Ahmaud Arbery convictions: What’s the difference between malice murder and felony murder, and who can make a citizen’s arrest?

This photo combo shows, from left, Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan, and Gregory McMichael during their trial at at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. Jurors on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021 convicted the three white men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man who was chased and fatally shot while running through their neighborhood in an attack that became part of the larger national reckoning on racial injustice. (Pool, file) (Uncredited)

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – It’s a video that, for those who have viewed it, many will likely never forget. A 25-year-old Black man jogging through a Georgia neighborhood and a pickup truck chasing behind him. Although some shots were out of view, the video shows the truck cutting off the jogger, the truck’s occupants brandishing guns, a struggle, multiple shotgun blasts at point-blank range and a young life cut short.

Three men who were charged in the killing claimed they had good reason for it -- they thought the Black jogger was a burglar, but the jogger was not committing any crime, and he actually lived nearby.

Now, Ahmaud Arbery, Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan are not only household names, but a piece of American history tied to racism, civil rights violations and the Black Lives Matter movement which continues to sweep the country.

In his own words, Greg McMichael, a former Georgia law enforcement officer, admitted to police that, on Feb. 23, 2020, he and his son grabbed their guns, chased Arbery and cornered him “like a rat.” They felt they were within their rights and protecting their neighborhood. Their neighbor, Bryan, assisted in the pursuit and, in his words, helped cut off Arbery’s “escape.”

Ahmaud Arbery's father Marcus Arbery, center, his hugged by his attorney Benjamin Crump after the jury convicted Travis McMichael in the Glynn County Courthouse, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A nine-count indictment charged all three men with one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony, in this case false imprisonment.

On Wednesday, closing out a 13 day trial, a jury consisting of nine White women, two White men and one Black man delivered their verdict: all three men were found guilty of murder, in addition to more charges.

Travis McMichael was convicted of all nine charges. Greg McMichael was convicted of all charges except malice murder. Bryan was convicted of two counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.

So what is the difference between the charges?

Malice Murder

In the U.S. state of Georgia , malice murder is a criminal offense committed when a homicide is done with express or implied malice.

Express malice is “that deliberate intention unlawfully to take the life of another human being which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof.” Malice is implied when “no considerable provocation appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart. Since Travis McMichael is the “trigger man” who confronted Arbery, he is the one who this rule applies to.

Felony Murder

The rule of felony murder is a legal doctrine in some common law jurisdictions that broadens the crime of murder: when an offender kills (regardless of intent to kill) in the commission of a dangerous or enumerated crime (called a felony in some jurisdictions), the offender, and also the offender’s accomplices or co-conspirators, may be found guilty of murder. While there is debate about the original scope of the rule, modern interpretations typically require that the offence be an inherently dangerous one, or one committed in an obviously dangerous manner. For this reason, the felony murder rule is often justified by its supporters as a means of deterring dangerous felonies

While Gregory McMichael and Bryant did not shoot Arbery, their roles made them equally responsible accomplices in Arbery’s death.

Citizen’s Arrest

A citizen’s arrest is an arrest made by a private citizen – that is, a person who is not acting as a sworn law-enforcement official. In common law jurisdictions, the practice dates back to medieval England and the English common law, in which sheriffs encouraged ordinary citizens to help apprehend law breakers.

Anyone who makes a citizen’s arrest can find themselves facing possible lawsuits or criminal charges (e.g. charges of false imprisonment, unlawful restraint, kidnapping, or wrongful arrest) if the wrong person is apprehended or a suspect’s civil rights are violated. Private citizens do not enjoy the same immunity from civil liability when making arrests on other private citizens as police officers do.

The jury obviously determined that the McMichaels and Bryan were wrong in their claimed assumption that Arbey was a burglar, therefore they had no right to make such an arrest. It is being argued that they racially profiled Arbery, therefore violating his civil rights, when they chased him, stopped him and, ultimately, killed him.

Travis McMichael also claimed that Arbery was the aggressor, which has been proven not to be true. In Georgia, if you start the fight, you can not claim self-defense.

Ahmaud Arbery's father Marcus Arbery, center right, and Rev. Al Sharpton hold hands after the jury convicted Travis McMichael in the Glynn County Courthouse, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Greg McMichael and his son, Travis and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery were convicted of murder Wednesday in the fatal shooting that became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

President Joe Biden released the following statement:

“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. 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.

“While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin. My administration will continue to do the hard work to ensure that equal justice under law is not just a phrase emblazoned in stone above the Supreme Court, but a reality for all Americans.”


All 3 men charged in Arbery’s death convicted of murder

EXPLAINER: Trio guilty of killing Ahmaud Arbery. What now?

Defendant: Ahmaud Arbery ‘trapped like a rat’ before slaying

About the Author:

Mother of two. Award-winning lover of digital storytelling, sparked by my fascination of being a fashionable gossip like my favorite "Willona Woods" character from "Good Times." On the serious side, president of the Houston Association of Black Journalists and dedicated community servant. Happy to share the news with you each and every day!