A1 A1
National
AP
All 3 men charged in Arbery's death convicted of murder

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Jurors on Wednesday convicted the three white men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man who was chased and fatally shot while running through their neighborhood in an attack that became part of the larger national reckoning on racial injustice.

The jury deliberated for about 10 hours before convicting Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, who all face minimum sentences of life in prison. It is up to the judge to decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole.

Travis McMichael stood for the verdict, his lawyer’s arm around his shoulder. At one point, McMichael lowered his head to his chest. After the verdicts were read, as he stood to leave, he mouthed “love you” to his mother, who was in the courtroom.

Greg McMichael hung his head when the judge read his first guilty verdict. Robbie Bryan bit his lip.

Moments after the verdicts were announced, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., was seen crying and hugging supporters outside the courtroom.

“He didn’t do nothing,” the father said, “but run and dream.”

Ben Crump, attorney for Arbery’s father, spoke outside the courthouse, saying repeatedly, “The spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob.”

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, thanked the crowd gathered for the verdict and said she did not think she would see this day.

“It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight. But God is good,” she said. Of her son, she said, “He will now rest in peace.”

The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue the 25-year-old after seeing him running outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick in February 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery.

The father and son told police they suspected Arbery was a fleeing burglar. But the prosecution argued that the men provoked the fatal confrontation and that there was no evidence Arbery had committed crimes in the neighborhood.

“We commend the courage and bravery of this jury to say that what happened on Feb. 23, 2020, to Ahmaud Arbery — the hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery — it was not only morally wrong but legally wrong, and we are thankful for that,” said Latonia Hines, Cobb County executive assistant district attorney.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski added: “The jury system works in this country, and when you present the truth to people and they see it, they will do the right thing.”

Travis McMichaels’ attorneys said both he and his father feel that they did the right thing, and that they believed the video would help their case. But they also said the McMichaels regret that Arbery got killed.

“I can tell you honestly, these men are sorry for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery,” attorney Jason Sheffield said. “They are sorry he’s dead. They are sorry for the tragedy that happened because of the choices they made to go out there and try to stop him.”

They planned to appeal.

Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said his team was “disappointed with the verdict, but we respect it.” He planned to file new legal motions after Thanksgiving.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley did not immediately schedule a sentencing date, saying that he wanted to give both sides time to prepare.

Though prosecutors did not argue that racism motivated the killing, federal authorities have charged them with hate crimes, alleging that they chased and killed Arbery because he was Black. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.

The disproportionately white jury received the case about midday Tuesday.

Soon after returning to court Wednesday morning, the jury sent a note to the judge asking to view two versions of the shooting video — the original and one that investigators enhanced to reduce shadows — three times apiece.

Jurors returned to the courtroom to see the videos and listen again the 911 call one of the defendants made from the bed of a pickup truck about 30 seconds before the shooting.

On the 911 call the jury reviewed, Greg McMichael tells an operator: “I’m out here in Satilla Shores. There’s a Black male running down the street.”

He then starts shouting, apparently as Arbery is running toward the McMichael’s idling truck with Bryan’s truck coming up behind him: “Stop right there! Damn it, stop! Travis!” Gunshots can be heard a few second later.

The graphic video death leaked online two months later, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case, quickly arresting the three men.

Defense attorneys contend the McMichaels were attempting a legal citizen’s arrest when they set off after Arbery, seeking to detain and question him after he was seen running from a nearby home under construction.


Business
AP
The Santa experience this year is a mix of laps, distancing

NEW YORK — Santa is back this year, but he pleads caution as he continues to tiptoe through the pandemic.

“Be smart. Be caring. If you have the tiniest tickle in your throat, the tiniest feeling, worry about yourself and worry about everybody else, and know Santa will always be there next year,” said 57-year-old Kevin Chesney, who’s been donning the big red suit since he was a kid.

Amid a downturn in Jolly Old Elves — about 15% fewer in one large database — Chesney is busier than ever from his North Pole in Moorestown, New Jersey. The photo studio where he works quickly sold out its 4,500 appointments to sit with him and the seven other Santas in the studio’s stable.

They’re among the brave in Santa’s ranks with full-contact visits, lap sitting included, though Chesney wears a mask until just before the photos are taken.

Other Santas might not be wearing masks or plastic face shields, or hanging out in protective snow globes like many did last year, but it seems 50-50 this season that they’re not quite ready for hugs, whispers in their ears for secret wishes, and kids smiling or sobbing on their knees.

