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Prosecutors reach hate-crime plea deals in Arbery murder

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Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, leaves the Glynn County Courthouse as jury deliberations begin in the trial of the killers of her son on November 23, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia.
Sean Rayford | Getty Images

U.S. prosecutors have reached plea agreements with two of the three white men facing federal hate-crime charges for the 2020 murder of Black man Ahmaud Arbery, according to court records.

The three 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, 25.

The attorney for Arbery’s family, Lee Merritt, said in a statement that he will oppose the deal during a hearing scheduled for Monday 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.

The McMichaels were sentenced to life in prison without parole by a state judge on Jan. 7, while it was ruled that Bryan could seek parole after 30 years in prison.

The men also faced federal hate-crime charges. They were accused of violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his “race and color.” A federal trial was to begin next month. The three defendants had pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

On Sunday, lawyers for the U.S. government filed notices asking a district judge to accept pleas for the McMichaels. No details were given but the filings said the deal would “dispose” of the pending charges against the McMichaels if accepted.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland looks at a monitor showing Justice Departament employees as he finishes speaking at the Department of Justice, in advance of the one year anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.
Carolyn Kaster | Pool | Reuters

The trial of the McMichaels would not be held if the judge agrees to the pleas. The filings did not specify a deal for Bryan, who would stand trial on Feb. 7 unless a deal is reached.

According to civil rights activists, a federal trial would have been a key moment in the country’s reckoning with racial injustice. Arbery’s murder was another example of racism leading to deadly violence against a Black man, they say.

Neither the U.S. Justice Department nor the attorneys for the defendants responded to requests for comment.

Arbery’s killing on Feb. 23, 2020, sparked outrage across the United States.

Arbery was jogging 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. Arbery had nothing on him besides his running clothes and sneakers.

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