Jury finds all three defendants guilty of murder in Ahmaud Arbery shooting

·12 min read

Nov. 26—Guilty.



A jury of their Glynn County peers found three White men guilty Wednesday of murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man who was shot and killed in the Satilla Shores neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020.

The panel of 11 White people and one Black person deliberated for more than 10 hours total before convicting Travis McMichael, 35, his father Greg McMichael, 65, and 52-year-old William "Roddie" Bryan of murder. Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery on that day, was found guilty of malice murder and felony murder. Greg McMichael and Bryan were found guilty of felony murder, but the jury found both men not guilty of malice murder.

All three were found guilty to varying degrees of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.

The murder charges carry a life sentence.

Outside of the courtroom in the second floor lobby of the courthouse, a tearful Marcus Arbery felt redemption for his son.

"I know that boy didn't do nothing wrong ever," said Arbery as he hugged friends, family and supporters, including the Rev. Al Sharpton. "He didn't do nothing but run, run and dream. He's always been a curious kid. He always wanted to see things. All he wanted to do was run and dream."

On the grounds outside the courthouse, a crowd of mostly Black demonstrators were joined by many Whites in observing the verdict with cheers, tears and prayer. Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey took it all in on the lawn beside the courthouse building.

"This verdict showed the world that we can get justice in a small Southern town," the two-term outgoing city mayor told The News. "It doesn't matter the color of your skin. Justice has no color. We showed that today. Our city has shown the world how to bring justice with peace."

Although Travis McMichael pulled the trigger that delivered fatal buckshot wounds to Arbery, all three men stood trial for murder because the crimes of aggravated assault and false imprisonment ultimately led to Arbery's death, the jury determined.

Bryan used his cellphone to record the murder, a video that sparked national outrage and cries of racial injustice when it was leaked online in May 2020. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested the three men shortly afterward.

Bryan's chilling, graphic video weighed heavily in law enforcement investigations, and various versions of it played frequently throughout the trial.

The verdict concluded a highly publicized trial that put this coastal community in the national spotlight, with major media networks covering the daily gatherings of local demonstrators who were joined by throngs representing organizations and social justice causes from across the country.

The proceedings began Oct. 18 with jury selection — a 2 1/2-week ordeal that processed hundreds of potential jurors from among 1,000 jury summonses mailed to Glynn County residents. A jury was empaneled Nov. 3, but the panel's lack of diversity sparked heated protests from social justice activists, clergy and others.

On Wednesday, Pastor Nathaniel Hicks Jr. of New Vision Church of God and Christ in Brunswick was among the crowd who welcomed the verdict.

"Justice has been served," Hicks told The News. "(The jury) deliberated — they didn't deliberate long ... This was what was mandated because of what (the defendants) did."

The trial began in earnest with opening statements on Nov. 5, when defense attorneys and prosecutors with the Cobb County District Attorney's Office presented their cases. With the starkly brutal facts of the case clear from the start, jurors were asked to determine whether Arbery died as a result of self-defense or cold-blooded murder.

Prosecutors maintained Arbery was hunted, trapped and murdered while out for a jog on a public street. A former standout linebacker at Brunswick High, Arbery was known to friends and family as an avid jogger who loved to run everywhere.

Defense attorneys argued that McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense while the defendants were effecting a lawful citizen's arrest. The McMichaels said they suspected Arbery of property crimes, primarily based on Arbery's appearance several times on surveillance video at the unfinished house at 220 Satilla Drive. Property owner Larry English of Douglas noted Arbery never stole anything or caused harm on the five occasions in which he appeared in or near the structure between Oct. 25 and the day he died.

During testimony, the police body camera of Glynn County Officer Robert Rash showed him telling both McMichaels that Arbery had not stolen anything during his visits to 220 Satilla Drive.

Likewise, testimony revealed that Greg McMichael could not tell police if he knew of a crime Arbery might have perpetrated the day before the father and son committed themselves to an armed chase.

Defense attorneys said Travis McMichael relied on his federal law enforcement training as a former U.S. Coast Guardsman during the incident. He was the defense's lead witness and the only one of the three defendants to testify in court.

During questioning from attorney Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael gave textbook answers to law enforcement queries about use-of-force protocol and probable cause indicators.

But on cross examination, prosecuting attorney Linda Dunikoski portrayed Travis McMichael as a reckless vigilante. She noted Facebook posts in which he urged neighbors to "arm up" and suggested crooks would be "playing with fire on this side of the neighborhood." Dunikoski also flustered Travis McMichael on inconsistencies between his court testimony Nov. 18 and statements he gave to county police investigators hours after the shooting.

Travis McMichael shot the unarmed Arbery dead as the two men struggled for possession of McMichael's Remington 12-gauge shotgun on Holmes Road near Satilla Drive. The deadly confrontation concluded a harried chase in which the McMichaels and Bryan pursued Arbery in two separate pickups as he ran through the streets of Satilla Shores for several minutes.

Moments earlier, Greg McMichael saw Arbery running past his 220 Satilla Drive home. He grabbed a .357 handgun. Travis McMichael grabbed the shotgun loaded with buckshot. The father and son got into Travis McMichael's Ford F-150 pickup truck and pursued Arbery.

Bryan joined the chase when he saw Arbery running past his home at 307 Burford Road with the McMichaels in pursuit. Bryan used his pickup truck to run Arbery into a ditch across the street from his driveway.

Bryan and Travis McMichael used their pickup trucks like weapons throughout, Dunikoski noted, cutting off Arbery's escape in the process.

The pursuit ended with Arbery caught between the two pickup trucks on Holmes Road. Bryan followed him in the Silverado and recorded it as Arbery ran up Holmes Road toward the Ford F-150, which was stopped in the road with Travis McMichael standing outside the driver's side door with the shotgun and Greg McMichael crouched in the truck bed brandishing the .357 magnum.

