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Three white men were sentenced to life in prison for killing jogger Ahmaud Arbery


Three white men were sentenced to life in prison in Georgia yesterday for chasing a Black man through their neighborhood and killing him. Ahmaud Arbery was 25 when he was shot to death in February of 2020. And his father, Marcus Arbery, spoke at the sentencing hearing yesterday.


MARCUS ARBERY: His killers should spend the rest of their lives thinking about what they did and what they took from us. And they should do it from behind bars.

SIMON: Ultimately, a judge agreed. NPR's Sarah McCammon was in the courthouse and joins us now from Savannah. Sarah, thanks so much for being with us.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: We just heard from Ahmaud Arbery's father there. What else was said in the courtroom?

MCCAMMON: Well, a few members of Ahmaud Arbery's family just talked about him and about the larger meaning of this case. This, of course, was a case where three white men pursued and killed an unarmed Black man in a quiet neighborhood in the Deep South. Ahmaud's sister, Jasmine Arbery, described her brother's curly hair and dark skin. She said he had a broad nose and a tall, athletic build and that he, quote, "looked like me and the people I love." She said because of that, because of his race, these three men saw him as a threat. Arbery's murder became a symbol, of course, in 2020 of a larger reckoning over racial justice, and it took almost three months for prosecutors to file charges against his killers.

SIMON: How did the family react to the outcome, which - after all, it brings back memories of their loved one?

MCCAMMON: There was a lot of celebration from both the family and community members in Brunswick. Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, had accused local authorities of trying to cover up her son's murder. And she pointed out that one of the killers, Greg McMichael, was a former local law enforcement officer. So after the sentencing, she spoke to reporters, and she expressed a lot of relief and gratitude.


WANDA COOPER-JONES: I sat in that courtroom for five weeks straight, but I knew that we would come out with a victory.


COOPER-JONES: I never doubted it. And I knew that today would come.

SIMON: Sarah, how was it that one of the men was given an opportunity for parole but two of the others weren't? What was different about his case?

MCCAMMON: Right. So two of the three men, Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, were sentenced to life without possibility of parole. The third, William "Roddie" Bryan, was also sentenced to life but with the possibility of parole. Now, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski described the McMichaels, the father and son, as lacking remorse. And she told the judge that Greg McMichaels (ph) was involved in a leak last year of a video documenting the killing.


LINDA DUNIKOSKI: He believed that that video showed he and his son were not guilty of anything. That's two months afterwards. The state's position is he hasn't changed his mind. The state's position is he and his son still believe they didn't do anything wrong. And that is a lack of remorse or empathy.

MCCAMMON: Ultimately, the judge granted the state's request - no possibility of parole for the McMichaels. But for Bryan, the judge said he believed some of the evidence suggests that Bryan was in a slightly different category, perhaps understood what he'd done was wrong. So he will have a chance for parole in 30 years. Even so, Bryan is in his 50s, so he could still be in prison for the rest of his life.

SIMON: Sarah, what's ahead in this case?

MCCAMMON: All three men have a right to appeal the verdict and the sentence. Bryan's attorney, for example, has already signaled early in the hearing yesterday that he's preparing one. And this case will come before another court soon. The federal government is bringing hate crime charges against these men. That trial is scheduled to begin next month. Civil rights activists are promising to keep pressure on authorities to hold these men fully accountable for Ahmaud Arbery's murder.

SIMON: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHOENIX'S "NORTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.