Ahmaud Arbery murder trial: Jury finds 3 defendants guilty of murder
GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. - A Georgia jury has found the three men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery guilty of murder Wednesday in the fatal shooting that became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice.
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Wednesday afternoon after hours of deliberation, the jury returned to the courtroom of the Glynn County courthouse and gave their verdict to the judge.
The jury found Travis McMichael, 35, guilty of all charges. Greg McMichael, 65, was found not guilty of malice murder and guilty of the rest of his charges. William "Roddie" Bryan, 52, was found not guilty of malice murder, one count of felony murder, and one count of aggravated assault, but guilty of his other charges.
Each man had been charged with 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.
Greg McMichael hung his head when the judge read his first guilty verdict. Bryan bit his lip.
Travis McMichael stood for the verdict, his lawyer’s arm around his shoulder. At one point, McMichael lowered his head to his chest. After the verdicts were read, as he stood to leave, he mouthed "love you" to his mother, who was in the courtroom.
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All three men still face a federal hate crime charge, which will is scheduled to go to trial in February.
Moments after the verdicts were announced, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., was seen crying and hugging supporters outside the courtroom.
"He didn’t do nothing," the father said, "but run and dream."
Speaking outside the courthouse, Ben Crump, attorney for Arbery’s father, repeatedly said that "the spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob."
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, thanked the crowd gathered for the verdict and said she did not think she would see this day.
"It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight. But God is good," she said, adding that her son would now rest in peace.
Shortly after reconvening Wednesday morning, the jurors requested to see two versions of the video that showed the shooting of Arbery — the original and one that investigators enhanced to reduce shadows — three times apiece. The jury also listened again to the 911 call one of the defendants made from the bed of a pickup truck about 30 seconds before the shooting.
"We commend the courage and bravery of this jury to say that what happened on Feb. 23, 2020, to Ahmaud Arbery — the hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery — it was not only morally wrong but legally wrong, and we are thankful for that," said Latonia Hines, Cobb County executive assistant district attorney.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski added: "The jury system works in this country. And when you present the truth to people and they see it, they will do the right thing."
Travis McMichaels’ attorneys said both he and his father feel that they did the right thing, and that they believed the video would help their case. But they also said the McMichaels regret that Arbery got killed.
"I can tell you honestly, these men are sorry for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery," attorney Jason Sheffield said. "They are sorry he’s dead. They are sorry for the tragedy that happened because of the choices they made to go out there and try to stop him."
They planned to appeal.
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Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said his team was "disappointed with the verdict, but we respect it." He planned to file new legal motions after Thanksgiving.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley did not immediately schedule a sentencing date, saying that he wanted to give both sides time to prepare.
Greg McMichael sits with his attorney before the start of closing arguments to the jury during the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's alleged killers at Glynn County Superior Court. (Photo by Stephen B. Morton-Pool/Getty Images)
Prosecutors spent much of Tuesday morning making their last case to jurors as hours of closing arguments by attorneys spilled into a second day. The prosecution gets the final word in the trial because it carries the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In their final arguments, the prosecution refuted claims made by the attorneys of Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan and argued that there was no evidence Arbery had committed crimes in the defendants’ neighborhood.
The jury, including 11 white jurors and one Black man, heard 13 days of trial testimony and arguments. More than 20 witnesses and investigators have took the stand in Glynn County.
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What's known about Ahmaud Arbery's death
A police report from the Glynn County Police Department says a man and his son, frustrated by a string of burglaries and break-ins in their neighborhood, decided to take matters into their own hands.
The men saw Arbery running through the Satilla Shores subdivision and considered him suspicious, a report says. They armed themselves and pursued him. Gregory McMichael, who it was later discovered has ties to the Glynn County District Attorney's Office, told police that Arbery and Travis fought over his son’s shotgun and his son fired two shots, killing Arbery.
Information that unfolded after the incident revealed Arbery was unarmed.
