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Father and son sentenced to life for hate crimes in Arbery killing, neighbor gets 35 years

The three white men who chased and fatally shot 25-year-old Black man Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through their neighborhood must serve their sentences in Georgia state prison, a federal judge ruled.

(CN) — The father and son convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery were sentenced Monday in Georgia federal court to life imprisonment for violating the 25-year-old jogger’s civil rights and targeting him because he was Black, adding to their life sentences for aggravated assault and murder.

A unanimous jury convicted Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, in February of interference with rights, attempted kidnapping and brandishing and discharging a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

The McMichaels’ neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, who was also convicted of hate crimes charges and attempted kidnapping, received a 35-year prison sentence on Monday.

The men, all of whom are white, were convicted in a state trial last year of Arbery’s murder and given life sentences.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and chased Arbery in their pickup truck after spotting him jogging through their coastal Georgia neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the chase in his truck and captured video on his cellphone of the moment Travis McMichael fired two fatal shotgun blasts at Arbery.

Before U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood made her decisions Monday on the hate crimes punishments, Arbery’s family members gave statements urging the judge to impose the maximum possible sentences.

Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, said she feels every shot fired at her son every day.

“It’s so unfair, so unfair, so unfair that he was killed while he was not even committing a crime,” she said.

Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud Arbery’s father, said he wanted the men to “rot” in prison.

“These three devils broke my heart into pieces that cannot be found or repaired,” he said. “How can you all dare ask for mercy? You didn’t give my son no mercy.”

Before handing down a sentence of life plus 10 years to the younger McMichael, Wood said that he had received a fair trial.

“It’s not lost on the court that it was the kind of trial that Ahmaud Arbery did not receive before he was shot and killed,” the judge said.

As their respective hearings came to a close, both Greg McMichael and Bryan apologized to Arbery’s family and friends.

“The loss you’ve endured is beyond description,” the elder McMichael, whose life sentence carries an additional seven years, said. “I’m sure my words mean very little to you, but I want to assure you that I never wanted any of this to happen.”

McMichael also apologized to his son, saying he “never should have put him in that situation.”

Travis McMichael chose not to make any statement on his own behalf, relying on his attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, to object to the application of sentencing enhancements against him. Wood overruled those objections and rejected arguments that all three men should be allowed to begin serving their sentences in federal prison rather than state prison for their safety.

Copeland had argued that her client received “hundreds of threats, possibly a thousand” that he would be killed in state prison.

“I represent a man who has been told hundreds of times that his photo… has circulated through the prisons,” Copeland said, adding that she is “concerned” that McMichael could face a “back door death penalty.”

A.J. Balbo, an attorney for Greg McMichael, made similar arguments and added that his client’s health problems – a stroke and a recent angioplasty – meant he was medically “not fit” to serve his sentence in state prison.

Both attorneys also raised the U.S. Department of Justice’s ongoing civil rights investigation into Georgia’s state prison system as another reason for their safety concerns.

Wood refused the requests, explaining that the state of Georgia originally arrested the three men and therefore has primary custodial jurisdiction over them.

The McMichaels and Bryan have 14 days to appeal their federal hate crimes sentences. The McMichaels have already appealed their murder convictions.

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