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The federal hate crime trial for the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery is set to begin Monday morning with jury selection.
Both Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael struck a plea deal with the prosecution last week. It would’ve allowed them to skip the federal trial. In exchange, the men would’ve served the first 30 years of their life sentences in federal prison, as opposed to state prison.
The McMichael’s would’ve been transferred back to state prison after 30 years in federal custody under the plea deal. The deal would’ve required the McMichael’s to admit to racist motives and forfeit the right to appeal their federal sentence.
Arbery’s parents argued that conditions in federal prison would not be as harsh as those in Georgia’s state prison. They rejected the plea deal.
“Please listen to me,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones told the judge. “Granting these men their preferred conditions of confinement would defeat me. It gives them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son.”
On Monday, US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said she was not comfortable with the sentencing guidelines and rejected the plea deal.
Both Travis and Gregory appeared before Judge Wood on Friday to withdraw their guilty plea, setting up a return to court next week for their federal hate crimes trial.
Evidence of racism that state prosecutors chose not to present at the murder trial is expected to be front and center in the hate crimes trial.
Arbery family disappointed in plea deal
Despite the men already receiving life sentences, Arbery’s family said the hate crimes case remains important. At the time of his death, Arbery had enrolled at a technical college. He was preparing to study to become an electrician like his uncles.
“They killed him because he was a Black man,” Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, told reporters outside the Glynn County courthouse.
Lee Merritt is a civil rights attorney for Arbery’s mother. He said it’s important for a federal case to expose racist motives behind the killing because “there is an issue of race taking place in this country. It has come front and center and it needs to be discussed.”
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Richard Dial testified in June 2020, more than a year before the state trial. He said that Bryan told investigators he heard Travis McMichael say “f—-ing n—er” after shooting Arbery. Attorneys for Travis McMichael have denied he made the statement.
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