December 5, 2021

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Ahmaud Arbery trial: All three suspects found guilty of murder

6 min read
Ahmaud Arbery trial: All three suspects found guilty of murder

The three men on trial for killing Ahmaud Arbery have been found guilty of murder in the fatal pursuit of the unarmed Georgia jogger.

Travis McMichael, 35, his father Gregory McMichael, 65; and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were tried together in the shooting of Arbery, 25, who they thought was fleeing a burglary as he ran through a mostly white neighborhood near Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020.

The younger McMichael — who was the one who pulled the trigger — was the only one found guilty on the top charge of malice murder. When that verdict was read aloud, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, let out a “Woohoo!,” prompting the judge to boot him from the proceeding.

McMichael’s father, Gregory, was found guilty of the other eight counts.

Bryan, the neighbor who joined the pursuit and filmed video of the fatal shooting, was convicted on all charges except malice murder, felony murder with a shotgun and one count of aggravated assault.

All three men face life in prison. It is up to the judge to determine whether to grant them the possibility of parole.

After the verdicts were read, Travis McMichael mouthed “Love you” to his mother, who was in the courtroom.

“I’m floored, floored with a capital ‘F,’” attorney Laura Hogue, who represented Gregory McMichael, said after the three men were convicted.

Outside of the courthouse, Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones hailed the verdict.

“I never saw this date back in 2020. I’ve never thought this day would come. But God is good. Everybody, thank you,” Cooper-Jones said.

“He will now rest in peace,” she added.

Earlier in the courtroom, she sunk into her chest when the verdict was announced, as the civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton gripped her hand.

Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing Arbery’s father, said the verdict has delivered the Arbery family “some justice.”

“Nothing will bring back Ahmaud, but his family will have some peace knowing the men who killed him will remain behind bars and can never inflict their brand of evil on another innocent soul. While today is not one for celebration, it is one for reflection,” he said in a statement.

At a press conference with Sharpton and Arbery’s parents, Crump added, “The spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob!”

“We conquered that lynch mob,” Marcus Arbery added. “I don’t want to see no daddy watch their kid get … shot. Today is a good day.”

Prosecutor Laura Dunikoski thanked  Arbery’s parents for their support during the proceedings.

“We had so many people on the team that helped bring justice for Ahmaud and his family, and we really, really appreciate the support that we had and the faith from Mr. Arbery and from Ms. Wanda Cooper-Jones who have been with us, and put their faith in us and trusted us,” Dunikoski told reporters.

Dunikoski the prosecution’s goal was to provide the jury with facts and evidence so they “could do the right thing.”

“Because the jury system works in this country. And when you present the truth to people and they can see it, they will do the right thing,” she said. “And that’s what this jury did today, in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery.”

Outside of the courthouse, attorneys for Travis McMichael said that he planned to appeal the guilty verdict. 

“This is a very difficult day for Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael,” defense attorney, Jason Sheffield, told reporters. “These are two men who honestly believed that what they were doing was the right thing to do. However, a Glynn County jury has spoken. They have found them guilty. They will be sentenced.

The verdict comes after 10 days of testimony in which the mostly-white jury panel was shown widely seen cellphone videos taken by Bryan of the shooting.

The defense argued that the three men were trying to make a lawful citizen’s arrest against Arbery, who they believed had been burglarizing a local under-construction home when Gregory spotted him looking around inside it before running off.

Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, said the defendants wrongly “assumed the worst” about Arbery and made the decision to attack him because he was “a black man running down the street.

“They assumed he must have committed some crime that day. He’s running real fast down the street, right?” she said in her closing arguments.

She argued that Abery did not even have his cellphone on him and that the men fatally shot him “not because he’s a threat to them but because he wouldn’t stop and talk to them.”

Lawyer Laura Hogue, who represented the elder McMichael in the racially charged case, countered that no one was saying Arbery “deserved to die for whatever it was he was doing inside” the unfinished home.

But she said Arbery should have stopped “when Travis’s truck rolled up beside him, to wait to tell the police what he was doing there.

“He died because for whatever inexplicable, illogical reason, instead of staying where he was, whatever overwhelming reason he had to avoid being captured that day and arrested by the police,” she said in her closings.

Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichael’s lawyers, showed the footage of the men pursuing Arbery, stopping at the moment the jogger runs toward his client, who had just aimed his shotgun at him.

“There’s no question that Ahmaud’s hands are on this gun,” Sheffield said.

“You are allowed to defend yourself. You are allowed to use force that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if you believe it’s necessary. At that moment Travis, believed it is necessary,” he added.

Bryan’s lawyer, Kevin Gough, had urged the jury to consider his client separately from the McMichaels.

In his closing arguments, Gough stressed that Bryan was “was armed only with a cellphone” and did not know that the McMichaels had a weapon when he joined the chase.

“Roddie Bryan was not aware of any intention, and could not be a party to the crime of malice murder, because he can’t intentionally help commit a crime he doesn’t know is under way,” he said.

The closely watched trial featured testimony from more than 20 witnesses, including the younger McMichael, who said he was forced to make e a “life-or-death” decision to shoot Arbery as he grabbed his gun.

Prosecutors did not have to prove that the defendants had an intent to kill to convict them of murder.

Georgia is unique from most states in that it doesn’t have degrees of murder. Instead, it has malice and felony murder.

Malice murder is when a person “unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.”

Felony murder is applicable when someone who has no plans to kill intentionally commits another felony that causes a person to die as a result.

President Joe Biden hailed the convictions in the case, saying the verdict “ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished.”

“While the guilty verdict reflects our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough,” Biden said.

“Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin.”


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