Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crime

The white father and son convicted of murder in Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting after they chased him through a Georgia neighborhood were sentenced Monday to life in prison for committing a federal hate crime.

Travis McMichael, 36, and Greg McMichael, 66, received their sentences from US district court judge Lisa Godbey Wood in the port city of Brunswick. The punishment is largely symbolic – the McMichaels were sentenced earlier this year to life without parole in a Georgia state court for 25-year-old Arbery’s murder.

Wood said the pair had received a “fair trial”.

“And it’s not lost on the court that it was the kind of trial that Ahmaud Arbery did not receive before he was shot and killed,” the judge said.

The McMichaels were among three defendants convicted in February of federal hate crime charges. Their neighbor, 52-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan, had sentencing hearings scheduled later on Monday.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and used a pickup truck to chase Arbery after he ran past their home on 23 February 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.

The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery was a burglar. Investigators determined he was unarmed and had committed no crimes.

Arbery’s killing on 23 February 2020 became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases also resulted in the US justice department bringing federal charges.

Wood scheduled back-to-back hearings on Monday to individually sentence each of the defendants, starting with Travis McMichael, who killed Arbery with a shotgun after the street chase initiated by his father and joined by their neighbor Bryan, who is also white.

Bryan also faces possible federal life sentences after a federal court jury convicted him in February of hate crimes, concluding that he and the McMichaels violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because of his race. All three men were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels faced additional penalties for using firearms to commit a violent crime.

A state superior court judge had already imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.

All three defendants have remained jailed in coastal Glynn county, in the custody of US marshals, while awaiting sentencing after their federal convictions in January.

Because they were first charged and convicted of murder in a state court, protocol would have them turned over to the Georgia department of corrections to serve their life terms in a state prison.

In a court filings last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to instead divert them to a federal prison, saying they won’t be safe in a Georgia prison system that’s the subject of a US justice department investigation focused on violence between inmates.

Arbery’s family has insisted that the McMichaels and Bryan should serve their sentences in a state prison, arguing a federal penitentiary wouldn’t be as tough. His parents objected forcefully before the federal trial when both McMichaels sought a plea deal that would have included a request to transfer them to federal prison. The judge ended up rejecting the plea agreement.

A federal judge doesn’t have the authority to order the state to relinquish its lawful custody of inmates to the federal prisons bureau, said Ed Tarver, an Augusta lawyer and former US attorney for Georgia’s southern district. He said the judge could request that the state corrections agency turn the defendants over to a federal prison.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on 23 February 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the shotgun.

The McMichaels have insisted they suspected Arbery had been stealing from a nearby house under construction. But authorities later concluded he was unarmed and had committed no crimes. Arbery’s family has long insisted he was merely out jogging.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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