The murder of Ahmoud Arbery: The judge rejects the deal to admit the hate crime

ATLANTA — A federal judge on Monday rejected a plea deal from one of three white men facing federal hate crimes charges for the murder of Ahmed Arbery, 25, the black man who was stalked in a Georgia neighborhood and shot dead, according to court documents. .

The man, Travis McMichael, 36, agreed to plead guilty, admitting for the first time that he attacked Mr. Arbery because of his race.

But the judge rejected the agreement that Mr. McMichael had reached with the Department of Justice after strong opposition from Mr. Arbery’s family, who objected to the fact that it had allowed Mr. McMichael to serve 30 years in federal prison instead of state prison. .

“I am asking on behalf of his family, on behalf of his memory and on behalf of equity, not to agree to this petition in order to allow these men to transfer their detention from the state of Georgia to federal prisons where they would prefer to be,” Wanda Cooper-Jones, Mr. Arbery’s mother, told the judge.

After dismissing the plea agreement, Judge Lisa Goodbye Wood gave McMichael until Friday to decide whether to formally enter a plea of ​​guilt. She noted that Mr. McMichael’s father, Gregory McMichael, had been offered the same deal and had also given him until Friday to decide whether to plead guilty.

Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael, 66, were convicted of murder with a third man, William Bryan, 52, in Georgia state court in November.

Federal prosecutors argued Monday that Mr. McMichael did not attempt to harm a black person that day – but made racist assumptions about Ahmed Arbery based on the color of his skin. Skylar Barnes, an FBI special agent, testified that there was evidence of racial hatred on Travis’ phone, including repeated racial slurs.

The case was widely considered an act of racial violence. But as prosecutors in the state trial considered presenting what they called “racist” evidence, including inflammatory Facebook posts and text messages from the three men, In the end, they only touched on racial topics. in presenting their case to a jury made up almost entirely of whites.

On Sunday, federal prosecutors filed a notice in US district court asking a judge to approve plea agreements in favor of the McMichaels. Specific details about the plea deals were not included in the court filings. And there was no indication that a deal had been made with Mr. Brian, who was involved in chasing Mr. Arbery through the neighborhood near Brunswick, Ga. , in February 2020.

Mrs. Cooper-Jones, denounced the pleas. In an interview late Sunday, Ms. Cooper-Jones said of federal prosecutors: “They’ve gone behind my back. I’m totally upset. My anxiety is above the surface.”

She said federal officials asked her earlier if she would agree to a deal, and that she told them no.

The state court sentenced the three men to life imprisonment. in federal proceedings, The men are accused of hate crimes and attempted kidnapping, for which they could face additional life sentences. Travis McMichael, who fired a shotgun at Mr. Arbery, also faces a weapons charge.

During the murder trial, Travis McMichael’s lawyers – WHO He fired his gun at Mister Arbery three times at close range – he said that He shot in self-defense.

Ms Cooper-Jones said she wanted the federal trial to take place in order to end the self-defense argument and prove the men were motivated by racism.

Mr. Arbery was unarmed when the three men chased him for several minutes through Satila Shores, a middle-class neighborhood along the southern coast of Georgia. They said they suspected Mr Arbery had committed property crimes in the area. In a video of the incident, Mr. Arbery is seen running as his pursuers chase him in two pickup trucks.

The chase ended when Mr. Arbery and the younger Mr. McMichael met in a violent clash. Mr. Brian captured the violence in a video widely shared online, which led to a national outcry and allegations that the killing amounted to a modern-day lynching.

It is not clear which of the evidence may be presented in the federal trial. At a pre-trial hearing, the state Plaintiffs read a text message As of November 2019, Travis McMichael used racial slurs about blacks when he called the idea of ​​shooting a “crazy head” with “golden teeth”.

In filing the lawsuit in federal court in late December, Mr. Brian’s attorney asked the court to dismiss evidence that Mr. Bryan had “racial hostility” toward blacks, including race-insensitive text messages he sent about Martin Luther King Jr. Vacation Certificate and Certificate “that would indicate that Brian did not consent to dating his adopted daughter to an African American man.”

A Georgia state investigator said Mr Brian told authorities he heard Travis McMichael use racial slurs shortly after Mr Arbery was shot. Mr. McMichael’s lawyers dispute this claim.

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