A jury in the U.S. state of Georgia convicted three white men of murder in the fatal shooting of African American Ahmaud Arbery, concluding a high-profile trial encompassing thorny topics such as racial profiling and self-defense.
The jury ended nearly 10 hours of deliberations Wednesday, finding the key defendant Travis McMichael, 35, guilty of felony murder and other serious crimes, including aggravated assault.
The jury also returned murder convictions against his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52. All three men face life in prison.
The defendants were accused of chasing down and murdering Arbery outside Brunswick, Georgia, in February 2020. The younger McMichael, the only defendant to take the witness stand, said he fired his shotgun at Arbery in self-defense.
The jury, made up of 11 white people and one Black person, rejected the defense’s claims, finding all three responsible for the 25-year-old African American’s death.
Cheers and applause erupted outside the Glynn County Courthouse after the guilty verdicts were announced.
“It has been a long fight and a hard fight, but God is good,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery. “I know Ahmaud will now rest in peace.”
Before returning the verdict, the jury watched video recorded by Bryan on his cellphone of Travis McMichael firing his shotgun at close range at Arbery during a struggle the prosecution argued the defendants had initiated. The video proved to be key evidence for the prosecution in the trial.
“The verdict today was based on the facts, based on the evidence,” lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told reporters outside the courthouse. “The jury system works in this country, and when you present the truth to people and they can see it, they will do the right thing. That’s what this jury did today in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery.”
Across the country, reaction to the verdicts was swift.
“It reflects the justice system doing its job, but that there’s still work to be done,” said U.S. President Joe Biden in a statement. “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.”
Many groups weighed in on social media.
“The true measure of justice is not in a verdict, but in making a future where people don’t live in fear of racialized violence,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted. The ACLU urged “a future where Black people can thrive free of police violence or vigilantism.”
During the weekslong trial, the jury heard conflicting accounts of what happened. Prosecutors argued the men targeted Arbery because he was Black and running down the street. The three Georgia men are also charged with a federal hate crime for allegedly racially profiling Arbery.
“It was not a surprise. I think this result shows our justice system works,” said Joey Jackson, a defense attorney not involved in the trial who spoke on the HLN cable network. “A jury of 11 whites and one African American made no difference. The conclusion was based on the facts presented that the defendants were responsible for this crime.”
The defendants contended they suspected Arbery, who was out on a jog, of burglarizing homes in their predominantly white neighborhood and pursued him in vehicles in an attempt to detain him under Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, which has since been repealed. The law, which dates to 1863, allowed anyone to detain a person if there was reasonable and probable knowledge that the person was fleeing a serious crime he or she had just committed.
Travis McMichael was captured on Bryan’s cellphone video confronting Arbery with a shotgun. The two are seen struggling before Arbery reaches for the gun and is shot three times.
The defendants’ attorneys said they planned to appeal the verdicts.
“I can tell you honestly, these men are sorry for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery,” defense attorney Jason Sheffield said. “They are sorry he’s dead. They are sorry for the tragedy that happened because of the choices they made to go out there and try to stop him.”
Despite the possibility of further legal action, some urged reflection on what has been decided.
“The three men found guilty of their crimes will have days, months and years to consider and explain why they felt so empowered to imprison and take the life of Ahmaud Arbery. Time Ahmaud was deprived of,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson on Twitter.
Arbery’s death sparked nationwide protests last year after police failed to charge the suspects for more than two months after the video of the killing had leaked and gone viral on social media.
With tears in his eyes, Ahmaud Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, told supporters outside the courthouse that history had been made.
“This shows all lives matter, not just Black children. We don’t want to see nobody go through this,” he said. “Today is a good day.”(VOA)
*PHOTO: William “Roddie” Bryan, Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael