‘I understand the rich irony, judge, of expressing that my client will face vigilante justice himself,’ lawyer says
The life sentence handed down on Monday was McMichael’s second. It was ruled that he must serve the sentence in the custody of the state of Georgia, despite worries that other prisoners could impose a “backdoor death penalty,” Law & Crime reported.
McMichael, 36, is the first of three white men convicted in a Georgia court, where US District Judge Lisa Wood rejected his request to be sent to federal custody because of safety concerns, saying that he can’t choose where to serve his sentence.
“I do deny that request, and turn instead to the rules that apply,” Judge Wood said, citing that the state of Georgia was first to charge, try, convict, and sentence McMichael.
McMichael pursued Mr Arbery, a Black man who was going for a run, on 23 February 2020. The 36-year-old’s father, Gregory McMichael, 66, and neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, also took part in the killing. Mr Arbery was running in Satilla Shores near Brunswick on the coastline of southeastern Georgia when he was pursued by the three men.
During trial, they all claimed that they thought Mr Arbery was behind a number of burglaries in the neighbourhood, but the evidence only revealed that he had entered a construction site to have a look around.
The three men were convicted of Mr Arbery’s murder by a Georgia state jury. Bryan is the only one who may receive parole after 30 years as his role in the killing was considered to be more restricted, according to a state judge.
The three men were then found to have violated Mr Arbery’s rights “because of his race and color” after a federal jury heard racist comments they had made, according to Law & Crime.
Mr Arbery’s family objected before the subsequent federal trial to a plea agreement that would have seen the men partly serve their sentences in the custody of federal authorities, pushing the court to have them stay in the custody of the state.
“These three devils have broken my heart into pieces that can’t be found or repaired,” father Marcus Arbery said in the courtroom.
“Your honor, I feel every shot that was fired every day,” mother Wanda Cooper-Jones told the judge. “Every morning, I wake up and tell myself it’s another day without my ‘Quez.’”
Uncle Gary Arbery told the court that the three men were “still trying to beat the system”.
“We miss everything about you. I pray that you can rest in peace, my sweet boy,” aunt Dianne Arbery added. “You are free to run wherever you choose to run in heaven, my sweet boy.”
Sentencing hearings for the 66-year-old McMichael as well as for Bryan are set to take place later on Monday.
The three men were sentenced to life in prison on the state murder charges in November of last year and convicted in federal court in February of this year for violating Mr Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.
The federal jury also found the three men guilty of attempted kidnapping and the two McMichaels were found guilty of violating gun legislation, according to The Washington Post.
McMichael lawyer Amy Lee Copeland told the court on Monday that the 36-year-old has been the target of hundreds of threats and could be harmed if sent to state custody.
“I’m concerned that my client faces an effective backdoor death penalty,” she said.
“I understand the rich irony, judge, of expressing that my client will face vigilante justice himself,” she added.