A jury of their Glynn County peers found three White men guilty Wednesday of murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man who was shot and killed in the Satilla Shores neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020.
The panel of 11 White people and one Black person deliberated for more than 10 hours total before convicting Travis McMichael, 35, his father Greg McMichael, 65, and 52-year-old William "Roddie" Bryan of murder. Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery on that day, was found guilty of malice murder and felony murder. Greg McMicheal and Bryan were found guilty of felony murder, but the the jury found both men not guilty of malice murder.
All three were found guilty of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
Outside of the courtroom, a tearful Marcus Arbery felt redemption for his son.
"I know that boy didn't do nothing wrong ever," said Arbery as he hugged friends, family and supporters. "He didn't do nothing but run, run and dream. He's always been a curious kid. He always wanted to see things. All he wanted to do was run and dream."
Although Travis McMichael pulled the trigger that blasted Arbery with fatal buckshot wounds, all three men stood trial for murder because they committed crimes that ultimately contributed to Arbery's shooting death, the jury determined. All three men were found guilty of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
Bryan used his cell phone to record the bloody killing, a video that sparked national outrage and cries of racial injustice when it leaked online in May of 2020. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested the three men shortly afterward. Bryan's chilling, graphic video weighed heavily in law enforcement investigations and played frequently throughout the trial.
The verdict concluded a highly-publicized trial that put this coastal Georgia community of 85,000 in the national spotlight, with major media networks covering the large daily gatherings of local demonstrators who were joined by throngs representing organizations and social justice causes from across the country. The proceedings began Oct. 18 with jury selection — a 2 1/2-week ordeal that processed hundreds of potential jurors from among 1,000 jury summonses mailed to Glynn County residents. A jury of 11 Whites and a lone Black juror was empaneled Nov. 3, but the panel's lack of diversity sparked heated protests from social justice activists, clergy and others.
The trial began in earnest with opening statements on Nov. 5, when defense attorneys and prosecutors with the Cobb County District Attorney's Office presented their respective cases. With the starkly brutal facts of the case clear from the start, jurors were asked to determine whether Arbery died as a result of self-defense or cold-blooded murder.
Prosecutors maintained Arbery was hunted, trapped and murdered while out for a jog on a public street on a Sunday afternoon. A former standout linebacker at Brunswick High, Arbery was known to friends and family as an avid jogger who loved to run everywhere.'
Defense attorney's argued the McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense while the defendants were effecting a lawful citizen's arrest. The McMichaels said they suspected Arbery of property crimes, primarily based on Arbery's appearance several times on surveillance video at the unfinished home at 220 Satilla Drive. Property owner Larry English of Douglas noted Arbery never stole anything or caused harm on the five occasions in which he appeared in or near the structure between Oct. 25 and the day he died.
Defense attorneys said Travis McMichael relied on his federal law enforcement training as a former U.S. Coast Guardsman to inform his actions during the incident. Travis McMichael was the defense's lead witness and the only one of the three defendants to testify. During questioning from attorney Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael gave textbook answers to law enforcement queries about use-of-force protocol and probable cause indicators.
But on cross examination, prosecuting attorney Linda Dunikoski portrayed Travis McMichael as a reckless vigilante. She noted Facebook posts in which he urged neighbors to "arm up" and suggested crooks would be "playing with fire on this side of the neighborhood." Dunikoski also flustered Travis McMichael on inconsistencies between his court testimony Nov. 18 and statements he gave to county police investigators hours after the shooting.
Travis McMichael shot the unarmed Arbery dead on that Sunday afternoon in February of 2020 as the two struggled for possession of McMichael's Remington 12-gauge shotgun on Holmes Road near Satilla Drive. The deadly confrontation concluded a harried chase in which the McMichaels pursued in one pickup truck and Bryan pursued in another pickup as Arbery ran through the streets of Satilla Shores for several minutes.
Moments earlier, Greg McMichael saw Arbery "hauling ass" past his 220 Satilla Drive home. He grabbed a .357 handgun. Travis McMichael grabbed the shotgun loaded with buckshot. The father and son got into Travis McMichael's Ford F-150 pickup truck and pursued Arbery.
