White vigilantes convicted by near all-white jury
A painted mural of Ahmaud Arbery is displayed on May 17, 2020, in Brunswick, Ga., where the 25-year-old man was shot and killed. Three white men charged in his death were convicted of his murder on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. (AP photo)
(AP) — All three white men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery were convicted of murder Wednesday in the fatal shooting that became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice.
The convictions for Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan came after jurors deliberated for about 10 hours. The men face minimum sentences of life in prison. It is up to the judge to decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole.
The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue the 25-year-old Black man after seeing him running in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick in February 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery.
Arbery’s killing after the graphic video leaked online two months later. Though prosecutors did not argue that racism motivated the killing, federal authorities have charged them with hate crimes, alleging that they chased and killed Arbery because he was Black. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.
The jury sent a note to Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley soon after returning to court Wednesday morning asking to view two versions of the shooting video — the original and one that investigators enhanced to reduce shadows — three times apiece.
Jurors returned to the courtroom to see the videos and listen again the 911 call one of the defendants made from the bed of a pickup truck about 30 seconds before the shooting.
The disproportionately white jury received the case around midday Tuesday.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery was a fleeing burglar when they armed themselves and jumped in a pickup truck to chase him. Bryan joined the pursuit when they passed his house and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery at close range with a shotgun as Arbery threw punches and grabbed for the weapon.
On the 911 call the jury reviewed, Greg McMichael tells an operator: “I’m out here in Satilla Shores. There’s a Black male running down the street.”
He then starts shouting, apparently as Arbery is running toward the McMichael’s idling truck with Bryan’s truck coming up behind him: “Stop right there! Damn it, stop! Travis!” Gunshots can be heard a few second later.
The graphic video death leaked online two months later, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case, quickly arresting the three men.
Defense attorneys contended the McMichaels were attempting a legal citizen’s arrest when they set off after Arbery, seeking to detain and question him as a suspected burglar after he was seen running from a nearby home under construction.
Travis McMichael testified that he shot Arbery in self-defense, saying the running man turned and attacked with his fists while running past the idling truck where Travis McMichael stood with his shotgun.
Prosecutors said there was no evidence Arbery had committed crimes in the defendants’ neighborhood. He had enrolled at a technical college and was preparing at the time to study to become an electrician like his uncles.
Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, spoke outside the courthouse after the verdicts were read. She told the crowd that was gathered that she wanted to say "Thank you."
"I just want to say thank you, guys. Thank you. Thank each and every one of you who fought this fight with us. It's been a long fight. It's been a hard fight. But God is good," she said.
Cooper-Jones said, "to tell you the truth, I never thought this day back in 2020. I never thought this day would come. But God is good," she added. She concluded by saying that her son can now "rest is peace."
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson issued a statement, calling the verdicts long overdue:
“Ahmaud Arbery's death was unnecessary and fueled by racist ideologies deeply engrained into the fabric of this nation. Generations of Black people have seen this time and time again, with the murder of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, and many others. The actions and events perpetrated by the McMichaels and William Bryan leading up to Ahmaud's death reflect a
growing and deepening rift in America that will be its undoing if not addressed on a systemic level,” Johnson said.
“ We must fix what is genuinely harming our nation: white supremacy. To address and begin to repair the harm and trauma caused by centuries of racism, violence, and murder, we need stronger federal and state actions to address and eliminate outdated racist policies, like citizens' arrest,” Johnson said.
Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan look on during their trial at the Glynn County Courthouse, in Brunswick, Ga., in November 2021. A jury convicted the three men of murder and other charges Wednesday in the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (AP court pool photo)