The three men convicted in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty of federal hate crimes on Tuesday.
A federal jury delivered the verdict just one day before the second anniversary of Arbery’s death on Feb. 23, 2020. The ruling came months after father and son Travis and Gregory McMichael and friend William “Roddie” Bryan was convicted on all counts of murder in a Georgia State court to life in prison, AP news reported.
While Arbery’s family members and civil rights activists believed the 25-year-old was hunted down and killed because he was Black, the federal trial focused on the racial language the three men used in conversation with others and social media posts. The racist comments from the defendants affirmed that they acted based on the jogger’s skin color.
More than 20 witnesses testified against the three men and their derogatory remarks during the trial. In addition, FBI intelligence analyst Amy Vaughn took the stand last week, providing a slew of text messages and social media activity from father and son McMichaels and Bryan using racial slurs to describe Black people, NPR reported.
“Need to change the name from Cracker Barrel to N****r Bucket,” Travis McMichael wrote in a text message as he complained about Black people at a local restaurant.
McMichael posted a video on Facebook of a young black boy dancing on the Ellen Degeneres Show with the original music cut out and swapped for the racist song “Alabama N****r” by Johnny Rebel.
The defendant commented under a Black Lives Matter video with protesters and reportedly said he wished for a semiautomatic rifle to shoot and kill Black people he described as “goddamn monkeys.” In another post, he supported a vehicle plowing through a group of Black protesters.
“Is that the only evidence, or is there more?” asked the prosecutor.
“There was more,” replied the witness, FBI agent Amy Vaughn.
Vaughn had been building her case around the three defendants since Arbery’s gruesome killing in Feb. 2020.
Bryan used the derogatory term “bootlip” to describe Black people and their facial structures in a text message.
According to Vaughn, Byran had “a pattern seen over several years” of text records displaying racist language about Black people on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and WhatsApp messages about his daughter having a Black boyfriend. While there was a message from his daughter trying to sway his racist behavior, Bryan described to a friend how he felt about his daughter dating a Black man.
“I’ve always told her this is the only thing I could not accept,” Bryan texted a friend. The day after Arbery’s killing, the defendant texted the friend again about his strained relationship with his daughter.
CNN reported that Kim Ballesteros, a former neighbor of Gregory McMichael, testified against the 64-year-old about the racist language he used to describe a Black tenant.
“She was a large Black woman who did not pay her rent very well,” Ballesteros told the jurors. “Their name for her was the walrus.”
The elder McMichael told Ballesteros that the woman did not pay her rent on time, disabling the air conditioning in the home from the outside.
“You should have seen how fast her big fat Black a** came with the rent check,” Gregory McMichael said, according to Ballesteros’ testimony.
After weeks of testimony, the jury of eight white people, three black people, and one Hispanic person spent hours deliberating and preparing for a verdict that ultimately delivered justice to the Arbery family.
Civil Rights attorney Benjamin Crump made a statement after the verdict that “for many of us, there was never any doubt that Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan targeted Ahmaud because of his skin color.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, made a heartfelt statement about her late son after the jury delivered the guilty verdict.
“Ahmaud will continue to rest in peace. But he will now begin to rest in power,” she told reporters outside the courthouse.
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., silently rejoiced while bowing his head with one fist in the air. While outside the courthouse, he reminisced about the times the 25-year-old would call to tell his family that he loved them.
“Ahmaud was a kid you can’t replace because of the heart he had,” he said. “I’m struggling with that every day,” he said. “It hurts me every day.”