One of three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery while running through a Georgia neighborhood in early 2020 was sentenced to life in prison on Monday for federal hate crimes. Travis McMichael, the man responsible for shooting Arbery, had previously been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole at a state trial in Georgia.
Months after Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan each receivedfor murder in state court, the three men convicted of Arbery’s murder faced a second round of criminal penalties on Monday for committed in the murderous pursuit of the 25-year-old black man. Greg McMichael and Bryan will be sentenced in that order after Travis McMichael.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood has scheduled back-to-back hearings to individually convict each of the defendants, starting with Travis McMichael, who fired a shotgun at Arbery after the street chase initiated by his father and joined by a neighbour.
Arbery’s killing on February 23, 2020 has become part of a larger national toll on racial injustice and the killings of unarmed black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. These two cases also led the Department of Justice to bring federal charges.
Upon returning to court Monday in Georgia, McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan face life in prison after a jury found them guilty in February of federal hate crimes, finding that they had violated Arbery’s civil rights and. All three men were also convicted of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels face additional sentences for using firearms to commit a violent crime.
Whatever sentences they receive in federal court, they could ultimately turn out to be more symbolic than anything else. A state Superior Court judge handed down life sentences to all three men in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.
The three defendants remained imprisoned in coastal Glynn County, in the custody of U.S. marshals, pending sentencing following their federal sentencing in January.
Because they were the firstin state court, protocol would have handed them over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life sentences in state prison.
In a court filing last week, Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to return them to federal prison, saying they would not be safe in a Georgian prison system under investigation by the US Department of Justice. Justice focused on inter-prisoner violence. .
Arbery’s family insisted that the McMichaels and Bryan serve their sentences in state prison, arguing that a federal penitentiary wouldn’t be as harsh. His parents strongly objected before the federal trial when the two McMichaelsthis would have included a request for transfer to a federal prison. The judge rejected the plea agreement.
A federal judge does not have the power to order the state to relinquish lawful custody of inmates in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Ed Tarver, Augusta’s attorney and former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. He said the judge could ask the state corrections agency to transfer the defendants to a federal prison.
The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped into a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him driving past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on February 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping to cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed the shotgun.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery of robbing a nearby house under construction. But authorities later concluded he was unarmed and committed no crime. Arbery’s family has long insisted he was simply jogging.
Still, more than two months passed before charges were brought in Arbery’s death. The McMichaels and Bryan were not arrested until graphic video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took the case to local police.
At February’s hate crimes trial, prosecutors bolstered their case that Arbery’s murder was racially motivated by showing the jury about two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racial slurs and made derogatory comments about black people. A woman testified that she heard an angry rant from Greg McMichael in 2015 in which he said, “All these black people are just trouble.”
Defense attorneys for the three men argued that the McMichaels and Bryan did not prosecute Arbery because of his race, but acted on a serious – albeit erroneous – suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.