Wednesday, December 8th, 2021

Ahmaud Arbery Verdict: 3 Defendants Convicted On Murder Charges

Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones (left), along with her attorney Lee Merritt (center), listen to William "Roddie" Bryan's attorney present his closing statement to the jury during the trial of the three men convicted in Arbery's death.
Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones (left), along with her attorney Lee Merritt (center), listen to William “Roddie” Bryan’s attorney present his closing statement to the jury during the trial of the three men convicted in Arbery’s death. (AP)

BRUNSWICK, GA — A Glynn County jury found three white men guilty of multiple counts of murder each on Wednesday after prosecutors said they cornered and killed Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man, as he ran through their neighborhood in February 2020.

The jury reached a verdict in the second day of deliberations Wednesday after rewatching the shooting video central to the case, which was part of the national conversation of racial injustice.

Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., invoked Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law and claimed self-defense in the killing of Arbery after he explored an unfinished home during a run on Feb. 23, 2020.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told a crowd outside the courthouse, “The verdict today is a verdict based on the facts, the evidence. That was our goal, to bring that to the jury, so they can do the right thing. The jury system works in this country.”

Verdicts Reached For 3 Men

Travis McMichael was found guilty of malice murder, four counts of felony murder and other charges; in total he was convicted on nine criminal charges.

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Gregory McMichael was found not guilty of malice murder but guilty of four counts of felony murder and other charges.

Bryan was found not guilty of malice murder and not guilty of one count of felony murder but guilty of three counts of felony murder and other charges.

When the guilty verdict against Travis McMichael was announced, the judge had Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, who made a noise, removed before continuing.

Malice and felony murder convictions both carry a minimum penalty of life in prison. The judge decides whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole. Even if the possibility of parole is granted, a person convicted of murder must serve 30 years before becoming eligible. Multiple murder convictions are merged for the purposes of sentencing, according to the Associated Press.

Each count of aggravated assault carries a prison term of at least one year but not more than 20 years. False imprisonment is punishable by a sentence of one to 10 years in prison.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley has not yet set a sentencing date.

A CNN legal analyst said that the elder McMichael and Bryan were seen by the jury as culpable in chasing Arbery, and that their actions enabled Travis McMichael, who fatally shot the victim. That’s why Gregory McMichael and Bryan were acquitted on the charge of malice murder but found guilty on felony murder charges, analyst Elie Honig said.

Appeals Coming, Federal Trial Looms

A member of the defense team spoke briefly to reporters outside the courthouse Wednesday afternoon and said they will appeal the convictions.

“Honestly, with my whole heart, I’ve lived with these men day in and day out since the last year and a half,” said defense attorney Jason Sheffield. “I can tell you honestly they are sorry about what happened with Ahmaud Arbery. It was a choice they made to go out there and try to stop him.”

Defense attorney Robert Rubin said the video shows Travis McMichael acted in self-defense.

One likely basis for appeal could be the exclusion of certain evidence from the trial, said University of Georgia law professor emeritus Ron Carlson. Defense attorneys had sought to introduce evidence of Arbery’s criminal record, records on his mental health and the fact that he was on probation. They also wanted to have a use-of-force expert testify. But the judge would not allow any of that evidence.

“They’ll argue that relevant evidence helpful to the defense was excluded by the trial judge and that was an error,” Carlson said.

It’s also possible that appellate attorneys could find other grounds for appeal after scouring transcripts and jury instructions, and speaking with jurors.

Both of the McMichaels and Bryan still face federal charges. A federal grand jury in April indicted the men on hate crimes charges. The federal indictment says the men targeted Arbery because he was Black. It’s an entirely separate case that’s not affected by the state trial’s outcome, AP reported.

U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood has scheduled jury selection in the federal trial to start Feb. 7. All three men are charged with one count of interference with civil rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were also charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

Jury Deliberations, Evidence

Jurors on Wednesday morning reviewed the 911 call and the cell phone video of the 25-year-old Black man being struck by a shotgun blast on a residential street.

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.

The defendants had said they thought Arbery was a burglar.

On the 911 call the jury reviewed, Greg McMichael tells a 911 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 McMichaels’ 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.

Prosecutors said Bryan, who was unarmed, saw the McMichaels chasing Arbery in a pickup truck as he ran away and joined in the pursuit. Bryan’s truck struck Arbery, who was then confronted by Travis McMichael, armed with a shotgun.

Bryan filmed the encounter from his mobile phone — footage from the video was shown in court — as Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery.

The trial began Nov. 8, with jury deliberations starting about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. No verdict was reached that day, and the jury resumed its work just after 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. The verdicts were announced about 1:30 p.m.

Defendants Argued Self Defense In Shooting

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski took two hours Tuesday to present her final rebuttal to the jury in an effort to convince members they should convict the McMichaels and Bryan for malice murder, two counts each of aggravated assault and false imprisonment charges. The charges are all felonies that prosecutors say contributed to Arbery’s death.

The three men all faced party-to-a-crime felony murder charges, which apply when another person is killed during the commission of a crime, regardless of who fired the fatal shot.

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In court, attorneys sought to defend the actions of Bryan and the McMichaels as justified under a Civil War-era law; that law was revised in May by Gov. Brian Kemp and a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers.

Walmsley told the jury that self-defense laws do not apply to the person who is the aggressor in a confrontation.

Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator for the Glynn County District Attorney’s Office, had changed his story several times during police interviews. Officer testimony revealed the elder McMichael claimed Arbery had been burglarizing houses in the neighborhood, then revised his story to claim Arbery entered only the construction site.,51229403.html,51229389.html–176232902/–176232902/–176232902/

McMichael asserted he performed a civic duty when he confronted Arbery, but that claim was scuttled by admissions from police and the homeowner that the defendants weren’t legally empowered to confront Arbery.

The case is one of several that sparked a nationwide reckoning n racial justice as people across the country protested killings of Black people by white police officers — or by white civilians acting under the auspices of police authority.

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