Legal experts say they are not surprised that a Georgia jury on Wednesday ruled guilty of felony and other charges against three white men at the trial for the shooting and murder of a black man whose He had followed from his neighbourhood. Year.
But Travis McMichael, 35, the man wielding the shotgun and pulling the trigger, pleaded guilty to an additional charge—malicious murder—while his co-defendants, his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and neighbor, William “Roddy” Bryan, 52, were convicted. , were not.
Georgia defense attorney Paige Pate, who is not affiliated with the case, said the jury’s finding makes sense.
He said that malice murder is tantamount to the charge of first-degree murder in other states. According to Georgia Law, it means that one had “deliberate intent to take the life of another human being” where they were not provoked and exhibited “an abandoned and fatal heart” – or essentially, did it out of ill will. had gone.
Prosecutors were able to successfully argue that the man who made the decision to use the weapon, Travis McMichael, was malicious on a charge that carried a life sentence. He also clarified that malice murders could be committed in a split second, and leaned into the idea that Travis McMichael became enraged when Arbery did not heed his orders to stop during the encounter.
In addition, all three defendants were found guilty of various counts of felony, a charge usually given to someone who was an accomplice in a person’s death but did not commit physical murder.
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Both McMichaels and Brian chased 25-year-old Arbery in pickup trucks before the collision turned fatal. Brian also recorded the encounter on his cellphone.
Defense lawyers said the McMichaels chased Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar who was recorded on video inside a nearby under-construction home. They say that Travis McMichael feared for his life when he shot Arbery as they were battling a shotgun.
Prosecutors and Arbery’s family members have said he was an avid racehorse running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood.
The defendants argued self-defense, as well as acting within their rights under Georgia’s civil arrest law, which was legal at the time but later changed in the wake of the shooting.
Bryan pleaded not guilty to one of the felony counts, as well as one count of aggravated assault. During the closing arguments, their attorney, Kevin Gough, tried to distance the jury from the father and son’s actions by saying that their “presence is absolutely unnecessary and irrelevant to the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery,” and that Brian’s decision Was. To record the final moments of Arbery’s life which turned into an important piece of evidence in the case.
Given the jury’s decision, all three defendants face a minimum sentence of life in prison.
Pate said the fact that jury members found guilty or not guilty across the board for all three men shows how careful they were on each count.
The trial was also initially investigated when a jury seated 11 white men and one black man in a jurisdiction, Glynn County, where about 27 percent The population is black. Arbery’s family members worried that the lack of racial diversity could adversely affect the proceedings.
But Pate said the unanimous guilty verdict indicated that was not the case.
“Almost all white jurors found these white defendants guilty of murder,” he said. “It’s a good sign for our community and our country, and I think it says that we support self-defense and the Second Amendment in the rural South, but when upheld in the right way.”
Lawyers in the case largely dropped out of the race for trial.
Mike Lawler, a former prosecutor and an associate professor in Connecticut, said with self-defense in the defendants’ case, the onus was on prosecutors to defend the defense’s argument beyond a reasonable doubt, which could normally be an uphill battle. of criminal justice at the University of New Haven.
But Lawler said the video evidence clearly helped frame the prosecution’s statement that it was Arbery, not the defendant, who was running for his life and then fought back in his final moments.
“The defense tried to color it that Arbery had a prior encounter with the law and had moved into an under-construction house, which somehow happened to him,” he said. “He tried his best to influence the perception of the jurors, but at the end of the day the order of events could not be challenged. There was not much to dispute.”
The outcome of the trial in Georgia counters another high-profile self-defense case that came to the fore at the same time that involved Illinois teenager Kyle Rittenhouse.
A jury found Rittenhouse not guilty of the fatal shootings of two men and wounding a third, all white, during a night of protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year.
While there was also video evidence in Rittenhouse’s case, prosecutors were unable to convince the jury that he was a “wannabe soldier” who was not to be fired. But Rittenhouse testified that he feared for his life when one of them followed him and went to take his gun, prompting Rittenhouse to kill him. Then, another man separately hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard, which the teen said prompted him to use his weapon again. Finally, a third man approached Rittenhouse with a pistol in his hand and Rittenhouse shot him. The man was injured but survived.
The decision in the case of politicization outraged some, who agreed with prosecutors comparing Rittenhouse as a vigilante.
While fear among anti-gun violence groups and gun control advocates is that last week’s ruling in Wisconsin could spur those who believe they can arm themselves and take the law into their own hands, Georgia The decision in this may help reduce the idea of ”cautious justice,” Lawler said.
“If the verdict was reversed, you might ask, in our society, are we flagging this kind of behavior?” he said. “However, I hope this ruling helps reinforce the belief that people should fully understand what you can and cannot do with a gun.”
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