After his relatives opposed to the agreement, a federal judge has rejected plea deals with the U.S. Justice Department.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood turned down plea deals between federal prosecutors and Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael followed statements from Arbery’s parents and two aunts, who were vehemently against the agreements and implored the judge to proceed with trials on federal hate crime charges scheduled for next week.
These pleas would have allowed McMichaels and their son to go directly to federal prison. Federal prison is safer than state prison. The father and son were sentenced last month in Georgia to life in state prison without parole after being convicted of running down and murdering Arbery, a 25-year-old jogger shot to death in February 2020.
A third white man, neighbor William Bryan, 52, who participated in the chase, was sentenced in state court to life with the possibility of parole.
Federal prosecutors have charged all three with hate crime. McMichaels’ plea deal would have marked the first time that the pair had admitted to Arbery’s murder was racist.
After Monday’s hearing, there was no indication that Bryan had reached an agreement with Justice Department lawyers.
“All they would have to do is stand up and say that they were motivated by hate and then this court will concede to their preferred conditions of confinement,”Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones told Wood. “I do not need to hear them say they were motivated by hate. That does me no good. It does my family no good.
“It’s not fair to take away the victory for which I prayed and fought. It is wrong. It isn’t just. It is wrong. Please, listen to me. I would be defeated if they were to accept their preferred conditions of confinement. This gives them one more chance to spit on my face after they murder my son.” the mother said.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for the family, told reporters before Monday’s hearing that “These men will be sentenced to a shorter term in federal prison.”
The attorney also said the Justice Department did not tell the family or its lawyers that the deal included a transfer to federal custody.
Federal prosecutors were “well aware” that the family “was opposed to such a condition,” he said.
“The DOJ has offered to help the murderers of my son, a deal to make their sentences in prison less difficult.” Cooper-Jones said in a statement Monday. “I have been clear that I refuse to offer these men any type of plea deal. The DOJ lawyers have completely deceived me.”
In a statement Monday evening, Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general, said lawyers for Arbery’s relatives had told the Justice Department that the family “was not opposed”The plea agreements.
“The Justice Department takes seriously its obligation to confer with the Arbery family and their lawyers both pursuant to the Crime Victim Rights Act and out of respect for the victim,”She said.