Father and son get life sentences for hate crime over black jogger’s murder

Travis McMichael’s punishment is largely symbolic as he had already been given life without parole for murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

Travis McMichael
Travis McMichael

The white father and son convicted of murder over Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting after they chased the 25-year-old black man through a Georgia neighbourhood have been sentenced to life in prison for committing a federal hate crime.

US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood handed down the sentences against Travis McMichael, 36, and his father, Greg McMichael, 66, reiterating the gravity of the February 2020 killing that shattered their Brunswick community and became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice.

William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, who recorded video of the slaying, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Ahmaud Arbery Hate Crimes
A mural of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick (Sarah Blake Morgan/AP)

“A young man is dead. Ahmaud Arbery will be forever 25. And what happened a jury found happened because he’s Black,” Mr Wood said.

The McMichaels were previously sentenced to life without parole in state court for Mr Arbery’s murder and had asked the judge to divert them to a federal prison to serve their sentences, saying they were worried about their safety in the state prison system.

Mr Wood declined their request.

In February, a federal jury convicted the McMichaels and Bryan of violating Mr Arbery’s civil rights, concluding they targeted him because of his race.

All three were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels were convicted of using guns in the commission of a violent crime.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and used a pick-up truck to chase Mr Arbery after he ran past their home on February 23, 2020.

Bryan, a neighbour, joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded mobile phone video of Travis McMichael shooting Mr Arbery with a shotgun.

The McMichaels told police they suspected Mr Arbery was a burglar, but investigators determined he was unarmed and had committed no crimes.

Before the Monday sentencings, Mr Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said that every day she feels every shot fired at her son.

Ahmaud Arbery Hate Crimes
Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery, the parents of Ahmaud Arbery, address the media (Lewis M Levine/AP)

“It’s so unfair, so unfair, so unfair that he was killed while he was not even committing a crime,” she said.

Greg McMichael addressed the Arbery family, saying their loss was “beyond description”.

“I’m sure my words mean very little to you but I want to assure you I never wanted any of this to happen,” he said. “There was no malice in my heart or my son’s heart that day.”

Travis McMichael declined to address the court, but his attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, said a lighter sentence would be more consistent with what similarly charged defendants have received in other cases, noting that the officer who killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, Derek Chauvin, got 21 years in prison for violating Floyd’s civil rights, though he was not charged with targeting Mr Floyd because of his race.

Greg McMichael’s attorney, AJ Balbo, also cited the Chauvin sentence as well as his client’s age and health problems, which he said include a stroke and depression.

Ahmaud Arbery Hate Crimes
Travis McMichael, William ‘Roddie’ Bryan and Gregory McMichael (AP)

During the February hate crimes trial, prosecutors fortified their case that Mr Arbery’s killing was motivated by racism by showing the jury roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made disparaging comments about black people.

A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for the McMichaels and Bryan in January for Mr Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.

All three defendants have remained jailed in coastal Glynn County, in the custody of US marshals, while awaiting sentencing after their federal convictions in January.

Because they were first charged and convicted of murder in a state court, protocol would have them turned them over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life terms in a state prison.

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