3 white men guilty of murdering Black man Ahmaud Arbery, Georgia jury finds
Arbery's killing in Georgia last year became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice
Three men were convicted of murder Wednesday in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man who was running through a neighbourhood in a Georgia city when the white strangers chased him, trapped him on a quiet street and blasted him with a shotgun.
The jury deliberated for about 10 hours before convicting Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and neighbour William "Roddie" Bryan. The men all face a mandatory sentence of life in prison. The judge will decide whether their sentences are served with or without the possibility of parole.
The February 2020 slaying drew limited attention at first. But when video of the shooting leaked online, Arbery's death quickly became another example in the U.S.'s reckoning over racial injustice and the way Black people are treated in their everyday lives.
As the first of 23 guilty verdicts were read, the judge had Arbery's father removed from the courtroom after he leapt up and shouted. At the reading of the last criminal count, Arbery's mother dropped her head and quietly pumped her fists.
"He didn't do nothing but run and dream," Marcus Arbery Sr. said of his son. Outside the courthouse, dozens of Black supporters hugged and cried.
Shooting captured on video
The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue Arbery, 25, after seeing him running in their neighbourhood in the Georgia port city of Brunswick. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery.
The father and son told police they suspected Arbery was a fleeing burglar. But the prosecution argued that the men provoked the fatal confrontation and that there was no evidence Arbery had committed any crimes in the neighbourhood.
"We commend the courage and bravery of this jury to say that what happened on Feb. 23, 2020, to Ahmaud Arbery — the hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery — it was not only morally wrong but legally wrong, and we are thankful for that," said Latonia Hines, Cobb County executive assistant district attorney.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said: "The jury system works in this country, and when you present the truth to people and they see it, they will do the right thing."
Travis McMichael stood for the verdict, his lawyer's arm around his shoulder. At one point, he lowered his head to his chest. After the verdicts were read, as he stood to leave, he mouthed "love you" to his mother, who was in the courtroom.
Greg McMichael, 65, hung his head when the judge read his first guilty verdict. Bryan, 52, bit his lip.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Ben Crump, attorney for Arbery's father, repeatedly said that "the spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob."
'It's been a long fight'
Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, thanked the crowd gathered outside the courthouse and said she didn't think the men would ever be convicted.
"It's been a long fight. It's been a hard fight. But God is good." She said that her son could now rest in peace.
Travis McMichael's attorneys said both he and his father feel that they did the right thing, and that they believed the video would help their case. But they also said the McMichaels regret that Arbery had been killed.
"I can tell you honestly, these men are sorry for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery," attorney Jason Sheffield said. "They are sorry he's dead. They are sorry for the tragedy that happened because of the choices they made to go out there and try to stop him."
They said they planned to appeal.
Bryan's attorney, Kevin Gough, said his team was "disappointed with the verdict, but we respect it." He planned to file new legal motions after Thanksgiving.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley did not immediately schedule a sentencing date, saying that he wanted to give both sides time to prepare.
In a statement, U.S. President Joe Biden said Arbery's killing was a "devastating reminder" of how much more work the country has to do in the fight for racial justice.
"While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the colour of their skin," Biden said.
Federal trial to come
Though prosecutors did not argue that racism motivated the killing, federal authorities have charged them with hate crimes, alleging that they chased and killed Arbery because he was Black. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.
The disproportionately white jury received the case around midday Tuesday and deliberated for the rest of the day before breaking for the night.
Soon after returning to court Wednesday morning, the jury sent a note to Walmsley asking to view two versions of the shooting video — the original and one that investigators enhanced to reduce shadows — three times apiece.
Jurors returned to the courtroom to see the videos and listen again to the 911 call one of the defendants made from the bed of a pickup truck about 30 seconds before the shooting.
On the 911 call the jury reviewed, Greg McMichael told an operator: "I'm out here in Satilla Shores. There's a Black male running down the street."
He then started shouting, apparently as Arbery ran toward the McMichael's idling truck with Bryan's truck coming up behind him: "Stop right there! Damn it, stop! Travis!" Gunshots could be heard a few second later.
When the graphic video was leaked two months later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case, quickly arresting the three men.
Defence attorneys contended the McMichaels were attempting a legal citizen's arrest when they set off after Arbery, seeking to detain and question him as a suspected burglar after he was seen running from a nearby home under construction.
Travis McMichael testified that he shot Arbery in self-defence. He said Arbery turned and attacked with his fists while running past the idling truck where Travis McMichael stood with his shotgun.
'It's a start'
At the time of his death, Arbery had enrolled at a technical college and was preparing at the time to study to become an electrician like his uncles.
Shaun Seals, a lifelong resident of Brunswick, rushed to the courthouse to join the crowd cheering the verdict.
"We just came out to witness history," said the 32-year-old, pushing his 10-month-old daughter in a stroller.
Seals, who is Black, called the convictions a victory not just for his community but for the nation.
"It's not going to heal most of the wounds" from a long history of inequality, he said. "But it's a start and shows people are trying."