An apologetic Gregory McMichael, who instigated the chase that led to Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, was sentenced today to life in prison for federal hate crimes.
Before sentencing, McMichael, his voice quavering, expressed regret to the Arbery family for what had happened.
“The loss you have endured is beyond description,” said McMichael, a former Glynn County police officer. “There are no words. ... I’m sure my words mean very little to you, but I never wanted any of this to happen. There was no malice in my heart or my son’s heart that day.”
McMichael, 66, was previously sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murder during a state court trial that ended last November. In February, he was convicted of federal hate crimes and an illegal gun charge for the Feb. 23, 2020, slaying of the 25-year-old Arbery.
At the culmination of a week-long trial, a federal jury convicted the Michaels and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, all of whom are white, of targeting Arbery because he was Black. The jury also found the three men interfered with Arbery’s right to use a public street and attempted to kidnap Arbery.
Before sentencing, members of Arbery’s family condemned Gregory McMichael’s decision to chase Arbery through the Satilla Shores neighborhood on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
“You failed your son,” Ruby Arbery, Arbery’s aunt, said. “You had him believing that what he did was above the law. ... To Gregory, to put his child into doing something like that was a terrible thing. He took my nephew’s life.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, said McMichael deserved the maximum punishment.
“I struggle to come to the realization that a father would actually accompany his son to take a life,” she said.
She added, “He’s still alive to communicate with his son between prison walls. But my son is gone forever.”
Arbery collapsed in the street after being shot twice at close range by Travis McMichael, who was wielding a 12-gauge shotgun.
The shooting was filmed by Bryan, who had jumped in his own pickup truck and joined the chase after seeing Arbery run by with the father and son in pursuit.
The McMichaels said they suspected Arbery was a burglar, though the avid runner was unarmed and had nothing in his hands when he was chased down by the three men in pickup trucks. Prosecutors said he ran for about five minutes before being killed by Travis McMichael during a tussle over the shotgun in the road.
McMichael told U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood he wanted to apologize to both his son and his wife, who had stuck by him.
As for his son, “Travis never should have been put in that position,” McMichael said. “I pray that God’s peace will come to the Arbery family and this entire community.”
Outside the courthouse, Wanda Cooper Jones said she accepted McMichael’s apology and appreciated him publicly acknowledging his actions.
“Unfortunately his apology doesn’t bring back my son, but I do accept it,” she said.