Hate crime trial starts for three men convicted in Ahmaud Arbery killing 

Jury selection in the federal trial of Gregory McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan starts today.

After a judge rejected the guilty plea agreement of two of the three men facing federal hate crime charges in connection with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the trial of Gregory McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan will start this week. 

According to an NPR report, jury selection in the trial will begin today. 

(From left) Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. are all charged with hate crimes, as well as the attempted kidnapping of Ahmaud Arbery. (Photos: Glynn County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

All three Brunswick, Georgia, men are charged with hate crimes, as well as the attempted kidnapping of Arbery, who was shot dead by the younger McMichael on Feb. 23, 2020. In November of last year, the trio was convicted of state felony murder charges, resulting in life sentences without the possibility of parole for both McMichaels and life with the possibility of parole for Bryan. 

The father-son duo was offered a plea agreement last month, which would have allowed them to spend the first 30 years of their life sentences in federal prison. Arbery’s family pushed back against the agreement. 

“Federal prison is a country club when compared to state prison,” family attorney Lee Merritt tweeted. “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.” 

“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,” he continued. “In essence, they get to publicly brag about their hatred & then be rewarded by the federal government.”

In rejecting the deal, 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, per previous reporting. 

“It’s not just proving that they’re racists, and not just proving that they killed Ahmaud Arbery without justification,” Page Pate, a Georgia lawyer and legal analyst, told The New York Times of the federal trial. “It’s proving that their racism is the reason they killed Ahmaud Arbery.”

Per NPR, the federal trial focuses on whether the killing was racially motivated and whether the defendants violated Arbery’s civil rights. The state case did not address motive.

Evidence of past racial statements by the men, including social media posts, will now take “center stage” at their federal trial, according to The Times, serving as evidence underscoring a hateful motive behind Arbery’s murder. Their state trial focused more on the direct actions of the three men that led to the killing. 

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who also once led the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department, noted that this federal trial is about taking a national stand against racist behavior.

“In the most egregious examples, even if there has been a conviction in a state court, there’s a national interest in there being federal consequences,” Patrick told NPR. “And I think this is one of those cases.”