Updated Feb 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Judge rejects hate crime plea deals for 2 men who killed Ahmaud Arbery

Protesters demand justice for Ahmaud Arbery
Photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images

A federal judge on Monday rejected plea agreements reached by federal prosecutors and two of the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was shot and killed while out jogging in Georgia.

Why it matters: Travis and Gregory McMichael, who along with William "Roddie" Bryan were sentenced to life in prison this month for Arbery's killing, reached the deal with prosecutors ahead of the start of their Feb. 7 hate crimes trial.

  • U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood to took the unusual step to reject the plea deals following strong opposition from Arbery's family.

Driving the news: The McMichaels offered to plead guilty to violating Arbery's civil rights when they chased him through Brunswick's Satilla Shores neighborhood in 2020. But after hearing from Arbery's parents, Wood said she did not have enough information to approve the agreement.

  • Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, accused the Justice Department in a statement on Sunday night of betraying the family, saying she "made it clear at every possible moment that I do not agree to offer these men a plea deal of any kind."
  • In court on Monday, she said: "It is not fair to take away the victory I prayed and I fought for. It is not right."

What they're saying: Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in an emailed statement that she respects the judge's decision not to accept the sentencing terms of the proposed plea and to continue the hearing until Friday.

  • "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," Clarke said.
  • "Before signing the proposed agreement reflecting the defendants’ confessions to federal hate crimes charges, the Civil Rights Division consulted with the victims’ attorneys. The Justice Department entered the plea agreement only after the victims’ attorneys informed me that the family was not opposed to it," Clarke added.

The big picture: The McMichaels had previously indicated they would plead not guilty to the hate crimes charges.

  • The three white men were each charged with one count of the hate crimes offense of interference with rights, which carries a maximum of life in prison.
  • Federal prosecutors also charged all three with attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels also face gun violations charges.
  • The proposed plea agreements for the McMichaels were filed in court late Sunday. Bryan's name was not mentioned in the filings.

For the record: Arbery's killers were convicted last November for his Feb. 23, 2020, murder.

  • Prosecutors only pursued the case after video footage of the killing went viral in May 2020, sparking nationwide outrage.

What to watch: The judge gave the McMichaels until Friday to determine if they wished to proceed with pleading guilty.

  • Gregory McMichael's attorney said he will confer with his client and decide whether he wants to continue with his guilty plea or withdraw it.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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