The three white men convicted last year of murdering 25-year-old Black man Ahmaud Arbery were also guilty of depriving him of his right to use a public street because of the color of his skin, a jury found on Tuesday, who found that the actions were a violation of federal hate crime laws. Father and son Travis and Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan were also convicted Tuesday of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels were each found guilty of brandishing or discharging a firearm during a violent crime.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Arbery’s family, released a statement following the verdict. “For many of us, there was never any doubt that Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan targeted Ahmaud because of his skin color,” he said in part. “But because of indisputable video evidence, disgusting messages sent by the defendants, and witnessed testimony, their hate was revealed to the world and the jury. We hope and demand that the severity of their crimes are reflected in the sentencing as well.”
During the federal trial, the defendants’ lawyers argued the men — who chased Arbery in trucks as he ran through a residential Georgia neighborhood, eventually cornering and shooting him dead — had been motivated not by racism but by a desire to stop what they viewed as a potential crime in progress. The men claimed they’d witnessed Arbery trespassing in the area on several occasions.
At the 2021 state trial in Georgia, prosecutors had focused on how the defendant’s decisions on Feb. 23, 2020, had led to Arbery’s death. On that day, the McMichaels had spotted Arbery running past Travis’ house in the coastal neighborhood of Satilla Shores. Father and son had grabbed their guns and pursued him in a pickup truck. Bryan, a neighbor, joined the chase and recorded the final fatal encounter between Arbery and Travis McMichael on his phone. When video from the shooting had leaked to the public, Arbery’s death fueled protests for racial justice, along with the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, which happened in the following weeks and months. Still, state prosecutors had for the most part avoided using racism to build its case. They depicted the defendants as aggressors in a chase who had intimidated, cornered, and killed Arbery. A jury agreed.
The federal case was different, because racism became a central issue. Prosecutors said the defendants’ actions leading to Arbery’s death were driven by “racial assumptions, racial resentment and racial anger.” The prosecutors showed the jury evidence that the men had long held racist views of Black people, including text message where they spoke about killing Black people, used racist slurs, and shared racist memes. Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery, once said in a message that he loved his job because “zero n—–s work with me.” Bryan was quoted as having expressed disapproval that his daughter was dating a Black man, saying, “She has her a n—– now.”
The three men will now face the possibility of additional life sentences on top of the life sentences they received in January in Georgia state court. Travis McMichael and his father were not eligible for parole in that sentencing. Bryan will face a parole board after 30 years.