SAVANNAH, Ga. — Travis McMichael, one of three men already serving life in prison for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, was again sentenced to life in prison on Monday for federal hate crimes.
In February, a jury found that the three white men — McMichael, 36, his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52 — violated Arbery’s civil rights and the had targeted because of his race. Arbery was black.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood will later decide whether Gregory McMichael and Bryan will also face an additional life sentence.
The three defendants remained imprisoned in coastal Glynn County in the custody of U.S. Marshals pending sentencing following their federal sentencing in January. Wood returned McMichael to the custody of the marshals Monday.
Typically, they would serve their sentence in a state prison, but a federal judge could ask that the defendants be placed in a federal prison, said Ed Tarver, an Augusta attorney and former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. .
Arbery’s family opposed the defendant’s request to serve his sentence in a federal prison, rather than a state prison where conditions are considered harsher.
Gregory McMichael and Bryan will be sentenced at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively, according to court documents.
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The three men were found guilty of murder in a state trial in November and were sentenced to life in prison, both McMichaels were denied any chance of parole.
In February, the McMichaels and Bryan were each found guilty of one count of trespass and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were also found guilty of one count of using, carrying and brandishing – and shooting, in the case of Travis McMichael – a firearm during and in connection with a crime of violence. .
The verdict came two years after Arbery died while jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood on February 23, 2020. The McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped into a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him driving past their home outside of Brunswick. Bryan joined the chase in his own truck, helped block Arbery’s escape, and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as the men struggled.
Arbery’s murder has helped fuel a nationwide racial toll on the killings of unarmed black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, two cases that also resulted in federal charges.
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Prosecutors in the week-long federal trial included evidence they said showed the men killed Arbery out of racial animosity, which included their use of racial slurs and the repeated racist characterization of black people who had committed alleged crimes.
Defense attorneys argued that the McMichaels and Bryan prosecuted Arbery not because of his race, but because of a serious — albeit mistaken — suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.
Each of the men was denied appeals in the federal hate crimes trial, according to an online filing.
Penalties for hate crimes are not just symbolic
Although the defendants are already serving life sentences, experts said the federal conviction for Arbery’s death was not just symbolic. The additional sentences ensure they will serve time in prison even if their murder convictions are overturned on appeal.
Unlike state murder charges, federal hate crime convictions also acknowledge the racist motivations of what many have called a modern-day lynching, experts said. Experts also said the case shows the Justice Department is taking prosecuting hate crimes more seriously.
Although reports of hate crimes have increased in recent years, the offenses are rarely prosecuted. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only two people have been convicted of federal hate crimes in Georgia from 2005 to 2019. Georgia did not have hate crime laws before Arbery’s death.
Defendants seek leniency
In separate court documents last week, both McMichaels asked for leniency in their sentencing and to serve their time in federal prison, citing conditions in Georgia state prisons.
Gregory McMichael’s attorney, AJ Balbo, has expressed concerns about his client’s safety in a Georgia jail and argued that his sentence should not exceed that of Derek Chauvin, the convicted Minneapolis police officer guilty of murdering George Floyd outside a convenience store. Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years in prison.
Through his attorney, Travis McMichael said he had received several hundred death threats and feared he could be killed in state prison.
“He has received numerous death threats that are credible in light of all the circumstances, and the government has an ongoing investigation into Georgia DOC’s ability to keep inmates safe in a system where murder rates have tripled,” wrote attorney Amy Copeland in the sentencing. note.
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Meanwhile, Bryan’s attorney called his client’s decision to join the McMichaels’ pursuit of Arbery misguided, but pointed out that Bryan did not seek out Arbery with the intent to kill him. , noting that he did not leave his home armed, according to his sentencing memorandum filed Sunday.
“The evidence showed Bryan was acting out of ignorance, not hate, and without the near expectation of potential violence as McMichael. When the McMichaels pulled up in their truck armed with guns, they signed in for a possible shooting,” Bryan’s attorney, J. Pete Theodocian, wrote in the memo.
Theodocian requested that Bryan be given less than a life sentence for his involvement in Arbery’s murder.
At a plea hearing earlier this year, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones,
expressed his dissatisfaction with Travis McMichael’s attempt to plead and serve time in federal prison, thereby avoiding the possibility of serving in a Georgia.
“It’s not right to take away the victory I fought for,” Jones said at the time. “This will defeat me. This gives them permission to spit in my face one last time.”
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Contributor: Associated Press
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