At first, the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020 went largely unnoticed outside the South Georgia community where the 25-year-old lived and died just weeks before the country was gripped by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It wasn’t until a video of the shooting surfaced May 5, 2020, that the Black man’s death drew nationwide attention, prompting outrage and protests – harbingers of the demonstrations against racial injustice that would follow that summer after the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Three White men are now set to stand trial for Arbery’s murder: Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. All three have pleaded not guilty, and their attorneys have previously said their clients committed no wrongdoing.
With their trial getting underway, here’s a timeline of the case:
February 23, 2020: Ahmaud Arbery is fatally shot
Arbery was shot dead February 23, 2020, in a confrontation with Travis and Gregory McMichael in the neighborhood of Satilla Shores, outside the city of Brunswick in Georgia’s lowcountry.
Arbery was on a jog – something he was known to do, according to those who knew him – when the McMichaels grabbed their guns and pursued Arbery. Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator in the local District Attorney’s Office, later told police Arbery and his son had struggled over his son’s shotgun, and that Travis McMichael shot Arbery after the latter attacked him, according to the initial police report.
A third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, had also joined the pursuit and recorded the shooting on his cellphone. But it would be more than 10 weeks until a 36-second video showing the shooting would surface, spurring calls for the McMichaels’ arrests.
Gregory McMichael told police he and his son had pursued Arbery because they suspected he was responsible for a string of recent purported burglaries in the neighborhood. A Glynn County Police spokesperson later said there had only been one burglary – a gun stolen from an unlocked vehicle in front of the McMichaels’ home – reported in more than seven weeks prior to the shooting.
Additionally, McMichael said he saw Arbery inside a home under construction. Arbery was seen entering the home in surveillance video at the site, but the owner of the home told CNN he did not see Arbery commit any crime the day of the shooting. Other surveillance videos showed multiple people had trespassed at the home under construction.
February 27, 2020: AG’s office learns Brunswick Judicial Circuit district attorney recusing herself
The day after the shooting, Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case, citing Gregory McMichael’s position as a former investigator in her office.
According to the Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s Office, it wasn’t until February 27 that the AG’s office received a letter from Johnson requesting the appointment of a new prosecutor.
(Jackson was indicted and arrested last month for her alleged actions, on charges of violation of oath of a public officer and obstruction of a police officer, according to a release from the AG’s office. She has previously denied wrongdoing.)
The case was then taken over by District Attorney of the Waycross Judicial Circuit, George Barnhill.
April 7, 2020: Second prosecutor recuses himself, lays out a defense of the McMichaels
The Attorney General’s Office would later say it received a letter from Barnhill on April 7, informing the office of his own conflict of interest: His son worked in Johnson’s office and had previously worked with Gregory McMichael on a previous prosecution of Arbery.
Barnhill learned of this conflict soon after he was appointed to the case, the AG’s office said, but he only asked to relinquish the case in early April at the request of Arbery’s mother.
However, per the AG’s Office, Barnhill’s letter failed to disclose he had been involved in the case before he was formally appointed to it: He had given the Glynn County Police Department an initial opinion the day after Arbery’s death, saying he did not see grounds for the arrests of the men involved.
Barnhill reiterated his opinion in a letter to police April 2, saying he believed the McMichaels’ actions were “perfectly legal.”
April 13, 2020: The case is transferred to a third prosecutor
After receiving Barnhill’s letter, the Attorney General’s Office appointed Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden to the case.
May 5, 2020: Video of the shooting surfaces
It wasn’t until more than two months after Arbery’s death that the case took on new life, when the video of the shooting emerged.
The 36-second video begins with Arbery jogging down the middle of a street toward a pickup truck stopped in the road. Gregory McMichael is in the bed of the truck while his son is standing near the driver’s side door with a shotgun.
Arbery approaches, and a physical confrontation occurs between him and Travis McMichael. A shot goes off, and the two disappear off the left side of the video’s frame. A second shot is heard as the men struggle off-camera, and when they come back into view, both are grappling with the shotgun.
Arbery appears to throw a punch at Travis McMichael as a third gunshot is heard, and blood appears on Arbery’s T-shirt before he stumbles and falls in the middle of the two-lane road.
The video – compounded with the fact no one had been arrested – sparked nationwide outrage.
The same day, Durden, the new prosecutor, formally requested an investigation into the case by the GBI, the agency said. That case was begun the next day.
May 7, 2020: The McMichaels are arrested
Two days after the video surfaced, Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested on charges of murder and aggravated assault.
