By BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — The mother of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old African American whose slaying has prompted protests in Georgia, said on Monday that the arrest of a white father and son in the killing has given her “a sense of hope” that justice will be served.
In an interview on ABC’s The View, Wanda Cooper-Jones said she had feared that the killing of her son would be swept under the rug until a cellphone video surfaced online last week showing Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, shooting her son, who his family says had been out for a jog in a neighborhood near the port city of Brunswick.
The video, which captured the confrontation and three loud gunshots, was posted online on Tuesday by a local attorney and led to prosecutors filing murder and aggravated assault charges against Gregory McMichael, a retired Glynn County, Georgia, police officer and investigator with Brunswick’s district attorney’s office, and his son Travis.
“I feel better. Now I have a sense of hope,” Cooper-Jones said. “At one point, in the beginning, I didn’t have any hope that anything would ever be done about it because I was getting all conflicting information.”
She said she was initially told of her son’s Feb. 23 death by a law enforcement investigator, who, at the time, informed her that Arbery had been caught burglarizing a home and was killed by the homeowner when her son fought with him.
She said that at the time, she had every reason to believe what the investigator told her.
“Actually I did because I wasn’t there,” Cooper-Jones said. “I did not know what had happened, and I did not think that I would be receiving anything that wasn’t true coming from that type of authority.”
The man who took the video is William “Roddie” Bryan, whose attorney, Kevin Gough, said at a news conference on Saturday that Bryan was just a witness to the shooting and was not involved.
But one of Cooper-Jones’ attorneys, civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, appeared with Cooper-Jones on The View and said there are still unanswered questions about why Bryan was present when the confrontation occurred.
“Despite his cooperation and for reasons that he does not understand, Mr. Bryan has learned that the family (of Arbery) and apparently their lawyers are demanding that he be arrested. Local media has reported that an arrest is imminent,” Gough said at the news conference, adding that Bryan and his family are now receiving threats.
Gregory and Travis McMichael told investigators that when they saw Arbery running through their neighborhood they thought he resembled a man suspected of burglarizing homes in the area. According to police reports obtained by ABC News, Travis called police on Feb. 11 — 12 days before the shooting — to report a black man in a nearby house that was under construction. The unknown man ran and Travis waited out front until police arrived, the reports said.
On The View, Cooper-Jones said her spirits have been boosted by the support her family has received from across the nation.
“It makes me feel good. All the support that I have been given and all the love, I mean, it really makes me feel better,” Cooper-Jones said. “I feel really good about it, and I want to say thank you to each and everyone that has supported us through this.”
In a separate interview with ABC’s Nightline, Cooper-Jones said Mother’s Day was especially tough, recalling that she gave birth to Arbery, her youngest child, on Mother’s Day in 1994. Her son would have turned 26 this past Friday.
“I had to deal with his birthday and also deal with yesterday being Mother’s Day,” she said. “It was really hard, but I got through it.”
She described her son as athletic and someone would go jogging daily, even in the drenching rain.
“I never thought I’d lose him in the midst of jogging,” Cooper-Jones said. “I never ever thought that I’d lose him that way.”
Cooper-Jones said that at the time of her son’s death, he was working with his father, who owns a landscaping business.
She recalled the last conversation she had with her son on the day he was killed.
“I was leaving the house to go out to do some training and he was still in bed … it was about 8 o’clock when I was leaving,” she said. “I went to the room and he was laying in bed… I said I was leaving, I’ll be back, and I love you, and his last words to me were, ‘I love you.'”
On Sunday, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr formally requested that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct an investigation into the handling of the Arbery case and why it took more than two months to arrest the McMichaels.
On Monday, Carr also appointed Joyette Holmes of the Cobb County, Georgia, Judicial Circuit to take over as prosecutor in the case. Holmes, who is African American, becomes the fourth prosecutor to oversee the case after two previous prosecutors recused themselves because they had worked with Gregory McMichael, and a third, according to Carr, requested the case be assigned to someone “better suited from a resource perspective to now handle the case.”
A DOJ spokesperson confirmed on Monday that the department is “assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crime charges are appropriate.”
“In addition, we are considering the request of the attorney general of Georgia and have asked that he forward to federal authorities any information that he has about the handling of the investigation. We will continue to assess all information, and we will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law,” said DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec.
Merritt and civil rights attorneys Benjamin Crump and L. Chris Stewart, who are representing Arbery’s parents, applauded Carr’s decision to ask for the Department of Justice investigation.
“We are pleased that Georgia AG Chris Carr has officially asked the Dept. of Justice to investigate the handling, and potential cover-up, of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder,” the lawyers said in a joint statement. “We have requested the involvement of the DOJ since we first took this case. There are far too many questions about how this case was handled and why it took 74 days for two of the killers to be arrested and charged in Mr. Arbery’s death. It is our hope that the DOJ will conduct a comprehensive investigation to determine how and why this case was so poorly handled. Those who were responsible for this travesty of justice must be held accountable.”
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