Gregory and Travis McMichael, the father and son convicted of murder in Ahmaud Arbery’s killing, are entering a plea deal on federal hate crime charges in order to serve their time in a safer, less crowded prison, a lawyer for Arbery’s mother said Monday.

Wanda Cooper-Jones intends to oppose the deal at a Monday hearing, attorney S. Lee Merritt said. Both Cooper-Jones and Arbery’s father were in court Monday morning. She was seen sobbing at the beginning of the hearing.

Merritt spoke out after documents were filed Sunday in federal court, ahead of the men’s scheduled February 7 trial, showing the defendants had reached the deal with prosecutors. Details of the agreement were not specified, but Merritt said the family “is devastated.”

The McMichaels were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole in a Glynn County, Georgia, court in early January for murdering Arbery, a 25-year-old Black jogger. The men were also indicted on federal hate crimes charges.

Matters regarding the plea deal will be heard Monday afternoon, US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said. In the morning proceedings, the McMichaels both wore suits. A third man convicted for his role in the killing, William “Roddie” Bryan, was also in court wearing an orange prison jumpsuit.

Travis McMichael is scheduled to appear in court at 2 p.m., and his father’s hearing is slated for 2:45 p.m.

Cooper-Jones has asked the US Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, to first allow the McMichaels to serve their life sentences in state prison. Merritt said.

“It’s very disrespectful,” she said after the morning hearing.

‘Betrayed by the DOJ lawyers’

The plea agreement was sent to the US District for the Southern District of Georgia for consideration, Sunday’s court filing said. An attorney for Gregory McMichael declined to comment on the agreement.

“The (US Department of Justice) has gone behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to make their time in prison easier for them to serve,” Cooper-Jones said in a statement. “I have made it clear at every possible moment that I do not agree to offer these men a plea deal of any kind. I have been completely betrayed by the DOJ lawyers.”

Merritt called federal prison “a country club compared to state prison,” saying the facilities are less populated, have better funding and are “generally more accommodating” than state holding facilities, according to tweets from his account.

“By admitting they were motivated by hate when they hunted & murdered Ahmaud Arbery these men get to transfer to safer, less crowded & more orderly federal detention facilities,” Merritt tweeted. “In essence they get to publicly brag about their hatred & then be rewarded by the federal government.”

On January 7, ahead of the McMichaels’ sentencing in state court, Merritt said Arbery’s mother had rejected a plea deal put forth by federal prosecutors that would’ve put the McMichaels away for 30 years each.

“She rejected that offer because we believe that today the state will move forward with life sentences without the possibility of parole, and we think that’s the appropriate sentence,” Merritt told CNN at the time.

Bryan was not mentioned in Sunday’s court filings. Bryan, who shot video of Arbery’s killing, was sentenced in state court to life with the possibility of parole.

Merritt referred to the plea agreement as a “back room deal” and said, “This is an example of the Department of Justice literally snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

The federal Crime Victims Act guarantees Cooper-Jones’ “right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding involving a plea offer,” Merritt said, and she intends to exercise that right at Monday’s proceeding.

Prior to news of the plea deal, jury selection in the three men’s trial was scheduled to begin February 7. Judge Wood explained Monday how the process will begin: 25 potential jurors will be seated each morning and another group seated in the afternoon, with the aim of selecting 12 jurors and four alternates. Prosecutors and defense lawyers will be permitted a limited number of strikes.

Trial drew national attention

The three defendants were convicted for their roles in the February 23, 2020 murder. The McMichaels told police they believed Arbery was a suspect in recent burglaries and chased him. Bryan, a neighbor, got in a vehicle and also pursued Arbery as he was jogging.

Travis McMichael exited the vehicle after catching up to Arbery and fatally shot Arbery as the two struggled over McMichael’s shotgun.

The McMichaels were arrested May 7, 2020, days after video of the shooting surfaced, and Bryan was taken into custody two weeks later.

The subsequent trial drew national attention. The circumstances surrounding the killing involved race, video evidence and the rights and limitations of self-defense using firearms.

The case dovetailed with the killings of three Black people — Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta — reigniting concerns over racial injustice and prompting civil unrest nationwide.

Much was also made about the investigation prior to the trial — which featured multiple prosecutor recusals — as well as tactics utilized by some of the defendants’ defense attorneys during the trial that were questioned by legal experts.

The presence during the trial of civil rights leaders, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, brought condemnation and accusations of undue influence from at least one defense attorney, while another defense attorney’s comments about Arbery’s toenails drew heavy criticism from Arbery’s family and others.

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