BRUNSWICK, Ga. — After more than 11 hours of deliberation, jurors — 11 white and one Black — delivered guilty murder verdicts Wednesday on three white men accused of killing a Black man jogging in the street of their Brunswick neighborhood.
The jury found Travis McMichael guilty on all counts in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery: one count of 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.
Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael’s father, was found guilty on all but the malice murder charge.
William Bryan received guilty verdicts for three charges of felony murder, and a guilty verdict for aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
In Georgia, a person convicted of murder can be sentenced to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.
Closing arguments in the trial had wrapped up Tuesday with prosecutors saying the McMichaels and Bryan were unlawfully chasing and following Arbery through the Satilla Shores neighborhood when he was ultimately shot and killed by Travis McMichael after a five-minute pursuit Feb. 23, 2020.
The McMichaels argued they were attempting to perform a citizen’s arrest on Arbery, who they believed was responsible for burglaries at a home under construction. Bryan later joined the pursuit upon seeing Arbery run by his home, with the McMichaels following behind in their pickup truck.
The McMichaels said they had planned to hold Arbery until police arrived. But after five minutes of Arbery being followed through the neighborhood, Arbery and Travis McMichael appeared to tussle over the gun, during which Arbery was shot two times and killed.
On the 12th day of the trial Monday, the state and attorneys for the three defendants gave closing arguments, with the state giving a final rebuttal Tuesday.
Before jurors left the courtroom around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Judge Timothy Walmsley read and explained the charges against the three men— malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment. He also defined the state’s citizen’s arrest, self-defense and use-of-force laws as they related to the charges.
Attorney Jason Sheffield had argued that Travis McMichael had reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion that Arbery had committed a burglary.
He mentioned Travis McMichael’s Feb. 11, 2020, call to 911 to report that a Black man — later known to be Arbery — had just run into a home under construction at 220 Satilla Drive. He told the 911 operator that the man appeared to reach into his pocket before running into the doorless home and that he could be armed. The man was gone by the time police arrived.
The Satilla Shores neighborhood also had a Facebook page where residents often reported petty crimes or suspicious people in the neighborhood, Sheffield said.
“It was unsettling that people were lurking and creeping around your property at night,” Sheffield said, adding, “This neighborhood was being covered with suspicious persons.”
Arbery had been seen on video surveillance at the home under construction on several occasions, the homeowner, Larry English, testified. Others, including a white couple and children, were seen on surveillance at the property on other occasions.
English had reported some tools missing from a boat on the property but never saw anyone on surveillance taking them.
While the state argued that Arbery was a frequent jogger in the neighborhood, Sheffield said “there’s no evidence that Ahmaud Arbery ever jogged or exercised in Satilla Shores.”
“(A surveillance camera) shows Arbery walked into the neighborhood, stood in front of the house with his hand on his hip and walked into the house,” Sheffield said.
Travis McMichael was inside his home a few houses down Feb. 23 when his father ran inside telling him to grab his gun because the “guy” that broke into the house the other night was running by, Sheffield said.
As he ran to his truck with his shotgun, Travis McMichael said he saw a neighbor pointing in Arbery’s direction.
In his closing arguments Monday, Sheffield led with Travis McMichael’s U.S. Coast Guard policing and rescue training, where he learned how to make decisions, use of verbal commands, de-escalation techniques and when to use deadly force.
“He talked about de-escalation techniques and how that was always the goal,” said Sheffield of his testimony on the stand last week. “You have the right to stop and detain a person and hold them for the police. … If Travis wanted to hurt him, he could’ve right away. Is it offensive to pull up to someone to try to talk to them?”
Travis McMichael followed beside Arbery in several attempts to ask what he was running away from, and when he told Arbery he had called the police, Arbery took off running in the opposite direction, Sheffield said.
Travis McMichael parked his truck on Holmes Street near Satilla Drive, an area he testified was a good location to observe where Arbery would run. He and his father allegedly saw Arbery approaching a black truck — later identified as Bryan’s — and attempting to get into the driver’s side door.
After “attacking” the black truck, Arbery ran back in the McMichaels’ direction, and Travis McMichael then pointed his shotgun at Arbery, Sheffield said. As Arbery ran around the McMichaels’ parked truck, Travis McMichael testified that he moved to the front of the truck toward Arbery to see which way he may be headed.
At that point, Arbery turned toward Travis McMichael and a tussle over the gun ensued. Two of three shots fired hit Arbery, who attempted to run away before falling dead in the street.
“The only time life was in danger was when Arbery chose to cut across that truck and come at Travis,” Sheffield said.
Travis shot Arbery in self-defense, his attorneys said.
Defense attorney Laura Hogue said the state was “turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim in a situation he created.”
