By RUSS BYNUM Associated Press
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A federal judge has scheduled an early 2022 trial for three Georgia men charged with hate crimes in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood issued a written order Tuesday setting jury selection to begin Feb. 7 at the federal courthouse in the coastal city of Brunswick. That’s just a few months after the same defendants are scheduled to stand trial on murder charges in a Georgia state court.
Gregory and Travis McMichael, a grown father and son, armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after spotting the 25-year-old Black man running in their neighborhood. Travis McMichael ended up killing Arbery with three close-range shotgun blasts.
A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and was later charged along with the McMichaels.
A federal grand jury in April indicted both McMichaels and Bryan on hate crimes charges. All three were charged with one count of interference with civil rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were also charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.
Their next pretrial hearing in the federal case is scheduled for Sept. 9.
More than two months after Arbery’s slaying on Feb. 23, 2020, no one had been charged in his killing. Then cellphone video of the shooting leaked online and a national outcry erupted. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case the next day and swiftly arrested the McMichaels and Bryan, who recorded the video.
All three remain jailed on state murder charges and are scheduled to stand trial on those counts this fall in Glynn County Superior Court. Jury selection in the state case is scheduled to start Oct. 18.
The McMichaels and Bryan won’t face hate crime penalties at the state level because Georgia’s hate crimes law wasn’t adopted until after his slaying. At the time Arbery was killed, Georgia was one of just four U.S. states without a hate crimes law. Georgia lawmakers quickly passed one amid the outcry over his death.
Attorneys for all three men charged in the case say they committed no crimes. The McMichaels’ lawyers have said they pursued Arbery, suspecting he was a burglar, after security cameras had previously recorded him entering a home under construction. They say Travis McMichael shot Arbery while fearing for his life as they grappled over a shotgun.
State prosecutors have said Arbery stole nothing and was merely out jogging when the McMichaels and Bryan chased him.
The Justice Department alleges that the men “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
In pretrial court hearings in Georgia, prosecutors have presented evidence that racism may have played a role in the man’s death.
Last June, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified Bryan told investigators that Travis McMichael uttered a racist slur right after the shooting as he stood over Arbery, who was bleeding on the ground.
Travis McMichaels’ attorneys have denied that he made the comment.