- Biden Says Convictions Show Justice System “Doing Its Job”
- Defendants face further trial on US hate crime charges
BRUNSWICK, Georgia, Nov. 24 (Reuters) – Three white men were convicted of murder Wednesday for pursuing and shooting Ahmaud Arbery as the black man ran through their neighborhood re-investigating America’s divisive race and gun issues.
The judgments were made by the jury consisting of a black and eleven white men and women on the second day of the trial after a two-week trial of Gregory McMichael (65), his son Travis McMichael (35) and their neighbors William “Roddie”. Bryan, 52, in the coastal city of Braunschweig.
The case depended on whether under a now-repealed Georgian law allowing the arrest of citizens, the defendants had the right to confront the unarmed 25-year-old avid jogger last year with a suspicion that he was fleeing a crime . Defense attorneys also argued that self-defense centered on a contested claim by Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shots, that Arbery had recently grabbed the pump-action shotgun that killed him.
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All three of the accused were convicted of murder, aggravated assault, wrongful imprisonment, and criminal intent to commit a crime. You face life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Defense attorneys announced they would appeal.
President Joe Biden said the convictions showed that the American criminal justice system was “doing its job” even though the murder was “a devastating reminder of how far we must go in the struggle for racial justice in this country.”
“Instead, we must reassign ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength in which no one fears violence because of their skin color,” Biden said in a statement.
There has never been a dispute that the younger McMichael was fired three times at close range with his shotgun at Arbery on February 23, 2020 in the suburban township of Satilla Shores. It was captured on a graphic cell phone video of Bryan, which, more than two months later, fueled outrage and the public learned that none of the three men had been arrested.
McMichaels lawyers argued the killing was justified after Arbery walked past the McMichaels driveway in a neighborhood that had seen a spate of property theft. Both McMichaels grabbed their guns and hopped into their pickup truck to pursue them, and Bryan, unarmed, joined in moments later.
Prosecutors said the defendants “assumed the worst” about a black man jogging on Sunday afternoons. He was chased through the winding streets for about five minutes by the defendants. A law cited by the defense had allowed anyone to arrest individuals whom they have reasonable suspicions were fleeing a serious crime they committed.
Arbery’s name was added to those called during nationwide anti-racism protests in 2020 that broke out following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police, both of whom were black.
“It was a long fight. It was an uphill fight. But God is good,” said Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones in front of the courthouse. “He will rest in peace now.”
Previously, her head sank into her chest as she cried when she heard the verdict, and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton held her hand. Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, jumped up and cheered before the sheriff’s deputies told him he had to go.
In response to the verdict, Marcus Arbery later told reporters, “We defeated the lynch mob.”
There was cheering outside the courthouse as the verdicts came as a crowd of 100+ cheered and shouted “Justice”, some waving flags, including one for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“A jury of eleven whites and one black stood up … in the deep south and said, ‘Black lives matter,'” Sharpton said.
‘I AM FLOOR’
Travis McMichael, red-faced, turned as he got up to leave the courtroom and said, “Love you” to his mother Leigh.
“I’m flat, flat with a capital ‘F’,” said Laura Hogue, one of Gregory McMichael’s attorneys, in the courtroom.
The three men will face federal hate crimes trial next year on charges of violating the civil rights of Arbery by starting the deadly pursuit for his “race and color”.
Wednesday’s verdict followed a jury acquittal on November 19 in another closely watched trial of an 18-year-old named Kyle Rittenhouse who shot and killed two men while protesting against racial justice in Wisconsin. Both cases highlighted the broader issue of US gun violence, which Biden described as a national embarrassment. In both cases, the defendants alleged in self-defense.
Travis McMichael, a former US Coast Guard mechanic and the only defendant to take the stand, testified in tears that he fired in self-defense when Arbery snatched the shotgun he was carrying while chasing him in the truck . On cross-examination by a prosecutor, he admitted telling police hours after the shooting that he could not be certain that Arbery had actually taken up the gun.
The trial represented another test case of how the US judiciary deals with cases of unarmed blacks killed by whites. An almost entirely white jury was selected and one of the defense lawyers repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, called for the removal of black pastors and civil rights activists, including Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson, from the courtroom.
Senior McMichael’s attorney, Hogue, told jurors during the trial that the defendants had a duty to arrest Arbery, whom they portrayed as a terrifying burglar with “long dirty toenails,” using a description from the autopsy report.
Senior prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said during the trial that the defense is aiming to “slander the victim” and called it “offensive”. No evidence was found linking Arbery to any thefts from Satilla Shore.
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Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Rich McKay in Brunswick, Georgia; Additional reporting from Gabriella Borter, Maria Caspani, Brendan O’Brien, and Tyler Clifford; Editing by Will Dunham, Ross Colvin, and Cynthia Osterman
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