Ahmaud Arberys killers face sentencing today, but the sprawling legal saga is far from over – CNN
Travis McMichael, 35, his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were convicted on a raft of charges, including felony murder, in the 2020 slaying of the 25-year-old Black jogger. Sentencing proceedings are expected to begin at 10 a.m. ET.
Though murder is punishable by death in Georgia, prosecutors have said they’d seek life without parole. According to Georgia law, even if Judge Timothy Walmsley permits parole, it won’t be considered for 30 years.
Following the November verdict, Walmsley said he’d give attorneys time to “put together whatever evidence may be shown in aggravation from the state or mitigation from the defense.”
Arbery’s family will be able to deliver statements aimed at yielding stiffer sentences, while the McMichaels’ and Bryan’s supporters can present character witnesses to press for lighter sentences. Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, intends to deliver a statement, her lawyer, S. Lee Merritt, said.
Walmsley may consider other factors, such as Travis McMichael being the one who shot Arbery.
No matter the sentences, the sprawling legal saga isn’t over: The men’s attorneys say they’ll appeal the verdicts; a federal hate crime trial is slated for next month; Arbery’s mother has filed a civil lawsuit; and the original prosecutor faces charges over her alleged handling of the case.
Decades in prison loom
The men believed Arbery had committed a crime February 23, 2020, in their Satilla Shores neighborhood outside Brunswick, they told police. The McMichaels were armed and gave chase, and Bryan later joined the pursuit, recording it from his pickup. Bryan’s video shows Travis McMichael exit his truck and confront Arbery, who tussles with Travis over a shotgun before the younger McMichael fatally shoots him.
The McMichaels claimed they were conducting a citizen’s arrest and acting in self-defense. Bryan said he took no part in the killing. Authorities made no immediate arrests. The men were so confident in their defense, they had Bryan’s video released to the public in May 2020, according to criminal defense attorney Alan Tucker.
It helped spell their undoing. The 36-second video sparked outrage that soon dovetailed with outcries over the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
The McMichaels were arrested two days after the video went viral. Bryan was arrested two weeks after the McMichaels. The men pleaded not guilty.
At trial, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski ripped holes in the self-defense and citizen’s arrest claims, emphasizing Travis McMichael acknowledged never seeing Arbery armed and never hearing Arbery threaten anyone. She pointed out inconsistencies between his testimony and what he initially told investigators, spurring him to testify he was “mixed up” and traumatized when police arrived.
Dunikoski pointedly questioned how Arbery could be an aggressor when he was unarmed on foot and repeatedly tried to elude three men, two of them armed, in trucks.
Travis McMichael was convicted on all counts: malice murder, 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. His father was convicted on all counts except malice murder, and Bryan was found guilty of all charges aside from malice murder, one felony murder count and one aggravated assault count.
Appeals coming, defense lawyers say
With the death penalty off the table, each murder conviction commands a sentence of life in prison, with or without parole. Maximum sentences are 20 years for aggravated assault, 10 years for false imprisonment and five years for attempt to commit a felony.
In addition to parole eligibility, Walmsley will decide if the men serve their sentences all at once, or consecutively, meaning they must finish each sentence before beginning the next.
Following the verdicts, Travis McMichael’s attorneys said their client is “sorry for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery,” and they plan to appeal. One of the father’s attorneys, Laura Hogue, was “floored” by the verdict and intends to appeal, she said. Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said he feels “appellate courts will reverse this conviction.”