Ahmaud Arbery’s parents object to DOJ’s hate crime plea deal

By Russ Bynum

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) – The son and father convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery have reached a plea agreement that could avert a hate crimes trial and allow them to do their time in federal custody rather than state prisons. Arbery’s parents denounced the deal and called on the judge to reject it.

Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Brunswick that she plans to ask the judge Monday afternoon to reject the plea deal.

U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood continued preparing for the trial meanwhile, summoning the first 50 potential jurors to the courthouse on Monday, Feb. 7, for questioning.

Cooper-Jones and the slain man’s father, Marcus Arbery, object to allowing the Travis and Greg McMichael to spend the first 30 years of their sentences in federal prison, Merritt said. The family wants them to stay in state prison in tougher conditions, he said.

Arbery told reporters he’s “mad as hell. Cooper-Jones described the DOJ’s decision to move forward despite her objections as “disrespectful.”

“I fought so hard to get these guys in the state prison,” she said. “I told them very, very adamantly that I wanted them to go to state prison and do their time. … Then I got up this morning and found out they had accepted this ridiculous plea.”

The proposed plea agreements were filed with the court late Sunday. There was no mention of a deal with their co-defendant, William “Roddie” Bryan. No details were disclosed in court Monday morning.

Federal deals would not affect state murder convictions in Arbery’s killing. All three men were sentenced to life in prison on Jan. 7 after a trial last fall.

The hate crime charges accuse McMichaels and Bryan of violating the 25-year-old Black man’s civil rights by chasing him through their neigh- borhood 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 when the graphic video leaked online two months later. Georgia was one of just four U.S. states without a hate crimes law at the time. Legislators quickly approved one, but it came too late for state hate crime charges in Arbery’s killing.

During the state trial in Glynn County Superior Court, the defense argued that the white men had authority to chase Arbery because they reason- ably 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.

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