BRUNSWICK, Aug 8 — A judge sentenced Travis McMichael to life in prison today for committing federal hate crimes in the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man shot while jogging through a mostly white Georgia neighbourhood in a case that probed issues of racist violence and vigilantism in America.
US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sentenced McMichael, a 36-year-old white former US Coast Guard mechanic, in the coastal city of Brunswick. McMichael was convicted of murder in an earlier trial.
McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, 66, and their neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were found guilty in February of violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his race and of attempted kidnapping. Gregory McMichael and Bryan are scheduled to be sentenced later in the day.
At the first hearing, Marcus Arbery, the slain man’s father, asked the judge to sentence the younger McMichael to serve the maximum in state prison on the federal charges.
“These three devils have broken my heart into pieces that cannot be found or repaired,” Marcus Arbery told the court. “You hate Black people.” Travis McMichael declined his chance to testify on Monday, but his lawyer said a Georgia state prison was too dangerous for him and that he had received death threats.
The three men were convicted in February of the hate crime of violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his race and of attempted kidnapping.
They previously were convicted last November in state court of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony for chasing and shooting Arbery as he ran in their neighbourhood in Satilla Shores, near Brunswick, with a jury rejecting self-defence claims.
They have appealed their state convictions.
Arbery’s case is one in a series of killings of Black people in recent years that have drawn attention to the issue of racism in the US criminal justice system and law enforcement. It also highlighted the broader issue of US gun violence.
In the hate crimes trial, the McMichaels were also convicted of a federal firearms charge. The hate-crimes felony, the most serious of the charges the defendants faced, carried a maximum penalty of life in prison.
In the hate-crimes case, the McMichaels had agreed to plead guilty and the son acknowledged in court that he singled out Arbery because of his “race and colour.” The judge rejected the plea agreement because it would have bound her to a 30-year sentence to be served in federal prison before the men were returned to the Georgia prison system, considered a harsher environment for inmates compared to federal penitentiaries. The plea deals were subsequently withdrawn.
In court documents, Gregory McMichaels has asked to serve 20 years in federal prison.
Gregory McMichael was a former Glynn County police officer who later worked for the local prosecutor’s office. Roddie Bryan worked as a mechanic.
Arbery was jogging through the leafy Satilla Shores neighborhood on a February 2020 afternoon when the McMichaels decided to grab their guns, jump in a pickup truck and give chase. Their neighbor Bryan joined the chase in his own pickup truck and pulled out his cellphone to record Travis McMichael firing a shotgun at Arbery at close range. Arbery had nothing on him besides his running clothes and sneakers.
The video of the incident emerged months later.
The McMichaels have said they believed that Arbery appeared suspicious, speaking of a series of neighbourhood break-ins. Bryan’s lawyer said his client joined the pursuit assuming the man the McMichaels were chasing had “done something wrong.” No evidence ever emerged connecting Arbery to any Satilla Shore thefts. — Reuters