U.S. prosecutors have reached plea agreements with two of the three men facing federal hate-crime charges for the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed after running through a mostly white neighborhood in southern Georgia.
The three white men — Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan — were convicted last November in a state court in Brunswick, Georgia, of murder in the death of Arbery.
The killing of Arbery, 25, sparked national outrage when cellphone video of his shooting emerged months later and the public learned that local authorities had declined to arrest his pursuers.
The McMichaels’ plea agreements must be accepted by U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood at hearings set to start at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) if they are to avoid a federal trial, which had been scheduled to start next week.
The attorney for Arbery’s family, Lee Merritt, said in a statement that he will oppose the deals in the hearings on Monday at the U.S. District Court in Brunswick and that Arbery’s family was “devastated.”
“The DOJ has gone behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to make their time in prison easier to serve,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said in statement provided by Merritt. “I have been completely betrayed by the DOJ lawyers,” she said, referring to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Federal prisons are perceived to be generally safer than state prisons, and Arbery’s family said the McMichaels were motivated to improving the conditions of their custody.
The McMichaels were sentenced to life in prison without parole by a state judge on Jan. 7. Bryan was also sentenced to life in prison, but the judge ruled that he could seek parole after 30 years.
State prosecutors told the court that they had evidence that “racial animus” had been behind the men’s decision to jump in their pick-up trucks and chase Arbery through their quiet, leafy neighborhood on a sunny afternoon in Feb. 23, 2020. In the end, they decided against showing any of that evidence to the jury.
Arbery’s family and civil rights activists instead looked to the federal trial as vital to establishing what they said was the heart of the matter: the federal prosecutors charged the men with violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his “race and color.”
The three defendants had pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
On Sunday, federal prosecutors filed notices asking Wood to accept plea agreements with the McMichaels. No details were given but the filings said the deal would “dispose” of the pending charges against the McMichaels if accepted. No mention was made of a deal with Bryan, who is due to stand trial on Feb. 7 unless a deal is reached.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for Georgia’s Southern District said federal prosecutors would not comment before Monday’s hearings. Attorneys for the defendants did not respond to requests for comment.
Arbery was running through the leafy Satilla Shores neighborhood in the afternoon when the McMichaels decided to grab their guns, jump in a pickup truck and give chase.
Bryan joined the chase in his own pickup truck after it passed his driveway, and pulled out his cellphone to record Travis McMichael firing a shotgun at Arbery at close range.