Prosecutors have reached a plea deal with two of the three white men facing federal hate-crimes charges for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, the Black man who was chased through a Georgia neighborhood and fatally shot, court documents show.
The men, Travis McMichael, 36, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, were found guilty of murder along with a third man, William Bryan, 52, in a Georgia state court in November.
The case was widely viewed as an act of racial violence. But while prosecutors in the state trial had considered introducing what they described as “racial” evidence, including inflammatory Facebook posts and text messages from the three men, they ultimately touched only lightly on racial themes in making their case to the nearly all-white jury.
Prosecutors in the federal hate-crimes trial, which is scheduled to begin next week in Brunswick, Ga., were expected to argue that the men were motivated by racism.
On Sunday, they filed notice in U.S. District Court asking a judge to approve plea agreements for the McMichaels. Specific details about the plea deals were not included in the court filings. Nor was there any indication that an agreement had been struck with Mr. Bryan, who was involved in chasing Mr. Arbery through the neighborhood near Brunswick, Ga., in February 2020.
Mr. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, denounced the pleas. In an interview late Sunday, Ms. Cooper-Jones said of the federal prosecutors: “They went behind my back. I’m totally, totally upset. My anxiety is over the roof.”
She said that federal officials had asked her earlier if she approved of a deal, and that she had told them no. Ms. Cooper-Jones said she would try to persuade a judge to reject the plea agreements in court on Monday afternoon.
All three men were sentenced to life in prison by the state court. In the federal proceedings, the men are accused of hate-crime charges and attempted kidnapping, for which they face possible additional life sentences. Travis McMichael, who fired a shotgun at Mr. Arbery, also faces a weapons charge.
During the murder trial, lawyers for Travis McMichael — who fired his shotgun at Mr. Arbery three times at close range — had said that he had fired in self-defense.
Ms. Cooper-Jones said she wanted the federal trial to take place in order to put the self-defense argument to rest and to firmly establish that the men had been motivated by racism.
Lawyers for the McMichaels and a Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment about the matter on Monday morning. A lawyer for Mr. Bryan could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Arbery was unarmed when the three men chased him for several minutes through Satilla Shores, a middle-class neighborhood along Georgia’s southern coast. They said they had suspected Mr. Arbery of committing property crimes in the area. In video footage of the encounter, Mr. Arbery could be seen running as his pursuers chased him in two pickup trucks.
The chase ended when Mr. Arbery and the younger Mr. McMichael met in a violent clash. Mr. Bryan captured the violence on a video clip that was widely disseminated on the internet, leading to a national outcry and allegations that the killing had amounted to a modern-day lynching.
It is unclear which pieces of evidence might be introduced in the federal trial. In a pretrial hearing, state prosecutors read a text message from November 2019 in which Travis McMichael used a racist slur about Black people as he described the idea of shooting a “crackhead” with “gold teeth.”
In a federal court filing in late December, the lawyer for Mr. Bryan asked the court to exclude evidence that suggested Mr. Bryan had “racial animus” toward Black people, including racially insensitive text messages he had made around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and witness testimony “that would suggest Bryan did not approve of his adopted daughter dating an African American man.”
A Georgia state investigator has said that Mr. Bryan told the authorities that he heard Travis McMichael use a racist slur shortly after shooting Mr. Arbery. Mr. McMichael’s lawyers have disputed that claim.