BRUNSWICK, 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 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 the deals would allow the McMichaels to serve their first 30 years in federal custody, avoiding harsher conditions in Georgia prisons. “This proposed plea is a huge accommodation 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 ahead of jury selection beginning Feb. 7.
The federal hate crime charges accuse McMichaels and Bryan of violating the 25-year-old Black man’s civil rights by chasing 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 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 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.
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.