Travis McMichael Withdraws Guilty Plea, Will Face Jury on Hate Crime Charge

One of three men convicted in the death of Ahmaud Arbery withdrew his guilty plea to a federal hate crime charge in court on Friday and will head to trial beginning next week.

Travis McMichael reversed his plea after U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood rejected his deal with the government following outrage from Arbery’s family over the proposal.

Travis McMichael, his father, Greg McMichael, and neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, are set to begin their federal hate crime trial with jury selection starting on Monday, the Associated Press reported.

The McMichaels had planned to plead guilty to the hate crime charges in exchange for 30-year sentences. But when Travis’ agreement was rejected, it voided the nearly identical agreement made by his father, who pleaded not guilty on Thursday, the New York Times reported.

The McMichaels and Bryan were convicted of murder in a Georgia state trial in November for Arbery’s death. The McMichaels were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Bryan, who filmed the incident on his cellphone, was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

The McMichaels believed Arbery was responsible for a series of break-ins reported in the neighborhood. When they saw Arbery running past their home on February 23, 2020, they got in their pickup trucks with guns and started chasing him. Bryan joined the chase in a separate vehicle and recorded cellphone footage of Travis shooting Arbery with a shotgun three times.

The three men were additionally charged with federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping. If convicted they could face another sentence of life in prison, the New York Times reported.

Travis McMichael, 36, was set to plead guilty for attacking Arbery based on his “race and color” after reaching a plea agreement with the prosecutors, Reuters reported. However, he changed his mind after Wood declined the agreement and warned him that if he kept his plea without an agreement or was convicted by a jury, he could get a different sentence than the 30 years he was expecting.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported evidence for the upcoming trial will likely include social media posts, text messages and Bryan’s statement to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation stating that Travis McMichael used racial slurs after shooting Arbery.

Prosecutor Tara M. Lyons, assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, said Travis McMichael did not plan to act violently the day of the shooting, but “he had made assumptions about Ahmaud Arbery that he would not have made if Ahmaud Arbery had been white,” she said during a hearing on Monday.

Update 2/4/22, 12:20 p.m. ET: This article was updated with additional information.

Travis McMichael Headed to Trial
Travis McMichael withdrew his guilty plea on Friday and is headed to trial for a hate crime charge in the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. Above, McMichael looks on during his sentencing in the Glynn County Courthouse on January 7, 2022, in Brunswick, Georgia.
Stephen B. Morton, Pool/AP Photo

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