All three defendants were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery – Mother Jones

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A jury in Brunswick, Georgia, on Wednesday afternoon found all three defendants involved in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery 2020 guilty of murder. Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. were all convicted of multiple murders. All three risk life imprisonment.

The jury took over 11 hours over two days to deliver a strikingly powerful set of verdicts, which only varied slightly between the defendants. Travis McMichael was found guilty of all nine cases of Arbery’s death, including a charge of premeditated murder; Gregory McMichael was not found guilty of that charge, but guilty of all others, including aggravated murder; Finally, Bryan, who filmed the meeting, was found guilty of six charges, including aggravated murder, but acquitted of three other counts.

Groups gathered outside the courthouse immediately broke into festive songs about “Ahmaud Arbery!” Civil Law Attorney Ben Crump said in one statement that “after almost two years of pain, suffering and wondering if Ahmaud’s murderer would be brought to justice, the Arbery family finally has some justice.”

“It’s been a long fight and a hard fight, but God is good,” said Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, during a brief off-court appearance. “I never thought this day would come.”

Without a viral video of the crime, the actions of local prosecutors might have ensured that a trial might not even have taken place. Liked by some at one modern lynchingArbery’s shooting was one of several high-profile murders of black Americans that sparked nationwide protests for racial justice in the summer of 2020.

On February 23, 2020, Arbery, a 25-year-old former high school soccer star, jogged in the rural town of Satilla Shores as the three men began chasing him in two trucks, one of which was decorated with a federal flag flag vanity. After Arbery was hit by the vehicles, a fight ensued and Travis McMichael shot him three times, once in the distance.

It took 74 days for Bryan and the McMichaels family to be prosecuted and arrested. The first prosecutor to handle the case, Jackie Johnson, waived his connections to Gregory McMichael, who had previously worked as an investigator at Brunswick’s prosecutor’s office and as a police officer. Shortly after the shooting, McMichael will have Johnson called and left a voicemail asks for her advice, although it is not clear if she answered or not. In September 2021 was Johnson prosecuted by a grand jury for having “shown favor and affection” to McMichael and urged police not to arrest his son. (Her case has not yet been processed.) Johnson’s replacement also advised police not to arrest the three men before renouncing his son’s ties to Gregory McMichael, according to documents obtained by New York Times.

Two months after the shooting, when graphic video of the murder began to spread on social media platforms, the three men were finally arrested. The outrageous images, which Bryan filmed on a cell phone, show Arbery confronted by McMichaels. Arbery starts wrestling with Travis McMichael over a shotgun when a shot goes off and the two men leave the frame. Two more shots are heard and Arbery staggers and falls as he tries to escape.

Outrage over the case has already led to significant changes in Georgia’s law. In direct response to Arbery’s killing, the state legislature adopted Georgia’s first ever hate crime charter and in part repealed a law on arresting citizens it was essentially assumed during the Civil War to allow white Americans to capture people who had escaped from plantations.

The defendants’ lawyers referred to the citizen’s arrest law in court and claimed that their clients had suspected that Arbery was responsible for burglary committed in the area. There is no evidence that Arbery was actually involved in these crimes. The defendants also claimed that they were acting in self-defense, even though they had initiated the meeting by pursuing Arbery with their cars.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski pushed back on these allegations during closing arguments. “All three of these defendants made assumptions,” she said. “Assumptions about what happened that day, and they made the decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a black man running down the street.”

The topic of race was big during the trial even before it had formally begun. In a preliminary hearing, investigators testified that Bryan had heard Travis McMichael ring Arbery a racist slander when he lay dying. Prosecutors also appeared text messages and Facebook posts written by Travis McMichael, which included racial explanations for Asian and black Americans. Though, none of this evidence was presented to the jury.

The trial was also haunted by fears that the almost all-white jury would not function as an impartial audience. After a week-long jury election during which around 500 people were evaluated, only one black jury member was elected, even though the trial was held in a county with more than 25 percent black population. Prosecutors accused the defense attorneys of unconstitutionally beating qualified black people from the jury, but the judge did not agree and said that the racial prejudice in the selection of the jury was constitutional, and allowed the case to continue.

Although prosecutors tended to shy from discussing the racial aspects of the crime, defense attorneys repeatedly courted controversies by referring to race throughout the trial. An attorney for Bryan argued that the presence of black civil rights leaders in the courtroom – including Pastor Al Sharpton, Pastor Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King, III – could affect the jury. On Monday, one of Gregory McMichael’s lawyers described Arbery as having “dirty toenails”, a comment that induced panting from observers and drove short Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, from the courtroom.

In May 2020, my colleague Nathalie Baptiste wrote that the Arbery case is best seen not as an aberration but as another incident stemming from America’s long racist legacy. “Is there anything new to say about the killing of young black men who are engaged in everyday activities until they attract the attention of white people who feel threatened and decide to kill them?” she wrote. “How many times can we reject racism and beg to be seen as completely human?”

The three men will now face a federal hate crime trial in February.

This is a recent post and will be updated with more details.

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