A Georgia judge sentenced Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael on Friday to life imprisonment with no parole for what he called the “terrifying” 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who died in the predominantly white neighborhood southern US state runs.
Judge Timothy Walmsley also sentenced her neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan to life imprisonment, but ruled that after 30 years parole, he could seek the minimum sentence permitted for murder under Georgia law.
Based on what Arbery’s tormented relatives said at the start of the Glynn County Superior Court hearing, the judge condemned the three men for their mistake in not seeing Arbery just another neighbor.
He said he has given the McMichaels the harshest sentence there is, in part for their “callous” words and actions captured on a cell phone video that sparked outrage nationwide when it went public in the summer of 2020.
“It was a terrifying, really disturbing scene,” the judge said of the frame in the video of McMichael starting to raise his shotgun at Arbery while the 25-year-old is about 20 feet away. “I kept coming back to the horror that must have been on the mind of the young man who walked through Satilla Shores.”
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.
The judge agreed with prosecutors and Arbery’s relatives that the three white men believed “the worst” about Arbery, which he said was “hunted, shot and killed for breaking the law here in this courtroom have considered “. their own hands. “
Earlier, Arbery’s family had told the court that they believed racial stereotypes led to the murder of the avid jogger, who grew up and still lived across from the Satilla Shores neighborhood, where he died. Defense attorneys had pleaded forbearance, saying none of the three men who ever intended to kill Arbery and that the maximum sentence should only be reserved for the “worst of the worst” perpetrators.
Prior to the judge’s verdict, Jasmine Arbery turned to the court in a trembling voice to offer a poetic celebration of her younger brother’s blackness which she believed his attackers believed was frightening.
“He had dark skin that gleamed like gold in the sunlight. He had curly hair; he would often like to twist it. Ahmaud had a broad 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.”
Richter quotes Arbery’s mother
Linda Dunikoski, the chief prosecutor, had spoken out in favor of the maximum sentence only for the two McMichaels because she called “a demonstrated pattern of vigilance”. Citing Gregory McMichael’s previous work as an investigator with the local prosecutor, she said the father and son acted as if they were above the law.
Defense attorney Kevin Gough said he was indulgent for Bryan because he was the only one of the three who was unarmed while he was chasing Arbery.
The three men’s lawyers have announced that they will appeal the convictions. The men will also be tried in federal hate crime in February for alleged violations of Arbery’s civil rights by assaulting him on the grounds of “race and color”.
The state case depended on whether the defendants had the right to confront Arbery over a suspicion he was trying to escape from after committing a crime, under a now-repealed Georgia law that allows the arrest of citizens. 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 jogging through the leafy 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.
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 fueled nationwide protests against racism in the criminal justice system 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.
“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.”
In his verdict, the judge quoted the mother’s statements, which he thought were “very true”.
“Ahmaud Arbery should at least force us to broaden our definition of what a neighbor can be and how we treat him,” said the judge.