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All 3 men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery have been sentenced to life in prison

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery have been sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Judge Timothy Walmsley handed down the sentences in Glynn County, Ga. this afternoon.

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TIMOTHY WALMSLEY: Today demonstrates that everybody is accountable to the rule of law. Taking the law into your own hands is a dangerous endeavor.

KELLY: The three white men were convicted on felony murder charges in November for killing Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, in 2020 as he ran through their neighborhood in coastal Georgia. NPR's Sarah McCammon was in the Glynn County courthouse during today's sentencing hearing, and she joins us now.

Hey, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So tell me about the hearing, how things played out in court.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. As you might imagine, it was emotional and sobering at moments. The judge began, before he pronounced his sentence, by asking everyone to just pause for an entire minute and think about the fact that that was just a fraction of the amount of time that Aubrey was running, running really for his life. All three of these men - Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan faced mandatory life sentences for murdering Ahmaud Arbery. So the real question today was whether they should have a chance at parole after 30 years under Georgia law. Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, asked the judge for the maximum sentence and argued that her son was killed because of the color of his skin.

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WANDA COOPER-JONES: This wasn't a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact. They chose to target my son because they didn't want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community. And when they couldn't sufficiently scare him or intimidate him, they killed him.

MCCAMMON: Arbery's father also spoke today. He said the family will no longer have Ahmaud there for holidays and birthdays. And he said that Arbery's killers should spend the rest of their lives thinking about that, and they should do so behind bars.

KELLY: And how did the defense respond?

MCCAMMON: Well, lawyers for all three men argued that the men didn't chase Arbery intending to kill him but that they were trying to protect their neighborhood, as they saw it, because they suspected him of trespassing in a house that was under construction. The defense lawyers said none of the men are the worst kind of criminal for whom life without parole is intended. One of the attorneys, Robert Rubin, described Travis McMichael as a good father to his young son and talked about his time serving in the Coast Guard.

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ROBERT RUBIN: And as reckless as those acts may have been, they are not evidence of a soul so blackened as to deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison.

MCCAMMON: Travis McMichael is 35, the youngest of the three. His lawyer said he should have a chance for redemption someday. Lawyers for Greg McMichael, who's in his 60s, and William Bryan, who's in his 50s, also pointed to their ages and asked for leniency.

KELLY: Yeah. And the state of Georgia had asked for the maximum sentence of life without parole for two of the men and then life for the third. How did they make that case?

MCCAMMON: Well, the prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, accused the men of vigilantism. And she referenced Travis McMichael's history of using racist language, which was described during the trial in November.

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LINDA DUNIKOSKI: He said, this was the worst day of my life. Well, how'd that work out for Ahmaud Arbery? Not once - not once did he show any empathy or ability to place himself in the position of Mr. Arbery on the stand.

KELLY: Wow. What was the reaction to all this, Sarah, from people gathered there at the Glynn County courthouse?

MCCAMMON: So far outside the courtroom, things seem pretty positive. People were chanting Arbery's name and chanting, what do we want? Justice. When do we get it? Now.

KELLY: All right. That is NPR's Sarah McCammon reporting from Brunswick, Ga., on the sentencing phase of the Ahmaud Arbery case.

Thank you, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.