Three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in the United States

After chasing and shooting a Black man on a jog, three white men have been convicted of murder in a verdict delivered by a jury of 12 in the United States.

Three white men have been convicted of murder for chasing and shooting a Black man named Ahmaud Arbery as he was on an afternoon run.

Al Sharpton with Ahmaud Arbery's parents, Wanda Cooper-Jones (Left) and Marcus Arbery (Right) attending the trial that convicted the murderers of Mr Arbery. Source: EPA

Three white men were convicted of murder on Wednesday for chasing and shooting a Black man named Ahmaud Arbery as he ran in their neighborhood, with a Georgia jury rejecting a self-defense claim in a trial that once again probed America's divisive issues of race and guns.

The verdict was delivered by the jury, consisting of one Black man and 11 white men and women, after about a two-week trial in the coastal city of Brunswick in a case that hinged on whether the defendants had a right to confront the unarmed 25-year-old avid jogger last year on a hunch he was fleeing a crime.

Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbour William "Roddie" Bryan, 52, were charged with murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony.

Greg McMichael (left), the man who pursued Ahmaud Arbery with his son, has been convicted of murder.
Source: POOL FR56856 AP

They face a minimum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Jurors reached their verdict on the second day of deliberations. Earlier in the day, they asked to have two important pieces of evidence; mobile phone video of Mr Arbery being fatally shot and a 911 call made by Greg McMichael moments before the shooting telling an emergency operator that "there's a Black male running down the street".

Jubilation as guilty verdicts are read in Arbery trial

There was never any dispute that the younger McMichael fired his pump-action shotgun three times at Arbery at close range on 23 February, 2020, in the suburban community of Satilla Shores.

It was captured on a graphic mobile phone video made by Bryan, stoking outrage when it emerged more than two months later and the public learned that none of the three men had been arrested.

Lawyers for the McMichaels argued that the killing was justified after Mr Arbery ran past the McMichaels' driveway in a neighbourhood that had experienced a spate of property thefts.

Both McMichaels grabbed their guns and jumped in their pickup truck in pursuit, with Bryan, unarmed, joining moments later.

Prosecutors said the defendants had "assumed the worst" about a Black man out on a Sunday afternoon jog. He was chased by the defendants for about five minutes around the looping streets.

Mr Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, looked up appearing to mouth silent prayer in the courtroom as the judge prepared to read out the verdict. As the first guilty verdict was read aloud, she sobbed aloud: "Oh!"

In this May 17, 2020 photo, Wanda Cooper Jones stands near the spot where her 25-year-old son, Ahmaud Arbery, was shot and killed,
Source: AP

Her head sunk into her chest as she wept, with civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton gripping her hand. 

Mr Arbery's father Marcus Arbery leapt up and cheered, but Sheriff's deputies came over and told him he had to leave.

"It's been a long time coming," Marcus Arbery said, and left.

Outside the courthouse, a crowd of more than 100 people gathered and cheered yelling "justice" and "yes" as the verdicts were read, some waving flags including one for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Travis McMichael, looking red-faced, turned as he stood to leave the courtroom and mouthed "love you" to his mother, Leigh.

"I'm floored, floored with a capital 'F,'" Laura Hogue, one of Gregory McMichael's lawyers, said in the courtroom.

The verdict follows a jury's November 19 acquittal in another closely watched trial of an 18-year-old named Kyle
Rittenhouse who fatally shot two men during racial justice protests in Wisconsin.

Both cases highlighted the broader issue of US gun violence that President Joe Biden has called a national embarrassment.

In both, defendants claimed self-defense.

The three men face a federal trial next year on hate-crime charges, accused in an indictment of violating Mr Arbery's civil rights by embarking on the fatal chase because of his "race and colour."

Some Black Americans used a despairing phrase to describe a case seen as another example of Black people falling under suspicion while innocently doing an everyday activity: "running while Black."

Mr Arbery's name was added to those invoked in nationwide anti-racism protests in 2020 that erupted after the
police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both of whom were Black.

The prosecution was widely seen as another test case in how the US justice system handles instances of unarmed Black people killed by white people. During the trial, there was almost no evidence presented or discussion of race as a motive.

Superior Court Judge; Timothy Walmsley.
Source: POOL FR56856 AP

The issue of race hung over the trial. A nearly all-white jury was selected, and one of the defence lawyers repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, sought the removal of Black pastors and civil rights leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson from the courtroom.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said he was required to accept the "race-neutral" reasons defense lawyers gave for the removal of all but one potential Black juror. Black activists said it showed again how the justice system was skewed against Black Americans.

Citizen's arrest

Defense lawyers cited a Georgia law codified during the 19th century US Civil War that allowed anyone to make a citizen's arrest of someone they have reasonable suspicion is fleeing a serious crime they committed. The law was repealed in the wake of Mr Arbery's killing.

The elder McMichael's lawyer, Hogue, told jurors the defendants had a duty to catch Mr Arbery, who she portrayed as a frightening burglar with "long dirty toenails," using a description from the autopsy report.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski chided the defense for aiming to "malign the victim," calling that "offensive."

No evidence ever emerged connecting Mr Arbery to any Satilla Shore thefts.

Travis McMichael, a former US Coast Guard mechanic and the only defendant to take the witness stand, tearfully testified that he fired in self defense as Mr Arbery grabbed the shotgun he was carrying while chasing him in the truck.

Under cross-examination by a prosecutor, he conceded he told the police hours after the shooting he could not say for sure if Mr Arbery actually grabbed the gun.

'Ahmaud Arbery should be here'

Stacey Abrams, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, said on Twitter: "A jury believed the evidence of their eyes and saw the meanness in the killers’ hearts. May this verdict bring a small measure of peace to #AhmaudArbery’s family and loved ones."

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., said on Twitter: "#AhmaudArbery should be here. The McMichaels and Bryan are indeed guilty of taking his life for no other reason than for him being Black. I’m praying for and thinking of Ahmaud’s family, including his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, who in this moment, is still missing her son."

And Margaret Huang, Southern Poverty Law Centre president and CEO, said in a statement: "Through this conviction, the criminal justice system has begun to address the pervasive inequities that exist when it comes to the treatment of Black and brown people ...The fact that justice was done in this case does not deny the reality that countless Black men are targeted and killed for no reason other than the colour of their skin."

Published 25 November 2021 at 7:10am, updated 25 November 2021 at 7:37am
Source: Reuters - SBS