Merrick Garland says Ahmaud Arbery’s killers ‘targeted, chased, shot and killed’ him because he was Black

‘No one should fear that if they go out for a run they will be targeted and killed because of the colour of their skin,’ says US attorney general

Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 22 February 2022 19:44 GMT
‘An unimaginable loss’: AG Garland speaks on guilty verdict of Ahmaud Arbery's killers

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Louise Thomas

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US Attorney General Merrick Garland has described how Ahmaud Arbery’s killers “targeted, chased, shot and killed” the Black jogger because of the colour of his skin, as he welcomed the three white men’s convictions on federal hate crimes charges.

AG Garland appeared to choke up with emotion on Tuesday as he held a press conference after a jury found that Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr were motivated by racial hate when they chased down and murdered Mr Arbery in a neighbourhood in Brunswick, Georgia, in February 2020.

“February 23 2020 Mr Arbery was targeted, chased, shot and killed while running on a public street,” he said.

“Today a jury of the defendants’ peers unanimously found beyond reasonable doubt that the defendants acted because Mr Arbery was Black.”

He said that it was “racism that fuelled” the three white men that day and vowed that no one should live in fear of going out for a run because of their race.

“No one in this country should have to fear the threat of hate-fuelled violence,” he said.

“No one should fear being attacked or threatened because of what they look like, where they are from, who they love or how they worship.

“And no one should fear that if they go out for a run they will be targeted and killed because of the colour of their skin.”

AG Garland said the Justice Department welcomed the guilty verdicts for the three killers but pointed out that it does not bring back the 25-year-old man or undo the “enduring trauma” suffered by his family and friends following his murder.

“The only acceptable outcome in this matter would have been Mr Arbery returning safely to his loved ones two years ago,” he said.

“His family and friends should be preparing to celebrate his 28th birthday later this spring not mourning the second anniversary of his death tomorrow.

“Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today.”

US AG Merrick Garland speaks about the conviction of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers
US AG Merrick Garland speaks about the conviction of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

AG Garland was asked about comments made by Mr Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones following Tuesday’s verdict where she criticised the Justice Department and said it had been forced to “do its job” by his family.

“I cannot imagine the pain that a mother feels to have her son run down and then gunned down while taking a jog on a public street,” he said.

“My heart goes out to her and her family, that’s really all I can say.”

Ms Cooper-Jones told reporters outside the courtroom that federal prosecutors only did what “they were made to do” because the judge had rejected a plea deal they reached with two of the killers and because of “the fight that the family put up”.

In January, prosecutors reached a deal with Travis and Gregory McMichael for the killers to plead guilty to hate crimes charges and be sentenced to 30 years in prison in exchange for being moved to a federal prison.

The agreement was condemned by Ms Cooper-Jones and the rest of the Arbery family who made it clear they did not want to see their son’s killers serve their time in a comfier facility.

“Back on January 31 you guys accepted a plea deal with these three murderers who took my son’s life,” she said.

She said she was “begging [prosecutors] to please not take this plea deal” but “they ignored my cry” and took the agreement to the judge anyway.

“I begged them. Even after the family stood before the judge and asked them, asked the judge to not take this plea deal, the lead prosecutor, Tara Lyons, stood up and asked the judge to ignore the family’s cry,” she said.

“That’s not justice for Ahmaud.”

Ahmaud Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones speaks outside the courthouse following Tuesday’s verdict
Ahmaud Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones speaks outside the courthouse following Tuesday’s verdict (AP)

She added: “What the DOJ did today they were made to do today.

“It wasn’t because of what they wanted to do. They were made to do their job today.”

The judge rejected the plea deal put forward by the prosecutors and the three convicted murderers went to trial.

A jury took just over three hours to find the three guilty of all charges in their federal hate crimes trial, after the court heard multiple examples of the killers using racist language in the lead-up to Mr Arbery’s murder.

All three were convicted of charges of interfering with Mr Arbery’s civil rights to use a public street because of his race, and attempted kidnapping.

The McMichael father and son duo were also convicted of charges of using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

The three killers are already behind bars after being found guilty of murder at their state trial back in November. The McMichaels were both sentenced to life without parole while Bryan will be eligible for parole in 30 years.

A sentencing date has not yet been set for the federal charges which each carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The three men chased Mr Arbery in their pickup trucks through the Satilla Shores neighbourhood in Brunswick, Georgia, while he was out running on 23 February 2020. Travis McMichael then shot him at close range, killing him in the street.

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