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Ahmaud Arbery one year later | The legacy he left, and where the murder cases now stand

Together with the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Arbery's death sparked mass protests and a national reckoning on race.

SAVANNAH, Ga. — It's been one year since the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging through a south Georgia neighborhood when he was accosted by a white father and son and shot to death on Feb. 23, 2020.

His death wouldn't gain national attention until months later in May, when a graphic cell phone video showing that deadly encounter surfaced online. From there, his life and death would leave a profound impact on the state of Georgia and the nation at large.

RELATED: Ahmaud Arbery's mom: Death of her son has become more painful as time goes on

Later widely decried as a vigilante killing, the men initially defended themselves by saying they thought Arbery was suspicious, and that they were making a citizen's arrest after a string of robberies in the area.

The local justice system, which the father had past ties to, absolved the men of responsibility. No charges were brought against them until the cell phone video brought far more widespread attention on the case. 

That white men could extrajudicially pursue and kill a Black man based on their own suspicions, and that the legal system could effectively give them its blessing, was a searing reminder of the inequitable treatment Black Americans are subjected to by the criminal justice system.

Credit: Provided

Together with the subsequent police killings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis, it sparked mass protests and a national reckoning on race that continues today.

One year later, here is a look back at Arbery's death, and the impact it has had:

What happened?

Arbery was running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Glynn County, near Brunswick, on Feb. 23, 2020 when father and son Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael began pursuing him. A third associate who is also charged with murder, William "Roddie" Bryan, followed and filmed the incident from his car.

The video taken by Bryan shows Travis McMichael got into a struggle with Arbery, as he tried to run around the McMichaels' stopped vehicle blocking the road, and shot him.

Surveillance video from surrounding properties later showed Arbery wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary when the McMichaels began chasing him. 

A house under construction he momentarily stepped into and looked around at was a frequent stopping point for people on walks or jogs through the neighborhood - the lawyer for the owner of the property later telling 11Alive there was a water source on site that people sometimes tried to get a drink from.

"There were frequently people on the construction site both day and night. Ahmaud Arbery seems to be the only one who was presumed to be a criminal and ultimately the only one murdered based on that assumption," the family lawyers said.  

The McMichaels subsequently avoided arrest or charges for more than two months, with civil rights groups and activists contending the father and son were protected because of Gregory McMichael's ties to law enforcement, as a former Glynn County Police officer, and the judicial system, as a former investigator in the Brunswick District Attorney's Office.

In that time, the case passed from two different district attorneys - including Jackie Johnson, who oversaw the Brunswick office where McMichael once worked - who recused themselves, claiming a conflict of interest. 

It sat in the hands of a third district attorney for weeks before the leak of the video of the shooting made national headlines.

Who is charged in the case?

Gregory McMichael, 64 at the time, and his son Travis McMichael, then 34, are charged with murder. Bryan, 50, who filmed the killing and was alleged to have helped "box in" Arbery in following from behind, is as well.

Last July the three men pleaded not guilty in the case. In November, the McMichaels were denied bond by a judge. Bryan was denied bond a second time in January.

No trial dates have been set.

In November, Johnson, the Republican Brunswick Judicial Circuit district attorney who initially declined to prosecute the case, was voted out of office in a loss to independent candidate Keith Higgins.

RELATED: Cobb County D.A. reflects on Ahmaud Arbery murder case: 'The entire state of Georgia is looking for justice'

The case was assigned last year by state Attorney General Chris Carr to Cobb County DA Joyette Holmes, a Republican who also lost election in November. It is now under the purview of the new Cobb DA, Democrat Flynn Broady, Jr.

Ahmaud Arbery case legacy

In addition to the protests and the rising of the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement that Arbery's death played a central role in, it has also had a profound effect on Georgia law.

Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp announced legislation to repeal the state's citizen's arrest statutes, calling them an "vague and outdated" relic of the Civil War that have had "terrible consequences" 

And last year Georgia, for the first time, instituted hate crimes laws.

The bill, passed with bipartisan support, created harsher penalties for crimes motivated by race, color, religion, sex, gender and disability.

Georgia had been one of just four remaining states without a hate crimes law.

“I’m happy that Ahmaud’s name will be a part of such a big change, but at the same time I have to snap back into reality that Ahmaud is gone," his mother said at the time of the law's passing. "But his name will live forever I think."

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