Ahmaud Arbery: What's Next for Three Men Found Guilty of Murder?

The three men involved in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty of nearly every charge leveled against them Wednesday, Nov. 24, but Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and William Bryan all have much more court time ahead of them beyond their respective sentencing hearings. All three men are also facing federal hate crime charges, as well as a civil suit filed by Arbery’s mother. 

Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery, was found guilty on all nine counts against him, including malice murder and felony murder. Gregory McMichael was found not guilty of malice murder, but guilty on the other eight charges against him, including felony murder. And Bryan, who filmed the encounter, was found not guilty of one count each of felony murder and aggravated assault, but guilty of three other counts of felony murder, plus three other charges.

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Each man faces up to life in prison, and while appeals are likely, all three men will still be facing an upcoming federal trial on hate crime charges.

The McMichaels and Bryan were indicted on federal hate crime charges and the attempted kidnapping of Arbery in April (all three have pleaded not guilty). Specifically, the McMichaels and Bryan were accused of using force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race. The indictment accused the McMichaels of arming themselves and chasing Arbery in their truck while Arbery was out jogging; prosecutors alleged the McMichaels threatened Arbery with their weapons and used their truck to block his path, and that these actions ultimately led to Arbery’s death. 

Bryan, meanwhile was accused of aiding and abetting the McMichaels. Prosecutors claim he chased Arbery in his truck, used his vehicle as a weapon and attempted to kidnap Arbery by detaining him against his will. The indictment also accuses all three men of trying to kidnap Arbery, while Travis McMichael was accused of carrying and firing a shotgun, and Gregory with carrying and brandishing a revolver. 

(There were no hate crime charges filed against the McMichaels and Bryan at the state level as the Georgia Supreme Court struck down such a statute in 2004 for being too vague. A new bipartisan hate crime law was approved in Georgia months after Arbery’s killing, though it cannot be applied retroactively.)

The federal indictment marked the first major hate crime prosecution by the Justice Department during Joe Biden’s presidency, and the eventual trial could present a markedly different picture of Arbery’s killing than the murder trial that just concluded. There, as The New York Times previously reported, prosecutors largely refrained from discussing race, with prosecutors announcing in the weeks before the trial that they wouldn’t introduce “evidence of racial animus” as a “strategic decision.” Legal analysts suggested this move may have been a potential bulwark against an appeal that could paint the prosecution as too prejudicial, while it was also noted that 11 of the 12 jurors in the murder trial were white. 

In contrast, the federal hate crime trial could include a lot of evidence left out of the murder trial. For instance, Travis McMichael’s truck featured a vanity plate with the old Georgia state flag, which incorporated the Confederate battle flag. Bryan also told authorities he heard Travis use the n-word after shooting Arbery, a claim Travis’ lawyers have denied (Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor in the murder trial, had asked to introduce the racial slur evidence towards the end of the trial, but before the judge could rule, the defense rested its case and Duikoski declined a rebuttal). There have also been reports of “racial messages” taken from Bryan’s cellphone, an “Identity Dixie” post on Facebook by Gregory McMichael, and text messages sent by Travis in 2019 where he used a racist slur and discussed shooting a “crackhead” with “gold teeth.” 

An official start for the federal trial has yet to be announced. The next hearing is set for Dec. 20. 

On top of the federal hate crime charges, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, filed a civil lawsuit against the McMichaels and Bryan in February. The suit claims the three men of “willfully and maliciously conspired to follow, threaten, detain and kill” Arbery, while it also accuses law enforcement officials and local prosecutors of trying to cover up the McMichaels and Bryan’s actions. 

Cooper-Jones is seeking $1 million in damages, but it’s unclear when the case will head to trial. In October, a judge approved a pause in the proceedings pending the outcome in the various criminal proceedings involving the McMichaels and Bryan.

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