All 3 Defendants Found Guilty of Murdering Ahmaud Arbery, Black Jogger Chased Down and Shot in Georgia
All three men charged have been found guilty for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger they believed to be a burglar running on a suburban Georgia street, who they pursued and cornered with their pickups before a physical confrontation in which one of the men fatally shot him.
Arbery, 25, was killed on Feb. 23, 2020, after being chased down the street on which he was jogging in Brunswick. Prosecutors alleged the white suspects — Greg McMichael, 67; his son Travis McMichael, 35; and neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan, 52 — chased and confronted Arbery with two firearms after they saw him running, and that Travis fatally shot Arbery during a struggle over Travis' shotgun.
According to the defense, the three men believed Arbery matched the description of someone who reportedly had burglarized a home construction site in the neighborhood, and they were attempting a citizen's arrest when Travis, accompanied by his father, and Bryan chased Arbery and then corralled him with their respective Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado pickups before the scuffle broke out.
Each faced nine criminal charges, according to the indictment. Travis McMichael, who pulled the trigger and shot Arbery three times, was convicted on all of them: one count of malice murder, which alleges intent to kill; four counts of felony murder, which alleges an action that causes a death; two counts of aggravated assault; one count of false imprisonment; and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.
His father, Greg McMichael, was cleared of only the malice murder charge, and found guilty of the rest. Bryan was cleared of malice murder and one felony murder charge, as well as one of the aggravated assault charges. But the 12 jurors found him liable for all the other charges.
All three now face life in prison when sentenced.
"To tell you the truth, I never saw this day back in 2020," Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said after the verdicts, reports The New York Times. "I never thought this day would come, but God is good. Thank you -- thank you for those who marched, those who prayed."
Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, in her closing argument Monday, said, "All three of these defendants 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," according to the Times.
But Jason Sheffield, a defense attorney for Travis, said his client believed at the time of the shooting that Arbery had committed burglary and Travis had "the right to perform a citizen's arrest," according to CNN.
"You do have the right to have a firearm when you make an arrest," Sheffield said. "You do have the right to stop a person and hold them and detain them. There is risk with that. There are tragic consequences that can come from that."
Video footage of the incident filmed by Bryan captured the shooting, and sparked nationwide outrage and renewed interest in the case when it was made public more than two months after a local prosecutor initially declined to bring charges.
The already closely watched trial garnered even more attention after Kyle Rittenhouse was cleared Friday of all charges for fatally shooting two men, and injuring a third, during civil unrest that grew out of Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wis., last year. Rittenhouse, 18, who was white, claimed self defense in the deaths of his victims, who also were white.
But both trials fueled debate about vigilantism and gun rights, with prosecutors in the Rittenhouse case alleging that he responded to the scene only after answering a citizen militia's call on social media to protect Kenosha businesses from protesters.
While race was not an overt issue in the Rittenhouse trial, it arose in Georgia during jury selection when the trial judge seated 11 white jurors — and only one Black one. It again took center stage during the trial when Kevin Gough, an attorney for Bryan, objected to "high-profile members of the African-American community" who were in attendance.
"We don't want any more Black pastors coming in here … sitting with the victim's family, trying to influence the jury in this case," he said, specifically citing the presence of the Rev. Al Sharpton as "intimidating," reports The Washington Post. Gough later apologized.
Arbery's shooting had helped to propel a summer-long movement nationwide of protest, some of it turning violent, against racial injustice and police brutality that linked his name with several others.
Three weeks after Arbery's death, Breonna Taylor, 26, a Black emergency room technician, was killed on March 13, 2020, in her Louisville, Ky., apartment by police who served a "no-knock" warrant and fatally shot her after Taylor's boyfriend, who feared for his life, fired his own permitted weapon at them as they entered. And images of George Floyd's murder on May 25, 2020, went viral after a bystander recorded video of a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressing his knee to the neck of the prone Black man for roughly nine minutes as Floyd suffocated while under arrest for a purchase with an allegedly counterfeit $20 bill.
Yet an alleged effort by local authorities to diminish Arbery's killing began almost from the start, an attorney for his family told PEOPLE in 2020.
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Arbery's mother was falsely told that her son was killed by a homeowner while committing a burglary, according to the attorney, S. Lee Merritt.
A district attorney who viewed the video of the Black jogger chased by the armed Greg and Travis McMichael in their pickup then wrote that Arbery "initiated the fight," concluding, "Arbery's mental health records & prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man."
That same district attorney, George Barnhill, wrote in a separate analysis: "The family are not strangers to the local criminal justice system. From best we can tell, Ahmaud's older brother has gone to prison in the past. ... It also appears a cousin has been prosecuted ... ."
Another Georgia prosecutor, Jackie Johnson, the former district attorney of Glynn County, was indicted in September on accusations she obstructed police officers from arresting Travis and showed "favor" to Greg, who previously had worked in her office, according to an indictment against her. Johnson was the first of four prosecutors to be in charge of the case, which eventually landed with Dunikoski, a senior prosecutor from Cobb County.
Johnson is charged with violation of oath of public officer and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, and has entered a not guilty plea.
At the time of Arbery's shooting, a police report said that Greg, a former investigator in the local county prosecutor's office, had spotted Arbery at the construction site and believed him to be a burglar. Police say he alerted his son, and both grabbed firearms before giving chase in their pickup, followed by neighbor Bryan in his own pickup.
As Arbery attempted to outrun his pursuers, they blocked his escape route. The video then shows Arbery running toward Travis, who has gotten out of the truck, as the first shotgun blast is recorded.
Georgia Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Richard Dial testified during a preliminary hearing in June 2020 that Bryan told authorities Travis then referred to Arbery with a racial slur as he lay dying.
Arbery was shot three times and "died of multiple shotgun wounds sustained during a struggle for the shotgun," said an autopsy report obtained by PEOPLE. The report also revealed that Arbery sustained two close-range gunshot wounds in the chest, as well as a graze wound on his right wrist. The GBI review of Arbery's death — which was not requested until May 5, 2020, by District Attorney Tom Durden after two other district attorneys recused themselves from the case — listed Arbery's manner of death as homicide, and led to the arrests of the McMichaels two days later.
The three men now convicted of Arbery's death also still face federal hate crime charges in the case — specifically, one count each of interference with rights and one count each of attempted kidnapping, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced in a news release. Like the state prosecutors, the federal prosecutors allege that Bryan joined the McMichaels in chasing Arbery and using his truck to cut off Arbery's path.