After a plea deal that could have lowered their sentences was rejected, two men who killed Ahmaud Arbery have decided to continue to plead not guilty to a federal hate crime charge in the 2020 killing. The hate crime charges were brought upon in April when a federal grand jury indicted three men, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan, in a hate crime case that included charges of interference with the victim’s rights and attempted kidnapping, Daily Kos reported.
According to the Associated Press, in a motion filed Thursday, Greg McMichael’s defense attorney said McMichael pleads not guilty and plans to stand trial for the second time in Arbery’s death. By Friday, Travis McMichael also confirmed that he would also plead not guilty. As a result, jury selection in the federal trial will begin Monday.
Both father and son had planned to plead guilty to a hate crime charge after prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed on a 30-year sentence that would include a request to transfer the McMichaels from Georgia’s state prison system to federal custody. However, taking Arbery’s family’s pleas into account, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood rejected the deal that would have locked her into specific terms.
After the plea was rejected, the men were given until Friday to decide whether or not they would plead guilty to charges of a hate crime.
According to NBC News, Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, the family is pleased that the federal trial will go forward.
“If convicted, these men return to a Georgia state prison to serve out their life sentences,” Merritt said. “If acquitted, these men return to a Georgia state prison to serve out their life sentence. It’s a win-win. That is what Wanda Cooper Jones demanded. That is what will happen.”
Hate crime charges came into the picture when the state said it gathered racial evidence including “racial” Facebook posts and text messages from Travis McMichael and Bryan, in addition to what they described as a “racial Johnny Rebel Facebook post” and an “Identity Dixie Facebook post” from Gregory McMichael, The New York Timesreported.
While the state jury was not able to consider them, officials are expecting them to take the stage of this trial.
“It’s not just proving that they’re racists, and not just proving that they killed Ahmaud Arbery without justification,” Page Pate, a Georgia lawyer and legal analyst, told the Times. “It’s proving that their racism is the reason they killed Ahmaud Arbery.”
During hearings for the proposed plea deal, prosecutors attempted to argue that race did not motivate the McMichaels; instead, they argued, assumptions were made based on Arbery’s skin tone.
“Travis McMichael did not belong to any hate groups, and did not set out on Feb. 23, 2020, to carry out an act of violence against an African American person,” Tara M. Lyons, assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, said. “But he had made assumptions about Ahmaud Arbery that he would not have made if Ahmaud Arbery had been white.”
While all three men were charged with a hate crime and separately sentenced to life in person, only the McMichaels seem to have been offered a plea deal. According to The New York Times, as of Friday, the Justice Department has not filed any documents indicating that they have reached a deal with Bryan.