The three white men who chased down and murdered Ahmaud Arbery targeted him because he was Black, a jury found on Tuesday as it convicted them of federal hate crimes.
Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan were already convicted of felony murder in Georgia state court in November 2021 for killing Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging in their neighborhood. They were sentenced to life in prison.
For February’s federal hate crime trial, jurors had to decide if the three white men had chased and killed Arbery in 2020 because he was Black.
All three men were convicted of interference with rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were also found guilty of separate counts of using a firearm during a violent crime.
The jury deliberated for less than four hours over two days before handing down a guilty verdict on Tuesday, one day before the two-year anniversary of Arbery's death.
Addressing reporters outside the courthouse, Arbery's mom, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said the verdict was "a small victory, but we as a family will never get full victory because Ahmaud is gone forever."
Cooper-Jones also criticized the Department of Justice for going against the family's wishes and originally accepting a plea deal with the McMichaels that would have prevented them from facing the hate crimes trial.
"Even after the family stood before the judge and 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."
The prosecutors "were made to do their jobs," Cooper-Jones said, adding that a hate crimes conviction would not have happened if the family did not fight for it.
At the time, attorneys with the Department of Justice said they entered the plea agreement after the victims' attorneys informed them "that the family was not opposed to it." It was ultimately rejected by a judge after Arbery's family spoke out against it at a hearing, and the men went to trial.
The McMichaels and Bryan now face sentences of up to life in prison for the federal hate crime charges, on top of the life sentences they had already been assigned in state court for murder.
At a press conference on Tuesday, US Attorney General Merrick Garland became emotional while speaking about the case. "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 told reporters in Washington, DC, as his voice wavered.
Garland said he welcomed the guilty verdict, but added, "the only acceptable outcome in this matter would have been Mr. Arbery returning safely to his loved ones two years ago."
"Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today," Garland said.
During the hate crimes trial, prosecutors presented racist, violent posts shared by the three men, racist statements made both before and after the killing, as well as messages dating back years in which they often used slurs to describe Black people.
The Guardian reported that prosecutors played a jailhouse recording of Gregory McMichael saying, “You’ve all heard the saying, ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’”
Travis repeatedly advocated for violence against Black people in posts online — often saying he would carry out those actions himself — and frequently used the n-word to refer to Black people in text message conversations, FBI intelligence analyst Amy Vaughan testified in federal court.
The prosecution also provided jurors with examples of statements Travis McMichael made in the comments sections of videos and articles online. On a video showing a group of mostly Black teenagers attacking a white teen, Travis McMichael commented, "I say shoot all of them." He also once described a Black Lives Matter protest as a "zoo," the Washington Post reported. In response to an article about two Black people assaulting two white people, he called the Black people "subhuman savages" and said he "would beat those monkeys to death," NBC reported.
Christopher Perras, a lawyer with the Justice Department's civil rights division, said Arbery was singled out and killed because he was Black.
"They were motivated by racial assumption, racial resentment and racial anger," said Perras, according to Reuters. "They saw a Black man in their neighborhood and they thought the worst of him."
Attorneys for the men argued their clients did not chase Arbery because he was Black and that they would have chased a person of any race.
AJ Balbo, an attorney for Gregory McMichael, said his client recognized Arbery from photos that showed Arbery inside a house under construction. McMichael chased him because he believed Arbery was involved in criminal activities, Balbo said, according to the New York Times, not because he was Black.
Federal prosecutors accused the three men of using force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.
All three were previously found guilty of felony murder after chasing Arbery through the streets of their neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, and blocking him off with two trucks. Travis McMichael then shot Arbery at close range with a shotgun on Feb. 23, 2020. The men told authorities they believed Arbery had committed property crimes in the area. No evidence that Arbery had stolen anything was ever provided.
Despite Bryan and the McMichaels admitting that they chased and killed Arbery, police did not immediately arrest them. It was only after video of the shooting, taken by Bryan, became public, drawing condemnation and criticism about how local authorities handled the investigation, that the three men were charged with murder.