Sean Rayford, Octavio Jones-Pool / Getty Images
The three white men who hunted down and killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who jogged their Georgia neighborhood last year, have all been convicted of murder.
The high-profile shooting – and the 10 weeks it took for law enforcement to make their first arrests – galvanized protests against racial injustice in the summer of 2020.
Father and son Greg McMichael, 65, and Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, all faced the same nine charges in Georgia state court: one count of malicious murder, four counts of indictable murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of forcible confinement and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony. They pleaded not guilty to all counts.
On Wednesday, jurors found the three men guilty of almost all of the charges against them. Travis McMichael was convicted of all nine counts. Greg McMichael was found not guilty of one count of malicious murder, and Bryan was found not guilty of one count of malicious murder, one count of murder and one count of aggravated assault.
Prosecutors said they intended to seek life in prison without parole for the three defendants.
Avid runner Arbery was jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Glynn County on February 23, 2020, when the McMichaels spotted him and then chased him in a Ford F-150 pickup. Bryan then joined the chase, which the prosecutor said lasted five minutes, in his Chevy Silverado truck. Travis McMichael approached Arbery with a shotgun and, after a brief struggle, fatally shot him.
Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post via Getty Images
Arbery’s death is seen by many to be racially motivated, and the trial as yet another test case for racial justice. His family described it as a “modern day lynching,” and activists point to it as an example of the mistrust and violence black people face in the United States when they do everyday things.
No evidence of racial animosity was presented during this state trial, but it will face a federal hate crime trial next year for the three men.
Since opening statements began on November 5, defense teams for McMichaels and Bryan have argued that their clients suspected Arbery of being involved in reports of multiple break-ins in the largely white neighborhood. While surveillance video shows Arbery entering a house under construction on several occasions, no evidence has been presented to the court that he took anything or that he was responsible for any of the burglaries or the robberies. neighborhood robberies.
Lawyers for the defendants had said they intended to arrest a citizen and question Arbery. And Travis McMichael, the man who ultimately fired three shots, two of which a forensic scientist said twice hit Arbery, said he feared for his life as the two scuffled.
The prosecution rejected the idea that Arbery was shot in self-defense. “They shot him and killed him,” Chief Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said in closing arguments on Monday. “Not because he was a threat to them, but because he wouldn’t stop to talk to them.”
The jury began its deliberations just before noon Tuesday. In a county where blacks make up nearly 27% of the population, 11 of the jurors are white and one is black.
Video evidence has drawn attention to the case
As Bryan helped chase Arbery down, he recorded video of the final moments of the confrontation.
This graphic video began circulating online in early May 2020 after nearly three months without any arrests.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper, said local law enforcement officials did not immediately and seriously investigate the murder, and she accused the Brunswick County District Attorney’s office of being involved in a cover-up. She noted that Greg McMichael is a former police officer who also worked with the prosecutor’s office.
Two Brunswick County prosecutors who had been assigned to the case ultimately recused themselves, so Dunikoski from Cobb County was appointed as lead prosecutor for the trial. Judge Walmsley was assigned the case after all five Brunswick court circuit judges recused themselves.
The case gained national attention within months when there were several high-profile murders of blacks by police, including the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop and the fatal shooting of Breonna. Taylor at his home in Louisville, Ky., Police. These cases have led to calls for reform of the judiciary and the police.
Defense lawyers say their clients were trying to protect their community
Throughout the roughly two-week trial, lawyers for the three defendants consistently described them as individuals trying to protect their neighborhood.
“This case is about duty and responsibility,” defense attorney Robert Rubin, who represents Travis McMichael, said during opening statements. “This is the duty and responsibility of Travis McMichael to himself, his family and his neighborhood.”
Greg McMichael told police there had been several break-ins in the area before the deadly encounter.
While in his yard on the day of the shooting, he said he saw the person he believed to be involved in the burglaries “dragging a **” down the residential street, according to an incident report from 23 February from the Glynn County Police Department. .
Defense lawyers said the McMichaels jumped into the truck and chased him because they wanted to arrest a citizen. The older McMichael was armed with a .357 Magnum and Travis had a shotgun. Arbery was not armed.
Greg McMichael’s defense team stressed that they did not intend to harm Arbery, but rather detain him.
Stephen B. Morton / AP
During the chase, the McMichaels chased Arbery past Bryan’s house. Bryan was on his porch and, according to the prosecutor, shouted, “Do you all have it?” Before joining the attempt to corner Arbery.
Jason Sheffield, another defense attorney for Travis McMichael, said during the trial that McMichael had every right to make a citizen arrest because he viewed Arbery as a “recurring intruder”.
Sheffield said McMichael did not wake up that day intending to kill Arbery, but only did so in self-defense when he believed he was in danger.
McMichael at one point came to his defense and said: “It was obvious he was attacking me, that if he had the shotgun from me, then it was a life and death situation. I’m going to have to stop him from doing that, so I shot. “
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, suggested his client’s presence had not changed the course of events: “Roddie Bryan’s presence is absolutely superfluous and unrelated to the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery.” He also said his client was unaware the McMichaels were armed.
Prosecution says defendants had no legal reason to prosecute Arbery
Senior Prosecutor Dunikoski described the three men as “aliens with intent to kill” who made “aisle decisions” to prosecute Arbery.
She rebuffed the idea that they had any reason to carry out a legal citizen arrest, pointing out that the men had no real knowledge of a crime the young man had committed the day they saw him pass. running – and never actually told him they were trying to make an arrest.
“No one said ‘I saw him commit a crime today, no one said’ I am making a citizen arrest ‘, no one was trying to arrest her for the crime of anything.” , she said. “No one said any of these things on February 23, 2020.”
“Greg McMichael assumed the worst,” the prosecutor said, adding that he had woken his son off the couch so they could sue Arbery together. She pointed out that McMichael later told police he was unsure whether Arbery actually broke into a house that day.
“You cannot make a citizen arrest because someone is running in the street,” she said.
And like the McMichaels, the prosecutor said, Bryan also didn’t demand any hard evidence of wrongdoing on Arbery’s part before proceeding.
“That’s what being an accomplice in crime – you’re going to help some people who commit crimes, try to arrest this guy, detain him and confine him,” Dunikoski said.
The prosecutor said Arbery would still be alive if Bryan hadn’t used his truck to cut Arbery down and stop him from fleeing. And she noted that Greg McMichael informed the police that he told Arbery that he “would be your goddamn head” if he didn’t stop running.
Arbery “was trying to get away from these strangers yelling at him, threatening to kill him,” Dunikoski said. “And then they killed him.”