Brunswick, GA – Two of the three men convicted of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery’s murder have reached a plea deal with prosecutors for the federal hate crimes charges that would put them in federal prison for the first 30 years of their life-without-parole sentences.
Notices of the plea agreements for 66-year-old Gregory McMichael and his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael, were filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia on Sunday, The Washington Post reported.
The deal still needed to be approved by a federal judge.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, released a statement shortly before the hearing on Monday that said she strongly objected to the deal, WFTV reported.
“The [Department of Justice] 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,” Cooper Jones said. “I have made it clear at every possible moment that I do not agree to offer these men a plea deal of any kind. I have been completely betrayed by the DOJ lawyers.”
Lawyers for Cooper Jones announced that Arbery’s family strongly objected to any kind of plea agreement with the men who were convicted of the 25 year old’s murder and called it a “back room deal.”
Attorney Lee Merritt posted a furious rant to social media on Sunday after the notices were filed with the court and called federal prison a “country club.”
Gregory & Travis McMichael have signed plea deals with the DOJ to allow the men— serving Life Without the Possibility of Parole in GA state prison— to transfer to preferred Federal Custody.
This back room deal represents a betrayal to the Arbery family who is devastated. pic.twitter.com/SAVG1syLS9
— Lee Merritt (@MerrittForTexas) January 31, 2022
Merritt said that Arbery’s mother would tell the federal judge on Jan. 31 that she didn’t want him to approve the plea deals for her son’s killers.
“Wanda Cooper Jones kept her promise to Ahmaud Arbery to get her son justice. Today the DOJ is attempting to ‘snatch defeat from the jaws of victory’. We will not allow it. The Arbery family has worked too hard to see these men spend the rest of their lives in state custody,” he tweeted.
“Federal prison is a country club when compared to state prison,” Merritt wrote in another tweet. “Federal prisons are less populated, better funded and generally more accommodating than state prisons.”
“These men hurriedly entered this plea deal that would allow them to transfer out of custody from GA prison,” the attorney added.
Merritt complained that allowing the McMichaels to enter into a plea agreement was akin to rewarding them for admitting they were racists.
“By admitting they were motivated by hate when they hunted & murdered Ahmaud Arbery these men get to transfer to safer, less crowded & more orderly federal detention facilities. In essence they get to publicly brag about their hatred & then be rewarded by the federal government,” he tweeted.
NEW: #AhmaudArbery family attorney @MerrittForTexas says news of plea deals was shocking, says DOJ talks with family yesterday ended without agreement. "This is an example of the Department of Justice literally snatching defeat from the jaws of victory." @FCN2go pic.twitter.com/8pdke2pMZg
— Kailey Tracy (@KaileyTracy) January 31, 2022
The McMichaels and the man who filmed Arbery’s killing – William “Roddie” Bryan – went to trial in November of 2021 and a Glynn County jury deliberated for 11 hours before finding all three guilty of murdering Arbery as he jogged through their neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020.
Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley sentenced father and son to life without the possibility of parole on Jan. 7.
Bryan was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.
His name did not appear in the plea agreement documents filed with the court over the weekend, The Washington Post reported.
All three men were still facing federal hate crime charges filed against them in April of 2021 by the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with Arbery’s murder.
On April 28, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia had indicted both McMichaels and Bryan on one count each of interference with rights and one count each of attempted kidnapping.
DOJ said both McMichaels were also charged with one count each of using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Additionally, Travis McMichael was charged with one count of discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, according to the press release.
Jury selection was scheduled to begin in the federal trial on Feb. 7 in U.S. District Court.