Federal trial for men who killed Ahmaud Arbery begins 

Judge Lisa Godbey Wood is prepared to seat 12 jurors and four alternates, and opening arguments in the hate-crimes case are set to start Monday.

Valentine’s Day will mark the start of the federal trial of the three men convicted by a Georgia court of murdering Ahmaud Arbery

Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son, have been convicted of state felony murder charges and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Feb. 2020 shooting death of the 25-year-old jogger in Brunwsick, Georgia. Their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, has been sentenced to life in prison with parole as a possibility. 

(From left) Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, along with William “Roddie” Bryan, have been convicted of state felony murder charges and sentenced to life in prison for killing Ahmaud Arbery. (Photos: Glynn County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Judge Lisa Godbey Wood is prepared to seat a jury of 12 and four alternates out of 64 potential jurors chosen today, and opening arguments are expected in the trial, which seeks to prove the three men’s attack and murder of Arbery was racially motivated. 

“The ramifications of bringing a high-profile hate-crimes case and losing it can be pretty severe. It’s not just bad for precedent, but it might encourage the bad actors you are trying to deter,” Benjamin Wagner, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, told The Washington Post“You never know what will happen with a jury. And with a hate-crimes case, because there are other ramifications, not to mention it could result in civil unrest, you need to be thoughtful and cautious before bringing it.”

The McMichaels had entered guilty pleas last month, but the plea deal of the 66-year-old retired Brunwsick police officer and his 36-year-old son were rejected after pushback from the Arbery family because it would have meant the pair would have served the first 30 years of their sentences in federal prison, which have better conditions than a Georgia state prison. 

The state trial did not focus on the possible racial motivation of the men who murdered Arbery, instead just on their actions that fateful day. The federal trial will examine the motive. 

“There are very few crimes where the government cares what a defendant was thinking, and this speaks to being able to highlight the motive here was race,” said Stephen Gilson, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Western District of Pennsylvania, to The Post

The newspaper noted that a conviction in this federal case could send the message “that hate crimes are a distinct threat because such acts can harm a broader group beyond the immediate victim.” 

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