A judge on Monday sentenced three men convicted of federal hate crime charges connected to the February 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
Jurors in February found father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, guilty of charges including interference with rights and attempted kidnapping due to Arbery’s race. Arbery, 25, was Black. The McMichaels and Bryan are white.
Their convictions came months after they were convicted on murder charges in state court.
Travis McMicheal was sentenced to serve a life sentence plus 10 years. Greg McMichael was sentenced to life in prison plus seven years. Bryan was sentenced to 447 months in prison, with 27 months of time served for a total of 420 more months, or 35 years, behind bars.
Update 4:07 p.m. EDT Aug. 8: Judge Lisa Wood sentenced Bryan to serve 35 years in prison on federal hate crime charges in the February 2020 murder of Arbery.
Wood overruled an objection from Bryan’s attorney, J. Pete Theodocian, who reiterated arguments made during the trial that his client had a different perspective from those of his co-defendants, the McMichaels. Instead of being motivated solely by Arbery’s race, Theodocian said Bryan reacted to seeing someone being chased when he joined the McMichaels and that he assumed that the chase implied Arbery had done something wrong.
Prosecutors emphasized that the jury’s February ruling included Bryan and that jurors had determined that if Arbery had not been Black, Bryan and the McMichaels would have acted differently.
AUSA Lyons says a jury of Roddie Bryan's peers found he acted not out of ignorance but out of racial motivation in chasing #AhmaudArbery. Says Bryan's lawyer called the words "unfortunate racial tropes. Your Honor, those words are not unfortunate. They're wrong" @wsbradio— Veronica Waters (@MissVWaters) August 8, 2022
As with the McMichaels, Wood also rejected a request to have Bryan serve his time in federal prison before serving his time in the custody of Georgia officials, saying the state had first jurisdiction over Bryan because he was arrested, tried, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced there before proceedings began in federal court.
During Monday’s hearing, Bryan apologized to Arbery’s family for his part in the 25-year-old jogger’s death.
“I’m glad to finally have the chance to say to Mr. Arbery’s family and friends how sorry I am for what happened to him that day,” he said, adding that he hoped that the family found peace.
Arbery’s family members asked that Bryan be sentenced to the maximum possible sentence, life in prison. Ahmaud Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, said that Bryan could have just stayed out of the situation when he saw the McMichaels chasing his son.
“If you (weren’t) racist, you would’ve said that was wrong and stayed out of it,” he said. “You’d have hit 911 and you’d have helped my son.”
Update 3:02 p.m. EDT Aug. 8: A sentencing hearing for William “Roddie” Bryan has begun at a federal courthouse in Georgia.
Bryan’s attorney, J. Pete Theodocion, asked in a sentencing memo that his client get a sentence loser than life in prison, arguing that Bryan should get a sentence lower than those handed down to the McMichaels.
“The evidence showed Bryan acting out of ignorance not hatred, and without the near expectation of potential violence as the McMichaels,” he said. “When the McMichaels pulled off in their truck armed with firearms, they signed up for a possible shootout. Roddie Bryan did no such thing and acted with no such disregard for life.”
Update 1:45 p.m. EDT Aug. 8: Judge Lisa Wood sentenced Greg McMichael to life in prison plus seven years on federal hate crimes charges connected to Arbery’s murder. He will have 14 days to appeal the sentence.
Wood denied a request from Greg McMichael’s attorney to keep him in federal custody until at least the conclusion of a federal investigation into conditions at Georgia state prisons. Earlier, she had denied a similar request from Travis McMichael’s attorney, saying that she did not have the authority to make him serve his federal sentence before serving out his state sentence.
Under longstanding principle, the first jurisdiction that convicts a person has primary jurisdiction over them. Prosecutors argued that Wood does not have the ability to override the principle and that such a move would amount to special treatment for Greg McMichael.
Arbery’s family members on Monday asked Wood to sentence Greg McMichael to the maximum allowed under the law.
Wanda Cooper-Jones: "I struggled to come to the realization that a father accompanied his son to take a life." Asks Greg McMichael get max: "He deserves it." Notes his son is still alive and he can still communicate with him but hers, #AhmaudArbery, is gone forever @wsbradio— Veronica Waters (@MissVWaters) August 8, 2022
Speaking before his sentencing, Greg McMichael apologized to his son, Travis McMichael, and his wife, and told Ahmaud’s family that he “never wanted any of this to happen.”
“There was no malice in my heart or in my son’s heart that day,” he said. “I pray that God’s peace will come to the Arbery family and this entire community.”
Greg McMichael’s attorney, A.J. Balbo, emphasized that his client is a 66-year-old man with health issues who served in the military and in law enforcement and asked for leniency.
