For The Record

Federal judge rejects plea agreement in hate crimes trial of Arbery’s murderers

By: - January 31, 2022 6:39 pm

Travis McMichael, left, and Greg McMichael, center, were denied plea deals by a federal judge Monday that would have allowed them to spend their first 30 years in federal prison instead of a Georgia prison. The pair, along with neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, far right, were found guilty of the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County Superior Court last year. AP photos

A judge rejected a proposed plea deal between Travis and Greg McMichael and federal prosecutors on Monday, so the men have until Friday to decide whether to plead guilty to avoid a hate crimes trial that is scheduled to begin next week.

United States District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood rejected the deal after the family of Ahmaud Arbery objected to terms that would have allowed the McMichaels to serve the first three decades of their sentences in the federal prison system instead of a Georgia prison for murdering the 25-year-old Black man as he ran down a suburban Brunswick street on Feb. 23, 2020.

Earlier this year, a superior court judge sentenced handed the McMichaels life sentences without the possibility of parole and gave their neighbor William ‘Roddie’ Bryan the chance to be released from prison after serving 30 years, citing mitigating factors such as Bryan not being armed at the scene of the crime.

But now, several days before the federal trial is set to start for Bryan and the McMichaels, the father and son must decide if they want to keep their guilty pleas or stand trial.

Wood said Monday she wanted to hear more from victims’ families before deciding their sentences.

“In this relatively early stage in this case, I can’t say that 360 months is the precise, one fair sentence,” she said.

Wanda Cooper-Jones pleaded to Wood not to let the McMichaels be transferred from state prison into federal prison after they chased after her son in a pickup truck, motivated by the color of Arbery’s skin. 

Arbery’s father and two of his aunts also implored the judge to turn down the deal.

“It gives them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son,” Cooper-Jones said during Monday’s hearing. 

“The state of Georgia gave them what they deserved, please leave it that way,” she said.

During Monday’s hearing, an FBI investigator discussed Travis McMichael’s text messages and social media posts referring to Black people as monkeys, savages, and calling them the N-word.

According to prosecutors, Arbery’s parents did not object to the plea agreement until Sunday, a deal that would prevent the McMichaels from appealing while acknowledging that Arbery’s race played a factor in their decision to spend five minutes trying to corner him as he ran away.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo.