Man who chased Ahmaud Arbery and son who shot the jogger dead each handed second life sentence

A mural depicting Ahmaud Arbery is displayed in the Brunswick area where the 25-year-old man was shot and killed. Credit: AP

The white man who fatally shot black jogger Ahmaud Arbery after chasing him through a US neighbourhod while he was out running has been sentenced to life in prison for hate crime.

Travis McMichael and his father Greg McMichael, armed with guns, chased Mr Arbery in a pick-up truck after spotting him running in their neighbourhood outside the city of Brunswick, Georgia, in February 2020.

Neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan joined the father and son and recorded a graphic video of Travis McMichael shooting the 25-year-old.

Travis McMichael was sentenced to life in prison by US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood in Brunswick, in the first of the trio's sentencing hearings on Monday (8 August).

Following the shooting, the McMichaels told police they suspected Mr Arbery was a burglar.

But investigators determined he was unarmed and had committed no crimes.

Prosecutors said he was merely out jogging.

Defence attorneys for the three men argued the McMichaels and Bryan didn’t pursue Mr Arbery because of his race but acted on an earnest - though incorrect - suspicion that the jogger had committed crimes in the area.

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

Travis McMichael's sentencing was a symbolic one, coming just months after all three men 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.

Then in February, all three were found guilty of federal hate crimes for violating Mr Arbery’s civil rights and targeting him because he was black.

The jury also found the McMichaels and Bryan guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels guilty of the use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

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

Greg McMichael, 66, the father of the shooter, and the member of the group who initiated the neighborhood chase that ended with Mr Arbery's fatal shooting, was also sentenced to life in prison on Monday for committing a federal hate crime.

Bryan, 52, who recorded cellphone video of the murder, was sentenced to 35 years in prison, at the conclusion of Monday's hearing.

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Mr Arbery's murder became part of a larger national reckoning in the United States over racial injustice and killings of unarmed black people including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

During the hate crimes trial, prosecutors fortified their case that the murder was motivated by racism by showing the jury roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made disparaging comments about black people. 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.”

Before the sentencing on Monday, the judge heard from members of Mr Arbery's family.

His mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said she feels every shot that was fired at her son every day.

“It’s so unfair, so unfair, so unfair that he was killed while he was not even committing a crime,” she said.

Because they were first charged and convicted of murder in a state court, protocol would have turned the three men over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life terms in a state prison.

Travis McMichael's attorney said on Monday that her client has received hundreds of threats that he will be killed as soon as he arrives at state prison and that his photo has been circulated there on illegal phones.

“I am concerned your honour that my client effectively faces a back door death penalty," she said, adding that “retribution and revenge” were not sentencing factors, even for a defendant who is “publicly reviled.”

Mr Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, said Travis McMichael had shown his son no mercy and deserved to “rot" in state prison.

“You killed him because he was a black man and you hate black people," he said. “You deserve no mercy.”