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A federal judge in Georgia on Monday rejected a deal between federal prosecutors and at least one of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery after the victim’s family objected to the plea bargain.

Prosecutors in the federal hate crime case filed papers on Sunday striking deals with Travis and Gregory McMichael, whose prison sentences would run concurrently.

But Arbery’s family balked at the deals, particularly an agreement allowing the men to serve their hate crime convictions first in a federal penitentiary.

“Please listen to me, please listen to me,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told the court. “Granting these men their preferred conditions of confinement … gives them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son.”

Both of his parents and other loved ones begged the judge to nix the deal.

“Do the right thing because there’s too much racism going on,” aunt Ruby Arbery said in court. “I’m asking you, judge, please look out for the Arbery and Cooper family.” 

Ahmaud Arbery with his mother Wanda Cooper.Family photo

After hearing the victim’s parents speak against the deal, U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Wood said she doesn’t have enough information to approve it on Monday and has no choice but to reject it.

“It is my decision to reject the plea agreement,” she said after being presented with the plea bargain of Travis McMichael. “In this case, it is appropriate to hear at sentencing from all concerned including the victim’s family.”

The judge said she didn’t know if 30 years in federal prison for the men was an appropriate sentence.

“I can’t say that 360 months is a precise … fair sentence in this case,” Wood said. “It could be more, it could be less, it could be that. But given the unique circumstances of this case and my desire to hear form all concerned regarding the sentencing before I pronounce sentence, I am not comfortable accepting the terms of the plea agreement.”

Prosecutor Kristen Clarke said she had been led to believe the family supported the plea bargains.

“Prior to the signing and execution of those plea agreements, the attorneys for (the victim’s father) Marcus Arbery and (mother) Miss Wanda Cooper-Jones told the Department (of Justice) that the parents would not oppose a plea agreement,” Clarke told the judge. “On Sunday, yesterday, after several meetings, several video conferences, it was apparent that that was not accurate.”

Clarke added: “I’m not up here blaming the family, your honor.”

Despite the parents’ objections, Clarke still advocated for the plea bargain to be accepted. She said it would “powerfully advance larger interest of justice” and allow for “some healing to begin.”

The Sunday filings name father Gregory McMichael and son Travis McMichael. The third convicted murderer in the case, neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, was not mentioned.

Attorneys for both Gregory and Travis McMichael asked for 48 hours to consult with their clients over their next move.

In the federal case, the men are charged with hate crimes and attempted kidnapping. “Travis and Gregory McMichael were also charged with one count each of using, carrying, and brandishing — and in Travis’s case, discharging — a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence,” the Justice Department said in April. 

Their federal hate crimes trial is set to begin a week from Monday.

Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery, Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, were found guilty of murder in a Georgia state court in November.

There was no indication in Sunday’s filings that an agreement had been reached with Bryan, who recorded cell phone video of the fatal encounter.

Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after seeing him running in Brunswick, Georgia, through their neighborhood of Satilla Shores, on Feb. 23, 2020.

Bryan joined the chase in a separate pickup truck. Arbery was eventually trapped between the two pickup trucks and ended up in a confrontation with Travis McMichael, who was armed with a shotgun.

All three men were sentenced to life in prison on Jan. 7. Bryan will be eligible for parole after 30 years. 

Dennis Romero contributed.

Source: This post first appeared on NBC News

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