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Ahmaud Arbery's family asks judge to give his killers maximum punishment

“My family is going to miss Ahmaud. We’re going to miss his jokes, his impersonations, his warm smile,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said.
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Ahmaud Arbery's parents and sister said in court Friday that he died doing what he loved most — running — and that the features they loved most about him, including his dark skin and athletic physique, are what prompted the three white men convicted in his murder to chase and kill him as he ran through their neighborhood in Georgia in February 2020.

They asked Judge Timothy Walmsley to sentence the three men — Travis McMichael; his father, Gregory McMichael; and William "Roddie" Bryan, who were found guilty in November of murder and other charges — to life without the possibility of parole.

Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery, began his victim impact statement by pointing out that Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery, still gets to do what his son does not.

"The man who killed my son has sat in this courtroom every single day next to his father. I'll never get that chance to sit next to my son ever again. Not at a general table. Not at a holiday. And not at a wedding," Marcus Arbery said, adding that he hoped no one in the courtroom would ever have to bury their child.

"Not only did they lynch my son in broad daylight," he said, "but they killed him while he was doing what he loved" more "than anything — running," he said. "That's when he felt most alive, most free. And they took all that from him."

Image: Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery.Courtesy of Family

Arbery was killed on Feb. 23, 2020, while he was running through Satilla Shores, a small coastal city, where the men lived.

Travis McMichael and his father armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup truck. After, Arbery was trapped by the two vehicles.

Prosecutors said Arbery spent five minutes running from the men. Travis McMichael shot Arbery, 25, with a shotgun at close range. Bryan filmed the encounter on his cellphone.

The three men were arrested months later, after the video leaked and brought international attention to the case.

Each of the men faces life in prison, but the judge will decide whether they are ever eligible for parole.

Jasmine Arbery described her brother as a young man full of life and energy.

"Ahmaud had dark skin that glistened in the sunlight like gold. He had thick coily hair, and he would often like to twist it," she said through tears. "Ahmaud had a broad nose, and the color of his eyes was filled with melanin. He was tall with an athletic build."

She said he enjoyed running and had an appreciation for being outdoors.

"These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and chase him with guns drawn. To me, those qualities reflected a young man full of life and energy, who looked like me and the people I love," Jasmine Arbery said. "Ahmaud had a future that was taken from him in an instance of violence. He was robbed of his life pleasures big and small. He will never be able to fulfill his professional dreams, nor will he be able to start a family or even be a part of my daughter's life."

She wept as she said: "The loss of Ahmaud has devastated me and my family. So I'm asking that the men who killed him be given the maximum sentence available to the court."

Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, began her victim impact statement by addressing Arbery, her youngest son, who was born on Mother's Day in 1994.

"I made a promise to you the day I laid you to rest. I told you I love you, and someday, somehow, I would get you justice," she said. 

"Son, I love you as much today as I did the day that you were born," she continued. "Raising you was the honor of my life, and I'm very proud of you."

She then addressed the judge.

"Your honor, these men have chosen to lie and attack my son and his surviving family," she said. "They each have no remorse and do not deserve any leniency. This wasn't a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact. They chose to target my son because they didn't want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community. And when they couldn't sufficiently scare him or intimidate him, they killed him."

Arbery had been spotted several times on security camera video at a home under construction in Satilla Shores. The videos never showed Arbery taking anything from the property.

Defense lawyers failed to convince a jury that the men suspected Arbery was a burglar and that they were attempting to carry out a citizen's arrest, which was legal at the time, or that Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense. The prosecution cast doubt on that defense during the trial and has said the men had no "immediate knowledge" of whether a crime had been committed.

Cooper-Jones said Arbery had a smile so bright it lit up a room. On her blazer was a pin with a photo of her and Arbery.

She remembered him as someone who sometimes refused to wear socks, a clear reference to statements made by Gregory McMichael's attorney Laura Hogue, who described Arbery as having "long dirty toenails" during her closing argument. Hogue's remarks were decried as racist.

"I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for that jog that day," Cooper-Jones said in her statement. "I guess he would have if he knew he would be murdered."

"My family is going to miss Ahmaud. We're going to miss his jokes, his impersonations, his warm smile," she said. "These men deserve the maximum sentence for their crimes."

She said Arbery never said a word to the three men and that he just wanted to be left alone.

"They were fully committed to their crimes," Cooper-Jones said. "Let them be fully committed for the consequences."