A jury in Brunswick, Georgia, has found three white men guilty in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a landmark case that sparked national conversations on race.
Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan were charged with felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment following the shooting death of Arbery, a Black man, last year. The jury that convicted the men was composed of 11 white and one Black member, which created controversy over possible racial bias in the trial’s early stages.
On February 23, 2020, Gregory McMichael and son Travis McMichael chased 25-year-old Arbery in a truck and then attacked him. Bryan joined the pursuit and filmed it. The defendants claimed they were attempting a “citizen’s arrest” over concerns about theft in their Satilla Shores neighbourhood. Travis McMichael claimed on the stand that he had fired his gun as an act of self-defence, after Arbery allegedly struck him during their encounter.
The decision comes just days after a jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin, acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse for killing two men and wounding another during protests against police brutality last year. Arbery’s fatal shooting and the case against Rittenhouse served as a notable contrast on race and justice.
State prosecutor Linda Dunikoski presented evidence that showed a shift in critical statements Travis McMichael gave to police and on the stand.
Travis McMichael at one point testified that Arbery never threatened him during their encounter, and said he used his shotgun as an attempt to de-escalate the situation with Arbery.
Prosecutors also noted that there was no evidence of Arbery stealing anything from a construction site in the neighbourhood. While security footage from the site showed Arbery and other people, including a white man and woman, walking in and out of the site in the months before the incident, property owner Larry English testified that he had never reported anything stolen from the site.
Defense attorney Kevin Gough alleged in his arguments that Arbery was responsible for his own death because he was not “submitting” to the McMichaels or Bryan during the chase.
The prosecution also noted that under the Georgia state law governing citizen’s arrests, an alleged offence would have to occur in the “private citizen’s presence.” It would also have to be felony, and even if the defendants’ claims about Arbery had been validated, trespass or loitering are misdemeanours.
Following Arbery’s death, Georgia has repealed its citizen’s arrest law in a bipartisan effort from state lawmakers.
In her closing statement, Dunikoski argued that the three men pursued Arbery based on assumptions rather than observed actions.
“They made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways, because he was a Black man running down the street,” Dunikoski told the jurors.
The much-watched trial has included a number of notable incidents, including when the defence asked the judge to remove Black pastors from the courtroom because their presence may influence the jury’s decision. In response, Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson held prayer vigils outside of the court house.
The McMichaels and Bryan are also facing federal hate crime charges
Arbery’s killing sparked national outrage and protests in major cities throughout the country, leading into further frustration after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
This is a developing story and will be updated.