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All 3 white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery are sentenced to life in prison

From left, Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan and Gregory McMichael were convicted of multiple murder charges in late November.
From left, Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan and Gregory McMichael were convicted of multiple murder charges in late November.

The three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia will learn their punishment on Friday. Prosecutors are seeking life terms; the sentencing hearing adjourned just before noon ET, and will reconvene at 1 p.m., when the defense teams will continue to argue for leniency.

For Travis and Greg McMichael, prosecutors asked for life sentences without the possibility of parole. In William "Roddie" Bryan's case, prosecutor Linda Dunikowski asked for a life term with the possibility of parole. Citing their convictions on assault and false imprisonment charges, Dunikowski also asked for related lengthy prison sentences: from 25-35 years for the McMichaels, and 15 years for Bryan.

Ahmaud Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery, told the court that the defendants had lynched his son in broad daylight, saying he wishes he could have saved Ahmaud from "their evil and hate."

The McMichaels and Bryan should think about what they did every day for the rest of their lives, Marcus Arbery said, adding, "and they should do it from behind bars, because me and my family, we've got to live with his death for the rest of our life."

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley will be handing down the sentences about six weeks after a jury found the men guilty of the high-profile killingthat is widely seen as racially motivated.

Both of the McMichaels showed a "demonstrated pattern of vigilantism," Dunikowski said as she argued for them to be sent to prison for life without parole. Citing their experience with law enforcement, she added that the men "should have known better" than to arm themselves and pursue Arbery.

Attorneys for Travis McMichael, 35, his father Greg McMichael, 66, and their neighbor Bryan, 52, have said they will appeal the verdict.

The sentencing hearing at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., began shortly after its announced start time of 10 a.m. ET.

As the three men entered the courtroom, a pool report from inside the courtroom described the scene: "Greg McMichael looks noticeably nervous, he hugs and greets his attorneys but when seated has a trembling hand over his mouth."

The men used pickup trucks to chase Arbery through their neighborhood

In February 2020, Travis and Greg McMichael pursued Arbery, who was Black, as he jogged through a residential neighborhood near Brunswick, Ga. They said they suspected he was responsible for a string of recent break-ins. Bryan joined in the chase, which the prosecutor said lasted five minutes. All three killers are white.

Bryan captured some of the confrontation on video, including the moment that Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery during a struggle. Footage of the killing became a key piece of evidence at trial.

All three defendants had pleaded not guilty.

Travis McMichael was found guilty of all nine counts against him, including one count of malice murder and four counts of felony murder. Greg McMichael was found not guilty of malice murder but was convicted on the other eight counts, including four counts of felony murder. Bryan was found guilty of six charges, including three felony murder counts.

They all faced a sentence of either life in prison or life in prison without the possibility of parole; prosecutors did not seek the death penalty in this case. Prosecutors previously said they would seek life in prison without parole for all three defendants.

The men also face a separate federal hate crimes trial later this year.

Who are the judge, prosecutors and defense?

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley presided over the trial at the Glynn County Courthouse. The Eastern Judicial Circuit judge was given the case after all five judges in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit recused themselves. Walmsley was appointed to the bench in February 2012.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski is the senior assistant district attorney in Cobb County, outside of Atlanta. She was put in charge of the case in April, after two local prosecutors recused themselves.

Defense attorney Kevin Gough of Brunswick has represented Bryan since his arrest. Attorney Jessica Burton of Atlanta is also on Bryan's defense team.

Defense attorneys Robert Rubin and Jason Sheffield represent Travis McMichael. They're from the same Atlanta-area law firm.

Defense attorneys Laura and Franklin Hogue, who are married, represent Greg McMichael. They're based in Macon, Ga., where they've handled numerous death-penalty cases.

The case was a flashpoint in the reckoning over racial justice

Although the murder occurred in February 2020, neither the McMichaels nor Bryan were immediately arrested. Only after the video footage recorded by Bryan was leaked online did authorities make any arrests until May, some 10 weeks after Arbery's death. There was a string of recusals from prosecutors with ties to Greg McMichael — a former police officer.

The video shows the McMichaels chasing Arbery through the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Travis McMichael was armed with a shotgun.

Defense attorneys said at trial that the McMichaels were trying to make a citizen's arrest of Arbery, who they suspected had burglarized several nearby homes. Surveillance video shows Arbery entering a home under construction several times, but no evidence was presented at the trial that he stole anything or that he had any involvement in any of the neighborhood break-ins or thefts.

The video shows Travis McMichael, who is standing outside of his white pickup truck, confront Arbery. The two get into a brief scuffle, and that's when McMichael shoots and kills Arbery, who was unarmed. At trial, McMichael testified that he fired in self-defense.

"They shot and killed him," lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said during closing arguments, "not because he was a threat to them, but because he wouldn't stop and talk to them."

Family members have called Arbery's murder a "modern-day lynching," and others have bemoaned that fact that it took the public release of Bryan's video for authorities to file charges.

"This case, by all accounts, should have been opened and closed ... the violent stalking and lynching of Ahmaud Arbery was documented for video for the world to witness," Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney, said in a statement after the verdict.

"But yet, because of the deep cracks, flaws, and biases in our systems, we were left to wonder if we would ever see justice," he added.

The video was released days before George Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and in the midst of continued protests for racial justice across the U.S.

At the state trial of the McMichaels and Bryan, there was no evidence of racial animus raised, but that is expected to be central to the upcoming federal hate crimes trial.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.