Most cases that local prosecutors and others ask the Justice Department to pursue do not end up this way. The department tends to be careful in selecting such cases, pursuing 17 percent of the hate crime incidents it was presented between 2005 and 2019. When the department does decide to prosecute, the cases usually end with defendants pleading guilty.
In this case, prosecutors had initially reached plea agreements with two of the defendants, Gregory and Travis McMichael, that would have sent them to federal prison for 30 years. But Mr. Arbery’s family protested the deals, in part because they would have allowed the men to serve their time in federal prison — viewed by some as less dangerous — rather than state prison.
Judge Lisa Godbey Wood ultimately rejected the agreements, allowing the trial to go forward. She has not yet sentenced the men in the trial that ended on Tuesday, and it was uncertain whether they would start serving their time in a state prison for the murders or in a federal prison for the hate crimes.
As a number of recent cases of violent crimes against African Americans have worked their way through the legal system, the Georgia case stood out for forcing a blunt examination of racism in the courtroom.
On Feb. 23, 2020, the three men used a pair of trucks to chase Mr. Arbery, who was running through their neighborhood, until the younger Mr. McMichael shot him three times at close range with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Over a week of testimony, federal jurors were exposed to ugly expressions of bigotry by the three men, and then asked to decide whether those attitudes meant they had gone after Mr. Arbery because of his “race and color.”
Lawyers for the three defendants argued that the men had not been motivated by racial animus, but rather because Mr. Arbery seemed to them like a potential crime suspect. Gregory McMichael’s lawyer, A.J. Balbo, told the jury that Mr. McMichael had not been out to hunt down a Black person that day, but rather to go after Mr. Arbery specifically, after a police officer showed him security camera images of Mr. Arbery entering a nearby house that was under construction.