For The Record

Judge sentences Arbery’s murderers to life in prison. It’s ‘an exercise in accountability,’ he says

By: - January 8, 2022 10:45 am

Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan are set to stand trial on federal hate crime charges in February after being sentenced in the Glynn County courthouse for the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. AP courtroom pool photos

The three white men who murdered unarmed Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery nearly two years ago outside Brunswick were each sentenced on Friday to life in prison — Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, without the possibility of parole, and William “Roddie” Bryan with the possibility of parole after serving at least 30 years.

Judge Timothy Walmsley issued the sentences at the Glynn County Courthouse after multiple hours of arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

“When I thought about this [sentencing], I thought from a lot of different angles,” Walmsley said. “And I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores.”

That was the subdivision where Arbery, 25, was running on Feb. 23, 2020, when the McMichaels and Bryan chased him in their pickup trucks for about five minutes, before Travis McMichael blasted Arbery with a shotgun.

“It is a chilling, truly disturbing scene,” Walmsley said, of video recorded by Bryan that shows the murder. “Today demonstrates that everybody is accountable to the rule of law. Taking the law into your own hands is a dangerous endeavor.”

In addition to their life sentences for murder, the McMichaels were both sentenced to 20 years for aggravated assault.

Walmsley noted mitigating factors for the relatively lighter sentence of Bryan, who was the only defendant not armed at the scene of the crime.

“But it does not change the fact that, was it not for the fact that Mr. Bryan used his vehicle in a way to impede Mr. Arbery’s course of travel, this may not have ever occurred,” Walmsley said. “Instead of closure, maybe it would be best to see today’s proceeding as an exercise in accountability.”

With sentences having been issued, the men can now appeal their convictions. Appeals must be filed within 30 days, Walmsley said.

Outside the courthouse, Arbery’s parents celebrated the sentences as they stood alongside civil rights lawyers and advocates.

“I sat in that courtroom for five weeks straight,” said mother Wanda Cooper-Jones, referring to the murder trial that ended in November. “But I knew that we would come out with a victory. I never doubted it. And I knew that today would come.”

“He’s a kid of love, because he brought people together,” said his father, Marcus Arbery. “Ahmaud, rest in peace.”

Attention now shifts to a federal trial scheduled to begin in February against the McMichaels and Bryan, who are each charged with hate crimes and attempted kidnapping of Arbery.

“What we just experienced was very important for accountability in this community,” civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt said outside the courthouse. “However, it’s so important that the federal hate crime charges move forward because there is an issue of race taking place in this country.

“And so we are looking forward to the federal trial, where the issue of motivation, the issue of hate that we believe was the motivating factor behind this murder, is finally addressed.”

This story appears in the Georgia Recorder through a news partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting.

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Benjamin Payne
Benjamin Payne

Payne is the Savannah-based reporter for GPB, where he covers Coastal Georgia. Prior to coming to Savannah, he freelanced in Bellingham, Washington, for public media outlets including NPR, Marketplace, and PRX. Previously, Benjamin hosted Morning Edition for WVIK, his hometown NPR member station in Rock Island, Illinois. Before that, he served a news internship with NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago.