Attorneys defend former DA linked to Ahmaud Arbery murder investigation

Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 3:04 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 30, 2022 at 6:41 PM EDT
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BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WTOC) - Attorneys representing former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson are asking the court to dismiss the criminal case against her.

In a motion filed March 23, defense attorneys say “there is not a scintilla of evidence” that she hindered any officers from arresting anyone tied to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

WTOC Investigates read through the defense’s motion and compared it to what’s been publicly released about the case so far.

Johnson is under indictment for two felony counts connected to Arbery’s murder case, but the court motion is focused on count 2: obstruction and hindering law enforcement.

The indictment accuses Johnson of directing Glynn County Police Officers not to arrest Travis McMichael on the day he shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery.

Johnson’s attorneys claim she “immediately recused her office from any involvement with this death investigation on the day Mr. Arbery was killed and did not partipate in the investigation.”

In the filing, her attorneys explained hours after the shooting, Glynn County Police officers called an assistant District Attorney in Johnson’s office to ask for advice in the case.

Those officers were reminded of Johnson’s conflict with Greg McMichael, her attorneys said in the motion, but because they wanted legal advice Johnson’s office asked Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill to meet with the officers the following day.

Johnson’s official recusal letter wasn’t received by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office until Feb. 27 - four days after the shooting, according to information released previously by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Evidence about what happened during those four days has not been made public.

Johnson’s conflict at the time was with Greg McMichael has since been convicted of murder in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.

He was a long-time investigator who worked with Johnson in the DA’s office. Court filings show one of the first phone calls he made after the shooting was to Johnson. She didn’t answer, so he left her a voicemail.

“Jackie, this is Greg. Can you call me as soon as you possibly can? Um, my friend and I have been involved in a shooting and I need some advice right away. Can you please call me as soon as you possibly can? Thanks Bye.”

Phone records released in the McMichael case show Johnson did not return his call that day.

McMichael is serving life in prison for Arbery’s murder along with his son Travis and their neighbor at the time William “Roddie” Bryan Jr.

Earlier this year, a federal jury convicted all three men on hate crime charges for the killing of Arbery.

The 19-page defense motion filed in Johnson’s case echoes a familiar defense narrative heard during the trial of three men.

Police officers on the scene of the murder believed Ahmaud Arbery was killed in self-defense and that’s why no one was arrested or charged, attorneys said in the court motion. It went on to say police maintained that position even after the video of Arbery’s killing became public.

The release of the video prompted a GBI investigation in May of 2020 and the subsequent arrests of the three men.

But Johnson’s attorneys claim she was “cleared of any wrongdoing” during the GBI and FBI investigation and point to her recorded interview with investigators as evidence.

The motion also accuses the AG’s office of presenting improperly sworn evidence to the grand jury saying that’s what led to a quote “wrongful return of the present indictment.”

In response, Attorney General Chris Carr’s office sent WTOC this statement: “The defendant was indicted by a Glynn County grand jury on September 2, 2021. We will file a written response opposing the defendant’s motion, and we look forward to presenting our case in court,” said Kara Richardson, spokeswoman Carr’s Office.

As of Wednesday, March 30, the AG has not filed a formal response in court.

It’s important to note the defense’s motion is the first court filing in the case - more than six months after a Glynn County grand jury indicted Johnson on Sept. 2.

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