Two of the three men convicted in the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery reached plea deals on Sunday, but District Judge Lisa Wood of the US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia rejected the plea deals on Monday.
Father and son duo Gregor and Travis McMichael, along with their neighbor William Bryan, were convicted by a jury in a Georgia state court in November 2021 of chasing down and killing Arbery, an unarmed Black man. 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 running through the Satilla Shores. They began chasing him in their trucks, allegedly because they believed he had been involved in a string of property crimes in the area. After chasing him down, Travis McMichael shot Arbery dead using a shotgun during a brief confrontation. The video of the confrontation recorded by William Bryant went viral on the internet, attracting national attention amidst protests against systemic racial oppression. Of the three white men convicted of the crime, the father and son duo reached plea deals with the Department of Justice.
Calling it a “back room deal,” Lee Merritt, the lawyer for Arbery’s family, said:
Gregory & Travis McMichael have signed plea deals with the DOJ to allow the men— serving life without the possibility of parole in GA state prison— to transfer to preferred federal custody . . . Federal prison is a country club when compared to state prison. Federal prisons are less populated, better funded and generally more accommodating than state prisons. These men hurriedly entered this plea deal that would allow them to transfer out of custody from GA prison.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, said in a statement released by the family’s lawyers, “The DOJ has gone behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to make their time in prison easier for them to serve.”
On Monday, Judge Wood rejected the plea deals. The prosecutors asked for 48 to respond to the court’s decision, which Judge Wood granted. She gave the McMichaels until Friday to decide whether they will plead guilty.