Under the terms of the deal, the men would plead guilty to a federal hate crimes charge with a sentence of 30 years. The pair would then have been been transferred to federal custody, serving their sentences out in the marginally less horrible federal penitentiary, rather than in Georgia state prison where they were sentenced to life terms.
Arbery’s family had vehemently objected to the deal for the men who, along with a third defendant, filmed themselves chasing her son down, hitting him with a car, and shooting him multiple times. Travis McMichael is alleged to have stood over Arbery as he lay dying and called him a
“It is not fair to take away the victory I prayed and fought for. It is not right, it is not fair, it is not just,” Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, told the court.
“Ahmaud did not get an option of a plea. Ahmaud was killed. Ahmaud was hunted down,” she said, explaining that the family had not been made aware of the terms of the deal until after it was already signed.
“Granting these men what they prefer in their conditions of confinement will defeat me,” Cooper-Jones went on. “It gives them one more chance to spit in my face after murdering my son.”
“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,” the family’s lawyer Lee Merritt tweeted. “In essence they get to publicly brag about their hatred & then be rewarded by the federal government.”
And apparently the court agreed. Judge Wood rejected the plea deal from the bench on the grounds that it would have locked her in to a fixed term without the possibility of taking the wishes of the victim’s family into account.
The court gave the defendants until Friday to decide whether to go forward with their plea without the sentencing guarantee. If they withdraw the plea, this case will proceed to jury selection on February 7.
Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.