Gregory McMichael, a 66-year-old former police officer, and his son Travis, 35, white, were sentenced this Friday to life imprisonment for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African-American who was running unarmed in a neighborhood of the State of Georgia in February 2020. The McMichaels chased the young man in a truck, threatened him to stop, and cornered him. After a scuffle, Travis shot Arbery three times. The prosecution described it as “a lynching in broad daylight.” William Roddie Bryan, 52, a neighbor who joined the chase and recorded the event, was convicted of two counts of murder, has been sentenced to life in prison with the right to parole.
Judge Timothy Walmsley observed a minute’s silence before releasing the sentence of the high-profile case in the United States. Right away, he described Arbery as a “young man with dreams” who “ran out of the house and ended up running for his life.” In late November, a popular jury ruled that those implicated in Arbery’s death were guilty. Gregory McMichael was convicted of four counts of manslaughter, aggravated battery, unlawful detention, and attempted felony. His son Travis, on the same charges, adding to that of intentional murder.
The McMichael defense tried to cling to the figure of “citizen’s arrest,” a Georgia law that allows one person to arrest another if he or she commits a crime “in their presence or within their immediate knowledge.” “If the crime is a serious crime and the offender escapes or tries to escape, a private person can arrest him for reasonable and probable reasons of suspicion,” the regulation reads. Judge Walmsley assured that “taking the law into your own hands is dangerous behavior.”
Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of the deceased young man, stated in court before the sentence was known: “This verdict does not bring you back, but it does help to close this very difficult chapter of my life.” “Do you know something that doesn’t suit me right now? That the man who killed my son has sat in this room every day with his father. I will never have that opportunity again. Not at dinner, not on vacation, not at a wedding, “said Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud’s father. His wife said before entering the courtroom that she did not want to “hear anything” from the defendants, who also had the opportunity to speak. “There is nothing you can tell me today that makes me feel better. I miss Ahmaud more and more every day, ”Cooper-Jones said. The defendants did not speak, but Gregory McMichael’s attorney described her client as a “kind man” who had no intention of killing Arbery. “If you never wanted someone else to die, you can’t be the worst of the worst,” the defense said.
On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery went for a run through a residential suburb of Brunswick, Georgia. The McMichaels saw him pass their house and, according to their defense, they thought he was a thief who had been hanging around the neighborhood. They both grabbed their guns, got into their truck with a Confederate flag on the license plate, and chased the young man for five minutes. The father was driving, and his son was riding in the open rear. Arbery, who did not want to stop when asked by the men, was intercepted. Travis got out of the vehicle with a shotgun and began a struggle with the hunted for control of the gun. During the dispute, there were three shots that ended the life of Arbery.
Moments after the shooting, one of those present says “nigger”, as heard in the video, considered the worst insult to the black population for its past linked to slavery. The video did not come to light until more than two months after the event. During that time the men involved in the death enjoyed full freedom. The images sparked a wave of outrage on the streets in early May 2020, just weeks before George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, sparking the largest wave of racial protests in half a century in the United States.
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The popular jury that found the McMichaels and Bryan guilty consisted of 11 white members and one black member. The defendants’ attorneys rejected 11 of 12 potential African-American jurors in a Georgia county where about 25% of residents are black. Another controversial factor in a case marked by the “stain on the soul of the United States,” as President Joe Biden defines the systematic racism that the country suffers.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.