Ahmaud Arbery Killer Withdraws Guilty Plea to Hate-Crime Charges

Ahmaud Arbery Killer Withdraws Guilty Plea to Hate-Crime Charges Ahmaud Arbery Killer Withdraws Guilty Plea to Hate-Crime Charges Travis McMichael (Stephen B. Morton/Pool/Getty Images)

Rich McKay and Jonathan Allen Friday, 04 February 2022 11:03 AM

One of three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man chased down and shot while jogging, withdrew his guilty plea to U.S. federal hate-crime charges on Friday and will face trial next week alongside his two codefendants.

In a brief hearing in the U.S. District Court in Brunswick, Georgia, Travis McMichael said he would withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to trial on Monday alongside his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan.

All three men were convicted last year in a separate state trial for the murder of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black jogging enthusiast they saw running through their mostly white neighborhood in coastal Georgia in February 2020. A state judge sentenced all three men to life in prison, ruling that the two McMichaels would not be eligible for parole.

Travis McMichael, 36, had said at a hearing earlier this week that he was willing to plead guilty to attacking Arbery because of his "race and color" after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.

But he changed his mind after U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood rejected that agreement at a hearing on Monday. She said she could not accept it because it bound her to sentencing McMichael to 30 years in federal prison before he was handed back to the state of Georgia to serve out the rest of his life sentence for murder.

She warned McMichael that if he pleaded guilty without a plea agreement or was convicted by a jury after trial she could end up giving him a sentence different than the 30-year one agreed to with prosecutors.

In the text of the rejected plea agreement, McMichael admitted for the first time that racism played a part in his decision to grab his shotgun, jump in his pick-up truck with his father and chase Arbery through the quiet looping streets of Satilla Shores.

Bryan's shaky cellphone video of McMichael shooting Arbery at close range caused outrage when it emerged months later and the public learned that none of the three white men had been arrested.

Gregory McMichael had reached a similar plea agreement with prosecutors but his lawyers told the court on Thursday that he would head to trial.