A federal judge on Monday rejected proposed plea agreements between federal prosecutors and two white men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, in 2020.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood rejected the plea deals after hearing remarks from members of Arbery’s family, who vehemently opposed the agreements.
Plea deals were filed in court Sunday on behalf of father Gregory McMichael and son Travis McMichael — both of whom were convicted of murder in November and sentenced to life without parole. The federal trial of the McMichaels and accomplice William Bryan is set to begin Feb. 7.
The proposed plea deals defied the wishes of Arbery’s parents, who have repeatedly spoken out against the government's pursuit of lighter sentences for their son's killers instead of going to trial. Benjamin Crump and Lee Merritt, attorneys representing Arbery’s family, denounced the deal in a statement Sunday.
“This proposed deal would allow the McMichaels to enter federal custody and serve the first 30 years of their sentence in a preferred federal prison,” Merritt said in a statement. “This proposed plea is a huge accommodation to the men who hunted down and murdered Ahmaud Arbery.”
Merritt told CNN the proposed deal would allow the McMichaels to serve time in a safer, less crowded facility than they would otherwise. In a separate video statement, he called the proposed deals “an example of the Department of Justice literally snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Jones-Cooper, said she had been “completely betrayed” by federal prosecutors.
“The DOJ has gone behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to make their time in prison easier for them to serve,” she said in a statement. “I have made it clear at every possible moment that I do not agree to offer these men a plea deal of any kind.”
Merritt said Jones-Cooper would exercise her right to be heard at two scheduled plea hearings for the killers on Monday.
Though a judge ultimately rejected the plea agreements, news that they were even offered to the McMichaels is a difficult pill to swallow for Black people accustomed to seeing white criminals and would-be criminals given preferential treatment.
UPDATE (Feb. 1, 2022, 11:45 a.m. ET): This story has been updated to reflect U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood's decision to reject plea agreements for both Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael.
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