No parole for McMichaels; chance of parole for Bryan
by Robin Kemp
The three men convicted of chasing down and murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick’s Satilla Shores subdivision will get life in prison.
Travis and Gregory McMichael were both sentenced to life in prison without parole. William “Roddy” Bryan was sentenced to life with the possibility parole plus ten years suspended.
All three immediately filed an appeal.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, thanked the prosecutors for standing by her and the family.
“I sat in that courtroom for five weeks straight, but I knew we were going to come out with a victory,” she told reporters outside the courthouse.
A separate federal civil rights case will begin February 7 in the Southern District of Georgia. Another case filed by Cooper-Jones against the McMichaels, Bryan, and several law enforcement officers, has been stayed pending the outcome of the criminal trial.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked for life without the possibility of parole for both Travis and Gregory McMichael, and life with the possibility of parole plus 15 years suspended for William “Roddie” Bryan.
You can watch the recorded livestream from First Coast News:
During victim impact statements, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, noted that one defendant (Greg McMichael) got to sit next to his son every day in court, but that his son would never sit at a family gathering again.
“Not only did they lynch my son in broad daylight, but they killed him when he was doing what he loved more than anything–running,” his father said. “When I close my eyes, I see his execution over and over. I’ll see that for the rest of my life.”
As a father, he said he knew his job was to protect his son. “If I could, I would trade places with him tomorrow. In a heartbeat. But I’m standing here today to do for him what we can’t and that’s to fight for him. Fight for his memory, fight for his legacy…that’s the one thing you didn’t hear in this courtroom. And that’s the one thing you should know more than anything: who my boy was.”
He added, “I feel they should stay behind bars for the rest of their life.”
Jasmine Arbery, Ahmaud’s big sister, described her brother’s looks in poetic terms [we will bring you her exact words], making the point that he had been murdered because he was Black.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, spoke directly to her son.
“I told you that I loved you and I told you that someday, somehow, I would get you justice….Raising you as the honor of my life and I am very proud of you.”
She added that the killers had “no remorse.”
“They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently…and when they couldn’t intimidate him…they killed him.”
She described Ahmaud as a “greedy baby” who was always looking for hugs and kisses and always telling his family members he loved them.
Noting that he was messy, she added, “I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for that jog that day”–a reference to the defense’s characterization of Arbery’s “dirty” toenails.
She asked the judge to impose life without parole.
Dunikoski further described previous incidents of armed “vigilantism” the McMichaels were involved in in the Satilla Shores area.
Because Greg McMichael had worked for the DA’s office and Travis McMichael was a Coast Guard veteran, “Here we had some men who should have known better,” she said. “You always wait for the professionals to show up….Greg McMichael was willing to get into that pickup truck and sit in a child seat” to go on the chase.
She also said Greg McMichael stood 20 feet from Arbery’s body and called him “an asshole.”
“There was thoughtlessness as to the consequences, thoughtlessness as to the alternatives,” she said. “There was vigilantism.”
She added that the “99 good acts” someone does don’t erase the one bad act.
Travis McMichael’s attorney said the Georgia Assembly several years ago gave judges the power to impose life without parole, but did not give any guidance as to how to make that decision.
He said Travis McMichael was not “the worst of the worst” and should not be sentenced to the maximum penalty.
“His goal was not to commit a crime that day or kill somebody that day. His goal was to have a family afternoon….When he got in that truck at his father’s behest to find out who that person was sprinting down the road…his goal was to find out who that person was.”
“He knew Ahmaud Arbery, he had encountered him previously,” and, the defense said, Travis McMichael knew the neighbors were concerned about Arbery. He acknowledged that Travis McMichael is now convicted of malice murder, but said he is not “a soul so blackened that he should spend the rest of his life in prison.”
He also pointed out that the “99 good acts” do matter during sentencing, citing Travis McMichael’s lifeguarding and Coast Guard rescues, as well as letters of commendation.
“They don’t excuse anything that happened on September 23….but those are the acts the court should consider.”
The defense also noted that Travis McMichael had shared custody of his young son, paid his taxes, and that the GBI investigation contained several incidents in which Travis McMichael had helped his neighbors.
Those things, he said, were not evidence of “‘an abandoned and malignant heart'”–the exact wording from the legal definition of malice murder. Travis McMichael was convicted of malice murder.
The defense said McMichael was remorseful and could grow over the next 30 years and should be given the chance to return to society: “The only thing an LWOP [life without parole] sentence serves is retribution.”
He suggested that “After punishment, there is opportunity for redemption.”
Judge Timothy Walmsley was not inclined to mitigate the recommended sentences, noting the McMichaels’ lack of remorseful demeanor while acknowledging that the pending trial made it inadvisable legally for them to make any statements about whether they might have remorse. He also noted that Bryan, who was blinking back tears throughout his sentencing, had been cooperative with investigators.
Before passing sentence, Walmsley said he would sit silently for one minute, a fraction of the time during which Arbery had run for his life before Travis McMichael pulled a shotgun on him. Arbery’s final act was to grab the barrel of that shotgun in self-defense.
“A young man with dreams was gunned down in this community,” Walmsley said.
All three were escorted out of the courtroom without handcuffs. Later, WSB’s Tony Thomas reported he had seen them all cuffed and “shuffling off” through the courthouse parking lot to begin their prison sentences.
Outside the courthouse, members of the New Black Panther Party, the Original Black Panther Militia, and other Black militant groups stepped up to the microphones and hailed the verdict before the Arbery family and civil rights attorneys spoke. They also called for Black residents to learn how to defend themselves against white vigilantes and said locals had told them of threats from the Ku Klux Klan.
“Like Martin Luther King, Jr,, I have a dream,” said OBPM General Mike Pain. “My dream is that all the Black parents teach their children to arm themselves, protect themselves, and protect their property. My dream is that we arm ourselves just like everyone else in America” and that Black citizens take action when they are attacked.”
Nasiy Nasir X of the Lion of Judah Armed Forces said, “The Most High is not pleased with America” because Arbery had been “shot down like a deer. The devil was a liar…When you pay attention to this trial, you clearly see the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery tried to play the victim….Ahmaud Arbery was unarmed. These type of murders and tragedies have been going on in America for over 400 years…and still counting. This was a modern-day lynching.”
He added, “We have some measure of satisfaction but we want all the justice that is coming to these murderers…We want the death penalty.”
New Black Panther Party attorney Malik Shabazz said, “After the [Arbery] family speaks, there will be a Second Amendment demonstration…because the residents of the community have told us that Ku Klux Klan, white vigilantism, is a regular course of business here.”