Three white men given life sentences for killing Ahmaud Arbery

Three white men who chased and killed a 25-year-old innocent black man in Georgia have been sentenced to life in prison. A judge ruled out any chance of parole for the father and son who armed themselves and initiated the deadly pursuit of Ahmaud Arbery. Greg and Travis McMichael grabbed guns and chased Mr Arbery in a pick-up truck after spotting him running in their neighbourhood outside the port city of Brunswick.

Greg McMichael will never be freed (Stephen B. Morton/AP)

Neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan joined the pursuit and recorded mobile phone video of Travis McMichael blasting Mr Arbery with a shotgun. In November, a jury convicted all three defendants of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and attempted false imprisonment.

Murder carries a mandatory life sentence under Georgia law. The trial judge ordered both McMichaels to serve life without parole. Bryan was granted a chance of parole but must first serve at least 30 years in prison.

The killing on February 23 2020 became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice when the video was posted online two months later. Mr Arbery’s family asked a judge to show no lenience on Friday in sentencing the three men. During the sentencing hearing, Mr Arbery’s sister recalled her brother’s humour, describing him as a positive thinker with a big personality.

Three white men given life sentences for killing Ahmaud ArberyAhmaud Arbery’s father Marcus Arbery leaves the podium after giving a victim impact statement (Stephen B. Morton/AP)

She told the judge her brother had dark skin “that glistened in the sunlight”, thick, curly hair and an athletic build, factors that made him a target to the men who pursued him. “These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and chase them with guns drawn.

To me, those qualities reflect a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people I loved,” Jasmine Arbery said. Mr Arbery’s mother asked for the maximum sentence, saying she suffered a personal, intense loss made worse by a trial where the men’s defence was that Mr Arbery made bad choices that led to his death. “This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact.

They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community,” Wanda Cooper-Jones said. “And when they couldn’t sufficiently scare or intimidate him, they killed him.”

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked the judge for life without parole for Travis and Greg McMichael and the possibility of parole for Bryan. But she said all deserved that mandatory life sentence for showing “no empathy for the trapped and terrified Ahmaud Arbery”. Contending the McMichaels still believed they did not do anything wrong, Ms Dunikoski disclosed on Friday that Greg McMichael gave Bryan’s mobile phone video of the shooting to an attorney, who leaked it.

“He believed it was going to exonerate him,” the prosecutor said. For Travis McMichael, 35, the possibility for parole could mean hope for release from prison in his 60s, said Robert Rubin, one of his defence attorneys. He argued that Travis McMichael opened fire only after “Mr Arbery came at him and grabbed the gun”.

But Mr Rubin also acknowledged his client’s decisions to arm himself and chase Mr Arbery were “reckless” and “thoughtless”. “They are not evidence of a soul so blackened as to deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison,” Mr Rubin said. “This was not a planned murder. This was a fight over a gun that led to Mr Arbery’s death.”

Greg McMichael recently turned 66, and Bryan is 52, raising the chances that they would spend the remainder of their lives in prison even if granted a chance of parole.