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Arbery killers found guilty of hate crimes

A unanimous jury has convicted three white men of violating Ahmaud Arbery’s civil rights, finding that the 25-year-old Black man’s race was a factor in their decision to chase and murder him as he jogged through their South Georgia neighborhood.

(CN) — The three white men convicted last year of murdering Ahmaud Arbery are also guilty of violating the 25-year-old jogger’s civil rights and targeting him because he was Black, a Georgia jury decided on Tuesday after about four total hours of deliberations in the federal hate crimes trial against the men.

Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery twice at close-range with a shotgun, was found guilty on all counts, including interference with rights, attempted kidnapping and brandishing and discharging a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. His father Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” were also convicted on all charges.

The jury – which was comprised of eight white people, three Black people and one Hispanic person – reached its decision on the eve of the second anniversary of Arbery’s death.

The convictions carry possible life sentences, which would be added on to the life sentences already handed down to all three men for Arbery’s murder by a state court judge in January.

After the verdict was announced, Arbery’s mother and father joined hands with family attorney Benjamin Crump outside the courthouse and raised their arms to the sky in a moment of celebration.

Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, addressed a crowd of supporters, saying, “Ahmaud will continue to rest in peace. But he will now begin to rest in power.”

Cooper-Jones suggested that the verdict was achieved in spite of decisions made by federal prosecutors, who offered a plea deal to the McMichaels which was ultimately rejected by U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood after Arbery’s family made statements in court vehemently opposing it.

“We wouldn’t have gotten here today except for the fight that the family put up,” Cooper-Jones said. “We got a victory today, but there are so many people who don’t get victories.”

In a brief press conference Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland did not respond directly to Cooper-Jones’ criticisms of the Department of Justice but made remarks empathizing with Arbery’s family for the “enduring trauma” they have suffered.

“I cannot imagine the pain that a mother feels to have her son run down and gunned down while taking a jog on a public street,” Garland said. “My heart goes out to her and to the family. That’s really I can say about this.”

Arbery was jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, less than 2 miles from his own home on Feb. 23, 2020, when the McMichaels and Bryan began chasing him in their pickup trucks. Throughout the state and federal trials, defense attorneys have repeatedly argued that the men pursued Arbery not because of his race but because they believed he had committed burglaries in the area or stolen items from a nearby construction site.

There has never been any evidence presented in court that Arbery stole anything.

After a five-minute chase, in which Arbery tried several times to run away from the trucks, Travis McMichael exited his vehicle and pointed his 12-gauge Remington shotgun at Arbery.

Bryan filmed part of the chase on his phone and captured the moment McMichael fired three shotgun blasts at Arbery as the two tussled for control of the gun. Two of the shots hit Arbery in the chest and shoulder, killing him in the street.

No arrests were made in the case until the video footage was leaked to the public two months later and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took the case over from local authorities.

Jurors heard nearly a week of testimony in the federal trial detailing the McMichaels’ and Bryan’s usage of racial slurs and violent, bigoted language to express negative views of Black people. Although none of the racist statements testified to by government witnesses were directed toward Arbery, they were offered up as evidence of the racial animus harbored by the three men in the days and months before the shooting.

Defense attorneys presented only one witness before resting their case Friday and made no attempt to defend their clients’ use of slurs.

During closing statements on Monday, prosecutor Christopher Perras, an attorney with the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division, argued that the “racial hatred” expressed by the McMichaels and Bryan contributed to their decision to chase him through their neighborhood in February 2020.

On Wednesday, an FBI intelligence analyst spent several hours on the witness stand giving a detailed break-down of more than two dozen instances where Travis McMichael and Bryan used racial slurs in text message conversations and social media posts.

In one text message conversation with a friend in March 2019, Travis McMichael said he loved his job because “zero niggers work with me.” In another instance, the younger McMichael responded to a video on social media of a Black man playing a prank on a white man with the remark: “I’d kill that fucking nigger.”

A woman testified on Friday that Greg McMichael went on an angry rant in 2015 when she expressed sadness at the death of civil rights activist Julian Bond. She told jurors the elder McMichael said, “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”

As for Bryan, an analysis of his cell phone uncovered frequent usage of slurs and messages sent just four days before Arbery’s killing in which he discussed his daughter’s Black boyfriend. “He’d fit right in with the monkeys,” Bryan messaged a friend.

The testimony was so emotionally taxing that at least one juror inquired about whether counseling would be available after the trial. Wood indicated that help would be accessible for those who feel they need it.

On Tuesday, Crump remarked that for many people there was “never any doubt” that the three men targeted Arbery because of his skin color.

“But because of indisputable video evidence, disgusting messages sent by the defendants and witness testimony, their hate was revealed to the world and the jury,” Crump said. “We hope and demand that the severity of their crimes are reflected in the sentencing as well.”

An attorney for Bryan has said he plans to appeal the verdict.

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