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Portrait of Ahmaud Arbery

The three men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery Feb. 2020 as the 25-year-old was jogging through Brunswick, Georgia, all faced the death penalty. In a sentencing hearing on Friday, Travis McMichael, and his father, Gregory McMichael, instead will be serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, will serve a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty and Arbery’s family wanted the men to face life imprisonment. Judge Timothy Walmsley honored those requests. Prior to imposing those sentences, Walmsley led a minute-long moment of silence to illustrate just how swiftly Arbery was gunned down.

“The chase that occurred in Satilla Shores occurred over about a five-minute period. And when I thought about this, I thought from a lot of different angles and I kept coming back to the terror of [Arbery],” Walmsley said. He also quoted the defendants’ abhorrent words about Arbery in which they called him an asshole and threatened to kill him, which they ultimately ended up doing. Walmsley described Arbery as being “hunted down and shot” by the men. “And he was killed because individuals in this courtroom took the law into their own hands,” Walmsley added. The judge also quoted Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, who read a victim impact statement earlier during the proceedings.

Travis, who shot and killed Arbery, was found guilty of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony, and one count of false imprisonment. He will be serving a sentence of life without parole plus 20 consecutive years. Greg was found guilty of four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony. He was found not guilty of malice murder. He will be serving a life sentence without parole plus 20 consecutive years.

Bryan was found guilty of three counts of felony murder, one count of felony assault, one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony, and one count of false imprisonment. He was found not guilty of malice murder, one count of felony murder, and one count of aggravated assault. He has been sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

During the sentencing hearing, Arbery’s family was able to give victim impact statements and the court was also able to hear from character witnesses who support the McMichaels and Bryan. Arbery’s mother, father, and sister all made powerful statements in support of sentencing the three men to life without parole. Marcus Arbery began addressing the court by acknowledging the unfairness of Travis and Gregory being able to sit next to each other as son and father during court proceedings, while Marcus will never get that chance to sit next to Ahmaud ever again. Marcus also addressed the situation surrounding Ahmaud’s murder.

“Not only did they lynch my son in broad daylight, but they killed him while he was doing what he loved more than anything: running. That’s when he felt most alive, most free, and they took all that from him,” Marcus said. “If I could, I would trade places with Ahmaud in a heartbeat, but I can’t, so I’m standing here today to do what he can’t. And that is to fight for him, fight for his memory, his legacy, and to tell you who he was.” Ahmaud’s sister, Jasmine Arbery, did just that in her statement.

“Ahmaud had dark skin that glistened in the sunlight like gold. He had thick, coily hair; he would often like to twist it. Ahmaud had a broad nose and the color of his eyes were riddled with melanin. He was tall with an athletic build. He enjoyed running and had an appreciation for being outdoors,” Jasmine said. “These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and chase him with guns drawn. To me, those qualities reflect a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people I love.”

“Ahmaud was funny,” Jasmine continued. “He told jokes to lighten the mood because he was a positive thinker. Ahmaud had a big personality and never missed an opportunity to let it shine. Ahmaud had a future that was taken from him… he was robbed of life’s pleasures big and small. He will never be able to fulfill his professional dreams nor will he be able to start a family or be in my daughter’s life.”

Finally, Cooper-Jones spoke before the courtroom. She chose to first address the son she had lost. “This verdict doesn’t bring you back but it does help bring closure to this very difficult chapter in my life. I made a promise to you. Today I laid you to rest. I told you I loved you and someday, somehow, I would get you justice,” Cooper-Jones said. “Son, I love you as much today as I did the day that you were born. Raising you was the honor of my life and I’m very proud of you.”

“My youngest son, he was born on Mother’s Day of 1994,” Cooper-Jones continued. “He had a smile so bright it lit up a room. He was a greedy baby that seemed like he was always searching for something to stick into his mouth. He was always a loving baby who seemed to never tire of hugs, cuddling, and kisses. He loved. He never hesitated to tell me, his sister Jasmine, and his brother Marcus that he loved us. And, your honor, we loved him back. He was messy. He sometimes refused to wear socks or take good care of his good clothing. I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for that jog that day. I guess he would have if he knew he would be murdered. My family’s going to miss Ahmaud. We’re going to miss his jokes, his impersonations, his warm smile. These men deserve the maximum sentence for their crimes. Ahmaud never said a word to them. He never threatened them. He just wanted to be left alone. They were fully committed to their crimes. Let them be fully committed for their consequences.”

All three white men are facing federal hate crime charges for taking Arbery’s life and menacing the Black man. A separate federal trial is scheduled to begin on February 7. The men each face one count of interference with rights and one count of attempted kidnapping. Travis and Gregory McMichael were also charged with one count of carrying and brandishing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. Travis’ firearm charge includes the fact that he discharged his weapon.

Arbery’s death and the circumstances surrounding it, which were only discovered after criminal defense attorney Alan Tucker leaked footage of the crimes, has drastically changed how Georgia approaches cases like these. The state finally passed a hate crime bill that allows for additional sentencing options if defendants are convicted of a crime targeting a victim because of their “actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.”

Article reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

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