A jury in Brunswick, Georgia, has found three white men guilty in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a landmark case that sparked national conversations on race.
Travis McMichael was found guilty of murder on all counts in the death of Arbery, a Black man, including malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
His father, Gregory McMichael, was also found guilty on all counts of felony murder, but not guilty on the count of malice murder. William “Roddie” Bryan was also found guilty on three counts of felony murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment, but was found not guilty on the additional charges.
All three face a possible sentence of life in prison, and will also be tried on federal hate crime and attempted kidnapping charges in federal court next year.
The jury that convicted the men was composed of 11 white and one Black member, which created controversy over possible racial bias in the trial’s early stages.
The charges stem from the Feb. 23, 2020, incident in which the McMichaels chased 25-year-old Arbery in a truck and then attacked him. Bryan joined the pursuit and filmed it. The defendants claimed they were attempting a “citizen’s arrest” over concerns about theft in their Satilla Shores neighborhood. Travis McMichael claimed on the stand that he had fired his gun as an act of self-defense, after Arbery allegedly struck him during their encounter.
“I never saw this day in 2020,” said Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, in a press conference following the verdict. “I never thought this day would come, but God is good.”
“You can’t experience the pain of a mother and a father who witnessed what they witnessed and not being able to protect their child,” said attorney Ben Crump, who has been representing Arbery’s family. “Every parent in America can take solace on knowing that we have an example of how to deal with tragedy and grief when they look at the example of Marcus Arbery and Wanda Cooper.”
The decision comes just days after a jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin, acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse for killing two men and wounding another during protests against police brutality last year. Arbery’s fatal shooting and the case against Rittenhouse served as a notable contrast on race and justice.
State prosecutor Linda Dunikoski presented evidence that showed a shift in critical statements Travis McMichael gave to police and on the stand.
Travis McMichael at one point testified that Arbery never threatened him during their encounter, and said he used his shotgun as an attempt to deescalate the situation with Arbery.
Prosecutors also noted that there was no evidence of Arbery stealing anything from a construction site in the neighborhood. While security footage from the site showed Arbery and other people, including a white man and woman, walking in and out of the site in the months before the incident, property owner Larry English testified that he had never reported anything stolen from the site.
Defense attorney Kevin Gough alleged in his arguments that Arbery was responsible for his own death because he was not “submitting” to the McMichaels or Bryan during the chase.
The prosecution also noted that under the Georgia state law governing citizen’s arrests, an alleged offense would have to occur in the “private citizen’s presence.” It would also have to be felony, and even if the defendants’ claims about Arbery had been validated, trespass or loitering are misdemeanors.
Following Arbery’s death, Georgia has repealed its citizen’s arrest law in a bipartisan effort from state lawmakers.
In her closing statement, Dunikoski argued that the three men pursued Arbery based on assumptions rather than observed actions.
“They made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways, because he was a Black man running down the street,” Dunikoski told the jurors.
The much-watched trial has included a number of notable incidents, including when the defense asked the judge to remove Black pastors from the courtroom because their presence may influence the jury’s decision. In response, Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson held prayer vigils outside of the court house.
Arbery’s killing sparked national outrage and protests in major cities throughout the country, leading into further frustration after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Racial justice advocates celebrated in the wake of Wednesday’s verdict.
“The spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob,” said Crump.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said Arbery’s murder “is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country.”
“Nothing can bring Mr. Arbery back to his family and to his community,” said Biden, “but the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.