Federal Judge Rejects Plea Deal for Ahmaud Arbery's Killers in Hate Crime Case
Ahmaud Arbery's family made emotional appeals in federal court to throw out the plea deals and proceed with the hate crimes trial.
A federal judge has rejected plea agreements with the U.S. Justice Department for a white father and son convicted of killing Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery after his relatives emotionally opposed the deal.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood turned down plea deals between federal prosecutors and Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael followed statements from Arbery's parents and two aunts, who were vehemently against the agreements and implored the judge to proceed with trials on federal hate crime charges scheduled for next week.
The pleas would have allowed the McMichaels to proceed directly to federal prison, which is considered safer and more comfortable than state prison. The father and son were sentenced last month in Georgia to life in state prison without parole after being convicted of running down and murdering Arbery, a 25-year-old jogger shot to death in February 2020.
A third white man, neighbor William Bryan, 52, who participated in the chase, was sentenced in state court to life with the possibility of parole.
All three have been charged with hate crimes by federal prosecutors. The McMichaels' proposed plea deal would have been the first time the pair acknowledged the killing of Arbery was racially motivated.
There was no indication following Monday's hearing that Bryan had come to an agreement with Justice Department lawyers.
"All they would have to do is stand up and say that they were motivated by hate and then this court will concede to their preferred conditions of confinement," Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told judge Wood. "I do not need to hear them say they were motivated by hate. That does me no good. It does my family no good.
"It is not fair to take away this victory that I prayed and I fought for. It is not right. It is not just. It is wrong. Please listen to me. Granting these men their preferred conditions of confinement would defeat me. It gives them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son," the mother said.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for the family, told reporters before Monday's hearing that "Federal prison is going to be a lighter sentence for these men."
The attorney also said the Justice Department did not tell the family or its lawyers that the deal included a transfer to federal custody.
Federal prosecutors were “well aware” that the family “was opposed to such a condition,” he said.
"The DOJ has gone behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to make their time in prison easier for them to serve," Cooper-Jones said in a statement Monday. "I have made it clear at every possible moment that I do not agree to offer these men a plea deal of any kind. I have been completely betrayed by the DOJ lawyers."
In a statement Monday evening, Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general, said lawyers for Arbery's relatives had told the Justice Department that the family “was not opposed” to the plea deals.
“The Justice Department takes seriously its obligation to confer with the Arbery family and their lawyers both pursuant to the Crime Victim Rights Act and out of respect for the victim,” she said.
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