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Ahmad Arbery's 3 killers found guilty of federal hate crimes

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The three white men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery are guilty of federal hate crimes, that's a verdict today from a federal jury in Brunswick, Ga., that's been hearing evidence that the crime was racially motivated. Travis and Greg McMichael, along with William "Roddie" Bryan, chased Arbery down and killed him two years ago as he was jogging through a residential neighborhood. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now. Debbie, so let's start with some details about this verdict. What did the jury find?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: You know, they deliberated for about four hours and then came back with guilty verdicts against all three men on all of the charges they faced. First, they're guilty of violating Ahmaud Arbery's civil rights. This is the charge that's about the motivation behind the crime, that they targeted Arbery because he was Black and deprived him of his right to use a public street. They're also guilty of attempted kidnapping for using pickup trucks to chase Arbery for five minutes through the Satilla Shores neighborhood and cornering him there. The McMichaels are also convicted on firearms charges, using a firearm during a violent crime. Greg McMichael had a revolver. And his son Travis had a pump action shotgun. That's the weapon that he used to kill Arbery at close range.

MARTINEZ: Now, the verdict comes after about a week of testimony. Can you recap for us the evidence in this case?

ELLIOTT: You know, the government used the defendant's own words very effectively in this case, citing both digital evidence and conversations that they'd had where they used hateful racial slurs and demeaning terms for Black people and that they associated Black people with criminality. There was also a good bit of evidence that the McMichaels advocated vigilante justice, taking the law into their own hands. Prosecutors said from the moment the McMichaels armed themselves and jumped in their pickup truck to go after Arbery and then when Bryan saw that chase and joined in, they were acting on racist assumptions, racist resentment and racist anger that had been building for years. The defense presented only one witness and unsuccessfully argued that even though the men held vile, racist views, that this was simply a case of them being vigilant neighbors, that they were trying to question Arbery because they'd seen him on surveillance video in a house under construction.

MARTINEZ: What happens next here, Debbie?

ELLIOTT: The judge gave the defendants 14 days to file any appeals. Then she'll schedule a sentencing. They face up to life in prison on the federal hate crimes charges. They've already been sentenced to life in prison on a state murder conviction. And Arbery's family has been adamant that they should serve out their terms there in Georgia and not in a federal prison where conditions might be more favorable. Still, they wanted this federal hate crimes trial, as did activists in Brunswick, as painful as it was to hear. They wanted to shine a public light on the deep seated racism at the heart of this crime.

MARTINEZ: What's been the reaction in the area?

ELLIOTT: You know, speaking outside the courthouse just after the verdict, Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, called it a small sense of victory because she said they can never have victory when her son is dead. She said, quote, "Ahmaud will continue to rest in peace, but now he will start to rest in power," a very much - a poignant moment there. You know, getting a verdict this week has some symbolic meaning, as well, in Brunswick. Wednesday will mark two years since Ahmaud Arbery was murdered.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Debbie Elliott, thank you very much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.