The white father and son convicted of murder in the deadly shooting of Ahmaud Arbery after they chased him through a Georgia neighborhood were sentenced Monday to life in prison for committing a federal hate crime.
A U.S. District Court judge convicted Travis McMichael and his father Greg McMichael, 66, in Brunswick, Georgia. Both had previously been sentenced to life without parole in a state court for Arbery’s murder.
A federal jury in February convicted Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and neighbor William (Roddie) Bryan for violating Arbery’s civil rights, concluding that they targeted him for being black. Bryan will also be sentenced on Monday.
All three were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping and the McMichaels were convicted of using weapons in committing a violent crime.
The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and used a pickup truck to chase Arbery after the 25-year-old ran past their home on Feb. 23, 2020. a shotgun.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery was a burglar. Investigators determined that he was unarmed and had committed no crimes.
Fair trial for ‘unfair’ murder
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said on Monday that Travis McMichael has been given a fair trial.
“And it has not escaped the court’s notice that it was the kind of trial that Ahmaud Arbery did not receive before being shot and killed,” the judge said.
Before the two convictions, she heard from members of Arbery’s family. His mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said she feels every shot at her son every day.
“It’s so unfair, so unfair, so unfair that he was killed when he didn’t even commit a crime,” she said.
Speaking to the Arbery family before he was sentenced, Greg McMichael said their loss was “indescribable”.
“I’m sure my words mean very little to you, but I want to assure you that I never wanted this to happen, there was no malice in my heart or in my son’s heart that day,” he said.
Travis McMichael declined to address the court, but his attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, said her client had no convictions for Arbery’s murder and had served with the US Coast Guard. She said a lighter sentence would be more in line with what similar defendants have received in other cases, noting that the officer who killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, Derek Chauvin, was sentenced to 21 years in prison for violating Floyd’s civil rights, though he was not charged. targeting Floyd for his race.
Racial injustice reckoning
Arbery’s murder became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and murders of unarmed black people, including Floyd and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases also led the Justice Department to file federal charges.
“The evidence we presented at the trial proved… what so many people felt in their hearts when they saw the video of Ahmaud’s tragic and needless death: This would never have happened if he had been white,” the officer said. of Justice Christopher Perras before Travis McMichael was convicted.
A state Supreme Court judge in January imposed life sentences on all three men for Arbery’s murder, denying both McMichaels any chance of parole.
All three defendants are still held in the coastal region of Glynn County, Georgia, in the custody of US marshals, awaiting sentencing following their federal convictions in January.
Since they were first charged and convicted of murder in a state court, according to protocol, they would be turned over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life sentences in a state prison.
In court files last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to direct them to a federal prison instead, saying they would not be safe in a Georgia prison system that is the subject of a US State Department investigation. of Justice focused on violence between prisoners.
Copeland said Monday during the hearing for Travis McMichael that her client has received hundreds of threats that he will be killed once he arrives at the state prison and that his photo has been distributed on illegal phones there.
“I’m concerned, Your Honor, that my client is, in effect, getting a backdoor death sentence,” she said, adding that “retaliation and revenge” were not sentencing factors, even for a defendant being “publicly taunted.”
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., said Travis McMichael had shown no mercy to his son and deserved to “rot” in state prison.
“You killed him because he was a black man and you hate black people,” he said. “You deserve no mercy.”
Wood said she had no authority to order the state to relinquish custody of Travis McMichael to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but was also reluctant to do so in his case. She also refused to keep Greg McMichael in federal custody.
During the hate crime trial in February, prosecutors strengthened their case that Arbery’s murder was motivated by racism by showing the jury about two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racial slurs and made derogatory comments. about black people.
Defense attorneys for the three men argued that the McMichaels and Bryan were not chasing Arbery because of his race, but were acting on a serious — though false — suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.