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Gregory McMichael withdraws plea in federal hate crimes trial after judge blocks agreement

Judge rejects plea deal for man convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery
Judge rejects plea deal for man convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery 00:23

A man charged with federal hate crimes in the death of Ahmaud Arbery has withdrawn his plea after a judge denied a proposed deal with the Department of Justice earlier this week, court documents show. The trial for Gregory McMichael, who has already been convicted on state charges of killing the 25-year-old Black man in 2020, is scheduled to begin on Monday.

In a joint filing with the Department of Justice, attorneys wrote that the agreement "is hereby withdrawn by counsel for both sides." 

"Counsel respectfully announce ready for trial on February 7, 2022," the Thursday filing said.  

The deal, which was first reported on Sunday, would have allowed McMichael and his son Travis to avoid a trial. There was no mention of a deal with their co-defendant, William "Roddie" Bryan. 

In rejecting the deal on Monday, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said it would have locked her into specific terms — including 30 years in federal prison — at sentencing. Wood said that in this case it would only be appropriate to consider the family's wishes at sentencing, which the proposed deal wouldn't allow.

Travis McMichael has until Friday to decide how he wants to plead. 

Attorney Lee Merritt said in a statement earlier this week that the family was "pleased" with the judge's decision to reject the agreement, adding that the plea deal "was adamantly rejected by all members of the Arbery family."  

Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke told CBS News that the Department of Justice "respect[s] the court's decision to not accept the sentencing terms of the proposed plea." Clarke also said that the department "entered the plea agreement only after the victims' attorneys informed me that the family was not opposed to it."

The hate crime charges accuse the McMichaels and Bryan of violating Arbery's civil rights by chasing him through their neighborhood in coastal Georgia on February 23, 2020. The McMichaels armed themselves and pursued Arbery in one pickup truck while Bryan joined the chase in another.

The federal deals would not have affected affect state murder convictions in Arbery's killing. All three men were sentenced to life in prison on January 7 after a trial last fall.

During the state trial in Glynn County Superior Court, the defense argued that the white men had authority to chase Arbery because they reasonably suspected he had been committing crimes in their neighborhood. Travis McMichael testified he opened fire only after Arbery attacked him with fists and tried to grab his shotgun.

The federal judge ordered that a jury pool be chosen from throughout the Southern District of Georgia, which covers 43 counties, to improve odds of seating a fair and unbiased jury.

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