Three white men convicted of murder for hunting down and killing Ahmaud Arbery were sentenced to life in prison on Friday.
The judge denied any possibility of parole for the father and son who armed themselves and began the deadly persecution of the 25-year-old black man.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said Arbery left his home to run and ended up running for his life for five minutes as the men chased him until they finally cornered him. The judge paused for a minute of silence to help bring home an idea of what that moment must have felt like for Arbery, whose murder became part of a broader national acknowledgment of racial injustice.
“When I thought about this, I thought from many different angles. I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores, ”he said, mentioning the neighborhood where Arbery was killed.
Greg and Travis McMichael grabbed guns and got into a pickup truck to chase Arbery after seeing him running through their neighborhood outside the port city of Brunswick on February 23, 2020. His neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan joined the party. chase in his own truck. and cellphone video of Travis McMichael firing shotgun blasts at close range at Arbery.
“Ahmaud Arbery was then hunted down and shot, and he was killed because the people here in this courtroom took the law into their own hands,” the judge said. Walmsley ordered the McMichaels to serve life in prison without parole and gave Bryan the opportunity to obtain parole after serving at least 30 years in prison.
A few dozen supporters cheered for Arbery’s family as they stepped onto the courthouse steps Friday afternoon.
“Today your son has made history, because we have people who are held responsible for lynching a black man in America!” said Benjamin Crump, a civil attorney representing the family.
The murder carries a mandatory life sentence under Georgia law, unless prosecutors seek the death penalty, which they chose in this case. During the sentencing hearing, Arbery’s family had asked the judge not to show leniency in deciding whether to grant an eventual parole opportunity.
Arbery’s sister recalled his humor and described him as a positive thinker with a great personality. She told the judge that her brother had dark skin “that glowed in the sunlight,” thick curly hair and an athletic build, factors that made him a target for the men who persecuted him.
“These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and were pursuing him with weapons in hand. For me, those qualities reflect a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people he loved, “said Jasmine Arbery.
Arbery’s mother said she suffered an intense personal loss compounded by a trial in which the defense was that her son had made poor decisions that led to his death.
“This was not a case of wrong identity or fact. They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently from other people who frequently visited their community, ”said Wanda Cooper-Jones. “And when they couldn’t scare or intimidate him enough, they killed him.”
The sentences coincided with the recommendation of prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, who said everyone deserved mandatory life in prison for showing “no empathy for the trapped and terrified Ahmaud Arbery.”
Dunikoski, who objected that the McMichaels still believed they had done nothing wrong, revealed Friday that Greg McMichael gave the video of Bryan’s cell phone shooting to an attorney, who leaked it.
“I thought I was going to exonerate him,” the prosecutor said.
Defense attorneys for the McMichaels argued that their clients deserved the possibility of parole because the murder was an unintentional and unplanned act. Bryan’s attorney said he showed remorse and cooperated with police, turning over video of the cell phone shooting to help them uncover the truth.
“Mr. Bryan is not the one who brought a gun,” Kevin Gough said. “He was unarmed. And I think that reflects his intentions. “
Bryan is 52 years old, increasing the chances that he will spend the rest of his life in prison even with the possibility of parole after serving 30 years.
The guilty verdicts against the men handed down the day before Thanksgiving sparked a victory celebration outside the Glynn County courthouse. In addition to the murder, the three men were also convicted of aggravated battery, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. Travis and Greg McMichael were each sentenced to an additional 20 years for aggravated battery.
Defense attorneys have said they plan to appeal the convictions. They have 30 days after sentencing to present them.
Next month, McMichaels and Bryan face a second trial, this time in US District Court on federal hate crime charges. A judge has set jury selection to begin on February 7. Prosecutors will argue that the three men violated Arbery’s civil rights and attacked him because he was black.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism