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A judge has rejected a plea deals for Travis McMichael – and his father Gregory McMichael – on federal hate crime charges after he admitted for the first time that he chased down Ahmaud Arbery because he was black.
On Monday, McMichael changed his plea at a hearing in the U.S. District Court in Brunswick, Georgia, after reaching a deal with federal prosecutors on Sunday night. He pleaded guilty to using a gun in his attempt to apprehend Arbery because of his ‘race and color,’ resulting in Arbery’s death.
But in a ruling this afternoon, the judge rejected the terms of the deal after Arbery’s mother and other family members begged her to.
Under the agreements of the deal, the court would have imposed a 30-year sentence on Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael, and it would run concurrent with the life sentences they are already serving as a result of their murder convictions.
‘Having considered all that was said today, and looking at the law that governs these agreements, it is my decision to reject the plea agreement in this case,’ U.S. District Judge Lisa G. Wood said.
‘I am not comfortable with accepting the terms of the plea agreement,’ she added.
Gregory McMichael is expected to plea guilty to federal hate crime charges later today.
Arbery’s family was furious at the Department of Justice for giving two of his killers a plea deal that would have sent them to a relatively cushy federal prison to serve out their life sentences instead of the state penitentiary.
In an emotional plea to the court, Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper Jones said: ‘I’m asking on behalf of his family, on the behalf of his memory, and on behalf of fairness that you do not accept this plea.’
She added that the deal would give the men their preference of serving time in a federal prison.
‘I don’t need them to say that they were motivated by hate. That does me no good. That does my family no good. I’ve heard enough from Travis McMichael.’
She added that McMichaels’ testimony at the murder trial ‘followed me through the Christmas holiday’.
‘For once, listen to me. It is not right. It is not just. It is wrong. Please listen to me. The state of Georgia already gave these men exactly what they deserve.’
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, told the court: ‘They killed my son because he’s a black man.’
Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael were convicted in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery
Arbery, 26, was murder in February 2020 after he was chased down by the Travis and Gregory McMichael and William ‘Roddie’ Bryan
Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, left, attorney Lee Merritt, second from left, attorney Ben Crump, right, and Marcus Arbery, father of Ahmaud Arbery with Reverend Al Sharpton in November 2021 at the state trial
At court on Monday, Assistant US Attorney Tara M. Lyons told the court that Travis McMichael’s racial motivations were pre-established due to his license plate which had an image of an old Georgia flag with a Confederate symbol on it.
‘He had made assumptions about Ahmaud Arbery that he would not have made, if Ahmaud Arbery had been white.’
She added that McMichael also ‘associated black skin with criminality.’
‘While race and color need not be the sole cause of a defendant’s actions [under the statute], they must be a ‘but-for’ cause,’ Lyons said.
Legal experts said the men likely tried to get into federal prison because they will be more closely protected there than in state prison.
‘Federal prison is a country club when compared to state prison. Federal prisons are less populated, better funded and generally more accommodating than state prisons. These men hurriedly entered this plea deal that would allow them to transfer out of custody from GA prison,’ attorney Lee Merritt tweeted earlier on Monday.
A lawyer for the McMichaels told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that it was unfair to suggest federal prison is more comfortable.
‘Anybody who tries to convince the public that one is better than the other or one is cushier than the other has no idea what it’s like to serve time in prison,’ he said.
After hearing news of the deal, Abery’s parents immediately called it a betrayal, and said it was an ‘unauthorized backroom deal’ that ‘is a huge accommodation to the men who hunted down and murdered’ their son.
The McMichaels were convicted in November, along with William ‘Roddie’ Bryan, in Arbery’s murder and were sentenced to serve life without parole, though Bryan was allowed to seek parole.
The trio, however, were still scheduled to stand trial for federal hate crime charges on February 7.
The details of the plea agreement were not specified when filed on Sunday. A plea does not appear to have been reached with Bryan.
However, Marcus Arbery and Wanda Cooper-Jones, in a statement put out by their attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt early Monday morning, have revealed some of the details of the agreement, which they say is a betrayal of their trust.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for the Arbery family, said the prison the men would now go to under the deal is like a ‘country club’ compared with state prison
‘Both [Cooper-Jones] and [Arbery] are vehemently against this deal and expressed this directly on calls with DOJ officials today,’ the statement reads.
They said the deal would allow the McMichaels to serve 30 years in a ‘preferred federal prison’ rather than a state penitentiary.
‘The DOJ has gone behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to make their time in prison easier for them to serve,’ she said earlier on Monday.
‘I have made it clear at every possible moment that I do not agree to offer these men a plea deal of any kind. I have been completely betrayed by the DOJ lawyers.’
Attorney Ben Crump speaks to the Media with Lee Merritt (second from left) outside the Glynn County Courthouse
Travis and Gregory McMichael were both sentenced to life without parole, while their neighbor William Roddie Bryan, 52, – who filmed the murder – will be eligible for parole. Judge Timothy R. Walmsley did not specify how long he would have to spend in prison – prosecutors asked that he spend at least 15 years behind bars. Typically, the minimum in Georgia is 30 years.
In handing down his sentence, Walmsley called the murder ‘chilling’ and ‘disturbing’. He talked about the ‘terror’ Arbery must have felt for the five minutes the men chased him in their pick-up trucks with a shotgun and revolver.
‘As we all now know based on the verdict that was handed down in this courtroom, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. It’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy on many, many levels.
‘On February 23, 2020…a young man with dreams was gunned down in this community. As we understand it, he went for a run and he ended up running for his life.’
To emphasize how long the five-minute chase must have felt for Arbery, the judge sat silently for a minute in the courtroom.
‘That one minute represents a fraction of the time that Ahmaud Arbery was running in Satilla Shores. The chase that occurred, occurred over a five minute period.
‘When I thought about this, I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores,’ he said.
‘He was hunted down and shot and he was killed because individuals took the law into their own hands.’
Travis McMichael, left, has been sentenced to life in prison without parole for shooting dead Ahmaud Arbery in 2020
Gregory McMichael, Travis’s 66-year-old father, will also die in prison under the life without parole sentence
William Roddie Bryan, the 52-year-old neighbor who filmed the murder, was sentenced to life but he has been given the possibility of parole. Prosecutors asked that he have to serve at least 15 years behind bars
Judge Timothy Walmsley on Friday called the killing ‘chilling’ and ‘disturbing.’ He talked about the ‘terror’ Arbery must have felt as the men chased him in their pick-up trucks for five minutes
He then recited some of the comments made by the McMichaels after the shooting to prove that it was a ‘callous’ execution, and said they never showed any remorse.
‘Remorse is something that’s felt and demonstrated. In this case, getting back to the video, after Ahmaud Arbery fell, the McMichael’s turned their backs. They walked away. This was a killing. It was callous and it occurred because confrontation was being sought.
‘The most violent crime in Satilla Shores was the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
‘The record speaks for itself. Greg McMichael tried to establish a narrative. He said he was ‘trapped like a rat.’
Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed in Brunswick, Georgia, U.S. on February 23, 2020,one year on
‘He said, ‘stop or I’ll blow your f*****g head off.’
‘He told Travis ‘you have no choice’. He also said, ‘If I could have gotten a shot at the guy, I would have shot him.”
Unlike the father and son, Bryan appeared to show some remorse in the days and weeks after the killing, he said.
However all three acted as vigilantes, chasing down Arbery and then murdering him because they were ‘seeking confrontation.’
‘Taking the law into your own hands is a dangerous endeavor. Ultimately with regard to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery it holds us all accountable. At a minimum his death should force us to consider expanding our definition of what a neighbor may be and how we treat them.
‘I believe that assuming the worst in others, we show our worst character. Assuming the best in others is always the best course of action. Maybe those are the grand lessons of this case,’ the judge said.
There were celebrations outside the court as the sentences were read aloud.
Earlier, Arbery’s parents asked a judge to sentence his killers to life without parole on Friday at a courthouse in Georgia, saying they ‘lynched him in broad daylight’ and targeted him when he felt most ‘free and alive’.
On February 23, 2020, the McMichaels and Bryan chased Arbery, a 26-year-old black man, through a street in Satilla Shores. They said they thought he was a burglar. Travis pulled the trigger, with his father nearby. Bryan filmed the entire incident on his phone.
In November, they were all convicted of murder – which carries a mandatory life sentence. Prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty.
Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William Brian Jr were found a guilty of murder in state court on November 23 by a panel of 11 white jurors and one black juror. In compiling that jury pool, 1,000 people in the mostly-white Glynn County were called. Pictured: The moment Arbery was shot by Travis McMichael
Ahmaud Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper Jones celebrates as she leaves court with her family on Friday after her son’s killers were sentenced to life behind bars without parole
Ahmaud Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones, center, speaks with supporters after Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced Greg McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William ‘Roddie’ Bryan, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick
(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 23, 2021 a woman holds portraits of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd during an event in remembrance of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Ahmaud Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper Jones (left) and father Marcus (right) asked a judge to impose the maximum sentence possible for his killers – life without parole
Arbery’s father Marcus spoke first, telling the court: ‘The man who killed my son has sat in this courtroom every day next to his father. I’ll never get the chance of sitting next to my son ever again. Not at a dinner table, not at a holiday, not at a wedding. I pray that no one in this courtroom has to do what we had – bury their child.’
Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper Jones, pleaded: ‘They were fully committed to their crimes – let them be fully committed for the consequences.’
She then pleaded with the judge: ‘Your honor, I am standing here before you today as the mother of Ahmaud Arbery asking you to please give all three defendants who are responsible for the death of my son, the maximum punishment which I do believe is life without bars without the possible chance for parole.’
During sentencing, lawyers for the three men asked the judge to grant the men parole. That was refused for Travis McMichael and his father. Pictured: McMichael leaving the court house in shackles after being sentenced to life without parole
Greg McMichael is handcuffed and seen wearing a face mask as he’s led out of the court after sentencing
William Bryan was the only convicted killer to be granted a sentence where he was given the option of parole. He’s pictured being led out of the court house to serve his sentence
Ahmaud Arbery’s parents, Wanda Cooper-JOnes (in blue suit) and Marcus Arbery (third from left), celebrate outside court as his three killers are jailed for life – two without the possibility of parole
The men’s lawyers are asking that they be granted parole after 30 years. Prosecutors have asked the judge not to grant any of the men parole.
Cooper-Jones spoke about Ahmaud as a ‘loving’ baby who ‘never seemed to tire of cuddles, hugs and kisses.’
His father Marcus told how he loved to run more than anything because it made him feel ‘free’.
‘Not only did they lynch my son in broad daylight but they killed him when he was doing what he loved more than anything – running.
‘That’s when he felt most alive. Most free. And they took all of that from him.
‘When I close my eyes, I see his execution over and over. I’ll see that for the rest of my life.
‘When I became a father my life became bigger than me, it became bigger than me about my family, protecting him, protecting my boy. I know in my head that there is nothing I could have done that day to have saved my son.
‘MY SON’S KILLERS HAVE NO REMORSE’ – AHMAUD ARBERY’S MOTHER’S VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT
I want to speak directly to my son. This verdict doesn’t bring you back, but it does help bring closure to this very difficult chapter of my life.
I made a promise to you the day I laid you to rest. I told you I loved you and someday, somehow I would get you justice.
Son, I love you as much today as the day you were born. Raising you was the honor of my life and I am very proud of you.
Your honor, these men have chosen to lie and attack my son and his surviving family. They have no remorse and do not deserve leniency.
This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact. They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community they chose to treat him differently when they couldn’t sufficiently scare him or intimidate him, they killed him.
My young son, he was born on mothers’ day of 1994. He had a smile so bright it lit up the room. He was a greedy baby and it seemed like he was always searching for something to stick in his mouth.
He was always a loving baby who seemed to never tire of cuddling, hugs and kisses He loved. He never hesitated to tell me, his sister Jasmine or brother Marcus, and we loved him back, He was messy. He sometimes refused to wear socks.
I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for his jog that day. I guess he would have if he knew he would be murdered.
My family is going to miss Ahmaud, his jokes, impersonations, his warm smile. These men deserve the maximum sentence for their crimes. Ahamud never said a word to them. He never threatened them, he just wanted to be left alone.
They were fully committed to their crimes – let them be fully committed for the consequences.
I’m standing here before you asking you to please give all three defendants who are responsible for the death of my son, the maximum punishment in this court which I do believe is life without bars without the possible chance for parole.
‘To save him from this evil and hate. My heart is broken and always will be.
‘If I could trade places with Ahmaud, I would in a heartbeat but I can’t’. I’m standing here to do what he can’t – that is to fight for him. His memory, his legacy and to tell you who he was.
‘That’s the one thing you didn’t hear in this courtroom. More than anything else, you should know who my boy was.
‘We love our son and we will never have him with us to celebrate anything. Thanksgiving, Christmas…his birthday his killers should spend the rest of their lives thinking about what they took from us.
‘It should be behind my bars.
‘Me and my family have got to live with this for the rest of our lives. They should stay behind those bars the rest of their lives. They didn’t give him a chance.’
Ahmaud’s mother spoke directly to him, saying: ‘This verdict doesn’t bring you back. But it does help bring closure to this very difficult chapter of my life.
