On Monday, a judge sentenced a white father and son to life in prison and their neighbor to 35 years in prison for a federal hate crime in the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot while jogging in a suburban Georgia neighborhood.
Travis McMichael, 36, a former U.S. Coast Guard mechanic, his father Gregory McMichael, 66, a former Glynn County police officer who later worked for the local prosecutor’s office, and William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were sentenced in Brunswick, Georgia.
The three are already serving life sentences after being found guilty of murder in a state trial last November, with only Bryan eligible for parole. In February, all three were found guilty on federal charges of violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his race and of attempted kidnapping, with the McMichaels also convicted on a firearms charge.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sentenced them on federal charges in separate hearings on Monday. In passing sentence on the younger McMichael first, Wood stated that a widely circulated cellphone video of him shooting Arbery, 25, at close range with a shotgun was seared into her memory.
“The loss that you’ve endured is beyond description,” Gregory McMichael told Arbery’s family in court before he was sentenced.
In a courtroom packed with spectators, including civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, some of Arbery’s relatives wiped away tears.
“I’m sure my words mean very little to you, but I want to assure you that none of this was my intention,” Gregory McMichael said. “On that day, there was no malice in my heart or my son’s heart.”
He apologized to his son, who declined his own opportunity to testify, and to his wife, who burst into tears. He did not express his regret to Arbery’s family.
“I’m glad to finally have the chance to say to Arbery’s family and friends how sorry I am for what happened to him on that day,” Bryan said during his hearing.
Bryan deserved a shorter sentence than the McMichaels, according to the judge, because he did not bring a gun to the chase.
But the judge also said, “You do not deserve a light sentence.” She added that Bryan would be about 90 years old before he completes his federal sentence.
On Monday, lawyers for the McMichaels and Bryan referred to other Black Americans killed, including George Floyd and the 10 men and women shot at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
The defense attorneys argued that their clients should not be treated harsher than others who have been similarly accused in a series of cases that have drawn attention to racism and violence in the United States.
On a February 2020 afternoon, Arbery, an avid jogger and fitness buff, was running through the leafy, mostly white Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick when the McMichaels decided to grab their guns, jump in a pickup truck, and give chase. Bryan, their neighbor, joined the chase in his own pickup truck and pulled out his cellphone to record Travis McMichael firing a shotgun at close range at Arbery. Arbery was dressed in only his running clothes and sneakers.
The video was released months later, sparking protests in many cities across the United States because the three men had not been arrested after a local prosecutor determined the killing was justified.
The McMichaels had stated that Arbery appeared suspicious, citing a string of neighborhood break-ins. There was never any evidence linking Arbery to any Satilla Shore thefts.
In addition to a life sentence, Travis McMichael received a 10-year sentence for using a firearm in the commission of the crime, and Gregory McMichael received a seven-year sentence for brandishing a gun.
In state court, the three were convicted of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal intent to commit a felony, with a jury rejecting self-defense claims. They have filed an appeal.
The three wanted to be transferred from the state prison system to a federal prison because they thought it would be safer. The rules, according to Wood, require them to return to the state prison system, where they are serving life sentences.