Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael are seeking acquittal of their federal hate crimes convictions related to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, arguing the 25-year-old Black man’s killing didn’t happen on public streets, according to court documents filed Tuesday.
The McMichaels filed separate motions for judgments of acquittal on all the federal charges they were convicted of last month, including the hate crime charge of interference of rights and attempted kidnapping. They claim the government did not provide sufficient evidence for the convictions.
The father and son, along with their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, were convicted in November on state murder charges in Arbery’s death. The McMichaels were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Bryan received a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
During the federal trial, a jury found the three White men chased Arbery as he was jogging through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia, in February 2020 because he was Black.
In the 43-page appeal for an acquittal, attorneys for Travis McMichael used the first 33-pages to argue the government did not sufficiently prove that Arbery was running on a public street. Federal civil rights laws prohibits the willful harm or intimidation of people in public spaces based on their race.
The McMichaels, who were armed, were in one vehicle, while Bryan, who joined while the chase was underway, followed in his own truck, assisting in and recording the chase. Arbery was unarmed.
Defense attorneys argued the McMichaels pursued Arbery in a pickup to stop him for police because they suspected him of committing a crime, and that Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense as they wrestled over McMichael’s shotgun.
Video of the fatal shooting sparked nationwide outrage after it was released in May 2020, weeks before the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that set off a summer of widespread protests against racial injustice.
The motion stated that the testimony only showed the neighborhood’s “developer offered to dedicate the Satilla Shores neighborhood streets to the county, but the county did not expressly or implicitly accept that offer,” according to the court documents.
The prosecution filed its 26-page response March 22, saying: “The government presented ample evidence to support each element of each charged count. Accordingly, the defense motions should be denied.”
The court document says a county employee’s testimony at trial and government records admitted as evidence proved the streets were public.
Gregory McMichael’s motion also argued prosecutors didn’t prove Arbery was running on a public street and didn’t provide sufficient evidence to convict on each of the counts.
Referring to the interference of rights conviction, Gregory McMichael’s motion claimed there was no evidence that McMichael targeted Arbery because of his race or color. The motion said there was no evidence Gregory McMichael “uttered the ‘n-word’ or other racial epithets against African Americans.”
The government “failed to supply the jury with any evidence that Defendant Gregory McMichael associated African Americans with criminality,” even though “it is true that the Government admitted evidence and testimony demonstrating that defendants Travis McMichael and William Bryan may have associated African Americans with the commission of crime,” according to the motion.
Prosecutors responded that they had proved the chase that ended with Arbery dead “would not have occurred but-for the fact that Mr. Arbery was African American.”
After the verdicts were issued on February 22, the men had 14 days to file post-trial motions including any appeals of their convictions, according to presiding Judge Lisa Godbey Wood. Court records do not show that Bryan has filed in any motions since the trial.
The McMichaels and Bryan are scheduled to be sentenced August 1. They are already serving life sentences in state prison.
Following the verdict in the federal hate crimes, Arbery family attorney Ben Crump was joined by Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, and father, Marcus Arbery Sr.
“Thank God for this good morning, that Wanda and Marcus have prayed for. It is because of their conviction to get full justice, not partial justice … (that) we get to celebrate this moment,” Crump told reporters.