The three men convicted of murdering 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery as he was jogging through a neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, in February 2020 are going to prison for a long time.
Father and son Gregory McMichael, 65, and Travis McMichael, 35—who fired the bullets that ended the young Black man’s life—were both sentenced to the maximum of life in prison, without parole, on Friday. William “Roddie” Bryan, the man who joined the McMichaels as they chased after Arbery, was also sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole, unlike his fellow defendants.
In an unusual moment, the judge also asked the courtroom to take a minute of silence to convey just a fraction of how long the three white men pursued Arbery in the south Georgia neighborhood before murdering him.
“The chase that occurred in Satilla Shores occurred over a five-minute period. And when I thought about this, I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores,” Judge Timothy Walmsley said Friday. “He was killed because the individuals here in this courtroom took the law into their own hands.”
In November, a jury found the McMichaels and Bryan guilty of several counts of murder, false imprisonment, and aggravated assault after a two-and-a-half-week trial. The conviction marked another rare victory for people who say the American justice system rarely punishes those who kill and commit crimes against Black people, just months after the conviction of Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis cop who murdered George Floyd.
The McMichaels claimed they acted in self-defense when they chased after Arbery in their pickup truck to conduct a citizen’s arrest, which was allowed under Georgia law at the time. The McMichaels noticed Arbery jogging past their yard, several houses away from an unfinished home down the street. Recognizing him from surveillance footage shown to them by a neighbor, the two incorrectly concluded that he was responsible for a string of robberies that had taken place in the area over the previous year.
Travis grabbed his shotgun and chased after Arbery, joined by his father, in their pickup truck. Their neighbor Bryan, noticing the chase, decided to get into his own truck and trail behind.
After several minutes of pursuing the young Black man, the McMichaels and Bryan cut off Arbery’s path with their trucks. Travis jumped out and pointed his shotgun at him. A brief struggle ensued, and Travis fired three shots, hitting Arbery twice in the chest, according to the autopsy.
Bryan captured it all on cellphone video.
State prosecutors, however, argued that racism had motivated the three men’s unnecessary over-vigilance. And on the stand, Travis admitted that Arbery never threatened him.
The trial was rife with emotional lows, racist tropes, and questionable motions, including Bryan’s attorney insisting that Black pastors be barred from attending one of the most important trials of the year.
“Ahmaud never said a word to them. He never threatened them. He just wanted to be left alone,” Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother told the courtroom Friday. “They were fully committed to their crimes. Let them be fully committed to the consequences.”
“The man who killed my son has sat in this courtroom every single day next to his father. I’ll never get that chance to sit next to my son ever again,” added Marcus Arbery Sr., Ahmaud’s father. “Not at a dinner table. Not at a holiday. And not at a wedding. I pray that no one in this courtroom ever has to do what we had to—to bury their child.”
The McMichaels and Bryan also still face the possibility of additional prison time for federal hate crime charges filed by the Justice Department last April. They’ve been charged with one count of interference with rights, one count of attempted kidnapping, and one count of carrying and using a firearm during the accused crime. The federal trial is set to begin Feb. 7.
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