US court sentences Ahmaud Arbery killer to life in prison

Federal judge gives Travis McMichael life for hate crimes; his two co-defendants will be sentenced later on Monday.

The Georgia man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery, whose killing in 2020 was among those that fuelled mass protests against racism and vigilantism in the United States, has been sentenced to life in prison by a federal court for committing hate crimes.

US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sentenced Travis McMichael, a 36-year-old white former US Coast Guard mechanic, in Brunswick, Georgia on Monday. McMichael had been convicted of murder in a state trial last year.

He and his co-defendants – his father, 66-year-old Gregory McMichael, and their neighbour, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52 – were also found guilty of federal hate crime charges earlier this year.

Bryan and the older McMichael are set to be sentenced at separate hearings later on Monday.

At the first hearing, Marcus Arbery, the slain man’s father, asked the judge to sentence the younger McMichael to serve the maximum in state prison on the federal charges.

“These three devils have broken my heart into pieces that cannot be found or repaired,” Marcus Arbery told the court.

Travis McMichael declined to testify on Monday, but his lawyer said a Georgia state prison was too dangerous for him, and that he had received death threats.

Wood, the judge, said McMichael had received a “fair trial”.

“And it’s not lost on the court that it was the kind of trial that Ahmaud Arbery did not receive before he was shot and killed,” the judge said.

The three men were convicted in February of attempted kidnapping and of the hate crime of violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his race.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on February 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded a phone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the shotgun.

Last November in state court, the three men were previously convicted of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony for chasing and shooting Arbery as he ran in their neighbourhood in Satilla Shores, near Brunswick, with a jury rejecting self-defence claims.

They have appealed their state convictions. A Georgia state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.

The killing of Arbery sparked outrage across the US and helped fuel the racial justice protests that rocked the country after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota in May 2020.

The sentence on Monday comes days after the US Department of Justice charged four current and former police officers in Louisville, Kentucky for their roles in the 2020 fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor – a Black woman whose death added to the nationwide anger that year.

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