Brunswick, GA- Three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty in a federal hate crimes trial Tuesday, February 22, 2021 Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan were all convicted of felony murder and other charges in November.
On Tuesday, a jury made up of eight White people, three Black people and one Hispanic person convicted the three men of violating Arbery's civil rights and targeting him because he was Black. They were also convicted of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels were found guilty of using a firearm during the commission of a crime.
The case was one of the most high-profile hate crime trials in years, and came after a rash of acts of violence against African Americans, including Mr. Arbery and George Floyd, led to protests and soul-searching around the nation. It was seen as a victory for the Justice Department, which has pledged to make such cases a priority.
While legal analysts say that hate crimes are especially difficult to prove, federal prosecutors in the Georgia trial presented voluminous evidence of the defendants’ racist beliefs and crude language, leaving some jurors visibly shaken. It took them roughly four hours to reach a verdict. When it was read aloud in court, some jurors wept.
National civil rights leaders hailed the conviction as a victory for racial justice.
“As the nation continues to grapple with racially motivated violence by police and vigilantes who shroud themselves in self-appointed authority, the jury sent a powerful message: We see you for what you are, and we will not tolerate your deadly campaign of intimidation,” said Marc H. Morial, Chief Executive of the National Urban League. “This verdict draws a clear line in the sand.”
To convict on this hate crimes charge, federal prosecutors were tasked with proving to the jury that the defendants targeted Arbery because he was Black. For four days last week, witnesses recounted racist interactions with Greg and Travis McMichael, and prosecutors spent a full morning of the trial going over racist and sometimes violent content from the defendants' digital footprints, including texts and videos.
"If Ahmaud was another white person jogging, would this have happened in the way that it did? If Ahmaud hadn't been using public streets, would this have happened the way it did?" prosecutor Christopher Perras asked in the government's closing arguments on Monday.
He argued that the racial slurs and memes, while not illegal in themselves, could help inform jurors about the mindset of the defendants when they saw Arbery run through Satilla Shores that day.
Perras said they acted on racial assumptions, racial resentment and racial anger that had been building for years.
"They didn't need to talk about it. They knew what they were going to do," Perras told jurors. "They grabbed their guns and went after him."
"Would this have happened to a white guy? Yes," said Amy Copeland, attorney for Travis McMichael. She encouraged jurors to consider the evidence that wasn't presented: The government never called any Black witnesses to share stories of her client's racism, she argued, and there was no evidence that Travis McMichael belonged to any white supremacist groups. Copeland declined to call any witnesses to testify for Travis McMichael during the trial.
None of the attorneys disputed any of the racism evidenced in their clients' digital footprints, and even personally disavowed these viewpoints, while maintaining that the defendants had legitimate reasons to pursue Arbery, after recognizing him as the same man seen on surveillance cameras inside a home construction site at night.
Bryan's attorney, Pete Theodocion, tried to emphasize the differences between his client and the other two, telling jurors that Bryan "wasn't trying to be Johnny Law-Enforcement," but "his instinct told him people don't get chased like that unless they've done something wrong, and in some cases very wrong."
"These defendants saw Ahmaud as less than human, as less than an animal," prosecutor Lyons told jurors in her final rebuttal before Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sent the jurors out to deliberate on Monday afternoon.
Lyons emphasized that they showed no remorse as Arbery was bleeding in the street.
"I think the DOJ [Department of Justice] presented its case well," Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told reporters outside the courthouse on Monday.
"I'm very emotional. This has been very draining, and I'm thankful this is almost over," she said, noting that she was hopeful for a verdict in time for the second anniversary of her son's death this Wednesday.
Feb. 23 is now officially known as Ahmaud Arbery Day in the state of Georgia.
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