BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A judge sentenced three men to life in prison Friday for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and denied the possibility of parole for two of the defendants, father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael. 

However, Judge Timothy Walmsley granted the possibility of parole to William “Roddie” Bryan, the McMichaels’ neighbor who joined the chase and took video of the killing. Bryan must spend at least 30 consecutive years in prison to be eligible.

Walmsley claimed that Walmsley had heard of a “young man with dreams” being gunned-down in his community. “It was callous and it occurred … because confrontation was being sought.”

Before the sentencing was read, Walmsley held a minute of silence to represent a fraction of the time Arbery was running before he was shot. The image of Travis McMichael shooting a gun at Arbery was “absolutely chilling,” he said.

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In addition, the judge quoted statements made by the defendant to support his sentence. The minimum penalty required by law for the murder charges is a life sentence; Walmsley had to determine whether each defendant would have the possibility of parole. 

On Nov. 24, a jury found Travis McMichael, 35, who pulled the trigger, guilty of nine charges: malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. Jurors found Gregory McMichael, 66, guilty of all of those charges except malice murder and Bryan, 52, guilty of six charges including three counts of felony murder.

The three men chased the Arbery, 25, in trucks while he was running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, on Feb. 23, 2020. The men weren’t arrested for more than two months when Bryan’s video was released, which fueled nationwide racial justice protests and later became a key piece of evidence in the murder trial.

Nearly all white jurors deliberated almost for two days before convicting the men. They were taken to Glynn County jail after the verdict was reached and are expected to appeal.

On Friday, Walmsley said he found some of Bryan’s comments to investigators “disturbing” and acknowledged the murder may not have occurred if Bryan hadn’t blocked Arbery’s path with his vehicle.

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He stated, “He did cooperate in law enforcement.” Mr. Bryan is in a different position.

Walmsley said that while sentencing may not provide closure for the family, the community or the nation, it would hold the defendants accountable for their actions.

Arbery was cried by his parents Wanda Cooper Jones and Marcus Arbery as the sentence was read.The family requested that all three of the defendants be sentenced to the maximum penalty on Friday as they recalled their loved one and shared the pain he has caused.

“Your honor, these men have chose to lie and attack my son and his surviving family, they each have no remorse and do not deserve any leniency,” said Cooper-Jones. “These men deserve the maximum sentence for their crimes.”

Wanda Cooper-Jones gives a brief statement outside the Glynn County Courthouse before the sentencing of the three men convicted of killing her son Ahmaud Arbery.

Prosecutor: “Vigilantism always fails,”

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski on Friday said all the defendants deserved the mandatory life sentence for showing “no empathy for the trapped and terrified Ahmaud Arbery.”

She asked the court to impose a harsher sentence on Greg and Travis McMichael because of their “demonstrated pattern of vigilantism.” She pointed to a series of incidents described during the trial in which the father and son tried to investigate alleged crimes in their neighborhood.

“Vigilantism always goes wrong,” she said. “Here we have some men who should have known better.”

Dunikoski added that Bryan contributed to Arbery’s death “in a significant way” and his “actions speak for themselves.”

Attorneys for defense emphasize lack of criminal record, intent to murder

Defense attorney Bob Rubin highlighted Travis McMichael’s service in the Coast Guard and argued that he did not intend to kill Arbery. Rubin said the harshest possible sentence should be reserved for “the worst of the worst.”

“This was not a planned murder,” he said. “The only purpose of a life without parole sentence, your Honor, is vengeance, is retribution.”

Greg McMichael’s attorney Laura Hogue made similar arguments Friday adding that the elder McMichael has no criminal history and did not fire his weapon. Hogue argued that the incidents described by Dunikoski were not examples of vigilantism but “exactly what a neighborhood watch program is all about.” 

She said that Greg McMichael was a “good man”. A life sentence with parole “is the only way, your Honor, to honor the jury’s verdict that Greg McMichael committed crimes for which he never intended the result.”

Bryan has to serve at least 30 consecutive years in prison before becoming eligible for parole. People who are in prison don’t get parole the first time they qualify. In Georgia, if someone serving a life sentence has their parole denied, the parole board will reconsider that decision at least once every eight years.

Attorney Kevin Gough asked the court to allow the board to consider parole for Bryan “whenever they see fit” under a provision of Georgia law which prosecutors said does not apply. Gough tried to separate Bryan from the other two defendants saying that he is not a vigilante and did not bring a weapon.

Before sentencing, which is when judges expect to hear remorse from defendants, the defendants were all allowed to speak.

It is probable that there will be appeal

The men’s attorneys told reporters they plan to appeal.Walmsley told them Friday to complete it by Friday.

They may be able to successfully argue the judge should not have excluded evidence about Arbery’s mental health and previous encounters with law enforcement, and that the public attention and protests outside the courthouse interfered with the defendant’s right to a fair trial, said Ron Carlson, a professor emeritus at the University of Georgia law school who followed trial.

He did however note that only a few criminal cases get overturned upon appeal.

“I don’t think it’s a frivolous appeal,” Carlson said, but “appellate courts are very reluctant – unless things are pretty clear and overpowering – to reverse on appeal.”

Ahmaud Arbery's father, Marcus, center, sits next to civil rights attorney Ben Crump, right, during the sentencing hearing for the three men convicted of murdering his son last year.

Federal hate crime trial continues for defendants. Civil lawsuit is still in progress 

After being sentenced on the state charges, the three men will face a federal hate crimes trial for killing Arbery. They are all white, Arbery is black.

All three are charged with interfering with Arbery’s rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels are also charged with using, carrying and brandishing – and in Travis McMichael’s case, firing – a gun during and in relation to a crime of violence.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, federal offenses can result in death, imprisonment for life, or a lesser sentence with a fine. The federal system does not offer parole.

Attorneys will begin selecting a jury from a wide pool of 43 counties across the Southern District of Georgia for that trial Feb. 7. The proceedings are set to take place in Glynn County. 

The McMichaels and Bryan are also facing a civil lawsuit filed by Arbery’s mother. The wrongful death suit seeks $1 million in damages and also names former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, former Glynn County Police Chief John Powell, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, and several Glynn County police officers.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Follow N’dea YanceyBragg or Raisa Hatersham on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBraggAnd @newsworthy17 



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