BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Nearly two years to the day that their son was shot dead in the street while jogging through a Southeast Georgia neighborhood, the parents of Ahmaud Arbery embraced in a federal courthouse in Brunswick on Tuesday as more verdicts were read against the three men convicted of taking his life.
All three were found guilty of federal hate crimes and other lesser charges for violating Arbery’s civil rights and targeting him because he was Black.
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In addition to the federal hate crimes, the jury also found father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan guilty of attempted kidnapping, while the McMichaels were also found guilty of the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime.
After the verdicts were read inside the federal courthouse, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, and his father, Marcus Arbery Sr., came out of the courthouse with attorney Benjamin Crump, who raised their arms in triumph.
“It was just confirmation. I think I’ve shared all week that I knew that we would get guilty verdicts. It was just confirmation,” Cooper-Jones said. “They (the jury) gave us a sense of a small victory. But we as a family will never get victory because Ahmaud is gone forever.”
Arbery’s father said they will forever miss Ahmaud and how much he loved his family.
“Ahmaud was a kid you can’t replace because of the heart he had. That will be missed. He loved his family. He called us every day,” Marcus Arbery said.
Gov. Brian Kemp released a statement Tuesday after the verdicts were announced:
“Today was just another necessary step toward justice in a case that shocked many across our state and nation, my family included,” Kemp said. “We continue to pray for Ahmaud’s family that they may find peace and healing after today’s verdict, and we remain committed to keeping Georgia a safe, hate-free place for all to call home.”
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland held a virtual news conference after the hate crimes verdicts were read in court, saying his heart goes out to Arbery’s parents for the “enduring trauma” inflicted by the defendants’ hate-fueled actions.
“No one in this country should have to fear the threat of hate-fueled violence. No one should fear being attacked or threatened because of what they look like, where they are from, who they love or how they worship. No one should fear that if they go out for a run, they will be targeted and killed because of the color of their skin,” Garland said. “Although we welcome the jury’s verdict, the only acceptable outcome in this matter would have been Mr. Arbery returning safely to his loved ones two years ago. His family and friends should be preparing to celebrate his 28th birthday later this spring, not mourning the second anniversary of his death tomorrow. Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today.”
On Feb. 23, 2020 -- two years ago Wednesday -- the murder of Arbery was captured in a graphic cellphone video that sparked widespread outrage. The McMichaels armed themselves after spotting Arbery running past their home and chased him in a pickup truck. Bryan joined his neighbors in his own truck and recorded the video of Travis McMichael firing at point-blank range in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick.
The killing became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice after the graphic video leaked online two months later.
The delay in the initial arrests of the three men has sparked cries from the family and supporters of a cover-up conspiracy, and a civil suit has been filed in connection with the case. Jackie Johnson, who was district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit for 10 years, including when Arbery was killed, was indicted for misconduct connected to the Arbery case.
“I look at this (hate crimes verdict) as a milestone, another challenge that we’ve overcome,” Cooper-Jones said. “We still have the DA we have to deal with as well, so we’re not done.”
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An amendment is expected to be filed to that civil lawsuit on the basis of information revealed during the federal trial that was not revealed during the state trial.
As for the federal hate crimes trial, defense attorneys contended the three didn’t chase and kill Arbery because of his race but acted on the earnest, though erroneous, suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.
Police found Arbery had no weapon and no stolen items. Prosecutors said he was merely out jogging.
During the trial, prosecutors showed roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made derogatory comments about Black people. The FBI wasn’t able to access Greg McMichael’s phone because it was encrypted.
The panel of eight white people, three Black people and one Hispanic person received the case Monday following a weeklong trial. The jurors adjourned for the night after about three hours of deliberations and resumed deliberations at 9 a.m. Tuesday. They returned their verdict after less than an hour of deliberation on Tuesday.
The trial closed Monday with prosecutors saying 25-year-old Arbery’s slaying on a residential street was motivated by “pent-up racial anger,” revealed by the defendants’ electronic messages as well as by witnesses who testified to hearing them make racist tirades and insults.
“All three defendants told you loud and clear, in their own words, how they feel about African Americans,” prosecutor Tara Lyons told the jury Monday.
Defense attorneys insisted that past racist statements by their clients offered no proof they violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because he’s Black. They urged the jury to set aside their emotions.
“It’s natural for you to want retribution or revenge,” said Pete Theodocion, representing Bryan. “But we have to elevate ourselves ... even if it’s the tough thing.”
Travis McMichael’s attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, told the jury that prosecutors presented no evidence that he ``ever spoke to anyone about Mr. Arbery’s death in racial terms.” She said her client opened fire in self-defense after Arbery tried to take away his shotgun.
Greg McMichael’s attorney, A.J. Balbo, argued that his client initiated the chase not because Arbery was a Black man, but because he was ”THE man” the McMichaels had seen in security camera videos taken from a nearby house under construction.
The McMichaels and Bryan, convicted of murder last fall in a Georgia state court, pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
FBI agents uncovered roughly two dozen racist text messages and social media posts from the McMichaels and Bryan in the years and months preceding the shooting.
For instance, in 2018, Travis McMichael commented on a Facebook video of a Black man playing a prank on a white person: “I’d kill that f----ing n----r.”
Some witnesses testified they heard the McMichaels’ racist statements firsthand. A woman who served under Travis McMichael in the U.S. Coast Guard a decade ago said he called her `”n__r lover,” after learning she’d dated a Black man. Another woman testified Greg McMichael had ranted angrily in 2015 when she remarked on the death of civil rights activist Julian Bond, saying, “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”
Cooper-Jones said hearing those words in court was distressing.
“I am the mother of Ahmaud Arbery. I brought Ahmaud into this world and to hear Ahmaud being characterized as a monkey, n-----, being trapped like a rat was painful,” she said.
Crump released a statement Tuesday after the verdicts against the three men were announced:
“Tomorrow marks two years since Ahmaud Arbery was stalked, trapped, and murdered in cold blood as he jogged through (a) Brunswick neighborhood. And today, after much sorrow, grief, and pain, Ahmaud’s family can finally put this chapter behind them. For the last 24 months, they’ve dedicated themselves to getting justice for their son. They’ve had to relive his brutal murder, watch and listen as he was demonized in court, and fight to share with the world who Ahmaud Arbery was and who he could have been had his young life not been so violently cut short.
“For many of us, there was never any doubt that Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan targeted Ahmaud because of his skin color. But because of indisputable video evidence, disgusting messages sent by the defendants, and witness testimony, their hate was revealed to the world and the jury. We hope and demand that the severity of their crimes are reflected in the sentencing, as well.
“Ahmaud Arbery was denied the opportunity to define his own legacy, but America, we have the power to ensure that it is one that propels our fight for equal justice and dispels hate from this world. That is how we continue to honor Ahmaud and make sure his death was not in vain.”
Greg McMichael’s wife, who is Travis’ mother, declined to comment after the verdicts Tuesday.
The McMichaels and Bryan were sentenced to life in prison in state court. A sentencing date has not yet been set on the federal charges. Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and Bryan will have 14 days to file any motions, including asking for a new trial.
A park dedication and walk through Satilla Shores will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday to commemorate two years since Arbery was killed.