McMichaels' motion to acquit hate crimes charges denied

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Aug. 5—A federal judge denied Thursday a request for acquittal from Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael, removing the last obstacle before the father and son are sentenced Monday on federal hate crimes for the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

"The evidence in this case was more than sufficient to convict Gregory and Travis McMichael on all counts," U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood concluded in her 27-page ruling. "Their motions for judgement ... are denied."

Gregory McMichael, 66, Travis McMichael, 36, and 52-year-old William "Roddie" Bryan will be sentenced at 10 a.m. Monday in U.S. District Court in Brunswick on charges that include attempted kidnapping and violating Arbery's rights to use a public street because he was Black. Already sentenced to life in state prison for the February 2020 murder, the three White men could receive additional life sentences in federal prison.

Greg and Travis McMichael additionally are guilty of brandishing a firearm in the commission of violent crime. Travis McMichael also is charged with discharging a firearm in a violent crime.

A federal jury found the three guilty on all charges Feb. 23, ending a nearly three-week trial at the U.S. District Courthouse in Brunswick.

In the state trial that preceded the proceedings in federal court, prosecutors concentrated more on the actual crimes committed than the defendants' racial motives.

On Nov. 24, 2021, a Glynn County grand jury found all three guilty of murder, aggravated assault and other charges, ending a six-week trial at the county courthouse. A judge subsequently sentenced all three men to life in state prison in January.

Travis McMichael shot and killed the unarmed Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, on a street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Bryan used his cellphone to video the grisly killing, which ended a chase that saw Arbery run for his life on the streets as the three men pursued him in pickup trucks.

The McMichaels said they chased Arbery with guns because they suspected him of burglarizing a nearby vacant home with open doors and garage bays. Testimony in state court included a recording of a Glynn County police officer telling both men that Arbery had committed no crime.

Following the guilty verdicts in federal court, public defense attorneys representing both McMichaels filed a motion for acquittal in March.

The motion questioned the jury's decision that race played a role in the McMichaels' actions that day. It maintained that the McMichaels acted solely because they suspected Arbery of burglary.

The motion further questioned the validity of categorizing the streets in the Satilla Shores neighborhood as public.

Later in March, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, David Estes, filed a response that contended the arguments for acquittal were groundless.

Satilla Shores is not a gated community and therefore its streets are open to the public, Estes noted. The streets also are maintained by Glynn County, he added

Estes noted that Arbery caused no harm in Satilla Shores, adding that the McMichaels were aware of this. Estes argued the McMichaels had reason to suspect White persons of crime in the neighborhood, but they did not take drastic action of armed pursuit with those suspects.

In dismissing the request for acquittal, Wood concurred with much of Estes' response. She additionally noted the repeated evidence revealed in the federal trial of the racist attitudes expressed by both men.

"First, it bears saying that the amount and nature of derogatory racial evidence introduced at trial was stunning," Wood wrote.

"Regardless, and contrary to Gregory McMichael's argument, there was substantial evidence of his own racial animus against black people introduced at trial."

She added later: "Putting all that together, the jury was permitted to find that Gregory McMichael would not have chased Arbery but-for Arbery's race."

Wood also rejected an argument that the McMichaels' actions did not meet the definition of kidnapping because they stood to gain no tangible benefit. Wood said the prosecution proved that the men's racist beliefs and vigilante attitudes stood to benefit.

"The evidence was more than sufficient to support a finding that the McMichaels attempted to kidnap Arbery for a benefit," she wrote.