The Ahmaud Arbery Murder – A judge is expected to decide Friday if three White men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery will have a chance for parole as they serve life sentences in prison.
Friday’s sentencing hearing, set to begin 10 a.m. EST, will not mark the end of the widely watched case.
Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan face life in prison after they were convicted in November of murder in the death of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man. The three men chased and murdered Arbery in suburban Satilla Shores near Brunswick, Ga. The five-minute pursuit ended with 35-year-old Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery, whom was unarmed.
Activists and civil rights leaders praised the guilty verdict last fall as hard-won justice in the case, which saw no arrests until two months after Arbery’s death. The three men were only charged after a cellphone video of the event went viral, thrusting the killing into the national spotlight and leaving many outraged at a justice system that they said showed little care for Black lives.
Georgia law prescribes a minimum sentence of life in prison for murder, leaving the question of parole up to presiding judge Timothy Walmsley. Prosecutors have not sought the death penalty. All three men were convicted of felony murder, or committing felonies that caused Arbery’s death; Travis McMichael was also convicted of malice murder, which requires intent to kill, but faces the same punishment as his 66-year-old father and 52-year-old Bryan.
Prosecutors implied last fall that the McMichaels and Bryan targeted Arbery in part because of his race, portraying the men as vigilantes who jumped to conclusions about a man they suspected of break-ins. But officials did not seek to prove a motive, and during the trial did not use texts and social media posts offered early in the case as evidence that the defendants were racist.
The federal indictment charges the McMichaels and Bryan with interference with Arbery’s rights and attempted kidnapping. In particular, it alleges the defendants used “force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
Following the November verdict, Walmsley said he’d give attorneys time to “put together whatever evidence may be shown in aggravation from the state or mitigation from the defense.”
Arbery’s family will be able to deliver statements aimed at yielding stiffer sentences, while the McMichaels’ and Bryan’s supporters can present character witnesses to press for lighter sentences. Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, intends to deliver a statement, her lawyer, S. Lee Merritt, said.
While each of the defendants will have the opportunity to speak Friday, Cooper-Jones said she doesn’t want to hear from any of them.
The men believed Arbery had committed a crime February 23, 2020, in their Satilla Shores neighborhood outside Brunswick, they told police. The McMichaels were armed and gave chase, and Bryan later joined the pursuit, recording it from his pickup. Bryan’s video shows Travis McMichael exit his truck and confront Arbery, who tussles with Travis over a shotgun before the younger McMichael fatally shoots him.
The McMichaels claimed they were conducting a citizen’s arrest and acting in self-defense. Bryan said he took no part in the killing. Authorities made no immediate arrests. The men were so confident in their defense, they had Bryan’s video released to the public in May 2020, according to criminal defense attorney Alan Tucker.