- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Jurors on Wednesday convicted the three White men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man who was chased and fatally shot while running through their neighborhood in an attack that became part of the larger national reckoning on racial injustice.

The jury in Brunswick, Georgia, deliberated for about 10 hours before convicting Travis McMichael, his father, Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, who all face minimum sentences of life in prison. The judge will decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole.

Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery, stood for the verdict, his lawyer’s arm around his shoulder. At one point, he lowered his head to his chest. After the verdicts were read, as he stood to leave, he mouthed “love you” to his mother, who was in the courtroom.

Greg McMichael, a former police officer, hung his head when the judge read his first guilty verdict. Bryan bit his lip.

Moments after the verdicts were announced, Arbery‘s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., was seen crying and hugging supporters outside the courtroom.

“He didn’t do nothing,” the father said, “but run and dream.”

Ben Crump, attorney for Arbery‘s father, said repeatedly that “the spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob.”

The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue the 25-year-old after seeing him running outside of Brunswick in February 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his pickup and recorded a cellphone video of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery.

The father and son told police they suspected Arbery was a fleeing burglar. But the prosecution argued that the men provoked the fatal confrontation and that there was no evidence Arbery had committed crimes in the neighborhood.

“We commend the courage and bravery of this jury to say that what happened on Feb. 23, 2020, to Ahmaud Arbery — the hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery — it was not only morally wrong but legally wrong, and we are thankful for that,” said Latonia Hines, Cobb County executive assistant district attorney.

Travis McMichael‘s attorneys said both he and his father feel that they did the right thing and that they believed the video would help their case. But they also said the McMichaels regret that Arbery died.

“I can tell you honestly, these men are sorry for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery,” attorney Jason Sheffield said. “They are sorry he’s dead. They are sorry for the tragedy that happened because of the choices they made to go out there and try to stop him.”

They planned to appeal.

The case attracted intense media attention, and in Washington, over questions of racial justice.

President Biden, who was widely criticized for disagreeing with the acquittal of shooting defendant Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, said the convictions in the Arbery case show the justice system is “doing its job.”

“Ahmaud Arbery‘s killing — witnessed by the world on video — is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin.”

The president said the verdict ensures that those “who committed this horrible crime will be punished.”

He said his administration “will continue to do the hard work to ensure that equal justice under law is not just a phrase emblazoned in stone above the Supreme Court, but a reality for all Americans.”

When a jury last week acquitted Mr. Rittenhouse, 18, in the shooting deaths of two men during unrest in Kenosha in 2020, Mr. Biden said he was “angry and concerned.” But he said the jury system works.

He had characterized the teenager in a campaign video last year as a White supremacist. After the trial, Mr. Rittenhouse said the president defamed him.

The White House suggested this week that Mr. Biden has no intention of apologizing to Mr. Rittenhouse.

Vice President Kamala Harris said the convictions in the Arbery case came despite racist tactics used by defense lawyers representing the White defendants.

“These verdicts send an important message, but the fact remains that we still have work to do,” Ms. Harris said in a statement. “The defense counsel chose to set a tone that cast the attendance of ministers at the trial as intimidation and dehumanized a young Black man with racist tropes. The jury arrived at its verdicts despite these tactics.”

Defense attorney Kevin Gough twice asked Judge Timothy Walmsley to remove the Rev. Al Sharpton from the court, saying the civil rights activist was trying to influence the disproportionately White jury. He also complained that activists outside the courthouse were trying to influence the jury with banners and signs, and likewise objected to the pastors’ rally.

In a closing argument, defense attorney Laura Hogue, representing Gregory McMichael, told the jury: “Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails.”

Ms. Harris said Mr. Arbery, 25, was “a son. He was a brother. He was a friend. His life had meaning. We will not forget him. We honor him best by continuing the fight for justice.

“Ahmaud Arbery should be alive, and nothing can take away the pain that his mother Wanda Cooper-Jones, his father Marcus Arbery, and the entire Arbery family and community feel today,” Ms. Harris said. “I share in that pain.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, called Mr. Arbery “a victim of vigilantism that has no place in Georgia.”

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty, Ohio Democrat, also criticized “vitriol and racist tropes invoked by the defense” as she praised the guilty verdicts.

“This story — although devastating — is not new; we’ve seen this play out repeatedly,” she said. “Vigilantes acting with racial animus take the lives of Black men and boys, and claim self-defense when confronted with the consequences of their actions.”

After the verdict. Mr. Sharpton told supporters outside the courthouse, “We’ve never had a Thanksgiving Day like today.”

“Let the word go out all over the world that a jury of 11 Whites and one Black in the Deep South stood up in the courtroom and said Black lives do matter,” Mr. Sharpton said.

Though prosecutors did not argue that racism motivated the killing, federal authorities have charged them with hate crimes, alleging that they chased and killed Arbery because he was Black. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.

Outside the courthouse after the verdict, Arbery‘s mother, Ms. Cooper-Jones, thanked the crowd and said she did not think she would see this day.

“It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight. But God is good,” she said. Of her son, she said, “He will now rest in peace.”

Mr. Gough said his team was “disappointed with the verdict, but we respect it.” He planned to file new legal motions after Thanksgiving.

Judge Walmsley did not immediately schedule a sentencing date, saying that he wanted to give both sides time to prepare.

The disproportionately White jury received the case around midday Tuesday.

Soon after returning to court Wednesday morning, the jury sent a note to the judge asking to view two versions of the shooting video — the original and one that investigators enhanced to reduce shadows — three times apiece.

Jurors returned to the courtroom to see the videos and listen again to the 911 call one of the defendants made from the bed of a pickup truck about 30 seconds before the shooting.

On the 911 call that the jury reviewed, Greg McMichael tells an operator: “I’m out here in Satilla Shores. There’s a Black male running down the street.”

He then starts shouting, apparently as Arbery is running toward the McMichaels’ idling truck with Bryan‘s truck coming up behind him: “Stop right there! Damn it, stop! Travis!” Gunshots can be heard a few seconds later.

The graphic video of the death leaked online two months later, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case, quickly arresting the three men.

Defense attorneys contend the McMichaels were attempting a legal citizen’s arrest when they set off after Arbery, seeking to detain and question him as a suspected burglar after he was seen running from a nearby home under construction.

Travis McMichael testified that he shot Arbery in self-defense, saying the running man turned and attacked with his fists while running past the idling truck where Travis McMichael stood with his shotgun.

Prosecutors said there was no evidence Arbery had committed crimes in the defendants’ neighborhood. He had enrolled at a technical college and was preparing to study to become an electrician like his uncles.

Shaun Seals, a 32-year-old lifelong Brunswick resident, rushed to the courthouse to join the crowd cheering the verdict.

“We just came out to witness history,” said Mr. Seals, pushing his 10-month-old daughter in a stroller.

Mr. Seals, who is Black, called the convictions a victory not just for his community but for the nation.

“It’s not going to heal most of the wounds” from a long history of inequality, he said. “But it’s a start and shows people are trying.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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