At first, it was “kind of impossible to keep track of all the faces that were coming out,” said Ahmaud Arbery, the son of an African-American woman in Milwaukee.
Mr. Arbery was sharing some of the joys and emotions that poured out after his mother’s conviction Friday for the shooting death of her grandson, 15-year-old Tony Robinson Jr. As some with tears and others who cheered tears of joy found seats inside the Milwaukee County Courthouse, Mr. Arbery pulled his family, including young friends, to the back of the room. He wrapped his sister in a hug, his mother with a long, fatherly embrace.
“This is my life. This is what’s made us. This is my kids’ life,” said Janine Schaffner, Mr. Arbery’s mother, 63, in a interview inside the courtroom, where her voice quivered as she spoke about what she would tell her grandchildren — not only the verdict but the need for change in society — as she walked out of court. “There’s such a high bar and a lot of people are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, even being honest.”
Mr. Arbery, the 30-year-old son of Mrs. Schaffner, and his two brothers testified that he had been told repeatedly that his mother had gone into a rage — crying and shaking — in the moments after Mr. Robinson was shot and killed last February by a white, former Milwaukee police officer, Matt Kenny. She had been trying to calm him down, they said, and they knew she was angry. His mother said that she has post-traumatic stress disorder from a near-fatal car crash that she suffered more than a decade ago, and she was desperate to help her grandson.
But the jury ultimately rejected the testimony of Mr. Arbery and others that Mrs. Schaffner had gone outside in the rain and thrown a liquor bottle at Mr. Robinson — and later left her home with another bottle of vodka in her hand, intending to drive drunk back to Georgia. The jury also rejected an alternate witness’ contention that Mr. Kenny had yelled at her to stop trying to calm down the boy.
The jurors did not believe that Mrs. Schaffner had acted differently after the struggle. They also found that there were no witnesses who testified that she had attempted to kill the boy. And they did not find Mr. Kenny’s actions to be a threat to Mrs. Schaffner or Mr. Robinson, and that they were reasonable.
“The second verdict I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. This could have been different,’” said Mr. Arbery, who described his grandmother, who was born in Cuba and moved with her family to the United States when she was a young child, as “very tough.”
“This is my birthday and I’m sitting here with my mom and my brothers — but not knowing the truth about what happened,” Mr. Arbery said, his eyes tearing up.
“I’m not sure what the next step is but I’m going to fight,” he said. “I’m going to keep fighting for justice. This is my mother. This is my roots. This is my roots.”