UPDATE (5/11): The three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery all pleaded not guilty to additional federal hate crime charges, which were filed against them in April, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and William Bryan issued their pleas against the five counts at an arraignment Tuesday, May 11th. All three men asked for court-appointed attorneys at the hearing.
Three men have been charged with federal hate crimes and the attempted kidnapping of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed while jogging in Georgia last year. The three men — Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan — are already facing murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment charges in a separate state case.
The McMichaels and Bryan were each charged with one count of interfering with someone’s rights and one count of attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels are also charged with one count each of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, while Travis is charged with discharging his weapon.
Jason Sheffield and Bob Rubin, attorneys for Travis McMichael, said in a statement, “We are deeply disappointed that the Justice Department bought the false narrative that the media and state prosecutors have promulgated. There is absolutely nothing in the indictment that identifies how this is a federal hate crime and it ignores without apology that Georgia law allows a citizen to detain a person who was committing burglaries until police arrive. Jason Sheffield and Bob Rubin.”
Franklin J. Hogue and Laura D. Hogue, attorneys for Gregory McMichael, said in a statement, “The Department of Justice alleges in their indictment that the McMichaels pursued and harmed Mr. Arbery ‘because of color and race.’ They now must prove that allegation to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, the McMichaels pursued Arbery on the reasonable belief that he had just entered an unoccupied nearby house, for the fourth time, where expensive items had been stolen, and that he’d been spotted — which he had been, by a neighbor who called the police on Mr. Arbery — and that when Greg McMichael saw him run past his house at a full sprint, Greg recognized him as the suspected burglar and the chase to detain him for the police was on.
The statement continued: “When Mr. Arbery refused to stop and instead, to everyone’s surprise, attacked Travis McMichael in an effort to wrest a shotgun from him, Travis McMichael faced a life and death situation and defended himself. Travis McMichael’s motivation was to prevent his own death had Mr. Arbery succeed in getting his shotgun from him. Mr. Arbery’s death is tragic. It was not, however, motivated by hatred of him because of his color and race, or hatred for any other reason. This is not a hate crime; it is a case of self-defense.”
A lawyer for Bryan did not immediately return requests for comment.
Arbery was killed last February while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. During his run, the McMichaels confronted Arbery because they believed he was involved in recent burglaries in the area. No charges were initially filed, however, and Arbery’s death remained out of mainstream attention until cellphone video of the shooting began to circulate in April 2020 (Bryan is credited with recording the video).
The three men were finally arrested and charged in May 2020, just weeks before George Floyd was murdered by former cop Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, and around the same time the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky was gaining national attention. All three deaths played a role in sparking last year’s uprising against systemic racism and police brutality.
The new federal indictment alleges that all three defendants used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race. The first count accuses the McMichaels of arming themselves, chasing Arbery through public streets, using their truck to cut off his route and then threatening him with their firearms. It also alleges that this offense resulted in Arbery’s death. The second count, meanwhile, accuses Bryan of joining the chase and also using his truck to block Arbery’s path.
Trial dates for both the state case and the new federal case have yet to be announced.