Arbery killer Travis McMichael gets life plus 10 years on hate crime charges
The first of three men convicted in state court of murdering Ahmaud Arbery was sentenced Monday to another life term, plus 10 years, on federal hate crimes charges connected to the killing.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood denied a request by 36-year-old Travis McMichael to serve his hate-crime sentence first, in federal prison, which would likely mean he would avoid serving a life term in state prison on the murder charges.
Sentencing hearings for McMichael's father, Gregory McMichael, 66, and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, 52, are scheduled for this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Brunswick, Ga. They could receive life in prison.
The men, all White, already face life sentences on state murder charges following their November 2021 convictions, with no possibility of parole for both the McMichaels.
They were convicted in federal court in February of violently interfering with Arbery's right to use a public street because he was Black. The federal jury additionally found the trio guilty of attempted kidnapping and found the McMichaels guilty of a weapons violation.
Amy Lee Copeland, McMichael's attorney, said in court Monday that her client has received hundreds of threats and faces imminent harm if he's sent to Georgia state prison - a system Copeland noted is under federal investigation for safety concerns.
"I'm concerned that my client faces an effective back-door death penalty," Copeland said. She added, "I understand the rich irony, judge, of expressing that my client will face vigilante justice himself."
McMichael declined to speak in court Monday.
Arbery, an avid jogger, was out for a run when the McMichaels and Bryan chased and shot him in Satilla Shores, Ga., on Feb. 23, 2020, in an attack widely described as a "modern-day lynching." The case drew little national attention until video of the shooting was released that May. It then became part of the broader national debate over racial injustice spurred by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police that same month, and the police killing earlier in the year of Breonna Taylor.
Prosecutors offered a plea deal to the McMichaels before the federal trial: The father and son, who had both denied in their state murder trial that race was a factor in their actions, would have to admit under oath that they killed Ahmaud Arbery because he was Black. In exchange, they would serve 30 years in federal prison, which the men in court filings have said they prefer for its safety.
But the deal fell apart at the last minute in stunning fashion, with the strongest opposition coming from Arbery's family.
"Granting these men their preferred conditions of confinement will defeat me," Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said in court at the time. "It gives them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son."
Arbery's family renewed their appeal Monday, offering tearful remarks about the pain of losing and forever missing their loved one while pleading that McMichael be denied his preference of where to serve his sentence.
"If they had left him alone that they, they would have been fine. But they tortured him," Kimberly Arbery, Ahmaud's aunt, said of her slain nephew. "Give these people what they deserve."
Another aunt, Ruby Arbery, said Gregory McMichael failed his son by participating in the chasing and killing of Arbery.
"Seems like a generational curse: like father, like son," she said, asking that they serve their sentences in state prison. "I don't want them to have an easy life, because we will never have an easy life again. If they could bring Ahmaud back, they could have an easy life. But they chose to take a life, so they don't deserve an easy life."
Outside the courthouse Monday, Arbery's supporters gathered for a prayer vigil. Arbery's family was accompanied by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime civil rights leader, as well as their attorney, Lee Merritt.
Leigh McMichael, Gregory McMichael's wife, was also photographed at the courthouse.