S. E. Williams
“He didn’t do nothing but run and dream,” said Marcus Arbery, Sr., the father of Ahmaud Arbery, commenting on the life and loss of his son in response to the guilty verdicts reached in the prosecution of the three men who murdered him.
Guilty verdicts were delivered Wednesday, November 24, for all three defendants in a trial that might never have come to pass had it not been for the hubris of those convicted who videotaped the murder and the tenacity of Ahmaud Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, Sr. and his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, who were relentless in seeking justice for their son.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased by Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan in their pickup trucks as he jogged through their neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia on February 23, 2020. Young Arbery was ultimately shot to death by T. McMichael.
The event was videotaped by Bryan and apparently shared with others. This act of hubris backfired as the video eventually made its way to the media. Once published, it brought national attention to the tragic loss of yet another young Black life due to racist aggression fueled by a mindset of white supremacy, and taken to the extreme by fearful white men with guns.
The jury deliberated for about ten hours and although the case was dripping with racism, the term was rarely, if uttered directly at all during the trial, though it was frequently inferred by the defense that tried to ban Black preachers from the courtroom and made disparaging comments about the appearance of Arbery’s feet among other inferences.
Racism overhung the trial
It was hard for racism not to play a leading role in the trial, but for the most part, it remained in the background. However, the introduction of evidence regarding the statement defendant Greg McMichael made to a 911 operator, “I’m out here in Satilla Shores. There’s a Black male running down the street,” spoke volumes about what was really at the heart of what led to Arbery’s death.
At the outset of the trial, it was hard to get a sense of how the judge might reign in his courtroom during the trial, especially after he disallowed evidence of the racial epithet allegedly spewed over Arbery by the killer as the young Black man lay dead at his feet.
Wednesday’s verdict proved the jury did not buy the the The The defendants’ explanation that they were merely attempting a legal citizen’s arrest when they chased and sought to detain and question Arbery, because they suspected him of having burglarized a home in the area under construction, something they never told officers on the day they killed him.
The men nearly escaped charges
This case may never have resulted in charges let alone a trial or guilty verdicts due to the alleged obstruction of the former lead county prosecutor. Reports indicate that following the shooting while still at the scene of the crime, G. McMichael called the lead prosecutor—a person he once worked for, as an investigator—to get advice regarding what they, the McMichaels and their neighbor, Bryan, should do. She allegedly instructed them to go home and wash their hands, clean up (apparently to remove gunshot residue), and the police were told to stand down. Also, the trucks used by the McMichaels and Bryan were never searched.
For months, there was no action on the case, but Arbery’s parents, with the support of their attorneys and pastors, were relentless in pursuing justice for their son. After the video was made public, the lead prosecutor stepped down from the case and other prosecutors, purportedly friendly to her, were assigned. Ultimately, however, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations got involved.
The county’s lead prosecutor who gave advice to McMichael the day of the murder, was indicted for obstruction of justice and is awaiting trial.
All three men were charged with one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony which in this case referred to false imprisonment.
T. McMichael, who killed Arbery, was convicted on all nine counts, his father, a former policeman was found guilty on eight counts and Bryan a majority of the nine counts. As a result, it is possible all three could spend the rest of their lives in prison.
Sentencing and appeal
Although a date for sentencing is pending, what is certain is that the defendants will appeal. There are already rumors circulating that their primary grounds for appeal rests in the judge’s decision not to allow the defense to introduce information about Arbery’s criminal and mental health records or that he was on probation—something they had no way of knowing at the time they killed him. The judge also disallowed testimony from their use-of-force expert.
Arbery’s mother broke down in the courtroom when the verdicts were read. Outside the courthouse she spoke to those gathered saying, “I never saw this date back in 2020. I “I never thought this day would come. But God is good. Everybody, thank you . . . each and every one of you who fought this fight with us.”
“He will now rest in peace,” Arbery’s mother proclaimed.