Arbery Verdict: What is Malice Murder?

Arbery Verdict: What is Malice Murder?

A jury found three men guilty of murder on Wednesday in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, but though all defendants were facing a charge of “malice murder,” only one man, Travis McMichael, was convicted on that charge.

In finding Mr. McMichael, the man who fatally shot Mr. Arbery in February 2020, guilty of that charge, the twelve jurors found that he had deliberately intended to kill Mr. Arbery.

The jury acquitted Travis McMichael’s father, Gregory McMichael, as well as their neighbor, William Bryan, on that charge, suggesting that they did not believe either man intended to kill Mr. Arbery. But jurors still found both men guilty of murder under Georgia’s “felony murder” statute, which allows a person to be convicted of murder if the person causes someone’s death while committing another felony.

Both malice murder and felony murder carry the same maximum penalty — up to life in prison, in this case — so the jury’s acquittal of Gregory McMichael and Mr. Bryan on malice murder is unlikely to impact their prison term.

Sarah Gerwig-Moore, a professor at Mercer University School of Law, in Macon, Ga., said that without hearing from the jurors themselves, it is difficult to know their reasons for only finding Travis McMichael guilty of malice murder.

“It’s hard to read those tea leaves,” Ms. Gerwig-Moore said, adding, “Because Travis McMichael was the man who shot Ahmaud Arbery, there’s a chance that the jury could have seen him as the primary aggressor, and that may be one way there’s that distinction in guilt.”

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