BRUNSWICK, Ga. Three white men were found guilty of murder and other charges on Wednesday for the pursuit and fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, in a case that, together with the killing of George Floyd, helped inspire the racial justice protests of last year.
The three defendants Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — face sentences of up to life in prison. The men have also been indicted on separate federal charges, including hate crimes and attempted kidnapping, and are expected to stand trial in February on those charges.
The verdict suggested that the jury agreed with prosecutors’ arguments that Mr. Arbery posed no imminent threat to the men and that the men had no reason to believe he had committed a crime, giving them no legal right to chase him through their suburban neighborhood. You can’t start it and claim self-defense, the lead prosecutor argued in her closing statements. And they started this.
I never thought this day would come, but God is good, said Wanda Cooper-Jones, Mr. Arbery’s mother.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia said he hoped the verdicts would help “lead to a path of healing and reconciliation.” President Biden said the outcome reflected the justice system doing its job. But Mr. Arbery’s death, Mr. Biden said, is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country.
Until the verdicts were announced, Mr. Arbery’s family and friends were on edge. Akeem Baker, Mr. Arbery’s best friend from childhood, sat inside the courthouse with his head bowed and his eyes red from crying.
Though the killing of Mr. Arbery in February 2020 did not reach the same level of notoriety as the case of Mr. Floyd, the Black man murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer three months later, Mr. Arbery’s death helped fuel widespread demonstrations and unrest that unfolded in cities across the country in the spring and summer of 2020.
The case touched on some of the most combustible themes in American criminal justice, including vigilantism, self-defense laws, the effects of widespread gun ownership and the role of race in jury selection.
The verdict came as Americans were divided over the acquittal, a few days earlier, of Kyle Rittenhouse, who asserted that he was acting in self-defense when he fatally shot two men and wounded another during protests and violence that broke out after a white police officer shot a Black resident in Kenosha, Wis.
Jurors in that case accepted Mr. Rittenhouse’s assertion that he was defending himself, a position that legal experts said can be challenging for prosecutors to overcome. But in this case, jurors clearly dismissed the contention by Travis McMichael, the only defendant who testified, that he was in a life-or-death situation and had no choice but to shoot Mr. Arbery in self-defense.
Jackie Johnson, the local prosecutor who initially handled the case, lost her bid for re-election in 2020 and was indicted this year by a Georgia grand jury, accused of “showing favor and affection to Gregory McMichael, a former investigator in her office, and for directing police officers not to arrest Travis McMichael. The case was ultimately tried by the district attorney’s office in Cobb County, which is roughly 300 miles away from Brunswick in metropolitan Atlanta.
The case brought political and legal upheaval. Mr. Kemp signed a hate crimes statute into law, and sided with state lawmakers when they voted to repeal significant portions of the state’s citizen’s arrest statute.