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1 Dec 2021 16:56
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  •   Home > News > International

    What happened to Ahmaud Arbery? How a video of his murder captured the world's attention

    Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and neighbour William "Roddie" Bryan were not charged until a video of the incident emerged, two months after Ahmaud Arbery's murder in 2020.


    Ahmaud Arbery was jogging down a street in southern Georgia unarmed in February 2020 when he was pursued by three men and killed with a shotgun. 

    Nearly two years later, a mostly white jury has now convicted the men with the 25-year-old's murder

    However, Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and neighbour William "Roddie" Bryan were not even charged until a video of the incident emerged, two months after the incident. 

    So who was Mr Arbery and what's the significance of the case in the United States's ongoing national reckoning with racial injustice? 

    'Maud' had brushes with the law but was known for his smile

    Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was a lifelong resident of the south Georgia city of Brunswick. 

    He was known to his friends as "Maud" or "Quez" and had dreams to become a footballer in the National Football League.

    In a sign of respect, his coach at Brunswick High School, where Mr Arbery graduated in 2012, retired the star player's football jersey, number 21, at a ceremony last year.

    Mr Arbery worked long hours at a truck washing company and at his father's landscaping business, and was known for his big smile.

    He was an avid weightlifter and often sang freestyle rap. 

    But he had some brushes with the law, including for bringing a pistol on school grounds during a basketball game in 2013.

    He was also arrested for attempted shoplifting at a local Walmart store — incidents his family said he had put behind him.

    Who was convicted over Arbery's murder?

    Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and neighbour William "Roddie" Bryan were each convicted of murdering Mr Arbery.

    The court heard the McMichaels grabbed a shotgun and jumped in a pick-up truck to pursue Mr Arbery after seeing him running in their Brunswick neighbourhood on February 23, 2020. 

    Bryan joined the pursuit and recorded a mobile phone video of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Mr Arbery.

    Travis McMichael was convicted of all charges and Greg McMichael was convicted of all charges except malice murder.

    Bryan was convicted of two counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.

    Why did it take so long for his killers to be charged?

    The McMichaels weren't arrested until May 7 after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) took over the shooting investigation from Glynn County police.

    Just before local authorities made arrests, a radio station in Brunswick released a video of Mr Arbery's shooting and posted it online.

    Republican Governor Brian Kemp called the video "absolutely horrific" and urged the GBI to get involved.

    Its agents rapidly arrested both McMichaels and Bryan.

    Bryan, who joined the McMichaels in the chase, filmed the pursuit and shooting on his phone

    It shows Mr Arbery run around the truck to the right before he cuts back in front of it. Then a gunshot can be heard, followed by a second shot.

    Mr Arbery was seen punching a man holding what appeared to be a shotgun, who then fires a third shot point-blank. 

    Mr Arbery staggered and fell face down in the street.

    After the video was leaked, protesters took to the streets and demanded the two district attorneys working on the case — Jackie Johnson and George Barnhill — be removed for dragging their feet in arresting the McMichaels.

    Mr Barnhill had provided police with a written opinion that no arrests should be made in connection with the February 23 shooting.

    Many activists saw Mr Arbery's death as the latest US case of white perpetrators killing a black man and going unpunished.

    What happened at the trial?

    The McMichaels and Bryan all pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Arbery

    Defence lawyers said the McMichaels were attempting a citizen's arrest when they pursued Mr Arbery as a suspected burglar after he was seen running from a nearby home under construction.

    Travis McMichael testified that he shot Mr Arbery in self-defence, saying the man attacked him with his fists while running past the idling truck where he stood with his shotgun.

    Prosecutors said there was no evidence Mr Arbery had committed crimes in their neighbourhood.

    The men face minimum sentences of life in prison. It is up to the judge to decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole.

    President Joe Biden said the convictions showed that America's criminal justice system is "doing its job", though the killing was "a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country".

    "Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no-one fears violence because of the colour of their skin," Mr Biden said in a statement.

    So, what happens now?

    Legal experts in the US said it was likely the trio would appeal against the conviction, possibly on the basis of exclusion of certain evidence from the trial.

    Defence lawyers had sought to introduce evidence of Mr Arbery's criminal record, records on his mental health and the fact that he was on probation.

    They also wanted to have a use-of-force expert testify. But the judge ruled against admitting any of that evidence.

    However, the McMichaels and Bryan still face federal charges.

    A few months before the trio stood trial on murder charged in Georgia, a US grand jury indicted them on hate crime charges in an entirely separate case.

    The three men are charged with interference of civil rights and attempted kidnapping.

    The father and son were also charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. 

    The federal indictment says the men targeted Mr Arbery because he was black.

    ABC/wires


    ABC




    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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