Father and son convicted in Ahmed Arberry’s killing sentenced to life in prison on federal hate crime charges

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Two of the three white men who chased and killed Ahmed Arberry in a Georgia neighborhood in 2020 were sentenced to life in prison Monday for federal hate crimes — just months after the three defendants received prison terms for state murder charges.

Travis McMichael, who killed Arberry with a shotgun after a street chase started by his father and joined by a neighbor, was the first of three defendants to be sentenced Monday and ordered to serve life in prison. His father, Gregory McMichael, initiated the neighborhood chase that ended with the death of Arberry, who was later sentenced to life in prison for a federal hate crime.

US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood scheduled back-to-back sentencing hearings for each defendant separately. A third defendant, 52-year-old William “Roddy” Bryan, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Monday for recording the cellphone video.

Arberry’s killing on February 23, 2020 became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice and the killings of unarmed black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Bronna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases led the Justice Department to bring federal charges.

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This composite of booking photos provided by the Glynn County, Ga., Detention Center shows, from left, Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and William “Roddy” Bryan Jr.
(Glynn County Detention Center via AP)

McMichaels and Bryan face possible life in prison after a jury convicted them of federal hate crimes in February, concluding that they violated Arberry’s civil rights and targeted him because of his race. All three were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and McMichaels faces additional penalties for using firearms to commit a violent crime.

A state Superior Court judge in January sentenced all three to life in prison for Arberry’s murder, denying McMichaels any chance of parole. Federal life sentences “give you a backstop if an appeals court decides there was some kind of error during the state trial,” said Michael Moore, an Atlanta lawyer and former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.

Men found guilty in Arberry murder go to federal court on hate crime charges

All three defendants remain jailed in coastal Glynn County in the custody of US marshals, awaiting sentencing following their federal convictions in January.

Because he was first charged with murder in state court, the protocol would transfer him to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve out the rest of his life in state prison.

In court filings last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked a judge to turn them over to federal prison, saying they would not be safe in the Georgia prison system, which is the subject of a US Justice Department investigation focused on violence among inmates.

On February 23, 2020, the McMichaels jumped in a truck armed with guns to chase after Arberry after seeing him fleeing behind their home outside the port city of Brunswick. Brian joins the pursuit in his own truck, helping to cut off Arberry’s escape.

Travis McMichael listens to one of his attorneys at the Glynn County Courthouse, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga.

Travis McMichael listens to one of his attorneys at the Glynn County Courthouse, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga.
(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Poole)

He recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael, Arberry throwing bullets and grabbing at the shotgun.

Men found guilty in Arberry murder go to federal court on hate crime charges

McMichaels told police they suspected Arberry was stealing from a nearby home under construction. But authorities later concluded he was unarmed and committed no crimes. Arberry’s family has long insisted he was just out jogging.

McMichaels and Bryan were arrested after graphic video of the shooting was leaked online, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police.

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During a February hate crimes trial, prosecutors bolstered their argument that Arberry’s killing was racially motivated by showing jurors roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racial slurs and made derogatory comments about black people. A woman heard an angry rant from Greg McMichael in 2015, in which he said: “All those black people are nothing but trouble.”

The three men’s defense attorneys did not go after Arberry because of McMichaels and Bryan’s race but because they suspected – albeit wrongly – that Arberry had committed crimes in their neighborhood.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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