All three defendants were found guilty of murder in the February 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery.
The nearly all-white jury in Glynn County reached its decision on Wednesday on Day 2 of deliberations in a racially charged case that has become one of the most-watched trials in the nation amid a reckoning over racial justice.
Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and William Bryan, 52, were charged with murder, false imprisonment, and aggravated assault for chasing Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, in pickup trucks as he jogged in a Coastal Georgia neighborhood and shooting him to death. Bryan filmed the killing on his cellphone.
They face the possibility of life in prison without parole. The three also separately face an array of federal hate crimes charges.
The three claimed they had acted in self-defense and said they believed Arbery was connected to a string of burglaries in a suburban Brunswick neighborhood. No evidence was ever presented tying Arbery to any crimes; he was jogging through the neighborhood when he was gunned down in broad daylight.
Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski blasted the men’s claims of self-defense, telling jurors that the three men were the ones who started the confrontation, chasing Arbery for nearly five minutes.
“You can’t claim self-defense if you are the unjustified, initial aggressor,” Dunikoski said. “This isn’t the Wild West.”
The jury was comprised of 11 white people and one Black person, despite Glynn County having a nearly 27% Black population.
Arbery was killed in February 2020, but the defendants were not charged for months — and only after the video of the killing surfaced. Widespread protests calling for social justice swept the nation — and only grew after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Travis McMichael fired the fatal shot with a shotgun.
During the trial, he took the stand in his own defense, telling the court: “It was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would’ve got the shotgun from me, then it was a life-or-death situation. And I’m gonna have to stop him from doing this, so I shot.”
Dunikoski questioned the men’s motives and self-defense claims, saying it was Arbery who was under attack, not them.
“All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions,” Dunikoski said. “And they made decisions in their driveways based on those assumptions that took a young man’s life.”
She grilled Travis McMichael under cross examination.
“Not once during your statement to the police did you say that you and your father were trying to arrest Mr. Arbery, did you?” Dunikowski asked.
“No ma’am,” McMichael answered.
The prosecutor asked McMichael about his views of vigilantism and highlighted several comments he made to his Satilla Shores neighbors on Facebook, including one in July 2019 when he told people to arm themselves to confront criminals.
In January 2019, Dunikoski said, McMichael praised a woman who called for making example of people who steal.
“‘That’s right — hope y’all catch the vermin,'” Dunikoski said, quoting the defendant.
“That’s right,” McMichael said, confirming to the prosecutor those were his words.
The prosecutor also pointed out McMichael had at least three opportunities to stop chasing Arbery and to let the police handle the situation, but he did nothing to alert authorities.
At one point, the prosecutor noted Arbery was running away from the three men.
“Why in the world would Mr. Arbery be a threat to you?” Dunikoski said.
The attorneys for the defendants repeatedly asked for a mistrial but Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley denied the requests.
At one point, an attorney for Bryan asked for “high-profile African Americans” to be denied entry into the courtroom after prominent Black pastors showed up in support of Arbery’s parents.
That request was also denied, and led to a large protest outside the courthouse with Black pastors and others rallying to support the family.
This story comes to The Georgia Sun through a reporting partnership with GA Today, a non-profit newsroom focused on reporting in Georgia.