Ahmaud Arbery’s Family Was Livid His Murderers Were Offered a Plea Deal

A judge threw out a proposed plea deal in the federal hate crime cases of Gregory and Travis McMichael. But not before it infuriated Arbery's family.
travis-gregory-mcmichael-plea-deal-ahmaud-arbery
This photo combo of images taken Thursday, May 7, 2020, and provided by the Glynn County Detention Center, in Georgia, show Gregory McMichael, left, and his son Travis McMichael. (Glynn County Detention Center via AP)

UPDATE 1/31 4:30 pm: On Monday, a federal judge rejected the potential plea agreement for at least one of Ahmaud Arbery's murderers, Travis McMichael, in the federal hate crime case. Potential jurors are set to be summoned for a trial next week, according to the Associated Press.

Advertisement

Federal prosecutors have reached a plea deal in the hate crimes case of Gregory and Travis McMichael, the father and son convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through their Georgia neighborhood two years ago.

It’s not entirely clear yet what the plea deals, which were revealed in court filings from U.S. attorneys Sunday, offer the McMichaels. But Arbery’s family has already come out as “vehemently against” the agreements, which they’ve described as overly accommodating.

"The DOJ 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,” Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, said in a statement Sunday, according to First Coast News. “I have made it clear at every possible moment that I do not agree to offer these men a plea deal of any kind. I have been completely betrayed by the DOJ.”

The plea deals would allow the McMichaels, who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole earlier this month, to enter federal custody and spend the first 30 years of their life sentences in a “preferred” federal prison, said Lee Merritt, an attorney for Cooper-Jones, according to the Associated Press. 

Advertisement

Ahmaud Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, also told reporters he was “mad as hell,” the AP reported.

The facility would be safer and less crowded, according to CNN. Merritt went so far as to liken federal prison conditions to a “country club” when compared with those of state prisons in a tweet Monday. 

The federal hate crime charges were announced in April 2021, after the McMichaels and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, who joined in on the chase, had already been charged with Arbery’s murder in state court. The three men were ultimately found guilty of the state charges in November. 

Sunday’s court filings regarding potential plea agreements in the federal hate crime case, however, didn’t mention Bryan, who has also been indicted on hate crime charges. It’s unclear whether he’s also being offered a chance at serving time in a “preferred” prison. 

The plea agreements in the federal case are also still subject to court approval, according to NBC News, and Arbery family’s opinions could ultimately influence the outcome. 

Advertisement

In February 2020, the McMichaels pursued Arbery in their truck with guns through Brunswick, Georgia, after Gregory McMichael spotted Arbery running through their neighborhood, thought he looked like a person accused of local break-ins, and called to his son for help. Bryan jumped in his own vehicle, followed, and then filmed the unarmed man’s death. Bryan was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years behind bars. 

The federal hate crime charges concern allegations that the men used force to interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race, according to the DOJ, as well as an accusation that the men attempted to kidnap Arbery by chasing him and blocking his movement.

The McMichaels were additionally charged with using or carrying a firearm during the chase, since Travis McMichael shot Arbery three times. 

So far, all three men have pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, according to NPR. Their attorneys, however, have argued that they pursued an unarmed Arbery not because he was Black, but because they feared he was part of a string of neighborhood break-ins, according to the Washington Post. (Travis McMichael was overheard calling Arbery a “fucking n-----” as he lay dying, according to June 2020 testimony from a state law enforcement agent.) 

The federal trial in the hate crime case was expected to begin next week.

Correction 1/31 4:06 pm: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the start date of the federal trial against the McMichaels. The text has been updated, and we regret the error.

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.