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Ahmaud Arbery’s mother: Hate crimes plea deal is a betrayal

Jan 31, 2022, 7:35 AM | Updated: 7:41 am
FILE - Travis McMichael is shown during the sentencing of he and his father Greg McMichael and neig...
FILE - Travis McMichael is shown during the sentencing of he and his father Greg McMichael and neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan in the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, in Brunswick, Ga. The man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery and his father have reached a plea deal that could avoid their trial on federal hate crime charges. Arbery's parents denounced the deal as a betrayal, and called on the judge to reject it. Court documents filed late Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, by prosecutors for the U.S. Justice Department say plea agreements were reached with Travis and Greg McMichael. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool, File)
(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool, File)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The son and father convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery have reached a plea agreement that could avoid their trial on federal hate crime charges. Arbery’s parents denounced the deal as a betrayal, and called on the judge to reject it.

The proposed plea agreements with Travis and Greg McMichael were announced in court documents filed late Sunday by prosecutors for the U.S. Justice Department. There was no mention of a deal with the third defendant in the case, William “Roddie” Bryan.

No details were disclosed about the federal deals, which would not affect their state murder convictions in Arbery’s killing. All three men were sentenced to life in prison on Jan. 7 after a trial last fall.

Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones, said Monday that the deal would allow the McMichaels to serve their time in federal custody, avoiding the harsher conditions in Georgia prisons. He called the deals “a huge accomodation to the men who hunted down and murdered Ahmaud Arbery.”

“Wanda Cooper Jones kept her promise to Ahmaud Arbery to get her son justice. Today the DOJ is attempting to ‘snatch defeat from the jaws of victory’. We will not allow it,” Merritt tweeted.

Merritt also shared a comment by Cooper-Jones: “The DOJ has gone behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to make their time in prison easier to serve,” she said. “I have been completely betrayed by the DOJ lawyers.”

Plea agreements would require the approval of U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood. She had scheduled a hearing Monday morning to address any remaining pretrial issues. It was unclear if that hearing would go forward. She had scheduled jury selection to begin Feb. 7.

The McMichaels and Bryan were indicted on federal charges that they violated the 25-year-old Black man’s civil rights when they chased him through their neighborhood in coastal Georgia on Feb. 23, 2020. The McMichaels armed themselves and pursued Arbery in one pickup truck while Bryan joined the chase in another and recorded video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.

A national outcry erupted over Arbery’s death when the graphic video leaked online two months after the shooting. Georgia was one of just four U.S. states without a hate crimes law at the time. Georgia lawmakers quickly approved one in response, but it was too late for state hate crime charges in this case.

During the state trial in Glynn County Superior Court, defense attorneys argued the men had legal authority to chase Arbery because they reasonably suspected he had been committing crimes in their neighborhood. Travis McMichael testified he opened fire only after Arbery attacked him with fists and tried to grab his shotgun.

For the federal trial, the judge ordered that the jury pool be chosen from throughout the federal court system’s Southern District of Georgia, which covers 43 counties, to improve odds of seating a fair and unbiased jury.

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Ahmaud Arbery’s mother: Hate crimes plea deal is a betrayal