Friday, May 22, 2020
DECATUR, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Warrants issued against a third man in connection with the Ahmaud Arbery case shed new light on why he was arrested late Thursday.
William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., 50, was arrested on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Bryan recorded the video of the Arbery shooting on his cell phone. The video helped to reignite the case.
Bryan, according to Georgia Bureau of Investigation warrants, attempted to "confine Arbery utilizing his vehicle on multiple occasions" and those actions caused his murder. Because the car-blocking played a role in Arbery's death, Georgia law allows for all parties connected to the incident to be charged with murder regardless if they've actually committed the murder.
GBI, along with Director Vic Reynolds and new prosecutor Joyette Holmess, held a news conference Friday morning to discuss the arrest.
"If you're committing a felony crime and that crime ends up in the death of another human being, then that's a felony murder, so we believe the evidence would indicate that his underlying felony caused the death of Mr. Arbery," Reynolds said.
Holmes quickly pledged that justice would be delivered.
"We have been grateful for the confidence that the Attorney General Chris Carr has put in our office to handle this case," Holmes said. "As we've said before in our previous statements that we are going to make sure that we find justice in this case. We know that we have a broken family and a broken community down in Brunswick."
Reynolds said Bryan's sudden arrest was not due to a "last moment of epiphany."
"It was just an accumulation of various things that were there and various things we discovered over the last 16 days," Reynolds said.
Reynolds also added that there were additional pieces of video that led them to arrest Bryan.
Arbery was slain Feb. 23 when a white father and son armed themselves and pursued him after spotting the 25-year-old black man running in their neighborhood. More than two months passed before authorities arrested Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault. Gregory McMichael told police he suspected Arbery was a burglar and that Arbery attacked his son before being shot.
Bryan lives in the same subdivision just outside the port city of Brunswick, and the video he took from the cab of his vehicle helped stir a national outcry when it leaked online May 5.
The video quickly drew a strong reaction from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who called it “absolutely horrific.” The Georgia Bureau of Investigation soon took over the case from local police, and the arrests of the McMichaels followed on May 7.
Under Georgia law, a person can be charged with felony murder for committing any felony that causes the death of someone else. It does not require intent to kill and carries an automatic life sentence.
In the Glynn County police incident report on the shooting, Gregory McMichael told an officer that at one point Arbery “began running back the direction from which he came and `Roddy' attempted to block him which was unsuccessful." It's the only mention in the police report of any potential involvement by Bryan.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, did not immediately return a phone message Thursday. He has previously insisted Bryan played no role in Arbery's death.
“Roddie Bryan is not now, and has never been, more than a witness to the shooting,” Gough said in a statement on the case Monday. “He is not a vigilante. Roddie did not participate in the horrific killing of this young man. Mr. Bryan has committed no crime, and bears no criminal responsibility in the death of Ahmaud Arbery.”
Meanwhile, attorneys for Arbery's parents cheered the news of Bryan's arrest.
“We called for his arrest from the very beginning of this process,” attorneys S. Lee Merritt, Benjamin Crump and L. Chris Stewart said in a statement. “His involvement in the murder of Mr. Arbery was obvious to us, to many around the country and after their thorough investigation, it was clear to the GBI as well.”
Bryan's video of the shooting was taken from the driver's seat of a vehicle following Arbery as he runs along a residential street. A pickup truck is parked in the road ahead of Arbery, with one man in the truck's bed and another standing beside the open driver's side door.
The video shows Arbery run around the truck to the right before he cuts back in front of it. Then a gunshot can be heard, followed by a second shot. Arbery can be seen punching a man holding what appears to be a shotgun, who then fires a third shot point-blank. Arbery staggers and falls face down in the street.
Gregory McMichael retired last year after more than two decades as an investigator for the local prosecutor's office. Because of those ties, Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case. Two outside prosecutors assigned the case have also stepped aside.
GBI Director Vic Reynolds was also asked Friday about prosecutorial misconduct in relation to the initial investigation into the case. His office is handling a probe into that, and he said he didn't expect the investigation to continue much longer.
"Once that's completed what will procedurally happen is we will turn that file over to the attorney general's office, they will be the deciding agency or entity and what, if anything happens in that regard," Reynolds said.
Meanwhile, Bryan's attorney is arguing that his client is just a bystander and neighborhood witness to the crime.
The McMichaels remain jailed in Glynn County waiting for a preliminary court hearing and for a judge to decide whether to free them on bond pending trial. Attorneys for the father and son have urged people not to rush to judgment in the case.
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