Jury finds Ahmaud Arbery's killers guilty of federal hate crimes
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A jury found three white men guilty of hate crimes and attempted kidnapping for the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery after determining they targeted him because he was Black.
Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan — all already serving life in prison for Arbery's murder — could each face an additional life sentence.
In the federal trial, the McMichaels and Bryan each faced one count of interference with rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were each charged with one count of using, carrying, and brandishing — and in Travis McMichael’s case, firing — a gun during a crime of violence.
The jury deliberated for about four hours.
Judge Lisa Godbey Wood acknowledged that prosecutors had the "difficult task" of proving a racial motivation after the verdict was read Tuesday.
"You had the evidence and you introduced it in a skillful and professional manner," she told prosecutors.
Wood also commended the defense attorneys for "zealously" representing their clients.
"No one will wonder what could have been said for them because you said it," she said. "No one need wonder whether they got a fair trial and whether their attorneys were skillful."
The three men were arrested two months after the Feb. 23, 2020, shooting, when Bryan's cellphone video of the incident became public and spurred nationwide outrage over what several high-profile figures called a lynching. The killing fueled a growing nationwide movement against anti-Black racism.
During the five-day trial, federal prosecutors argued the McMichaels and Bryan violated Arbery's rights when they willfully interfered with his right to enjoy a public road in the Satilla Shores neighborhood because of Arbery's race.
More than a dozen witnesses testified about the defendant's pattern of racial animus and federal prosecutors presented text messages and social media posts from Travis McMichael and Bryan that used racial slurs when referring to Black people. One witness also testified that Gregory McMichael disparaged the late civil rights champion Julian Bond and said he wished all Black people would die.
Prosecutors argued in closing arguments that the defendants also acted as vigilantes.
Defense attorneys countered that Arbery was fatally shot in self-defense and had acted suspiciously during prior trips to the Satilla Shores neighborhood, mirroring arguments made in the state trial. Defense attorneys, who called one witness during the trial, made no excuses for their clients' racist language and behavior, but they maintained they did not kill Arbery because of his race.
The trial came after a plea deal for the McMichaels fell apart just days before jury selection began. The McMichaels withdrew their pleas after the judge rejected the initial terms of the deal, which would have seen Travis sentenced to 30 years in federal prison to be served concurrently with his state sentence. Arbery's family strongly opposed the deal in court.
Because they went to trial, they may face a stiffer sentence, Brunswick-based trial attorney Page Pate has said.
The defendants were convicted of murder last fall in a state trial and sentenced to life in prison, but state prosecutors did not present evidence the murder was racially motivated — evidence that was central to the federal prosecutors' case.
Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, still has a federal lawsuit pending against the McMichaels and Bryan. The suit also names several Glynn County police officers, the former police chief and former district attorney for Glynn County, and the original prosecutor on the state murder case.
Contact Breaking News Reporter N'dea Yancey-Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg
Raisa Habersham is a watchdog and investigative reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at email@example.com.
N'dea Yancey-Bragg and Raisa Habersham