Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said the verdict could be the first such conviction in Georgia state history.
“These parents, Marcus and Wanda, tomorrow will be the two year mark for when their son Ahmaud Arbery was lynched for jogging while Black, and these parents joined a fraternity that no parent wanted to be a member of and with such dignity, they stood up for Ahmaud,” Crump said. “That Ahmaud would never be forgotten, that Ahmaud Arbery would be in the history books. Not only for the state of Georgia but for the United States of America.”
The McMichaels and Bryan were convicted of murder by a Georgia state court last year and are already facing life in prison. Bryan is eligible for parole in 30 years.
All three pleaded not guilty to the hate crimes charges in the subsequent federal trial, arguing that they pursued Arbery not because of his race but because they were suspicious he had committed a crime.
But according to an FBI witness in the trial, Travis McMichael and Bryan both consistently used racist language in text and social media conversations. McMichael also posted on a Facebook video that he would commit violence against Black people.
Police would later share that Arbery was both unarmed and not a suspect of a crime.
The killings of Arbery, George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville in 2020 acted as a nexus for widespread demonstrations across the country against racism and police brutality. The McMichaels’ and Bryan case is so far the only one to have been elevated with hate crimes charges.
“The defendants’ actions and the racism that fueled them have inflicted enduring trauma,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “Throughout our history and to this date, hate crimes have a singular impact because of the terror and fear they inflict on communities.”
Still, Arbery’s family has been critical of the Department of Justice, reflecting that some form of justice was only served because of the family’s public push to have the court refuse a plea deal on the hate crime charges.
“As a mom, I will never heal,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, at a press conference after the verdict was delivered. “[The jury] gave us a sense of a small victory, but we as a family will never get victory because Ahmaud is gone forever.”