The three white men involved in the killing of a Black man in Georgia in a murder case that shocked the world have been found guilty on almost all counts.
The convictions of father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael along with their friend and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan — who all racially profiled Ahmaud Arbery before arming themselves, following him in vehicles, trapping him in the street and shooting the 25-year-old jogger dead in broad daylight in a killing that was recorded on video — likely means the trio of suspected white supremacists will spend the rest of their natural lives in prison.
All three were indicted by a grand jury on malice and felony murder charges as well as aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
“Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. After nearly two years of pain, suffering, and wondering if Ahmaud’s killers would be held to account, the Arbery family finally has some justice,” Ben Crump said in a statement. “Nothing will bring back Ahmaud, but his family will have some peace knowing the men who killed him will remain behind bars and can never inflict their brand of evil on another innocent soul. While today is not one for celebration, it is one for reflection. This case, by all accounts, should have been opened and closed…the violent stalking and lynching of Ahmaud Arbery was documented on video for the world to witness. But yet, because of the deep cracks, flaws, and biases in our systems, we were left to wonder if we would ever see justice. Today certainly indicates progress, but we are nowhere close to the finish line. America, you raised your voices for Ahmaud. Now is not the time to let them quiet. Keep marching. Keep fighting for what is right. And never stop running for Ahmaud.”
The guilty verdict means the mostly white jury didn’t buy the defendants’ claim that they suspected Arbery was a burglar and were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest. At the time he was killed, Arbery was unarmed and only wearing a t-shirt, shorts and running shoes.
Defense lawyers on Wednesday launched a last-ditch motion for an acquittal to no avail.
The trial lasted slightly more than a month and took place in the Glynn County Courthouse in the town of Brunswick, where Arbery was killed while out for a job in a subdivision where the defendants lived. But it was also a trial that may not have ever happened had it not been for media attention spotlighting an apparent multi-layered, orchestrated cover-up by the highest levels of local law enforcement to keep the McMichaels and Bryan from being held accountable.
It took more than two months for police to arrest the men for the killing that took place on the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2020. And that was only because a New York Times story exposed an incestuous relationship between local police and a series of district attorneys who were consequently forced to recuse themselves because of clear conflicts of interest.
Arbery’s shooting ultimately became a catalyst for ongoing racial justice protests demanding police reform as his death joined a lengthy list of other victims of white vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. That includes the police murder of George Floyd, who was killed by Derek Chauvin three months after Arbery’s life was violently taken.
The many months leading up to the trial included some glaring revelations about the defendants that exposed their apparent anti-Black racism. That was especially true via text messages Bryan sent, according to a man who identified himself as his best friend. Bryan once referred to “crackhead gold-teeth wearing” Black people, according to pre-trial testimony at a hearing.
Bryan — who was being investigated for child molestation — also told investigators that Travis McMichael called Arbery a “fucking nigger” after shooting the jogger three times at close range with a shotgun.
The glaring and clearly biased mishandling of the case by prosecutors eventually led to one DA being indicted for protecting Abery’s killers. Then-Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who refused to charge the McMichaels, recused herself because Gregory McMichael was an investigator in her office until he retired in 2019. Johnson was indicted in September on one felony count of violating her oath of office and one misdemeanor count of hindering a law enforcement officer after Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s investigation revealed that Gregory McMichael called Johnson shortly after Arbery’s shooting, nearly three months before anyone was arrested.
George Barnhill — the Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney who had a similar conflict of interest that he kept concealed — defended Johnson’s decision against bringing any criminal charges. Without hesitation, Barnhill decided that Arbery was a “criminal suspect” whose shooting was “perfectly legal” in Georgia.
But after it was revealed that Barnhill’s son worked in Johnson’s office alongside Gregory McMichael, calls grew for him to recuse himself, including an online petition demanding he be disbarred that garnered more than 1 million signatures. Barnhill ultimately recused himself, suggesting in a letter to Captain Tom Jump of the Glynn County Police Department that he still doubted whether there was “sufficient evidence on which to make a Grand Jury presentation.”
