Murder convictions dealt in Arbery case in Georgia
Three men face life in prison for chasing Black man, fatally shooting him
Three white men were found guilty of murder and other charges Wednesday for the pursuit and fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, in a case that, together with the killing of George Floyd, helped inspire the racial justice protests of last year.
The three defendants — Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and their neighbour William Bryan, 52 — face sentences of up to life in prison. The men have also been indicted on separate federal charges, including hate crimes and attempted kidnapping, and are expected to stand trial in February on those charges.
The verdict suggested that the jury agreed with prosecutors’ arguments that Arbery posed no imminent threat to the men and that the men had no reason to believe he had committed a crime, giving them no legal right to chase him through their suburban neighbourhood. “You can’t start it and claim self-defence,” the lead prosecutor argued in her closing statements. “And they started this.”
The outcome of the trial drew praise from Arbery’s family, who had watched the proceedings from inside the courthouse for weeks, and from civil rights leaders and activists across the country.
“I never thought this day would come, but God is good,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia said he hoped the verdicts would help “lead to a path of healing and reconciliation.” U.S. President Joe Biden said the outcome reflected the justice system doing its job. But Arbery’s death, Biden said, “is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country.”
From the beginning, Arbery’s family and friends raised questions about local officials’ handling of the case. The three men who were later charged walked free for several weeks after the shooting and were arrested only after video of the fatal encounter was released, a national outcry swelled, and the case was taken over by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The verdict came as Americans were divided over the acquittal, a few days earlier, of Kyle Rittenhouse, who asserted that he was acting in self-defence when he fatally shot two men and wounded another during protests and violence that broke out after a white police officer shot a Black resident in Kenosha, Wis.
Jurors in that case accepted Rittenhouse’s assertion that he was defending himself, a position that legal experts said can be challenging for prosecutors to overcome. But in this case, jurors clearly dismissed the contention by Travis McMichael, the only defendant who testified, that he was in a “lifeor-death” situation and had no choice but to shoot Arbery in selfdefence.
The case brought political and legal upheaval. Kemp, a Republican, signed a hate-crimes statute into law and sided with state lawmakers when they voted to repeal significant portions of the state’s citizen’s arrest statute.
The men each faced a nine-count indictment. For each count, they were charged individually and as “parties concerned in the commission of a crime.” The counts included malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit the felony of false imprisonment.
Under Georgia law, malice murder is applied when a person is found to have deliberately set out to kill someone. The charge of felony murder applies when a death results in the course of another felony — regardless of whether the person intended to kill someone. Both carry a sentence of up to life in prison.
The jury found Travis McMichael, the man who shot Arbery, guilty on all nine counts, including malice murder and felony murder.
Gregory McMichael was found not guilty of malice murder but guilty of all other counts he faced, including felony murder.
William Bryan was found not guilty of malice murder. He was found not guilty of one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault but guilty of three counts of felony murder and three other charges.