BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The white father and son convicted of murder in Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting after they chased the 25-year-old Black man through a Georgia neighborhood were sentenced Monday to life in prison for committing a federal hate crime.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sentenced Travis McMichael (36), and Greg McMichael (66), announcing the severity of their murder and a bigger national reckoning with racial injustice. Both men were previously sentenced to life without parole in a state court for Arbery’s murder.
“A young man is dead. Ahmaud Albery will always be 25. And what happened a jury found happened because he’s Black,” Wood said.
In February, a federal jury convicted the McMichaels and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan of violating Arbery’s civil rights, concluding they targeted him because of his race. The McMichaels were also convicted for attempted kidnapping and using firearms in the commission a violent crime.
After Arbery ran by their house on February 23, 2020, the McMichaels prepared guns and took a pickup truck with them to chase him. Bryan went along in his truck to follow Travis McMichael, and captured cellphone video. Police were initially told by the McMichaels that Arbery was burglar. However, investigations revealed that McMichaels was not armed and has committed no crime.
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Before the Monday sentencings, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said that every day she feels every shot fired at her son.
“It’s so unfair, so unfair, so unfair that he was killed while he was not even committing a crime,” she said.
Greg McMichael addressed the Arbery family, saying their loss was “beyond description.”
“I’m sure my words mean very little to you but I want to assure you I never wanted any of this to happen,” he said. “There was no malice in my heart or my son’s heart that day.”
Cooper-Jones replied to the statement outside of courtroom
“I think he realizes that he made some horrible decisions. Unfortunately, his apology doesn’t bring back my son,” she said.
Travis McMichael declined to address the court, but his attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, said a lighter sentence would be more consistent with what similarly charged defendants have received in other cases, noting that the officer who killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, Derek Chauvin, got 21 years in prison for violating Floyd’s civil rights, though he was not charged with targeting Floyd because of his race.
Greg McMichael’s attorney, A.J. Balbo, also cited the Chauvin sentence as well as his client’s age and health problems, which he said include a stroke and depression.
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Like Floyd’s case, Arbery’s slaying was captured in a graphic cellphone video that sparked widespread outrage in part because local prosecutors had not initially filed criminal charges.
“The evidence we presented at trial proved … what so many people felt in their hearts when they watched the video of Ahmaud’s tragic and unnecessary death: This would have never happened if he had been white,” Christopher Perras, another prosecutor, said Monday.
During the February hate crimes trial, prosecutors fortified their case that Arbery’s killing was motivated by racism by showing the jury roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made disparaging comments about Black people.
A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for the McMichaels and Bryan in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole. Bryan was scheduled to appear in federal court for a sentencing hearing on Monday.
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While awaiting sentence, all three of the defendants remain in Glynn county, where they are being held in custody by U.S. marshals.
They were first charged with murder and found guilty in state court. Protocol required them to be turned over to Georgia Department of Corrections so they could serve their sentences in state prison.
In court filings last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to instead divert them to a federal prison, saying they won’t be safe in a Georgia prison system that’s the subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation focused on violence between inmates.
Copeland said during Monday’s hearing for Travis McMichael that her client has received hundreds of threats that he will be killed as soon as he arrives at state prison and that his photo has been circulated there on illegal phones.
“I am concerned your honor that my client effectively faces a back door death penalty,” she said, adding that “retribution and revenge” were not sentencing factors, even for a defendant who is “publicly reviled.”
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., said Travis McMichael had shown his son no mercy and deserved to “rot” in state prison.
“You killed him because he was a Black man and you hate Black people,” he said. “You deserve no mercy.”
Wood said she didn’t have the authority to order the state to relinquish custody of Travis McMichael to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but also wasn’t inclined to do so in his case. Also, she declined to hold Greg McMichael at federal custody.
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