Travis McMichael, the man convicted on federal hate crimes charges for chasing and fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery two years ago in Georgia, was sentenced to life in prison Monday for the murder.
His father, Gregory, met the same fate with a life sentence, while their neighbor, William “Roddy” Bryan, who recorded the whole encounter, was sentenced to 35 years by U.S. District Court judge Lisa Godbey Wood.
"Today marks another significant milestone in the journey for justice for Ahmaud Arbery and, we hope, a turning point in the civil rights movement," Ben Crump, a national civil rights attorney representing , said in a statement following the decisions.
Arbery was shot and killed following a confrontation with Travis, 36, Gregory, 66, and Bryan, 52, on Feb. 23, 2020. The killing was captured on video, and all three men were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in their state trial. Bryan, who recorded the footage that broke the case wide open, was the only one to receive life with a possibility for parole in the state case. Now he’s the only one with a lesser sentence in the federal case as well.
“This sentence sends a message that vigilantes cannot hunt down and kill an innocent Black man, putting themselves in the roles of police, judge and executioner, without paying a high price – spending the rest of their lives in prison,” Crump said.
They were handed their judgments in three different hearings in Brunswick, the south Georgia city where Arbery, a Black 25-year-old resident, was killed. Six months ago, a federal jury found the three white men guilty of violating Arbery’s civil rights, finding that they targeted him, in part, because of his skin color.
"Many times the federal government pursues criminal charges even after the defendant is convicted in state court usually because the crime is an extremely serious and high-profile one and because the defendant could appeal the state court conviction and win a reversal,” Dave Ring, a personal injury trial lawyer not associated with this case, told Yahoo News.
“Even if that happened though, the defendant would still be convicted of the federal crimes."
Prosecutors solidified their case by showing jurors more than a dozen text messages and social media posts where Travis McMichael and “Roddie” Bryan used racial slurs and made denigrating comments about Black people, specifically.
Travis and Gregory had reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors back in January that would’ve allowed them to skip their hate crimes trial. But Wood rejected their plea. At the time, Arbery’s family gave passionate speeches asking for the deal to be rejected.
His mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones the judge: "It is not fair to take away this victory that I prayed and I fought for. It is not right. It is not just. It is wrong. Please listen to me. Granting these men their preferred conditions of confinement would defeat me. It gives them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son."
“This was clearly a race-based murder,” Ring added. “The evidence at trial demonstrated these men went after Arbery because he was black. And they killed him because he was black. If Arbery was white, this never happens in that neighborhood.”
On that day in 2020, the McMichaels noticed Arbery running through their neighborhood. They armed themselves with guns and chased him in a pickup truck. That’s when Bryan joined the pursuit and tried to box Arbery in while also recording with his cellphone, which eventually captured Travis getting into a brief tussle with Arbery and shooting him with a shotgun.
They said they mistook him for a burglar but he had not committed a crime, according to authorities, and was unarmed. At first, no arrests were made.
"Initially, this case was dropped by the state prosecutor's office. Months later, when cellphone video evidence was uncovered, the true events surrounding the shooting came to light. And even then, someone had to leak the video to the media to get the attention the case finally deserved. But, finally, justice has prevailed," Ring said.
Greg McMichael addressed the Arbery family, saying their loss was “beyond description,” the AP reported.
“I’m sure my words mean very little to you but I want to assure you I never wanted any of this to happen,” he said. “There was no malice in my heart or my son’s heart that day.”
Arbery’s mother responded to McMichael outside of the courtroom. “I think he realizes that he made some horrible decisions. Unfortunately, his apology doesn’t bring back my son,” Cooper-Jones said.
The McMichaels are making a push to serve their life sentences in federal prison instead of the Georgia prison system, claiming they won’t be safe and fear violence from other inmates.
The memorandum states that he has received threats like people "are 'waiting for him,' that he should not go into the yard, and that correctional officers have promised a willingness (whether for pay or for free) to keep certain doors unlocked and backs turned to allow inmates to harm him."
The three men have remained in the Glynn County Detention Center since May 2020.
Arbery’s death was a part of a major racial reckoning in 2020, especially after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Many took to social media with the message of “I Run with Maud” to show their support of his story.
“We thank everyone who tirelessly raised their voices for Ahmaud, demanding justice and accountability. Hate will not prevail,” Crump said.