Three white men who chased, cornered, and ultimately shot and killed a young Black man as he was jogging through a neighborhood in south Georgia were found guilty of murder on Wednesday, ending a trial that put a spotlight on racial profiling and the concept of a “citizen’s arrest.”
Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan, the Satilla Shores residents who chased 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery through their neighborhood and eventually killed him, have been convicted of murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment.
As the first verdict for Travis McMichael was read, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., could be heard screaming out, and Judge Timothy Walmsley had him removed from the gallery in the Glynn County courtroom.
The McMichaels both stood solemnly as the verdicts were being read. Bryan frowned as his six guilty verdicts were read out loud. As he was led out of the courtroom, Travis McMichael turned to his mother, Leigh McMichael, in the gallery and mouthed “Love you,” according to pool reporters.
Shortly after the verdict, an emotional Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, thanked supporters. “Thank you, thank you each and every one of you who fought this fight with us,” she said. “You know him as Ahmaud. I know him as ‘Quez.’ He will now rest in peace.”
After more than three weeks of arguments, a jury of 12 people—11 white and one Black—determined that all three men are wholly responsible for the events that led to Ahmaud Arbery’s death, and that it was not an act of self-defense when Travis shot Arbery twice with a shotgun at close range, causing catastrophic injuries and killing him.
“The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts, based on the evidence,” Linda Dunikoski, the state’s lead prosecutor in the state, said. “And that was our goal, to bring that to that jury so they could do the right thing.”
The decision comes nearly two years after Arbery’s Feb. 2020 murder, along with the deaths later in 2020 of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black folks unjustly killed by law enforcement, set off weeks of protests against police brutality and national calls for federal reform that inevitably went nowhere.
The ruling in the Georgia trial marks another rare victory for Americans who say that the country’s justice system rarely punishes those who kill Black people unjustly. In April, Derek Chauvin, the ex-cop who murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, was also found guilty on all charges.
The men convicted in Arbery’s killing will now be sentenced up to life in prison.
Charge: Malice Murder - 1 Count
Verdict: Travis McMichael found guilty, Gregory McMichael found not guilty, William Bryan found not guilty
The McMichaels and Bryan violated the law by unlawfully chasing Arbery through the public roadways of the Satilla Shores neighborhood in pickup trucks, which led to the fatal shooting that took his life. Though it was the younger McMichael who pulled the trigger, Gregory McMichael and Bryan are considered parties to the crime for joining in on the chase.
Charge: Felony Murder - 4 Counts
Verdict: Travis McMichael found guilty on all four counts, Gregory McMichael found guilty on all four counts, William Bryan found guilty on three counts
The McMichaels and Bryan violated the law when they killed Arbery during the commission of a felony, in this case, aggravated assault with both the shotgun and the defendants’ pickup trucks, false imprisonment, criminal intent of false imprisonment, regardless of their intent.
Charge: Aggravated Assault - 2 Counts
Verdict: Travis McMichael found guilty, Gregory McMichael found guilty, William Bryan found guilty on one count
The McMichaels and Bryan assaulted Arbery with their pickup trucks as they chased him in the public streets of Satilla Shores. Arbery’s palm print and T-shirt fibers were found on Bryan’s vehicle after the shooting, evidence that the trio attempted to use their trucks to trap him and prevent his escape. They also are charged with assault with a shotgun, which fatally wounded Arbery.
Charge: Criminal Attempt to Commit a Felony - 1 Count
Verdict: Travis McMichael found guilty, Gregory McMichael found guilty, William Bryan found guilty
This charge accuses the McMichaels and Bryan of trying to detain Arbery despite not having the legal authority to do so. The state charged that without seeing Arbery commit a crime that day, they chose to pursue him, and committed a crime.
Charge: False Imprisonment - 1 Count
Verdict: Travis McMichael found guilty, Gregory McMichael found guilty, William Bryan found guilty.
This charge accuses the McMichaels and Bryan of stopping and detaining Arbery despite not having the legal authority to do so. That stop of course led directly to Arbery’s death.
The McMichaels and Bryan each faced these nine charges, including for chasing Arbery in their pickup trucks on Feb. 23, 2020, after suspecting he had burglarized a vacant home in their Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood.
The trio chased after the 25-year-old, who was out for a jog, for five minutes before Travis McMichael confronted him wielding a shotgun. Arbery and Travis got into a brief scuffle during which Travis fired his weapon twice, killing the Black man.
During the 13 days of arguments, the two sides debated the actions of the three men. The defense argued that their clients were simply acting out of the duty and responsibility of protecting their neighborhood from outsiders and Arbery’s death was simply the result of self-defense. Prosecutors, on the other hand, argued that the defendants made a series of dangerous assumptions about Arbery and didn’t think twice about killing him even though they never saw him commit a crime.
Bryan’s part in Arbery’s death was probably the most contested charge during the trial, as his attorney Kevin Gough insisted Bryan had only followed the McMichaels in their chase but had no part in the decision to use deadly force and that his involvement had no impact on the events that led to Arbery’s death.
“Had Roddie Bryan stayed in bed that day, if Roddie Bryan stayed on his front porch, would Ahmaud Arbery be alive today?" Gough asked juror’s during his closing statements Monday.
The state argued that his decision to involve himself in the chase, even driving close enough to Arbery for the Black man to leave a handprint and T-shirt fibers on Bryan’s pickup truck, was evidence that he was an accomplice, not just a passerby who managed to capture the shooting on cellphone video.
Minutes after the verdict, hundreds stood outside the Glynn County courthouse chanting Ahmaud Arbery’s name and “Black Lives Matter,” as the family thanked supporters.
“Brunswick, Georgia, will go down in history as the place where criminal justice took a different turn,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told supporters.
“Wanda and Marcus are still devastated because they are missing Ahmaud,” said civil rights attorney Ben Crump. “So even though this is not a celebration, it is a reflection to acknowledge that the spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob.”