BRUNSWICK, Ga. – A jury found three white Georgia men guilty Wednesday of an array of charges in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery early last year – a verdict that carries the minimum penalty of life in prison.
Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan each faced a total of nine counts: one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
The jury found Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery, guilty on all charges. Gregory McMichael was found guilty on all charges except malice murder. Bryan was convicted on six of the nine counts, including three counts of felony murder.
Defense attorneys argued that the men are not guilty of all the charges because they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest and that Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense. But prosecutors argued the three men chased and killed Arbery because they saw a Black man running through their small coastal neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020.
Though prosecutors did not explicitly argue that racism motivated the killing, federal authorities have charged them with hate crimes, alleging that they chased and killed Arbery because he was Black. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.
Here’s what those charges mean:
Felony murder and malice murder
Georgia does not have degrees of murder but has malice and felony murder.
Under Georgia law, malice murder refers to when someone causes the death of another person “unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied.”
Express malice involves a “deliberate intention” to take the life of another human. Malice is implied when the killing is unprovoked and “all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”
A felony murder is committed when a person causes the death of another person while committing a felony. In order to be convicted of felony murder, the person must be convicted of the underlying felony.
Prosecutors say the men committed four felonies: two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. So the men faced four counts of felony murder.
Aggravated assault and false imprisonment
The first count of aggravated assault was “with a firearm, deadly weapon.” That’s when Travis pointed a 12-gauge shotgun at Arbery, prosecutors say.
The second count was an assault with “an object, device and instrument, which when used offensively against a person are likely to result in serious bodily injury.” That’s when Arbery was assaulted with the two pickup trucks, prosecutors say.
The judge instructed the jury Tuesday that for aggravated assault, “actual injury to the alleged victim need not be shown.”
Prosecutors say the men committed false imprisonment when they violated Arbery’s personal liberty by confining and detaining him without legal authority, using their pickups. Because they tried to detain him on another street, they also were charged with one count of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, prosecutors say.
According to the judge, these were the conditions for a citizen’s arrest at the time Arbery was shot:
- A person can make a citizen’s arrest when an offense is committed in their presence or “immediate knowledge.” Or, based on “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion,” if the crime is a felony and the suspect is escaping or attempting to escape.
- A citizen’s arrest cannot be made based on “unsupported statements of others.”
- It must happen immediately after the offense.
- A person cannot use “excessive force or an unlawful degree of force” during the arrest.
- A person placed under an unlawful citizen’s arrest “has the right to resist the arrest with such force as is reasonably necessary.”
Prosecutors argued the defendants didn’t have immediate knowledge that Arbery had committed a crime but instead made assumptions based on neighborhood rumors.
They also said none of the defendants told Arbery or the police that they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest that day. However, Judge Timothy Walmsley told the jury a citizen’s arrest can be made even if the suspect is not told they are under arrest.
In Georgia, a person can threaten or use deadly force if they reasonably believe it’s necessary to protect themselves or another person from “imminent” death or serious bodily injury or to prevent the commission of a “forcible felony.”
Although Arbery was unarmed when he was killed, defense attorneys argued he could have used his fists as a weapon. Walmsley told jurors a person can use their fist to commit aggravated assault, which would be considered a “forcible felony.”
Walmsley said that a person cannot claim self-defense if they are committing a felony, if they provoke another person into using force, or if they are the “unjustified, initial aggressor” in the encounter.
“A person who is not the aggressor is not required to retreat,” Walmsley said.
he minimum penalty is life in prison. It is up to the judge to decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole. Even if the possibility of parole is granted, a person convicted of murder must serve 30 years before becoming eligible.
What the jury decided
The nearly all-white jury found Travis McMichael was guilty on all counts.
The jury said Gregory McMichael was not guilty of malice murder, meaning McMichael did not deliberately intend to kill Arbery or did have “an abandoned and malignant heart.”
Jurors said Bryan was not guilty of malice murder either. They also found Bryan not guilty of the first count of assault, where Travis McMichael pointed a shotgun at Arbery. That means Bryan also wasn’t guilty of felony murder on that count.
However, jurors still found Bryan guilty on the three other felonies and, therefore, guilty of felony murder.
When is sentencing?
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley did not immediately schedule a sentencing date.
The sentence for felony murder and malice murder is the same, and the minimum penalty is life in prison. It is up to the judge to decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole. Even if the possibility of parole is granted, a person convicted of murder must serve 30 years before becoming eligible.
Prosecutors did not ask for the death penalty in this case.
Each count of aggravated assault carries a prison term of at least one year but not more than 20 years. False imprisonment is punishable by a sentence of one to 10 years in prison.
Attorneys for the defendants told reporters they intend to appeal.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Source: GANNETT Syndication Service