A Brunswick, Georgia jury unanimously found defendants Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan guilty on all counts in a federal hate crimes trial.
The jury deliberated for less than a day. At the heart of this case was the question of whether or not race was a motivating factor for which the three defendants chased and shot Ahmaud Arbery as he drove through their coastal Georgia neighborhood in February 2020.
The defendants were charged with violation of Arbery’s civil rights, kidnapping and, for the McMichaels, an additional charge of using a firearm to commit a felony. All three men were convicted of Arbery’s murder at a state trial last year and sentenced to life in prison.
Federal charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Defendants will have 14 days to appeal.
To convict this hate crimes charge, federal prosecutors were tasked with proving to the jury that the defendants were targeting Arbery because he was black. For four days last week, witnesses recounted racist interactions with Greg and Travis McMichael, and prosecutors spent an entire morning of the trial reviewing the racist and sometimes violent content of defendants’ digital fingerprints.
“If Ahmaud was another white person jogging, would it have happened like this? If Ahmaud hadn’t used public streets, would it have happened like this?” asked prosecutor Christopher Perras in the government’s closing arguments on Monday.
He argued that racial slurs and memes, while not illegal in themselves, could help inform jurors of the defendants’ state of mind when they saw Arbery walk through Satilla Shores this that day.
Perras said they acted on racial assumptions, racial resentment and racial anger that had been building for years.
“They didn’t need to talk about it. They knew what they were going to do,” Perras told jurors. “They grabbed their guns and chased him.”
“Would this have happened to a white man? Yes,” said Amy Copeland, attorney for Travis McMichael. She encouraged the jurors to consider the evidence that was not featured: The government never called black witnesses to share stories about its client’s racism, she argued, and there was no evidence that Travis McMichael belonged to white supremacist groups. Copeland declined to call witnesses to testify for Travis McMichael during the trial.
None of the attorneys disputed the racism evidenced in their clients’ digital fingerprints, and even personally disavowed those views, while claiming that the defendants had legitimate grounds to prosecute Arbery, having admitted him as the same man seen on surveillance cameras inside a house. construction site at night.
Bryan’s attorney, Pete Theodocion, attempted to point out the differences between his client and the other two, telling jurors that Bryan “wasn’t trying to be Johnny Law-Enforcement,” but “his gut told him that people don’t get prosecuted like that unless they’ve done something wrong, and in some cases very wrong.”
“These defendants viewed Ahmaud as less than human, less than an animal,” prosecutor Lyons told jurors in his final rebuttal before Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sent jurors to deliberate on Monday afternoon. Lyons stressed that they showed no remorse as Arbery was bleeding on the street.
“I think the DOJ [Department of Justice] presented his case well,” Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told reporters outside the courthouse on Monday.
“I’m very emotional. It’s been very exhausting and I’m grateful it’s almost over,” she said, noting that she hoped for a verdict in time for the second anniversary of her son’s death on Wednesday. .
February 23 is now officially known as Ahmaud Arbery Day in the state of Georgia.