Three men were convicted of murder Wednesday in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man who was running empty-handed through a Georgia subdivision when the white strangers chased him, trapped him on a quiet street and blasted him with a shotgun.
The February 2020 slaying drew limited attention at first. But when video of the shooting leaked online, Arbery’s death quickly became another example in the nation’s reckoning of racial injustice in the way Black people are treated in their everyday lives.
Now the men all face a mandatory sentence of life in prison. The judge will decide whether their sentences are served with or without the possibility of parole.
As the first of 23 guilty verdicts were read, Arbery’s father had to leave the courtroom after leaping up and shouting. At the reading of the last criminal count, Arbery’s mother dropped her head and quietly pumped her fists.
“He didn’t do nothing but run and dream,” Marcus Arbery Sr. said of his son. Outside the courthouse, dozens of Black supporters hugged and cried.
The jury deliberated for about 10 hours before convicting Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan.
The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue the 25-year-old Arbery after seeing him running outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery.
The father and son told police they suspected Arbery was a fleeing burglar. But the prosecution argued that the men provoked the fatal confrontation and that there was no evidence Arbery committed any crimes in the neighborhood.
“We commend the courage and bravery of this jury to say that what happened on Feb. 23, 2020, to Ahmaud Arbery — the hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery — it was not only morally wrong but legally wrong, and we are thankful for that,” said Latonia Hines, Cobb County executive assistant district attorney.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski added: “The jury system works in this country. And when you present the truth to people and they see it, they will do the right thing.”
Travis McMichael, 35, stood for the verdict, his lawyer’s arm around his shoulder. At one point, he lowered his head to his chest. After the verdicts were read, as he stood to leave, he mouthed “love you” to his mother in the courtroom gallery.
Greg McMichael, 65, hung his head when the judge read his first guilty verdict. Bryan, 52, bit his lip.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Ben Crump, attorney for Arbery’s father, repeatedly said that “the spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, thanked the crowd gathered for the verdict and said she did not think she would see this day.
“It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight. But God is good,” she said, adding that her son would now rest in peace.
Travis McMichaels’ attorneys said both he and his father feel that they did the right thing, and that they believed the video would help their case. But they also said the McMichaels regret that Arbery got killed.
“I can tell you honestly, these men are sorry for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery,” attorney Jason Sheffield said. “They are sorry he’s dead. They are sorry for the tragedy that happened because of the choices they made to go out there and try to stop him.”
They planned to appeal.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said his team was “disappointed with the verdict, but we respect it.” He planned to file new legal motions after Thanksgiving.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley did not immediately schedule a sentencing date, saying that he wanted to give both sides time to prepare.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said Arbery’s killing was a “devastating reminder” of how much more work the country has to do in the fight for racial justice.
“While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. 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,” Biden said.
Though prosecutors did not argue that racism motivated the killing, federal authorities have charged them with hate crimes, alleging that they chased and killed Arbery because he was Black. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.