As the verdict was read inside the Glynn County Courthouse, cheers of elation and expressions of relief exploded outside.
The three men charged in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty Wednesday in Glynn County Superior Court, and the response outside the courthouse was one of joy.
A crowd made up of demonstrators, staff of various media outlets and observers who included multiple faith leaders in Glynn County stood in front of the courthouse listening to a live stream of the reading of the verdict, which came at about 1:30 p.m. following a morning of jury deliberations.
Travis McMichael, 35, was found guilty of malice murder and felony murder. His father, Greg McMicheal, 65, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were found guilty of felony murder, but the jury found both men not guilty of malice murder.
All three men were found guilty to varying degrees of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
The three men pursued 25-year-old Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, in the Satilla Shore neighborhood before Travis McMichael shot Arbery at close range in what he claimed was self-defense but the prosecution argued was malice murder.
When the reading of the verdicts by Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley of the Eastern Judicial Circuit ended, the chanting began.
“What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now,” the crowd chanted, along with “Say his name: Ahmaud Arbery.”
Sharon Schlaak needed only one word to describe her reaction to the verdict: Relief.
“Absolute relief,” said Schlaak, a Brunswick resident. “I was unsure for a minute if the jury was going to be able to come to what I thought was the right decision, and they did. In a way, it’s joyful.”
Schlaak had stood outside the courthouse nearly every day since the beginning of the trial, bringing along her small dog Poppy. Poppy wore a green shirt and a button with a photo of Arbery Wednesday.
“Right is right, and the family shouldn’t have had to go through this, through how long it took to come to justice,” she said.
Schlaak said she’s been proud to see how the Glynn County community has come together amid this tragedy, and her thoughts continue to be with Arbery’s family as they endure his loss.
“We’ve got justice today, but their pain is not ended by this,” she said.
Nathanial Hicks Jr., pastor of New Vision Church of God and Christ in Brunswick, also shared his relief that justice was served. He said he’s been impressed by the turnout of both of Black and White individuals at events outside the courthouse throughout the trial.
“I think that speaks volumes as for who Brunswick is and who Brunswick is becoming,” he said. “There are some issues in our community, but there’s hope from what I’ve seen out here.”
After the verdict, Arbery’s family emerged from the courthouse alongside their attorneys and civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton. Several lifted their interlocked hands in an expression of victory.
Barricades kept the courthouse steps and front area clear of demonstrators and media. Arbery’s parents — father Marcus Arbery and mother Wanda Cooper-Jones — stepped up to the microphones along with Sharpton, the attorneys and other members of the family to share their reaction to the verdict.
The prosecution team hung back for several minutes before stepping forward to address the crowd and cameras.
“Let the word go forth all over the world that a jury of 11 Whites and one Black in the deep South stood up in the courtroom and said that Black lives do matter,” Sharpton said.
Latonia Hines, executive assistant district attorney for the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case, offered thanks to many who she said helped her team achieve a guilty verdict.
“We want you to know that from the moment this case came to our office, it was our foremost goal to ensure that we got justice for Ahmaud Arbery’s family, and in particular we are so very proud and thankful for the confidence that the family has given to us,” she said.
She also expressed gratitude for the jury’s decision.
“We commend the courage and bravery of this jury to say that what happened on Feb. 23, 2020, to Ahmaud Arbery — the hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery — it was not only morally wrong but legally wrong, and we are thankful for that,” Hines said.
Linda Dunikoski, senior assistant district attorney with the Cobb County DA and lead prosecutor during the trial, received many loud cheers when she stepped up to speak.
“The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts, based on the evidence,” she said. “And that was our goal...to bring that to that jury so that they could do the right thing.”
Numerous state and national leaders released statements following the verdict, including President Joe Biden and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
“Ahmaud Arbery’s killing — witnessed by the world on video — is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country,” Biden said. “Mr. Arbery should be here today celebrating the holidays with his mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, and his father, Marcus Arbery. Nothing can bring Mr. Arbery back to his family and to his community, but the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished.”
In his statement, Kemp said Arbery was the victim of “a vigilantism that has no place in Georgia.”
“As legal efforts continue to hold accountable all who may be responsible, we hope the Arbery family, the Brunswick community, our state, and those around the nation who have been following his case can now move forward down a path of healing and reconciliation,” Kemp said.
The crowd outside the courthouse began to disperse when Arbery’s family left, and one group started a march down G Street and away from the courthouse.
Before the family departed, Sharpton stood with them to pray. He also noted that despite the guilty verdicts for the men who played a role in their son’s murder, Arbery’s family must continue to live with his loss.
“There will be an empty chair at Wanda’s table (Thanksgiving),” Sharpton said. “Ahmaud will not be at Thanksgiving...but she can look at that chair and say to Ahmaud, ‘I fought a good fight, and I got you some justice.’”