William Bryan (L), Gregory McMichael (C) and Travis McMichael (R) were found guilty of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery

Washington (AFP) - Three white men were found guilty of murder Wednesday for shooting dead an African American man after chasing him in their pickup trucks, following a racially-charged trial in the southern US state of Georgia that gripped the nation.

Travis McMichael, who shot Ahmaud Arbery, his father Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, who took part in the chase, were all found guilty of murder.

A predominantly-white jury in Brunswick, Georgia, deliberated for less than 12 hours before convicting the three men on multiple counts of murder and other charges.

The Reverend Al Sharpton, center, with Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, left, attorney Lee Merritt, second from left, attorney Ben Crump, right, and Marcus Arbery, father of Ahmaud Arbery, addressing reporters

Travis McMichael, 35, his father Gregory, a 65-year-old retired police officer, and Bryan, 52, face potential life in prison for the February 2020 shooting of the 25-year-old Arbery.

A crowd erupted in cheers outside the Glynn County courthouse as the verdict was delivered, chanting: “Say his name. Ahmaud Arbery!”

“Today is a good day,” Arbery’s father, Marcus, told the gathering. “I don’t want to see no daddy watch their kid get lynched and shot down like that.”

President Joe Biden hailed the verdict in the closely watched case, but said “hard work” remains in combatting racism in America.

“Ahmaud Arbery’s killing – witnessed by the world on video – is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country,” Biden said in a statement.

Travis McMichael, who was found guilty on all counts for the death of Ahmaud Arbery

The Reverend Al Sharpton, who attended the trial along with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, another prominent civil rights leader, also welcomed the verdict.

“Let the word go forth all over the world that a jury of 11 white, one black, in the Deep South, stood up in the courtroom and said, ‘Black lives do matter,’” Sharpton said.

There was only one Black juror on the 12-member jury that heard the case, although about 25 percent of the 85,000 residents of Glynn County, where the trial took place, are Black.

- ‘Chose to confront him’ -

Judge Timothy Walmsley dismissed several defense motions for a mistrial

“The spirit of Ahmaud defeated a lynch mob,” said Ben Crump, an attorney for Arbery’s father – who shouted “Wooo!” when the verdict was read and was told by the presiding judge to leave the courtroom.

“I never thought this day would come,” said Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones. “But God is good. Thanks you for those who marched, for those who prayed.”

A graphic video of the shooting of the unarmed Arbery went viral on social media and added fuel to last year’s protests against racial injustice sparked by the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by a white police officer in Minnesota.

The defendants said they suspected Arbery was a burglar who had been active in their neighborhood and invoked a since-repealed state law that allows ordinary citizens to make arrests.

But prosecutors said they had no justification for attempting to detain Arbery and never told him they were trying to arrest him as he jogged through their Satilla Shores neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon.

Chief prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said the McMichaels, who were armed with a shotgun and a handgun, and Bryan didn’t see Arbery commit any crime that day but “chose to confront him” because he was a “Black man running down the street.”

“He was trying to get away from these strangers who were yelling at him, threatening to kill him,” Dunikoski said. “And then they killed him.”

- Hate crimes trial -

Chief prosecutor Linda Dunikoski

The jury was shown video during the trial of the McMichaels pursuing Arbery in their truck, and Bryan chasing him in his own vehicle while filming the scene on his cell phone.

At one point, Arbery attempts to run around the front of the McMichaels’ stopped truck.

Travis McMichael, who had gotten out of the vehicle, opens fire with a 12-gauge shotgun. A wounded Arbery is seen struggling with McMichael before being killed by another shot.

Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, sought on several occasions during the trial to have the judge declare a mistrial, claiming the presence of civil rights leaders Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in the gallery was influencing the jurors.

Judge Timothy Walmsley dismissed the motions, saying anyone was welcome to attend so long as they were not disruptive.

The guilty verdicts came just days after the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in another closely watched case in the United States.

Rittenhouse, 18, shot dead two men and wounded another during protests and riots against police brutality in Wisconsin last year that followed the police shooting of a Black man.

The teen claimed self-defense and was acquitted of all charges on Friday.

The McMichaels and Bryan are also facing federal hate crimes charges in a case that will go to trial next year.