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Ahmaud Arbery case: Travis McMichael sentenced to life for hate crimes

Travis McMichael attends jury selection in his trial for the killing Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Superior Court, last October in Brunswick, Georgia.  (Octavio Jones/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Shaddi Abusaid and Bill Rankin The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The man who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery was sentenced Monday to life in prison for federal hate crimes convictions involving the 25-year-old’s slaying.

The sentence for Travis McMichael is in addition to the sentence he previously received in Glynn County Superior Court after he was convicted of Arbery’s murder: life in prison without the possibility of parole. There is also no parole in the federal prison system.

“You received a fair trial,” U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood told McMichael. “It was the kind of trial Ahmaud Arbery did not receive.”

Members of Arbery’s family asked Godbey Wood to give McMichael the stiffest sentence possible and make him serve his time in state prison.

“You don’t deserve no mercy because you didn’t give him none,” Marcus Arbery, Arbery’s father, told Wood. “They need to be sent to state prison where they’ll sit there and rot.”

McMichael did not address the court prior to sentencing.

His lawyer, Amy Lee Copeland, told Wood that McMichael has received “hundreds, if not thousands,” of death threats and she expressed concern that sending McMichael into state custody would be “a back door death penalty.” She asked Wood to send McMichael first into federal custody for a few years to allow for “a cooling off period” that would give some protection to Arbery’s killer.

Federal prosecutors told Wood that they opposed Copeland’s request to send McMichael into federal custody.

Wood denied the request to send McMichael into federal custody. She noted the state of Georgia was the first to arrest, try, convict and sentence McMichael for Arbery’s murder. When that is the case, defendants who are later convicted of federal crimes begin serving their time in state court, she said.

McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, were all convicted in November of Arbery’s murder after a lengthy state court trial. Like his son, Greg McMichael was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Bryan was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

All three men were convicted again in February following a high-profile hate crimes trial in which federal prosecutors successfully argued the men targeted Arbery because of his race as he ran through their neighborhood just outside the city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020.

In recent court filings, lawyers said the McMichaels fear their lives are in danger if they’re sent to state prison instead of a federal penitentiary.

Arbery collapsed in the street after being shot twice at close range by Travis McMichael, who was wielding a 12-gauge shotgun.

The shooting was filmed by Bryan, who had jumped in his own pickup truck and joined the chase after seeing Arbery run by with the father and son in pursuit.

The McMichaels said they suspected Arbery was a burglar, though the avid runner was unarmed and had nothing in his hands when he was chased down by the three white men in pickup trucks. Prosecutors said he ran for about five minutes before being killed by Travis McMichael during a tussle over the shotgun in the road.

In court filings last week, attorneys for the McMichaels asked they be placed in federal custody after sentencing, arguing they’d be safer inside a federal prison that a state-run facility.

Travis McMichael’s attorney, Copeland, said her client has received so many threats since his arrest that he’s stopped counting.

“The threats have included statements that his image has been circulated through the state prison system on contraband cell phones, that people are ‘waiting for him,’ that he should not go into the yard, and that correctional officers have promised a willingness (whether for pay or for free) to keep certain doors unlocked and backs turned to allow inmates to harm him,” Copeland wrote. “His concern is that he will promptly be killed upon delivery to the state prison system.”

Arbery’s parents have said they want to see all three serve out their sentences in state prison. Earlier this year, they asked U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to reject a plea deal that would have allowed the McMichaels to spend the first 30 years of their sentences in federal custody.

“Granting these men their preferred choice of confinement would defeat me,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told Wood at the hearing in late January. “It gives them one last chance to spit in my face.”

Pete Theodocion, Bryan’s federal attorney, said in a court filing that his client is worthy of a lesser sentence than his two co-defendants.

Bryan’s introduction to Arbery, he argued, was when he saw him run past his house as the McMichaels chased after him in Travis’ pickup truck.

“He assumed the young man had committed a crime and thought he was doing the right thing by joining in the chase,” Theodocion wrote in the weekend filing, noting Bryan never brought a gun to the chase.

“While the McMichaels were prepared for the worst and seemingly willing to do whatever had to be done to effectuate their misguided notions of justice, Roddie Bryan had no such agenda and would never have caused physical harm to Ahmad Arbery,” his attorney said.

Greg McMichael is to be sentenced at 1 p.m. followed by Bryan at 3 p.m.