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Georgia officials struggling to find lawyers willing to represent men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery

It’s “not as easy as it sounds,” Georgia official says of effort to appoint appellate lawyers, citing a lack of funds.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The video attached to this story is from a previous, related report.

The planned appeal of three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery is stuck on pause as two of the three wait for lawyers to represent them.

The sticking point: Money.

A status hearing Wednesday before the judge that oversaw their state murder trial revealed that Greg McMichael and Roddie Bryan still do not have lawyers to handle their appeals. 

All three were declared indigent, meaning a they will have a lawyer appointed to represent them. Typically, appointed lawyers are public defenders. But an official with the Georgia Public Defender Council said they are representing Travis McMichael only, because doing otherwise would pose a conflict of interest.

“We can’t represent all three,” GPDC attorney Kenneth Sheppard told Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley. “We are in the process of trying to find private attorneys who will contract with the GPDC to represent Greg McMichael and the third co-defendant, which is not as easy as it sounds.”

Sheppard said the GPDC chose to represent Travis McMichael because "he is the defendant among the three who had possibly the most evidence against him, and be the most difficult on appeal.” He said appointing private attorneys for the other two defendants is the job of his boss, GPDC Deputy Director Katherine Mason.

“She is aware of these two individuals needing appointed counsel,” he told the judge. “She is working to find counsel willing to take on this case, which is a larger case than a normal appeal, at the amount of funding that the GPDC has to do these types of appeals.”

Defense attorney Kevin Gough, who represented Bryan at trial, expressed impatience – “They’ve apparently run out of lawyers or something,” he scoffed -- and suggested the judge enter an order or compel a status report to get things moving.

“I think you could get a quick response out of Kate Mason by appointing  Ms. [Jessica] Burton [Gough’s co-counsel] and I at $300 an hour until such time as the GPDC gets the counsel online,” Gough said, adding, “there are plenty of fine attorneys available in Atlanta for $1,000 a hour.”

“That should get their attention,” Gough said. I know well the GPDC, and the easiest way to get things resolved here is to shake the tree… I’m sure [Mason] will find a solution if the court sets a fire under her feet.”

The judge declined to issue an order, but told Sheppard, “I would expect by the next time that we convene that this issue has been addressed.”

Trial attorneys typically do not handle appellate matters. The three men were also recently convicted in a separate federal trial for hate crimes. They have not yet filed an appeal in that case. The McMichaels received life sentences in both cases. Bryan received life with the possibility of parole in the state murder case and 35 years in prison in the federal hate crimes case.

Arbery, 25, was murdered by the three men in February 2020 after they chased him through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia.

    

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