Travis and Greg McMichael sentenced to life for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery case

William Bryan gets 35 years
(From left) Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan

(From left) Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan

BRUNSWICK- Two of the three men responsible for Ahmaud Arbery’s killing apologized to the 25-year-old’s family on Monday before being sentenced on federal hate crimes charges.

Greg McMichael, who instigated the chase, and William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the graphic cellphone video of Arbery falling dead in the street, appeared to show remorse for their actions for the first time publicly.

“The loss you’ve endured is beyond description,” McMichael, 66, told Arbery’s family in the second-floor courtroom. “I never wanted any of this to happen.”

He said there was no malice in his or his son Travis’ hearts the afternoon of Arbery’s February 2020 murder and apologized to Travis for getting him involved.

Events across metro Atlanta honor 2nd anniversary of Ahmaud Arbery's death

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The two grabbed their guns, jumped in Travis McMichael’s pickup truck and chased Arbery as he ran through their subdivision just outside Brunswick. It was the younger McMichael who killed the unarmed Black man during a tussle over the shotgun in the road.

“I should have never put him in that situation,” Greg McMichael before being sentenced to life in prison for the second time this year. Travis McMichael, 36, was also given a life sentence for the hate crimes conviction, while Bryan, who joined the chase in his own pickup, was sentenced to 35 years.

Addressing the court, the elder McMichael also apologized to his wife, Leigh, who supported him and their son through their arrests and two high-profile trials.

“You are a better wife than I deserve,” he said, his voice cracking.

The sentences for Greg and Travis McMichael are in addition to the sentences they previously received in Glynn County Superior Court after being convicted of Arbery’s murder: life in prison without the possibility of parole. There is also no parole in the federal prison system.

“You received a fair trial,” U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood told Travis McMichael inside the packed courtroom. “It was the kind of trial Ahmaud Arbery did not receive.”

Bryan, 52, was also convicted of Arbery’s murder in last year’s state trial and is the only defendant who has the chance of one day getting out.

“By the time you serve your federal sentence you will be close to 90 years old,” the judge told Bryan moments after his apology. “Then again, Mr. Arbery never got the chance to be 26.”

Wood made it a point to differentiate between the actions of the McMichaels, who grabbed their guns before the chase, and Bryan, who joined in the pursuit after seeing the unarmed Black man run past his house.

“You didn’t bring a gun to the encounter — you didn’t fire a gun, Wood told Bryan. She added that Bryan also turned over his cellphone video of the shooting, which became “crucial evidence.”

Attorneys for all three defendants asked that their clients be allowed to serve their time in federal prison, arguing the high-profile nature of Arbery’s murder means they will be targeted in the state prison system.

Travis McMichael’s lawyer, Amy Lee Copeland, said he has received “hundreds, if not thousands,” of death threats since his arrest, and raised concerns that sending McMichael into state custody could amount to “a back door death penalty.”

“His photograph, including his bright red hair, has been circulated through the contraband cellphone network,” Copeland told the judge.

She asked Wood to send Travis McMichael first into federal custody for a few years to allow for “a cooling off period” that might give some protection to Arbery’s killer.

“Retribution and revenge” are not part of the criminal justice system,” Copeland said. “Even for a defendant who is publicly reviled.”

Bryan’s attorney, Pete Theodocion, said he couldn’t imagine anybody going into the prison system “with a bigger X on their backs” than the two McMichaels and Bryan.

Arbery’s family, meanwhile, asked Wood to give the three men the stiffest sentences possible.

“You don’t deserve no mercy because you didn’t give him none,” Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, told the younger McMichael. “They need to be sent to state prison where they’ll sit there and rot.”

Credit: Mandi Albright / AJC

According to the American Bar Association, this is the sentencing process, which happens post-trial.

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said there isn’t a day she doesn’t think about what happened to her son.

“I feel every shot that was fired,” she said through tears. “Every day I wake up and I tell myself it’s another day without my Quez.”

Travis McMichael declined to speak when given the chance to address the court prior to sentencing. But Bryan used his opportunity to apologize to Arbery’s family, saying he never intended for Arbery to be shot and killed.

“I’m glad to finally have the chance to address Mr. Arbery’s family and friends and say how sorry I am what happened that day,” said Bryan who did not testify at his state or federal trials. “I pray everyday for his family that they do find peace.”

Federal prosecutors opposed the defense attorneys requests to send the men into federal custody, arguing they should first serve their state sentences.

Wood turned the three defendants over to the Georgia Department of Corrections, noting the state of Georgia was the first to arrest, try, convict and sentence the men for Arbery’s murder. When that is the case, defendants who are later convicted of federal crimes begin serving their time in state court, she said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson made the trip to Brunswick to sit with Arbery’s family members.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Arbery’s mother said she appreciated Greg McMichael’s apology but noted her son’s killer expressed no remorse despite being given the chance.

“Evidently he wasn’t sorry,” Cooper-Jones said.

The McMichaels and Bryan were convicted in November of Arbery’s murder after a lengthy state court trial.

All three men were convicted again in February following a high-profile hate crimes trial in which federal prosecutors successfully argued the men targeted Arbery because of his race.

Arbery collapsed in the street after being shot twice at close range by the younger McMichael, who was wielding a 12-gauge shotgun.

The McMichaels contended they thought the unarmed Arbery was a burglar, although he had nothing in his hands and they had never seen him commit a crime.

Authorities said Arbery, scared for his life, ran for about five minutes before being cornered and shot.

“You hunted him down and killed him like an animal,” Arbery’s aunt Diane Jackson said.

Were it not for defendants’ racist attitudes, Arbery would still be alive today, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara Lyons said during Monday’s sentencing.

“This never, ever would have happened if Ahmaud had been white,” she said.