By RUSS BYNUM
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Jurors on Wednesday convicted three white men in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the black man who was pursued and fatally shot while running through their neighborhood in an attack that became part of the larger national reckoning on racial injustice.
The jury deliberated for about 10 hours before convicting Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, all of whom received a minimum sentence of life. It’s up to the judge to decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole.
Travis McMichael stood before the verdict, his lawyer’s arm around his shoulder. At one point, McMichael lowered his head to his chest. After the verdicts were read, as he got up to leave, he said “love you” to his mother, who was in the courtroom.
Greg McMichael hung his head as the judge read his first conviction. Robbie Bryan bit his lip.
Moments after the verdicts were announced, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., was seen outside the courtroom crying and hugging supporters.
“He did nothing,” said the father, “but run and dream.”
Speaking outside the courthouse, Ben Crump, attorney for Arbery’s father, said repeatedly that “Ahmaud’s ghost defeated the lynch mob.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, thanked the crowd for the verdict and said she didn’t think she would see this day.
“It’s been a long battle. It’s been a hard fight. But God is good,” she said. About her son, she said, “He will now rest in peace.”
The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped into a pickup truck to chase the 25-year-old after seeing him run outside the Georgian port city of Brunswick in February 2020. Bryan joined the chase in his own pickup truck and recorded a mobile video of the fatal shooting of Travis McMichael Arbery.
The father and son told police they suspected Arbery was a fleeing burglar. But the prosecution argued that the men had provoked the fatal confrontation and that there was no evidence that Arbery had committed crimes in the area.
“We commend the courage and courage of this jury in saying that what happened to Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020 – the hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery – was not only morally wrong, but also legally wrong, and we are grateful for that . said Latonia Hines, executive assistant district attorney for Cobb County.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski added: “The jury system works in this country, and if you present the truth to people and they see it, they will do the right thing.”
Travis McMichaels’ lawyers said both he and his father believe they did the right thing and believed the video would help their case. But they also said the McMichaels regret that Arbery was killed.
“I can honestly tell you that these men regret what happened to Ahmaud Arbery,” attorney Jason Sheffield said. “They’re sorry he’s dead. They regret the tragedy that happened because of the choices they made to go out and try to stop him.”
They planned to appeal.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said his team was “disappointed with the verdict, but we respect it.” He planned to file new legal requests after Thanksgiving.
Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walmsley did not immediately schedule a sentencing date, but said he wanted to give both sides time to prepare.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said Arbery’s assassination was a “devastating reminder” of how much more work the country has to do in the fight for racial justice.
“While the guilty verdicts reflect that our justice system is doing its job, that alone is not enough. Instead, we must renew our commitment to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin,” Biden said.
Although prosecutors did not allege racism was the motive for the murder, federal authorities have charged them with hate crimes, alleging that they pursued and killed Arbery because he was black. The case will go to court in February.
The disproportionately white jury received the case around noon on Tuesday.
Shortly after returning to court on Wednesday morning, the jury sent a note to the judge requesting that they watch two versions of the recording video three times each — the original and one that researchers improved to reduce shadows.
Jurors returned to the courtroom to watch the videos and re-listen to the 911 call one of the suspects made from the bed of a pickup truck about 30 seconds before the shooting.
During the 911 call that the jury reviewed, Greg McMichael tells an operator, “I’m here in Satilla Shores. A black man is walking down the street.”
Then he starts yelling, apparently as Arbery rushes to the McMichael’s idling truck with Bryan’s truck chasing him, “Stop there! Damn it, stop! Travis!” A few seconds later, gunshots are heard.
The graphic death video leaked online two months later, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case and quickly arrested the three men. Each of them is charged with murder and other crimes.
Defense attorneys allege the McMichaels attempted to arrest a legal citizen when they went after Arbery, attempting to detain and interrogate him as a suspected burglar after he was seen running from a nearby house under construction.
Travis McMichael testified that he shot Arbery in self-defense and said the running man turned and attacked with his fists as he ran past the idling truck where Travis McMichael was standing with his shotgun.
Prosecutors said there was no evidence that Arbery had committed crimes near the suspects. He had enrolled in a technical college and, like his uncles, was preparing to study to become an electrician.
Shaun Seals, a 32-year-old lifelong resident of Brunswick, rushed to the courthouse to join the crowd cheering the verdict.
“We just came out to witness the history,” Seals said, pushing his 10-month-old daughter into a stroller.
Seals, who is black, called the convictions a victory not only for his community, but also for the nation.
“It won’t heal most wounds” from a long history of inequality, he said. “But it’s a start and shows that people are trying.”