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Profile Of Cobb County DA Joyette Holmes, Who Is Prosecuting Arbery Case


So in Georgia today, a judge will decide whether authorities have sufficient evidence to bring charges against three white men in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. He's the 25-year-old black jogger who was killed in February. From member station WABE, Emily Green brings us this profile of the woman in charge of prosecuting them.

EMILY GREEN, BYLINE: At a press conference at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation last month, Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes faced cameras for the first time since taking on one of the most high-profile cases in the country.


JOYETTE HOLMES: We are going to make sure that we find justice in this case. We know that we have a broken family and a broken community down in Brunswick.

GREEN: Holmes was appointed to the case one week earlier by the state's attorney general, becoming its fourth prosecutor in three months. The first two prosecutors recused themselves because of connections to one of the defendants. A third requested that the case be reassigned. It took a viral video released two months after Arbery's death and a national outcry before anyone was arrested. Holmes said she knows people are anxious for the case to move forward.


HOLMES: But we ask that you allow us to try those things in the courtroom for the sanctity of this case and just making sure that we are able to do what we, as prosecutors, are called to do as ministers of justice.

GREEN: Ministers of justice is a phrase she's used before. A South Georgia native, Holmes now leads one of the largest prosecutors' offices in the state. She was appointed to the position last year by Republican Governor Brian Kemp. She's the first woman and first African American to serve as lead prosecutor for the suburban Atlanta district, and she has bipartisan support. Former Democratic Governor Roy Barnes has known her for years.

ROY BARNES: She is not one of these - we call screaming and hollering folks. She's thoughtful and respectful. She is not one to jump to early conclusions.

GREEN: Holmes also receives high marks from opposing attorneys, many of whom also appeared before her when she worked as a judge. Joel Pugh is a criminal defense attorney.

JOEL PUGH: I've always found her as a very caring individual, a very forgiving individual. She does hold people accountable for their actions.

GREEN: Holmes has said her introduction to the judicial system was watching the TV series "Law & Order" as a high school student. She went to law school in Baltimore and became a public defender before returning to Georgia. She declined to be interviewed for this story, but she spoke about her judicial philosophy with a local law firm in April.


HOLMES: By making sure that we serve everybody - victims, participants, defendants, prosecutor and defense communities - towards justice.

GREEN: Not everyone is impressed. H. Benjamin Williams is president of the Cobb County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization. He says when Holmes was appointed, many hoped she would move away from the tough-on-crime model of her predecessors.

H BENJAMIN WILLIAMS: Those expectations have not been realized. The culture of the office is when you go to court, you're going in asking for the maximum sentence.

GREEN: It's these kinds of measures, he says, that have contributed to the mass incarceration of black men. But Williams says her appointment to the Arbery case was a smart one, even if a political decision.


HOLMES: It seems prudent to me that one of the things that one might do is to put a black face as the face of the case.

GREEN: The pressure couldn't be higher for Holmes. Chris Stewart represents Arbery's mother, who has asked for the death penalty against the men charged with killing her son.

CHRIS STEWART: The stakes are everything, and we just have to have faith and be optimistic that she's going to get it done.

GREEN: Holmes has said in her spare time, she watches "The Real Housewives Of Atlanta." It's a release, she says, from trying to save her county and the world. But for now, the world's eyes are trained on her as the Ahmaud Arbery case moves forward. For NPR News, I'm Emily Green in Atlanta.


Emily Green