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Georgia Assigns A New Prosecutor For The Ahmaud Arbery Case

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The attorney general of Georgia has named yet another prosecutor to handle the investigation into the shooting death of an unarmed black jogger. Ahmaud Arbery was killed in February, but no arrests were made until last week when two white men were charged with his death. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Emily Jones reports.

EMILY JONES, BYLINE: Authorities knew the day Arbery was killed on February 23 who shot and killed him, but it wasn't until two months later that authorities arrested the father and son once a videotape of the shooting became public and state law enforcement got involved. Arbery's family and their lawyers blame the delay on the local prosecutors. Last week, Attorney Ben Crump called the whole prosecutorial system in southeast Georgia where the shooting happened compromised. Now Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has asked the Justice Department to look into the handling of the case. And he's appointed a district attorney from metro Atlanta, some 300 miles away. Cobb County DA Joyette Holmes, who is black, said in a statement, quote, "the call to serve will not be taken lightly." She spoke about her legal philosophy in an online interview last month with a local law firm.

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JOYETTE HOLMES: As prosecutors, we are ministers of justice. And in doing that, it's not strictly about the prosecution of a case or at least not that which only leads to convictions but by making sure that we serve everybody - victims, participants, the defendants.

JONES: The conduct of the prosecutors is central to this case. One suspect in the shooting worked in the Brunswick DA's office that initially handled the case, so that DA removed herself. The son of the second prosecutor also works in the Brunswick office, so DA George Barnhill removed himself as well. But in a letter to Glynn County police taking himself off the investigation, Barnhill also wrote a lengthy legal opinion advising police not to make any arrests. According to Duffie Stone of the National District Attorneys Association, that's not OK.

DUFFIE STONE: He did recuse himself, and the minute he recused himself, that's when his influence needed to stop.

JONES: The Justice Department says it's considering Georgia's request to look into the handling of the case. Federal authorities are also weighing whether hate crime charges are appropriate. Georgia is one of four states that does not have its own hate crime law.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Jones in Savannah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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