For chasing and fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man who was jogging through a suburban Georgia neighborhood last year, a trio of white men, including a father and son, were found guilty of murder on Wednesday.
Travis and Greg McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, heard their verdicts at the Glynn County Courthouse after jurors deliberated for just over 24 hours and ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Arbery was killed on Feb. 23, 2020. The world only learned of his death after the video shot by Bryan was leaked by Alan Tucker, a criminal defense attorney, to a Georgia radio station.
The jury found Travis McMichael, who gunned Arbery down with a shotgun, guilty of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and guilty on charges of false imprisonment, as well as criminal attempt to commit a felony. Prosecutors have requested he serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. Life in prison is the minimum sentence for his crimes.
Travis’ father, Greg McMichael, was found guilty of felony murder as well as aggravated assault and false imprisonment. The jury also found him guilty of criminal attempt of a felony. Greg McMichael was not found not guilty on the malice count that prosecutors sought. Like his son, Greg McMichael also faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
William “Roddie” Bryan, who helped the McMichaels men chase Arbery down, was also found guilty of felony murder on Wednesday. There was a slight variation in his charges, however; the jury found Bryan was not guilty of malice murder. Bryan, like the McMichaels, also faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
All three of the men face separate federal hate crime charges and for the time, all three men entered not guilty pleas in those respective cases. Among the multitude of hate crime charges they face are: interference with rights, attempted kidnapping, and using, carrying, brandishing, and discharging a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
The hate crime trial is slated for February.
The men will remain in sheriff’s custody until their sentencing date which has not yet been set.
There was a brief outburst inside the courtroom Wednesday after the first guilty verdict was read for Travis McMichael. It came from Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, Sr.
Judge Tim Walmsley ordered quiet and had Arbery Sr. removed just outside of the courtroom before offering a moment of gratitude to jurors.
“It has been a long trial and I appreciate the fact that you have been attentive and listened to the evidence. And that is what we ask in this court. It is a very simple ask, in a very complex way,” Walmsley said.
According to CNN, chants of “We got justice” filled the hall just outside the courtroom.
Arbery’s death was described as a “lynching before our very eyes” by President Joe Biden last May.
Congress has tried in recent years to pass legislation that would make lynching a federal hate crime. The House of Representatives passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act on Feb. 26, 2020, just three days after Arbery was murdered.
Though it passed in that body, it did not come up for consideration in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.
Kevin Gough, the defense attorney for William Bryan, told The New York Times that they disagreed with Wednesday’s verdict.
“[But] we must respect it,” Gough said.
For Wanda Cooper Jones, Arbery’s mother, the verdict left her awash in gratitude.
“To tell you the truth, I never saw this one back in 2020. I never thought this day would come, but God is good. Thank you, thank you for those who marched, those who prayed,” she said.
“It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight. He will now rest in peace,” she added.
Other family members, including Arbery’s aunts, were gathered at the Glynn County Courthouse and were joyous with the outcome, praising God as they cried and held each other.
According to the Associated Press, Arbery Sr. said of his son, “He didn’t do nothing but run and dream.”
An attorney for Arbery Sr., Ben Crump, said “The spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob.”
Arbery was murdered after Travis and Greg McMichael chased him down in their pick up truck after seeing him jog through Satilla Shores, a suburb in Brunswick, Georgia.
The McMichaels defense team argued that Travis and Greg were “freaked out” by a string of robberies in the neighborhood that had occurred months before Arbery’s fateful run.
Defense attorneys maintained Travis and Greg were merely performing a citizen’s arrest on Arbery and then when he refused to comply, they were forced to act in self defense.
But prosecutor Linda Dunikoski eviscerated that defense as the trial unfolded and in her closing arguments, illuminated for jurors how a citizen’s arrest, foremost, can only occur when a person witnesses a crime in action, not when they suspect someone of a crime based on “stale gossip.”
Brandishing the shotgun at Arbery, chasing him down a road and trapping him for several minutes so he could not run away. Once McMichael was within close range of Arbery, Arbery tried to grab at the weapon, defending himself, and McMichael fired.
Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski spoke to reporters at a press conference just outside the courthouse Wednesday.
“We had so many people on the team that helped bring justice for Ahmaud and his family and we really, really appreciate the support that we had and the faith from [Ahmaud Arbery’s father and mother] who have been with us, and put their faith in us and trusted us,” Dunikoski said.
She continued, celebrating the verdict as a truthful outcome based on facts.
“The verdict today was based on the facts, based on the evidence, and that was our goal, it was to bring that to that jury so they could do the right thing. Because the jury system works in this country. And when you present the truth to people and they can see it, they will do the right thing,” Dunikoski said. “And that’s what this jury did today, in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery.”
At several times throughout the McMichaels and Bryan trial, there were tense moments including one exchange where defense attorney Kevin Gough objected to Reverend Al Sharpton attending the trial in support of the Arbery family.
Gough was adamant that “high profile members of the African American community” would impact the jury’s decision making and he called it “intimidating.”
“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here or other Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case,” Gough said.
Jackson had not yet attended the trial when Gough made the remark and told the defense attorney he did not have the right to overrule the Arbery family’s decisions about who “can and who can’t attend their son’s accuser’s trial.”
Gough had asked that “Black pastors” be barred from the courtroom, sparking public outrage. Even an attorney for Travis McMichael, Jason Sheffield, called Gough’s comments “totally asinine” and “ridiculous.”
When the verdicts were announced on Wednesday, Rev. Al Sharpton praised activists, of all colors, for their support.
“All of us, this is a day white and Black activists showed we could unite and beat the lynch mob that killed Ahmaud. And though I never say this often, I must say, we want to thank the prosecutors. They stood and fought for this family,” Sharpton said.
Though there will be an “empty chair at Wanda’s table,” for Thanksgiving, Sharpton said of Arbery’s mother, she can look to it and reflect on this outcome proudly.
“She can look at that chair and say to Ahmaud, ‘I fought a good fight and I got you some justice,’” Sharpton said. “We can’t fill that chair for you Wanda, but we can say that you are a mother above all mothers. You fought for your son.”
In a statement from the White House, President Joe Biden said the verdict shows the justice system is working, albeit imperfectly.
“While the guilty verdict reflects our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. instead we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin,” he said.
“Nothing can bring Mr. Arbery back to his family, back to his community, but the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished,” Biden said.