Three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia
The three Georgia men who hunted down and fatally shot unarmed Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 were found guilty Wednesday of his murder.
After 10 days of testimony and 10 hours of deliberation, Travis McMichael, 35, his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and neighbor William Bryan, 52, were convicted by a predominantly white jury in Brunswick, bringing an end to a contentious trial filled with racial overtones.
The men were found guilty of felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shotgun blasts, was also convicted of malice murder, which under Georgia law refers to causing the death of another person “unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied.”
The felony murder convictions mean each man faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, let out a gleeful “whoop” when the first verdict was read and was promptly escorted out of the building.
Outside the courthouse, activists and supporters chanted Arbery’s name after the verdicts were read.
“They lost a son but their son will go down in history as that if you hold on, justice will come,” the Rev. Al Sharpton, who had traveled to the trial to support the family, said of Arbery’s parents after the verdicts.
“A jury of 11 whites and one Black, in the deep South, stood up in the courtroom and said that Black lives do matter.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said her son is now able to rest in peace.
“It’s been a long fight, it’s been a hard fight, but God is good,” she said. “I never saw this day, back in 2020. I never thought this day would come.”
Marcus Arbery stressed the need to “love everybody” so no other father has to go through what he did in losing a son.
“We conquered that lynch mob,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
Arbery’s killing on Feb. 23, 2020, near the coastal city of Brunswick, had become the latest focal point in the country’s ongoing reckoning with racial and social justice. Federal authorities charged all three men with hate crimes, alleging that they chased and killed Arbery because he was Black.
Travis McMichael testified that there had been a string of burglaries in the area, and when he saw Arbery — who he had previously noticed checking out a house under construction — he thought he might be up to no good.
The McMichaels then grabbed guns, jumped into their pickup and drove after Arbery, ostensibly to make a citizen’s arrest and wait for police, their defense team claimed. Bryan joined the chase in his own vehicle and wound up filming the shooting on his cellphone.
Video shows Arbery being confronted by a shotgun-toting Travis McMichael as he runs by the McMichaels’ truck, with Greg McMichael at the wheel, then running around the vehicle to avoid the men. Arbery is shot as he punches at Travis McMichael and lunges for the gun, then stumbles before falling facedown on the tree-lined suburban street.
None of the men were initially charged, with some speculating it’s because Greg McMichael is a former cop and investigator for the district attorney’s office. But when footage of the shooting went viral online, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over from local police.
In court, the defendants’ claimed they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest, and that Travis McMichael only fired when he feared for his life.
McMichael admitted on the stand that Arbery had in no way threatened him before he himself pointed a shotgun at him. Nonetheless, the defense attorneys tried to blame Arbery for his own death.
But the members of the jury didn’t buy it.
“The jury got it right,” Los Angeles civil rights attorney V. James DeSimone told the Daily News. “Once the citizen’s arrest defense crumbled because nobody observed Ahmaud Arbery commit a felony, they had no defense because their conduct in chasing him down with pickup trucks and brandishing firearms was both unreasonable and a felony.
“The defenses they put up may have made sense to these killers at the time, but obviously the jury didn’t buy it” DeSimone said. “This jury made the right call.”
Throughout the trial, Bryan’s attorney Kevin Gough repeatedly drew attention to the presence of Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had come to support Arbery’s family. Gough claimed their presence might intimidate the jury and asked that they be removed.
“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here,” he said.
The judge turned down his request, branding his remarks “reprehensible.”
Gough and the defense for the McMichaels also asked for a mistrial, saying that the sound of Arbery’s mother weeping in the courtroom could sway the jury.
The McMichaels and Bryan still face federal hate crime and attempted kidnapping charges, stemming from a late April indictment.
Lawyers for the McMichaels said they plan to appeal Wednesday’s verdict.