‘I see his execution in my mind over and over’: Family shares grief as Arbery’s killers sentenced to life

Travis, Gregory McMichael sentenced to life without parole; ‘Roddie’ Bryan sentenced to life with parole in Arbery’s slaying

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Ahmaud Arbery's mother Wanda Cooper-Jones, center, reacts as Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley sentences Greg McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan in the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, in Brunswick, Ga. The three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery were sentenced Friday to life in prison, with a judge denying any chance of parole for the father and son who armed themselves and initiated the deadly pursuit of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael will serve life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus 20 years, for their roles in the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. Their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, will have the opportunity for parole for his life sentence in Arbery’s murder.

Sentences for McMichaels and Bryan (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Before the judge determined the sentence Friday, Arbery’s family shared with the court how his murder has impacted their lives.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: The Ahmaud Arbery case

“When I close my eyes, I see his execution in my mind over and over. I’ll see it for the rest of my life,” Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, said.

He said if he could, he would trade places with his son in a heartbeat.

Travis, Gregory McMichael sentenced to life without parole; ‘Roddie’ Bryan sentenced to life with parole in Arbery’s slaying

“I knew that we would come out with a victory,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother. “I never doubted it. I knew that today would come.”

“Right is right and wrong is wrong,” said Arbery’s uncle, Gary. “You’ve got to be punished for what you did.”

Arbery was killed on Feb. 23, 2020, when Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after seeing him running in their neighborhood just outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick. Bryan hopped in his own truck and recorded video on his cellphone as he joined the pursuit, capturing the moments when Travis McMichael blasted Arbery with a shotgun.

“A resident of Glynn County, a graduate of Brunswick High, a son, a brother, a young man with dreams, was gunned down in this community,” Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said. “As we understand it, he left his home apparently to go for a run, and he ended up running for his life.”

Jasmine Arbery said what led the three men to chase her brother with guns drawn -- his dark skin, his height, his build and his love of running outdoors -- were “qualities that reflected a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people I love.”

Cooper-Jones, spoke bitterly of something brought up at trial: the condition of Ahmaud’s feet.

“Sometimes he refused to wear socks,” she said. “I wish he could have cut his toenails. I guess he would have if he knew he was going to be murdered.”

Cooper-Jones began her victim impact statement with a message directed at her son.

“I love you as much today as I did the day you were born. Raising you was the honor of my life,” she said.

After hearing from the family, prosecutors and defense attorneys, Walmsley sentenced the men Friday in Glynn County court, at one point sitting silently for one minute to represent a fraction of the time Arbery was running in terror for his life through the Satilla Shores neighborhood.

“He was killed because individuals in this courtroom took the law into their own hands,” Walmsley said of Arbery’s murder.

Arbery’s killing became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice after the graphic video of his death leaked online two months later and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case, quickly arresting the three men.

Walmsley said he knows a lot of people, including Arbery’s family and the nation at large, might be seeking closure with the case -- and his sentence.

“Instead of closure, it may be best to see today’s proceeding as an exercise in accountability,” Walmsley said. “We are all accountable for our own actions. Sometimes in today’s day and age, that statement is lost upon many. Today, the defendants are being held accountable for their actions. Everybody is accountable to the rule of law. Taking the law into your own hands is a dangerous endeavor.”

A nine-count indictment charged Travis and Greg McMichael and Bryan each with 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 false imprisonment.

Travis McMichael, 35, was convicted of all nine charges. His 66-year-old father, Greg, was convicted of all charges except malice murder. Bryan, their 52-year-old neighbor, was convicted of three counts of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault, as well as false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

Throughout the trial there was a sea of people supporting Arbery’s family outside the courtroom -- including 87-year-old Annie Polite, a Glynn County resident.

“It certainly has made a big difference, not only in Brunswick and Glynn but throughout the U.S. and the world around us, and I’m so glad it turned out the way it did, so let’s keep it going that way,” Polite said.

Malice and felony murder convictions both carry a minimum penalty of life in prison. The judge was left only to decide whether that came with or without the possibility of parole.

Murder can also be punishable by death in Georgia if the killing meets certain criteria. Prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty in the case of Arbery’s slaying.

Each count of aggravated assault carries a prison term of at least one year but not more than 20 years. False imprisonment is punishable by a sentence of one to 10 years in prison.

During the sentencing hearing, Travis McMichael’s attorney Robert Rubin said his client’s goal that day was not to kill anyone but to play outside with his son. He said Travis only fired the fatal shots when Ahmaud came at him and grabbed the gun.

Rubin said nothing suggests Travis McMichael is a danger to society. He argued that he cooperated with police because he thought he was doing the right thing and helping his community and that Travis always expressed remorse and disbelief.

Before the hearing began, Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, filed several motions, including one challenging the constitutionality of the mandatory life sentence for felony murder. The judge denied all the motions.

Federal authorities have also charged the three men with hate crimes in Arbery’s death. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.

About the Authors:

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.