Janelle Griffith, NBC News, January 7, 2022
The three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery were sentenced Friday to life in prison, with a judge denying any chance of parole for the father and son who armed themselves and initiated the deadly pursuit of the Black man in February 2020.
The life sentences for Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery; and his father, Gregory McMichael, do not carry the possibility of parole. Their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan will be eligible, however, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said. Bryan must serve at least 30 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.
All three men were convicted of murder and other charges by a Glynn County jury in November in the pursuit and fatal shooting of Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, resulting in mandatory life sentences.
Walmsley called Arbery’s killing “callous” and said it occurred because “confrontation was being sought.”
Before announcing the sentences, the judge asked the courtroom to sit in silence for one minute to illustrate, he said, a fraction of the time Arbery was running in terror from the men before he was killed.
“He left his home to go for a run and ended up running for his life,” Walmsley said.
The sentences are in line with the request from prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, who recommended that Bryan, 52, get a chance at parole and that the McMichaels be denied that possibility. Dunikoski said the father and son showed no remorse or empathy for “the trapped and terrified Ahmaud Arbery.”
An attorney for Travis McMichael, 35, said he “should have the opportunity to show that he’s grown, to show that he’s changed.” The attorney, Robert Rubin, said that a parole board should determine if and when Travis McMichael is released from prison.
Gregory McMichael’s attorney, Laura Hogue, asked the judge to consider that the 66-year-old did not intend for Arbery to die.
Bryan’s attorney said his client was “in a different position” because he showed remorse and cooperated with police by turning over the cellphone video of the shooting.
“Mr. Bryan isn’t the one who brought a gun,” Kevin Gough said. “He was unarmed. And I think that reflects his intentions.”
Arbery’s parents and sister, who spoke before the sentences were handed down, asked the judge to show no lenience.
“The man who killed my son has sat in this courtroom every single day next to his father. I’ll never get that chance to sit next to my son ever again. Not at a general table. Not at a holiday. And not at a wedding,” Ahmaud Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, said before the sentence was announced. “His killers should spend the rest of their lives thinking about what they did and what they took from us and they should do it behind bars because me and my family have to do it for the rest of their life.”
Walmsley said he also found it disturbing that Bryan placed blame on Arbery, saying, “If the guy would have stopped, this would have never happened.”
He said that Arbery’s death should force people to consider what it means to be a neighbor.
“I believe that in assuming the worst in others, we show our worst character,” Walmsley said. “Assuming the best in others is always the best course of action. And maybe those are the grand lessons from this case.”
The McMichaels and Bryan had been charged with one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count each of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
Travis McMichael, who fired at Arbery three times at close range, was convicted of all nine charges. Gregory McMichael was convicted of all charges except malice murder. Bryan was convicted of three counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.