BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — The white father and son who pursued and killed Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia neighborhood, each received a second life sentence on Monday – for committing federal hate crimes, months after they got their first for murder – in a hearing that ended more than two years of criminal proceedings.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood handed down the sentences against Travis McMichael, 36, and his father, Greg McMichael, 66, reiterating the severity of the February 2020 murder that shattered their Brunswick community. William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, who recorded a video of the murder on his cellphone, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
“A young man died. Ahmaud Arbery will always be 25 years old. And what happened, a jury concluded, happened because he is black,” Wood said.
The McMichaels had previously been sentenced to life without parole in state court for Arbery’s murder and asked the judge to divert them to federal prison. to serve their sentence, saying they feared for their safety in the state prison system. Bryan had initially sought to serve his federal sentence. Wood refused all three requests.
Sentences handed down Monday ended the second trial against the men responsible for killing Arbery, which, along with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, has fueled a wave of protests across the country against the killing of unarmed people. Black people.
“The Department of Justice’s prosecution in this case and the convictions handed down by the court today make it clear that hate crimes have no place in our country and that the Department will not relent in its efforts to demand accountability to those who commit them,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. in a press release. “Protecting civil rights and addressing white supremacist violence was a founding goal of the Justice Department, and a goal we will continue to pursue with the urgency it demands.”
In February, a federal jury convicted the McMichaels and Bryan of violating Arbery’s civil rights, concluding that they targeted him because of his race. All three were also convicted of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels were convicted of using firearms in the commission of a violent crime.
The McMichaels armed themselves with firearms and used a pickup truck to chase Arbery after driving past their home on February 23, 2020. Neighbor Bryan joined the chase in his own truck and recorded video on cellphone of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery with a shotgun. The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery of being a burglar, but investigators determined he was unarmed and committed no crime.
“I’m very grateful,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told reporters outside the courthouse after the three sentences were handed down. “It was a long fight. I am so grateful that God gave us the strength to keep fighting.
The hearings marked the first time the men involved in the murderous pursuit have expressed remorse to Arbery’s family. Only Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shots, chose to remain silent when given the opportunity to speak in court.
Greg McMichael told Arbery’s family that their loss was “beyond description”.
“I’m sure my words mean very little to you, but I want to assure you that I never wanted this to happen,” he said. “There was no malice in my heart or my son’s heart that day.”
Bryan said he was sorry.
“I never intended to hurt him, and I never would have played a part in what happened if I had known then what I know now,” Bryan said.
In giving Bryan a lighter sentence, Wood noted that he did not bring a weapon to Arbery’s pursuit and retained his cellphone video, which was crucial to the prosecution.
Travis McMichael’s attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, said a lighter sentence would be more consistent with what similarly charged defendants have received in other cases, noting that the officer who killed Floyd in Minneapolis, Derek Chauvin, was sentenced to 21 years in prison for violating Floyd’s civil rights, although he was not charged with targeting Floyd because of his race.
Greg McMichael’s attorney, AJ Balbo, also cited Chauvin’s conviction as well as his client’s age and health issues, which he said include a stroke and depression.
At February’s hate crimes trial, prosecutors bolstered their case that Arbery’s murder was racially motivated by showing the jury about two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racial slurs. and made derogatory comments about black people.
Prosecutor Christopher Perras said the trial evidence proved “what so many people felt in their hearts when they watched the video of Ahmaud’s tragic and needless death: it never would have happened if he had been White”.
A state Superior Court judge handed down life sentences for the McMichaels and Bryan in January for the murder of Arbery, both McMichaels were denied any chance of parole. The three defendants remained imprisoned in coastal Glynn County, in the custody of U.S. Marshals, pending sentencing following their federal convictions.
Because they were first charged and convicted of murder in state court, they will be turned over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life sentence in state prison.
Copeland pleaded unsuccessfully for Travis McMichael to remain in federal custody, saying he received hundreds of threats that he would be killed shortly after arriving at state prison and that his picture was shown there on illegal phones.
“I am concerned, your honor, that my client is indeed facing the death penalty by stealth,” she said, adding that “retribution and revenge” were not convicting factors, even for a “publicly vilified” defendant.
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., said Travis McMichael showed his son no mercy and deserved to “rot” in state prison.
“You killed him because he was a black man and you hate black people,” he said. “You deserve no pity.”
Associated Press writer Sudhin Thanawala contributed to this report from Atlanta.