BRUNSWICK (Ga.) — Ahmaud Abery, the man convicted for murder, retracted his guilty plea for a federal hate crime offense Friday. He opted to face trial again in 2020 for the killing of a Black man. This case became part of a wider national reckoning over racial inequality.
Travis McMichael retracted his plans to plead guilty in federal case after a U.S. District Court Judge rejected terms of a plea agreement between defense attorneys, prosecutors. This was in response to passionate objections from Arbery’s family. McMichael replied: “I withdraw my plea.”
After McMichael’s father and McMichael’s plea deals fell apart, all three white men convicted for Arbery’s murder are expected to return to federal court next week. Greg McMichael changed his mind on Thursday and filed a legal document pledging guilty.
Wood has set Monday as the date for jury selection in the hate crime trial.
Arbery’s father was unable to attend Friday’s Travis McMichael plea hearing. As reporters left the courthouse, he was seen standing near the elevators downstairs. “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. The McMichaels then chased Arbery with a pickup truck, after seeing the man run past their Brunswick home on February 23, 2020. Bryan, who was also in the chase, recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting at Arbery. After prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed to propose a sentence of 30 years that included a request for the McMichaels to be transferred from Georgia’s state prisons to federal custody, a plea deal was made. 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.