Ahmaud Arbery: US judge rejects plea agreement for murderer

Travis McMichael admitted he pursued black jogger because of his 'race and colour'

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A US judge in Georgia rejected a plea agreement reached between federal prosecutors and one of the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, saying she was not willing to be bound to the 30-year federal prison sentence delineated in the agreement.

The decision by US District Judge Lisa Wood came after Travis McMichael, who is white, admitted for the first time he had pursued the 25-year-old black man because of his race.

McMichael was attempting to change his plea to guilty to using a gun in his attempt to apprehend Arbery because of his “race and colour”.

His father, Gregory McMichael, had also been due to plead guilty as part of an agreement at a subsequent hearing on Monday.

Arbery’s parents denounced the proposed deal for the younger McMichael, with mother Wanda Cooper-Jones and father Marcus Arbery emotionally asking the judge to reject agreements filed for both the McMichaels.

Mr Arbery expressed his anger to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Brunswick, with lawyer Lee Merritt saying the deal could enable the McMichaels to spend the first 30 years of their life sentences in federal rather than state prison, where conditions are tougher.

“Ahmaud is a kid you cannot replace,” Mr Arbery said. “He was killed racially and we want 100 per cent justice, not no half justice.”

Ms Cooper-Jones described the US Justice Department’s decision to propose the plea deal despite her objections as “disrespectful”.

“I fought so hard to get these guys in the state prison,” she said. “I told them very, very adamantly that I wanted them to go to state prison and do their time … Then I got up this morning and found out they had accepted this ridiculous plea.”

Federal deals would not affect the state murder convictions in Arbery’s killing. All three men were sentenced to life in prison on January 7 after a trial last autumn.

This combo of booking photos provided by the Glynn County, Georgia, Detention Centre shows from left, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William 'Roddie' Bryan Jr. AP

Mr Merritt had earlier called the deals “a huge accommodation to the men who hunted down and murdered Ahmaud Arbery".

“This is an example of the Department of Justice literally snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” he said.

Mr Merritt also shared a comment by Ms Cooper-Jones, who said: “The DOJ [US 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 to serve,” she said. “I have been completely betrayed by the DOJ lawyers.”

Ms Wood had scheduled jury selection for the federal trial to begin on February 7.

The McMichaels and Bryan were sentenced to life in prison after a jury in November found them guilty of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.

Arbery was killed on February 23, 2020, when the McMichaels grabbed their guns and chased him down in their pickup truck as he was jogging through the mostly white neighbourhood of Satilla Shores, Georgia. Bryan joined the chase and recorded the deadly encounter on his mobile phone as Travis McMichael fatally shot Arbery with a shotgun.

Footage of the murder was leaked two months after the incident, sparking outrage across the US when it was learnt the men had not been arrested.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: February 01, 2022, 3:41 AM