Jurors on Wednesday convicted the three white men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man who was chased and fatally shot while running through their neighborhood in an attack that became part of the larger national reckoning on racial injustice.
The jury deliberated for about 10 hours before convicting Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan, who all face minimum sentences of life in prison. It is up to the judge to decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole.
Travis McMichael stood for the verdict, his lawyer’s arm around his shoulder. At one point, McMichael lowered his head to his chest. After the verdicts were read, as he stood to leave, he mouthed “love you” to his mother, who was in the courtroom.
Greg McMichael hung his head when the judge read his first guilty verdict. Robbie Bryan bit his lip.
Moments after the verdicts were announced, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., was seen crying and hugging supporters outside the courtroom.
“He didn’t do nothing,” the father said, “but run and dream.”
Ben Crump, attorney for Arbery’s father, spoke outside the courthouse, saying repeatedly, “The spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, thanked the crowd gathered for the verdict and said she did not think she would see this day.
“It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight. But God is good,” she said. Of her son, she said, “He will now rest in peace.”
The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue the 25 year old after seeing him running outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick in February 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery.
The father and son told police they suspected Arbery was a fleeing burglar. But the prosecution argued that the men provoked the fatal confrontation and that there was no evidence Arbery had committed crimes in the neighborhood.
“We commend the courage and bravery of this jury to say that what happened on Feb. 23, 2020, to Ahmaud Arbery — the hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery — it was not only morally wrong but legally wrong, and we are thankful for that,” said Latonia Hines, Cobb County executive assistant district attorney.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski added: “The jury system works in this country, and when you present the truth to people and they see it, they will do the right thing.”
Travis McMichaels’ attorneys said both he and his father feel that they did the right thing, and that they believed the video would help their case. But they also said the McMichaels regret that Arbery got killed.
“I can tell you honestly, these men are sorry for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery,” attorney Jason Sheffield said. “They are sorry he’s dead. They are sorry for the tragedy that happened because of the choices they made to go out there and try to stop him.”
They planned to appeal.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said his team was “disappointed with the verdict, but we respect it.” He planned to file new legal motions after Thanksgiving.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley did not immediately schedule a sentencing date, saying that he wanted to give both sides time to prepare.
Though prosecutors did not argue that racism motivated the killing, federal authorities have charged them with hate crimes, alleging that they chased and killed Arbery because he was Black. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.
The disproportionately white jury received the case around midday Tuesday.
Soon after returning to court Wednesday morning, the jury sent a note to the judge asking to view two versions of the shooting video — the original and one that investigators enhanced to reduce shadows — three times apiece.
Jurors returned to the courtroom to see the videos and listen again the 911 call one of the defendants made from the bed of a pickup truck about 30 seconds before the shooting.
On the 911 call the jury reviewed, Greg McMichael tells an operator: “I’m out here in Satilla Shores. There’s a Black male running down the street.”
He then starts shouting, apparently as Arbery is running toward the McMichael’s idling truck with Bryan’s truck coming up behind him: “Stop right there! Damn it, stop! Travis!” Gunshots can be heard a few second later.
The graphic video death leaked online two months later, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case, quickly arresting the three men. Each of them is charged with murder and other crimes.
Defence attorneys contend the McMichaels were attempting a legal citizen’s arrest when they set off after Arbery, seeking to detain and question him as a suspected burglar after he was seen running from a nearby home under construction.
Travis McMichael testified that he shot Arbery in self-defence, saying the running man turned and attacked with his fists while running past the idling truck where Travis McMichael stood with his shotgun.
Prosecutors said there was no evidence Arbery had committed crimes in the defendants’ neighborhood. He had enrolled at a technical college and was preparing to study to become an electrician like his uncles.
Shaun Seals, a 32-year-old lifelong Brunswick resident, rushed to the courthouse to join the crowd cheering the verdict.
“We just came out to witness history,” said Seals, pushing his 10-month-old daughter in a stroller.
Seals, who is Black, called the convictions a victory not just for his community but for the nation.
“It’s not going to heal most of the wounds” from a long history of inequality, he said. “But it’s a start and shows people are trying.”
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