Georgia DAs slammed for 'cover up' trying to 'exonerate’ Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers

In the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a pair of district attorneys who allegedly helped shield the killers from arrest for months are under review.

As Rolling Stone noted on Tuesday, "two local district attorneys played pivotal roles in forestalling the arrest of Arbery’s killers, a delay that eventually totaled 74 days. One, Jackie Johnson, is now facing criminal charges for showing favoritism, in the days immediately following the killing, to murderer Greg McMichael — who previously worked as an investigator in her office — and McMichael’s son, Travis, who fired the shotgun blasts that killed Arbery. The other, George E. Barnhill, has come under state and federal investigation for quietly directing local police, for weeks, that the killers’ conduct was 'perfectly legal.'"

Brandon Buskey, director of the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project said, “What appears to be a cover up of this really serious crime shows how easy it is for prosecutors to manipulate the process.” He added that the alleged misconduct “really does call into question the integrity of the system.”

Buskey alledged, “You see how easy it is for the prosecutor to abandon the obligation to simply do justice, and begin to advocate for a very biased outcome. We now know a heinous, potentially racially motivated murder was committed. Yet you have a prosecutor stepping into the role of defense counsel, to essentially try to exonerate three murderers.”

READ MORE: The sad truth about the Ahmaud Arbery trial -- and what it means for America

Jurors found Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and their co-defendant William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. all guilty of murder Wednesday for the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was killed while jogging through a neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia, in February 2020.

Rolling Stone reported, "Under normal circumstances, review of Arbery’s killing would have fallen to Jackie Johnson [former district attorney for Georgia’s Brunswick Judicial Circuit], then the Brunswick Judicial Circuit district attorney. But Johnson had a conflict of interest: She’d employed the elder McMichael for several years. At trial, it was revealed that McMichael immediately called Johnson for advice: 'Jackie, this is Greg,' he said in a voicemail to the DA. 'Could you call me as soon as you possibly can? My son and I have been involved in a shooting, and I need some advice right away.'"

Johnson recused herself from the case, but was indicted on criminal charges and faces a misdemeanor count for allegedly obstructing “the lawful discharge” of two police officers’ “official duties” by “directing that McMichael should not be placed under arrest.” Additionally, Johnson faces a felony count for violating her oath of office by “showing favor and affection” to McMichael, while “failing to treat Ahmaud Arbery and his family fairly and with dignity.”

The Rolling Stone investigation unearthed that the conflicts of interest ran deep in the Arbery case.

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"The two prosecutors were linked by more than neighboring geography. Barnhill’s son worked as an assistant DA in Johnson’s office. It later came to light that the younger Barnhill had also worked directly with Greg McMichael — on an earlier criminal case involving Ahmaud Arbery. That conflict of interest would eventually force the elder Barnhill to also recuse himself. But before doing so, Barnhill issued a detailed legal advisory to police investigators, insisting of the men now convicted for murdering Arbery: 'We do not see grounds for an arrest of any of the three parties.'"

In April 2020, Barnhill also moved to recuse himself from the case. “My son works as an assistant district attorney for Jackie Johnson,” he wrote to the state attorney general’s office. “Unknown to Jackie and me until about 3-4 weeks ago, he had handled a previous felony probation revocation and pleading Ahmaud Arbery to a felony in her Glynn County Office.” Barnhill added, “My son having worked with Greg McMichael for several years, and now known that he and Greg McMichael both helped with the previous prosecution of Arbery, I believe it is in the best interest of justice to recuse both myself and my office from this particular investigation.”

Barnhill did not reveal his reasoning of delaying his recusal from the case.

Buskey called the allegations “extremely troubling," adding, “We don’t really insist on transparency or accountability when it comes to district attorneys, despite their immense power. There’s really no way to know how often prosecutors put their thumb on the scale.”