The three white men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was running in their neighborhood when the defendants confronted him in February 2020, have been found guilty by a Georgia court on Wednesday.
A nearly all-white jury, consisting of only one black juror, convicted Travis McMichael, 35, of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal intent to commit a felony.
McMichael’s father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and their neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were cleared of the malice murder charge and some of the other charges, but found guilty on felony murder and most of the other serious charges.
All three men face life in prison in the state of Georgia.
The jury arrived at its verdict some nine to 10 hours after deliberations, following weeks of hearings that happened almost concurrently with the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who was found not guilty of murder.
Both high-profile cases, the latter of which involved a white-Hispanic teenager Kyle Rittenhouse and the deaths of two white men, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, were subject to intense media scrutiny over the involvement of race in criminal trials in the United States.
In the case of Arbery’s murder, the defendants are white and the victim, Ahmaud Arbery, was black.
The court heard how the father and son McMichael duo and their neighbour Bryan chased Arbery in a pickup truck after spotting him in their neighbourhood outside Brunswick, GA on Feb. 23, 2020. Travis McMichael shot the 25-year-old Arbery at close range with a shotgun after stopping their truck to confront him at a junction.
Police interview transcripts detailed how Gregory McMichael initiated the chase after seeing Arbery running past his home, suspecting he had committed burglary or theft in the location. However, no evidence emerged of Arbery doing so. In a testimonial to police, Bryan said he saw the chase and joined in independently, but was unsure if Arbery did anything wrong.
Bryan filmed the fatal encounter, now deemed a murder, on his smartphone.
While no arrests were initially made in the case in February 2020, a local attorney provided a video of the shooting to a local radio station WGIG, which posted it on their website in May, 2020, where it promptly went viral after being shared on Twitter and YouTube.
Within hours, an investigation was opened by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, instructed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. The GBI arrested the McMichaels within days and Bryan a couple of weeks later in late May, charging them with felony murder and other crimes.
Arbery’s family and racial justice activists likened the 25-year-old’s death to a modern-day lynching.
NBC News reported:
The defense had argued that the men suspected Arbery was a burglar and that residents in the Satilla Shores subdivision were “on edge.” Arbery was recorded on security camera video visiting a partially built home in the neighborhood several times. The videos did not show Arbery taking anything from the property. The last video was recorded the afternoon he died.
Arbery could be seen visiting the home minutes before he was chased by Gregory and Travis McMichael and Bryan, who had separate defense teams.
The defense had sought to convince the jury that their clients were trying to execute a citizen's arrest, which was legal at the time. Travis McMichael's attorneys have said he opened fire in self-defense.
In her closing argument, lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told the jury that the defendants made a series of “assumptions and driveway decisions” that led to Arbery's death and that the three men had no “immediate knowledge” that a crime had occurred. She said immediate knowledge of a crime is necessary to claim citizen's arrest. Without the claim of citizen's arrest, Dunikoski told the jurors during closing, the men cannot claim that they acted in self-defense.
“If you determine that this was not a citizen's arrest, this was not legitimate, he had no probable cause, he can’t do this based on the law, then guess what?” Dunikoski said. “They’re not justified in killing him. They are not justified in any of the felonies they committed against him.”
Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Travis McMichael admitted that Arbery hadn’t shown a weapon or spoken to him at all before McMichael raised his shotgun and opened fire.