- January 7, 2022
Ahmaud Arbery case: Georgia men sentenced in 2020 murder of unarmed Black man
The three men were convicted in November
Three Georgia men were sentenced Friday for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man who was running through a mostly White neighborhood outside Brunswick.
Glynn County Superior Judge Timothy Walmsley handed down the maximum on the top count of malice murder for Travis McMichael, 35, and his father, Greg McMichael, 66: life in prison without parole plus 20 years for the lesser charges.
William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, was hit with the minimum sentence for felony murder: life in prison with the possibility of parole, which means he could be released after 30 years.
Before handing down the sentence, Walmsley ordered one minute of silence in the courtroom, which he said was a fraction of the five minutes the men had pursued Arbery Feb. 23, 2020.
“I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man as he ran through Satilla Shores,” the judge said. “Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down and shot, and he was killed because individuals here in this courtroom took the law into their own hands.”
On a Sunday afternoon, after spotting Arbery, 25, run by their house, the McMichaels grabbed their guns and pursued him in their white pickup truck for five minutes. Bryan saw the commotion and joined the chase — but he was unarmed.
He recorded video on his cellphone that captured part of the deadly confrontation.
The two can be seen tussling over the shotgun, before Travis McMichael blasts Arbery in the chest. He testified at trial that he acted in self-defense after Arbery grabbed his shotgun.
The McMichael’s lawyers said the men suspected that Arbery was a burglar and recognized him as the man captured in surveillance footage repeatedly wandering around a nearby under-construction house.
They said they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest under a Georgia law that has largely been repealed in the wake of Arbery’s murder.
Bryan was found guilty of three counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski argued for the maximum prison term for the McMichaels.
“There was a demonstrated pattern of vigilantism by Greg and Travis McMichael,” she said. “Thoughtfulness, empathy and insight must prevail, not vigilantism.” For Bryan, she requested the minimum.
The McMichaels’ defense lawyers said their clients deserved leniency.
Attorney Robert Rubin argued that Travis McMichael had a stellar record as a former member of th U.S. Coast Guard, including saving the life of a drowning boy in a pool and helping a family in a boat that was taking on water.
“He only fired the fatal shots when Mr. Arbery came at him and grabbed the gun,” he said.
Laura Hogue, an attorney for Greg McMichael, highlighted his client’s service as a police officer and later an investigator for the local district attorney’s office.
“Greg McMichael is a good man,” she said. “He’s not a perfect person. None of us are, but he’s lived a good life. A life dedicated to service and that does count for something.”
Bryan’s lawyer, Kevin Gough, said his client is “remorseful and regretful at this tragic loss of life.”
Arbery’s murder received little attention for two months until Bryan’s disturbing cellphone video was released to the press. Dunikoski said it was actually Greg McMichael who leaked the footage because he thought it showed they had done nothing wrong.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case and soon arrested them.
The men face a federal hate crimes trial for the same murder and jury selection is slated to begin in that case Feb. 7.
At the beginning of the sentencing hearing, Arbery’s family members delivered heart-wrenching statements urging the judge to impose the maximum.
“I pray that no one in this courtroom ever has to do what we had to do, bury their child,” said the victim’s father, Marcus Arbery. “There is no word for that because no word knows that much pain.”