US court sentences Ahmaud Arbery killers to life in prison

Federal judge gives father and son life for hate crime; their neighbour and co-defendant sentenced to 35 years.

Ahmaud Arbery's killers
Along with Travis McMichael (left), William 'Roddie' Bryan and Gregory McMichael are set to be sentenced on federal charges for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery [File: Pool via AP]

A US judge has sentenced father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael to life in prison for federal hate crime in the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man fatally shot after jogging in a suburban Georgia neighbourhood.

US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood also sentenced the two men’s neighbour and co-defendant William “Roddie” Bryan to 35 years in the coastal Georgia city of Brunswick on Monday. All three were found guilty of violating Arbery’s civil rights because of his race earlier this year.

The case had helped fuel mass protests against racism and vigilantism in the United States in 2020.

At the first hearing, Marcus Arbery, the slain man’s father, asked the judge to sentence the younger McMichael to serve the maximum in state prison on the federal charges.

“These three devils have broken my heart into pieces that cannot be found or repaired,” Marcus Arbery told the court.

Travis McMichael declined to testify on Monday, but his lawyer said a Georgia state prison was too dangerous for him, and that he had received death threats.

Wood, the judge, said McMichael had received a “fair trial”.

“And it’s not lost on the court that it was the kind of trial that Ahmaud Arbery did not receive before he was shot and killed,” the judge said.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running past their home outside Brunswick on February 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded a phone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the shotgun.

Greg McMichael addressed the Arbery family on Monday, saying their loss was “beyond description.”

“I’m sure my words mean very little to you but I want to assure you I never wanted any of this to happen,” he said. “There was no malice in my heart or my son’s heart that day.”

Outside the courtroom, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones responded to his statement. “I think he realises that he made some horrible decisions. Unfortunately, his apology doesn’t bring back my son,” she said.

Last November in state court, the three men were previously convicted of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony for chasing and shooting Arbery, with a jury rejecting self-defence claims.

They have appealed their state convictions. A Georgia state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.

The killing of Arbery sparked outrage across the US and helped fuel the racial justice protests that rocked the country after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota in May 2020.

The sentences on Monday come days after the US Department of Justice charged four current and former police officers in Louisville, Kentucky for their roles in the 2020 fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor – a Black woman whose death added to the nationwide anger that year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies