Ahmaud Arbery: 3 sentenced to life in prison in murder of jogger

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A judge on Friday sentenced three men convicted of murder in the 2020 slaying of jogger Ahmaud Arbery to life in prison.

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Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, faced maximum sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole, WJAX-TV reported. Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced the McMichaels to the maximum, while he sentenced Bryan to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

The men, who are white, were convicted Nov. 24 of felony murder and other charges in the Feb. 23 killing of Arbery, who was Black. They are also facing federal hate crime charges connected with the case, according to WSB-TV.

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Update 4:15 p.m. EST Dec. 7: Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, on Friday called the sentences handed down to the McMichaels and Bryan signs of “progress.”

“Ahmaud Arbery was stalked, cornered, and lynched in broad daylight,” Crump said in a statement. “These brutal crimes nearly went unpunished because of the deep corruption that pervades so many of our systems. But because of the video, and the public cries for accountability, Ahmaud’s killers have finally been held to account – first by the jury and in today’s sentencing.”

Update 3:09 p.m. EST Dec. 7: Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced the McMichaels’ neighbor, Bryan, to life with the possibility of parole.

Bryan joined the McMichaels in chasing Arbery and recorded video of the deadly shooting. Walmsley noted in court that in the moments immediately after the shooting, Bryan expressed remorse and cooperated with law enforcement.

“It does not change that if it was not for the fact that Mr. Bryan used his vehicle in a way to impede Mr. Arbery’s course of travel this may not have every occurred,” Walmsley said.

Update 3:05 p.m. EST Dec. 7: Judge Timothy Walmsley on Friday sentenced the first two of three men convicted of murder in Arbery’s death.

Walmsley sentenced Travis McMichael to life without the possibility of parole plus 20 years. His father, Greg McMichael, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole plus 20 years.

“Ahmaud Arbery was ... hunted down and shot, and he was killed because individuals here in this courtroom took the law into their own hands,” Walmsley said.

The judge sat silent in court for one minute Friday to demonstrate the length of a minute, noting that it was only a fraction of the time that Arbery spent running for his life.

“It’s a tragedy,” Walmsley said. “It’s a tragedy on many, many levels.”

Update 2:33 p.m. EST Dec. 7: Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski rejected arguments made Friday by Greg McMichael’s attorney that her client’s conduct on Feb. 23, 2020, was not vigilantism and was instead in line with his acting as a member of the neighborhood watch.

Dunikoski said that neighborhood watch members are supposed to be witnesses – not instigators.

She rejected “the idea that there was no vigilantism here because after (Travis and Greg McMichael) confronted people, after they took their guns to confront people, after they confronted people with those guns, they called police.”

“This was a Sunday afternoon,” she said. “It’s a miracle they didn’t run into families taking a walk that day.”

Update 2:15 p.m. EST Jan. 7: Kevin Gough, the attorney representing Bryan, said that his client has expressed remorse since shortly after the shooting and he emphasized that Bryan never fired a gun or even knew that Travis McMichael was armed on Feb. 23, 2020.

Gough asked for Judge Timothy Walmsley to allow for his client to be released on parole, saying Bryan regretted ever having gotten involved in the incident.

“This doesn’t guarantee him that he would do one day less in prison under the sentence that the court is about to impose,” Gough said, noting his client’s age.

Prosecutors have asked Walmsley to sentence Bryan to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Bryan joined the McMichaels in chasing after Arbery in a pickup truck separate from the one the McMichaels were in and filmed the deadly shooting in February 2020.

Update 1:38 p.m. EST Jan. 7: Greg McMichael’s defense attorney, Laura Hogue, asked Judge Timothy Walmsley to sentence her client to life with the possibility of parole, though she admitted that the difference between that and the maximum sentence – life without the possibility of parole – might be academic for a 66-year-old man with significant health issues.

“It is the only way to honor the jury’s verdict that Greg McMichael committed crimes for which he never intended the result,” she said.

During Friday’s sentencing hearing, Hogue noted that Greg McMichael has no previous criminal history and pointed to his time in the U.S. Navy and over 30 years in law enforcement.

“Greg McMichael is a good man,” she said. “He’s not a perfect person – none of us are – but he has lived a good life, a life dedicated to service.”

