Gregory McMichael, 65, Travis McMichael, 35, and William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, have been found guilty of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a man who the younger McMichael shot and killed after the three cornered Arbery in a Georgia suburb and tried to perform a citizen’s arrest.
All three men were convicted of felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit a felony, with the younger McMichael also convicted of malice murder.
The case drew national outrage, though it initially received little public attention. Former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson ordered police not to charge Travis McMichael and allegedly gave the father-son pair preferential treatment, as Gregory McMichael used to work for her. She eventually recused herself. But the prosecutor she recruited to replace her, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George E. Barnhill, also had a conflict of interest—his son had worked with McMichael on a prosecution against Arbery, and before him taking over, Johnson failed to disclose that Barnhill had already told police not to place the men under arrest. In September, she was indicted for violating her oath of office and obstruction of police, and an investigation into Barnhill was still ongoing.
The McMichaels and Bryan pursued Arbery in their trucks in February 2020 and told police they did so because they “assumed” he was behind a series of purported burglaries after seeing him trespassing on a construction site. There had been no such robberies in the weeks leading up to Arbery’s killing.
After the men trapped Arbery, a struggle ensued, with Travis firing his shotgun at Arbery at close range. Arbery was unarmed.
But no real movement would happen on the case for almost 80 days, until cellphone footage showing Arbery’s final moments made its way to social media, ultimately going viral and drawing renewed attention to the case. Barnhill stepped down from his role in April after Arbery’s mother learned of his conflict of interest, and charges were finally brought against the men in June 2020.
The trial coincided with the proceedings against Kyle Rittenhouse, where a jury last week accepted that the teen acted in self-defense when he killed two men and wounded another during a night of civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Those proceedings were highly politicized along partisan lines, becoming a sort of microcosm for debates around the U.S. criminal justice system, particularly as they pertain to race.
But really, this trial was the trial for those conversations to take place. Arbery was black, and McMichael’s claim that he acted in self-defense when he chased Arbery through a neighborhood and gunned him down appeared much less plausible than in Rittenhouse’s case. That Travis McMichael was motivated by racial animus came from McMichael himself: Bryan told investigators that, after shooting Arbery, Travis McMichael called him a “fucking nigger” as he lay dying.
And while prosecutorial misconduct was rightfully at the center of the conversation around Rittenhouse—with Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger coming under fire multiple times for bending the rules—so, too, should that have been a main topic of discussion in this case, and even more so. For a prosecutor to face criminal charges for job-related malfeasance is remarkably uncommon. Yet that’s what happened here. Had the public not learned about Arbery’s killing via a viral clip, it’s possible that Johnson and Barnhill would have prevented charges from ever being brought.
The three men face life in prison.