The investigation into the killing of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery changed hands for the third time in more than two months, with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr selecting a new prosecutor to head the case on Monday.
As NPR reports, Cobb County Judicial Circuit district attorney Joyette Holmes will now be tasked with leading the investigation into Arbery’s Feb. 23 killing at the hands of Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael. Holmes is the first black woman to serve in that role and now becomes the fourth prosecutor to take on the case.
It’s hard to imagine the stakes being any higher for Holmes. Arbery’s killing has become a lightning rod, due in large part to a video of Arbery’s fatal shooting that went viral online. The unarmed black man was running through a neighborhood just outside of Brunswick, Ga. when he was ambushed by the McMichaels, who claim they suspected him as a burglar.
In a statement announcing the transfer, AG Carr thanked Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden, the most recent prosecutor to take the case. He explained that the “case has grown in size and magnitude since he accepted,” adding that Holmes’ office “is better suited from a resource perspective to now handle the case,” NPR reports.
Durden took the case in mid-April, having gone through two previous district attorneys, both of whom recused themselves because of their professional connections with Greg McMichael.
The elder McMichael worked as an investigator with the Brunswick district attorney’s office, leading to DA Jackie Johnson to step back from the case.
The case then went on to district attorney George Barnhill of the Waycross Judicial Circuit, who recused himself only after Arbery’s mother complained that Barnhill’s son used to work with McMichael at the Brunswick DA’s office. Before passing on the case, Barnhill wrote that there was “insufficient probable cause” to charge the McMichaels with a crime, stating that the pair were within their rights under the state’s citizen arrest and self-defense statutes.
On May 7, more than two months after Arbery was repeatedly and fatally shot by Travis McMichael, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged the McMichaels with felony murder and aggravated assault.
Georgia doesn’t have hate crime laws on its books, but the Department of Justice is considering whether to pursue federal hate crime charges against the McMichaels.
Arbery family attorney Ben Crump applauded the decision to move the case to Holmes’ office. Lawyers for the family have pushed for an independent prosecutor to oversee the case.
“In order for justice to be carried out both effectively and appropriately in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, it is imperative that the special prosecutor has no affiliation with the SE Georgia legal or law enforcement communities,” Crump said in a statement. Crump further encouraged Holmes to be “zealous in her search for justice.”
Holmes’ office released its own statement Monday night after the change was announced. She said she did not take the call to serve lightly.
“Our office will immediately gather all materials related to the investigation thus far and continue to seek additional information to move this case forward,” DA Holmes said. “We appreciate the confidence that Attorney General Carr has in our office’s ability to bring to light the justice that this case deserves.”