Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes has been thrust into the spotlight suddenly with her appointment as lead prosecutor of the white father and son charged with the Feb. 23 murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, in suburban Brunswick. The case has drawn widespread publicity and outrage, giving DA Holmes a controversial setting for what will be her most notable case after only two years in her job.
Charged with the murder are Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34. They reportedly suspected that Arbery, 25, who was running through their subdivision, was a burglar. Arbery was shot three times with a shotgun by Travis McMichael, according to authorities. Police were told that Arbery was killed during a struggle for the shotgun, the Brunswick News reported. The elder McMichael was a former longtime investigator in the Glynn County district attorney’s office.
Joyette Holmes is the fourth prosecutor assigned to the case after three district attorneys recused themselves amid questions and concern about the handling of the investigation. In appointing Holmes, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said: “District Attorney Holmes is a respected attorney with experience, both as a lawyer and a judge, and the Cobb County District Attorney’s office has the resources, personnel and experience to lead this prosecution and ensure justice is done.” Holmes became the first black person and first woman to serve as Cobb DA when she was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp last year after four years as chief judge of the Cobb County Magistrate Court.
Of Holmes’ selection to handle the Brunswick case, Kemp said he had “great confidence” in the Cobb DA. “It has been an emotional time,” he said, “and our prayers remain with his (Arbery’s) family, loved ones, and the community as a whole.” Of the investigation, he said: “There are many questions that have yet to be answered. And frankly, Georgians deserve the truth.” He earlier termed the video of the shooting “absolutely horrific.”
Attorney General Carr asked the U.S. Justice Department to review how the case was handled from the outset. In addition, a DOJ spokeswoman said, “We are assessing all the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate.” Attorneys for Arbery’s parents also asked for the DOJ to investigate, saying, “There are far too many questions about how this case was handled and why it took 74 days” for arrests to be made. Civil rights groups across the nation likewise called for a federal investigation after the posting online of a graphic video of the fatal shooting.
The killing brought strong reaction from President Trump who said that Arbery in a photo “looks like a really good young guy.” Trump told Fox News, “It’s a very disturbing situation to me, and my heart goes out to the parents and the families and the friends.” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the killing was a “lynching of an African American man.” Oprah Winfrey said, “Unimaginable to go for a run in 2020 and end up dead because of the color of your skin.” In Georgia and across the country people ran in honor of Arbery on May 8, which would have been his 26th birthday.
In accepting the appointment in the case, Holmes said, “the call to serve will not be taken lightly.” She expressed appreciation for “the confidence that Attorney General Carr has in our office’s ability to bring to light the justice that this case deserves.” To that end, the people of Georgia and the nation can be assured that the Cobb DA will follow the evidence and the law without fear or favor in leading the prosecution of this case.
We share the confidence of the governor and the attorney general in Holmes. During her years as DA, chief judge of the Cobb magistrate court and prosecutor in the Cobb district attorney’s office, Holmes demonstrated the judicial qualities necessary to find justice in the Brunswick case.
In our view, no better choice could have been made than Joyette Holmes.