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Federal judge rejects plea deal in hate crimes case for Travis McMichael, man who killed Ahmaud Arbery

Now that Judge Lisa Wood has rejected Travis McMichael's plea agreement, she gave the McMichaels more time to decide whether they want to rescind the guilty pleas.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A federal judge rejected the terms of Travis McMichael's plea deal in a hate crimes case, and she is allowing more time for the convicted killer and his father to decide whether they want to rescind the guilty plea.

Ahmaud Arbery's mother said she felt betrayed after the Department of Justice filed documents outlining possible plea agreements with Travis and his father, Gregory McMichael. The two men have been convicted for murder in Arbery's death. He was killed on Feb. 23, 2020. 

Cellphone video leaked to the public shows two armed white men in a truck approaching the 25-year-old Black man as he ran down the road. One of the men, later identified as Travis McMichael, and Arbery struggled over McMichael's shotgun before Arbery was shot and collapsed. Travis, Gregory, and William "Roddy" Bryan, who recorded the video, were all sentenced to life in Arbery's death on Jan. 8, with only Bryan eligible for parole.

The filings for a possible plea agreement for the McMichaels in the federal case came late Sunday night, just hours before what was supposed to be the last hearing — which was scheduled for Monday morning — before the federal hate crimes trial starts Feb. 7.  Court records showed that Monday's later 2 p.m. "change of plea hearing" was for the McMichaels. There's was no plea agreement listed for Bryan.

The five-count federal hate crimes indictment alleged the three men "did willfully by force...interfere with Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man, because of Arbery’s race and color," which "resulted in the death" of Arbery” in counts one and two. Count three accused both the McMichaels and Bryan of attempted kidnapping, and counts four and five assert the father and son used a gun during a crime of violence.

The McMichaels' guilty pleas to count one of the indictment would have allowed the court to impose a 30-year sentence of imprisonment, which they would have been able to serve concurrently to their life without parole sentences in the murder case. The plea would also dismiss any other counts of the indictment and allow them to serve their federal sentences before their state sentences. This means Travis and Gregory would spend the first 30 years of their life sentences in federal prison, rather than state prison where conditions are tougher.

Now that Judge Lisa Wood has rejected Travis' deal, she gave both -- the father and son -- time to decide whether they want to rescind the guilty pleas. She has offered the McMichaels an opportunity to make their decisions Friday morning. If the McMichaels elect to not plead guilty, they will go to trial Monday, the judge said.

Wanda Cooper Jones, Arbery's mother, was not in support of the proposed pleas.

"I’m asking on the behalf of his family, on the behalf of his memory and on the behalf of fairness that you do not grant this plea," Jones said during the hearing that's still underway.

Jones said her son "didn't get the option" of a plea.

"Granting these men their preferred conditions of confinement will defeat me. It give them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son. No one has asked me for my consent until this moment. Your honor, I’m not consenting. The state of Georgia already gave them exactly what they deserve. Please leave it that way," Jones pleaded with the court.

Ahmaud Arbery' father, Marcus Arbery, also spoke.

"This man hated Black people so bad that he didn’t want to be around them,” the father said. 

He told the court he wanted he wanted the pair to stand trial. 

"You’re trying to benefit yourself and we’re not going for that," he said.

11Alive legal analyst Page Pate explains that conditions in federal prison are safer and more comfortable, which is a reason why the Arbery family has been pushing against this.

“It is a completely different world in federal prison than in a Georgia state prison," Pate said. "The system right now in Georgia is horrible. The guard-inmate ratio is almost unsustainable, violence in state prisons is at an all time high, and given the facts of this case, the way that they were convicted, the charges against them, the McMichaels would have had an extremely difficult time in state prison.”

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