Newsy National Correspondent Tammy Estwick and Tarleton State University Criminal Justice Professor Alex Del Carmen discuss the jury verdict in the trial of the three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery.
The killing was captured on video and shared around the world: Ahmaud Arbery running toward and then around an idling pickup truck before its driver blasted him at close range with a shotgun.
Soon after Travis McMichael fatally shot Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, his father, Greg McMichael, told police how the pair had armed themselves, chased the young Black man and trapped him "like a rat." Neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan told officers he joined the pursuit and helped cut off Arbery’s escape.
After a 13-day trial at the Glynn County courthouse in coastal Georgia, a disproportionately white jury found the three white men guilty of murder. Each man was also convicted on lesser charges.
A nine-count indictment charged all three men with 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, in this case false imprisonment.
Travis McMichael was convicted of all nine charges. Greg McMichael was convicted of all charges except malice murder. Bryan was convicted of two counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.
Malice and felony murder convictions both carry a minimum penalty of life in prison. The judge decides whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole. Even if the possibility of parole is granted, a person convicted of murder must serve 30 years before becoming eligible. Multiple murder convictions are merged for the purposes of sentencing.
Murder can also be punishable by death in Georgia if the killing meets certain criteria and the prosecutor chooses to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors in this case did not.
Each count of aggravated assault carries a prison term of at least one year but not more than 20 years. False imprisonment is punishable by a sentence of one to 10 years in prison.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley will set a sentencing date.
Appeals are almost certain in this case, said University of Georgia law professor emeritus Ron Carlson.
One likely basis for appeal could be the exclusion of certain evidence from the trial, he said. Defense attorneys had sought to introduce evidence of Arbery's criminal record, records on his mental health and the fact that he was on probation. They also wanted to have a use-of-force expert testify. But the judge ruled against admitting any of that evidence.
“They'll argue that relevant evidence helpful to the defense was excluded by the trial judge and that was an error,” Carlson said.
It's also possible that appellate attorneys could find other grounds for appeal after scouring transcripts and jury instructions, and speaking with jurors.
Robert Rubin and Jason Sheffield, attorneys for Travis McMichael, said after the verdict that they plan to appeal. Sheffield said they had no second thoughts about trying the case in the community where Arbery was killed rather than seeking to move it elsewhere. But he said, “It could certainly become a part of the appeal.”
The McMichaels and Bryan still face federal charges.
Months before the three stood trial on state murder charges, a federal grand jury in April indicted them on hate crimes charges. It’s an entirely separate case that’s not affected by the state trial’s outcome.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood has scheduled jury selection in the federal trial to start Feb. 7. All three men are charged with one count of interference with civil rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were also charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.
The federal indictment says the men targeted Arbery because he was Black.
Additional reporting from The Associated Press.