Ahmaud Arbery's killers found guilty of hate crimes offences
Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael, William Bryan previously convicted of murder in high-profile slaying
The three men convicted of murder in Ahmaud Arbery's fatal shooting were found guilty of federal hate crimes Tuesday for violating Arbery's civil rights and targeting him because he was Black.
The jury reached its decision after several hours of deliberation — and almost exactly two years to the day Arbery was killed — on the charges against father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and neighbour William (Roddie) Bryan.
In addition to the federal hate crimes, the three men were each found guilty of attempted kidnapping, while the McMichaels were also found guilty of the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime.
Shortly after the verdict was read, Arbery's parents emerged from the courthouse holding hands with attorney Ben Crump, then raised their clasped hands to cheers from supporters.
"Ahmaud will continue to rest in peace. But he will now begin to rest in power," said Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones. But, she added, "We as a family will never get victory because Ahmaud is gone forever."
Marcus Arbery noted that his son used to call every day, even if just to tell his family that he loved them.
"Ahmaud was a kid you can't replace, because of the heart he had," he said. "I'm struggling with that every day. It hurts me every day."
During the trial, prosecutors showed roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made derogatory comments about Black people. The FBI wasn't able to access Greg McMichael's phone because it was encrypted.
The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue Arbery after seeing him running in their neighbourhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael firing the fatal shots.
Arbery's killing became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice after the graphic video leaked online two months later.
'Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today'
The McMichaels and Bryan pleaded not guilty to the hate-crime charges. Defence attorneys contended the three didn't chase and kill Arbery because of his race but acted on the earnest, though erroneous, suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighbourhood.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the verdict "makes clear that the Justice Department will continue to use every resource at its disposal to confront unlawful acts of hate and to hold accountable those who perpetrate them."
Garland said that Arbery's family and his friends "should be preparing to celebrate his 28th birthday, later this spring, not mourning the second anniversary of his death tomorrow."
"Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today," he said.
The trial closed Monday with prosecutors saying 25-year-old Arbery's slaying on a residential street was motivated by "pent-up racial anger," revealed by the defendants' electronic messages as well as by witnesses who testified to hearing them make racist tirades and insults.
"All three defendants told you loud and clear, in their own words, how they feel about African Americans," prosecutor Tara Lyons told the jury Monday.
Evidence included texts, previous statements
Defence attorneys insisted that past racist statements by their clients offered no proof they violated Arbery's civil rights and targeted him because he's Black. They urged the jury to set aside their emotions.
"It's natural for you to want retribution or revenge," said Pete Theodocion, representing Bryan. "But we have to elevate ourselves … even if it's the tough thing."
The three men already received life terms in state court last month after being found guilty in November of murder and other crimes in the fatal shooting of Arbery, a onetime high school football star who worked for a truck-washing company and his father's landscaping business.
Police found Arbery had no weapon and no stolen items. Prosecutors said he was merely out jogging.
FBI agents uncovered roughly two dozen racist text messages and social media posts from the McMichaels and Bryan in the years and months preceding the shooting.
Some witnesses testified they heard the McMichaels' racist statements firsthand.
A woman who served under Travis McMichael in the U.S. Coast Guard a decade ago said he called her a racist term after learning she'd dated a Black man.
Another woman testified Greg McMichael had ranted angrily in 2015 when she remarked on the death of civil rights activist Julian Bond, saying, "All those Blacks are nothing but trouble."
With files from Reuters