ABOVE PHOTO: The family and attorneys of Ahmaud Arbery raise their arms in victory outside the federal courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., after all three men involved in his killing were found guilty of hate crimes, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan were found guilty of violating Arbery’s civil rights and targeting him because he was Black. (AP Photo/Lewis M. Levine)
By Russ Bynum
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The three white men convicted of murder in Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting were found guilty of federal hate crimes Tuesday for violating Arbery’s civil rights and targeting him because he was Black.
The jury also found father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels guilty of the use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.
The verdict — handed down one day before the second anniversary of Arbery’s death on Feb. 23, 2020 — was a symbolic one, coming just months after all three defendants were convicted of murder in a Georgia state court and sentenced to life in prison.
But family and community members viewed the hate crimes trial as an important statement that racism motivated the killing. The case also became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice after graphic video of Arbery’s killing leaked online.
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., bowed his head and shook his fists in quiet celebration as the guilty verdicts were read in the courtroom. He then pressed his hands together in front of his face as if saying a silent prayer.
He and Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, emerged from the courthouse holding hands with attorney Ben Crump, then raised their clasped hands to cheers from supporters.
“Ahmaud will continue to rest in peace. But he will now begin to rest in power,” Cooper-Jones said. But, she added, “We as a family will never get victory because Ahmaud is gone forever.”
Marcus Arbery told reporters that his son used to call every day, even if just to tell his family that he loved them.
“Ahmaud was a kid you can’t replace, because of the heart he had,” he said. “I’m struggling with that everyday,” he said. “It hurts me every day.”
Greg and Travis McMichael sat stoically at the defense table as the guilty verdicts were read. When called one-at-a-time before the judge to discuss next steps in their cases, they answered with hushed voices.
Weeks prior to the trial, the McMichaels had both agreed to enter guilty pleas to the hate crimes in exchange for being able to serve their sentences in federal, rather than state, prison. Judge Lisa Godbey Wood rejected the deal, however, saying it would tie her hands at sentencing and after Arbery’s family vehemently opposed it.
“What we got today, we wouldn’t have gotten if it wasn’t for the fight by the family for Ahmaud,” Cooper-Jones said Tuesday, reiterating her anger at Justice Department prosecutors, who she said “chose to ignore the family’s cry.”
The facts of the case were not disputed during the hate crimes trial. The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue Arbery after seeing him running in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup and recorded the cellphone video that later leaked online.
To back the hate crime charges, prosecutors showed roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made derogatory comments about Black people. The FBI wasn’t able to access Greg McMichael’s phone because it was encrypted.
In 2018, Travis McMichael commented on a Facebook video of a Black man playing a prank on a white person: “I’d kill that f—-ing n—-r.”
Some witnesses testified they heard the McMichaels’ racist statements firsthand. A woman who served under Travis McMichael in the U.S. Coast Guard a decade ago said he called her “n——r lover,” after learning she’d dated a Black man. Another woman testified Greg McMichael had ranted angrily in 2015 when she remarked on the death of civil rights activist Julian Bond, saying, “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”
Defense attorneys contended the three didn’t chase and kill Arbery because of his race but acted on the earnest, though erroneous, suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.
The panel of eight white people, three Black people and one Hispanic person received the case Monday. The jurors adjourned for the night after about three hours of deliberations, and then deliberated for about an hour Tuesday morning before announcing they had reached a verdict.
Leave a Comment