The three white men convicted of murder in Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting were found guilty of federal hate crimes Tuesday for violating Arbery’s civil rights and targeting him because he was Black. The jury also found father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels guilty of the use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime. The verdict was handed down one day before the second anniversary of Arbery’s death on February 23, 2020, coming just a few months after all three defendants were convicted of murder in a Georgia state court and sentenced to life in prison.
Weeks prior to the trial, the McMichaels had both agreed to enter guilty pleas to the hate crimes in exchange for being able to serve their sentences in federal, rather than state prison. Judge Lisa Godbey Wood rejected the deal, however, saying it would tie her hands at sentencing, and after Arbery’s family vehemently opposed it.
The facts of the case were not disputed during the hate crimes trial. The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue Arbery after seeing him running in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup and recorded the cellphone video that later leaked online. Arbery’s family joined with members of the community who viewed the hate crimes trial as an important statement that racism motivated the killing.
Ahmaud Arbery's mother Wanda Cooper-Jones speaks following the guilty verdict for the three Georgia men in the federal hate crimes trial in Arbery's killing.
"I as a mom, will never heal." pic.twitter.com/APOxk7m9z3
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 22, 2022
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the verdict “makes clear that the Justice Department will continue to use every resource at its disposal to confront unlawful acts of hate and to hold accountable those who perpetrate them.” Garland added that Arbery’s family and his friends “should be preparing to celebrate his 28th birthday, later this spring, not mourning the second anniversary of his death tomorrow.”
Attorney General Garland delivers remarks after three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery found guilty of federal hate crimes.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 22, 2022
To back the hate crime charges, prosecutors showed roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made derogatory comments about Black people. The FBI wasn’t able to access Greg McMichael’s phone because it was encrypted.
Tuesday's verdict was symbolic, coming months after the McMichaels and Bryan were convicted of Arbery's murder in state court.
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 22, 2022
Defense attorneys contended the McMichaels and Bryan didn’t chase and kill Arbery because of his race but acted on the completely wrong presumption that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood because of his skin color.
— ABC News (@ABC) February 22, 2022