DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — Attorneys hired by the two white men accused of pursuing and killing a black man in Georgia said Thursday that their clients have been vilified and cautioned against a rush to judgment in a case that has drawn national attention.
Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son, are charged with aggravated assault and felony murder in the Feb. 23 death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. The case drew national scrutiny and outrage after a video of Arbery’s final moments surfaced online last week. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called in to take over the seemingly stalled investigation and the McMichaels were arrested less than 48 hours later.
The attorneys for 34-year-old Travis McMichael — Bob Rubin and Jason Sheffield — said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that while the shooting itself was captured on video, much about events leading up to the deadly confrontation remains unknown.
Sheffield called Arbery’s death “a tragedy.”
“Right now we are starting at the end,” Sheffield said outside their metro Atlanta law office. “We know the ending. What we don’t know is the beginning.”
Rubin added: “We implore all of you … don’t rush to judgment.”
As the news conference ended, Rubin and Sheffield didn’t respond when asked who’s paying them.
Defense attorneys for both McMichaels said they plan to ask a judge to set bond so they can be released from jail pending trial. Sheffield said he expects that early hearings will be held virtually because of concerns about the coronavirus.
Laura and Frank Hogue, a husband and wife criminal defense team based in Macon, said they have been hired to represent 64-year-old Gregory McMichael.
“So often the public accepts a narrative driven by an incomplete set of facts, one that vilifies a good person, based on a rush to judgment, which has happened in this case,” Laura Hogue said in a statement Thursday.
Three of the four newly hired attorneys are recent past presidents of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and one is the group’s current vice president.
Less than two weeks before Arbery was shot, Travis McMichael sounded on edge the night of Feb. 11 when he called 911 to report a possible trespasser inside a house under construction in his subdivision.
“We’ve had a string of burglaries,” Travis McMichael says on the 911 recording. “I was leaving the neighborhood and I just caught a guy running into a house being built two houses down from me.”
Asked for a description, he says: “It’s a black male, red shirt and white shorts.” Calling from inside his truck, he sounds out of breath. The 911 operator asks: “Are you OK?”
“Yeah, it just startled me,” Travis McMichael replied. “When I turned around and saw him and backed up, he reached into his pocket and ran into the house. So I don’t know if he’s armed or not. But he looked like, he was acting like he was. So be mindful of that.”
He said he had never seen the person before in the neighborhood.
“But we’ve been having a lot of burglaries and break-ins around here,” Travis McMichael said on the call. “I had a pistol stolen Jan. 1, actually.”
An attorney for the owner of the home being built, Larry English, released security camera video that briefly shows a man walk through the open-framed structure. It’s unknown if that man is Arbery.
Attorneys for Arbery’s family have said a man shown on security video inside the same house-in-progress Feb. 23 was Arbery — and that the footage shows him committing no crimes. Arbery was killed a short time later.
More than two months passed before the McMichaels were arrested and the fact that it didn’t happen until after the video of the shooting became public caused many to draw parallels to other shootings of black men by white men in recent years.
“While the death of Ahmaud Arbery is a tragedy, causing deep grief to his family — a tragedy that at first appears to many to fit into a terrible pattern in American life — this case does not fit that pattern,” Gregory McMichael’s defense attorney Frank Hogue said in a statement.
According to an incident report by Glynn County police, Gregory McMichael, said he and his son armed themselves and chased Arbery in a pickup truck after seeing him run down their street. Gregory McMichael told police he suspected Arbery was a burglar, and said he attacked Travis McMichael before he was shot in a struggle over the gun.
Arbery’s mother told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she has confidence in the investigation now that the GBI has taken it over from local police and a new independent prosecutor has been appointed. She said she would like prosecutors to seek the death penalty.