Gregory and Travis McMichael, a white father and son, were given a life term on Monday for committing a federal hate crime in the 2020 fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was killed while out for a jog in a suburban Georgia neighbourhood. This case raised questions about racial violence and vigilantism in America.
Travis McMichael, a 36-year-old former U.S. Coast Guard technician, and Gregory McMichael, a 66-year-old former Glynn County police officer who later worked for the county prosecutor’s office, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood.
Both men already are serving life sentences with no possibility of parole after being convicted of Arbery’s murder in a state trial last November. They were the first two of the three white men convicted in February in a subsequent federal trial to be sentenced in consecutive hearings on Monday.
In handing down the younger McMichael’s sentence, Wood said the widely seen cellphone video of him shooting Arbery at close range with a shotgun was seared into her memory.
“You acted because of the color of Mr. Arbery’s skin,” the judge told McMichael, who looked ashen as the sentence was pronounced.
The two McMichaels and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were convicted of violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his race and of attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels also were convicted of a federal firearms charge. Bryan, who worked as a mechanic, is scheduled to be sentenced later on Monday.
Gregory McMichael, testifying before he was sentenced, told Arbery’s family he prayed that “God’s peace” would to come to them.
“The loss that you’ve endured is beyond description,” he said as some of Arbery’s relatives wiped away tears in a crowded courtroom that included civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. “I’m sure that my words mean very little to you, but I want to assure you I never wanted any of this to happen. There was no malice in my heart or my son’s heart that day.”
He apologized to his son, who had earlier declined his own chance to testify, and to his wife, who began sobbing, but did not explicitly apologize to Arbery’s family.
Marcus Arbery, the slain man’s father, told the court during the first hearing: “These three devils have broken my heart into pieces that cannot be found or repaired.” Referring to Travis McMichael, he added: “You hate Black people.”
“I struggled to come to the realization that a father could actually accompany his son to take a life,” Wanda Cooper Jones, Arbery’s mother, told the second hearing in urging a life sentence for Gregory McMichael.
The case of Arbery is one in a series of killings of black people in recent years, which has brought racism in the criminal justice and law enforcement systems of the United States to light. It also called attention to the bigger problem of gun violence in the US.