ABOVE PHOTO: Ahmaud Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones, center, reacts as Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley sentences Greg McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan in the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, in Brunswick, Ga. The three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery were sentenced Friday to life in prison, with a judge denying any chance of parole for the father and son who armed themselves and initiated the deadly pursuit of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)
By Russ Byrum
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Three white men convicted of murder for chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery were sentenced to life in prison last Friday, with a judge denying any chance of parole for the father and son who armed themselves and initiated the deadly pursuit of the 25-year-old Black man.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley ordered Greg and Travis McMichael to serve life without parole for Arbery’s fatal shooting and granted their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, a chance to earn parole after serving at least 30 years in prison.
“Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down and shot, and he was killed because individuals here in the courtroom took the law into their own hands,” the judge said before sentencing.
Walmsley said Arbery left his home for a jog and ended up running for his life for five minutes as the men chased him in pickup trucks until they finally cornered him. The judge paused for a minute of silence to help drive home a sense of what that time must have been like for Arbery.
“When I thought about this, I thought from a lot of different angles. I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores,” he said, mentioning the neighborhood outside the port city of Brunswick where Arbery was killed.
Murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison under Georgia law unless prosecutors seek the death penalty, which they opted against in this case. The main decision for Walmsley was whether to grant an eventual chance to earn parole. During the sentencing hearing, Arbery’s family had asked the judge to show no leniency.
Arbery’s sister recalled his humor, describing him as a positive thinker with a big personality. She told the judge her brother had dark skin “that glistened in the sunlight,” thick, curly hair and an athletic build, factors that made him a target for the men who pursued him.
“These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and chase him with guns drawn. To me, those qualities reflect a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people I loved,” Jasmine Arbery said.
Arbery’s mother said she suffered a personal, intense loss made worse by a trial where the men’s defense was that Arbery made bad choices that led to his death.
“This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact. They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community,” Wanda Cooper-Jones said. “And when they couldn’t sufficiently scare or intimidate him, they killed him.”
The judge’s sentences matched the recommendation of prosecutor Linda Dunikoski. She said all deserved that mandatory life sentence for showing “no empathy for the trapped and terrified Ahmaud Arbery.”
Contending that McMichaels still believed they didn’t do anything wrong, Dunikoski disclosed last Friday that Greg McMichael gave cellphone video of the shooting recorded by Bryan to an attorney, who leaked it.
“He believed it was going to exonerate him,” the prosecutor said.
Robert Rubin, one of Travis McMichael’s defense attorneys, argued that his 35-year-old client deserved the possibility of parole. He said Travis McMichael opened fire only after “Mr. Arbery came at him and grabbed the gun.” But Rubin also acknowledged his client’s decisions to arm himself and chase Arbery were ”reckless” and “thoughtless.”
“They are not evidence of a soul so blackened as to deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison,” Rubin said. “This was not a planned murder. This was a fight over a gun that led to Mr. Arbery’s death.”