Travis McMichael, 35, his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were convicted of a series of charges, including a felony, in the 2020 murder of the black runner from 25 years. Sentencing proceedings are expected to begin at 10 am ET.
Although murder is punishable by death in Georgia, prosecutors have said they would seek life in prison without parole. Under Georgia law, even if Judge Timothy Walmsley allows probation, it will not be considered for 30 years.
Following the November verdict, Walmsley said it would give the attorneys time to “gather any evidence that may show wrongdoing by the state or mitigation by the defense.”
Arbery’s family will be able to make statements intended to produce harsher sentences, while supporters of McMichaels and Bryan may present character witnesses to push for lighter sentences. Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, intends to release a statement, said her attorney, S. Lee Merritt.
Walmsley may consider other factors, such as that Travis McMichael was the one who shot Arbery.
Regardless of the sentences, the long legal saga is not over: the men’s lawyers say they will appeal the verdicts; a federal hate crime trial is scheduled for next month; Arbery’s mother has filed a civil lawsuit; and the original prosecutor faces charges for her alleged handling of the case.
Decades on the prison loom
The men believed Arbery had committed a crime on February 23, 2020 in his Satilla Shores neighborhood on the outskirts of Brunswick, they told police. The McMichaels were armed and chased after them, and Bryan later joined the chase, registering him from his truck. Bryan’s video shows Travis McMichael getting out of his truck and confronting Arbery, who fights Travis over a shotgun before young McMichael fatally shoots him.
The McMichaels claimed they were carrying out a citizen’s arrest and acting in self-defense. Bryan said he was not involved in the murder. Authorities made no immediate arrests. The men were so confident in their defense that they had Bryan’s video released to the public in May 2020, according to criminal defense attorney Alan Tucker.
Helped spell their doom. The 36-second video sparked outrage that soon coincided with protests over the murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
The McMichaels were arrested two days after the video went viral. Bryan was arrested two weeks after the McMichaels. The men have pleaded not guilty.
At trial, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski punched holes in citizens’ self-defense and arrest claims, emphasizing that Travis McMichael acknowledged that he never saw Arbery armed and never heard Arbery threaten anyone. She pointed to inconsistencies between her testimony and what she initially told investigators, prompting him to testify that he was “confused” and traumatized when police arrived.
Dunikoski deliberately questioned how Arbery could be an assailant when unarmed on foot and repeatedly tried to elude three men, two of them armed, in trucks.
A jury of nine white women, two white men, and one black man heard 23 witnesses over eight days. During 11 hours of deliberation, the jurors asked to see two clips of the video.
Travis McMichael was convicted of all counts: murder by malice, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony. His father was convicted of all counts except malicious murder, and Bryan was found guilty of all counts in addition to malicious murder, one felony murder count, and one aggravated battery charge.
Appeals come, defense attorneys say
With the death penalty off the table, each murder conviction carries a life sentence, with or without parole. The maximum sentences are 20 years for aggravated battery, 10 years for false imprisonment, and five years for attempted felony.
In addition to eligibility for parole, Walmsley will decide whether men serve their sentences one time or consecutively, which means they must finish each sentence before beginning the next.
Following the verdicts, Travis McMichael’s attorneys said their client “regrets what happened to Ahmaud Arbery” and that they plan to appeal. One of the father’s attorneys, Laura Hogue, was “stunned” by the verdict and intends to appeal, she said. Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said he feels “the appellate courts will reverse this conviction.”
Race was a constant factor, and not just because of the defendants’ and Arbery’s skin tone. Walmsley raised concerns about the composition of the jury, and Gough and Hogue were charged with making insensitive remarks, with the latter charged with dehumanizing Arbery by lifting his “long, dirty fingernails” during closing arguments.
During the jury selection, Gough complained about a shortage of older white men without college degrees. Glynn County is 69% white and 27% black.
Race could be a component of the appeals process, as Gough repeatedly asked that no trials be held because prominent black pastors accompanied the family into the courtroom and attended a “Wall of Prayer” outside the courthouse. during the trial.
Dunikoski alleged that Gough’s complaints about the black pastors in the courtroom led to the Wall of Prayer.
“That is good advocacy right there because now he was asked to annul the trial for something he caused,” he said. Dunikoski later added that Gough “I think he intentionally and strategically did what he did in an effort to try to potentially insert some error into the case should he lose the case and go on appeal.”
Many more court dates to come
The defendants have maintained their innocence on federal hate crime charges, including interference with rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were also charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during and in connection with a crime of violence; and Travis McMichael was charged with firing a firearm.
Federal prosecutors say the defendants “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use the public highway because of his race.”
“We are deeply disappointed that the Justice Department bought into the false narrative that the media and state prosecutors have promulgated,” Travis McMichael’s defense team said.
The federal trial is scheduled for February 7, a month after the men’s sentencing. Because they have been in the Glynn County Detention Center since their arrest, there has not been a federal bond hearing. If convicted of weapons charges or interference with rights charges, they face additional penalties of up to life in prison with possible six-figure fines.
Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, also filed a civil lawsuit against the men and the police and prosecutor’s officials. Among the officials is former district attorney Jackie Johnson, who lost her November 2020 re-election bid after a decade overseeing the five-county circuit.
Following the Arbery shooting, Gregory McMichael called Johnson, for whom he worked as an investigator until 2019, and told him he needed advice. Glynn County police officers who responded to the scene also reached out to Johnson for advice. No one was arrested for two and a half months.
Johnson was indicted in September on charges of violating her oath of office and obstructing law enforcement. She is charged with ordering agents not to arrest Travis McMichael, “against the laws of that state” and “showing favor and affection to Greg McMichael during the investigation,” according to the indictment. He recused himself from the case the day after the murder, citing his connection to Gregory McMichael.
CNN’s attempts to reach Johnson have been unsuccessful. She denied any wrongdoing in an October 2020 debate during her re-election campaign, saying: “It is a tragedy for the family. I am sorry for how things happened. I am sorry that a lie started and I could not back down.” “
Cooper-Jones applauded Johnson’s accusation.
“She didn’t pull the trigger, but she’s just as responsible as the three guys who did this to Ahmaud,” he said.
Cooper-Jones has asked supporters to remember his son as a vehicle for change, highlighting how his murder led to state hate crime legislation and a Civil War-era Citizen Arrest Law overhaul. from Georgia.
CNN’s Alta Spells, Devon M. Sayers, and Ryan Young contributed to this report.