The father and son convicted of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder were both given an additional life sentence on federal hate crime charges on Monday, while their neighbor was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
A judge also demanded that Travis McMichael, 36, Greg McMichael, 66, and William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, serve their sentences in state prison, not federal prison as their lawyers requested.
“A young man is dead. Ahmaud Arbery will be 25 forever. And what happened, a jury found, happened because he’s black,” US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said during the sentencing of Greg McMichael.
The McMichaels and Bryan, who are all white, were found guilty in February of federal hate crimes charges for the murder of Arbery, a black man who was running near them when the defendants confronted him in February 2020. The three men were convicted of all federal charges against them, including hate crimes, attempted kidnapping and using a firearm to commit a crime.
Prosecutors demanded life sentences for all three men.
Godbey Wood, however, said she felt it necessary to distinguish Bryan from the McMichaels, in part because, unlike his neighbors, he didn’t have a gun with him when the men chased Arbery.
“It was not lost in court that two men brought weapons into that situation that had the worst effect and you were not one of them,” she said. However, she added that Bryan “still deserved a horribly long sentence.”
“By the time you serve your federal sentence, you’ll be nearly 90 years old. But then again, Mr. Arbery never got a chance to turn 26,” she said. “I have determined that the penalty imposed is a very long summary and it is one that has been deserved.”
Prosecutor Tara Lyons called the hearings “the end of at least one chapter in an excruciatingly painful journey for Ahmaud Arbery’s family, for his community, and for an entire nation that has wept for Ahmaud.”
The men were convicted separately on Monday in back-to-back trials.
Amy Lee Copeland, Travis McMichael’s attorney, asked during his sentencing that the judge would allow her client to serve his sentence in federal prison because, she said, he had received “hundreds of threats” and was likely to be killed in state custody. AJ Balbo, a lawyer for Greg McMichael, told the judge that he was medically “not fit” to serve his sentence in the state prison.
Both Copeland and Balbo also said they were concerned about a Justice Department investigation into inmate violence in the Georgia prison system.
The prosecution and members of Arbery’s family demanded that the McMichaels serve their sentences in the state prison.
Travis McMichael, whose sentence is life plus 10 years, declined to speak before the judge announced her decision.
His father, whose life sentence includes another seven years, addressed Arbery’s family and told them, “The loss you have endured is indescribable. There are no words for it.”
He added that he “never wanted this to happen. There was no malice in my heart that day, or in the heart of my son.”
The elder McMichael also apologized to his son, saying he “should never have put him in that situation.”
Bryan also apologized to Arbery’s family.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, for what happened to him that day. I never hurt him,” Bryan said. “And I would never have played a part in what happened if I had known then what I know now.”
Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud Arbery’s father, said before the sentencing that “these three devils have broken my heart into pieces that cannot be found or repaired” and asked the court to impose the strictest possible punishment.
“You killed him because he was a black man and you hate black people,” he said.
Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, said Travis McMichael “brought my baby boy.”
“I feel every single shot that was fired every day,” she said.
The federal case followed a state trial in November in which the men were convicted of murder and given life sentences. They have appealed their conviction in that case.
The federal hate crime trial focused on the histories of the three men and their racial biases, a motive state prosecutors largely avoided, though Arbery’s murder received national attention because the United States took into account systemic institutional racism and bias in the police work.
“The prosecution of this case by the Justice Department and the court rulings made today make it clear that there is no place for hate crimes in our country, and that the Department will make unremitting efforts to hold those who commit them accountable.” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Protecting civil rights and combating white supremacist violence has been one of the founding principles of the Justice Department, and a goal we will continue to pursue with the urgency it demands.”
The McMichaels and Bryan chased Arbery, 25, in trucks through their coastal Georgia neighborhood. The men, who saw Arbery running past their houses, cornered him and Travis McMichael fatally shot him with a shotgun. Bryan filmed the fatal encounter on his cellphone.
The men were arrested months after the shooting, following the release of Bryan’s phone video and growing national attention. The case was subsequently taken over by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Arbery’s family and civil rights leaders have compared his death to a modern day lynching.
The McMichaels tried to plead guilty to the hate crime charges before trial, but the plea was rejected by the judge after Arbery’s parents protested that the men could serve their time in federal prison rather than in the state.
Federal prosecutors tried to determine that Arbery’s murder was caused by the men’s strong prejudice against black people. Witnesses included an FBI analyst who reviewed the men’s social media histories and neighbors and former colleagues of the McMichaels, all of whom testified that the father and son made disturbing racist jokes, diatribes and statements and were open about their negative feelings toward black people .
The defense said the posts and social media posts had been taken out of context and that although they had said disturbing things, they insisted the men were not driven by their racial prejudice to pursue and kill Arbery.
This month, Greg McMichael’s attorney asked the judge not to impose a life sentence, though he said his client still deserves “a significant period of incarceration.” The Associated Press reported:. McMichael’s defense team also asked the judge for a transfer to federal prison, where he could avoid serving his sentence for the murder in the Georgian state prison system.