The lone former Georgia district attorney who was involved in the Arbery case and managed to avoid any criminal scrutiny is Joyette Holmes, a Black woman Republican who was the district attorney in Cobb County and former judge appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to take over prosecuting the case. But she lost her re-election last year.
Keep reading to find some of the key moments in the murder trial to hold Arbery’s killers accountable.
Mostly white jury selected
Critics suggested the fix was in when the quest to find impartial jurors to serve on the trial included selecting people who had ties to the defendants. In the end, just one Black person was chosen to serve on the 12-person jury. Defense attorneys successfully removed eight Black potential jurors despite a legal precedent established by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that makes it unconstitutional to exclude potential jurors based on their race.
Citizen’s arrest claim
While the defendants have maintained they were trying to execute a citizen’s arrest of someone they purportedly believed was a burglar, it was revealed during the trial that Bryan actually never did.
The citizen’s arrest law on the books in Georgia at the time has its roots in slavery. Travis McMichael, who fired the shotgun that killed Arbery, claims he legally acted in self-defense. However, Michael J. Moore, an Atlanta lawyer who formerly served as a U.S. attorney in Georgia, said last year that the citizen’s arrest defense is “flawed” because the defendants were the aggressors.
He added: “The law does not allow a group of people to form an armed posse and chase down an unarmed person who they believe might have possibly been the perpetrator of a past crime.”
Arbery was ‘trapped like a rat’
Transcripts of an interview between Glynn County police Sgt. Roderic Nohilly and Gregory McMichael that took place after the shooting were read aloud in court during the trial and spotlighted the defendants’ mindstates leading up to Arbery’s killing.
Arbery “was trapped like a rat,” Gregory McMichael bragged, according to the transcript. “I think he was wanting to flee and he realized that something, you know, he was not going to get away.”
He continued: “He had an opportunity to flee further, you know? We had chased him around the neighborhood a bit, but he wasn’t winded at all. I mean this guy was, he was in good shape.”
It was an unsuccessful attempt at showing McMichael’s innocence that prosecutors used to help make their case.
Kevin Gough, the attorney representing Bryan, complained last week about Rev. Al Sharpton’s presence in the courtroom, inexplicably arguing that their presence could sway the jury.
“We don’t want any more Black pastors here,” Gough said before adding: “If we’re going to set a precedent from yesterday where we’re going to bring leading members of the African American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in front of the jury, I believe that’s intimidating, it’s an attempt to pressure…or influence the jury,” Gough said. “The idea that we’re going to be serially bringing these people in series to sit down with the victim’s family one after another…obviously, there’s only a limited number of pastors they can have. If their pastor is Al Sharpton right now that’s fine, but that’s it. We don’t want any more black pastors here…Jesse Jackson, or whoever was in here earlier this week.”
Days later, Rev. Jesse Jackson walked into the courtroom just as the defense was cross-examining a Georgia state investigator who interviewed McMichael.
The legal travails for the McMichaels and Bryan are far from over.
In April, the trio was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia and charged with hate crimes and the attempted kidnapping of Arbery. They were each charged with one count of interference with rights and with one count of attempted kidnapping, and both McMichaels were “charged with one count each of using, carrying, and brandishing—and in Travis’s case, discharging—a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence,” the Department of Justice wrote in a press release.
During closing arguments, lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski disputed every claim by the defense that the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery the acted lawfully under the state’s citizen’s arrest law.
“All three of these defendants made assumptions — made assumptions about what was going on that day, and they made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a Black man running down the street,” Dunikoski told the jury during closing.
One of her most poignant arguments during closing was when she argued that Ahmaud Arbery’s killers couldn’t claim self-defense because Arbery was unarmed, outnumbered and did not provoke them.
Defense attorneys for Gregory and Travis McMichael have tried the entire trial to paint Arbery as a criminal and someone who was less than human. That trend continued during closing as Laura Hogue, one of Gregory McMichael’s lawyers made a comment about Arbery’s toenails, which led to Arbery’s mother walking out of the courtroom.
“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails,” Hogue told the jury during closing.
But the racist tropes have been a go-to for defense attorneys during the trial.
This is a developing story that will be updated as additional information becomes available.
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