The man convicted of murder in the shooting of Ahmaud Abery retracted his guilty plea Friday and opted to stand trial again for the 2020 killing of a Black person that was part of a wider national reckoning over racial injustice.
Travis McMichael retracted his plans to plead guilty in federal case days after a U.S. District Court judge rejected terms for a plea agreement between defense lawyers and prosecutors. This was met with passionate objections from Arbery’s parents.
McMichael, when asked by Lisa Godbey Wood, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood about his decision, said that he would withdraw the plea.
After McMichael’s father and McMichael’s plea agreements fell apart, all three White men convicted for Arbery’s murder are expected to return to federal court next week. Greg McMichael pulled out of a plan to plead guilty late Thursday in a legal filing.
Arbery’s father missed Travis McMichael’s Friday plea hearing. As reporters were leaving courthouse, he was seen standing near the elevators downstairs.
Marcus Arbery Sr. stated, “All that we want is 100% justice to the Arbery family.” “That’s all that we want.”
McMichaels, along with a neighbor William “Roddie”, Bryan were convicted in Georgia of murder last fall and sentenced for life in prison. At the time of the murder, Georgia did not have a hate crime law. They were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges that they violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him for being Black.
After spotting Arbery running past their Brunswick home on February 23, 2020, the McMichaels took out their guns and chased him in a pickup truck. Bryan joined the chase in his truck and captured cellphone video of Travis McMichael firing a shotgun at Arbery.
After prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed to offer a sentence of 30 years that would include a request for McMichaels to be transferred from Georgia’s state prison system into federal custody, the father and son planned to plead guilty. The agreement would have required McMichaels admit to racism and give up their right to appeal the federal sentence.
Wood refused to sign the deal Monday because Arbery’s parents said that federal prison conditions wouldn’t be nearly as harsh. Wood claimed that she rejected the deal because it would have put her in a particular sentence.
Prosecutors requested that the judge approve the plea agreements despite objections from Arbery’s family. Tara Lyons, the prosecutor, stated that Arbery’s parents’ attorneys had informed the U.S. Justice Department they wouldn’t object.
Lee Merritt, Arbery’s mom’s attorney, stated that the victim’s family had rejected the terms previously and “no longer wanted” to engage with prosecutors. He said that prosecutors “took this as a deferral.”
Defense attorneys claimed that the McMichaels had reasonable suspicions that Arbery had committed crimes in their area, and justified following him to state court. Travis McMichael said that he fired his shotgun at Arbery after he attacked him with fists, and then tried to grab the weapon.