What's Next in the Ahmaud Arbery Case?

The Georgia Attorney General's office has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to determine if the initial probe in the February 23 slaying of an unarmed black man was handled appropriately and if federal hate crime charges can be applied.

"We will continue to assess all information, and we will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law," Kerri Kupec, a DOJ spokesperson, said in a CNN report.

Gregory McMichael, 64, a former Glynn County police officer and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael are charged with the murder and aggravated assault of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. Both are being held in the Glynn County Jail without bond and could be held until trial.

Ahmaud Arbery
Family of Ahmaud Arbery embrace at the Glynn County Courthouse during a protest of the shooting death of Arbery on May 8, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia. Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael were arrested the previous night and charged with murder. Sean Rayford/Getty

Georgia is one of four states that does not have a hate crime law on the books, which means it could be prosecuted as a federal hate crime.

To classify the case as a federal hate crime, the DOJ must certify that either the state does not have jurisdiction or that the state has asked for the federal government to assume jurisdiction. Other determining factors include if prosecution by the United States is in the public interest and necessary to secure justice.

Barry Pascal, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Savannah, Georgia, told Newsweek that they are actively investigating Arbery's shooting, but declined to comment on the scope of the investigation.

If the Justice Department takes over the case, the McMichaels could be taken into custody by U.S. Marshals and held in a federal facility pending a jury trial.

If the case remains with the state, the case will be sent to the grand jury, who will then decide if there is enough evidence to indict. If the Mcmichaels are convicted, both face the possibility of life in prison or the death penalty, according to Georgia state statutes.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked for the Justice Department investigation on Sunday after he learned prosecutors with the Brunswick and Waycross Judicial Circuit, had worked on the case, only to recuse themselves amid claims of a relationship between one of the prime suspects in the shooting and prosecutors in both offices.

"We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset," Carr said in a press release on Sunday.

A third district attorney, Tom Durden, was assigned to the case but on Monday, Carr announced that Joyette Holmes, of the Cobb Judicial Circuit, will now oversee the case.

According to his family, Arbery was on a routine jog in the Brunswick neighborhood, when the McMichaels pursued him in a pickup and shot him multiple times at close range.

A video of the incident, recorded by William "Roddie" Bryant was posted on a Brunswick radio station website last week, showing the McMichaels in a pickup truck, chasing Arbery. Bryant also recorded the shooting. The video quickly went viral, with many asking why the two men had not been arrested and charged with murder.

Agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested the McMichaels on May 7, more than six weeks after the shooting, and after numerous threats were made against the Glynn County Police Department and individuals involved in the investigation, according to a GBI press release.

The GBI has also obtained video that shows Arbery walking into a home under construction shortly before the shooting, and gazing at the building materials stacked inside the site before leaving.

Arbery was not seen on the video or by witnesses taking anything from the construction site.

Because of the nature of the crime, a number of community activists and politicians have weighed in on the shooting, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who called the shooting a lynching in an interview with CNN.

"I think had we not seen that video, I don't believe that they would be charged," Bottoms said.