Three men found guilty in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial

After 10 hours of deliberation, the jury delivers the guilty verdict and the defendants face life in prison

Mya Collins, Assistant News Editor

Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan were found guilty on several counts of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man, on Wednesday, November 24 after 10 hours of jury deliberation. 

Arbery was murdered on February 23, 2020, but the defendants were not charged in the case until 74 days after the murder when footage of the fatal pursuit was leaked in May 2020, which had already been in the possession of law enforcement for months. They now face up to life in prison and potential federal hate crime charges, which they will stand trial for in February. 

Travis McMichael, the man who fatally shot Arbery, was found guilty of all nine trial charges including malice murder, four counts of felony murder and two counts of aggravated assault. 

His father, Gregory McMichael, who was armed and involved in the fatal pursuit of Arbery was found guilty of eight of the nine trial charges excluding malice murder, or intentional murder.  

Their neighbor, Bryan, who filmed the pursuit of Arbery, was found guilty of six of the nine trial charges excluding malice murder, one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault. 

Arbery was initially spotted walking around and entering the open construction site of a neighborhood home, which prompted the defendants to attempt to make a citizen’s arrest because they believed he was the suspect linked to various neighborhood break-ins. 

According to The New York Times, “At the trial, defense lawyers sought to show that the men were acting that day out of a ‘duty and responsibility’ to detain a man who they felt they had reasonable grounds to believe was a burglar.” 

After spotting him at the construction site, the McMichaels pursued Arbery armed with two firearms as they followed him down the street in their car and Bryan soon joined the chase. Upon contact, Travis McMichael and Arbery engaged in a physical altercation when three shots were fired by McMichael, two in his chest and one in his wrist. Defense attorneys argued he acted in self-defense thus justifying his actions. 

“It was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would have gotten the shotgun from me, then this was a life-or-death situation,” Travis McMichael said during the trial. “So I shot.”

To counter the self-defense argument, prosecutors argued that Arbery did not pose an imminent threat, and the defendants pursued him solely based on racially motivated assumptions. 

“All of this, and what does he say his emergency is?” lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said as she refers to the 911 call made by one of the defendants. “‘I’m out here in Satilla Shores, and there’s a Black male running down the street.’ That’s the emergency.” 

The verdict was delivered in the midst of uproar concerning the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse who killed two men and injured another during a protest. In his trial, the argument of self-defense was emphasized as well and ultimately succeeded in his acquittal, but jurors dismissed the same argument in this trial agreeing that the defendants had no legal right to pursue Arbery.

“We are very disappointed with the verdict obviously, but we have to respect that verdict,” Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, said. “That is the American way.” 

The defense plans to appeal the verdict after sentencing and according to The Washington Post, “Throughout the trial, [the defense] clashed with the judge over admissible evidence and sought mistrials — arguing at times that gallery outbursts, courtroom guests and outside demonstrators had compromised their clients’ rights.”

While the guilty verdict holds the defendants accountable for the murder of Arbery, some individuals do not refer to it as justice because of the evident racism persistent in America. 

According to The Washington Post, “Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) called the verdict accountability but not ‘true justice,’ saying that real justice ‘looks like a Black man not having to worry about being harmed — or killed — while on a jog.’”

“This is a very consequential day, not just for Ahmaud Arbery but for families all over America,” Ben Crump said. “We have to show that America must be better than what we saw in that video.”

The verdict changes history as the citizen’s arrest law in Georgia was repealed, no longer allowing citizens to legally attempt to detain someone suspected of committing a serious crime and then trying to escape. Hate crime legislation has also been passed in Georgia in response to Arbery’s case, making them one of four states with no hate crime laws.  

“I never thought this day would come, but God is good,” Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, said.