Photo: Georgia Public Broadcasting
by Robin Kemp
Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan have been convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick.
The three men chased down and blocked Arbery on February 23, 2020 after Greg McMichael saw him running down the street and assumed that Arbery had committed a crime. Arbery had wandered through a house under construction on several occasions but security video showed no evidence he had taken anything from the site. A police officer testified that he would have given Arbery a trespass warning had he been present. Trespassing is a misdemeanor.
The verdicts are as follows:
- Count 1: Malice murder: GUILTY
- Count 2: Felony murder: GUILTY
- Count 3: Felony murder: GUILTY
- Count 4: Felony murder: GUILTY
- Count 5: Felony murder: GUILTY
- Count 6: Aggravated assault: GUILTY
- Count 7: Aggravated assault: GUILTY
- Count 8: False imprisonment: GUILTY
- Count 9: Criminal attempt: GUILTY
Travis McMichael, son of Greg McMichael, grabbed a shotgun, chased down Arbery, got out of a pickup truck, and pointed the shotgun at Arbery, who grabbed the barrel. McMichael shot three times, striking Arbery twice in the chest and once in the hand. A first responder said Arbery died within two minutes and that police officers first on the scene could not have done anything to save him.
Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael’s father, called for his son to jump in the truck and chased down Arbery. After the shooting, he told police he had turned over Arbery’s body to check for a weapon because Arbery was lying on one hand. McMichael then asked several times for police to give him water so he could wash Arbery’s blood off his hands.
William “Roddy” Bryan
Bryan, a neighbor of the McMichaels, joined the chase and told police he had helped to block in Arbery before the shooting. He took cellphone video of the struggle between Travis McMichael an Arbery and captured the shooting.
The trial was punctuated by several racially-charged comments by the defense team, which referred to “Colonel Sanders,” having “too many” Black ministers in the courtroom, “lynching,” and Arbery’s “dirty” toenails. Georgia Bureau of Investigations agent Richard Dial testified that, a week after the murder, Bryan stated that “after the shooting took place before police arrival, while Mr. Arbery was on the ground, that he heard Travis McMichael make the statement, ‘f – – – ing n – – – er.”
Georgia law distinguishes between malice murder, murder, and felony murder:
Malice murder is defined as “that deliberate intention unlawfully to take the life of another human being which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof. Malice shall be implied where no considerable provocation appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”
Murder is defined as when a person “unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.”
Felony murder is “when, in the commission of a felony, [a person] causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice.”
Anyone convicted of murder could get one of three sentences: the death penalty, life in prison without parole, or life in prison.
Travis McMichael’s attorneys had argued he was acting in self-defense when Arbery fought back with his bare hands. Georgia law specifies that the aggressor cannot claim self-defense “unless he withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates to such other person his intent to do so and the other, notwithstanding, continues or threatens to continue the use of unlawful force.”
In Georgia, self-defense is not an excuse if the person charged “initially provokes the use of force against himself with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant.”
Also, if a person who is charged with murder or manslaughter was “attempting to commit, committing, or fleeing after the commission or attempted commission of a felony,” self-defense does not apply.
Aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt (in conjunction with a felony charge) are all felonies in Georgia.
One year after Arbery’s murder, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia Assembly repealed the state’s 1863 citizens’ arrest law as a direct result of the incident:
More from Georgia Public Broadcasting:
All three defendants were found guilty of murder in the February 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery.
The nearly all-white jury in Glynn County reached its decision on Wednesday on Day 2 of deliberations in a racially charged case that has become one of the most-watched trials in the nation amid a reckoning over racial justice.
Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and William Bryan, 52, were charged with murder, false imprisonment, and aggravated assault for chasing Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, in pickup trucks as he jogged in a Coastal Georgia neighborhood and shooting him to death. Bryan filmed the killing on his cellphone.
Travis McMichael, the shooter, was found guilty on all nine counts. His father, Greg, was convicted on eight of the nine. Bryan was convicted on six counts.
They face the possibility of life in prison without parole. The three also separately face an array of federal hate crimes charges.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, looked up, appearing to mouth a silent prayer as the judge began to read out the verdict. As the judge announced the first guilty verdict, Arbery’s mother sobbed aloud: “Oh!”
Her head sank to her chest as she wept, with the Rev. Al Sharpton holding her hand.
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, leapt up at the first guilty verdict, cheering the verdict and throwing his arms up in celebration. Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley scolded him and asked for people in his courtroom not to react any further. The judge asked Arbery’s father to leave.
Sheriff’s deputies came over and escorted him out.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said, and left.
Outside the courtroom, protesters erupted in cheers and chanted Arbery’s name.
The three defendants claimed they had acted in self-defense and said they believed Arbery was connected to a string of burglaries in a suburban Brunswick neighborhood. No evidence was ever presented tying Arbery to any crimes; he was jogging through the neighborhood when he was gunned down in broad daylight.
Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski blasted the men’s claims of self-defense, telling jurors that the three men were the ones who started the confrontation, chasing Arbery for nearly five minutes.
“You can’t claim self-defense if you are the unjustified, initial aggressor,” Dunikoski said. “This isn’t the Wild West.”
The jury was comprised of 11 white people and one Black person, despite Glynn County having a nearly 27% Black population.
Arbery was killed in February 2020, but the defendants were not charged for months — and only after the video of the killing surfaced. Widespread protests calling for social justice swept the nation — and only grew after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.
RELATED: The killing of Ahmaud Arbery: A timeline of events
Travis McMichael fired the fatal shot with a shotgun.
During the trial, he took the stand in his own defense, telling the court: “It was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would’ve got the shotgun from me, then it was a life-or-death situation. And I’m gonna have to stop him from doing this, so I shot.”
Dunikoski questioned the men’s motives and self-defense claims, saying it was Arbery who was under attack, not them.
“All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions,” Dunikoski said. “And they made decisions in their driveways based on those assumptions that took a young man’s life.”
She grilled Travis McMichael under cross examination.
“Not once during your statement to the police did you say that you and your father were trying to arrest Mr. Arbery, did you?” Dunikowski asked.
“No ma’am,” McMichael answered.
RELATED: Ahmaud Arbery’s death fueled calls for change. Here are the top five things it did
The prosecutor asked McMichael about his views of vigilantism and highlighted several comments he made to his Satilla Shores neighbors on Facebook, including one in July 2019 when he told people to arm themselves to confront criminals.
In January 2019, Dunikoski said, McMichael praised a woman who called for making example of people who steal.
“‘That’s right — hope y’all catch the vermin,'” Dunikoski said, quoting the defendant.
“That’s right,” McMichael said, confirming to the prosecutor those were his words.
The prosecutor also pointed out McMichael had at least three opportunities to stop chasing Arbery and to let the police handle the situation, but he did nothing to alert authorities.
At one point, the prosecutor noted Arbery was running away from the three men.
“Why in the world would Mr. Arbery be a threat to you?” Dunikoski said.
The attorneys for the defendants repeatedly asked for a mistrial but Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley denied the requests.
At one point, an attorney for Bryan asked for “high-profile African Americans” to be denied entry into the courtroom after prominent Black pastors showed up in support of Arbery’s parents.
That request was also denied, and led to a large protest outside the courthouse with Black pastors and others rallying to support the family.
This story comes to The Clayton Crescent through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.