It was later discovered a man named William "Roddie" Bryan allegedly joined the chase and eventually cut off Arbery's route in a vehicle before he was shot and killed.
No one was arrested or charged for months after the shooting occurred until Bryan’s video leaked and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police.
Defendants: Gregory and Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan
Greg McMichael is a retired investigator for former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson. He retired in 2019. Phone records introduced in court show he called Johnson and left her a voicemail after the shooting. Johnson said she recused her office from the case immediately because of its relationship with Greg McMichael.
The McMichaels’ attorneys' offered the explanation that their clients pursued Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar.
Security cameras had previously recorded Arbery entering a home under construction.
Attorneys for Travis McMichael shot Arbery while fearing for his life as they grappled over a shotgun.
Greg and Travis McMichael were arrested in May 2020, several months after the shooting took place after a GBI investigation concluded there was evidence for charges against them.
William "Roddie" Bryan followed the chase and recorded a video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery. Bryan was arrested weeks after the McMichaels.
What's the difference between felony murder and malice murder in the Ahmaud Arbery shooting trial?
Jurors must decide whether one or all of the defendants is guilty of murder.
All three defendants were indicted with 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.
Unlike many states, Georgia doesn’t have degrees of murder, but instead has malice murder and felony murder. Neither requires prosecutors to prove an intent to kill.
Malice murder is when a person "unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being." No evidence of premeditation is required.
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Express malice involves an intent to kill. Implied malice is when the there is "no considerable provocation" and the circumstances of the killing "show an abandoned and malignant heart," which essentially means the person has acted with extreme recklessness even if there was no intent to kill, said Georgia State University law professor Russell Covey.
Felony murder applies when someone who has no plans to kill intentionally commits another felony and a person dies as a result. The person must be convicted of the underlying felony to be found guilty of felony murder.
A murder conviction carries a life-in-prison sentence.
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Day 1: Opening statements
As opening statements were underway in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's murder, some expressed concern over the composition of the jury.
Lawyers interviewed hundreds of potential jurors and eventually came down to a pool of 11 White people and one Black person.
Arbery’s mother said the selection shook her confidence.
"I was very shocked we only had one black African American man. That was devastating," Wanda Cooper-Jones said.
Day 2: Disturbing evidence sets tone
The first day of testimony saw Glynn County police Sgt. Sheila Ramos show jurors dozens of crime scene photos she took about an hour after the shooting.
Judge Timothy Walmsley warned the jury of graphic images and many of the images included Arbery’s body.
The defense also showed body camera video from officers that were first on the scene.
Glynn County Patrol Officer Ricky Minshew testified he arrived at the scene in the Satilla Shores subdivision about a minute after the gunshots sounded.
"The blood was exceeding the perimeter of his body. He was laying face down in the puddle of blood," Minshew said.
Minshew testified he radioed to send emergency medical responders but did not have the training or equipment to treat Arbery's serious injuries.
Day 3: More officers called as witnesses
Glynn County Police Officer Jeff Brandeberry said Greg McMichael never used the words burglary, trespass or citizens arrest at the scene of the shooting.
Bradberry was one of the officers who transcripts from a body-worn camera that detailed conversations with defendant Greg McMichael.
"I saw him, yes. I saw him and, to be honest, if I would have gotten a shot I would have shot him myself because he was that violent," Brandeberry said while reading from transcripts.
An investigator who spoke to Greg McMichael at the police station also took the stand.
"He said stop you know I will blow your f***** head off or something. I was trying to convey that I was not playing," Investigator Parker Marcy said while reading a portion of the transcript.
Day 4: Satilla Shores witness takes the stand
Matthew Albenze, one of McMichael's neighbors, said he went inside his house and put a handgun in his pocket before he called police from behind a tree at the curb. Arbery left the house running toward the McMichaels’ home while Albenze was on the phone.
Albenze told the jury he called the police non-emergency number.
The defense asked Glynn County police Sgt. Roderic Nohilly if raising a gun would be an appropriate response to a fleeing suspect who refused verbal commands to stop.
