Federal judge rejects plea deal for two men convicted in Arbery’s death
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WTOC) - A federal judge has rejected plea deals for the father and son convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.
A judge rejected the deals Monday afternoon for Gregory and Travis McMichael ahead of the upcoming federal hate crimes trial. Both men have until Friday to decide if they want to keep their guilty plea and move on to sentencing or withdraw the plea and hold a trial.
The McMichaels and a third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, face federal hate crime charges. The trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 7.
Both Gregory and Travis were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the state-level case for killing Arbery. Bryan was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
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Both Greg and Travis McMichael’s attorneys cut a plea deal with the U-S Attorney’s Office for both men to plea guilty to count one, which was the hate crime charge.
The plea deal’s conditions would have locked in a 30-year sentence for both men, to be served in a federal prison instead of a state prison - a condition Arbery’s family strongly protested inside and outside the federal courthouse. Inside the courtroom, Arbery’s mother and father, along with two aunts, implored the judge to reject the plea deal during some emotional testimony, saying Ahmaud wasn’t given any deals before being gunned down by Travis McMichael in the Satilla Shores neighborhood nearly two years ago.
After hearing from the family, defense and prosecution, the judge decided to reject the plea deal, saying it’s too early to tell if 30 years is the right punishment. Outside the courthouse following the judges decision, Ahmaud’s mother had this to say.
“I’m looking forward to trial. Today was a very, very, this morning was very, very stressful, knowing that we had rejected a plea on yesterday and they was going forward with it. But it ended well,” said Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper Jones.
Family in court
“I fought so hard to get these guys in state prison...I got up this morning and found out they accepted this ridiculous plea,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones.
Ahmaud Arbery’s family pleaded to the judge in court, saying their son’s life is worth more than the convenience of a plea and they were not consulted by the Department of Justice.
The assistant U.S. Attorney said the family’s attorneys did not object to the plea, but that they weren’t informed a plea deal was going to be accepted and signed which is usually what happens in these cases.
“He was killed racially and we want 100 percent justice, not no half justice,” said Ahmaud’s father Marcus Arbery.
“They have said no to this. They want this to go to trial. They want everyone to know what happened to Ahmaud,” said Daryl Jones with the Transformative Justice Coalition.
“They won’t never see daylight. That’s what we want.”
The assistant U.S. Attorney did tell the judge the Arbery’s family attorneys did not object to the plea, but that they weren’t informed a plea deal was going to be accepted and signed.
Arbery’s mother said she found out about the plea deal for the McMichaels on Monday morning and called it ridiculous and disrespectful.
According to her attorney, Lee Merritt, the deal would have allowed the McMichaels to move to federal custody and serve the first 30 years of their sentences instead of serving their life sentences in state prison. Merritt says this would be a less harsh punishment because federal facilities are less crowded and better funded than state prisons. Merritt argued the plea deal was nothing more than a favor to the McMichaels from the Department of Justice.
Below is a statement from Assistant Attorney General Clarke:
“We respect the court’s decision to not accept the sentencing terms of the proposed plea and to continue the hearing until Friday. 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. Before signing the proposed agreement reflecting the defendants’ confessions to federal hate crimes charges, the Civil Rights Division consulted with the victims’ attorneys. The Justice Department entered the plea agreement only after the victims’ attorneys informed me that the family was not opposed to it.”
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