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Prosecutors in Ahmaud Arbery trial say cellphone video was key for verdicts

(BRUNSWICK, Ga.) — Prosecutors for the three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery said they believe the cellphone video showing Arbery’s final moments and his death was the evidence that clinched the guilty verdict.

“Not a lot of homicides are on video,” Larissa Ollivierre, a Cobb County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, told 20/20. “I think for this case in particular, that was really important because I just don’t know that we would’ve gotten the verdict that we did had it not been for that video.”

On Wednesday, Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery in February 2020, was convicted by a Glynn County jury on all nine charges, including malice murder and four counts of felony murder.

His father, Gregory McMichael, was found not guilty of malice murder but was convicted on all other charges, including four counts of felony murder.

The McMichaels’ neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, who recorded the incident on a cellphone, was found guilty on six charges, including three of the felony murder counts.

All three men face up to life in prison. A sentencing date has yet to be announced.

Bryan shot the cellphone video from the driver’s seat of his pickup truck as he followed Arbery, who can be seen running alongside a residential street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood outside of Brunswick, Georgia. The video then shows Arbery tussling with Travis McMichael over the shotgun he was holding, as his father, Gregory McMichael stood in the bed of his pickup truck, also holding a gun. A gunshot is heard, and the video shows Arbery struggling with Travis McMichael for the shotgun. There is a second shot, and Arbery can be seen punching Travis McMichael, who then fires a shot at point-blank range, killing Arbery.

In addition to the video, Cobb County senior assistant district attorney Linda Dunikoski said the statements the defendants made after Arbery was killed was another key piece of evidence for their case. Travis McMichael claimed that he and his father suspected Arbery had just burglarized a home under construction in their neighborhood.

Defense attorneys had argued that Arbery was shot in self-defense when he resisted a citizen’s arrest. Prosecutors, meanwhile, alleged the defendants pursued and murdered Arbery because of incorrect “assumptions and driveway decisions” they made that the Black man running through their neighborhood had committed a burglary.

“Those statements were very, very important because those statements showed that they had absolutely no knowledge of any crime that he had committed,” Dunikoski said.

Initially after the incident, police questioned and then released the McMichaels, as well as Bryan. It wasn’t until the video was leaked online months later, sparking a widespread public outcry, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case that the three men were eventually arrested and charged with murder.

Dunikoski and Cobb County assistant district attorney Paul Camarillo said they were concerned at first about the racial makeup of the jury in this case, which was almost entirely white except for one Black person.

“But I think deep down, we knew as a team, it wasn’t going to matter,” Camarillo said. “I had faith that … we were going to get a conviction, no matter what the makeup of the jury was.”

When the guilty verdicts were announced, Dunikoski said it was a “very, very emotional” moment for Arbery’s family, especially his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, who refused to give up her crusade for getting justice for her son.

“We could tell that the waves of relief were resonating through their bodies,” she said. “Wanda Cooper-Jones took one look at us and you could tell just everything fell away from her. She was crying and sobbing … but I think it was some relief that she’d finally gotten the justice that she was so desperately hoping for.”

Ahmaud Arbery’s mother said she is feeling especially thankful this Thanksgiving, after the three men were found guilty of her son’s murder.

“Today is Thanksgiving and I’m really, really thankful. My family and I are really, really thankful for the verdict we got yesterday,” Wanda Cooper-Jones told Good Morning America.

Arbery’s father Marcus Arbery told ABC News Wednesday that he had been skeptical that the case would result in any guilty verdicts.

Following the verdicts, attorneys for the McMichaels said they will appeal — a process that can start once sentencing is done.

“This is a very difficult day for Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael,” Travis McMichael’s defense attorney Jason Sheffield told reporters. “These are two men who honestly believe that what they were doing was the right thing to do. However, the Glynn County jury has spoken, they have found them guilty and they will be sentenced.”

Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, told reporters he was “very disappointed” in the verdict.

“But we have to respect that verdict. That’s the American way,” he said, adding that he plans to file a motion for a new trial on behalf of Bryan next week.

ABC News’ Sabina Ghebremedhin, William Hutchinson and Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

Watch the full story on the Ahmaud Arbery case and trial on “20/20” Friday at 9 p.m. ET

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