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Outside judge named to preside over cases in Arbery slaying

SAVANNAH, Ga. – A judge from outside the coastal Georgia community where Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot has been appointed to preside over trial proceedings of the two men charged with Arbery's murder, including one defendant with close ties to law enforcement.

Court documents filed in Glynn County show that Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley was appointed to the case after all five judges in the legal circuit where Arbery was killed recused themselves. Walmsley is based in Savannah, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of where the slaying occurred just outside the port city of Brunswick.

Arbery was killed Feb. 23 after a pursuit by a white father and son who armed themselves and gave chase after seeing the 25-year-old black man running in their subdivision. More than two months passed before Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were jailed on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.

Gregory McMichael, a retired investigator for the local district attorney, told police he thought Arbery was a burglar. He said Arbery attacked his son before he was shot.

Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, has said she believes her son was merely out jogging.

The delay in criminal charges and a cellphone video of the shooting leaked shortly before the May 7 arrests fueled national outrage over Arbery's death.

Last week, defense attorneys for the McMichaels cautioned against rushing to judgment. They said they soon plan to seek a preliminary hearing from a magistrate judge in Glynn County at which new details might be revealed. They also plan to ask that the McMichaels be released from jail on bond pending trial. That decision will now fall to Walmsley.

No court hearings had been scheduled as of Monday afternoon.

Gregory McMichael worked as an investigator for the local district attorney for more than two decades before he retired last year. Attorneys for Arbery's family and others have blamed the delay in arrests in part on the elder McMichael's ties to local law enforcement. The McMichaels weren't charged until after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was brought into the case in early May.

Meanwhile, three district attorneys have passed on prosecuting the case, which now resides with the district attorney of Cobb County in metro Atlanta.