Three white men convicted of murdering Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery were sentenced to life in prison Friday.
Georgia jury found Gregory McMichael (66), Travis McMichael (35) and William McMichael (35) guilty of murder. “Roddie”Bryan, 52, was found guilty in November of murder, aggravated attack, false imprisonment, and criminal intent to do a felony.
Glynn County Superior court Judge Timothy Walmsley’s sole concern at Friday’s sentencing hearing was whether any one of the three men could apply for parole. McMichaels were sentenced with a life sentence plus 20 years without parole.
Bryan was sentenced for life with parole possibility after serving 30 years. He would have been 82 by the time he could apply for parole.
“When I thought about this, I thought from a lot of different angles, and I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores,”The judge spoke before announcing his sentences. Before announcing the sentences, he first observed silence for the young man who had been killed.
“This was a killing. It was callous,”The judge stated. “We are all accountable for our own actions.”
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked for sentences of life without parole for the McMichaels, and the possibility of parole for Bryan. All were entitled to mandatory life sentences by the state for their actions. “no empathy for the trapped and terrified Ahmaud Arbery,”She said.
Travis McMichael chased Arbery down and killed him. He fired three shotsgun rounds at Arbery who was 25 years old, while he was running in a suburban area in February 2020.
Three men stated that they believed Arbery was responsible in burglaries in their neighborhood and were conducting a citizen’s warrant when Arbery attempted to grab Travis McMichael’s shotgun.
“This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact. They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told the court Friday. “They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community. And when they couldn’t sufficiently scare or intimidate him, they killed him.”
Arbery’s senses were described by his sister to the judge. She said that he was positive and had a huge personality. Her brother had dark skin. “glistened in the sunlight”She said that he was now a target for his killers.
“These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and chase them with guns drawn. These are the qualities of a young man with energy and life who looked just like me and the people I love.” said Jasmine Arbery.
After the three men were convicted on the day before Thanksgiving, a crowd gathered outside the courthouse erupted in joy. The contentious trial, marked by comments from defense lawyers that many considered racist, was nationally televised.
Civil rights leaders including the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson attended the trial and sat with the family inside the courtroom. At one point during the trial, a defense attorney objected to them being in court.
“We don’t want any Black pastors, Jesse Jackson, or anyone else, coming into this place.” lawyer Kevin Gough, who represented Bryan, said in November. His remark drew sharp rebukes from Sharpton and Arbery’s family, as well as many others, including the trial judge, who called Gough’s statements “reprehensible.”
After seeing Arbery run through their neighborhood, on February 23, 2020 the McMichaels took out their guns and got into a pickup truck in pursuit. Bryan, a neighbor, joined the chase. Bryan took cellphone video as Travis McMichael shot Arbery. Arbery was seen falling to the ground and then staggering.
After state investigators took over local authorities’ control, there were no arrests in this case for 74-days. The killing went mostly unnoticed, until Bryan’s cellphone footage was shared on social media. Black Lives Matter protests and national uproar erupted over George Floyd’s death.
Defense lawyers indicated they would appeal the convictions of their clients.
Next month, they will be facing a second trial in federal court. They are accused of violating Arbery’s civil right and targeting him because he is Black. They have pleaded not guilty to those counts.