A Georgia judge sentenced Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan to life in prison on Friday for what he called the “spooky” 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man running through their neighborhood predominantly white from the southern United States.
The McMichaels, a father and son, will now spend the rest of their lives in prison, but Judge Timothy Walmsley has ruled Bryan can apply for parole after 30 years in prison, the minimum sentence allowed for murder under the law. of State.
Walmsley told the Glynn County Court hearing in Brunswick that he gave the McMichaels the harshest possible sentence, in part because of their “callous” words and actions captured on video.
“It was a scary and truly disturbing scene,” the judge said of part of a cellphone video of the murder where McMichael begins to raise his shotgun at Arbery as the 25-year-old stands. about 20 feet. He said Arbery had been “hunted down and shot and killed because people here in this courtroom took justice on their own.”
Earlier, Arbery’s distraught relatives had gone to court to claim racial stereotypes led to the murder of the avid 25-year-old jogger. Defense attorneys pleaded for leniency, saying none of the three men ever intended to kill Arbery.
In November, a jury found Gregory McMichael, 66, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbor Bryan, 52, guilty of murder, aggravated assault, forcible confinement and criminal intent to commit a felony.
Linda Dunikoski, the senior prosecutor, had argued that both McMichaels should die in prison and that only Bryan should be able to apply for parole, pointing to what she called “a demonstrated model of vigilance” on the part of the McMichaels.
Jasmine Arbery addressed the court in a trembling voice to offer a poetic celebration of the darkness of her brother, who she says was taken to be something frightening by her killers.
“He had dark skin that shone in the sun like gold. He had curly hair; he often liked to twist it. He had a wide nose and his eye color was filled with melanin,” she said. declared. “These are the qualities that made these men believe that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal. To me, those qualities reflected a young man full of life and energy who resembled me and the people I love.”
Defense lawyers have said they will appeal the convictions. Bob Rubin, an attorney for young McMichael, said life without parole should only be reserved for “the worst of the worst”.
“His goal was not to commit a crime that day or kill someone that day,” Rubin said of Travis McMichael. “His goal was to have an afternoon with the family.” None of the three convicted men made use of their right to address the court during the hearing.
The three, who are white, will also face a federal hate crime trial in February, charged in an indictment with violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his “race and color.” .
Prosecutors said the three men mistakenly “assumed the worst” about a black man during a Sunday afternoon jog. The men chased Arbery for about five minutes through the streets in a loop.
The case hinged on whether the three men, under a now repealed Georgian law allowing citizen arrests, had the right to confront Arbery believing he was fleeing a crime. In the end, the jury was not swayed by the tearful testimony of Travis McMichael, the only defendant to appear, that he only fired in self-defense.
Arbery was driving through the residential Satilla Shores neighborhood on the afternoon of February 23 when the McMichaels decided to grab their guns, jump in a van and chase after.
“They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told court Friday. “When they couldn’t scare or intimidate him enough, they killed him.”
During his conviction, the judge quoted the words of the mother, saying that they seemed “very true” to him.
Bryan joined the chase in his own van after crossing its driveway and pulled out his cell phone to record Travis McMichael firing a shotgun at Arbery at close range. Arbery had nothing on him except his running clothes and sneakers.
The video sparked outrage when it emerged months later and it became clear that none of the men involved had yet been arrested after a local prosecutor concluded the murder was justified.
Arbery’s name has been added to those cited during the national anti-racism protests in 2020 that erupted after the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both black.
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