A white father and son convicted of killing a black jogger have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A jury found Travis and Gregory McMichael and their neighbour, William Bryan guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery last year and the case has brought questions about racial justice in the US South to the forefront of people’s minds once more.
William Bryan also received a life sentence but was offered the possibility of parole in 30 years. The judge presiding over the sentencing said he had given the trio severe sentences in part because of their actions and “callous words”, caught on video camera as they hunted Mr Arbery through their neighbourhood. He also said they had not shown remorse or empathy for Arbery.
Arbery, 25, a resident of Brunswick, Georgia, was out jogging in an adjacent, predominantly white neighbourhood when the trio chased and cornered him in pick-up trucks before the younger McMichael shot him during a struggle, reports the BBC.
The defendants argued they acted in self-defence while attempting to make a citizen’s arrest of a suspected burglar, but prosecutors argued race was a factor.
Gregory McMichael, 66, his son Travis, 35, and Bryan, 52, were found guilty in November of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony.
“Taking the law into your own hands is a dangerous endeavour,” Judge Timothy Walmsley said on Friday. A neighbour is more than the people who just own property around your house,” continued the judge. “In assuming the worst in others, we show our worst character.”
Holding a minute of silence to put in context “a fraction of the time Ahmaud Arbery was running in Satilla Shores”, Walmsley said he “kept coming back to the terror that must have been in [Arbery’s] mind. Remorse isn’t simply a statement of regret. Remorse is something that’s felt and demonstrated,” he said. “After Ahmaud Arbery fell, the McMichaels turned their backs.”
Members of the Arbery family delivered powerful victim impact statements as they called for the three men to be “fully committed for the consequences” of their actions.
Through tears, Wanda Cooper Jones – who sat in the courtroom throughout the trial – spoke directly to her late son. “This verdict doesn’t bring you back, but it does help bring closure to this very difficult chapter of my life,” she said. “I made a promise to you the day I laid you to rest: I told you I love you and someday, somehow, I would get you justice.”
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