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3 men found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery

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3 men found guilty in Ahmaud Arbery murder
3 men found guilty in Ahmaud Arbery murder 04:22

A jury has returned guilty verdicts against all three defendants in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shots, was convicted on all counts, including the charge of malice murder. His father Gregory McMichael and neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan were convicted of felony murder and other charges.

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot to death while jogging in the neighborhood in February 2020. Cellphone video showed the men chasing Arbery and cornering him with their pickup trucks before a scuffle that ended with Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range with a shotgun. 

As the first guilty verdict was read aloud, people in the public gallery were heard audibly gasping. Marcus Arbery, the father of Ahmaud Arbery, could be heard saying, "Long time coming," before being told by security to leave the courtroom. Judge Timothy Walmsley reminded the courtroom to remain silent as he continued to read the rest of the jury's verdicts aloud. [See below for a full breakdown of the charges against each defendant.]

As he stood to leave the courtroom, Travis McMichael, looking red-faced, mouthed the words "love you" to his mother. 

Special Report: Men convicted of Arbery murde... 14:17

The Associated Press reports the three men face minimum sentences of life in prison. The judge will decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole.

A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.

"The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts, based on the evidence, and that was our goal, was to bring that to that jury so that they could do the right thing, because the jury system works in this country," the lead prosecutor in the case, Linda Dunikoski, said outside the courthouse after the verdict was announced. "And when you present the truth to people and they can see it, they will do the right thing, and that's what this jury did today in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery."

Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery

"I never thought this day would come, but God is good," Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said at a news conference after the verdict, adding that her son "will now rest in peace."

The McMichaels and Bryan are also facing federal hate crimes charges. A separate trial in the federal case is scheduled to begin on February 7, 2022. 

The defense in the murder trial centered around the claim that the three men acted under the state's citizen's arrest law — which was in effect at the time but has since been repealed — because they were suspicious Arbery might have been involved in neighborhood burglaries. They argued they had a right of self-defense against Arbery who, one defense attorney said, "chose to fight." 

The prosecution disputed that and argued that the three men had no legitimate reason to chase down and confront Arbery.

"All three of these defendants made assumptions — made assumptions about what was going on that day, and they made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a Black man running down the street," Dunikoski told the jury.

Though Arbery had gone inside a house under construction in the neighborhood, "nothing had ever been taken from the construction site," Dunikoski said, and the defendants had no direct knowledge linking him to any crime when they began their pursuit.

"He was trying to get away from these strangers that were yelling at him, threatening to kill him. And then they killed him," she said, adding that Arbery was killed "for absolutely no good reason at all."

Ahmaud Arbery death
Left to right: Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan. Glynn County Detention Center via AP/ WJAX

The jury was able to hear from Travis McMichael when he took the stand in his own defense. He testified that he had heard about break-ins in the neighborhood and had previously seen a Black man "lurking" and "creeping" around a house under construction.

He testified that when his father spotted Arbery on February 23, they decided to drive up alongside him and question him. As the confrontation ensued, McMichael said he was forced to make a split-second "life-or-death" decision when he said Arbery grabbed for his shotgun.

"It was the most traumatic event of my life," he told the court.

But under cross-examination, McMichael acknowledged that Arbery was "just running" and did not threaten them.

The other two defendants did not testify at the trial.


"48 Hours" goes inside a mother's relentless pursuit of the truth of what happened to her son in "A Promise to Ahmaud" airing Saturday at 10/9c on CBS and Paramount+.

 

A full breakdown of the verdicts

McMichael Verdict
CBS News
Gregory McMichael Verdict
CBS News
Bryan Verdict
CBS News


 

What is the difference between "malice murder" and "felony murder"?

While all three men were facing both "malice murder" and "felony murder" charges, Travis McMichael was the only one convicted on the malice murder charge. 

Under Georgia law, malice murder is defined as purposefully killing someone, relatively unprovoked, "where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart."

Felony murder is defined as occurring in the course of committing another felony, "irrespective of malice" — meaning that it took place whether or not the death was intentional or provoked. A person who took part in a felony can face this charge even if they weren't the one who physically did the killing.

"It doesn't matter who actually pulled the trigger," prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said in closing arguments. "Under the law, they're all guilty."

The McMichaels were both found guilty of four counts of felony murder and Bryan was found guilty of three. 

There were multiple felony murder charges in this case (listed as Counts 2 through 5), to correspond to the four other felony charges (Counts 6 through 9 — two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony). Prosecutors were able to convince the jury that the men, during the process of committing those felonies, caused the death of Arbery. 

By Clare Hymes
 

President Biden's response to the verdict

President Joe Biden released a statement in response to the guilty verdicts:

"Ahmaud Arbery's killing — witnessed by the world on video — is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country. Mr. Arbery should be here today, celebrating the holidays with his mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, and his father, Marcus Arbery. Nothing can bring Mr. Arbery back to his family and to his community, but the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished.

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. My administration will continue to do the hard work to ensure that equal justice under law is not just a phrase emblazoned in stone above the Supreme Court, but a reality for all Americans."

 

Makeup of the jury

In a case where race played a key role, only one Black juror and 11 Whites were chosen to decide the fate of the three defendants, who are all White. Prosecutors objected, arguing that several potential Black jurors were cut because of their race.

The judge agreed that "intentional discrimination" by defense attorneys appeared to have shaped jury selection but said his authority to intervene was limited under Georgia law. In Glynn County, where Arbery was killed and the trial was held, Black people account for nearly 27% of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The judge said 25% of the pool from which the final jury was chosen was Black.

The jury included three men and nine women. They began deliberations midday Tuesday after the prosecution concluded its rebuttal arguments and the judge gave them instructions on the law in the case.

They reached their verdict the following day, after about 10 hours of deliberations.

By Clare Hymes
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