‘I made a promise to you the day I laid you to rest.
‘I told you I loved you and someday, somehow I would get you justice.
‘Son, I love you as much today as the day you were born.
‘Raising you was the honor of my life and I am very proud of you.’
She said none of the killers showed remorse for their actions, and deserved to die in prison.
‘They have no remorse and do not deserve leniency. This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact.
‘They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community.
‘They chose to treat him differently.
‘And when they couldn’t sufficiently scare him or intimidate him, they killed him.’
Arbery, a 25-year-old avid jogger, was running through the mostly white residential neighborhood of Satilla Shores on the afternoon of Feb. 23 when the McMichaels decided to grab their guns, jump in a pickup truck and give chase.
The younger McMichael would later testify to the jury they had a hunch Arbery might be fleeing a crime.
Bryan joined the chase in his own pickup truck after it passed his driveway, and pulled out his cellphone to record Travis McMichael firing a shotgun at Arbery at close range.
Arbery had nothing on him besides his running clothes and sneakers.
The video caused outrage when it emerged months later and it became clear that none of the men involved had yet been arrested after a local prosecutor concluded the killing was justified.
Ahmaud Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones wipes a tear from her eyes while listening to her daughter’s impact statement to Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley
Ahmaud Arbery’s sister Jasmine Arbery wipes a tear from her eyes while listening to her mother’s impact statement to Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley during the sentencing of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William ‘Roddie’ Bryan in the Glynn County Courthouse, on January 7, 2022 in Brunswick, Georgia
Ahmaud Arbery’s father Marcus Arbery, center, sits in the courtroom with other family members during the sentencing of Greg McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William ‘Roddie’ Bryan in the Glynn County Courthouse
William Roddie Bryan, 52, arrives at court in Brunswick, Georgia, on Friday to be sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery
Travis McMichael, 35, arrives in court in shackles on Friday morning to be sentenced for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. He will be at least 65 before he gets out of prison
Gregory McMichael, 66, is shown arriving at court for the 10am sentencing hearing
Gregory McMichael makes his way into court on Friday to be sentenced to life in prison
‘The day has finally come that we will get justice.
‘The day my family an I have prayed for… it has finally come.’
Defense attorneys then pleaded with the judge not to sentence the men to the harshest possible term.
Gregory McMichael’s attorney, Laura Hogue, called him a ‘man of goodness’ and referred to the killing as a ‘five minute chase that ended in tragedy.’
‘Greg McMichael is a good man. He is not a perfect person but none of us are.
‘The choices he made as a young man, all the way through to the rest of his life, to serve, not to acquire wealth, but to quietly go through the business of choosing career options to help other people.
‘I say without hesitation he remains a man of goodness,’ she said.
Three white men guilty of Ahmaud Arbery faced 27 charges between them – this is what each of them mean
COUNT 1 – MALICE MURDER
This is defined as causing a person’s death with deliberate intention without provocation and ‘where all the circumstances in the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart’.
Travis McMichael – Guilty
Gregory McMichael – Not guilty
William ‘Roddie’ Bryan – Not guilty
COUNTS 2, 3, 4 AND 5 – FELONY MURDER
This applies when a death is caused in the course of committing another felony whether or not the killing was intentional or unprovoked.
Travis McMichael – Guilty on all counts
Gregory McMichael – Guilty on all counts
William ‘Roddie’ Bryan – Guilty on three counts, not guilty on one counts
COUNT 6 and 7 – AGGRAVATED ASSAULT
Under Georgia law this is an assault using a deadly weapon. Count six refers to the shotgun used, count 7 refers to the two pickup trucks, driven by Gregory McMichael and William ‘Roddie’ Bryan, used to box Arbery in.
Travis McMichael – Guilty
Gregory McMichael – Not guilty on count 6; Guilty on count 7
William ‘Roddie’ Bryan – Not guilty on count 6; Guilty on count 7
COUNT 8 – FALSE IMPRISONMENT
This is when a person ‘arrests, confines, or detains’ another person without legal authority.
Travis McMichael – Guilty
Gregory McMichael – Guilty
William ‘Roddie’ Bryan – Guilty
COUNT 9 – CRIMINAL INTENT TO COMMIT A FELONY
This refers to performing ‘any act which constitutes a substantial step’ toward the intentional commission of a crime
Travis McMichael – Guilty
Gregory McMichael – Guilty
William ‘Roddie’ Bryan – Guilty