Three white men sentenced to life for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery

ATLANTA —

A Georgia judge Friday sentenced two white men to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man whose 2020 killing helped push a national debate on racial profiling and vigilantism. The possibility of parole was offered to a third man who was also convicted for the murder of Arbery.

Gregory McMichael, 66, and son Travis McMichael, 35, were sentenced for their role in chasing Arbery with their pickups in a suburban community near Brunswick, Ga., and killing him. Travis McMichael shot Arbery unarmed. Their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, was sentenced to life in prison but will be eligible for parole after serving 30 years.

Judge Timothy Walmsley at the Glynn County, Ga., Courthouse

Judge Timothy R. Walmsley, at the Glynn, Ga. Courthouse on Friday.

(Stephen B. Morton / Associated Press)

Speaking to the court before sentencing, Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley said Arbery was “hunted down and shot” in a “callous” killing that occurred because the defendants sought confrontation.

After holding one minute of silence in the courtroom — a minute that the judge said represented a fraction of the time Arbery ran through the Satilla Shores community near Brunswick — Walmsley said he “kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man.”

While Arbery’s family, the community of Brunswick and people across the nation sought closure, Walmsley said his role in sentencing was to provide accountability.

” We all have to be accountable for our actions,” Walmsley stated. “Sometimes in this day and age that statement is lost upon many …. Today demonstrates how everyone is accountable to the law. Taking the law into your own hands is a dangerous endeavor.”

The three men were found guilty the day before Thanksgiving by a mostly white jury, prompting family and friends to claim that justice had, finally, been served. Many civil rights activists praised the case as a major victory against racism in criminal justice.

On Friday morning before the judge set the punishments for the defendants, Arbery and his family spoke at the Glynn county Courthouse to share their grief and ask the judge to impose maximum sentences.

“These men have chose to lie and attack my son and his surviving family. In her victim impact statement, Wanda Cooper Jones, Arbery’s mother, stated that they each have no remorse or deserve any leniency. “They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community, and when they couldn’t sufficiently scare him or intimidate him, they killed him.”

Ahmaud Arbery's sister, Jasmine Arbery

Ahmaud Arbery’s younger sister, Jasmine Arbery, tries to wipe away a tear as she listens in court to her mother.

(Stephen B. Morton / Associated Press)

The McMichaels and Bryan chased down Arbery in pickups on Feb. 23, 2020 — a quiet Sunday afternoon — as he ran through the Satilla Shores subdivision near the coastal city of Brunswick. The men claimed that they were trying to arrest Arbery as citizens. Travis McMichael said that he was acting in self defense because he fired only after Arbery had lunged at him with his gun.

Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty against the three defendants. Georgia law makes murder a crime that carries a mandatory sentence for life in prison. In addition to the murder convictions, the men were also found guilty of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, counts with maximum prison terms from five to 20 years.

During the trial, defense attorneys argued that Arbery was killed as he resisted a justified legal citizen’s arrest attempt and that the three defendants sought to stop and detain him after he was seen running from a home under construction.

Before the men were sentenced, defense lawyers sought leniency.

Robert Rubin, an attorney for Travis McMichael, argued that his client was a devoted father and a former member of the Coast Guard whose actions might have been reckless, but was “not evidence of a soul so blackened as to deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison.”

“Judge, you can send a message that four minutes of conduct does not erase a life well-lived and that after punishment, there is opportunity for redemption,” he said.

Laura Hogue stated that Gregory McMichael was a man of goodness with no criminal record.

Kevin Gough was Bryan’s lawyer. He stressed that McMichaels were unarmed and didn’t know they had guns until the moment of the shooting. His client expressed regret immediately after the shooting, and provided key evidence including cellphone video.

Lead prosecution Linda Dunikoski granted Bryan leniency, but asked for harsher sentences for the McMichaels. She said that the McMichaels had shown “no remorse or certainly no empathy” during the four-minute period that ended in Arbery’s murder.

” These four minutes of conduct were more than just four minutes. She said that it was a culmination in vigilantism…without any real understanding or consideration for the consequences.”

Before sentencing, Walmsley ran through the actions and apparent level of remorse of each defendant. Gregory McMichael tried early on after the shooting to establish a narrative, he said, referring to Arbery as “trapped like a rat” and saying he told Arbery, “Stop or I’ll blow your … head off.”

Travis McMichael claimed to be in shock after the shooting, but the judge said he seemed more concerned for his own well-being. As Arbery lay dead on the street, he noted, McMichael commented, “This is the worst day of my life.”

Walmsley singled out Bryan as different from the McMichaels, noting that right after the shooting, Bryan “demonstrated that he had grave concerns that what had occurred should not have occurred.”

Still, the judge said, Bryan joined the McMichaels in chasing down Arbery, calling out “you all got him,” and a jury ultimately convicted Bryan of felony murder. Arbery’s family is represented by Benjamin Crump, Civil Rights attorney.

“What the family has demanded from the beginning is that Ahmaud’s killers be treated like a Black man. Crump stated in a statement that today’s news shows there has been progress.

Defense attorneys have said they plan to appeal the convictions.

In February, the three men face a separate federal trial on hate crimes and kidnapping charges — one count of interference with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race and one count of attempted kidnapping. Each McMichaels is also charged with using, carrying, and brandishing firearms during a crime.

Read More