Bryan joined the chase when he saw Arbery running past his home at 307 Burford Road with the McMichaels in pursuit. Bryan used his pickup truck to run Arbery into a ditch across the street from his driveway, according to testimony. Bryan and Travis McMichael used their pickup trucks like weapons, Dunikoski said, cutting off Arbery's escape in the process.
The pursuit ended with Arbery caught between the two pickup trucks on Holmes Road. Bryan followed him in the Silverado and recorded it as Arbery ran up Holmes Road toward the Ford F-150, which was stopped in the road with Travis McMichael standing outside the driver's side door with the shotgun and Greg McMichael crouched in the truck bed brandishing the .357 magnum.
Travis McMichael pointed the shotgun at Arbery as he approached, video and testimony revealed. Arbery veered right, running around the passenger side of the truck. Travis McMichael moved to the front of the truck, where Arbery turned toward him. The first shotgun blast shredded Arbery's wrist and struck a blow to his abdomen near the chest. The shot can be heard on the video but not seen, the two men obscured from view in Bryan's video by McMichael's pickup truck. Dunikoski asserted that Arbery was trying to shield himself from that first blast with his hand and that he had not grabbed the gun's barrel as Travis McMichael stated in his self-defense claim. In a recorded statement to county police investigators hours after the shooting, Travis McMichael told police he could not remember whether Arbery grabbed the shotgun before he fired.
The two men can been be seen on the video to the left of the driver's side of the truck, struggling for the gun when McMichael shot once more and missed. McMichael's third shot hit Arbery in the chest below the left shoulder. The video showed Arbery taking a couple of steps before collapsing to the pavement, where he died.
Travis McMichael testified he shot in self-defense, fearing for his safety should Arbery gain possession of the shotgun.
Dunikoski asserted Arbery was the person who was afraid in that moment. She said Arbery came at McMichael out of fear and last-ditch desperation after being pursued by men in pickup trucks for some five minutes.
"Self-defense: One can use lethal force in self-defense," she said. "But you can't claim self-defense if you are the unjustified initiator, meaning you started this. Who started this? It wasn't Ahmaud Arbery. They started this. They do not get to claim self-defense.
Defense attorney Kevin Gough said Bryan did not know the McMichaels prior to the chase. Bryan had no idea they were armed or that Travis McMichael would kill Arbery, Gough said.
Pulling out of his driveway, Bryan used his Chevrolet Silverado to run Arbery into a ditch across the street from his home, according to law enforcement testimony. Dunikoski noted Bryan told county police investigators he "angled at" Arbery, "cornered him" and tried to "back up at him" — all of which amounted to aggravated assault and false imprisonment, she said.
"What did Mr. Bryan do?" she said. "He ran him into a ditch. Check.
"He redirected him up Holmes Road," Dunikoski added. "But for those actions Mr. Arbery would be alive."
Like his son, Greg McMichael fell back on his law enforcement training during the incident, said his defense attorneys. Greg McMichael was a Glynn County police officer for seven years, then served 20-years as an investigator with the Brunswick DA's Office before retiring in May of 2019.
But by his own words, Dunikoski said, McMichael displayed malicious intentions. She noted Greg McMichael's statement to county police, during which he recalled telling Arbery: "Stop, or I'll blow your fxxxing head off!" An officer's body camera picked up Greg McMichael saying this to a neighbor as Arbery lie dead in the street: "This guy ain't no shuffler. This guy's an asshole."
Greg McMichael also told police they had Arbery "trapped like a rat," according to testimony.
The three men now face federal hate crimes charges in the death of Arbery. Jury selection in that trial begins Feb. 7 at the federal courthouse in downtown Brunswick, where the three men face charges of interference of rights and attempted kidnapping. The father-and-son McMichaels also are charged with one federal count each of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. Travis McMichael additionally is charged in federal court with discharging a firearm during a violent crime.
The jury began deliberations at Tuesday morning and recessed at around 6:30 p.m. without having reached a verdict. Deliberation resumed in a room on the second floor of the Glynn County Courthouse at 8:30 a.m. Meanwhile, Arbery's family members and supporters milled about the Jury Assembly Room with civil rights attorneys and the Rev. Al Sharpton, talking quietly while awaiting the verdict. Leigh McMichael, the wife and mother of Greg and Travis McMichael, waited quietly with family and supporters on benches in the courthouse's second floor lobby.