BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A jury has returned a verdict in the federal hate crimes trial of three white men who were convicted of the 2020 murder of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery.
Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan – who is already serving life in prison for Arbery’s murder – could face an additional life sentence if prosecutors prove that they had chased, cornered and killed Arbery because of his race.
The McMichaels and Bryan were charged with interference with Arbery’s rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels faced additional charges of using — and in Travis’ case, discharging — a firearm during the crime.
The jury deliberated for approximately four hours. The verdict was due Tuesday morning.
The three men were arrested two months after the February 23, 2020 shooting, when video of the incident on Bryan’s cellphone became public and sparked national outrage over what several high-profile figures called a lynching. The murder fueled a growing national movement against anti-black racism.
During the five-day trial, federal prosecutors argued that the McMichaels and Bryan violated Arbery’s rights when they deliberately interfered with his right to enjoy a public thoroughfare in the Satilla Shores neighborhood due to of the Arbery breed.
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More than a dozen witnesses testified to the defendant’s pattern of racial animosity and federal prosecutors presented text messages and social media posts from Travis McMichael and Bryan that used racial slurs when referring to to blacks. A witness also said Gregory McMichael disparaged the late civil rights champion Julian Bond and said he wanted all black people to die.
Prosecutors argued in their closing arguments that the defendants also acted as vigilantes.
Defense attorneys countered that Arbery was shot in self-defense and acted suspiciously on previous trips to the Satilla Shores neighborhood, mirroring arguments made at the state’s trial. Defense attorneys also reiterated that the trial was not about the murder and argued that prosecutors had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their clients acted on the basis of race.
The lawsuit comes after a plea deal for the McMichaels fell apart just days before jury selection began. The McMichaels withdrew their pleas after Judge Lisa Godbey Wood rejected the initial terms of the agreement, which would have seen Travis sentenced to 30 years in federal prison to be served alongside his state sentence. Arbery’s family strongly opposed the deal in court.
Because they have been tried, they do not face a harsher sentence, said Brunswick-based trial attorney Page Pate.
The defendants were convicted of murder last fall at a state trial and sentenced to life in prison, but state prosecutors have not presented evidence that the murder was racially motivated – evidence that was at the heart of the federal prosecutors’ case.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, still has a pending federal lawsuit against the McMichaels and Bryan. The suit also names several Glynn County police officers, the former chief of police and former Glynn County district attorney, and the initial prosecutor in the state murder case.
Contact Breaking News reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg
Raisa Habersham is a watchdog and investigative reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at email@example.com.