UPDATE (2/3): Travis McMichael, one of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers, reaffirmed his plea of not guilty on hate-crime charges Thursday, The New York Times reports. His decision to plead not guilty comes after a federal judge rejected a plea deal on Monday, where McMichael would have pleaded guilty to one hate crime charge in exchange for a recommendation that he serve 30 years in federal prison.
A federal judge on Monday rejected the plea deal between prosecutors and Travis McMichael on hate-crimes charges for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, CNN reports. Arbery was chased, shot at close range and murdered in 2020 while going for a run through a residential neighborhood in Georgia.
As part of the now defunct deal, McMichael agreed to plead guilty to one hate crime charge in exchange for a recommendation that he serve 30 years in federal prison. U.S. District Judge Lisa G. Wood rejected the plea and gave McMichael until Friday to decide about formally entering a guilty plea. Wood pointed out that Travis’ father Gregory McMichael, who was offered the same plea deal, would also have until Friday to decide whether he would plead guilty.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, criticized the plea deals for allowing the men to spend 30 years in federal prison versus facing state prison. “I’m asking on the behalf of his family, on behalf of his memory and on behalf of fairness that you do not grant this plea in order to allow these men to transfer out of Georgia state custody into the federal prisons where they prefer to be,” Cooper-Jones told Wood via The New York Times. Cooper-Jones said she wants the federal trial to go forward to put to rest the defendants’ argument that they acted in self defense.
On Monday, prosecutors argued that the plea deal, which was filed on Sunday, was significant because it had McMichael admitting not only to the crime of killing Arbery, but also the racial animus that motivated him to commit murder and “acted because of Mr. Arbery’s race or color.”
On Sunday, per The Times, Cooper-Jones said of the federal prosecutors: “They went behind my back. I’m totally, totally upset. My anxiety is over the roof.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said, “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.”
Earlier in the month, the McMichaels were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 20 years more after a jury in state court found them guilty of murdering Arbery. The judge for that hearing also sentenced the McMichaels’ neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan to life with the possibility of parole for his role in Arbery’s killing.
The trial is scheduled to begin jury selection on Monday Feb. 7.