The Guilty Verdicts for the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery Will Never Feel Like Justice

A Georgia jury found all three men guilty of murdering Arbery in February 2020.

The Guilty Verdicts for the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery Will Never Feel Like Justice
Photo:Octavio Jones-Pool (Getty Images)

A nearly all-white jury found Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. guilty on Wednesday of all counts in the filmed murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. Each faced five murder charges in the February 2020 shooting death.

The white father and son pair grabbed their guns and pursued Arbery through the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Ga., after seeing Arbery jogging in the neighborhood. Bryan, a neighbor, joined the two men in a second pickup truck while filming their pursuit; he would capture video of Arbery’s murder.

Travis McMichael was found guilty of nine counts: malice murder, four counts felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault as well as one count each of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. McMichael faces at least a life sentence in prison, but prosecutors have said they plan to seek a life sentence without parole possibility. The judge will decide if McMichael will face all sentences (20 years for each assault charge, 10 for false imprisionment and five more for felony attempt) consecutively or concurrently. In addition to guilty state verdicts, McMichael faces federal hate crime charges that will go to trial in February.

Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., was asked to leave the courtroom after the first verdict was read. He shouted “Woohoo!” after hearing the first guilty count of the man who shot his son, according to CNN.

McMichael’s father, Gregory, was found guilty of found counts of felony murder with a maximum sentence of life without parole on each count; two counts of aggravated assault as well as a count of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. Gregory is also indicted on federal hate crime charges.

Likewise, Bryan was convicted of three counts of felony murder with a maximum sentence of life without parole; one count of aggravated assault; one count of false imprisonment; and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony. The jury acquitted Bryan of a malice murder charge as well as felony murder and aggravated assault charges.

Defense attorneys for the three men attempted to argue that the men were committing a legal citizens’ arrest of Arbery because they suspected the man was committing property crimes in the neighborhood. Prosecutors remained steadfast that there was no evidence of a crime committed by Arbery.

Travis McMichael also exercised his constitutional right to testify in his own defense, admitting that he shot Arbery, but claiming he did so in self defense because Arbery attacked him.

Judge Timothy Walmsley ordered all three men to remain in custody until a sentencing hearing, which will be scheduled for after the holiday weekend.

The all-guilty verdicts are in sharp contrast to what the country witnessed last week in the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, who was found not guilty of murdering two people and shooting another in Wisconsin. While the particulars of two cases were very different, watching the luck-of-the-draw of our legal system work was draining.

It’s especially concerning when giving even the shortest of glances to the timeline of this murder case. First, it took three different prosecutors passing off even considering arresting the trio before someone willing to even consider prosecuting. Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case because Gregory McMichael worked in her office as an investigator. Fine, probably for the best.

But in April 2020, Waycross District Attorney George E. Barnhill said he didn’t find probably cause to arrest the trio. Barnhill wrote a memo justifying his own inaction, writing, “Arbery’s mental health records & prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.” Finally, Atlantic Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden decided he would wait for a grand jury indictment before proceeding. Because of the pandemic, that meant waiting for months.

A video of the shooting leaked online in April, which finally lead to some legal recourse. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested all three men in May 2020.

Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones told a crowd outside the Georgia courthouse that he can now rest in peace. “I just want to say thank you, guys. Thank you. Thank each and every one of you who fought this fight with us. It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight. But God is good,” she said, according to CNN.

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