Arbery death convictions: What is malice murder vs. felony murder?
TORONTO -- All three men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery were convicted by a jury Wednesday. Between them, the convictions include one count of malice murder and further counts of felony murder.
Georgia law doesn't have degrees of murder like many other courts. Instead, it has malice murder and felony murder.
"[Malice murder] simply means you intended to kill somebody, and you actually did kill them. It doesn't require any premeditation whatsoever," Bruce Barket, a criminal defence attorney, explained to CTV News Channel on Wednesday. "Felony murder is a rule across virtually every state in the United States where if you participate in a felony and somebody is killed as a result of that you can be just as responsible for murder as if you pulled the trigger yourself.
"The simplest example is three men going to rob a bank and one of the three men shoots and kills a clerk or a guard. The other men who go in to rob the bank with him are also guilty of murder, but it's felony murder, not intentional murder or not malice murder."
Travis McMichael, the man who fatally shot Arbery, was convicted of both malice murder and felony murder. His father, Greg McMichael, who chased Arbery along with his son, and neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan, who joined in the pursuit, were convicted of felony murder charges.
Arbery's killing took place in the context of a felony, which led to murder convictions for all three men charged. Other felony charges they were convicted of include aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony, which in this case was false imprisonment.
"There has to be an underlying felony to be convicted of felony murder," Barket said. "It can't just be that you were [for example] shoplifting and somebody got killed, they wouldn't be convicted of felony murder."
Both malice and felony murder convictions carry a minimum penalty of life in prison. It's up to the judge whether the sentence comes with the possibility of parole. But even if the possibility of parole is granted, a person convicted of murder must serve at least 30 years in prison before becoming eligible.
Murder can also be punishable by death in Georgia if the killing meets certain criteria and the prosecutor chooses to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors in this case did not.
With files from The Associated Press