Merrit Kennedy, NPR, November 24, 2021
The three white men who chased down and killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging though their Georgia neighborhood last year, were all found guilty of murder charges.
The high-profile shooting — and the 10 weeks it took for law enforcement to make their first arrests — galvanized racial injustice protests in the summer of 2020.
After the judge read the first guilty verdict, a whoop rang out in the courtroom at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. “Long time coming,” the person exclaimed as the judge expelled them from the courtroom.
Father and son Greg McMichael, 65, and Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, all faced the same nine criminal counts in Georgia state court: one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony. They pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Jurors found all three men guilty of nearly all the counts against them on Wednesday. Travis McMichael was found guilty of all nine counts. Greg McMichael was found not guilty of one count of malice murder, and Bryan was found not guilty of one count of malice murder, one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault.
As the verdicts were read, Travis McMichael appeared largely emotionless, and eventually let out a sigh. Greg McMichael dropped his head at the first guilty verdict against him. Bryan wore a pained frown as the judge read aloud his verdicts.
Prosecutors have said that they intend to seek life in prison without parole for the three defendants. The date of their sentencing has not yet been scheduled.
There was no evidence presented of racial animus during this state trial, but that will be the subject of a federal hate crimes trial next year for all three men.
Since opening statements began on Nov. 5, the defense teams for McMichaels and Bryan argued that their clients suspected Arbery was involved in reports of several burglaries in the largely white neighborhood. While surveillance video shows Arbery entering a home under construction on multiple occasions, no evidence was presented in court that he took anything or that he was responsible for any of the neighborhood break-ins or thefts.
Lawyers for the defendants had said they intended to make a citizen’s arrest and question Arbery. And Travis McMichael, the man who ultimately fired three shots, two of which a medical examiner testified hit Arbery twice, said he feared for his life as the two men scuffled.
The prosecution pushed back against the idea that Arbery was gunned down in self-defense. “They shot and killed him,” lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said during closing arguments on Monday. “Not because he was a threat to them, but because he wouldn’t stop and talk to them.”
Throughout the roughly two-week trial, lawyers for all three defendants consistently portrayed them as individuals trying to protect their neighborhood.
“This case is about duty and responsibility,” defense attorney Robert Rubin, who represents Travis McMichael, said during opening statements. “It’s about Travis McMichael’s duty and responsibility to himself, to his family and to his neighborhood.”
Greg McMichael told police that there had been several recent break-ins in the area before the deadly encounter.
While in his front yard the day of the shooting, he said he saw the person he believed to be involved in those break-ins “hauling a**” down the residential street, according to a Feb. 23 Glynn County Police Department incident report.
Defense lawyers said the McMichaels jumped in the truck and gave chase because they wanted to execute a citizen’s arrest. The older McMichael was armed with a .357 Magnum and Travis had a shotgun. Arbery was unarmed.
Greg McMichael’s defense team has stressed that they did not intend to harm Arbery, but rather wanted to detain him.
Jason Sheffield, another defense attorney for Travis McMichael, said during the trial that McMichael had every right to perform a citizen’s arrest because he saw Arbery as a “recurring intruder.”
Sheffield said McMichael didn’t wake up that day intending to kill Arbery but did so only in self-defense when he thought he was in danger.
McMichael at one point took the stand in his own defense and declared: “It was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would’ve got the shotgun from me, then it was a life or death situation. And I’m gonna have to stop him from doing this, so I shot.”