3 men convicted of Ahmaud Arbery murder, slated to face federal charges in February

Isabelle Hajek, Opinion Editor

The three white men who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man on Feb. 23, 2020, were convicted of murder on Wednesday. Gregory McMichael, 65, and his son Travis McMichael, 35, pursued Arbery while he was jogging through Satilla Shores, Ga. The two men attempted to carry out a citizen’s arrest–legal in that area of Georgia–after claiming to think Arbery was a man suspected of a series of local break-ins. The Brunswick News found that there were no police reports on such recurring incidents in the area and that the most recent was in January.

A third man, McMichael’s neighbor, William Bryan, 52, filmed a portion of the events while joining the McMichaels’ pursuit of Arbery.

After two months, the men were arrested and charged with the same nine counts: one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.

During the trial, the McMichaels claimed self-defense to justify their actions, saying that while conducting a citizen’s arrest, Arbery attacked them and thus the killing was justified by self-defense laws. Bryan’s defense distanced his actions from the McMichaels claiming that he had no way of knowing how the events would unfold.

The prosecution argued that the defendants unlawfully attempted to detain Arbery, who justifiably resisted, and created the situation where they then may have felt threatened. In lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski’s closing statement she said, “You can’t create the situation and then go ‘I was defending myself.”

This case has once again brought civil rights issues to the forefront as Arbery family lawyers have declared it a “modern-day lynching.” Following other deadly cases of white vigilantism, from the murder of Emmett Till to the concurrently running case of Kyle Rittenhouse, this case has been highly anticipated for the implications of its outcomes.

The citizen’s arrest law that the defendants claim to have been operating under was repealed following Arbery’s death, and new hate crime statutes have been signed into law–however, they are not able to be retroactively applied to this case.

While not addressed at the state level, all three men have been indicted federally under hate crime charges.

On Wednesday, after 11 hours of jury deliberation, all three men were found guilty on various counts:
Travis McMichael was found guilty on all nine counts.
Gregory McMichael was found guilty on all counts except malice murder.
Bryan was found guilty on three counts of felonies murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.

A sentencing date has yet to be set, but each of the men faces a minimum sentence of life in prison, with the possibility of parole left up to the jury. While murder convictions in Georgia can be met with a death penalty sentence, the prosecutors, in this case, are not seeking it out, so it is unlikely to be applied.

The federal case to try all three men on hate crime charges will begin on Feb. 7, 2022.