Earlier, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski argued that Greg McMichael should be sentenced to the maximum, saying he had a history of vigilantism and that he should have known better based on his career history. Hogue argued that examples given by the prosecutor of Greg McMichael acting as a vigilante were actually “notifications that Greg McMichael made to law enforcement about suspicious activity and suspicious people in their neighborhood.”

“That is exactly what a neighborhood watch program is all about,” she said.

Kevin Gough, the attorney representing Bryan, is expected to speak next in court.

Update 12 p.m. EST Jan. 7: Defense attorney Robert Rubin argued for leniency for Travis McMichael, saying that he never meant to kill Arbery and that his life before the shooting proved that he did not have “a soul so blackened as to deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison.”

“This was not a planned murder, this was not a murder involving torture, it was a fight over a gun that resulted in Mr. Arbery’s death,” he said, arguing for his client to be sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

He said that imposing a maximum sentence on Travis McMichael would serve nothing but vengeance for the family, a wish he said was understandable from the family but contrary to the court’s values.

“Nothing in Travis McMichael’s life suggests that he’s a danger to society now or will be a danger to society 30 years from now, after he has time to think, to work, to grow,” he said. “He thought he was doing the right thing, even if that thing turned out not to be right. He and Greg McMichael thought they were helping the police catch someone.”

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski earlier argued for Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, to get the maximum sentences, life without the possibility of parole. She argued that both men “should have known better” than to go chasing after someone they suspected of committing a crime, citing Travis McMichael’s time with the U.S. Coast Guard and Greg McMichael’s previous career in law enforcement.

“Vigilantism always goes wrong,” she said. “You wait for the professionals to show up.”

Update 11:30 a.m. EST Jan. 7: In emotional statements in court, Arbery’s sister, Jasmine Arbery, and his mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, asked Judge Timothy Walmsley to impose the maximum sentence on the McMichaels and Bryan.

In a shaky voice, Jasmine Arbery said the loss of her brother “has devastated me and my family.”

Cooper Jones said the McMichaels and Bryan wanted to scare her son because they didn’t believe he belonged in the neighborhood, and when they couldn’t do that, they killed him.

“These men deserve the maximum sentence for their crimes,” she said. “Ahmaud never said a word to them. He never threatened them. He just wanted to be left alone. They were fully committed to their crimes … Let them be fully committed for the consequences.”

Update 11:25 a.m. EDT Jan. 7: Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked a judge to sentence the McMichaels to the maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. They asked that Bryan be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Speaking in court on Friday, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, asked that the court sentence the McMichaels and Bryan to the maximum sentence, saying that “they didn’t give him a chance” and his family has to live without Ahmaud Arbery for the rest of their lives.

“Not only did they lynch my son in broad daylight but they killed him while he was doing what he loved (more) than anything: running,” Marcus Arbery said. “That’s when he felt most alive, most free, and they took all of that from him. When I close my eyes I see his execution in my mind over and over. I’ll see that for the rest of my life.”

Original report: Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery after spotting the 25-year-old Black man jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick. Defense attorneys said the McMichaels and Bryan, who are white, suspected Arbery of burglarizing a home in the area and chased after him in an attempt to hold him under a citizen’s arrest. On the stand, Travis McMichael claimed he shot Arbery in self-defense as they struggled over Travis McMichael’s shotgun.

Jurors deliberated for about 11 hours over the course of two days before reaching their verdicts.

>> Related: Ahmaud Arbery: 3 charged with killing jogger found guilty of murder

Travis McMichael was found guilty of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.

Jurors found Greg McMichael guilty of four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.

Bryan was found guilty of three counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.

>> Related: Former district attorney indicted over handling of Ahmaud Arbery case

Cheers were heard in the courtroom as the verdict was read in November. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, later told reporters that she never thought she’d see convictions against the McMichaels and Bryan.

“Now Ques – which you know him as Ahmaud, I know him as Ques – he will now rest in peace,” she said.

Jason Sheffield, a defense attorney who represented Travis McMichael, said after the verdict came down that his client and his father “honestly believe that what they were doing was the right thing to do.”

“I can tell you honestly that these men are sorry for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery,” he said of the McMichaels and Bryan. “They are sorry that he is dead, they are sorry for the tragedy that happened because of the choices they made to go out there and try to stop him.”

Authorities brought charges against the McMichaels and Bryan months after Arbery was shot and killed on Feb. 23, 2020, amid public outcry after graphic footage of the shooting appeared online. In September, a grand jury indicted former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson on charges related to the handling of the case.