How Did Ahmaud Arbery’s 3 Assailants End Up With 12 Murder Convictions?

Last week, there were many guilty verdicts at the Ahmaud Abery trial’s conclusion. This was likely to shock very few. Video footage shows Travis McMichael shooting the Georgian man. He and his two accomplices tracked Arbery in their trucks, and prevented him from fleeing. But OnePart may be confusing. How could three men, McMichael’s one-time victim, rack up 12 murder convictions?

We can refer to the felony-murder rule as an example. This allows you to be charged with murder but later admits that you did not. ActuallyKill anyone as long as it was done while you were also committing another felony. McMichael was also found guilty on an additional charge of malice murder. 

Gregory McMichael and William Bryan were his father and best friend. ConvictedThere were a number of charges against them for their behavior that day. These included aggravated attack, false imprisonment and criminal attempt. The tangential charges of false imprisonment, aggravated assault and criminal attempt to commit felony murder were all thrown in their faces.

Most of the country supportedThat was the verdict. That isn’t surprising; Arbery’s death is—at least in my view—an open and shut moral case. It isn’t speculative to say that the murder was motivated by racism. You can see it in McMichael the younger. Bryan, who was present at the scene, stated that McMichael had called Arbery “fucking nuts” when he shot him to death.

Therefore, it would be easy to mistakenly associate “felony murder” and fairness with justice. High-profile cases are not a good way to assess the criminal justice system. You might think that each individual case is a microcosm of the larger machine. This is false. It’s not unusual for Arbery to be such an exception.

Banner 3

Lara Bazelon is a University of San Francisco professor of law. She says the felony killing rule “divorces intend from consequence”. “The concept is that, well, if you went along for the underlying felony, if you went along for the less serious act…then you’re just as guilty as [the murderer]Even if your co-defendant is armed and you have no intention to kill yourself, it doesn’t matter if they weren’t aware.

It isn’t a fantasy scenario. Jenna Holm, who was accused of murdering a Idaho police officer in response to her mental illness, was indicted on May 2020. This happened just a few months before Arbery’s convicted killers were brought to justice. But it wasn’t Holm who killed Bonneville County Sheriff’s Deputy Wyatt Maser—something the state conceded. Another cop struck Maser with his car when he arrived on the scene.

Although an internal investigation showed that officers were not following safety procedures at the time, Holm was charged with “unlawful conduct” by the police. They also added the manslaughter and murder charges. Holm spent 16 months in prison before the judge struck down this charge.

Many more stories like this exist. Masonique Saunders (16 years old) was interviewed in December 2018. ChargedWith the felony killing of her boyfriend. Ohio claimed that Ohio’s teen helped to plan the burglary and thus killed her partner. The most famous anecdote about the felony murder rule, however, is that of Ohio. Ryan HolleHe was sentenced to life imprisonment after lending his car to friends. Those friends then used it to commit a crime—also a burglary—which went horribly awry after one of the men found a firearm in the house they were robbing and used it to kill 18-year-old Jessica Snyder.

Holle lived a mile away from the scene, but Holle was not treated differently than Charles Miller, Jr., which saw the gun and killed Snyder. Bazelon notes that felony murder means you are equally liable and you are as guilty of the crime as the one who pulled the trigger. Holle received a 25-year sentence that was reduced to in 2015. He will be held accountable until 2024.

The felony murder rule is a long-standing target for criminal justice reformers. However, these principles can be much more challenging to implement when defendants are not as sympathetic as in the Arbery case. This is why Bazelon might find herself on an island smaller than normal.

“If you believe in your heart that felony murder is wrong because it overcriminalizes, and you’re a believer that you should be guilty of what you intend to do—no more no less—then you have to stick with that,” she says, “even when the people who are convicted are people that you dislike, and in your heart you feel, you know what, they deserve it.”

Bazelon acknowledges that she did feel that way toward the two defendants who didn’t pull the trigger—that she had to resist the gut urge to celebrate the ruling as just. You can’t blame her. It’s not the same as wishing they would walk free from their collective seven murder convictions, but taking issue with Bryan and Gregory McMichael. 

Bryan was involved in this incident: Bryan McMichaels, his neighbor, pursued Arbery with a different vehicle. He admitted to using his truck as a cutoff route for Arbery’s escape route and hitting him. The only charge he received was that of aggravated assault. This Georgia offense carries up to 20 year imprisonment. His other convictions are not included.

Bazelon states that his actions were “incredibly reckless” and dangerous. He said that his actions were “incredibly reckless and dangerous” but there was no evidence that they intended to assassinate him.

It was a pure legal point of view that the Georgia jury did not get it wrong. It’s an accurate use of Georgia’s felony murder law. She tells me that this is precisely what Georgia’s felony murder law was intended to accomplish. “And it makes me uncomfortable….If you are a principled thinker and you are a professor of law, and you have moral principles and beliefs, then you have to apply them to everybody.” For that to include the Holms and the Saunderses and the Holles of the world, that necessarily also has to include a McMichael and a Bryan—no matter how unsavory it might be.