US Judge Rejects Plea Deals for Ahmaud Arbery's Murderers Ahmaud Arbery's mother Wanda Cooper-Jones listens in court on Jan. 7, 2022, in Brunswick, Georgia. (Stephen B. Morton/Pool via Getty Images)
Tuesday, 01 February 2022 02:04 PM
A U.S. judge on Monday rejected plea deals from two white men convicted of murdering a Black jogger in Georgia after relatives of the victim vehemently objected to the agreements.
Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor, William Bryan, were sentenced to life in prison in January for the February 2020 murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.
The three men also face federal hate crimes charges of violating Arbery's civil rights.
Federal prosecutors said in court filings that they had reached agreements with the McMichaels under which they would plead guilty and would serve the first 30 years of their life sentences in a federal prison rather than a state facility.
The plea deals were subject to court approval, however, and US District Judge Lisa Wood rejected them on Monday after listening to impassioned appeals from several of Arbery's relatives.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, denounced the plea deals ahead of the hearing as a "betrayal" of the Arbery family.
In a statement, Cooper Jones said she has "made it clear at every possible moment that I do not agree to offer these men a plea deal of any kind."
The Department of Justice "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.
In a statement, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the Justice Department "respects" the court's decision and had consulted with attorneys for the Arbery family before entering into the plea agreements.
"Before signing the proposed agreement reflecting the defendants' confessions to federal hate crimes charges, the Civil Rights Division consulted with the victims' attorneys," Clarke said in a statement.
"The Justice Department entered the plea agreement only after the victims' attorneys informed me that the family was not opposed to it."
The McMichaels and Bryan chased Arbery in their pickup trucks on February 23, 2020 as he ran through their neighborhood near the town of Brunswick, Georgia.
Travis McMichael confronted Arbery as he passed by their truck and shot and killed him.
Travis McMichael, 35, and Gregory McMichael, 66, were sentenced to life without parole.
Bryan, 52, who had a less direct role in the murder and cooperated with investigators, was given life with the possibility of parole.
The racially-charged case added fuel to nationwide anger and protests over police killings of African Americans, sparked initially by the murder in May 2020 of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.