Former Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes was one of several prosecutors tasked with seeking justice in the death of Ahmaud Arbery after months-long delays in charging his alleged killers. The case against Travis McMichael, the man who shot Arbery, McMichael’s father and former prosecutorial investigator Gregory McMichael, and area resident William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed parts of the deadly encounter, has been mired in allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. In one example, former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson was indicted on counts of obstruction and violating her oath of office. Holmes, the first Black woman to serve as Cobb County’s district attorney, was essentially tasked with cleaning up the mess of a prosecution, but she was ultimately unseated last November by current District Attorney Flynn Brody Jr. She told WABE radio station in an interview that aired Monday she has “great confidence in our judicial system and even more with respect to this case.”
That makes one of us.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was unarmed when he was accused of trespassing on the property of a South Georgia home, then hunted down and fatally shot on Feb. 23, 2020. It took 74 days after Arbery’s death for charges to be filed against the McMichaels. They were only arrested when the case picked up national attention from the press, which Holmes addressed in her interview. “My appointment was the fourth appointment of a prosecutor in a case. I think that was a pretty unique scenario and certainly required a lot of trust building,” she said, “because any trust that there may have been at the beginning of the process was lost over the first couple of months.”
Johnson, the applicable prosecutor at the time, recused herself from the case because Gregory McMichael used to work as an investigator in her office, but she also involved Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill to act in her stead. His son worked in the same office. Barnhill wrote in his eventual recusal letter that the Arbery family “are not strangers to the local criminal justice system,” according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “From best we can tell, Ahmauds [sic] older brother has gone to prison in the past and is currently in the Glynn jail, without bond, awaiting new felony prosecution,” Barnhill added. “It also appears a cousin has been prosecuted by DA Johnson’s office.” Barnhill reportedly told the Glynn County Police Department on Feb. 24 that “he did not see grounds for the arrest of any of the individuals involved in Mr. Arbery’s death.”
Without even knowing about those specifics, Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper initiated the push for Barnhill’s recusal, said attorney Lee Merritt, who’s on the Arbery family legal team. Merritt said during a virtual press conference that Johnson played a “direct role” in “instructing law enforcement not to make the arrest of the men responsible for Ahmaud’s murder,” and in coordinating with other prosecutors in the region to ensure Arbery’s family was denied answers.
When Holmes was asked whether she thought Bryan and the McMichaels could get a fair trial in Georgia, she said she knows the hard work the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office has put into the case and she has faith that team will “do the right thing,” ultimately leading to “a result of guilty for all three defendants.”
The murder trial against Bryan, Travis McMichael, and Gregory McMichael, who also face federal hate crime and attempted kidnapping charges, is set to begin on Oct. 18, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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