After the Ahmaud Arbery verdicts: A cheering father, a ‘floored’ defense attorney, a chanting crowd
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — As the first verdict was read by the judge – Travis McMichael, guilty of the malice murder of Ahmaud Arbery – a cheer from Arbery’s father was heard in the courtroom. In the overflow room where people watched the verdicts being read live, cheers erupted. People embraced and cried as deputies called for order.
As each verdict was read, onlookers in the room next-door tried to contain their excitement, silently raising their fists, nodding and embracing. Some quietly clapped.
In all, 27 verdicts were reached, nine for each defendant. Travis McMichael, who fired the shots, was found guilty on all nine counts, including malice murder. His father, Gregory McMichael, was found not guilty of malice murder, and guilty of felony murder and seven other charges. Their neighbor, William “Roddie Bryan,” who recorded video of the killing, was found guilty of three counts of felony murder and three other charges.
The mood among Arbery family supporters was exuberant and emotional outside the courthouse, where a crowd awaited family members and prosecutors to speak. They chanted Arbery’s name and cheered from behind barricades.
Inside, Travis McMichael mouthed “love you” to his mother, Leigh McMichael, who was crying.
“I’m floored, floored with a capital ‘F,’” Laura Hogue, one of Gregory McMichael’s lawyers, told Leigh McMichael as she sat in the courtroom gallery, the room emptying around her, her face red with tears.
Attorney Bob Rubin said Travis McMichael was “stoic” after the verdict was read. “He’s a strong man. He understood the potential consequences of this. Whatever he was feeling he was holding into himself,” Rubin said.
“This is a very difficult day for Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael. These are two men who honestly believed what they were doing was the right thing to do,” said Jason Sheffield, another defense attorney.
“That is a very disappointing, sad verdict,” he said, adding, “But we also recognize that this is a day of celebration for the Arbery family.”
People who had been watching in the overflow room spilled into the hallway, where many cried and embraced the family. Arbery’s aunt, Theawanza Brooks, removed a jacket to reveal a bright orange shirt that read “state penitentiary,” with the defendants’ mug shots on the back as she made her way outside ahead of the rest of the crowd.
The courthouse was surrounded by media and supporters holding “Justice for Ahmaud” signs, bearing the image of Arbery smiling in a baseball cap that prosecutors presented in court, and waving flags.
The crowd chanting Arbery’s name and “no justice no peace” fell silent as Arbery’s parents and Rev. Al Sharpton addressed them, then broke into cheers again as they finished.
“It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight. But God is good,” Cooper-Jones told the crowd. “To tell you the truth, I never saw this day back in 2020. I never thought this day would come. But God is good.”
As prosecutor Linda Dunikoski approached the microphone, the crowd cheered and called her “Auntie Linda.”
“The jury system works in this country 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,” she said.
Nadirah Young, 24, said she rushed to the courthouse after hearing news of the verdict at home. She said after watching the trial, she wasn’t expecting the jury to find the McMichaels and Bryan guilty.
“I’m amazed,” she said. “Right now, it’s just emotion. Very emotional.”
Sherine McKenzie, who was also in the crowd, called the guilty verdicts a “relief.”
“I think as minorities we feel we slip through the cracks all the time. And when will that time end?” McKenzie said. ” At least in Brunswick, Georgia, that time is today.”
Carolyn Ruff, who is from Chicago, said she traveled to Brunswick from Kenosha, Wisconsin, where she watched the proceedings in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who last week was found not guilty of murder and other counts after shooting and killing two men during a racial justice protest last summer.
Standing in front of a table set up by demonstrators filled with snacks and a portrait of Arbery, Ruff said it was her “duty” to be there. As the verdicts were read, Ruff said she couldn’t breathe.
“I was overwhelmed with joy,” she said “I was jumping, I was shouting, I was doing everything.”
The crowd in front of the courthouse soon began a march toward downtown Brunswick. They stopped at a mural of Arbery. Dozens of people marched, chanting “Whose streets? Our streets,” before returning to the courthouse.
A speaker reminded the crowd that the convicted murderers also face federal hate crime and other charges related to Arbery’s death. That trial will begin in February.
The McMichaels’ and Bryan’s sentencing date has not yet been announced. They all face life in prison.