“Your honor, I’m standing here before you as the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, asking you to please give all three defendants who are responsible for the death of my son the maximum punishment in this court,” Wanda Cooper-Jones said in her victim impact statement, “which I do believe is life behind bars without the possible chance for parole.”
Three of Arbery’s family members, including his mother, delivered statements aimed at yielding stiffer sentences, while the McMichaels’ and Bryan’s supporters will get the opportunity to present character witnesses to press for lighter sentences.
In his own statement, Marcus Arbery Sr., Arbery’s father, noted Travis McMichael had been able to sit in the courtroom with his father every day — something Arbery Sr. will never do again.
“I’ll never get that chance to sit next to my son ever again. Not at a dinner table, not at a holiday,” he said Friday.
“My heart is broken, and always will be broken,” he said. “If I could I’d have (traded) places with Ahmaud in a heartbeat. But I can’t. So I’m standing here today to do what he can’t, and that is to fight for him, fight for his memory, his legacy, and to tell you who he was.”
In arguing for leniency for his client, attorney Robert Rubin characterized Travis McMichael as a “devoted father” and “hard worker” who thought he was doing the right thing for his community at the time of Arbery’s killing.
“Nothing in Travis McMichael’s life suggests that he’s a danger to society now, or will be a danger to society 30 years from now after he has time to think, to work, to grow,” Rubin said. “When he’s in his 60s, older than me right now, do we still need, want a person like Travis McMichael behind bars?”
“The urge to seek vengeance is strong and understandable in the family,” Rubin said, adding he would do the same if he was in their position. “But vengeance is not the foundation of our sentencing in our criminal justice system — redemption is.”
No matter the sentences, the sprawling legal saga isn’t over: The men’s attorneys say they’ll appeal the verdicts; a federal hate crime trial is slated for next month; Arbery’s mother has filed a civil lawsuit; and the original prosecutor faces charges over her alleged handling of the case.
Court began Friday with Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, making a series of motions aimed at mitigating his client’s sentence. Judge Walmsley ultimately denied each of the four motions.
Decades in prison loom
Cooper-Jones hopes Travis McMichael receives a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, she told CNN Friday.
“Ahmaud didn’t get a chance to live, so with that being said, Travis should not get a chance to live as a free man,” she said. “He should remain in prison forever.”
While each of the defendants will have the opportunity to speak Friday, Cooper-Jones said she doesn’t want to hear from any of them. “There is nothing that they can tell me today that would make me feel better.”
The McMichaels were arrested two days after the video went viral. Bryan was arrested two weeks after the McMichaels. The men pleaded not guilty.
Dunikoski pointedly questioned how Arbery could be an aggressor when he was unarmed on foot and repeatedly tried to elude three men, two of them armed, in trucks.
Travis McMichael was convicted on all counts: malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony. His father was convicted on all counts except malice murder, and Bryan was found guilty of all charges aside from malice murder, one felony murder count and one aggravated assault count.
Appeals coming, defense lawyers say
With the death penalty off the table, each murder conviction commands a sentence of life in prison, with or without parole. Maximum sentences are 20 years for aggravated assault, 10 years for false imprisonment and five years for attempt to commit a felony.
In addition to parole eligibility, Walmsley will decide if the men serve their sentences all at once, or consecutively, meaning they must finish each sentence before beginning the next.
During jury selection, Gough complained of a dearth of older White men without college degrees. Glynn County is 69% White and 27% Black.
Dunikoski alleged Gough’s complaints about Black pastors in the courtroom led to the Prayer Wall.
Many more court dates to come
Federal prosecutors say the defendants “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
“We are deeply disappointed that the Justice Department bought the false narrative that the media and state prosecutors have promulgated,” Travis McMichael’s defense team said.
Cooper-Jones applauded Johnson’s indictment.
“She didn’t pull the trigger, but she is just as much to hold accountable as the three guys who actually did this to Ahmaud,” she said.
CNN’s Alta Spells, Devon M. Sayers and Ryan Young contributed to this report.