Just a week after Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of fatally shooting two men and killing a third during a night of protest in Kenosha, Wis., Americans tuned in to the verdict in another case that’s drawn national scrutiny over the past year.
On Wednesday, Travis McMichael was found guilty on all nine counts related to the pursuit and killing of Ahmaud Arbery, including felony murder. His father, Greg McMichael, was found guilty on eight counts, while a third man, William Bryan, was found guilty on six counts. They face life in prison.
The three men also face federal hate-crimes charges in a separate trial scheduled to begin Feb. 7.
“It’s been a hard fight, but God is good,” said Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, standing beside the Rev. Al Sharpton, the New York civil rights crusader, during a press conference outside the Brunswick, Ga., courthouse. Cooper-Jones said that her son can now “rest in peace.”
“We never had a Thanksgiving Day like today,” Sharpton said.
“The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts, based on the evidence, and that was our goal,” said prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, also speaking outside the courthouse. “The jury system works in this country, and when you present the truth to people and they can see it, they will do the right thing,” she said. “That’s what this jury did today in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery.”
The lawyers for Travis McMichael called the verdict “disappointing and sad,” and said that they plan to appeal. “This is a very difficult day for Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael,” said Jason Sheffield, one of the lawyers. He said both men, “honestly believe what they were doing was the right thing to do.”
Kevin Gough, an attorney for William Bryan, told the New York Times, “While we disagree with the verdict, we must respect it.” He said Bryan will file a motion for a new trial next week
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin — the Black high-school student fatally shot by a Florida neighborhood-watch participant who was later acquitted — tweeted a photo card with the hashtags #Justice4AhmaudArbery and #RIPYoungKing after the guilty verdict.
Said President Joe Biden, in a statement: “While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin.”
Arbery, 25, was shot and killed on Feb. 23, 2020, while jogging through a South Georgia neighborhood, just outside of the port city of Brunswick. Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased Arbery in a pickup truck, and neighbor William Bryan joined the pursuit and recorded the video of Travis McMichael shooting as Arbery grabbed for McMichael’s shotgun.
No arrests were made until almost two months after the fatal incident, however, when Bryan’s leaked cellphone video went viral on social media and sparked a national outcry.
Arbery’s death joined the 2020 deaths of Black men and women including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks in spurring a renewed national reckoning on race, police brutality and vigilantism. So reactions to the verdict were divided on Wednesday, leading the names of Arbery, the McMichaels and Bryan, and the hashtag #guilty to jump to the top of trending Twitter topics after the verdict was announced.
Civil-rights attorney Ben Crump released a statement reading, “After nearly two years of pain, suffering, and wondering if Ahmaud’s killers would be held to account, the Arbery family finally has some justice.”
“We can now legally call the killers of Ahmaud Arbery murderers,” tweeted journalist Yamiche Alcindor, host of “Washington Week” on PBS.
Similar to the recent trial and acquittal of Rittenhouse, race has been a central issue in this case — including the controversial selection of a nearly all-white jury. Arbery, who would often go running, was Black. The three men who were accused of killing him are white — and one of them, the elder McMichael, is a former police officer and investigator in the local district attorney’s office. The U.S. Department of Justice has been asked to investigate how the case was handled from the outset.
The defense argued that the men committed no crimes, because they were making a citizen’s arrest and engaging in self-defense. The three said they suspected Arbery had committed a string of recent burglaries in the neighborhood. They also said Arbery matched the description of someone who had trespassed in a nearby house that was under construction.
The prosecution argued that there was no justification for the men to arm themselves and chase Arbery. Police later said that only one burglary had been reported in the neighborhood, and that was almost two months before the shooting. Surveillance video showed that several other people had wandered into the same home under construction in the months before the fatal shooting.
The verdict drew responses from lawmakers and civil-rights leaders, as well as gun-rights activists and gun-control activists.
Shannon Watts, the founder of the gun-control group Moms Demand Action, tweeted that action was needed to rein in the “stand your ground” laws that are seen as having emboldened the actions that left Arbery, and Trayvon Martin — eight years, nearly to the day, before him — dead:
Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia observed that justice had not been fully served in the Brunswick courtroom, as Arbery should never have died:
“The true measure of justice is not in a verdict, but in making a future where people don’t live in fear of racialized violence,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union. “We will not stop doing the long hard work to achieve this future.”