A jury on Wednesday convicted three white men of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man they pursued through their Georgia neighborhood early last year. The killing, captured on video, was likened to a modern-day lynching and set off national outrage, fueling the Black Lives Matter movement as it swelled America’s streets last spring.
Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shot, was found guilty of murder and convicted on all counts. His father, Greg McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were also convicted on murder charges as well as a host of other counts. The three face potential life sentences. They will go on trial in February to face federal hate-crime and kidnapping charges. (Georgia did not have a hate-crime statute on the books until Arbery’s slaying spurred the passage of such a law.)
Though race was inextricably bound up in the case, it was mostly left out of the courtroom’s arguments, where a predominantly white jury heard prosecutors accuse the trio of lawlessly chasing Arbery “because he was a Black man running down the street,” and that was only during closing arguments. Prosecutors presented no evidence of racial language ascribed to the defendants.
The men suspected Arbery had broken into a neighbor’s house under construction in Satilla Shores, based on descriptions given by the neighbor, and said they were trying to detain him. (Prosecutors said there was no evidence Arbery was involved in any crime in the area.) Arbery, said to have been an avid jogger, was seen running when the McMichaels pursued him in a pickup truck, with Bryan following in another vehicle. For several minutes, the group tore through the neighborhood before the McMichaels finally cut Arbery off in the road. That’s when Travis exited the cab of the truck with a shotgun and Arbery collided with him, throwing punches and grabbing the gun, before he was fatally shot. As with the Kyle Rittenhouse case, the Georgia trial largely hinged on the question of who was the aggressor and who was acting in self-defense.
Police who arrived at the scene of the killing believed the McMichaels’ version of events — it was a citizen’s arrest gone wrong — and did not arrest anyone. Nor did local prosecutors pursue charges. (Greg McMichaels had worked as an investigator for the district attorney’s office, raising accusations the office was biased in his favor.) The case languished in virtual obscurity outside of the coastal Georgia town for months, until video that Bryan took from behind the wheel of his car that showed the brutal slaying was released. It went viral immediately, sparking national outrage and building pressure to transfer the investigation to Georgia authorities, who charged the men with murder, among other charges, last year.