Three white men who followed and killed Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia neighborhood have been given a second set of criminal penalties for their federal hate crimes. The news comes months after all three men were given life sentences for the murder of the 25-year-old black man.
Judge Lisa Godbey Wood of the U.S. District Court set up back-to-back hearings to sentence each defendant separately. She first conducted the hearing for Travis McMichael, who shot Ahmaud Arbery with a shotgun following a street chase started by his father. The two were then joined by a neighbor as they chased down and killed Arbery.
Ahmaud Arbery's murder on February 23, 2020, sparked a conversation about racial injustice and the deaths of unarmed black individuals, including Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Justice Department also filed federal charges in the aforementioned instances.
Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan will be back in court in Georgia on Monday where they could receive life sentences if found guilty.
The jury concluded that the three men had violated Arbery's civil rights and singled him out because of his race. Travis McMichaels will also face additional penalties for using firearms to commit a violent crime. All three men have been found guilty of attempted kidnapping.
In connection with this crime, a California Superior Court judge gave all three defendants life terms with no possibility of parole.
A former attorney for Middle District of Georgia and Atlanta, Michael Moore, noted that the federal life sentences "give you a backstop in the event that an appellate court decides there was some kind of error in the course of the state trial."
Following their federal convictions in January, the three defendants have remained imprisoned in coastal Glynn County under the custody of U.S. marshals, while awaiting sentencing.
Ahmaud Arbery's family insists McMichaels and Bryan spend their terms in state jail
The three men were initially accused and found guilty of murder in a state court. According to protocol, they should have been turned over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to begin serving their life sentences in a state prison.
Both Travis and Greg McMichael requested the judge to redirect them to a federal prison instead. They argued that they won't be safe in the Georgia prison system, which is the target of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into prisoner violence.
Ahmaud Arbery's family has requested that the McMichaels and Bryan spend their terms in a state jail, arguing that a federal prison wouldn’t be as tough.
Both McMichaels sought a plea agreement that would have included a request to be transferred to federal prison, and Ahmaud Arbery’s parents strongly objected to that before the federal trial. The judge dismissed the plea agreement.
Race was the motivator for Ahmaud Arbery’s murder
On February 23, 2020, the McMichaels saw Ahmaud Arbery running past their house near the port city of Brunswick. They immediately armed themselves with firearms and got into a truck to pursue him.
Bryan joined the chase and assisted in stopping Ahmaud Arbery from escaping. He also recorded the scene on his smartphone camera as Travis McMichael is seen shooting Arbery from close range. Arbery, in an attempt to save himself, threw back punches and snatched the shotgun.
The McMichaels informed the police that they thought Arbery had been robbing a nearby house that was still under construction. However, authorities eventually determined that he was unarmed and had not broken any laws. His family has long maintained that Ahmaud Arbery was simply out jogging.
It was over two months before any legal action was taken over Ahmaud Arbery's death. Only after the horrific video of the shooting surfaced online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police were the McMichaels and Bryan detained.
Prosecutors strengthened their argument that Arbery's murder was sheer racism during the February hate crimes trial. They displayed over 20 text exchanges and social media posts to the jury where Travis McMichael and Bryan used racial slurs and made derogatory remarks about black people.
Attorneys for the three men's defense said that the McMichaels and Bryan pursued Arbery not because of his race but rather because they had a sincere, albeit false, suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.