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Judge rejects effort to dismiss case against former DA charged in Ahmaud Arbery killing's aftermath

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A judge Tuesday refused to dismiss misconduct charges against a former Georgia prosecutor accused of hindering the investigation into the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

The one-page ruling by Senior Judge John R. Turner comes 20 months after defense attorneys for former District Attorney Jackie Johnson filed a legal motion arguing the case against her should be scrapped for lack of evidence.

Johnson served as the top prosecutor for coastal Glynn County when white men in pickup trucks chased and killed Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, after they spotted the young Black man running in their neighborhood.

The fatal pursuit was initiated by Greg McMichael, a retired investigator who had worked for Johnson. His adult son, Travis McMichael, fired the shotgun blasts that left 25-year-old Arbery dead in the street.

A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and recorded cellphone video of the killing.

More than two months passed before the McMichaels and Bryan were arrested on murder charges in Arbery’s death, which happened after Bryan’s graphic video was leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police.

A grand jury indicted Johnson in connection with Arbery's death in September 2021, charging her with a felony count of violating her oath of office and with hindering a law enforcement investigation, a misdemeanor.

The case has moved at a crawl for more than two years. And that's unlikely to change in the near future. One of Johnson's defense attorneys, Brian Steel, is representing the rapper Young Thug in a sprawling racketeering trial that began in Atlanta this week after 10 months of jury selection. The trial itself is expected to last several months more.

The case against Johnson is being prosecuted by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s office. The indictment alleges that Johnson used her office to try to protect the McMichaels and told Glynn County police officers the day of the shooting that they should not arrest Travis McMichael.

Johnson has pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing, saying she immediately recused herself from the case involving Arbery’s death because Greg McMichael was a former employee.

Her defense attorneys filed a legal motion in March 2022 seeking to dismiss the case. They argued there was “not a scintilla of evidence” to support the charge of hindering police.

Prosecutors responded in May 2022 with a court filing that listed 16 calls between phones belonging to Johnson and Greg McMichael in the days and weeks following the shooting. One of the calls lasted 21 minutes, according to the court document.

By the time she was indicted, Johnson had already been voted out of office. She has said that controversy over her handling of Arbery’s killing played a role in her losing reelection in 2020.

Following her indictment, she turned herself in at the Glynn County jail and was released without having to pay a cash bond.

While Johnson’s case has idled, Arbery’s killers have been convicted and sentenced in state and federal courts.

In November 2021, the McMichaels and Bryan were found guilty of murder in Glynn County Superior Court, where a judge sentenced them to life in prison. A jury in U.S. District Court convicted all three of federal hate crimes in Februrary 2022. The McMichaels each received a second life term during sentencing in August, while Bryan got an additional 35 years in prison.