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U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood swore in the jurors on Monday for the federal hate crimes trial of the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.
The main jury of 12, plus four alternates, consists of eight White people, three Black people, and one Hispanic juror. The alternate jurors consist of three White people and one Pacific Islander.
Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud’s father, told reporters outside the courthouse that he was “very pleased.”
“The diversity of having three Black jurors is encouraging and it’s significant,” said Barbara Arnwine, an attorney supporting Arbery’s family.
McMichaels try for plea deal
Both Travis and Gregory McMichael struck a plea deal with the prosecution weeks ago that would’ve allowed them to forego the federal trial. In exchange for a guilty plea to federal hate crimes, the men would’ve served the first 30 years of their life sentences in federal prison for killing Ahmaud Arbery, 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 and rejected the plea deal.
“Please listen to me,” Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones told Judge Wood. “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.”
In a pretrial hearing, Judge Wood said she was not comfortable with the sentencing guidelines and rejected the plea deal, allowing the case to go to trial.
Both McMichaels withdrew their guilty pleas at the pretrial hearing.
Arbery family thinks federal trial is important
Despite the men already receiving life sentences, Arbery’s family said the hate crimes case remains important. At the time of his death, Ahmaud 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.
Judge Wood said she expects the hate crimes trial involving the killers of Ahmaud Arbery to last between seven and 12 days.