Travis McMichael pointed the shotgun at Arbery as he approached, video and testimony revealed. Arbery veered right, running around the passenger side of the truck. Travis McMichael moved to the front of the truck, where Arbery turned toward him. The first shotgun blast shredded Arbery's wrist and struck a fatal blow to his abdomen near the chest. The shot can be heard on the video but not seen, the two men obscured from view in Bryan's video by McMichael's pickup truck. Dunikoski asserted that Arbery was trying to shield himself from that first blast with his hand and that he had not grabbed the gun's barrel as Travis McMichael stated in his self-defense claim. In a recorded statement to county police investigators hours after the shooting, Travis McMichael told police he could not remember whether Arbery grabbed the shotgun before he fired.

The video next showed the two men to the left of the truck's driver's side, struggling for the gun when McMichael shot once more and missed. Buckshot from that blast pierced a front window at 232 Satilla Drive and imbedded itself in an interior wall of the home. McMichael's third shot hit Arbery in the chest below the left shoulder. The video showed Arbery taking a couple of steps before collapsing to the pavement, where he died.

Travis McMichael testified he shot in self-defense, fearing for his safety should Arbery gain possession of the shotgun.

Dunikoski asserted Arbery was the person who was afraid in that moment. She said Arbery came at McMichael out of fear and last-ditch desperation after being pursued by men in pickup trucks for some five minutes.

Defense attorney Kevin Gough said Bryan did not know the McMichaels prior to the chase. Bryan had no idea they were armed or that Travis McMichael would kill Arbery, Gough said. Bryan called to the McMichaels, "Y'all got this?" Then he retrieved his truck keys from inside the home and joined the chase.

Pulling out of his driveway, Bryan used his Chevrolet Silverado to run Arbery into a ditch across the street from his home, according to law enforcement testimony. Dunikoski noted Bryan told county police investigators he "angled at" Arbery, "cornered him" and tried to "back up at him" — all of which amounted to aggravated assault and false imprisonment. Based on those crimes, the jury convicted him on felony murder.

Gough said Wednesday he plans to seek a new trial for his client, Bryan.

"Obviously, we are very disappointed with the verdict, but we must respect it," said Gough, who angered demonstrators by repeatedly asking that Black pastors and activists such as Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson be restricted from court proceedings. "That is the American way. We will file a motion for a new trial on Mr. Bryan's behalf next week. We believe he stands wrongly convicted."

Like his son, Greg McMichael claimed he too fell back on his law enforcement training during the incident. Greg McMichael was a Glynn County police officer for seven years, then served 20 years as an investigator with the Brunswick DA's Office before retiring in May of 2019.

But by his own words, Greg McMichael expressed harmful and deadly intentions toward Arbery. Dunikoski noted Greg McMichael's statement to county police, during which he recalled telling Arbery: "Stop, or I'll blow your fxxxing head off!" An officer's body camera recorded Greg McMichael saying this to a neighbor as Arbery lie dead in the street that day: "This guy ain't no shuffler. This guy's an asshole."

Greg McMichael also told police that the three men had Arbery "trapped like a rat," according to testimony.

The jury began deliberations Tuesday morning and recessed at around 6:30 p.m. that day without having reached a verdict.

Leigh McMichael, the wife of Greg McMichael and the mother of Travis McMichael, waited quietly with family and supporters on benches in the courthouse's second floor lobby.

At 9:47 a.m. Tuesday, jurors asked to hear portions of Greg McMichael's 911 call during the shooting and to review Bryan's video of the shooting. The portions of Greg McMichael's 911 call included audio of the three shotgun blasts, as well as the elder McMichael shouting to the dispatcher, "there's a Black male running down the street!" and, "I don't know what street we're on!"

After viewing the video and listening to the 911 recordings, the jury resumed deliberations. The jury announced it had reached a verdict at about 1:20 p.m. Wednesday.

Loud applause erupted in the crowded Jury Assembly Room as Judge Timothy Walmsley announced the malice murder verdict against Travis McMichael; it was the first charge read against first defendant called. Glynn County sheriff's deputies in the room demanded quiet, while Walmsley announced that courtroom decorum must be adhered to by the overflow crowd in the Jury Assembly Room.

The remaining charges for Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and Bryan were read without incident or outburst from spectators.

Travis McMichael was found guilty on all nine counts: 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 a felony.

Greg McMichael was found guilty on four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.

Bryan was found guilty on three counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.

The jury found both Greg McMichael and Bryan not guilty of malice murder. Bryan additionally was found not guilty on one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault.

New Glynn County Police Chief Jacques Battiste said the jury's verdict will lead to healing within the community.

"Justice has been served," Battiste said. "We recognize that there is hurt in our community, and hearts are heavy with emotions. However, we are hopeful that we will all continue to heal together. Our hope is that today's verdict brings peace to the family of Ahmaud Arbery."

The three men now face federal hate crime charges in the death of Arbery. Jury selection in that trial begins Feb. 7 at the federal courthouse in downtown Brunswick, where the three men face charges of interference of rights and attempted kidnapping.

The two McMichaels also are charged with one federal count each of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. Travis McMichael additionally is charged in federal court with discharging a firearm during a violent crime.

Arbery's tragic murder led to two significant changes in Georgia law. In the aftermath, the state's Reconstruction era citizen's arrest law was rewritten. Georgia also adopted a hate crimes law.

The Rev. Hicks had been among the many demonstrators who held vigil outside the courthouse on a daily basis throughout the trial. He hopes Arbery's family found some solace in the verdict.

"I believe justice has been served," he said. "But you can never bring a life back."

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