Father and son sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes in killing of Ahmaud Arbery

The father and son convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery were both given an additional sentence of life in prison Monday on federal hate crime charges.

A judge also required that Travis McMichael, 36, and Greg McMichael, 66, serve their sentences in state prison, not federal prison as had been requested by their attorneys.

Before handing down the sentence to Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery in February 2020, US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said he had received a fair trial, “the kind of trial that Ahmaud Arbery did not receive before he was shot and killed.”

“You killed a man on Feb. 23, 2020. The events depicted in the video, they are seared in the annals of this court and no doubt in your mind forever,” she said.

Amy Lee Copeland, Travis McMichael’s attorney, had asked the judge to allow her client to serve his sentence in federal prison, saying he had received “hundreds of threats” and that he would probably be killed in state custody. AJ Balbo, an attorney for Greg McMichael, told the judge he was medically “not fit” to serve his sentence in state prison.

Both Copeland and Balbo also said they were concerned about an investigation by the Department of Justice into inmate violence in the Georgia state prison system.

The prosecution and members of Arbery’s family asked that the McMichaels serve their sentences in state prison.

Travis McMichael, whose sentence is life plus 10 years, declined to speak before the judge announced her decision.

His father, whose life sentence includes an additional seven years, addressed Arbery’s family, telling them “the loss you’ve hardened is beyond description. There’s no words for it.”

He added that he “never wanted any of this to happen. There was no malice in my heart, or my son’s heart, that day.”

The older McMichael also apologized to his son, saying he should have “never put him in that situation.”

A third man involved in the attack, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, is also scheduled to be sentenced Monday.

Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud Arbery’s father, said ahead of the sentencing that “these three devils have broken my heart into pieces that cannot be found or repaired” and asked the court to give the stiffest sentence possible.

“You killed him because he was a Black man and you hate Black people,” he said.

Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, said Travis McMichael “took my baby son.”

“I feel every shot that was fired every day,” she said.

The McMichaels and Bryan, who are all white, were found guilty in February on federal hate crime charges in the killing of Arbery, a Black man who was running in their neighborhood when the defendants confronted him in February 2020. The three men were convicted of all of the federal charges against them, including hate crimes, attempted kidnapping and the use of a firearm to commit a crime.

The federal case followed a state trial in November in which the men were convicted of murder and given life sentences. They have appealed their convictions in that case.

The federal hate crimes trial centered on the history of the three men and their racial bias, a reason that prosecutors in the state case largely avoided, even though Arbery’s killing gained national attention as the United States was reckoning with systemic institutional racism and bias in policing .

The McMichaels and Bryan chased Arbery, 25, through their coastal Georgia neighborhood in trucks. The men, who spotted Arbery running by their homes, cornered him, and Travis McMichael fatally shot him with a shotgun. Bryan filmed the fatal encounter on his cellphone.

The men were arrested months after the shooting, following the release of Bryan’s phone video and growing national attention. The case was then taken over by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Image: Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery.Courtesy of Family

Arbery’s family and civil rights leaders have likened his death to a modern-day lynching.

The McMichaels attempted to plead guilty to the hate crime charges before trial, but the plea agreement was rejected by the judge after Arbery’s parents protested that the men would be able to serve their time in federal prison instead of state.

Federal prosecutors worked to establish that Arbery’s murder was driven by the men’s strong prejudices against Black people. Witnesses included an FBI analyst who went through the men’s social media history and neighbors and former co-workers of the McMichaels, who all testified that the father and son made troubling racist jokes, rants and statements and were open about their negative feelings toward Black people .

The defense said the messages and social media posts were taken out of context and that even though they had said troubling things, they insisted the men were not driven by their racial bias to pursue and kill Arbery.

This month, Greg McMichael’s attorney asked the judge not to impose a life sentence, although he said his client still deserves “a substantial period of incarceration,” The Associated Press reported. McMichael’s defense team also asked the judge for a transfer to federal prison, where he could avoid serving time for the murder in Georgia’s state prison system.

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