@Brunswick_News) April 2, 2020
12. April 3, 202012 of 39
13. April 1313 of 39
14. April 26, 2020
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We’ll never know how often Black life is taken, justice denied:— Dr. Malinda S. Smith (@MalindaSmith) May 9, 2020
“Two Weapons, a Chase, a Killing and No Charges.
A 25-year-old man running through a Georgia neighborhood ended up dead. A prosecutor argued that the pursuers should not be arrested” @nytimes https://t.co/pJA6kSK6cj
15. April 28, 202015 of 39
16. May 5, 202016 of 39
17. May 5, 202017 of 39
18. May 7, 202018 of 39
19. May 8, 202019 of 39
20. May 8, 2020
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On what would have been his 26th birthday, people were jogging 2.23 miles in his honor to signify the date he was killed by Gregory and Travis McMichael, who racially profiled and shot the jogger in Brunswick, Georgia. #IrunwithMaud #IRunwithAhmaudhttps://t.co/V2KuBaeKjx— NewsOne (@newsone) May 9, 2020
21. May 9, 2020Source:Getty 21 of 39
22. May 10, 202022 of 39
23. May 11, 2020
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Another huge WIN for #JusticeForAhmaud! At the family’s demand— a special prosecutor will replace Tom Durden the S. GA prosecutor that sat on the case until video of Ahmaud’s murder was leaked. Joyette Holmes is out of @cobbcountygovt. Her office is being reviewed for conflicts. pic.twitter.com/rcuQ7UPOfE— Lee Merritt (@MerrittForTexas) May 11, 2020
24. May 12, 2020Source:Twitter 24 of 39
25. May 13, 2020
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“Ahmaud, I am so sorry. I should have stopped them,” reads the note. “I am so sorry.” The card was not signed by a name and no more information or context was provided, including when the card was left there. https://t.co/nzzY5aNple— NewsOne (@newsone) May 14, 2020
26. May 14, 2020Source:Getty 26 of 39
27. May 18, 2020
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Because this story wasn't bad enough now we discover Lindsay McMichael, the daughter and sister of Ahmaud Arbery’s alleged killers, posted a picture of Ahmaud’s deceased body to snapchat pic.twitter.com/RwTwzrAXAG— Reese Waters (@reesewaters) May 19, 2020
28. May 18, 202028 of 39
29. May 20, 2020Source:Getty 29 of 39
30. May 20, 2020
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Today, the GA Congressional Delegation co-signed a letter to U.S. AG William Barr and Asst AG Eric Dreiband, encouraging the use of “all possible Federal resources to achieve full justice, transparency, and accountability in the case of Mr. Ahmaud Arbery.” https://t.co/8FcMZEEKWF— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) May 20, 2020
31. May 21, 2020Source:WJAX 31 of 39
32. May 25, 2020
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NEW: Attorneys for Ahmaud Arbery's parents announce that the Department of Justice will be investigating Arbery's killing and why it took so long to arrest the people responsible. See their statement here: pic.twitter.com/yfcnrT5SjV— Hayley Mason (@HayleyMasonTV) May 26, 2020
33. June 2020
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Reports of a photo op with the president or standing with the White House during the EO signing are false.— Lee Merritt (@MerrittForTexas) June 16, 2020
Show me the civil rights leaders who are upset about families making a direct appeal for federal intervention after the murder of their loved one & I’ll show you a clown. pic.twitter.com/GXR5arB8Mz
34. June 17, 2020Source:WJAX 34 of 39
35. November 2020Source:Getty 35 of 39
36. December 2020
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William ‘Roddie’ Bryan tried to publicly absolve himself of having any part in Ahmaud Arbery’s modern-day lynching, but this newly released bodycam footage confirms what we long suspected: He clearly used his truck to block Ahmaud's escape from the McMichaels! pic.twitter.com/UAms4LYS28— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) December 15, 2020
37. January 2021Source:Getty 37 of 39
38. February 2021Source:Getty 38 of 39
39. Feb. 23, 2021Source:Getty 39 of 39
Will George Barnhill Be Next Georgia DA Indicted? Ahmaud Arbery Case Investigation Is Still Open was originally published on newsone.com