BRUNSWICK, Ga. — In a case defined by uncertainty – including whether it would ever become a case – ended without much surprise Friday.
Life sentences were mandatory following a November jury verdict that Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan murdered Ahmaud Arbery. All that was left for Superior Judge Timothy Walmsley to decide was whether any of the men would ever be eligible for parole. He sentenced both McMichaels to life without the possibility of parole – plus 20 years.
He sentenced Bryan to life with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
Judge Walmsley said the sentences were deserved given what he described as a callous killing, a lack of remorse by the defendants, and “the terror” Arbery experienced before he died. He asked for one minute of silence and asked people to imagine Arbery being chased for almost five full minutes. He described the shooting as “chilling.”
"I keep coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked for an additional condition on the three men, preventing them from profiting in any way from selling or telling their story. If any made money, she said, it should be put in a fund for the Arbery family. The judge did not immediately rule on that request.
Although the mandatory sentences left a narrow range of outcomes, the day didn’t lack for drama. victim impact statements from Arbery’s mother, father and sister brought tears to spectators’ eyes. Wanda Cooper Jones addressed her son directly.
"I made a promise to you the day I laid you to rest," she said. "I told you I loved you and someday, somehow I would get you justice. Son, I love you as much today as I did the day that you were born."
To the judge, she described him as a “greedy baby,” who delighted in love and attention.
She also took a swipe at Greg McMichael’s attorney Linda Hogue, whose controversial comment during closing argument about Arbery’s “long dirty toenails” created a firestorm.
“He sometimes refused to wear socks or take good care of his good clothing,” Cooper Jones said. “I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for that jog that day. I guess he would have if he knew he would be murdered."
She asked the judge for the maximum punishment. "Ahmaud never said a word to them, he never threatened them, he just wanted to be left alone," Wanda Cooper Jones tells judge. "They were fully committed to their crimes. Let them be fully committed for the consequences."
Arbery’s father told the judge, "My heart has broken and always will be broken.”
“The man who killed my son has sat in this courtroom every single day, next to his father," he noted. "I never get that chance."
Arbery’s sister Jasmine Arbery also spoke, describing her brother’s features. "Ahmaud had dark skin that glistened in the sunlight like gold. He had thick coiled hair he would often like to twist. Ahmaud had a broad nose."
It was those features that prompted his killers to suspect him of wrongdoing and pursue him in pickup trucks thorough their South Georgia suburb. "These were the qualities that made these men assume he was a dangerous criminal and chased him with guns drawn."