Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Brian was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Bryan will not be eligible for parole under Georgia law until after he has served 30 years in prison because he has been convicted of serious violent crimes.
Before sentencing, Walmsley observed a minute’s silence, saying it “represents a fraction of the time Ahmaud Arbery was running” in the neighborhood outside Brunswick before he was murdered on February 23, 2020.
He called the killing a “really horrific and disturbing sight,” telling the court, “When I thought about it, I thought from many different angles. And I kept coming back to the horror that must have been in the mind of the young man running across Satella Shores.”
Arbery’s mother and father wept when the verdicts were made, according to an existing news reporter. The reporter added that Gregory McMichael leaned in his chair and appeared visibly shaken after his son was sentenced.
Earlier today, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones made a victim impact statement aiming for a tougher sentence, asking the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
“I made a promise to you the day I pushed you to rest,” she said, speaking directly to her late son. “I told you I love you, and somehow, I’ll do you justice.”
“Son, I love you today as much as I loved you the day you were born. Raising you has been the honor of my life, and I am so proud of you.”
The judge imposed an additional prison sentence for each of the defendants on other criminal charges. For the McMichaels, this extra time would be served concurrently with each other but consecutively with life imprisonment, Walmsley ruled. As a result, both face life in prison without parole plus 20 years.
For Brian, Walmsley imposed additional prison sentences of 10 years for his false imprisonment conviction and 5 years for his criminal attempt to commit a felony conviction. Unlike McMichaels’ sentence, Bryan’s additional sentence of 15 years will be suspended, resulting in a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
Walmsley said the ruling “generally does not provide for a closure,” although that may be what the Arbery family and the local community are seeking.
“Instead of shutting down, it is perhaps better to see today’s proceedings as an exercise in accountability,” the judge said. “We are all responsible for our actions. Today it is clear that everyone is accountable to the rule of law. Taking the law into your own hands is a dangerous endeavour.”
The sprawling legal saga isn’t over yet: The men’s lawyers said they would appeal the verdicts; A federal hate crime trial is scheduled for next month; Arbery’s mother filed a civil suit; The original plaintiff is facing charges in connection with her alleged handling of the case.
The defendants face decades in prison
On Friday, the judge heard both prosecutors and defense attorneys, who demanded leniency for their clients.
Attorney Robert Robin described Travis McMichael as a “loyal father” and “a hardworking worker” who believed he was doing the right thing for his community at the time of Arbery’s murder.
“Nothing in Travis McMichael’s life indicates that he is a danger to society now, or that he will be a danger to society 30 years from now after he has had time to think, act and grow,” Robin said. “When he’s in his sixties, older than me now, do we still need, we want someone like Travis McMichael behind bars?”
“The desire for revenge is strong and understandable in the family,” Robin said, adding that he would do the same if he was in their position. “But revenge is not the basis of our judgment in our criminal justice system – redemption is.”
Likewise, Greg McMichael’s attorney, Laura Hogg, requested parole for her client, arguing that he was a good man and that Arbery’s death was an unintended consequence of his actions.
“If life without parole is the punishment imposed only on the worst of the worst, it simply cannot be a punishment for someone who never intended that tragic outcome that happened on February 23 (2020),” she said. .
Attorney Kevin Gough distinguished Bryan, his client, from McMichaels. Gough argued that Brian didn’t know what was going on when he joined the hunt for Arbery, and he didn’t have a weapon with him. Gough said that after Arbery’s death, he collaborated with law enforcement.
“I think it is clear that while Mr. Brian has been arguing and continuing to dispute whether the things he did that day constituted crimes, he has never questioned the tragedy of this death,” Gough said.
McMichaels was arrested two days after the video went viral. Brian was arrested two weeks after the McMichaels. The men pleaded their innocence.
Donikowski vividly wondered how Arbery could be an aggressor when he was unarmed on foot and repeatedly tried to dodge three men, two of them armed, in trucks.
Travis McMichael was convicted on all counts: one count of premeditated murder, four counts of murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony. His father was convicted on all counts except premeditated murder, and Brian was convicted on all counts except premeditated murder, one felony murder and one count of aggravated assault.
Defense lawyers say appeals are coming
Excluding the death penalty, each murder conviction carries a sentence of life imprisonment, with or without parole. The maximum penalties are 20 years for aggravated assault, 10 years for false imprisonment, and five years for attempted felony.
In addition to eligibility for parole, Walmsley will decide whether the men serve their sentences all at once, or in succession, which means they must finish each sentence before the next sentence begins.
During jury selection, Gough complained about the dearth of older white men with college degrees. Glenn County is 69% white and 27% black.
Donikowski claimed that Gough’s complaints about black priests in the courtroom led to the prayer wall.
More court dates to come
Federal prosecutors say the defendants “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
“We are deeply disappointed that the Department of Justice purchased the false narrative that was disseminated by the media and prosecutors,” said Travis McMichael’s defense team.
CNN’s Alta Spells, Devon M. Sayers, and Ryan Young contributed to this report.