All three defendants convicted of hate crimes over Ahmaud Arbery killing

Credit: AP

The three white men convicted of murder over the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in the US have been found guilty of federal hate crimes for violating Mr Arbery’s civil rights and targeting him because he was black.

The jury also found father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels guilty of the use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

The verdict was a symbolic one, coming just months after all three defendants were convicted of murder in a Georgia state court and sentenced to life in prison – for the McMichaels without the possibility of parole and for Bryan, only after he has served 30 years.

But family and community members viewed the hate crimes trial as an important statement that racism motivated the killing.

From left, Travis McMichael, William ‘Roddie’ Bryan and Gregory McMichael Credit: Pool/AP

The jury delivered its verdict one day before the second anniversary of Mr Arbery’s death on February 23, 2020.

Shortly after the verdict was read, Mr Arbery’s parents emerged from the courthouse holding hands with lawyer Ben Crump, then raised their clasped hands to cheers from supporters.

“Ahmaud will continue to rest in peace. But he will now begin to rest in power,” said Mr Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones.

But she added: “We as a family will never get victory because Ahmaud is gone forever”.

Ahmaud Arbery's father Marcus Arbery speaks to reporters while Wanda Cooper-Jones stands by his side. Credit: Lewis Levine/AP

During the trial, prosecutors showed roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made derogatory comments about black people.

The FBI was not able to access Greg McMichael’s phone because it was encrypted.

The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue Mr Arbery after seeing him running in their neighbourhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick in February 2020.

Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup and recorded mobile phone video of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Mr Arbery.

The family and lawyers of Ahmaud Arbery after three men were found guilty of hate crimes at the federal courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia. Credit: Lewis M Levine/AP

The killing became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice after the graphic video leaked online two months later.

Defence lawyers contended the three did not chase and kill Mr Arbery because of his race but acted on the earnest, though erroneous, suspicion that Mr Arbery had committed crimes in their neighbourhood.

The McMichaels and Bryan had pleaded not guilty to the hate crime charges.

The panel of eight white people, three black people and one Hispanic person received the case on Monday following a week-long trial in US District Court in Brunswick.

The trial closed on Monday with prosecutors saying 25-year-old Mr Arbery’s killing on a residential street was motivated by “pent-up racial anger”, revealed by the defendants’ electronic messages as well as by witnesses who testified to hearing them make racist tirades and insults.

“All three defendants told you loud and clear, in their own words, how they feel about African Americans,” prosecutor Tara Lyons told the jury.

Defence lawyers insisted that past racist statements by their clients offered no proof they violated Mr Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because he was black.

The killing of Mr Arbery nearly two years ago was captured in a graphic mobile phone video that sparked widespread outrage.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves after spotting Mr Arbery running past their home and chased him in a pickup truck.

Bryan joined his neighbours in his own truck and recorded the video of Travis McMichael firing at point-blank range.

Police found Mr Arbery had no weapon and no stolen items.

Prosecutors said he was merely out jogging.

Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery, parents of Ahmaud Arbery, outside the federal courthouse in Brunswick. Credit: Lewis Levine/AP

Greg McMichael’s lawyer, AJ Balbo, argued that his client initiated the chase not because Mr Arbery was a black man, but because he was “THE man” the McMichaels had seen in security camera videos taken from a nearby house under construction.

The McMichaels and Bryan, convicted of murder last autumn in a Georgia state court, pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.

FBI agents uncovered roughly two dozen racist text messages and social media posts from the McMichaels and Bryan in the years and months preceding the shooting.

For instance, in 2018, Travis McMichael commented on a Facebook video of a black man playing a prank on a white person: “I’d kill that f***ing n*****.”

Some witnesses testified they heard the McMichaels’ racist statements first hand.

A woman who served under Travis McMichael in the US Coast Guard a decade ago said he called her “n***** lover,” after learning she had dated a black man.

Another woman testified Greg McMichael had ranted angrily in 2015 when she remarked on the death of civil rights activist Julian Bond, saying: “All those blacks are nothing but trouble.”