A federal judge has rejected a plea deal in the Ahmaud Arbery case that would have allowed the victim’s killers to serve parts of their life sentences in federal prison, where conditions are considered safer.
The judge’s decision to dismiss the plea after pressure from Arbery’s family is being seen as “highly unusual,” NBC reported.
Judge rejects plea deal in Arbery case
Travis and Gregory McMichael were convicted in November of chasing and killing Arbery along with neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, who caught the shooting on videotape. All three men were sentenced to life in prison for murder, with Bryan receiving the chance of parole after 30 years served.
The three men are now facing a separate trial for federal hate crimes. The McMichaels reached a plea with prosecutors in which they effectively admitted that they targeted Arbery, 25, because he was black, but Arbery’s family vehemently protested the deal as being too favorable to the McMichaels.
Under the agreement, the men could have served 30 years in federal prison or, as Arbery’s mother put it, a “safer, less crowded” facility, BBC reported.
She rejected that proposition as an injustice to her son.
“Please listen to me,” Wanda Cooper-Jones told the judge. “Granting these men their preferred choice of confinement would defeat me. It gives them one last chance to spit in my face.”
The decision of U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to reject the plea, citing the “unique circumstances” of the case, was described by former prosecutor David Henderson as “highly unusual.”
He speculated that Wood buckled to pressure from Arbery’s family, adding, “It’s very unusual for a federal judge to do that.”
Arbery was fatally shot by Travis McMichael during a February 2020 altercation after McMichael, his father, and Bryan chased down Arbery. The men said they believed Arbery had fled the scene of a crime, but a jury was unpersuaded that they had a right to make a citizens’ arrest.
The Arbery case led Georgia to drop its citizens’ arrest law, which dated to the Civil War, and create a new hate crime law.
Bryan does not appear to have reached a plea agreement. His trial is scheduled to begin next week.