Judge in Arbery Case Will Decide Whether Defendants Get Parole
The three men who were convicted on Wednesday of murdering Ahmaud Arbery must be sentenced to life in prison, according to Georgia law, and a judge will decide whether they can be considered for parole beginning in 30 years or if they instead must die in prison.
All three men — Travis McMichael; his father, Gregory McMichael; and their neighbor William Bryan — were taken to the Glynn County jail after they were convicted of murder in Travis McMichael’s fatal shooting of Mr. Arbery in February 2020.
Each defendant faced one charge of malice murder and four counts of felony murder. Jurors convicted only Travis McMichael of the malice murder charge, which means they concluded that he intended to kill Mr. Arbery. They acquitted the other two men on that charge but found them both guilty of felony murder, which applies when someone commits a felony and causes someone’s death.
Both types of murder charges carry the same penalty, which requires a judge to issue a life sentence but allows the judge to decide whether a defendant should have an opportunity for parole. Even if the judge grants the possibility of parole, the defendants would not be eligible under Georgia’s laws until they have been in prison for 30 years. Both charges can also result in the death penalty, but prosecutors did not seek it in this case.
Judge Timothy R. Walmsley, who oversaw the trial, will decide the men’s sentences after a hearing, which has not been scheduled. At the hearing, prosecutors and lawyers for the men will be able to argue for their preferred sentence, and relatives of Mr. Arbery may also deliver a victim impact statement to the court.
“The judge has seen the whole case,” said Sarah Gerwig-Moore, a professor at the Mercer University School of Law, in Macon, Ga. “There’s evidence that the jury never heard about that the judge did, and he could take that into account in the sentencing.”
In sentencing the men, the judge will consider a range of aggravating and mitigating factors. Experts said it was unlikely that the jury’s decision to acquit Gregory McMichael and Mr. Bryan on malice murder would have a serious effect, though the judge might take into account that it was Travis McMichael, and not the other two men, who pulled the trigger.
“The fact that they didn’t actually shoot could be considered,” said Melissa D. Redmon, a former prosecutor in Fulton County, Ga., who is now an assistant professor at the University of Georgia School of Law. “Still, under the law, they have the same culpability.”
Even if the judge allows any of the men to seek parole after 30 years, Ms. Redmon said, it is rare for people serving life sentences to be granted parole as soon as they become eligible. At that point, people serving those sentences are considered for parole at least every eight years.
The three men, all of whom are white, are also facing federal hate crime charges after Justice Department prosecutors charged them with interfering with the right of Mr. Arbery, who is Black, to use a public street because of his race. They also charged all three men with attempted kidnapping, and they charged Travis and Gregory McMichael with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm. That trial has been scheduled for February.