ATLANTA (CN) — The three white men accused of murdering Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery as he ran through a coastal Georgia neighborhood in February pleaded not guilty Friday.
Glynn County Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley also denied bond to one of the men, William “Roddie” Bryan, rejecting arguments from Bryan’s attorney that there is “no case” against his client.
Bryan, Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael all appeared in court via video conference Friday morning.
All three men were indicted on malice and felony murder charges last month for the Feb. 23 shooting death of 25-year-old Arbery.
Arbery was jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia, when Travis McMichael and his father, retired police detective Gregory McMichael, confronted him with guns. The two men chased Arbery in a white pick-up truck, claiming later that they thought he had committed a burglary.
A struggle ensued between an unarmed Arbery and Travis McMichael, who was carrying a shotgun. Arbery was shot three times.
Cellphone video of the shooting recorded by Bryan leaked and went viral in May, sparking protests and national outrage at local authorities who failed to make any arrests in the case.
Walmsley explained his decision to deny bond during Friday’s hearing, saying that Bryan is a potential flight risk due to the serious charges against him. The judge also cited Bryan’s lack of employment and two pending investigations against him by the FBI and GBI as reasons for denying the bond request.
The lead prosecutor in the case, Jesse Evans, said the GBI has opened a “parallel investigation into sex crimes” regarding an “unrelated offense” allegedly committed by Bryan but did not provide any further details.
The GBI confirmed the investigation in a statement on its official Twitter account Friday, saying that the investigation is “active and ongoing.”
Evans said that the U.S. Department of Justice has told the defendants it is investigating them for a possible federal hate crime and pointed to evidence found on Bryan’s cellphone, including numerous racist remarks, which would back up that investigation.
Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, appeared in court just after noon on Friday to deliver a victim impact statement urging the judge to deny bond.
“Mr. Bryan does not deny getting into his pick-up truck and chasing my son. He does not deny blocking his pathway. He does not deny recording the murder of my son,” she said. “He does not think there is anything wrong with what he did. He wants this court to allow him to go home. I am asking this court to say no. He cannot go home. He did not allow my son to go home.”
“I am asking this court to give Mr. Bryan the same energy that he gave my son,” she added.
In a statement read by the prosecutor, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, said that he “suffered the deepest loss a family can endure when the McMichaels and Bryan acted as judge, jury, and executioner.”
Preston Bryan, the defendant’s 26-year-old son, appeared in court Friday to ask for his father’s release on bond, telling the judge that his father does not pose any risk to the public and affirming that he would notify the court if his father violated house arrest.
Walmsley also denied a motion filed by Bryan’s attorney Kevin Gough requesting the removal of Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes from the case.
Holmes was assigned to prosecute the case after Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden stepped aside, saying that the case had outgrown his limited staff and resources.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for the Arbery family, applauded the judge’s decisions immediately after the hearing, saying that he believes the court “rightfully determined that [Bryan] is a danger to the community.”
Merritt also said he was pleased with Walmsley’s decision to deny the motion to remove Holmes from the case.
“[Holmes’] team has been professional. Her team has been about the business of doing justice for this community and for the family of Ahmaud Arbery,” he said.