Who is Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man whose killers were found guilty of murder in Georgia?

Mr Arbery’s death was one of a number of killings which inspired 2020’s national racial reckoning and civil rights protests

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Wednesday 24 November 2021 19:42
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Closing arguments to begin in Ahmaud Arbery murder trial

A state court on Wednesday found three men guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was killed last February while jogging through a neighbourhood in Georgia, sparking a nationwide outcry.

The case, along with the recently decided murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, is one of the most high-profile legal actions to emerge from 2020’s racial reckoning.

Here’s what you need to know about Mr Arbery, and the case against the men found guilty of murdering him:

Who was Ahmaud Arbery, and what happened to him?

Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was described by friends and family as an avid athlete and hip-hop fan. On 23 February, 2020 the former linebacker for the Brunswick High School Pirates, who had once dreamed of playing pro football, set off for a jog through the neighbourhood of Satilla Shores, near Brunswick, Georgia.

As he continued on his run, he was spotted by Gregory McMichael, 67, Travis McMichael, his son, 35, and their neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, who mistakenly believed Mr Arbery was responsible for a number of break-ins in the area, including in a vacant home under construction. The trio, all white men, began pursuing Mr Arbery in their trucks, with the McMichaels armed with a pistol and a shotgun, and Bryan recording a video of the chase on a cellphone.

Eventually, they tried to corner the jogger using the vehicles. Travis McMichael and Ahmaud Arbery got into a physical confrontation, and McMichael shot him three times, killing him.

How did police investigate the shooting, and when was the video released to the public?

Local police didn’t make any arrests in the case for three months. Body camera footage later released to the public shows the first officer on the scene ignoring Mr Arbery, still clearly alive and lying on the ground in pain, and instead speaking with the McMichaels and Bryan. A second officer on the scene eventually arrived and pronounced the jogger dead. None of the men were detained.

In May, video of the men chasing Mr Arbery in their trucks leaked to the public, prompting the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to take over the case and resulting in arrests shortly thereafter. George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis a few weeks after the video became public, and both men’s deaths helped fuel the nationwide racial justice protests of 2020.

What were the charges against the McMichaels and William Bryan, and how much prison time do they carry?

The three men were facing nine different state charges, including malice murder, felony murder, false imprisonment, aggravated assault with a 12-gauge shotgun, and aggravated assault with pickup trucks, and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. They all pleaded not guilty.

Travis McMichael, the man who shot Mr Arbery, was found guilty on all nine counts. Gregory McMichael was found not guilty of malice murder, but guilty on all other counts. Bryan was found not guilty of malice murder and one count of felony murder, while being held guilty on three other counts of felony murder and three other charges.

Separately from this state trial, the trio were also indicted on federal hate crimes charges in April.

What are the main arguments in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial?

Mr Arbery’s family has argued that the killing is a “modern-day lynching”, and that Ahmaud, who wasn’t armed or the suspect in any local break-ins, didn’t deserve to die. Prosecutors argued during the trial in Glynn County, Georgia, that contrary to their claims, the McMichaels in fact knew Mr Arbery wasn’t accused of any break-ins.

“I don’t think the guy has actually stolen anything out of there,” Gregory McMichael told investigators after the shooting. Police also warned the men before the shooting that Mr Arbery wasn’t accused of taking anything from the home under construction.

The men also told police that Mr Arbery was “trapped like a rat” as they chased him, and that Travis McMichael called him a “f***ing n****r” as he stood over Mr Arbery’s bleeding body, according to Mr Bryan.

“There is no question that race is a central part of this case and has been from the very beginning,” Brandon Buskey, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, told The Independent.

The McMichaels and Mr Bryan, meanwhile, argued they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest using a slavery-era Georgia law, and that they had a “gut feeling” Mr Arbery was responsible for break-ins in the area, even though there were no reports of break-ins in the neighbourhood during the seven weeks prior to the shooting.

Mr Arbery, along with multiple others, had been recorded walking through a home under construction with area, though its owner said Mr Arbery didn’t take anything from it. It was during one of these wanderings that Travis McMichael said he came “face-to-face” with Mr Arbery, and interpreted the 25-year-old putting his hand into his pocket as a sign he was armed. (Mr Arbery was unarmed when he was shot and killed.) Mr McMichael said his training in the US Coast Guard had taught him to “get compliance” by using guns to “de-escalate the situation”.

Is the Ahmaud Arbery trial fair?

Critics have noted that the jury considering the charges against the men has one Black juror and 11 white jurors, even though the county’s population is nearly one-third Black.

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