Jury finds 3 men guilty in hate crimes trial over Arbery killing

The three men are found guilty of violating the civil rights of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery.

A mural of Ahmaud Arbery is painted on the side of the Brunswick African American Cultural Center in downtown Brunswick, Georgia,
Ahmaud Arbery was jogging through Satilla Shores, Georgia when three men chased him in trucks and one shot him dead in February, 2020 [File: Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters]

Jurors in the federal hate crimes trial of the three white men convicted in Ahmaud Arbery’s slaying found them guilty on all charges, including federal hate crimes and lesser offences.

Jurors found father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because he was Black. All three were convicted of murder in a Georgia state court in November and sentenced to life in prison for the fatal shooting.

The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pick-up truck to pursue Arbery after seeing him running in their neighbourhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick in February 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pick-up and recorded mobile-phone video of Travis McMichael firing the fatal shots. Arbery’s killing became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice after the graphic video leaked online two months later.

All three defendants had been charged with depriving Arbery of his civil rights, a “hate-crimes” offence alleging racially motivated violence. They were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping charges in the deadly 2020 encounter, which unfolded in the coastal Georgia subdivision of Satilla Shores near Brunswick, about 434 kilometres (270 miles) southeast of Atlanta.

The McMichaels additionally were convicted of a federal firearms felony. Bryan had not faced that charge.

 photo combo shows, from left, Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan, and Gregory McMichael
From left, Travis McMichael, William “Roddie” Bryan, and Gregory McMichael, convicted on all charges in the federal hate crimes trial [File: Pool via AP]

The hate crimes charge, the most serious contained in the indictment returned against the defendants, carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Attempted kidnapping is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The McMichaels and Bryan had pleaded not guilty to the hate crime charges. Defence lawyers contended the three did not chase and kill Arbery because of his race but acted on the earnest, though erroneous, suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighbourhood.

The 12-member panel, consisting of eight white people, three Black people and one Hispanic person, deliberated just under three hours on Monday before Judge Lisa Wood adjourned proceedings in the Brunswick, Georgia court for the evening.

They had resumed deliberations at 9am (14:30GMT) Tuesday morning.

Wednesday marks the second anniversary of the killing.

The trial closed Monday with prosecutors saying 25-year-old Arbery’s slaying on a residential street was motivated by “pent-up racial anger”, revealed by the defendants’ electronic messages as well as by witnesses who testified to hearing them make racist tirades and insults.

“All three defendants told you loud and clear, in their own words, how they feel about African Americans,” prosecutor Tara Lyons told the jury Monday.

Defence lawyers insisted that past racist statements by their clients offered no proof they violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because he was Black. They urged the jury to set aside their emotions.

“It’s natural for you to want retribution or revenge,” said Pete Theodocion, representing William “Roddie” Bryan. “But we have to elevate ourselves … even if it’s the tough thing.”

The basic facts are not disputed. The slaying of Arbery nearly two years ago, on February 23, 2020, was captured in a graphic mobile phone video that sparked widespread outrage. Father and son, Greg and Travis McMichael, armed themselves after spotting Arbery running past their home and chased him in a pick-up truck. Bryan joined his neighbours in his own truck and recorded the video of Travis McMichael firing at point-blank range.

Police found Arbery had no weapon and no stolen items. Prosecutors said he was merely out jogging.

Travis McMichael’s lawyer, Amy Lee Copeland, told the jury that prosecutors presented no evidence that he “ever spoke to anyone about Mr Arbery’s death in racial terms”. She said her client opened fire in self-defence after Arbery tried to take away his shotgun.

Greg McMichael’s lawyer, AJ Balbo, argued that his client initiated the chase not because Arbery was a Black man, but because he was “THE man” the McMichaels had seen in security camera videos taken from a nearby house under construction.

FBI agents uncovered roughly two dozen racist text messages and social media posts from the McMichaels and Bryan in the years and months preceding the shooting.

For instance, in 2018, Travis McMichael commented on a Facebook video of a Black man playing a prank on a white person: “I’d kill that f***ing n****r.”

Some witnesses testified they heard the McMichaels’ racist statements firsthand. A woman who served under Travis McMichael in the US Coast Guard a decade ago said he called her “n****r lover,” after learning she’d dated a Black man. Another woman testified Greg McMichael had ranted angrily in 2015 when she remarked on the death of civil rights activist Julian Bond, saying, “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”

Source: News Agencies