“A good neighborhood is policing itself,” Hogue said, adding, “The police can’t be everywhere. Police are helped by those neighbors.”
Hogue argued that Greg McMichael had reasonable and probable grounds Feb. 23, 2020, to believe that Arbery was tempting to escape “yet again.”
When he saw Arbery run by his home, he was certain that Arbery was the man he had seen on video surveillance shown to him by an officer after Travis McMichael’s Feb. 11, 2020, call to 911, Hogue said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind as to who this guy was,” Hogue quoted from Greg McMichael’s interview with an officer after the shooting.
Greg McMichael’s knowledge of Arbery returning to the vacant property “night after night,” Hogue said, constitutes “immediate knowledge” needed for him to perform a citizen’s arrest. She said Greg McMichael also had reasonable grounds for suspicion of Arbery committing burglary at the home due to things being stolen from a boat on the property.
“Ahmaud Arbery wasn’t an innocent victim when he was plundering around Mr. English’s house,” Hogue said, later describing Arbery’s baggy shorts and “long dirty toenails.” “There was no reason for him to be there. … He was a recurring nighttime intruder and that is frightening and unsettling.”
Hogue said had the McMichaels not chosen to attempt to detain Arbery that day, the fear of crime in the neighborhood would have continued.
“He died because for whatever illogical reason, instead of staying where he was, he chose to fight … to run at a man wielding a shotgun,” Hogue said.
Attorney Kevin Gough said Bryan’s presence is “irrelevant” to the death of Arbery and that he wasn’t aware the McMichaels had guns until the final seconds of the video he recorded from his black truck.
Gough described Bryan as a quiet man who kept to himself, adding that even though he’d lived in the Satilla Shores neighborhood for three years, the majority of his neighbors didn’t know him.
When Arbery ran past Bryan’s house with the McMichaels following behind, Arbery did not ask for help or to call 911, Gough said. When Bryan got into his truck that day to see what was happening, he did not bring any weapons — he only grabbed his keys and cellphone, Gough added.
“Roddie Bryan knows ‘intuitively’ when someone’s running to or away from something,” Gough said of Bryan’s decision to join the pursuit. “… Roddie Bryan acted in good faith on the day in question. Roddie wasn’t aware that Travis had intention to shoot Arbery.”
Gough said in Bryan’s attempts to follow and corner Arbery, Bryan was not speeding or driving fast, as the state presented no evidence that Bryan was “hunting him down” or aggressively driving.
“What does Mr. Bryan’s presence have to do with anything? The McMichaels were certainly capable of catching up with (Arbery) and shooting, if that was their intention,” Bryan said.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said the trial was based on “driveway decisions and assumptions.”
The McMichaels assumed Arbery had done something because he ran by their house “fast” and they chose to arm themselves with guns, she said during the trial.
“They started it; they don’t get to claim self-defense,” Dunikoski said.
During her rebuttal Tuesday, Dunikoski discredited Travis McMichael’s claim that he saw a neighbor pointing in Arbery’s direction before he and his father got in their truck to pursue Arbery. Surveillance video she showed jurors Tuesday appeared to show that neighbor pointing in Arbery’s direction after the McMichaels were already in their truck.
“Should you trust the statements of Travis McMichael?” she asked jurors.
Dunikoski said that during the McMichaels’ interview with police after the shooting, neither of them mentioned that they were trying to perform a citizen’s arrest. Greg McMichael, who was in the bed of the pickup truck with his own gun, was on the phone with 911, moments before the shooting, and did not indicate what crime Arbery had committed.
“What’s your emergency? There’s a Black man running down the street?” Dunikoski said.
Dunikoski also referenced a police interview in which Greg McMcMichael recalled telling police he told Arbery to stop or he’d blow his head off.
“What right do they have to demand a fellow citizen talk to them and cut him off with their trucks?” she said. She also made reference to Greg McMichael telling a neighbor on the scene after the shooting, “This guy’s an (expletive).”
Dunikoski said Bryan became a party to the crime with his attempt at falsely imprisoning Arbery with his truck, forcing him to run back in the direction of the McMichaels. Greg McMichael had told police that Arbery was “trapped like a rat,” she said.
Dunikoski said no weapons, personal items or stolen items were found on Arbery at the time of his death and that the McMichaels had no immediate knowledge if Arbery had committed a crime that day.
“This guy’s running away from them for five minutes. … You can’t defend yourself after you created the situation. You can’t commit a felony against someone and claim self-defense,” she said.
Dunikoski said Travis McMichael’s pointing of his shotgun at Arbery, and the two trucks being used to corner and attempt to block in Arbery, led to the state’s recommended aggravated assault charges.
“(They) placed Ahmaud in reasonable fear of receiving bodily injury,” Dunikoski said.