Asked why the GBI had so swiftly arrested the McMichaels when local authorities failed to do so for weeks, GBI Director Vic Reynolds said he couldn’t speak to the actions of other agencies.
“I’m very comfortable in telling you,” he said, “that there’s more than sufficient probable cause in this case for felony murder.”
May 10, 2020: Georgia’s AG requests federal investigation
Attorney General Carr requested an investigation by the US Department of Justice on May 10, 2020, saying in a statement officials were “committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset.”
The request included, “but is not limited to, investigation of the communications and discussions by and between the Office of the District Attorney of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit and the Office of the District Attorney of the Waycross Judicial Circuit related to this case.”
May 11, 2020: A fourth prosecutor takes over
The following day, the AG’s office requested the GBI investigate “possible prosecutorial misconduct by the officers of the District Attorneys of the Brunswick and Waycross Judicial Circuits.”
That same day, AG Carr announced a fourth prosecutor, Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes, would lead the case after Durden had asked to step down due to a lack of sufficient resources.
May 21, 2020: Bryan is arrested
Two weeks after the McMichaels’ arrests, the GBI arrested Bryan on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
His arrest came after his attorney had spent the previous days maintaining his client’s innocence, insisting Bryan had committed no wrongdoing.
June 4, 2020: Travis McMichael used racial slur after shooting Arbery, GBI agent testifies
GBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Dial laid out details of Arbery’s last moments in a preliminary hearing against the three suspects on June 4, 2020, including the revelation that Bryan had told investigators he heard Travis McMichael use the n-word after shooting Arbery dead.
During the hearing, which lasted about seven hours, Dial said there were “numerous times” Travis McMichael used racial slurs on social media and in messaging services. Bryan also had several messages on his phone that included “racial” terms, Dial said.
Dial outlined the events that led to the shooting, saying Arbery had tried to leave the neighborhood but was forced back in by the McMichaels, and said Bryan actually struck Arbery with his car.
Asked if he believed Travis McMichael could have been acting in self-defense, Dial said the opposite was true.
“I believe Mr. Arbery was being pursued, and he ran till he couldn’t run anymore, and it was turn his back to a man with a shotgun or fight with his bare hands against the man with the shotgun,” the GBI agent said.
June 24, 2020: All three suspects indicted on murder charges
On June 24, 2020, four months after the shooting, a Glynn County Grand Jury indicted Gregory and Travis McMichael and Roddie Bryan on malice and felony murder charges in Arbery’s death, District Attorney Holmes announced.
The McMichaels face several other charges, including aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, per the indictment. Bryan also faces a charge of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
July 17, 2020: Suspects plead not guilty
All three pleaded not guilty to the charges they face in mid-July 2020. A judge also denied bond for Bryan, citing his potential flight risk, lack of employment and ongoing investigations.
November 13, 2020: Bond denied for the McMichaels
A judge on November 13, 2020, denied bond for the McMichaels following a two-day hearing in which prosecutors said Gregory McMichael had called Johnson from the scene of the shooting in an attempt to “influence and obstruct the investigation.”
Prosecutors played a voicemail in court Gregory McMichael left his former boss, telling her he’d been involved in a shooting and, “I need some advice right away.”
Prosecutor Jesse Evans said the phone call was evidence Gregory McMichael had intended to use his connections in law enforcement to influence the case from its outset, though he did not argue the call had its intended effect.
April 28, 2021: Suspects are indicted on federal hate crime charges
In late April, federal prosecutors announced a grand jury had indicted the McMichaels and Bryan on hate crime and kidnapping charges.
Each were charged with one count of interference with rights and one count of attempted kidnapping, a release by the Department of Justice said, adding all three had “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
The release added Gregory and Travis McMichael were also charged with using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
May 11, 2021: Suspects plead not guilty in federal court
The McMichaels and Bryan all pleaded not guilty to the federal charges in a hearing May 11. They remain in state custody, and the federal trial is set to begin February 2022.
October 18, 2021: Jury selection begins
Jury selection for the state trial of the McMichaels and Bryan begins in Glynn County, Georgia, on Monday, October 18.
November 3, 2021: A jury is seated
It took 2 1/2 weeks for the jury selection process to be completed. Ultimately, a panel of 12 people – 11 White jurors and one Black juror – was seated on Wednesday, November 3.
At the conclusion of the process, prosecutors for the state accused defense attorneys of disproportionately striking qualified Black jurors and basing some of their strikes on race.
While Judge Timothy Walmsley allowed the case to go forward, ruling there were valid reasons for the defense to strike potential jurors, he said the court “found that there appears to be intentional discrimination” on the part of the defense.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the description of charges against the defendants.