Guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery: 3 white defendants face verdicts from nearly all-white jury

Written by Amy Ta and Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Michell Eloy

Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan were deemed guilty today for murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black 25-year-old, when he was out jogging in February 2020. The nearly all-white jury found Travis McMichael guilty on all nine charges, including malice murder, meaning he had intent to kill Arbery. The other two men were convicted on lesser murder charges. All face life in prison without parole. And they face another trial for federal hate crime charges early next year. 

Outside the courtroom, Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones said, “I never saw this day back in 2020. I never thought this day would come, but God is good. … For those who marched … especially those who prayed, thank you guys, thank you.” 

Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School, says both cases for Arbery and Kyle Rittenhouse bring up issues of self-defense, vigilantism, the effect of how easy it is to own a gun, and the role of race in selecting juries.  

“The biggest difference, of course, here [are] three white men charged with killing a Black man. There — one white man charged with killing three white men. Here, of course, the murder helped to spark the protests regarding injustices in our criminal justice system. There, the deaths happened during some of those protests. But I do think it's so important to remember — obviously, different charges, different people, different crimes,” she says. 

Jody Armour, law professor at USC, says he feels relieved following today’s guilty verdicts, and notes that race has played a crucial role in the recent cases: “The specter of race is always hovering over all these cases when we’re talking [about] vigilantism, self-defense, role of race in jury selection, and guns in society. To think that race isn't going to be a driving factor is to take an ostrich head-in-the-sand approach to American history.”

He gives a reminder: Arbery’s case initially took a different direction, and the trio walked free for several weeks following Arbery’s killing. They weren’t arrested until a video of the incident was released. The case was also taken away from the local district attorney by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. 

“You really saw the underbelly of the criminal justice system here too. And it's only happenstantial that Arbery’s video got out and it became part of a movement, that we are here to be thankful that the justice process was vindicated in this case. But it could very easily have gone another way. And that's something for us to pause on and not become too triumphalist when you have a verdict like this.”