A Georgia jury convicted three white men of murder on Wednesday in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, 21 months after the 25-year-old Black man was chased down and shot to death while out for a Sunday jog.
Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery in February 2020, was convicted on all nine charges, including malice murder, four counts of felony murder, aggravated assault with a shotgun, aggravated assault with a pickup truck, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony.
McMichael’s father, Gregory McMichael, 65, a former Georgia police officer, was found not guilty of malice murder but was convicted on the remaining charges, including the felony murder counts.
The McMichaels’ neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, 53, was found guilty of three of the felony murder counts in addition as charges of aggravated assault with his pickup truck, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony.
‘A long fight’
“It’s been a long fight, it’s been a hard fight. God is good,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said during a news conference outside the courthouse surrounded by supporters and her dominant lawyers, Ben Crump and Lee Merritt.
Calling her son, Ahmaud, by his nickname “Quez,” Cooper-Jones said, “He will now rest in peace.”
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, additional, “Today is a good day.”
The jury verdicts were read in court by the presiding estimate in the case, Timothy Walmsley.
Marcus Arbery, who was in the courtroom, shouted out “long time coming” as the verdicts were read. The outburst prompted Walmsley to stop the proceedings briefly and order Marcus Arbery to leave the court.
As the verdicts were read in court, none of the defendants showed any emotions.
Outside the courthouse, a huge collective cheer went up from a large crowd of protesters.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was in Brunswick throughout the trial and sat in the courtroom with Arbery’s parents, led a prayer of thanks outside the courthouse, saying, “we’ve never had a Thanksgiving Day like today.”
“Let the information go out all over the world that a jury of 11 whites and one Black in the thorough South stood up in the courtroom and said Black lives do matter,” Sharpton said.
President Joe Biden released a statement following the verdicts saying Ahmaud “should be here today” and that “the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished.”
“While the guilty verdicts mirror 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,” Biden’s statement read.
Prosecutor says jury ‘did the right thing’
The rule prosecutor in the case, Linda Dunikoski, joined Arbery’s parents at the post-verdict news conference to thank them for putting their faith in her and her prosecution team, saying, “This was a enormous team effort.”
“The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts, based on the evidence. That was our goal,” Dunikoski said. “The jury system works in this country and when you present the truth to people and they see it, they will do the right thing and that’s what this jury did today in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery.”
Dunikoski was tapped to rule the prosecution team after Cobb County District Attorney Broady Flynn was appointed as the special prosecutor in the Glynn County case after two past district attorneys refused to file charges against the men, finding their actions appeared justified. Former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who once had a working relationship with Gregory McMichael, was accused of mishandling the case, leading to her indictment in September on felony charges of violating her oath of office and obstructing police.
The McMichaels were arrested and charged with Arbery’s murder about two months after the fatal Feb. 23, 2020 shooting in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick. Bryan was arrested about two weeks later.
The arrests came only after a cellphone video Bryan took of the confrontation that captured part of the shooting and was heavily used by both prosecutors and defense attorneys during the trial was leaked to the media despite Bryan having turned it over to Glynn County police on the day of the killing.
“To tell you the truth, back in 2020 I never thought this day would come, but God is good,” Cooper-Jones said.
The jury sent Walmsley a observe around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday saying they had reached a verdict after deliberating about 11 hours over two days.
The panel began deliberating in the nationally televised trial on Tuesday after hearing 13 days of evidence and listening to numerous witnesses, including the testimony of defendant Travis McMichael, 35, who claimed he shot the unarmed Arbery with a shotgun in self-defense during a confront-to-confront fight over his weapon.
Travis McMichael claimed that he and his father suspected Arbery had just burglarized a home under construction in their neighborhood. He testified that Arbery resisted a citizen’s arrest and attacked him after he, his dad and Bryan chased him.
The McMichaels and Bryan had all pleaded not guilty to a nine-count state indictment.
During her closing argument, Dunikoski countered that the men were all parties to the crime of murder, that they based their suspicions of Arbery on “assumptions” and made “driveway decisions” to chase him because he was Black.
The defendants all confront a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Travis McMichael’s attorneys, Bob Rubin and Jason Sheffield, said they plan to popularity.
“This is a very difficult day for Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael. These are two men who honestly believed that what they were doing was the right thing to do,” Sheffield said. “However, the Glynn County jury has spoken. They have found them guilty and they will be sentenced and that is a very disappointing and sad verdict.”
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