Ahmaud Arbery Killing: Judge Rejects Hate Crime Plea Deal

ATLANTA — A federal judge on Monday threw out plea deals for two of three white men charged with federal hate crimes in the murder of Ah...


ATLANTA — A federal judge on Monday threw out plea deals for two of three white men charged with federal hate crimes in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, the black man who was chased in a Georgia neighborhood and shot dead .

Travis McMichael, 36, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, had agreed to plead guilty, admitting for the first time that they attacked Mr Arbery because of his race.

But the judge rejected the deals the men had made with the Justice Department after fierce opposition from Mr Arbery’s family, who objected that it allowed them to spend 30 years in federal prison, rather than a state prison.

“I ask in the name of his family, in the name of his memory and in the name of fairness that you do not grant this appeal in order to allow these men to transfer custody from the State of Georgia to the federal prisons where they prefer to be,” Wanda Cooper-Jones, Mr. Arbery’s mother, told the judge.

After rejecting his plea deal, Judge Lisa Godbey Wood gave Travis McMichael until Friday to decide whether he should formally enter a guilty plea. She noted that Mr McMichael’s father, Gregory McMichael, had been offered the same deal and also given him until Friday to decide whether to plead guilty.

The McMichaels were convicted of murder along with a third man, William Bryan, 52, in Georgia state court in November.

Federal prosecutors argued Monday that Travis McMichael had no intention of hurting a black person that day — but made racist assumptions about Ahmaud Arbery based on his skin color. Skylar Barnes, an FBI special agent, testified that there was evidence of racial animosity on Travis’ phone, including frequent racial slurs.

The case was widely seen as an act of racial violence. But while prosecutors in the state trial had considered introducing what they described as “racial” evidence, including inflammatory Facebook posts and text messages from the three men, in the end they only lightly touched on racial themes arguing their case before the almost all-white jury.

On Sunday, federal prosecutors filed a notice in U.S. District Court asking a judge to approve the plea deals for the McMichaels. Specific details about the plea agreements were not included in the court documents. There was also no indication that an agreement had been reached with Mr. Bryan, who was involved in the prosecution of Mr. Arbery in the neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia, in February 2020.

Mrs. Cooper-Jones, denounced the pleas. In a Sunday evening interview, Ms Cooper-Jones said of federal prosecutors: “They went behind my back. I am totally, totally upset. My anxiety is above the roof.

She said federal officials asked her earlier if she approved of a deal and she told them no.

All three men were sentenced to life in prison by the state court. In federal proceedings, the men are charged with hate crimes and attempted kidnapping, for which they face life sentences. Travis McMichael, who fired a shotgun at Mr Arbery, also faces a weapons charge.

During the murder trial, lawyers for Travis McMichael – who fired his shotgun three times at Mr. Arbery at close range – said that he had fired in self-defense.

Ms Cooper-Jones said she wanted the federal trial to take place in order to put an end to the self-defense argument and firmly establish that the men were motivated by racism.

Mr. Arbery was unarmed when the three men chased him for several minutes through Satilla Shores, a middle-class neighborhood along Georgia’s south coast. They said they suspected Mr Arbery of committing property crimes in the area. In video footage of the encounter, Mr Arbery could be seen running as his pursuers pursued him in two pickup trucks.

The chase ended when Mr. Arbery and young Mr. McMichael met in a violent confrontation. Mr Bryan captured the violence in a video clip which was widely circulated on the internet, sparking a national outcry and claims that the murder amounted to a modern-day lynching.

It is unclear what evidence could be introduced in the federal trial. At a preliminary hearing, state prosecutors read text message from November 2019 in which Travis McMichael used a racial slur about black people as he described the idea of ​​shooting a “crackhead” with “golden teeth”.

In a federal court filing in late December, Mr. Bryan’s attorney asked the court to exclude evidence suggesting that Mr. Bryan had ‘racial animosity’ toward black people, including racially insensitive text messages that he had written around the Martin Luther King Jr. vacation and testimonials “which would suggest that Bryan did not approve of his adopted daughter dating an African American man”.

A Georgia state investigator said Mr Bryan told authorities he heard Travis McMichael use a racial slur shortly after shooting Mr Arbery. Mr. McMichael’s attorneys disputed that claim.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Ahmaud Arbery Killing: Judge Rejects Hate Crime Plea Deal
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