By Travis Caldwell, Elise Hammond and Mike Hayes, CNN
Three men convicted Wednesday in the death of Ahmaud Arbery each faced nine possible charges that stemmed from their involvement in the 2020 shooting near Brunswick, Georgia. But the verdicts rendered by the jury on some of the allegations differed.
Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. were convicted on four and three of the counts of felony murder, respectively. Gregory’s son, Travis McMichael, was also found guilty on multiple counts of felony murder and was the only one of the three found to have committed malice murder.
The difference between the malice and felony murder charges has to do with intent, CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig said.
Malice murder means the jury determined that Travis McMichael, who was the defendant that shot Arbery, intended to kill Arbery and did, Honig said. Gregory McMichael’s and Bryan’s felony murder convictions mean that they intentionally committed a felony.
Travis McMichael’s attorneys argued that he acted in self-defense when shooting Arbery. The three men suspected Arbery of committing burglary and chased him down in their vehicles, before a scuffle between Arbery and Travis McMichael that was captured on video led to Arbery’s death.
“The chasing him with the truck, false imprisonment — and as a result of that, whether they intended it or not, Ahmaud Arbery was killed and that makes the father and Roddie Bryan guilty of murder as well,” Honig said.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said during the trial that the men had alternative options — including never chasing Arbery or calling police — but instead they chose to pursue Arbery even after he repeatedly eluded them. They committed aggravated assault with their trucks — and the McMichaels, with their guns — while trying to falsely imprison Arbery, she said.
Georgia criminal defense attorney Page Pate told CNN the decisions by the jury between malice and felony murder made sense to him.
“In Georgia, malice murder, you have an intent to kill someone. Felony murder is you don’t necessarily want to kill someone but you’re committing a felony offense and someone dies as a result of it,” Pate said.
He said the verdict shows “it was careful deliberation” by the jury in the case.
“Let’s put the facts together with the law and come up with what we feel is the right verdict, and I think it was the right verdict for this case,” Pate said.
Next phase moves to sentencing
Along with the murder charges, the McMichaels were convicted of two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony in Arbery’s death.
Bryan was convicted of three counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony. He was acquitted of malice murder, one count of felony murder, and one count of aggravated assault.
The men now face a sentence of up to life in prison without the possibility of parole on each of the murder charges, 20 years on each of the aggravated assault charges, 10 years on the false imprisonment charge, and 5 years on the criminal attempt to commit a felony charge.
Judge Timothy Walmsley will decide whether the sentences will be served consecutively or concurrently. A sentencing date has yet to be set.
The McMichaels and Bryan also face separate federal hate crime charges in a trial slated for February.
Federal prosecutors said following the indictment in April that all three men “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
All three men pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
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CNN’s Alta Spells, Devon M. Sayers, Angela Barajas and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.