Father and son handed life without parole for murder of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery

7 January 2022, 20:32 | Updated: 8 January 2022, 06:45

The father and son were sentenced to life.
The father and son were sentenced to life. Picture: Alamy/Glynn County (Ga.) Detention Center

By Emma Soteriou

A father and son have been sentenced to life without parole for the murder of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in the US.

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Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael, chased the 25-year-old down the street in their trucks and shot him dead in a neighbourhood in Georgia.

The pair took off on their deadly pursuit after spotting Mr Arbery running just outside the port city of Brunswick.

Their neighbour, William "Roddie" Bryan Jr, who joined the chase and recorded Travis McMichael blasting Mr Arbery with a shotgun, was also sentenced on Friday in Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia.

The trial judge ordered both McMichaels to serve life without parole.

Bryan must serve at least 30 years in prison before being considered for parole.

In November, a jury convicted all three defendants of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and attempted false imprisonment.

Murder carries a mandatory life sentence under Georgia law.

The killing on 23 February 2020 became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice, after the video was posted online two months later.

A man protests the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Washington, D.C
A man protests the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Washington, D.C. Picture: Alamy

Mr Arbery's family asked the judge to show no lenience while sentencing the three men.

During the hearing, his sister recalled his humour, describing him as a positive thinker with a big personality.

She told the judge her brother had dark skin "that glistened in the sunlight", thick, curly hair and an athletic build, factors that made him a target to the men who pursued him.

"These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and chase them with guns drawn. To me, those qualities reflect a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people I loved," Jasmine Arbery said.

Mr Arbery's mother asked for the maximum sentence, saying she suffered a personal, intense loss made worse by a trial where the men's defence was that Mr Arbery made bad choices that led to his death.

"This wasn't a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact. They chose to target my son because they didn't want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community," Wanda Cooper-Jones said.

"And when they couldn't sufficiently scare or intimidate him, they killed him."

Travis McMichael listens to his attorney Bob Rubin during his trial in the Glynn County Courthouse.
Travis McMichael listens to his attorney Bob Rubin during his trial in the Glynn County Courthouse. Picture: Alamy

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked the judge for life without parole for Travis and Greg McMichael and the possibility of parole for Bryan.

She said they all deserved a mandatory life sentence for showing "no empathy for the trapped and terrified Ahmaud Arbery".

Contending the McMichaels still believed they did not do anything wrong, Ms Dunikoski disclosed on Friday that Greg McMichael gave Bryan's video of the shooting to an attorney who leaked it.

"He believed it was going to exonerate him," the prosecutor said.

For Travis McMichael, 35, the possibility for parole could mean he will released from prison in his 60s, said Robert Rubin, one of his defence attorneys.

He argued that Travis McMichael opened fire only after "Mr Arbery came at him and grabbed the gun".

But Mr Rubin also acknowledged his client's decisions to arm himself and chase Mr Arbery were "reckless" and "thoughtless".

"They are not evidence of a soul so blackened as to deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison," Mr Rubin said.

"This was not a planned murder. This was a fight over a gun that led to Mr Arbery's death."

Greg McMichael recently turned 66, and Bryan is 52, raising the chances that they could spend the remainder of their lives in prison even if granted a chance of parole.