On Wednesday, three white men were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud, Aggravated Assault and False Imprisonment in the shooting of Ahmaud, a Black jogger that was unarmed, as they chased him through the neighborhood.
Travis McMichael (35) was convicted along with his 65-year-old father Gregory McMichael and William Roddy Bryan Jr. (55). McMichael’s younger brother was found guilty on malice murder. Bryan, Gregory McMichael Jr. and McMichael were not convicted but sentenced to felony murder. The men were found guilty for aggravated assault and false imprisonment, as well as criminal intent to commit felonies.
As the first of many “guilty” verdicts was read out in the courtroom, someone in the spectator section let out a loud “Whoop!”
After only two days, the jury came to a unanimous verdict. Each of the three men could face death sentence or life imprisonment, with or without parole.
These verdicts are more than one year since the men pursued Arbery (a Black man who was running through suburban Georgia) after suspecting he was burglar. Travis McMichael then shot and killed Arbery.
Though the killing happened in February 2020, months prior to the reckoning on racial and criminal injustice in the country that occurred after George Floyd’s murder, it was viewed as a similarly significant flashpoint—and particularly so after cellphone footage of Arbery’s killing was released in May 2020. The trial was similar to that of Kyle Rittenhouse, Kenosha (Wis.) and required jurors to balance defense claims for self-defense with prosecution arguments that defendants provoked violence that resulted in the fatal shooting.
Rittenhouse was found not guilty of the murders of two people and inflicting injuries to a third man during protests against police brutality.
Bryan and McMichaels went to trial November 3, following a lengthy and contentious jury process. (Defense teams removed eleven of twelve potential Black jurors during the last stage of jury selection. This was an action judge stated racialized.
Continue reading: Ahmaud Arbery and America’s White Juror Problem
Prosecutors claimed that Bryan Jr. as well as McMichaels were responsible for the chase of Arbery and initiated the situation. “They made the decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a Black man running down the street,” lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said during closing arguments. “They shot and killed him. Not because he was a threat to them but because he wouldn’t stop and talk to them.”
The defense teams for the McMichaels argued that their clients behaved in self-defense, alleging that Arbery tried to take Travis’ gun away from him during the ensuing confrontation and that Arbery was responsible for his own death. “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,” Jason Sheffield, who represents Travis McMichael, said during closing arguments. “At that moment Travis believed it was necessary. This is a law that is for a person in Travis’s situation.”
The defendants claim to have believed they were acting under stand-your-ground and now-repealed citizens arrest laws in Georgia—but since they had no proof that Arbery was committing a crime, the law would likely not have applied.
In Bryan Jr.’s case, his defense attorneys say that their client was just a witness to the event, though his car was used to box Arbery in while he was running.
Bryan Jr.’s lawyers were also involved in one of the trial’s most contentious moments when defense lawyers complained about Black pastors, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton was in the courtroom alongside the Arbery family. They said the reverends’ presence could unfairly influence the jury.
“There is no reason for these prominent icons in the civil rights movement to be here,” Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan Jr. said on Nov. 15. “With all due respect, I would suggest, whether intended or not, that inevitably a juror is going to be influenced by their presence in the courtroom.”
He asked for a mistrial, but the judge refused.