Judge rejects plea deal between DOJ and at least one of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers

February 2, 2022

A federal judge on Monday rejected a proposed plea agreement between federal prosecutors and at least one of the men who has been convicted of the February 23, 2020, pursuit and murder of Ahmaud Arbery—a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging in Satilla Shores, a neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia.

According to a report by MSNBC, U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood rejected the plea deal after hearing remarks from members of Arbery’s family, who vehemently opposed the agreement.

Plea deals were filed in court on Sunday, January 30, on behalf of father Gregory McMichael and son Travis McMichael—both of whom were convicted of murder last November and sentenced to life without parole. Another trial—the federal trial of the McMichaels and accomplice William Bryan—is set to begin on February. 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.

Although a judge ultimately rejected at least one of 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.

Research contact: @MSNBC