What is ‘malice murder’? Charges in murder of Ahmaud Arbery explained

November 24, 2021
Defendant William "Roddie" Bryan looks on as the prosecutors make their final rebuttal before the jury begins deliberations in the trial of William "Roddie" Bryan, Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael, charged with the February 2020 death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.


BRUNSWICK, Ga. – A jury found three white Georgia men guilty Wednesday of an array of charges in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery early last year.

Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan each faced a total of nine counts: 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 false imprisonment.

The jury found Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery, guilty on all charges. Gregory McMichael was found guilty on all charges expect malice murder. Bryan was convicted on six of the nine counts, including three counts of felony murder.

Defense attorneys argued that the men are not guilty of all the charges because they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest and that Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense.

The verdict:Jury finds 3 white men guilty of murder in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery

Here’s what those charges mean:

Felony murder and malice murder

Under Georgia law, a felony murder is committed when a person causes the death of another person while committing a felony.

Malice murder refers to when someone causes the death of another person “unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied.”

Express malice is “deliberate intention unlawfully” to take the life of another human, “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.”

The men faced four counts of felony murder because they faced four felonies: two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

Aggravated assault and false imprisonment

The first count of aggravated assault was “with a firearm, deadly weapon.” That’s when Travis pointed a 12-gauge shotgun at Arbery, prosecutors say.

The second count was an assault with “an object, device and instrument, which when used offensively against a person are likely to result in serious bodily injury.” That’s when Arbery was assaulted with the two pickups, prosecutors say.

The judge instructed the jury Tuesday that for aggravated assault, “actual injury to the alleged victim need not be shown.”

Prosecutors say the men committed false imprisonment when they violated Arbery’s personal liberty by confining and detaining him without legal authority, using their pickups.

Because they tried to detain him on another street,  they also were charged with one count of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, prosecutors say.

Judge Timothy Walmsley also told the jury that for Bryan, they may consider the lesser offenses simple assault, reckless conduct and reckless driving in place of an aggravated assault charge.

Citizen’s arrest 

According to the judge, these are the conditions for a citizen’s arrest:

  • A person can make a citizen’s arrest when an offense is committed in their presence or “immediate knowledge.” Or, based on “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion” if the crime is a felony and the suspect is escaping or attempting to escape.
  • A citizen’s arrest cannot be made based on “unsupported statements of others.”
  • It must happen immediately after the offense
  • A person cannot use “excessive force or an unlawful degree of force” during the arrest
  • A person placed under an unlawful citizen’s arrest “has the right to resist the arrest with such force as is reasonably necessary.”

Prosecutors argued the defendants didn’t have immediate knowledge that Arbery had committed a crime, but instead made assumptions based on neighborhood rumors.

They also said none of the defendants told Arbery or the police that they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest on Feb. 23. However, Walmsley told the jury a citizen’s arrest can be made even if the suspect is not told they are under arrest.


In Georgia, a person can threaten or use deadly force if they reasonably believe it’s necessary to protect themselves or another person from “imminent” death or serious bodily injury, or to prevent the commission of a “forcible felony.”

Although Arbery was unarmed when he was killed, defense attorneys argued he could have used his fists as a weapon. Walmsley told jurors a person can use their fist to commit aggravated assault, which would be considered a “forcible felony.”

Walmsley said that a person cannot claim self-defense if they are committing a felony, if they provoke another person into using force, or if they are the “unjustified, initial aggressor” in the encounter.

“A person who is not the aggressor is not required to retreat,” Walmsley said.

Contributing: The Associated Press


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