GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. — The day before Thanksgiving, three men discovered they are now facing life sentences after a jury convicted them of murdering Ahmaud Arbery last year.
The jury reached the verdict Wednesday afternoon in Arbery's shooting death, finding Travis McMcichael guilty on all charges including malice murder, and finding Greg McMichael and Roddie Bryan guilty of felony murder.
The murder trial may be over, but the saga continues. Sentencing for the November trial will come first, then the three men will appear in court once again--at the federal courthouse in Brunswick--to be tried on hate crimes charges.
A federal judge scheduled the trial to begin Feb. 7, with jury selection.
The federal, five-count indictment against the three men says that they “did willfully by force...interfere with Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man, because of Arbery’s race and color," which "resulted in the death of Ahmaud Arbery.”
“Just because the lion chews on you, doesn’t mean the bear won’t come along a little bit later," said former federal prosecutor Bret Williams of Atlanta, who is now a criminal defense attorney.
Williams said if the men are convicted of Count One of the federal indictment alone, "The penalty is life. Life in prison but it goes all the way up to death. But typically what you’re talking about is a life sentence." That would be on top of the multiple life sentences the men are expected to receive on the state murder convictions.
Arbery was killed on Feb. 23, 2020. Cellphone video leaked to the public shows two armed white men in a pickup truck approaching the 25-year-old Black man as he runs down the road. One of the men, later identified as Travis, shoots Arbery, who is unarmed, with a 12-guage Remington shotgun as Arbery runs toward him, and shoots Arbery again as the two appear to struggle over the shotgun. Arbery then collapses and dies. Travis, his father Gregory, and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, who recorded the video, were all on trial together for murder and other charges.
Though race defined the national debate around Arbery’s death from the beginning, during the murder trial, prosecutors only very briefly discussed the element of race, claiming the three white defendants targeted Arbery for being Black.
Legal experts tell 11Alive federal prosecutors will need to present a different case to prove there was racial prejudice against Arbery if they want to receive a conviction on the hate crimes charges.
Former prosecutor and current defense attorney Darryl Cohen said he sees two scenarios; one where the federal case is dismissed and one where it goes to trial.
"Because it has already been adjudicated, because the three of them have been convicted, I wouldn't be surprised if the feds say, 'You know what, we aren't going to prosecute them.' Because the reality is how much more time can they get? You can't get more time than you're alive. But they may do it because they think it is appropriate and they're trying to send a message to the rest of this country you can't do what these three people did," Cohen said.
Looking head, Cohen said Travis McMichael being the only defendant found guilty of malice murder could impact the sentences the defendants receive.
He said he could see Travis being sentence to life in prison without parole and potentially Gregory McMichael and William Bryan being sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, though that will be up to the judge.