Three Men Sentenced to Life in Prison for the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery

Dimas Sanfiorenzo Dimas Sanfiorenzo is the Managing Editor for Okayplayer. He specializes…
Ahmaud Arbery protest
Photo Credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Gregory McMichaell, his son Travis, and a neighbor, William Bryan were given live in prison for the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.

The three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery — a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging near his home in Georgia — were sentenced to life in prison on Friday (January 7th.) Travis McMichael, the man who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery, and his father Gregory to life without the possibility of parole. While their neighbor William Bryan, 52, was given life but will be eligible for parole. This sentence aligns with what prosecutor Linda Dunikoski recommended.

In November, Gregory McMichael, 65; his son Travis, 35; and Bryan were convicted of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. Gregory and Bryan were both acquitted of the top charge, malice murder. 

The jury, which was almost all white, deliberated the case for more than 11 hours, debating the merits of the defense’s claims that the men were carrying out a legal citizen’s arrest due to a rise in crime. According to CNN, when the first guilty verdict was read, Marcus Arbery Sr., the father of Ahmaud Arbery, responded with a “whooo!”, a reaction that made the judge, Timothy Walmsley, kick him out the courtroom. 

“I ask that whoever just made an outburst be removed from the court, please,” Walmsley said.

The three are also facing separate federal hate crime charges. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on February 7th. If it goes through and they are found guilty — of a wide range of charges including interference with rights and attempted kidnapping — they could face an additional life in prison. 

On February 23, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead in Brunswick, Georgia. Arbery — who was a former high school athlete — was jogging in a neighborhood not far from his home at the time.

Gregory McMichael — a resident of the neighborhood — told officers that he thought Arbery resembled a man suspected in a string of break-ins in the neighborhood. McMichael saw Arbery “hauling ass” and called his son Travis to attempt to stop and question him. According to the police report, the younger McMichael brought his shotgun with him. The elder brought a handgun.

The two jumped in their truck, following Arbery to an intersection. Travis got out the truck, shotgun in hand. At that point, Arbery attempted to elude the McMichaels. He failed to escape and engaged in a scuffle with Travis. Arbery was shot three times and died at the scene.

For months there was no arrest or charge. In fact, George E. Barnhill — the district attorney in Waycross, Ga. who eventually recused himself because of conflict  — wrote a letter saying there was not enough evidence to arrest Gregory or Travis.

But on May 5th, a local Brunswick radio station WGIG posted a cellphone recording of the incident. The video, which was shot by Bryan William, appears to be shot from a moving vehicle behind the runner. The footage shows the runner jogging in broad daylight. A truck has parked in the road ahead of him. The runner attempts to pass the truck on the passenger’s side. A shouting match ensues, and the runner can be seen grappling with a man armed with a rifle or shotgun. Shots are fired, and seconds later, the runner — shot at point-blank range — falls face down. 

The video was released just weeks before the death of George Floyd (which was also caught on camera.) The jarring imagery from both of these events sparked global protests around the world. 

A month after the video was released, Georgia Legislature passed a hate crime bill, HB426, that would give an enhanced sentencing for defendants convicted of targeting a person due to their “actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.” The three were not charged under this new law.

That shooting, alongside the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, was a driving force behind the summer of protests that occurred during 2020. 

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This story was updated on January 7th 2022. 

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