"You’ll sometimes draw your weapon, won’t you?" attorney Franklin Hogue asked.
Nohilly replied: "I don’t just pull my gun."
Hogue then asked him what if the attacker is trying to take his gun away.
"At that point, it might meet the threshold, yes," the police sergeant said.
Day 5: ‘We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here … trying to influence the jury'
Jurors heard more testimony from Satilla Shore residents and comments made by defense attorney Kevin Gough in response to the presence of pastor Al Sharpton in the courtroom.
"There’s only so many pastors they can have and if their pastor is Al Sharpton then that’s fine. That’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here or Jesse Jackson or whoever that was earlier coming in here and sitting with the victim's family trying to influence the jury in this case," defense attorney Kevin Gough said.
"If we are going to start a precedent where we are going to have high profile members of the African-American community into the courtroom to sit with the family in the presence of the jury then I believe that’s intimidation and an attempt to pressure," Gough said.
Gough expressed his displeasure with Rev. Al Sharpton and other high-profile names sitting inside the courtroom throughout the trial.
"If folks came in here dressed as Colonel Sanders with white mask sitting in the back then…" Gough said before being stopped by the judge.
Judge Walmsley said he barely noticed Rev. Sharpton in the court and as long as there were no disruptions then he didn’t see an issue.
"I’m not going to blanketly exclude people from the public from this courtroom," Walmsley said.
The jury saw a recorded deposition with Larry English, who owned the unfinished home where many said they spotted Arbery before the shooting.
Day 6: Officers discusses Arbery's trespassing allegations
Glynn County police officer Robert Rash testified he planned to give Ahmaud Arbery a warning for trespassing for repeatedly entering a home under construction.
GBI Agent Jason Seacrist provided details of his interview with codefendant William Roddy Bryan.
"I asked ‘What was it that made you decide to get your key and truck and see what’s going on?’ Mr. Bryan responded and said that he didn’t know," GBI Agent Jason Seacrist said.
Day 7: Defense attorney calls for mistrial
The state continued to call witnesses to begin the second week of the trial, including Seacrist.
Seacrist said Bryan's actions in his car did not match what he thought someone concerned for Arbery's safety would do.
"If Mr. Bryan was truly concerned about the safety of Mr. Arbery, he would have stayed to the right side of the road and stayed ahead instead of angling to the left to box him in," Seacrist said.
Rev. Jesse Jackson was present in the courtroom sitting next to Arbery's mother. One of the defense attorneys called for a mistrial, denied by Judge Timothy Walmsley.
Day 8: State rests, GBI medical examiner shows images of Arbery's autopsy
The state rested its case in Ahmaud Arbery's murder trial just before 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 after testimony picked up with the state showing images of Arbery's body while the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's medical examiner explained his findings.
Arbery's mother was in court but excused herself. Members of the defendants' families also seemed disturbed.
Dr. Edmund Donoghue said two of the three shotgun rounds hit Arbery and both caused severe bleeding.
"Is there anything law enforcement or EMS could have done to save his life at the scene?" prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said.
"I don’t think so. No," Donoghue said.
Day 9: Travis McMichael takes the stand
The man who fired the shotgun blasts that killed Ahmaud Arbery, took the stand on the first day of the defense's case.
"I want to explain what happened," McMichael said.
He, his father Greg McMichael, and neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan say they were lawfully trying to stop burglaries in their Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood when they pursued Arbery.
McMichael, 35, said crime in his mostly quiet neighborhood of older residents and young families seemed to be on the rise not long after he moved into his parents’ home in 2018. He said his own car was broken into several times, prompting him to eventually leave it unlocked.
He also testified about his firearms training from when he served in the Coast Guard.
"What we’re taught is everybody has a weapon. Hands or fists are a weapon," he said.
Attorneys asked the judge to acquit all three defendants on murder charges on the basis that the prosecution had not met the burden of proof to convict. Judge Timothy Walmsley denied the motion.
