(Adds condemnation)

From Jonathan Allen

Jan. 7 (Reuters) – A Georgia judge sentenced Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Friday to life imprisonment for the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who lived in their predominantly white southern US neighborhood – State ran.

The McMichaels, a father and son, will now spend the rest of their lives in prison, but Judge Timothy Walmsley ruled that Bryan can petition for 30 years probation, the minimum sentence for murder under state law.

At a sentencing hearing in Glynn County Court, Arbery’s tortured relatives turned to the court to argue that racial stereotypes led to the killing of the 25-year-old avid jogger. Defense attorneys pleaded forbearance, saying none of the three men had ever intended to kill Arbery.

In November, a jury found Gregory McMichael, 66, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbor Bryan, 52, guilty of murder, aggravated assault, wrongful imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a crime.

Linda Dunikoski, the chief prosecutor, had argued that the two McMichaels were supposed to die in prison and only Bryan should be able to apply for parole, pointing to what she called “a demonstrated pattern of vigilance” by the McMichaels.

Jasmine Arbery turned to the court in a trembling voice to offer a poetic celebration of her brother’s blackness, which she believed his killers believed was terrifying.

“He had dark skin that gleamed like gold in the sunlight. He had curly hair, he would often like to twist it. He had a wide nose and the color of his eyes was filled with melanin,” she said. “These are the qualities that led these men to believe that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal. To me, these qualities reflect a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people I love.”

Defense lawyers have announced that they will appeal the convictions. Bob Rubin, the younger McMichael’s attorney, said life without parole should only be reserved for the “worst of the worst.”

“His goal wasn’t to commit a crime or kill anyone that day,” Rubin said of Travis McMichael. “His goal was a family afternoon.” None of the three convicted men exercised their right to go to court at the hearing.

The three, who are white, will also face a federal hate crime trial in February that is charged with violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him on account of his “race and color”.

Prosecutors said the three men mistakenly “assumed the worst” about a black man who was jogging on Sunday afternoon. The men chased Arbery through the winding streets for about five minutes.

The case depended on whether the three men had the right, under a now-repealed Georgia law that allows the arrest of citizens, to confront Arbery with a suspicion that he was fleeing a crime. In the end, the jury was not impressed by the tearful testimony of Travis McMichael, the only defendant to take a stand, that he only shot in self-defense.

Arbery was running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood on the afternoon of February 23rd when the McMichaels decided to grab their guns, hop in a pickup truck, and go into chase.

“They decided to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community,” Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones said in court on Friday. “When they couldn’t scare or intimidate him enough, they killed him.”

Bryan joined the chase in his own pickup truck after passing his driveway and pulled out his cell phone to record Travis McMichael firing a shotgun at Arbery at close range. Arbery had nothing with him but his running clothes and trainers.

The video caused outrage when it surfaced months later and it became clear that none of the men involved had been arrested after a local prosecutor concluded the killing was warranted.

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. (Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta Editing by Alistair Bell)

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