A Georgia judge sentenced Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan to life in prison on Friday for the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man running through their mostly white neighborhood in the southern state.
The McMichaels, a father and son, will spend the rest of their lives in prison but Judge Timothy Walmsley ruled that Bryan could seek parole after 30 years, the minimum sentence allowed for murder under state law.
Arbery’s family had made powerful victim impact statements, asking the judge to show no leniency.
Arbery’s sister recalled her brother’s humor, describing him as a positive thinker with a big personality.
Weeping, she told the judge her brother had dark skin “that glistened in the sunlight” and “thick, curly hair and an athletic build”, factors that made him a target to the men who pursued him.
“These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and chase him with guns drawn. To me, those qualities reflect a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people I loved,” Jasmine Arbery said.
Murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison under Georgia law unless prosecutors seek the death penalty, which they opted against for Arbery’s killing.
For Walmsley, the main decision was whether to grant Greg McMichael, 66, and Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbor, Bryan, 52, a chance to earn parole.
Arbery’s mother asked for the maximum sentence, saying she suffered a personal, intense loss made worse by a trial where the men’s defense was that Arbery made bad choices that led to his death.
“This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact. They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community,” Wanda Cooper-Jones said. “And when they couldn’t sufficiently scare or intimidate him, they killed him.”
And in an intense few moments, Cooper-Jones rebutted a point made by a defense lawyer that had caused outrage and had deeply pained Arbery’s mother, who left the court after she heard it.
During the trial in November, Laura Hogue, representing one of the defendants, chose during her closing arguments to make a subsidiary point about Ahmaud Arbery’s appearance that many found egregious and racist.
Hogan said: “Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts, with no socks, to cover his long dirty toenails.”
On Friday, Cooper-Jones said her son Ahmaud was sometimes messy.
“He sometimes refused to wear socks or take good care of his good clothing. I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for that jog that day. I guess he would have if he knew he would be murdered,” she said.
Marcus Arbery Sr, Ahmaud’s father, also addressed the court.
He said: “When I close my eyes, I see his execution in my mind over and over. I will see that for the rest of my life.
“Not only did they lynch my son in broad daylight, they killed him while he was doing what he loved more than anything – running. That’s when he felt most alive, most free and they took all that from him.”
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked the judge for life without parole for Travis and Greg McMichael and the possibility of parole for Bryan. But she said all deserved that mandatory life sentence for showing “no empathy for the trapped and terrified Ahmaud Arbery”.
The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to chase Arbery, 25, after spotting him running in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick on 23 February 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit and recorded video of Travis McMichael firing close-range shotgun blasts after the trio hemmed Arbery in.
The killing went largely unnoticed until two months later, when the graphic video was leaked online and touched off a national outcry. The Georgia bureau of investigation took over the case from local police and soon arrested all three men.
At the time of his death, Arbery had enrolled at a technical college and was preparing to study to become an electrician like his uncles.
Next month, the McMichaels and Bryan face a second trial on federal hate crime charges and prosecutors will argue that the three men violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because he was Black.