Prosecutors who achieved guilty verdicts in the murder trial of Ahmaud Arbery spoke in a recent interview about the need to trust the criminal justice system. Speaking with Atlanta’s 11 Alive, the team reflected on the challenges of the case and the antics of the defense attorneys.
At one point, the prosecutors expressed the hope that the case would restore people’s faith in the process. While the trial may have turned out favorably, the entire process doesn’t reflect well on the criminal justice system.
For starters, the case would not have even been handled by the Cobb County prosecutorial team if people just sat back and let the process run its course. Three prosecutors handled the case before it was assigned to the Cobb County team.
News reports have focused on former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who was voted out of office last November. Johnson currently faces obstruction charges for her role in keeping the McMichaels from being arrested.
It’s important to highlight how the system continues to deny full justice in this case. Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, the second prosecutor to hand the case, is still overseeing cases and making judgments on what to pursue. Arbery’s family and grassroots organizers made sure the case wasn’t swept under the rug.
In an infamous letter, Barnhill feigned ignorance about why Arbery’s mother would want him to recuse himself from the case. He then distorted information on why Gregory and Trevor McMichael, along with William “Roddy” Bryan.
Notably, Barnhill ran with the claim that Arbery had been caught committing a crime and that it was legal for the McMichaels and to be in “hot pursuit” of him. Citing the prior version of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law and his decades of experience, Barnhill claimed there was no basis for arrest in the case.
If left to its own devices, the system would not have challenged Barnhill’s farce and simply accepted his rationalization. Arbery’s mother and community demanded action for months until finally seeing movement. It remains to be seen if Barnhill will face any consequences from the so-called system for his role in obstructing justice in this case.
Real justice should not tolerate prosecutors saying or doing anything in the official course of their work. Who knows how many other cases has Barnhill handled in this manner.
The Cobb County prosecutorial team also rationalized the defense’s racist antics as just doing their job. While everyone is entitled to a defense, it does not mean attorneys can make any claim or allegation in front of the judge and jury. Being an adversarial process doesn’t mean people say and do just anything.
If only the process worked fairly for everyone. Unfortunately, the outcome of the murder trial was more of an outlier than the norm. Friends, loved ones and community organizers continue to raise the cause of Marc Wilson, a Black young man who has been detained over 500 days for allegedly firing his gun in self-defense after a group of white teenagers tried to run him off the road.
Attorneys for Wilson have requested the presiding judge recuse himself. As reported by WJCL in Savannah, Wilson’s attorneys took issue with an instance of the judge and prosecutor seemingly withholding evidence. At the time, defense attorney Francys Johnson was held in contempt after trying to preserve the chain of custody for a notebook mistakenly given to him.
Addressing prosecutorial misconduct remains one of the calls to action for Just Georgia, which has been heavily involved in organizing around both Wilson and Arbery’s cases.
“We understand that justice in our communities can never be limited to the paradigm presented by the criminal legal system,” read the organization’s website.