“Any sentence this court metes out today will likely be a life sentence for Mr. McMichael,” he said.
Update 1:08 p.m. EDT Aug. 8: The sentencing hearing for Greg McMichael has begun before Judge Lisa Wood.
In a sentencing memorandum filed in court, Greg McMichael’s attorneys asked Wood to sentence their client to a maximum of 20 years in prison and to allow him to stay in federal custody amid an ongoing federal probe of conditions in Georgia prisons.
Earlier, Wood sentenced Travis McMichael to life in prison plus 10 years after he was found guilty of federal hate crimes in the February 2020 murder of Arbery. She denied a request from Travis McMichael’s attorney that aimed to keep the younger McMichael in federal custody due to threats made against his life in state prison.
Update 11:08 a.m. EDT Aug. 8: Judge Lisa Wood on Monday sentenced Travis McMichael to serve life in prison plus 10 years on federal hate crime charges, to be served concurrently with his sentence from state court.
The judge denied a request from Travis McMichael’s attorney to allow her client to serve his time in federal, rather than state prison.
“The court has neither the authority nor the inclination to override the rules that apply,” Wood said. “It’s not the court’s role to override how that will play out.”
Travis McMichael has 14 days to appeal his sentence.
Arbery’s family earlier asked Wood to sentence Travis McMichael to the maximum and to order him to first serve the sentence handed down to him in state prison.
Now, #AhmaudArbery's father, Marcus Arbery, is on the stand: "These three devils have broken my heart into pieces that cannot be found." He says the men stole his son's daily phone calls from him. "I ask the Court to give you the stiffest penalty the law allows." @wsbradio— Veronica Waters (@MissVWaters) August 8, 2022
“My son was shot not one time, not two times, but three times, and your honor I feel every shot that was fired every day,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said in court as she urged Wood to sentence Travis McMichael to the maximum sentence possible. “When I read in the newspaper that Travis said that he fears for his life – how did he think Ahmaud, how does he think that my son felt when he was first approached when he was being chased that sunny, sunny afternoon?”
Travis McMichael’s attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, asked that her client be kept in federal custody, citing hundreds of threats made against him. She acknowledged the irony of a man convicted of carrying out a vigilante attack fearing vigilante justice himself, but emphasized that, under the law, Travis McMichael should not face what amounts to a “back-door death penalty.”
Travis McMichael's lawyer says she's not asking the judge to "wave a magic gavel and miraculously transport my client into federal prison," just to give him "a few years in physical federal custody to allow a cooling-off period to keep him safe" #AhmaudArbery @wsbradio pic.twitter.com/dVlGEa7ZMC— Veronica Waters (@MissVWaters) August 8, 2022
Prosecutors argued that the court could not override the state court’s sentence to allow Travis McMichael to serve his time in federal rather than state custody, pointing to a longstanding principle that the first jurisdiction that arrests, tries, convicts and sentences a person has primary jurisdiction over a defendant.
Original report: Travis McMichael will be the first to learn his sentence at a hearing scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
In court records filed last week, an attorney for the younger McMichael asked that her client be kept in federal custody to serve his sentence rather than being transferred to the Georgia Department of Corrections, as would be typical because he was first convicted and sentenced on charges in state court. Attorney Amy Lee Copeland pointed to threats made against Travis McMichael, the fact that DOC officials have determined the threats to be unverified and an ongoing federal investigation into conditions in Georgia prisons.
“McMichael has received threats. Hundreds of threats. He quit counting in January 2022, at around 800 threats,” Copeland wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “The threats have included statements that his image has been circulated through the state prison system on contraband cell phones, that 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.”
She said her client is concerned that “he will promptly be killed upon delivery to the state prison system for service of that sentence.”
In January, the McMichaels indicated that they planned to plead guilty to federal hate crime charges after reaching an agreement with prosecutors that would have seen them serve the first 30 years of their sentences in federal prison, WSB-TV reported. However, Judge Lisa Wood rejected the deal after Arbery’s family members spoke out against the agreement in court, and the McMichaels subsequently withdrew their guilty pleas.
The McMichaels and Bryan face maximum sentences of life in prison. Gregory McMichael is set to be sentenced at a hearing beginning at 1 p.m. while Bryan will be sentenced at a 3 p.m. hearing, court records show.
Jurors in state court convicted the McMichaels and Bryan of felony murder and other charges on Nov. 24. The McMichaels later received life sentences without the possibility of parole, while Bryan was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Authorities brought charges against the defendants months after Arbery’s death amid public outcry sparked by graphic footage of the shooting that later appeared online. In September, a grand jury indicted former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson on charges related to the handling of the case.
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