Shotgun killers who hunted down jogger Ahmaud Arbery are sentenced to life without parole

Three white men convicted of chasing down a black jogger in their pick-up trucks and killing him were sentenced to life in prison on Friday in a case that highlighted tensions in the US over racial justice.

Travis McMichael, 35, and his father Gregory McMichael, 66, were sentenced to life without parole, while their neighbour, William "Roddie" Bryan, 52, who had a less direct role in the murder and cooperated with investigators, was given life with the possibility of parole.

Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was running through the residential neighbourhood of Satilla Shores, Georgia, when the McMichaels decided to grab their guns, jump in a pick-up truck and give chase.

Judge Tiomthy Walmsley said at the hearing in Glynn County Court, Brunswick, that he gave the McMichaels the harshest sentence open to him partly because of their "callous" words and actions captured on video.

"It was a chilling, truly disturbing scene," the judge said of the frame in a phone video of the killing where McMichael lifted his shotgun at Mr Arbery from about 20ft away. He said the man was "hunted down and shot, and he was killed because individuals here in this courtroom took the law into their own hands".

Ahmaud Arbery's sister Jasmine Arbery listens to her mother's impact statement to Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley

Earlier, the victim’s anguished relatives had addressed the court to argue that racial stereotyping led to the killing. Defence lawyers pleaded leniency, saying none of the three men intended to kill Mr Arbery.

Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, had argued that the two McMichaels should die in prison and only Bryan should be able to seek parole, citing "a demonstrated pattern of vigilantism" by the McMichaels.

Jasmine Arbery addressed the court with a poetic celebration of her brother’s blackness, which she said was mistaken for something frightening by his murderers.

"He had dark skin that glistened in the sunlight like gold. He had curly hair; he would often like to twist it. He had a broad nose and the colour of his eyes was filled with melanin," she said. "These are the qualities that made these men assume Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal. To me, those qualities reflected a young man full of life and energy who looked like me and the people I love."

Prosecutors said the three men had mistakenly "assumed the worst" about a black man out on a Sunday afternoon jog. They chased him for about five minutes around the streets.

Travis McMichael, left, speaks with his attorney Bob Rubin, right, during the sentencing

Credit: Getty

The case hinged on whether the men, under a now-repealed Georgia law permitting citizen arrests, had a right to confront Mr Arbery on a hunch he was fleeing a crime. In the end the jury was not swayed by tearful testimony from Travis McMichael, the only defendant to take the stand, that he shot only in self-defence.

The defence lawyers have said they will appeal the convictions. Bob Rubin, for the younger McMichael, said life without parole should be reserved only for "the worst of the worst".

"His goal was not to commit a crime that day or kill somebody that day," Mr Rubin said of Travis McMichael. "His goal was to have a family afternoon." None of the three convicted men used their right to address the court at the hearing.

The three also face a federal trial in February on hate crime charges, accused in an indictment of violating Mr Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his "race and colour".

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