The three white men who chased down and fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery on a Georgia road were sentenced to life in prison Friday.
Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole after the judge said their actions showed little remorse for the chilling killing of the 25-year-old Black man.
“This was a killing,” Judge Timothy Walmsley said. “It was callous.”
Neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, but only after serving 30 years.
Walmsley handed down the sentence after Arbery’s parents and sister made their case for the harshest sentence, arguing that the three men killed Arbery when they couldn’t scare or intimidate him away from their neighborhood.
“This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told the court. “They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community. T’hey 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.”
Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and their neighbor, William Bryan, were convicted of felony murder in November for daytime killing that was captured on video. Arbery, 25, was shot on Feb. 23 in Brunswick, Georgia, while he was running on a two-lane road.
The McMichaels, a father and son, had told police there had been break-ins in the neighborhood and that they began to chase Arbery in their truck. The men then confronted him. After a struggle with a shotgun, Travis fired at Arbery, killing him, according to police.
Despite the footage and admissions from the three men that they had chased down Arbery before Travis McMichael shot and killed him, no arrests were made for more than two months, after the video became public, drawing outrage and questions on how local authorities were handling the investigation. A former prosecutor handling the case has since been charged with violating her oath of office and obstructing the investigation.
Prosecutors on Friday argued the three men should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Arbery’s parents issued emotional pleas agreeing with the harshest sentence.
“When I close my eyes I see his execution in my mind, over and over,” Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, said. “His killers should spend the rest of their lives thinking about what they did, and what they took from us, and they should do it from behind bars because me and my family, we have to live with his death for the rest of their lives.”
Defense attorneys asked for a lighter sentence of life with the possibility of parole, pointing to the men’s lack of criminal history and what they said were lives of community service before the 2020 killing.
“Greg McMichael is a good man,” defense attorney Laura Hogue told the court, pointing out his service in the military and as an investigator with the prosecutor’s office. “He’s not a perfect person, none of us are, but he’s lived a good life, a life dedicated to service and that does count for something.”
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, asked the court for an even lighter sentence than the mandatory minimum, arguing that unlike the McMichaels, Bryan had expressed remorse over Arbery’s death.
“Whether it’s part of the record or not, he expressed remorse over Mr. Arbery’s death even before he was arrested on national television,” Gough said. “The Arbery family has not accepted that, and they don’t have to, your honor, and we can understand why.”
According to Gough, Bryan said that he wished he hadn’t left his front porch, and told one of the police officers he sometimes hoped he had hit Arbery with his truck to prevent the shooting from the taking place.
But prosecutor Linda Dunikoski argued for all three to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, saying they were taking acts of vigilantism by arming themselves to confront Arbery.
Dunikoski took issue in particular to Hogue comparing the men’s actions to a neighborhood watch, telling the judge members of a neighborhood watch are there to monitor and be good witnesses.
“That’s what neighborhood watch is supposed to be, not somebody running after people in a residential neighborhood,” she said.
She asked the judge that, in handing down his decision, take into account Travis McMichael’s demeanor on the stand when he testified.
“(Travis McMichael) said that was the worst day of his life,” she said, raising her voice. “Well, how did that work out for Ahmaud Arbery?”
Greg McMichael, Dunikosi said, has at times used his past as a law enforcement officer for his defense and, at others, seemed to ignore his training and experience for actions that benefit him.
It was Greg McMichael that had in May 2020, she said, taken the video of the fatal shooting, gave it to his attorney, and leaked it hoping it would help his case.
McMichael, she said, ignored his training and released evidence in an ongoing investigation.
“He believed it was going to exonerate him,” she said. “He and his son believe they didn’t do anything wrong, and that is a lack of remorse or empathy.”