The three white Americans who pursued and then killed young black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020 in the southern United States, claiming to have taken him for a burglar, were sentenced to life imprisonment on Friday.
Travis McMichael, 35 and perpetrator of the fatal shots, and his father Gregory McMichael, 66, were given life sentences without the possibility of early release.
Their neighbor William Bryan, 52, who participated in the prosecution by filming it, may hope for early release after 30 years in prison.
They were convicted of murder on November 24 in Brunswick, Georgia, after debates marked by the issue of racism and the right to self-defense.
Ahmaud Arbery left his home “to jog and he ended up running for his life”, said Judge Timothy Walmsley on Friday pronouncing the sentence in this coastal city in the southeast of the United States.
The young man was “hunted down and killed because the individuals in this room made the law themselves”, he explained.
He felt that Gregory McMichael had instigated his son and his neighbor to pursue the young man, while admitting after the fact that he was not sure he was really a burglar.
He also lambasted the attitude of Travis McMichael who “worries for his baby (left alone at home, editor’s note) and himself, while the victim lies on the ground”.
Ahmaud Arbery’s family, who had demanded a “maximum punishment” for the three men, welcomed these heavy penalties.
“I knew we would come out of court with a victory, I never doubted”, said his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones.
Earlier, she had told Judge Walmsley that the three men had “targeted (her) son because they didn’t want him in their neighborhood.”
This verdict “was very important” so that the “responsibility” be assumed, added one of the family’s lawyers, Lee Merritt. “It was important for the family to see these men put in jail.”
Ben Crump, famous African-American lawyer, paid tribute “to all black men who have been lynched in the history of America and Georgia, and to whom justice has never been served.”
“Self-defense always ends badly”, For her part, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told the hearing, believing that the McMichaels had not shown “no remorse, no empathy”.
She thus revealed that Gregory McMichael had transmitted the images of the murder to the media. “because he thought it was going to exonerate him.”
The lawyers for the three men had pleaded one last time an unintentional act that did not deserve them to end their days in prison.
“Because he was black”
The racial dimension of this case was underlying during the trial.
The McMichaels and their neighbor decided to go after Ahmaud Arbery “because he was black and he was running in the streets,” Linda Dunikoski said.
On February 23, 2020, the 25-year-old was jogging when he was chased by the three men in their cars.
After an altercation, Travis McMichael opened fire and killed the jogger who was trying to grab his rifle, a case of self-defense.
The defendants then assured to have taken Ahmaud Arbery for a burglar, after seeing him a few days before entering a house under construction.
The three men had also invoked a law of Georgia, dating from the Civil War and repealed after the tragedy, allowing ordinary citizens to make arrests.
In this state still deeply marked by racism and segregation, they had benefited from the leniency of the local justice, for which Gregory McMichael had worked for a long time, and had been released for months.
After the video of the tragedy was broadcast in May, the investigation was relocated and handed over to the state police, who arrested the three men.
The case had fueled the major anti-racist protests that rocked the country in the summer of 2020, after the death of another African American, George Floyd, killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Those convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery have not finished with justice: they will be tried for racist crimes by a federal court from February 7.