Georgia jury finds 3 white men guilty of murder in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery
Hundreds of people crowded outside, jubilant with the jury’s decision. Some hugged each other and cried. Others cheered so loudly that they could be heard from the second floor of the courtroom. “Say his name!” exclaimed a man. “Ahmed Arbery!” The crowd responded in unison.
Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walmsley said he expects penalties to be imposed in the next few weeks. The three men, all white, face a mandatory life sentence with a chance of parole. But in previous court filings, prosecutors put all three defendants on notice that they could seek life imprisonment without parole. The three men also face federal hate crimes charges in a trial scheduled for February.
Travis McMichael, who had his attorney Bob Rubin’s arm around his shoulder, showed no expression while reading the sentences. As he was led away, he turned to his mother, Lee McMichael, and his sister, who was crying “I love you.”
Upon hearing that he had been convicted of murder, Greg McMichael bowed his head and closed his eyes.
“I’ve flattened my ground,” Laura Hogg, one of his attorneys, told Lee McMichael afterward as the courtroom emptied.
Lawyers for the three defendants said they would appeal.
“I am completely sorry about the jury’s interpretation of the state’s evidence and our evidence,” said Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichael’s attorneys. “He’s a good guy who really thought he was doing the right thing for him and his neighbors.”
In reaching its verdict, the Glynn County jury dismissed the defendants’ allegations that they were justified in attempting to carry out a citizen’s arrest of an unarmed 25-year-old. The jury’s verdict also noted their rejection of Travis McMichael’s allegations that he had acted in self-defence.
In her closing arguments, lead prosecutor Linda Donikowski said the McMichaels and Brian family chased Arbery to his death “because he was a black man running down the street.” She also said, “You can’t claim self-defense if a showdown begins. This is not the Wild West.”
Arbery, who was black, was killed on February 23, 2020, after McMichaels chased him in the Satilla Shores neighborhood outside Brunswick for five minutes in their pickup truck and Bryan in his car.
Donikowski argued that Arbery was under attack while trying to flee the neighborhood, trapped between the two trucks and then shot dead on the road.
Outside the courtroom, Dunikoski thanked Arbery’s parents for placing their trust in Cobb County’s team of attorneys general. The case ended up there after several disqualifications by other county attorneys including former Glenn county Jackie Johnson, who was voted out of office and later accused of showing “favor and affection” to Greg McMichael, who once worked in her office. She was charged with obstructing the work of a police officer, a misdemeanor, and breach of her oath, a felony.
“Today’s ruling was a fact-based, evidence-based ruling,” Dnekowski said. “When you present the truth to the people and they can see it, they will do the right thing, and that is what the jury did today to bring justice to Ahmad.”
The Reverend Al Sharpton hugged Marcus Arbery in the hallway outside the courtroom. “I told you that God’s will will be done,” he said to him, while wiping tears from Arbery’s eyes. “God’s will always finds a way.”
The civil rights leader, addressing the massive crowd gathered near the court’s stairs, celebrated his convictions.
“Let the word spread all over the world that a jury of 11 whites and one black in the Far South had stood in the courtroom and said that black lives matter,” Sharpton said.
The law on the detention of Georgian citizens was largely repealed in the wake of Arbery’s death, and the General Assembly created a hate crime law.
Governor Brian Kemp issued a statement shortly after the verdict was reached, calling Arbery a “victim of a vigil that has no place in Georgia.” He said he hoped the Arbery family and those who followed the case now could move forward on the path of healing and reconciliation.
President Joe Biden also issued a statement referring to this The video clip that appears on Brian’s mobile phone of the murder has drawn national attention to the case.
“Ahmad Arbery’s murder – which the world witnessed on videotape – is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country,” Biden said. “While the guilty verdicts reflect the justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. Instead, we must commit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin.”
Soon, news of the ruling reached Atlanta, where religious, political, and civil rights leaders threw weight into what some called the sudden ruling, while others saw it as a sign of progress and change.
US Senator Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, said that while the ruling upholds a sense of accountability, real justice has yet to be served.
“True justice is like a young black man who doesn’t have to worry about him getting hurt – or killed – on the run, while sleeping in his bed, while living what should be a very long life,” Warnock said. “Ahmed should be with us today. I am grateful to the jury for their service and for the verdict that says Ahmed Arbery’s life matters.”
After Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted last week in a similarly polarizing case in Wisconsin, the case has been closely watched. After the ruling, President Biden, Vice President Harris and a host of others, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, concurred with the opinions.
“I am grateful that the jury found the three men responsible for the senseless murder of Ahmaud Arbery guilty of their crimes,” Bottoms said. “I hope this judgment will give Mr. Arbery’s family, and people across America, some comfort in knowing that these men are being held accountable for the deaths of an innocent young man.”
Thea Brooks, Arbery’s aunt, watched a live broadcast of the verdict along with friends and family from the adjacent jury room. Brooks, who has been observing court proceedings since jury selection began more than a month ago, jumped from her seat as the three men were convicted of killing her nephew.
She later said, “Finally we have justice for Ahmad.” She was wearing a pair of earrings with her high school nephew’s football photo and a T-shirt that read “Justice Is Done”.
“That means he didn’t die in vain,” Brooks said. “It means that people now, all over the world, will know that they can’t do these kinds of things with impunity, and that it’s just not acceptable to racistly label someone.”
– Authors Alexis Stevens, Shelia Ball, and Ernie Suggs contributed to this article.