Some Santas will remain behind barriers that popped up last year for safety. At Minnesota’s Mall of America, the big man will be housed in a log cabin behind a window with guests seated on benches in front of him. At 169 locations for the outdoor retailers Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, benches will also be used, with plastic partitions deployed at some stores for Santa’s photo ops.

Other retailers and Santa hosts are offering the option of no or full contact, even when mandates to distance aren’t in place. And many require or encourage reservations online to cut down on the number of people waiting.

More than 10 million U.S. households visited Santa in a mall or store in 2019, according to GlobalData Retail’s managing director, Neil Saunders. Nearly 73% of them also spent money at nearby restaurants or stores, he said. Last year, the company’s research found that 6.1 million households visited Santa, with fewer retailers and malls offering the holiday star in person. Of those visitors, 62% ate or shopped nearby.

Saunders said projections this year have about 8.9 million households expected to visit Santa in person, with virtual visits still a big option.

“Lingering concerns about the virus and ongoing restrictions in some states and localities continue to act as a brake on visiting Santa in person,” he said.

Chris Landtroop, a spokeswoman for Santa vendor Cherry Hill Programs, is optimistic. The new rollout of vaccinations for children 5 to 11 will certainly help.

“Santa is so back and we are super excited about that. Last year was incredibly tough,” Landtroop said.

The company has been sourcing Santas all year for the 800 malls, big-box stores and other locations it serves, with options for no-contact visits, too. Cherry Hill requires its Santas and other employees to be vaccinated and those with exemptions to be tested regularly.

“At the end of the day, we want guests to feel comfortable,” Landtroop said.

Luther Landon has been providing the Santa Experience at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, for nearly two decades. Last year, he hit on the log cabin idea but was shut down after a day due to the pandemic. He pivoted to virtual Santa and this year will offer both.

“We think that it would be very irresponsible of us to just ignore it and pretend like everything’s back to normal,” he said of the pandemic. “We’ve hidden some microphones so Santa can hear just fine. I know from our Santa community and knowing so many other Santas that the majority of them are reluctant, highly reluctant, to go back to the way it was before the pandemic. But we also have some who are just like, you know what, I don’t care. Having both of those groups is what’s happening in the country, too.”

At Macy’s stores, Santa will be making his list and checking it twice from behind a desk, with guests seated on the other side.

“We’re encouraging everyone to maintain masking throughout their visits,” said Kathleen Wright, senior manager at Macy’s Branded Entertainment. “Santa has been a part of the Macy’s tradition since 1862 so we’re overjoyed that we can safely continue the tradition this year.”

... And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—

“Get vaccinated now.

Just do what’s right!”


Covid-19
DHEC says COVID case trend hard to predict amid holidays

While families across the state sit down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, the state health officials are keeping a close eye on COVID-19 case numbers.

After 10 consecutive weeks of dwindling case numbers, South Carolina saw its first increase in new infections last week. The week ending Sept. 4 saw 39,696 new cases — the second-highest weekly total of the pandemic. Those numbers decreased to 4,446 cases the week ending Nov. 13 but rose to 5,170 the following week.

“I don’t want to hit the panic button, but we are strongly encouraging all South Carolinians to continue the safety protocols that helped us drive those numbers down from that high point back in early September,” said state Department of Health and Environmental Control Director of Public Health Dr. Brannon Traxler.

With millions planning to gather with friends and family today, she asked that people continue to wear masks, stay at a safe distance when possible and gather outdoors if they can.

Everyone age 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and DHEC has adopted the federal guidance that all adults age 18 and older who received any of the three available vaccine brands can get a booster shot. People who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine can get their booster shot six months afterward, and those who got the Janssen vaccine can get their booster two months after.

“Those who received the single-dose Janssen vaccine may want to consider receiving the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine as a booster, to maximize the response due to that booster, in regards to immunity,” Traxler said.

At this same time last year, there weren’t vaccines available against COVID-19, but there also wasn’t the highly contagious delta variant. Last year saw surges in case numbers following the Thanksgiving and December holidays, but it’s not clear what this year has in store.

“It’s difficult to project really this pandemic in general, but particularly when and how cases will rise and what that curb will look like, and that data from the previous year can’t really be used to project,” Traxler said.

It will depend on vaccination levels and people’s preventative practices, she said. Increased masking and vaccinations could prevent a significant spike in cases, but without it it’s likely cases will curve upward. It will take more than a week to see the effects of gatherings on case numbers, she said.

“In general, any time you have large amounts of unvaccinated and-or unmasked folks gathering together, especially indoors which occurs during colder weather, COVID-19 can and will spread more rapidly,” she said. “We’re still early on in the holiday season here and in the winter, and we still have a couple months to go to get through that.”


Back