By Russ Bynum | The Associated Press
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The man who initiated the deadly chase that ended in the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery won’t plead guilty to a federal hate crime in the 2020 killing of the unarmed Black man, according to a legal filing late Thursday.
Greg McMichael reversed his plan to plead guilty in the federal case days after a U.S. District Court judge rejected terms of a plea deal that was met with passionate objections by Arbery’s parents. McMichael’s defense attorney said in a legal notice filed jointly with prosecutors that McMichael plans to stand trial for a second time in Arbery’s death.
McMichael along with his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, were convicted of murder in a Georgia state court last fall and sentenced to life in prison. Separate from that case, the three white men were also indicted in U.S. District Court on charges that they violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because he was Black.
Travis McMichael was scheduled for a plea hearing Friday morning to announce whether he would move forward with a guilty plea in the federal case. The McMichaels had been warned by the judge that she would not guarantee their sentence if they chose to plead guilty.
Jury selection in the federal case is set to begin Monday.
Both men had planned to plead guilty to a hate crime charge earlier this week after prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed on a 30-year sentence that would include a request to transfer the McMichaels from Georgia’s state prison system to federal custody. The deal would have required the McMichaels to admit to racist motives and forfeit the right to appeal their federal sentence.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood rejected the deal Monday after hearing passionate objections from Arbery’s parents, who argued conditions in federal prison wouldn’t be as harsh. Wood said she ultimately denied the deal because it would have locked her into a specific sentence.
The McMichaels armed themselves and chased Arbery in a pickup truck after spotting the 25-year-old man running past their home just outside the port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.
Prosecutors asked the judge to approve the plea deals despite the objections from Arbery’s family. Prosecutor Tara Lyons said that attorneys for Arbery’s parents told the U.S. Justice Department that the family wouldn’t object to the plea deals.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother, said the slain man’s family had previously rejected the same terms and “no longer wanted to engage” prosecutors, who “took that as a deferral.”
During the murder trial in state court, defense attorneys argued the McMichaels were justified in pursuing Arbery because they had a reasonable suspicion that he had committed crimes in their neighborhood. Travis McMichael testified that he opened fire with his shotgun after Arbery attacked him with fists and tried to grab the weapon.