Nearly two years after Arbery's death, jurors find the three men responsible for felony murder, among other charges.
Nearly two years after Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan chased, shot, and killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging through a residential neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia, jurors have found Travis McMichael guilty on all counts in Arbery’s murder; with his father Greg found guilty of all counts except “malice murder;” and Bryan convicted on multiple counts including felony murder and assault. The reading of the verdict brought to a close one of the most closely-watched murder trials in recent memory.
All three men stood charged with a host of crimes, including malice murder, felony murder, assault, kidnapping, and attempt to commit false imprisonment for their respective roles in Arbery’s death. Arbery was killed in February 2020, after being confronted by Travis McMichael — who fired the fatal shot — and his father Gregory in a white pickup truck. Bryan was following in a separate vehicle to record the confrontation. During the trial, the defendants claimed they had acted in self-defense while attempting to make a “citizen’s arrest” of Arbery, insisting that they believed he had been responsible for alleged robberies in the area, despite offering no evidence to corroborate the claim.
“You don’t get to claim self-defense in certain circumstances,” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told jurors during her closing argument Monday. “If you are the initial unjustified aggressor, you don’t get to claim self-defense. If you commit a felony against somebody, you don’t get to claim self-defense.”
“[The defendants] made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways, because he was a Black man running down the street,” Dunikoski said.
Kevin Gough, the defense attorney who represented Bryan during the trial, had previously tried to blame Arbery for his own death, which followed a brief struggle after he’d been chased down by the trio. Gough told jurors that “to be charging [the defendants] with an aggravated assault that he could have avoided by submitting, that is not adjusted to the law.”
“If Mr. Arbery could reasonably think these people were trying to stop him or detain him, pursuing a citizen’s arrest statute, then yeah, he has some duty at some point to get off the road,” Gough added, despite the defendants having admitted that they did not notify Arbery that they were ostensibly attempting to conduct a citizen’s arrest.
In a strikingly different tone from his awkward response to Kyle Rittenhouse’s not-guilty verdict, President Joe Biden celebrated Wednesday’s decisions as a sign that “our justice system[is] doing its job.”
But, Biden cautioned in a plea for further racial justice, “that alone is not enough.”
The trial of Arbery’s killers has become one of the major flashpoints in the ongoing struggle toward racial and criminal justice in this country. Beyond the obvious dynamic of armed white men chasing and killing an unarmed Black man, Gough made a point of criticizing the presence of a number of civil rights activists in the courtroom, claiming at one point that “we don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here or other Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case.”
He later apologized for the comments. Meanwhile, a group of more than 100 Black pastors rallied outside the Georgia courtroom where the trial has taken place.
The racial makeup of the jury — 11 white people and one Black person — has also drawn intense criticism, including from Judge Timothy Walmsley, who acknowledged the defense’s effort to strike prospective Black jurors from the pool was “intentional discrimination in the panel.” Walmsley ultimately claimed he didn’t have the authority to reinstate rejected jurors.
Speaking briefly outside the courthouse following the verdicts, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, thanked those who marched and prayed for her and her family, stating that “god is good,” while admitting that she hadn’t expected a guilty verdict last year. But now, she exclaimed with obvious relief in her voice, her son “can rest in peace.”