Jury finds Ahmaud Arbery’s killers guilty of federal hate crimes

Jurors in Georgia on Tuesday found three men guilty of federal hate crime charges months after they were convicted in state court of murdering Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020.

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Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, were convicted of charges including interference with rights and attempted kidnapping in connection with Arbery’s death. In an indictment filed last year in court, a grand jury accused the trio of injuring, intimidating and interfering with Arbery “because of Arbery’s race and color.”

Update 11:05 a.m. EST Feb. 22: Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, thanked supporters on Tuesday and criticized the Justice Department for earlier entering into a plea deal with the McMichaels.

“What the DOJ did today, they were made to do today,” she said, adding that she had “begged them” not to accept the deal.

The McMichaels said they wanted to plead guilty to one count each of interference of rights last month after entering a deal with the Justice Department that would have seen them serving 30-year sentences in federal jail before serving the remainder of life sentences in a Georgia state prison.

Judge Lisa Wood rejected the deal after Arbery’s family members spoke out against the agreement in court. The McMichaels subsequently withdrew their guilty pleas.

In court, prosecutors claimed that the Arbery family initially agreed to the plea deal before changing their minds.

Update 10:55 a.m. EST Feb. 22: The McMichaels and Bryan will have 14 days to appeal the verdicts handed down Tuesday, WSB-TV reported.

With their convictions, the men could face face maximum sentences of life in prison.

Update 10:40 a.m. EST Feb. 22: Jurors found the McMichaels and Bryan guilty of all federal charges levied against them on Tuesday after listening to a week of testimony and deliberating for about 3.5 hours, WSB Radio reported.

Update 10:36 a.m. EST Feb. 22: Jurors on Tuesday found William “Roddie” Bryan guilty of interference with rights.

Update 10:35 a.m. EST Feb. 22: Jurors on Tuesday found Greg McMichael guilty of interference with rights.

Update 10:34 a.m. EST Feb. 22: Jurors on Tuesday found Travis McMichael guilty of interference with rights.

Update 10:05 a.m. EST Feb. 22: Jurors reached a verdict in the case Tuesday, one day after beginning deliberations on the case, WSB-TV reported.

Judge Lisa Wood is expected to read the verdict in court at 10:30 a.m., according to the news station.

>> Read more on WSBTV.com

Update 9:03 p.m. EST Feb. 21: The jury of eight white people, three Black people and one Hispanic person adjourned Monday evening, after deliberating for about three hours, without a verdict. Deliberations are slated to resume Tuesday morning, The Associated Press reported.

Original report: In his closing arguments, prosecutor Christopher Perras argued that the McMichaels and Bryan were motivated by “racial assumptions, racial resentment and racial anger” when they chased down and killed Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020. As evidence, Perras pointed to text messages and social media posts shown during the trial in which the defendants made derogatory comments about Black people. He also contrasted the McMichaels’ behavior toward Arbery with their behavior toward white people suspected of suspicious or criminal behavior.

>> Read more on WSBTV.com

“You know in your head, and you know in your heart, that this crime was about race,” Perras told jurors.

Travis McMichael’s attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, said prosecutors presented no evidence to show that her client used racial slurs during his encounter with Arbery or that he belonged to any hate or white supremacist groups. She added that most of the evidence showing Travis McMichael’s views on race were private messages or communications made to like-minded people.

>> Related: Hate crimes trial begins for men who killed Ahmaud Arbery

“This case is not about the rightness of the beliefs or whether these beliefs should be punished,” she said, stressing that despite the messages, “there is no evidence of any acts of racial violence by Travis McMichael.”

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

Greg McMichael’s attorney, Attilio Balbo, argued that his client chased after Arbery not because of his race, but because Greg McMichael recognized the 25-year-old as a man who had earlier been seen inside a home under construction in the neighborhood.

Bryan’s lawyer, Pete Theodocion, echoed his opening statements, saying Monday that his client joined the chase of Arbery not because of his race, but because Bryan saw two men chasing after Arbery and assumed that meant he had done something wrong. Theodocion insisted that Bryan would have done the same no matter Arbery’s race.

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

Last week, a jury consisting of eight white people, three Black people and one Hispanic person was seated to hear the case, WJAX-TV reported. Four alternate jurors were also chosen, according to WJAX, three who are white and one who is Pacific Islander.

Attorneys for the prosecution and defense rested their cases Friday after less than a week of testimony, WSB-TV reported.

>> Related: Ahmaud Arbery case: Judge rejects hate crime plea deal for Travis, Greg McMichael

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.

Last month, the McMichaels said they wanted to plead guilty to one count each of interference with rights as part of a plea deal reached with federal prosecutors. However, Judge Lisa Wood rejected the deal after Arbery’s family members spoke out against the agreement in court. The McMichaels subsequently withdrew their guilty pleas.

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

If convicted of the most serious charges against them, the McMichaels and Bryan face maximum sentences of life in prison.

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.