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Investigation into ‘prosecutorial misconduct’ in Ahmaud Arbery murder case

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 4:45 PM EST
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GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Three men are now convicted and sentenced to life in prison in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

They await a federal trial in February on hate crime charges.

But there is another pending criminal case connected to Arbery’s killing.

WTOC Investigates has an update on allegations the former Brunswick District Attorney instructed officers at the scene not to arrest or charge the men involved.

The felony indictments are against former DA Jackie Johnson and there has been no court movement in that pending case.

But the scope of the investigation is much wider; it’s about the handling of the Arbery case.

It’s been more than a year and a half since Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr requested an investigation into “possible prosecutorial misconduct” in the Ahmaud Arbery case.

“I can’t speak to the specifics of our investigation, but that is part of what we’re looking into,” said Attorney General Chris Carr.

The scope of the investigation included two district attorneys - Jackie Johnson and George Barnhill. Only Johnson has been charged in the case.

WTOC Investigates recently confirmed with Carr’s office - the investigation is still open and active, but his office was unable to provide further comment.

Here’s what we’ve confirmed about the investigation.

According to past statements from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, they’re looking into why Barnhill withheld information for weeks about his conflict in the case and the advice he gave police not to make an arrest in the days after Arbery was killed.

Arbery was shot and killed on Feb 23, 2020.

Four days later, on Feb. 27, Johnson notified Carr’s office about a conflict and her relationship to Greg McMichael.

Carr then appointed Barnhill to oversee the Arbery case.

On April 2, 2020, Barnhill sent this email to the lead police detective over the investigation after he said he received Arbery’s autopsy results.

It said, “We do not see grounds for an arrest of any of the three parties.” And that, “it appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal.”

It’s a legal argument that was later used by the men’s defense attorneys during the trial.

Four days later, on April 7, 2020, Barnhill sent an email to Carr’s office about his conflict with the case.

In it, Barnhill says he learned weeks earlier that his son was a prosecutor in Jackie Johnson’s office and had worked with Greg McMichael on a case involving Arbery.

Carr said in a previous interview with WTOC, Barnhill withheld from him the recommendation he gave police not to make an arrest.

Barnhill has not been charged in the investigation. He is the current DA for the Waycross Judicial Circuit.

As for Johnson, she lost her 2020 re-election bid and was indicted by a Glynn County grand jury in March of last year.

During an interview in November with the NAACP Brunswick Chapter president, WTOC Investigates asked what message the indictment of Johnson has sent to the community.

“We’re watching. We’re hopeful. We’re with you when you do what the system is designed to do. And that doesn’t apply to just African Americans but to everyone - fair and equal justice for all. And that’s what we’re expecting and I think that’s a reasonable expectation,” said Sharon Blue, NAACP President for the Brunswick chapter.

Attorneys for Jackie Johnson did not return WTOC’s calls. The Waycross DA’s office says George Barnhill has no comment.

To learn more about the allegations against Johnson, read our previous coverage.

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