The three white men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery after spewing racist and hateful language about Black people were found guilty on Tuesday of federal kidnapping and hate crime charges. The jury started deliberations on Monday and spent about 3.5 hours deliberating before reaching a verdict, WSB radio reporter Veronica Waters tweeted. Before the verdict was read, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood warned those present for the jury’s decision to keep the dignity of the courtroom regardless of the verdict and to leave if they couldn’t do so.
The specific charges Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan were convicted of were interference with rights and attempted kidnapping, among others.
Updates will be added as the trial continues. Jump below the fold for more information on the trial to date.
Travis and Gregory McMichael armed themselves with guns, got into a truck, and chased 25-year-old Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020 through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in South Georgia after accusing Arbery of breaking into a home under construction in the community, according to a federal indictment.
The McMichaels had seen Arbery running near the home and proceeded to yell at him, “using their truck to cut off his route, and threatening him with firearms” until Travis ultimately fired two shotgun rounds into the Black former high school football standout. Bryan recorded the shooting and at times, used his truck to block Arbery's route, according to the federal indictment.
All three defendants were charged with unlawfully seizing and confining Arbery "by chasing after him in their trucks in an attempt to restrain him, restrict his free movement, corral and detain him against his will, and prevent his escape."
Travis faced an added count for carrying, brandishing, and discharging a Remington shotgun, and Gregory faced an additional count for using and carrying a .357 Magnum revolver. They were found guilty on both accords.
The hate crime charge alone carries a possible sentence of life in prison, according to federal civil rights statutes. Attempted kidnapping is punishable with a maximum term of 20 years in prison. Brandishing a firearm could mean a prison sentence of no fewer than seven years, and both brandishing and discharging a firearm is punishable by no fewer than 10 years in prison.
Bryan and the McMichaels were already convicted of murdering Arbery in the state case against them. Travis and Gregory were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Bryan must serve at least 30 years of his life sentence before he is eligible for parole.
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Wood commended the attorneys for their work in the federal case for the McMichaels and Bryan, Waters tweeted. "No one need wonder whether they got a fair trial and whether their attorneys were skillful," the judge said. "They did, and they are."
Following the verdict, the defendants were each called to the bench for their post-conviction rights, which spelled out a 14-day time period to file motions and the right to appeal, Waters reported.
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Former U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards tweeted about the verdict: "Real justice for #AhmaudArbery would be that he were alive today. But for the Arbery family, today is the justice that can be delivered on earth."
Political analyst Juanita Tolliver highlighted the true hero in the fight for justice for Arbery: his mother Wanda Cooper-Jones, not the U.S. Department of Justice. "Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, is intentional about calling out the DOJ for accepting the Jan 30th plea deal," Tolliver said in a tweet. She quoted Cooper-Jones, who spoke during a news conference on Tuesday. "’I begged them […] they ignored my cries,’" she said and Tolliver captured.
“What we got today, we wouldn’t have gotten today if it wasn’t for the fight that the family put up,” Cooper-Jones said in a powerful speech.
The McMichaels had all but pleaded guilty to one federal count against them last week in talks with prosecutors about a plea deal that would allow them to serve the first 30 years of their sentences in federal custody. Wood rejected the deal after hearing from Arbery’s family, who insisted the men serve their sentences in a tougher state facility. “Granting these men their preferred conditions of confinement will defeat me,” Wanda Cooper-Jones told Wood. “It gives them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son.”
Wanda-Cooper has been instrumental in not only the federal case against her son's killers but also the state case. It took 74 days for an arrest to be made after Arbery’s death. Gregory and Travis McMichael weren't arrested until May 7, 2020, and Bryan was arrested on May 21, 2020. “This case was almost closed,” Cooper-Jones told MSNBC’s Joy Reid.
Gregory McMichael used to work as an investigator with the very district attorney’s office that would have been responsible for prosecuting him, so the investigation into Arbery’s death started with that district attorney—the now-indicted former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson—recusing herself. "It passed over to the next county, and there, the district attorney failed to disclose his close ties to this family," Arbery family attorney Lee Merritt said, calling Arbery’s death a “lynching” last May.
Next the case was passed to George Barnhill, the district attorney of the Waycross Judicial Circuit. "Not long after Mr. Barnhill’s appointment, he and Ms. Johnson learned that Mr. Barnhill’s son, an assistant district attorney in Ms. Johnson’s office, had worked with Mr. McMichael on a prosecution involving Mr. Arbery,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said in requesting an investigation into the prosecution. “Mr. Barnhill, however, held onto the case for several more weeks after making this discovery."
Johnson notified Carr of a conflict of interest on Feb. 27, 2020. Three days before that on Feb. 24, Barnhill told the Glynn County Police Department that "he did not see grounds for the arrest of any of the individuals involved in Mr. Arbery’s death," Carr said. Barnhill wrote in his recusal letter that Arbery family members “are not strangers to the local criminal justice system,” according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Without even knowing about those specifics, Arbery’s mother initiated the push for Barnhill’s recusal, Merritt has said.
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