A judge in the United States has sentenced three men to life in prison for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, whose fatal shooting in 2020 in the state of Georgia sparked mass protests against racism and vigilantism.
Judge Timothy Walmsley in Georgia ruled Friday Travis McMichael, 35, and his father, 66-year-old Gregory McMichael, would spend life in jail without the possibility of parole.
Walmsley has also sentenced McMichaels’ neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, to life in prison, but he will have the option of parole after 30 years – the minimum sentence allowed for murder under state law.
A jury in Georgia found the three men in November – who shot dead Arbery in February 2020 while jogging through the coastal community of Satilla Shores – guilty of a series of charges, including criminal murder.
Walmsley said during the hearing in Glynn County Court in Brunswick on Friday that he had imposed the heaviest sentence on the McMichaels, in part because of their “uncovered” words and actions captured on video.
“It was a cold, really disturbing scene,” the judge said over the frame in a cellphone video of the murder where Travis McMichael starts lifting his shotgun at Arbery while the 25-year-old is about 20 feet away.
He said Arbery was “hunted and shot and he was killed because individuals here in this courtroom took the law into their own hands”.
‘Full of life’
During the sentencing hearing earlier Friday, Arbery’s family members asked the judge not to show any leniency to the three men. Defense attorneys pleaded for indulgence, saying none of the three men ever intended Arbery to be killed.
Arbery’s sister, Jasmine Arbery, remembered her brother’s humor and described him as a positive thinker with a great personality. She told the judge her brother had dark skin “that shone in the sunlight”, thick, curly hair and an athletic build, factors that made him a target for the men who chased him.
“These are the characteristics that led these men to assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and pursued them with drawn rifles. To me, those qualities reflect a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people I loved, ”said Jasmine Arbery.
Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer representing the Arbery family, welcomed the sentences on Friday, saying that the convicted trio of Ahmaud Arbery had “crept in, cornered and lynched” in broad daylight. He called the outcome of the trial a sign of progress in the fight for racial justice.
“But we are not done. The tragic murder of Ahmaud Arbery should not be in vain, “Crump said in a statement. “America, we are showing progress. Now is not the time to retire. We must continue to demand better from law enforcement, from our legal system and from society as a whole. ”
The family of #AhmaudArbery spoke in court before their son’s killers were sentenced to life in prison.
“They have no remorse and deserve no indulgence,” said Arbery’s mother. pic.twitter.com/5GZWx9iJbB
– AJ + (@ajplus) 7 January 2022
Appeal is expected
Arbery was running through Satilla Shores, Georgia on the afternoon of February 23, 2020 when the McMichaels decided to grab their guns, hop in a pickup truck and chase through the predominantly white community.
A graphic video of Arbery’s murder leaked two months later, fueling mass public protests against anti-Black racism and vigilance, as well as calls for accountability. It also prompted Georgia officials to take over the case and eventually charge the trio.
“They chose to target my son because they did not want him in their community,” Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones told the court on Friday. “When they could not frighten or intimidate him enough, they killed him.”
Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, who reported from Washington, DC, said it was important to remember that charges were only laid against the three men when the video footage of Arbery’s murder was leaked.
“In the immediate aftermath of Arbery’s death, the local police, the local prosecutors, all believed these three white men – now convicted of murder – [who said] that Arbery has nothing to do with it, ”Rattansi said. “It reveals so much about race relations in Georgia and in America as a whole.”
The men’s defense attorneys said they would appeal against the convictions. Bob Rubin, a lawyer for the younger McMichael, said life without parole should only be reserved for “the worst of the worst”.
“His goal was not to commit a crime that day or kill anyone that day,” Rubin said of Travis McMichael. “His goal was to have a family afternoon.”
None of the three convicted men exercised their right to address the court during the trial.
The trio also faces a federal trial in February charges of hate crime, who in an indictment is accused of violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his “race and color”. They have pleaded innocent on those charges.