CHICAGO (CBS Chicago/CBS News) — After a Georgia jury found three white men guilty of murder in the death last year of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said Wednesday that the defendants’ claim of self-defense in the case was inappropriate and “outrageous.”
Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shots, was convicted on all counts, including the charge of malice murder. His father Gregory McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were convicted of felony murder and other charges.
“This case this week in Georgia was an absolute abuse of use of self-defense,” Miller told CBS 2’s Chris Tye. “It outrageous to even come up with that as a defense in this case. But a jury saw through it.”
Miller’s commentary on the Arbery case was in contrast to the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, which ended in a not guilty verdict on all counts in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week. In that trial, Miller said the claim of self-defense won the upper hand, as the prosecution simply did not have the evidence to prove that the teenager was not acting in self-defense when he shot three people during unrest in Kenosha last year.
But as CBS 2’s Jermont Terry reported Wednesday night, many said the Arbery case was focused solely on race.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot to death while jogging in the neighborhood in February 2020. Cellphone video showed the men chasing Arbery and cornering him with their pickup trucks before a scuffle that ended with Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range with a shotgun.
As the first guilty verdict was read aloud in a Brunswick, Georgia courtroom, people in the public gallery were heard audibly gasping. Marcus Arbery, the father of Ahmaud Arbery, could be heard saying, “Long time coming,” before being told by security to leave the courtroom. Judge Timothy Walmsley reminded the courtroom to remain silent as he continued to read the rest of the jury’s verdicts aloud.
The Associated Press reports the three men face minimum sentences of life in prison. The judge will decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole.
A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.
“The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts, based on the evidence, and that was our goal, was to bring that to that jury so that they could do the right thing, because the jury system works in this country,” the lead prosecutor in the case, Linda Dunikoski, said outside the courthouse after the verdict was announced. “And when you present the truth to people and they can see it, they will do the right thing, and that’s what this jury did today in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery.”
“I never thought this day would come, but God is good,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said at a news conference after the verdict, adding that her son “will now rest in peace.”
The McMichaels and Bryan are also facing federal hate crimes charges. A separate trial in the federal case is scheduled to begin on February 7, 2022.
The defense in the murder trial centered around the claim that the three men acted under the state’s citizen’s arrest law — which was in effect at the time but has since been repealed — because they were suspicious Arbery might have been involved in neighborhood burglaries. They argued they had a right of self-defense against Arbery who, one defense attorney said, “chose to fight.”
The prosecution disputed that and argued that the three men had no legitimate reason to chase down and confront Arbery.
“All three of these defendants made assumptions — made assumptions about what was going on that day, and they made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a Black man running down the street,” Dunikoski told the jury.
Though Arbery had gone inside a house under construction in the neighborhood, “nothing had ever been taken from the construction site,” Dunikoski said, and the defendants had no direct knowledge linking him to any crime when they began their pursuit.
“He was trying to get away from these strangers that were yelling at him, threatening to kill him. And then they killed him,” she said, adding that Arbery was killed “for absolutely no good reason at all.”