A judge in the US state of Georgia has sentenced three white men to life in prison for murdering African-American Ahmaud Arbery, in a high-profile killing that is widely seen as racially motivated.
On Friday, Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced Travis McMichael, 35, and his father Gregory McMichael, 66, to life in prison without the possibility of parole for chasing down and killing Arbery, an avid jogger who was running through their mostly white neighborhood in February 2020.
William “Roddie” Bryan, a neighbor who was also convicted in the case, was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole, meaning he must spend at least 30 years in jail before he is eligible for release — the minimum sentence allowed for murder under Georgia law.
The verdicts came about six weeks after a jury found the men guilty of murder.
Before sentencing, Judge Walmsley said, “Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down and shot, and he was killed because individuals here in the courtroom took the law into their own hands.”
Arbery’s family had made passionate statements earlier in the hearing at Glynn County Superior Court, asking the judge to show no leniency.
Walmsley held a minute of silence before sentencing in honor of Arbery, representing a fraction of the time that he spent running for his life.
He described the killing as a “chilling, truly disturbing scene,” referring to the frame in the video where McMichael begins to raise his shotgun at Arbery while the jogger is about 20 feet away.
“When I thought about this, I thought from a lot of different angles. And I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores,” he told the court.
Walmsley said he agreed with prosecutors and Arbery’s family that the three white men had “assumed the worst” about Arbery. Earlier, Arbery’s relatives told the court that they believed racism was a major factor in the killing.
Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, had called for the maximum punishment for the two McMichaels for exhibiting “a demonstrated pattern of vigilantism.” Pointing to Gregory McMichael’s former work as an investigator in the local prosecutor’s office, she said the father and son acted as if they were above the law.
At the hearing, Arbery’s mother said she suffered an intense loss made worse by a trial where the three white men’s line of defense was that her son made bad choices.
“This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact,” Wanda Cooper-Jones said.
“They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community. And when they couldn’t sufficiently scare or intimidate him, they killed him.”
A defense lawyer caused outrage during the trial in November, when she made a reference to Arbery’s appearance and clothes in comments that many condemned as racist.
“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts, with no socks, to cover his long dirty toenails,” Laura Hogue had said at the time.
On Friday, Cooper-Jones said her son was sometimes disorganized.
“He sometimes refused to wear socks or take good care of his good clothing. I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for that jog that day. I guess he would have if he knew he would be murdered,” she said.
‘They lynched my son in broad daylight’
Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud’s father, also told the court that he was tormented by the thought of his son being executed in broad daylight. “When I close my eyes, I see his execution in my mind, over and over. I will see that for the rest of my life.
“Not only did they lynch my son in broad daylight, they killed him while he was doing what he loved more than anything: running. That’s when he felt most alive, most free, and they took all that from him.”
Attorneys for the three defendants pleaded leniency during Friday’s hearing, claiming that none of their clients had intended to kill Arbery, and that the maximum punishment should be reserved only for the “worst of the worst” offenders.
They previously had said they would appeal their clients’ guilty verdict.