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 the 25-year-old Black man.
Greg, 66, and Travis McMichael, 35, grabbed guns and chased Arbery in a pickup truck after they saw him running in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick. Neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, joined the pursuit and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery with a shotgun.
In November, a jury convicted all three defendants of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and attempted false imprisonment.
Murder carries a mandatory life sentence under Georgia law. The trial judge ordered both McMichaels to serve life without parole. Bryan was granted a chance of parole but must first serve at least 30 years in prison.
During the sentencing hearing earlier Friday, Arbery’s family had asked a judge to show no lenience in sentencing the three men.
Arbery’s sister recalled her brother’s humor, describing him as a positive thinker with a big personality. She told the judge her brother had dark skin “that glistened in the sunlight,” 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 them 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.
Mother: My son was targeted
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.”
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked the judge for life without parole for the McMichaels 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.”
Contending the McMichaels still believed they didn’t do anything wrong, Dunikoski disclosed Friday that Greg McMichael gave Bryan’s cellphone video of the shooting to an attorney, who leaked it.
“He believed it was going to exonerate him,” the prosecutor said.
Greg McMichael’s lawyer, Laura Hogue, said her client has health problems and acknowledged he likely won’t get out of prison.
Bryan’s lawyer said he should get a chance at parole because he showed remorse and cooperated with police, turning over the cellphone video of the shooting to help them get to the truth.
“Mr. Bryan isn’t the one who brought a gun,” Kevin Gough said. “He was unarmed. And I think that reflects his intentions.”
The killing went largely unnoticed until two months later, when the graphic cellphone 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.
Defense attorneys have said they plan to appeal the convictions. They have 30 days after sentencing to file them.
Next month, the McMichaels and Bryan face a second trial, this time in U.S. District Court on federal hate crime charges. A judge has set jury selection to begin February 7. Prosecutors will argue that the three men violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because he was Black.