SAVANNAH, Ga. – Three men sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery was again sentenced to a long prison term Monday on federal hate crimes charges.
Travis McMichael, the man who shot Arbery, will serve a federal life sentence plus 10 years. His father, Gregory, who initiated the jogger’s deadly pursuit, will serve life in prison plus seven years. Their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the murder video, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
They will serve federal sentences concurrently with state time. The judge denied each person’s request Monday to serve his sentence in federal prison.
In February, a jury found that three men, who were white, had violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because of his race. Arbery is black.
Ayesha Bell Hardaway, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University, said: “Although the men have served life sentences, the additional penalties mark “an important moment for the Civil Rights Division” Department of Justice and a pivotal moment for the federal judiciary” Law School and co-director of the school’s Institute of Social Justice.
“It’s a denial of our nation’s ugly history when public farewells are celebrated by family picnics,” she said.
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US Attorney General Merrick Garland said “defending civil rights and combating white violence” was part of the DOJ’s founding purpose.
Garland said in a statement: “The Justice Department’s prosecution of this case and the court verdicts today make it clear that hate crimes have no place in our country, and the Department will not stop attempt to hold those responsible for them.”
Arbery, 25, was killed on February 23, 2020, after the McMichaels grabbed a gun and jumped into a van to chase him after he ran over their home in the suburbs of Brunswick. Bryan, 52, joined the chase in his own truck, helping to block Arbery’s escape and mobile phone video recording by Travis McMichael shoots Arbery at close range as the men get in trouble.
Prosecutors in the week-long federal trial included evidence they said showed the men killed Arbery because of racial stereotypes, such as: racial slurs and repeated racist features of Blacks who have committed the alleged crime. Defense attorneys argue that McMichaels and Bryan pursued Arbery not because of his race but because of a serious – albeit erroneous – suspicion that he had committed a crime in their neighborhood.
The McMichaels and Bryan are found guilty among one who interfered in rights and attempted kidnapping in February. McMichaels was convicted of one count of using, carrying and swinging – and shooting, in Travis’ case – a firearm in and in connection with a violent crime.
Second, some members of Arbery’s family asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence and ordered all three men to spend time in prison.
Although the sentencing hearings signaled the end of the lengthy legal process for Arbery’s killers, his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, noted that former Glynn District Attorney Jackie Johnson still remains is awaiting trial for violating his oath of office and obstructing a police investigation. Prosecutors allege Johnson used her position to protect McMichael and his son.
Cooper-Jones said she wants to see consequences for Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill, who initially claimed the McMichaels and Bryan acted in self-defence.
“The journey is not over yet, we still have a lot of work to do,” she told a news conference after McMichaels’ sentencing.
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Crime sentences aren’t just symbolic
Experts say The federal sentencing of Arbery’s death wasn’t just symbolic – they guarantee defendants will go to jail even if their murder convictions are overturned on appeal.
Unlike state murder charges, federal hate crime convictions acknowledge the racist motives of what many are called modern day lynchingexperts said.
Justin Hansford, executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Center for Civil Rights at Howard University, said: “It’s worth calling this a murder inspired by white supremacy and not whitewashed by white supremacy. this by emphasizing racist motives here.” “As a community, it’s important that we name what’s happening as part and parcel of white supremacy.”
Although the hate crime reports has increased in recent years, offenses are rarely prosecuted. Only two people were convicted of federal hate crimes in Georgia from 2005 to 2019, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Georgia did not have a hate crime law until after Arbery’s death.
Defendant asks for leniency
All three defendants remain jailed in coastal Glynn County under the custody of US sheriffs pending sentencing following their federal convictions in January. Each was denied an appeal in a federal hate crime trial, according to an online court filing.
Travis McMichael’s attorney, Amy Copeland, on Monday requested that her client be placed under federal custody before he goes to state prison for death threats he received. “I am concerned my clients face the death penalty from the back door,” she said.
McMichael, 36, declined to answer in court.
Gregory McMichael’s attorney also asked for leniency in his sentence and he served part of his sentence in federal prison, citing state facility conditions. AJ Balbo expresses concern about his client’s health and argues his sentence should not exceed Derek Chauvin, Minneapolis cop found guilty of killing George Floyd. Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years in prison.
Gregory McMichael, 66, spoke publicly in court. He apologized to his wife and son, and addressed the pain of the Arbery family.
“I’m sure my words mean little to you, but I want to assure you, I never wanted any of this to happen,” he said. “There was no malice in my heart or in my son’s heart that day.”
Bryan’s attorney J. Pete Theodocion tried to distance his client from McMichaels in court Monday, noting that he did not leave the house with a weapon. He asked that Bryan be sentenced to less than life in prison for his involvement.
Before sentencing, Bryan offered a brief apology to Arbery’s family.
“I finally got the chance to tell Mr. Arbery’s family and friends that I’m sorry for what happened to him that day,” he said. “I never intended to harm him.”
In successive hearings, members of the Arbery family asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence and force McMichaels to serve his sentence in Georgia state prison instead of federal prison.
“How dare you ask for mercy? You have shown no mercy to my Quez,” Marcus Arbery said, referring to his son by his middle name, during the sentencing of Travis McMichael.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood denied the defendants’ requests, citing a rule that typically requires defendants to serve their sentences in the jurisdiction where they were arrested. and sentenced for the first time.
Contribution: Associated Press