Story at a glance

  • A now-repealed Civil War-era law lies at the center of the defense team’s argument for the three men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in February 2020.
  • Kevin Gough, a lawyer for one of the men, has said that the since-repealed citizens' arrest law “is a big part” of the case.
  • Arbery’s family believes he was targeted because of his race.

A now-repealed Civil War-era law lies at the center of the defense team’s argument for the three men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in February 2020. 

A law at the time permitted a citizen's arrest if a person believed there were "reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion" that someone had committed a felony — a law repealed by Gov. Brian Kemp in May. 

Kevin Gough, a lawyer for Bryan, told Reuters in an interview that “citizens' arrest is a big part” of the case. 

"They changed the law, but changing the law doesn't affect us. It doesn't change what was the law of the land at the time," Gough said. 

Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan say they suspected Arbery, who was jogging in a suburban Georgia neighborhood before entering a home under construction, was a burglar. They chased him down in their vehicles and fatally shot him. Arbery’s family believes he was targeted because of his race. 

The McMichael’s and Bryan were charged with hate crimes in April. Each was charged with interference of rights and attempted kidnapping, while the McMichael’s received the additional charge of carrying and brandishing a weapon in a violent crime.

The men also face state charges of murder, malice, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony — all three pleaded not guilty to the charges.


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The county prosecutor at the time of the murder accepted the citizen’s arrest argument, and the men went free. Then a viral video showing Arbery’s killing led to further investigation and the subsequent arrests and charges. 

Kemp said in May the state’s action on the controversial law made “Georgia the first state in the country to repeal its citizen's arrest statute."

"Today we are replacing this Civil War-era law, ripe for abuse, with language that balances the sacred right of self-defense of person and property with our shared responsibility to root out injustice and set our state on a better path forward."

Under the new law, businesses may still detain individuals who are suspected of theft until law enforcement officials have been notified, and security guards may also detain suspects. 


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Published on Oct 27, 2021