(CN) — After about 11 hours of deliberations, a Georgia jury convicted the three white men who chased and fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery of murder on Wednesday, spurning the defendants’ claims that they only pursued the 25-year-old Black man because they wanted to make a citizen’s arrest and shot him in self-defense.
Travis McMichael, who pulled the trigger, was found guilty on all nine counts, including malice murder and felony murder. His father Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were acquitted of malice murder but found guilty of felony murder.
Each of the men was also convicted on lesser charges, including aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
The convictions carry a guaranteed sentence of life in prison, though the judge will decide at a sentencing hearing whether that will come with or without the possibility of parole. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled.
Spectators in the courtroom cried out as Judge Timothy Walmsley read the verdict aloud shortly after 1:20 p.m. Eastern time. Marcus Arbery, the victim’s father, was asked to leave the courtroom after he cheered in response to the news that the younger McMichael had been convicted.
“Long time coming,” he shouted as he left.
None of the defendants showed any emotion as the verdict was read, but Travis McMichael mouthed “love you” to his mother, Leigh McMichael, who was crying.
Arbery was jogging through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, less than 2 miles from his own home on Feb. 23, 2020, when the defendants began chasing him in their pickup trucks because they believed he had committed burglaries in the area. Bryan told police he used his truck five times to block Arbery’s path.
After a five-minute chase, Travis McMichael got out of his truck and pointed his 12-gauge Remington shotgun at Arbery.
Bryan filmed part of the chase on his phone and captured the moment Travis McMichael fired three shotgun blasts at Arbery as the two men fought for control of the gun. Two shots struck Arbery at close range, killing him seconds before police arrived at the scene.
Attorneys for Travis McMichael argued that their client had “no choice” but to shoot Arbery.
Despite the existence of the video, no arrests were made in the case until nearly three months later, after the footage leaked to the public and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took the case over from local authorities.
During a news conference outside the Glynn County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones said her son “will now rest in peace.”
A crowd of supporters gathered around her.
“It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight. But God is good,” she said. “To tell you the truth, I never saw this day back in 2020. I never thought this day would come. But God is good and I just want to tell everybody thank you – thank you to those who marched, thank you to those who prayed.”
Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski joined Arbery’s parents at the news conference, thanking them for putting their faith and trust in the state’s team.
"The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts, based on the evidence, and that was our goal – to bring that to that jury so they could do the right thing" Dunikoski said. "The jury system works in this country and when you present the truth to people and they can see it, they will do the right thing. And that's what this jury did today in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery."
The Reverend Al Sharpton, who sat beside Cooper-Jones throughout the trial in a gesture of comfort, led demonstrators in a prayer of thanks outside the courthouse.
“All of us, this is a day white and Black activists showed we could unite and beat the lynch mob that killed Ahmaud," Sharpton said.
“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 that Black lives do matter,” he added.
The racial makeup of the jury panel garnered nationwide scrutiny, especially in light of data showing that Glynn County’s population is more than 26% Black and more than 55% of the people who live in Brunswick are Black.
Even the judge acknowledged that there appeared to be “intentional discrimination” during the jury selection process. However, he found that defense attorneys were able to provide nondiscriminatory reasons for striking Black potential jurors.
Although racist statements allegedly made by the defendants never made it into the evidence presented to the jury, the issue of race hung heavy over the trial from the beginning. Potential jurors were asked their thoughts on Black Lives Matter and racism and one defense attorney repeatedly asked the judge to throw Sharpton and fellow civil rights leader the Reverend Jesse Jackson out of the courtroom.
Attorney Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan, told the judge he didn’t want “any more Black pastors” in the courtroom, arguing that the effect of their presence might be prejudicial to the jury.
Defense attorneys argued throughout the 13-day trial that the McMichaels were justified in trying to detain Arbery under a Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law based on their belief that he stole items from a nearby construction site. The law, which was largely repealed earlier this year in response to Arbery’s killing, allowed private citizens to detain someone if a crime was committed in their presence or if they had reasonable grounds to believe that person was escaping a felony.
Witnesses for the state testified that the McMichaels never saw Arbery steal anything or knew for sure that he had committed any crime. Police investigators have said none of the defendants used the terms “detain” or “citizen’s arrest” in their statements immediately after the shooting.
Instead, Dunikoski argued, they chased him solely “because he was a Black man running down the street.”
During the state’s closing argument on Tuesday, Dunikoski said all three defendants provoked a confrontation with Arbery and were all equally responsible for his death. Repudiating arguments made by Bryan’s attorney, Dunikoski told jurors that if Bryan had not used his truck to repeatedly block Arbery’s path he might have been able to escape.
“When three people chase an unarmed man in pickup trucks with guns in order to violate his personal liberty, who gets to claim, ‘I am not responsible for that’? Under the law in Georgia, no one gets to say that,” Dunikoski said. “Everybody is responsible.”
All three defendants still face federal hate crimes charges for their involvement in Arbery’s death. The indictment issued by the U.S. Department of Justice also charged them with interference with rights, attempted kidnapping and using, carrying, brandishing and discharging a firearm. A preliminary hearing in the case is set for Dec. 20.
The McMichaels and Bryan, along with Glynn County’s former police chief and two former prosecutors, have all been named as defendants in a wrongful death suit filed by Arbery’s mother. Seeking $1 million in damages, she claims they conspired to “hide the circumstances surrounding Ahmaud’s death.”
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