BRUNSWICK, GA. – Three men were convicted of murder on Wednesday in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the black man who ran empty-handed in a Georgia subdivision when white aliens chased him, trapped him on a quiet street and detonated it with a shotgun.
The February 2020 murder initially attracted limited attention. But when video of the shooting leaked online, Arbery’s death quickly became another example of the country’s consideration of racial injustice in the way black people are treated in their daily lives.
Now the men all face a mandatory life sentence. The judge will decide whether their sentences are served with or without the possibility of parole.
As the first of 23 guilty verdicts was read, Arbery’s father had to leave the courtroom after leaping up and screaming. Upon reading the latest criminal count, Arbery’s mother bowed her head and gently pumped her fists.
“He did nothing but run and dream,” Marcus Arbery Sr. said of his son. Outside the courthouse, dozens of black supporters hugged and cried.
The jury deliberated for about 10 hours before convicting Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and his neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan.
The McMichaels seized guns and jumped into a van to pursue Arbery, 25, after seeing him running outside the port city of Brunswick in Georgia. Bryan joined the chase in his own pickup and recorded a cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery fatally.
The father and son told police they suspected Arbery of being a runaway burglar. But the prosecution argued that the men caused the fatal confrontation and that there was no evidence Arbery committed any crimes in the neighborhood.
“We salute the courage and bravery of this jury to say that what happened on February 23, 2020 to Ahmaud Arbery – the hunt and murder of Ahmaud Arbery – was not only morally wrong but legally wrong, and we are grateful for that, ”said Latonia Hines, Cobb County assistant executive prosecutor.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski added: “The jury system works in this country. And when you present the truth to people and they see it, they will do the right thing.
Travis McMichael, 35, demanded the verdict, his attorney’s arm around his shoulder. At one point, he lowered his head to his chest. After the verdicts were read, as he got up to leave, he said “I love you” to his mother in the courtroom gallery.
Greg McMichael, 65, bowed his head when the judge read his first guilty verdict. Bryan, 52, bit his lip.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Ben Crump, lawyer for Arbery’s father, has repeatedly said that “the spirit of Ahmaud has defeated the lynching mob”.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, thanked the assembled crowd for the verdict and said she didn’t think she would see this day.
“It has been a long fight. It has been a tough fight. But God is good,” she said, adding that her son would now rest in peace.
Lawyers for Travis McMichaels said he and his father believed they had done the right thing and believed the video would help their case. But they also said the McMichaels regretted Arbery was killed.
“I can honestly tell you that these men are sorry for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery,” said attorney Jason Sheffield. “They’re sorry he died. They’re sorry for the tragedy that happened because of the choices they made to go out there and try to stop him.”
They plan to appeal.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said his team were “disappointed with the verdict, but we respect it.” He planned to file new lawsuits after Thanksgiving.
Superior Court judge Timothy Walmsley did not immediately set a sentencing date, saying he wanted to give both sides time to prepare.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said Arbery’s murder was a “devastating reminder” of how much work the country has yet to do in the fight for racial justice.
“Although guilty verdicts reflect that our justice system is doing its job, that alone is not enough. Instead, we must re-commit to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence at all. because of the color of his skin, ”Biden mentioned.
Although prosecutors did not argue that racism motivated the murder, federal authorities charged them with hate crimes, alleging they hunted down and killed Arbery because he was black. This case is expected to be tried in February.
The disproportionately white jury received the case around noon Tuesday.
Shortly after returning to court on Wednesday morning, the jury sent a note to the judge asking him to view two versions of the filming video – the original and one that investigators improved to reduce shadows – three times each.
Jurors returned to the courtroom to view the videos and replay the 911 call one of the accused made from the bed of a van about 30 seconds before the shooting.
During the 911 call the jury considered, Greg McMichael told an operator, “I’m here at Satilla Shores. There’s a black man running down the street.”
He then starts screaming, apparently as Arbery runs towards McMichael’s slow-motion truck with Bryan’s truck behind him: “Stop there! Damn, stop! Travis!” Shots can be heard seconds later.
The graphic video appeared two months later and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case, quickly arresting the three men.
Defense attorneys claim the McMichaels were attempting the legal arrest of a citizen when they left after Arbery, seeking to arrest and question him after he was seen fleeing a house under construction nearby .
Travis McMichael said he shot Arbery in self-defense. He said Arbery turned and attacked with his fists as he walked past the truck where McMichael was standing with his shotgun.
By the time of his death, Arbery had enrolled in technical college and was preparing to study to become an electrician like his uncles.
Shaun Seals, a 32-year-old longtime resident of Brunswick, rushed to the courthouse to join the crowd cheering for the verdict.
“We just went outside to witness the story,” Seals said, pushing his 10-month-old daughter in a stroller.
Seals, who is black, called the convictions a victory not just for his community but for the nation.
“It will not heal most of the wounds” of a long history of inequality, he said. “But it’s a start and it shows that people are trying.”
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