BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WSAV) – Defense attorneys for two of the men convicted in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder are deliberating if they’ll withdraw guilty pleas after a federal judge rejected a plea deal on Monday.
Under the deal, Travis McMichael would have pleaded guilty, admitting he targeted Arbery based on his race. After the judge rejected Travis’ plea deal, the hearing for his father, Greg, was canceled.
Civil rights attorney Francys Johnson of David Bozeman Johnson Law explained defense will have to weigh the evidence that will be presented in their decision.
“We live in a dual system of sovereign state and sovereign federal government,” Attorney Johnson said. “And what they did was not just a violation of laws in the state of Georgia but were also violation of laws of the United States – the peace and dignity that every citizen is accorded.”
In court on Monday, an FBI agent overseeing the investigation testified that there are text messages and social media posts from Travis McMichael where he uses racial slurs and expresses a desire for crimes to be committed against African-Americans.
“The jury in Brunswick saw the truth,” Johnson said. “I deeply believe a federal jury will see the truth as well and they can’t deny the truth. America can’t deny the truth that these things happen far too often and hate simply has no place in our modern society.”
The deal called for the McMichaels to serve 30 years in federal prison before being transferred to state prison to serve their life without parole sentences. According to Johnson, the federal charges carry a maximum sentence of life in federal prison or the death penalty.
If the McMichaels keep their guilty pleas, the judge will move right to sentencing, Johnson explained. But if they plead not guilty, the jury will use evidence to decide if the two men – along with William “Roddie” Bryan, who was not part of the plea deal – are guilty of federal hate crime charges.
“There’s a long history of highly-publicized racialized violence and we haven’t gotten it right,” Johnson said. “I am hopeful that in 2022 we can begin getting it right under this hate crime legislation.”
Court is set to resume on Friday morning, where defense attorneys are expected to share their decision. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday.