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3 white men have been found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A Georgia jury has convicted three white men of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man killed last year while running through a neighborhood just outside the city of Brunswick. The nearly all-white jury reached its verdict during its second day of deliberations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Count one, malice murder...

(SCREAMING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...We, the jury find the defendant, Travis McMichael, guilty.

(SCREAMING)

CORNISH: Now, that was the reaction outside the Glynn County courthouse as the judge read the verdicts. It, of course, has a wider significance. Arbery's killing is intertwined in the national discussion about the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the months of racial reckoning that have followed. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been covering this trial and joins us now from Brunswick. And Debbie, to begin, the jury convicted the defendants on all the charges. What is the message here?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, on most of the charges - I should correct myself there. I think I said that initially, but it was most of the charges. And the message is very clear that the jury completely rejected the claims of citizen's arrest and self-defense from Travis McMichael, his father, Greg. They, along with their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan, were convicted of murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for chasing Ahmaud Arbery with pickup trucks on February 23, 2020. They cornered him, and Travis McMichael shot him at close range with a shotgun. Bryan recorded the confrontation on his cellphone, which became a damning piece of evidence in this trial. After the verdict today, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said the jury did its job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDA DUNIKOSKI: And when you present the truth to people...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Come on.

DUNIKOSKI: ...And they can see it...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Right.

DUNIKOSKI: ...They will do the right thing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: They sure...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That's right.

DUNIKOSKI: And that's what this jury did today in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery.

CORNISH: What was the reaction from Arbery's family? They've been in the court daily for this trial.

ELLIOTT: Right. Both of his parents were very emotional as the verdict was read in the courtroom. And then afterwards, they came out and talked with people about what it meant to them. Here's Wanda Cooper-Jones.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WANDA COOPER-JONES: I never thought this day would come, but God is good.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yes, he is.

COOPER-JONES: And I just want to tell everybody, thank you. Thank you for those who marched, those who prayed - most of all the ones who prayed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Yes, Lord.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Yes.

COOPER-JONES: Thank you, guys (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Yes, Lord.

COOPER-JONES: Thank you. And now Quez, which you know him as Ahmaud - I know him as Quez.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Yes.

COOPER-JONES: He will now rest in peace.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Amen.

ELLIOTT: So Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery, his father, have been fighting for justice for their son since the killing. If you recall, local authorities failed to press charges initially, and it wasn't until that cellphone video was released months later that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over and charged the three men.

CORNISH: And speaking of which, was there any response from the defendants?

ELLIOTT: Travis McMichael's attorneys declined to comment. Greg McMichael's legal team said they would appeal. Now, immediately after the verdict, attorney Laura Hogue, who represented Greg McMichael, turned to his wife and Travis' mother, Lee McDaniel, who was sitting there in the gallery. And Laura Hogue said she was floored with a capital F. Later, she told reporters she was very disappointed in the verdict.

CORNISH: A reminder of how this case has become part of a broader national conversation - right? - it's not just about this one courtroom. What is the takeaway from this verdict?

ELLIOTT: Very much an echo of what people have been chanting here at the courthouse throughout this, you know, two-month-long trial, justice for Ahmaud. They finally feel like they got justice for Ahmaud. Here's what Bobby Henderson had to say. He's part of a local group called A Better Glynn that's been pushing for reforms in the local justice system.

BOBBY HENDERSON: This has been the moment that - you know, we say we got to get past this because there's so much other stuff to do. You know? So we're glad that things turned out the way that they did. But we're excited about the work that comes after this.

ELLIOTT: So a movement ignited here will continue. In the meantime, the McMichaels and Roddie Bryan will be sentenced. They face up to life in prison without parole.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Brunswick, Ga. Thank you.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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