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Three white men found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The jury gave its judgment in the trial of three men in Georgia. They were found guilty of murder after they chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery. This morning, we hear from other people who surrounded this case. NPR's Debbie Elliott begins our coverage among people at the courthouse.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: The guilty verdicts for Travis and Greg McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan were met with jubilation on the lawn of the Glynn County Courthouse.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ELLIOTT: A nearly all-white jury found the men guilty of murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for chasing Ahmaud Arbery with pickup trucks, cornering him and shooting him to death with a shotgun.

HERMINA GLASS-HILL: I am beyond elated at this verdict.

ELLIOTT: Hermina Glass-Hill is from Midway, Ga., about an hour north of Brunswick.

GLASS-HILL: It's long overdue. And we see that this justice system can work when it's done right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank the Lord. Thank the Lord. Thank the Lord.

ELLIOTT: Friends gathered round to hug Theawanza Brooks, Arbery's aunt.

THEAWANZA BROOKS: I'm just happy that God answered prayers. He did it. And we're just so grateful that he came through for us.

ELLIOTT: Brooks is wearing a T-shirt she had made special for this occasion. It says justice served. Mug shots of Arbery's killers are printed on the back. She says her family's quest for justice for Ahmaud has broader implications.

BROOKS: It means that people now around the world will know that they can't do these type of things and get away with it and that it's not OK to just racially profile someone because of the color of their skins. We're sending a message to anybody else who felt like them that it's over now. It has to stop.

ELLIOTT: In the more than two months since the trial began, the courthouse has been a gathering place for people who have come in solidarity with the Arbery family, who were inside the courtroom hearing and seeing the painful details of what he endured. Tension was growing in the nearly 10 hours the jury deliberated over two days.

LYNN WHITFIELD: After hearing those verdicts, I am just so relieved.

WHITFIELD: Lynn Whitfield is an attorney with the Transformative Justice Coalition, which has worked to draw attention to the Arbery case. Local authorities initially declined to prosecute anyone. It wasn't until cellphone video was released months after the killing that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation stepped in and made arrests. She says the killers had to be held accountable, and Arbery's family would not give up.

WHITFIELD: It shows others what you can do when you band together and take action. Don't just accept the okey doke, as they used to say. Band together, seek the truth and stay strong.

ELLIOTT: Shortly after the judge read the verdicts, Jason Artiste knelt on the grass by the courthouse steps in prayer. Local clergy laid hands on his shoulders.

JASON ARTISTE: I just felt led to pray at that time because it's a crucial moment in our culture, I think the nation's history.

ELLIOTT: Artiste drove up from Jacksonville, Fla., for the day. He says he was moved by Arbery's family's strength.

ARTISTE: Really, the most important part to me was to see some of the relief on the face of the family, the grieving family. I think that gets missed. It's not just a trial about race or culture or ideology. It's a family that lost someone.

ELLIOTT: Standing with Arbery's parents, Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery on the courthouse steps, the Reverend Al Sharpton noted that for them, this will be a somber day of thanks.

AL SHARPTON: There will be an empty chair at Wanda's table.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

SHARPTON: Ahmaud will not be at Thanksgiving, but she can look at that chair...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

SHARPTON: ...And say to Ahmaud, I fought a good fight.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yeah. Come on. That's right.

SHARPTON: And I got you some justice.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yeah. Yes. Come on.

ELLIOTT: The journey is not over. Arbery's killers will go on trial early next year for federal hate crimes.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Brunswick, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.