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Arbery’s shooter withdraws guilty plea

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (A P) — The man convicted of murder for shooting Ahmaud Arbery withdrew his guilty plea on a federal hate crime charge Friday, electing to stand trial for a second time in the 2020 killing of a Black man that be- came part of a larger national reckoning over racial injus- tice.

Travis McMichael reversed his plan to plead guilty in the federal case days after a U.S. District Court judge rejected terms of a plea deal between defense attorneys and prose- cutors that was met with pas- sionate objections by Arbery’s parents.

Asked by U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood for his decision, McMichael said: “I withdraw the plea.”

That means all three white men convicted of Arbery’s murder will return to court for the federal trial next week, after plea deals for McMichael and his father fell apart. Greg McMichael backed down from a plan to plead guilty in a le- gal filing late Thursday.

Wood has scheduled jury selection in the hate crimes trial will begin Monday.

The Friday plea hearing for Travis McMichael was so brief that Arbery’s father missed it. He was standing by the eleva- tors downstairs as reporters were leaving the courthouse.

“All we want is 100% justice for the Arbery family,” Mar- cus Arbery Sr. said. “That’s all we’re looking for.”

The McMichaels and a neighbor, William “Roddie”

Bryan, were convicted of mur- der in a Georgia state court last fall and sentenced to life in prison. Georgia lacked a hate crimes law at the time of the killing. The U.S. Depart- ment of Justice had them indicted on charges that the three white men violated Ar- bery’s civil rights and targeted him because he was Black.

The McMichaels armed themselves and chased Ar- bery in a pickup truck after spotting the 25-year-old man running past their home just outside the port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of Travis Mc- Michael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.

The father and son had planned to plead guilty to a hate crime charge after prosecutors and defense at- torneys agreed to propose a 30-year sentence that would include a request to transfer the McMichaels from Geor- gia’s state prison system to federal custody. The deal would have required the Mc- Michaels to admit to racist motives and forfeit the right to appeal their federal sen- tence.

Wood rejected the deal Monday after Arbery’s par- ents argued that conditions in federal prison wouldn’t be as harsh. Wood said she ul- timately denied the deal be- cause it would have locked her into a specific sentence.

Prosecutors asked the judge to approve the plea

deals despite the objections from Arbery’s family. Pros- ecutor Tara Lyons said that attorneys for Arbery’s par- ents had told the U.S. Justice Department that the family wouldn’t object.

But Lee Merritt, an attor- ney for Arbery’s mother, said the slain man’s family had previously rejected the same terms and “no longer wanted to engage” with prosecutors, who “took that as a deferral.”

During the murder trial in state court, defense attor- neys argued the McMichaels were justified in pursuing Arbery because they had a reasonable suspicion that he had committed crimes in their neighborhood. Travis McMichael testified that he opened fire with his shotgun after Arbery attacked him with fists and tried to grab the weapon.

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