Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan were each found guilty on all counts for their role in committing a hate crime when they murdered Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man jogging in Georgia.
The three men on trial, who were previously sentenced to life in prison for their crimes, were also found guilty on Tuesday with the possibility for additional life sentences in violation of federal hate crime statutes.
A jury determined that Travis McMichael, 36, his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, deprived Ahmaud Arbery of his right to be jogging on a public street due to the color of his skin. While the defendants claimed self-defense as they attempted to perform a citizen’s arrest, the jury found that no harm would have come to Arbery had they not approached him.
Rev. Al Sharpton called the February 2020 attack “a lynching in the 21st Century,” and another example of severe violence against Black men in the U.S. in the wake of police killings since George Floyd.
Throughout the trial, Travis McMichael was shown to have previously used racial slurs and “expressed the desire to see violence and death visited upon Black people,” according to The New York Times. It was his use of his Remington shotgun that fatally shot Arbery three times at close range.
Despite a lack of evidence, the three men testified that they believed Ahmaud Arbery was looking to rob a house in the neighborhood, which experienced some burglary not long before. Attorneys for the Justice Department showed that Arbery was chosen by these men not because they suspected him of a crime, but that they suspected him of a crime because he was Black.
“At the end of the day, the evidence in this case will prove that if Ahmaud Arbery had been white, he would have gone for a jog, checked out a house under construction and been home in time for Sunday supper,” lawyer Bobbi Bernstein said during the trial. “Instead, he went out for a jog, and he ended up running for his life. Instead, he ended up bleeding to death, alone and scared, in the middle of the street.”
Despite the apparent win from the Justice Department in convicting the three men of additional life sentences for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, stressed outside the courthouse that today’s victory only occurred because she had previously turned down their potential plea deal.
“I’m very thankful that you guys [DOJ] brought these charges of hate crime, but back on January 31, you guys accepted a plea deal with these three murderers who took my son’s life,” Cooper-Jones said.
“What the DOJ did today, they were made to do today. It wasn’t because of what they wanted to do,” she continued, adding that Tuesday’s verdict would not have been possible “if it wasn’t for the fight that the family put up.”
After the judge rejected their plea deal during their criminal trial, Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael, changed their pleas from guilty to not guilty.
“Please listen to me,” Cooper-Jones told the judge at the time. “Granting these men their preferred conditions of confinement would defeat me. It gives them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son.”
Tomorrow, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, marks the second anniversary of Ahmaud Arbery’s death.
“Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today,” said US Attorney General Merrick Garland, who spoke after Tuesday’s guilty verdict. “My heart goes out, that’s really all I can say.”