Day 10: The defense rests
All three defense attorneys rested their case on Thursday after collectively only calling seven witnesses, including the shooter, who testified that Arbery did not threaten him in any way before he pointed his shotgun at the 25-year-old Black man.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley scheduled closing arguments in the trial for Monday, setting up the possibility of verdicts before Thanksgiving for the three white men charged with murder in Arbery’s death.
Under cross-examination by the prosecution on his second day of testimony, Travis McMichael said that Arbery hadn’t shown a weapon or spoken to him at all before McMichael raised his shotgun. But, McMichael said, he was "under the impression" that Arbery could be a threat because he was running straight at him and he had seen Arbery trying to get into the truck of a neighbor who had joined in a pursuit of Arbery in their coastal Georgia neighborhood.
"All he’s done is run away from you," prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said. "And you pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him."
Cellphone video from the Feb. 23, 2020, shooting — replayed in court Thursday — shows Arbery running around the back of McMichael’s pickup truck after McMichael first points the shotgun while standing next to the open driver’s side door. Arbery then runs around the passenger side as McMichael moves to the front and the two come face to face. After that, the truck blocks any view of them until the first gunshot sounds.
Outside the Glynn County courthouse, hundreds of pastors gathered, while a defense lawyer renewed his bid to keep Black ministers out of the courtroom. The Rev. Jesse Jackson again joined Arbery’s family in the courtroom, as he had on some other days this week. Walmsley declined to take the issue up again, noting he’d already rejected the same motion from Bryan attorney Kevin Gough twice.
Gough first asked the judge last week to remove the Rev. Al Sharpton from the court, saying the civil rights activist was trying to influence the disproportionately white jury. He also has complained that activists outside the courthouse are trying to influence the jury with banners and signs, and likewise objected to the pastors’ rally.
"We had a huge protest at lunchtime that was so loud, with bullhorns literally 20 feet from the front door of this courthouse, that you could literally hear what was being said at the doors of this courtroom," Gough told the judge.
Day 11: Attorney likens rally to `lynching’ of defendants
The defense attorney who caused an outcry by saying Black pastors should be barred from the murder trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s death declared in court Friday that a courthouse rally supporting the slain Black man’s family was comparable to a "public lynching" of the three white defendants.
"This case has been infected by things that have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of these defendants," attorney Kevin Gough told the judge, arguing that civil rights activists are trying to influence the disproportionately white jury.
Day 12: Closing arguments
In the state's closing argument, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said the defendants don't have proof that Arbery was behind recent crimes in their neighborhood. Dunikoski's statement attempted to poke holes in the idea that the defendants were executing a citizen's arrest.
"This was not a citizen's arrest," Dunikoski said. "Not present when any crime was committed. The suggestion Ahmaud committed a crime was based on what? Not immediate knowledge. Speculation."
The defense attorney for Travis McMichael, Jason Sheffield, told the jury the actions his client took were not racially motivated and that a series of incidents in the Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood led up to McMichael mobilizing.
"Reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion; facts and circumstances to warrant a prudent person, one taking care to understand the truth in believing the suspect has committed the offense of burglary," Sheffield said. "Travis believes he's committed the offense of burglary. The facts necessary to establish probable cause for arrest and less than those required to prove guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt."
Attorneys for Greg McMichael said there was no reason for Arbery to be in the neighborhood in the first place with attorney Laura Hogue saying Arbery "chose to fight."
Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan, said his client was trying to help and never intended to hurt Arbery and questioned why Arbery didn’t call for help if he was in danger.
"Maybe that’s because Mr. Arbery doesn’t want help," Gough said.
Judge Walmsley instructed jurors to deliberate in an internal room in the courthouse after protests sparked outside the courthouse. Walmsley stated for the record that was not for the jury's safety but to shield the jury from hearing the noise of protestors outside.
"What I heard was apparently right as I went in the room a group was on the side of the building," Walmsley said. "I understand the concern and understanding where we are in the case thought I would put in on the record this is what we're doing."
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.