On Friday, a judge sentenced father and son Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 20 years more. Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced the McMichaels’ neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan to life with the possibility of parole, saying that Bryan had expressed genuine remorse at the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The McMichaels, in what the judge described as “disturbing” video footage, turned away from Arbery’s fallen body after the shooting. “They walked away,” Walmsley said. “This was a killing. It was callous, and it occurred…because confrontation was sought.” The sentences were in line with what the prosecution had requested.
The sentencing hearing stretched nearly five hours, and included statements from attorneys for both sides and Arbery’s family. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, addressed the courtroom. “This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact,” she said. “They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community. And when they couldn’t sufficiently scare or intimidate him, they killed him.”
Walmsley also spoke about the meaning of being a neighbor, noting that while the residents of Sotilla Shores had reportedly lived in fear of trespassers and rising crime, the most violent crime to occur there was Arbery’s murder. “I’ve read somewhere, and I don’t remember where it was, that at a minimum, Ahmaud Arbery’s death should force us to consider expanding our definition of what a neighbor may be and how we treat them,” he said. “I argue that maybe a neighbor is more than the people who just own property around your house. I believe that assuming the worst in others we show our worst character.”
In November, a Georgia jury found the three white men guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, who’d been shot at close range while he ran through a residential neighborhood in Georgia. Prosecutors had argued the three defendants had chased, cornered, and killed Arbery “because he was a Black man running down the street.” The defense had claimed the men suspected Arbery of a crime and had been attempting to make a legitimate citizen’s arrest, eventually being forced to act in self-defense. Arbery’s 2020 murder helped spur nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.
Travis McMichael was found guilty of firing the shot that killed Arbery. He was the only defendant convicted of all nine charges the men faced: 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. His father, Gregory, was convicted on eight counts, but found not guilty of malice murder. The jury found Bryan guilty of three felony murder counts, charges of aggravated assault with his pickup truck, false imprisonment, and criminal intent to commit a felony.
The three men also face federal hate crime charges. Each has pleaded not guilty. Jury selection for that trial is set to begin Feb. 7.
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