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Plea deal in Ahmaud Arbery case is rejected after his parents spoke out against it

Updated January 31, 2022 at 4:45 PM ET

A U.S. federal judge rejected a plea deal on Monday that would have averted a hate crimes trial for one of the two men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery.

Arbery's parents, Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery, spoke in a hearing on Monday against the deal that would have allowed the two men to serve their time in a federal prison instead of a state one. Cooper-Jones called the proposed deal "disrespectful."

"Ahmaud didn't get the option of a plea," Cooper-Jones said, according to NPR member station GPB.

"They killed my son because he's a Black man. I'm asking on behalf of his family, on behalf of his memory, and on the behalf of fairness that you do not grant this plea," she continued.

Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, reacts as Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley sentences Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan in the Glynn County Courthouse.
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Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, reacts as Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley sentences Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan in the Glynn County Courthouse.

The judge gave Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael 48 hours to decide whether to stick with their plea or go to trial. After rejecting Travis McMichael's plea, she proceeded with plans to gather potential jurors next week, The Associated Press reported.

Late Sunday, prosecutors announced they had reached a deal with the McMichaels, according to court documents the U.S. attorneys filed.

In its notices to the court, the Department of Justice asked that the charges against the McMichaels be disposed of. Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, co-signed the letter with U.S. Attorney David Estes and three other Justice Department attorneys.

Clarke said in a statement emailed to NPR that the Justice Department had consulted with the family's attorneys before entering the deal.

"The Justice Department takes seriously its obligation to confer with the Arbery family and their lawyers both pursuant to the Crime Victim Rights Act and out of respect for the victim," Clarke said.

"Before signing the proposed agreement reflecting the defendants' confessions to federal hate crimes charges, the Civil Rights Division consulted with the victims' attorneys. The Justice Department entered the plea agreement only after the victims' attorneys informed me that the family was not opposed to it," she continued.

Greg McMichael, center, and his son, Travis McMichael, left, look at family members seated in the gallery when they walk into the courtroom for the reading of the jury's verdict for themselves and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan in the Glynn County Courthouse on November 24, 2021 in Brunswick, Ga. The three men were changed with the February, 2020 fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.
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Greg McMichael (center) and his son Travis McMichael (left) look at family members seated in the gallery when they walk into the courtroom for the reading of the jury's verdict for themselves and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, in the Glynn County Courthouse on Nov. 24, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. The three men were charged with the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in 2020.

The McMichaels, along with William "Roddie" Bryan were convicted of Arbery's murder in a state court in November 2021. Earlier this month, the three were sentenced to life in prison. Neither Gregory nor Travis McMichael is eligible for parole. Bryan must serve 30 years before he'd be considered for release.

Lawyers who represented the McMichaels in the murder trial did not respond to calls and emails asking for details about the plea deal.

Arbery, then 25, was running through Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23, 2020, when the three men chased him down in a pickup truck. Travis McMichael shot Arbery three times at close range. He argued at trial that the shooting was in self-defense and that he and the others thought Arbery was responsible for break-ins in the neighborhood.

Gregory and Travis McMichael and Roddie Bryan are white, and Arbery was Black. The case was one of many involving race relations, the use of force, and police conduct that contributed to nationwide protests.

The Department of Justice charged the three defendants in the hate crimes trial with violating Arbery's rights, attempted kidnapping and the use of dangerous weapons because of his race. They pleaded not guilty to the charges last year.

Jury selection in the trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 7. It's unclear whether Bryan struck an agreement with the government.

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