Two of the three men convicted of the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery reached plea deals on Sunday, but the district judge Lisa Wood of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia on Monday rejected the plea agreements.
father and son duo Gregor and Travis McMichael, along with their neighbor William Bryan, were convicted by a jury in Georgia state court in November 2021 for hunt and kill Arbery, an unarmed black. On January 8, Gregory and Travis McMichael were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole plus 20 years, while Bryan was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole plus 10 years.
On February 23, 2020, the trio spotted Arbery walking through the Satilla Shores. They began chasing him in their trucks, allegedly because they believed he had been involved in a series of property crimes in the area. After chasing him, Travis McMichael shot Arbery with a shotgun in a brief confrontation. Video of the confrontation recorded by William Bryant has gone viral on the internet, drawing national attention amid protests against systemic racial oppression. Of the three white men convicted of the crime, the father and son duo have reached plea agreements with the Department of Justice.
Calling it a “backroom deal,” Lee Merritt, Arbery’s family attorney, noted:
Gregory and Travis McMichael have signed plea agreements with the DOJ to allow the men – who are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in a GA state prison – to be transferred to a preferred federal institution. . . . The federal prison is a country club compared to the state prison. Federal prisons are less crowded, better funded, and generally more accommodating than state prisons. These men hastily made this plea deal that would allow them to be moved out of GA jail.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, noted in a statement released by family attorneys, “The DOJ went behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to ease their time in prison.
On Monday, Judge Wood rejected the plea agreements. Prosecutors asked 48 people to respond to the court’s decision, which Judge Wood granted. She gave the McMichaels until Friday to decide whether to plead guilty.