The three white men convicted of killing 25-year-old unarmed African American Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia have been sentenced to life in prison.
Judge Timothy Walmsley in Georgia sentenced 35-year-old Travis McMichael and his 66-year-old father, Gregory McMichael, a retired police detective, to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Meanwhile, their 52-year-old neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, was also was sentenced to life in prison but with the possibility of parole.
On Feb. 23, 2020, Arbery was shot to death while jogging outside the city of Brunswick, Georgia.
A widely-shared video leaked by Greg McMichael to a local radio station showed Arbery being chased by a white Ford pickup truck as he ran through the Satilla Shores subdivision. Arbery briefly disappeared off-camera as a gunshot was heard in the background. Two more shots rang out as Arbery appeared back in the footage before falling to the ground. He was dead by the time the police arrived at the scene.
“In this case, I think many people are seeking closure,” the judge said before the sentencing on Friday.
“The mother, the father, the community, and maybe even parts of the nation, but closure is hard to define and is a granular concept. It’s seen differently by all depending on their perspective and the prism of your lives.”
The judge called for silence for one minute.
“That one minute represents a fraction of the time that Ahmaud Arbery was running in Satilla Shores,” he said. “When I thought about this, I thought from a lot of different angles, and I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores.”
Arbery’s parents, Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery, also addressed the court.
“These men have chose[n] to lie and attack my son and his surviving family. They each have no remorse and do not deserve any leniency,” Cooper-Jones said. “They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community. And when they couldn’t sufficiently scare him or intimidate him, they killed him.”
“You know, something that just does not sit right with me at this time? The man who killed my son has sat in this courtroom every single day next to his father,” Marcus Arbery said. “I’ll never get that chance to sit next to my son ever again — not at the dinner table, not at the holidays and not at a wedding. When I close my eyes, I see his execution in my mind over and over. I’ll see that for the rest of my life.”
The defense had argued that Travis McMichael was trying to make a citizen’s arrest of Arbery, whom they suspected of burgling a nearby home under construction. The defense had also argued the shooting was an act of self-defense because Arbery was resisting McMichael’s attempt at an arrest. The judge noted in his closing statement before sentencing that the men admitted they didn’t know for sure that Arbery had done anything wrong. He said Greg McMichael tried to “establish a narrative” early on in the case.
The sentencing comes about two months after a jury found the three men guilty of murder in the highly-publicized case that has been among those at the forefront of nationwide protests for racial justice.
The Arbery murder trial was attended by prominent African American faith leaders and civil rights activists, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton. National headlines were made after Bryan’s defense attorney complained in court about the presence of prominent black pastors.
Jamal Bryant, the senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia, had called on pastors from around the country to join him in forming a “human prayer wall” against racism and injustice at the Glynn County Courthouse. Bryant accompanied Arbery’s mother to the sentencing Friday.
“All praise to God. Nobody said the road was going to be easy. But we don’t believe He has brought us this far to leave us now,” Bryant said in a news conference after the sentencing. “We want to thank the citizens of Brunswick for standing around this family, undergirding them with love and support.”
President Joe Biden released a statement soon after the verdict was announced in November, saying that Arbery’s killing was “a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country.”
“Nothing can bring Mr. Arbery back to his family and to his community, but the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished,” stated the president.