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Former Prosecutor on the 3 men found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery


Today, in a Georgia courtroom, the three white men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty of murder. After deliberating for about 10 hours, the nearly all-white jury found Greg McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael, and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, guilty of nearly all the criminal counts they faced.

Civil rights attorney and former prosecutor Charles Coleman Jr. is here to talk more about it. Welcome back to the program.

CHARLES COLEMAN JR: So glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Is this a case where people could see the verdict coming? Meaning, what do we know about how the prosecutors laid things out that brought us to this point?

COLEMAN: Well, I don't think that we can ever see a verdict coming. I don't want us to take for granted any verdict because everyone is always going to see some things differently. And so the fact that they arrived at this verdict together is a testament to how clearly the prosecution was able to lay out their case, to walk the jury through the charges one by one for each defendant and to connect each of the defendant's actions to the specific things that they were charged for and allow the jury to make a very pinpointed, very clear decision, which is what we saw and why we have the verdict that we do.

CORNISH: To get into the detail of that, you have Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and Roddie Bryan, their neighbor, who actually filmed this killing. Can you talk about what their defense was that, in a way, has been rejected by the jury?

COLEMAN: For the McMichaels, it was heavy on self-defense. That was the idea. The idea was that this was something that they did out of fear for their lives. As for Mr. Bryan, the argument that his attorney attempted to advance was that his client didn't have knowledge that the McMichaels intended to do whatever it was that they intended to do, but that his client should not have been held accountable because his role overall was minimal.

The jury did not buy either of those things. I suspect, with respect to the McMichaels, the provocation was just so great that it's very difficult to overcome it with a claim of self-defense. And in the case of Mr. Bryan, they did not convict him on the murder with malice, basically. They convicted William "Roddie" Bryan of what's called felony murder. So what I see when I look at this verdict tells me that the jury was very careful to look at the specific charges and wanted to make sure that they got it right.

CORNISH: So the jury rejected the idea that their actions that day were somehow self-defense. And now I understand that the three still face federal hate crime charges. So how does this set up that next case?

COLEMAN: Well, it sets up the basics. I think this notion of a citizen's arrest, which is also what the McMichaels attempted to advance as part of their initial defense before they switched gears mid-trial - all of those things have been blown out of the water. I think that we are likely going to hear during the federal civil rights prosecution of this case a greater deal around race. I believe there was some conversation about the internet search history of Mr. Bryan, the use of the racial epithets, as well as, I think, the presence of the Confederate flag on, I believe, the McMichaels' truck. All of those are types of things that will add substance to some of the other elements of this crime. But it remains to be seen what's going to happen once this enters into the federal courts.

CORNISH: How do you think about this case in terms of its victim? What does this moment mean to you as someone who watches these things closely?

COLEMAN: Well, I think it's a very important moment for Ahmaud Arbery. I think it's an important moment for his family and loved ones. I do hope that they receive some sense of closure. But in the larger scale of things, it still is one that should cause concern. And the reason why it should cause concern is because, as that verdict was read today, there were legions of Americans who held their breath. We, as a country, cannot rest until that feeling of needing to hold our breath to ensure that the justice system works as it is supposed to no longer exists.

And so it's important that we do not conflate the notion of justice with accountability. Justice, unfortunately, for Ahmaud Arbery is out of reach because he is no longer with us and can never be made whole. But accountability is what we saw today in that courtroom. And I submit that that's a good first step.

CORNISH: That's civil rights attorney and former prosecutor Charles Coleman. Thank you for your time.

COLEMAN: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Karen Zamora
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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