The Georgia man whose cellphone video of Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting helped reignite the case was charged with murder Thursday, making him the third person arrested more than two months after the slaying.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said 50-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. was arrested on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. Agents later searched Bryan's home, several TV stations reported.
During a Friday morning news conference Georgia Bureau of Investigations Director Vic Reynolds would not elaborate on the specifics that led to the arrest of Bryan, but said, "If we believed he was only a witness, we wouldn’t have arrested him."
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.
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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.”
During the presser Reynolds would not rule out additional arrests in the future but said "At this point we feel confident the individuals who needed to be charged have been charged."
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.
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.
This story has been corrected to spell the Georgia governor's name as Brian Kemp, not Bryan Kemp.