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Sentencing Monday in hate crimes case over Ahmaud Arbery's murder

Shaddi Abusaid, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

Arbery’s parents have said they want to see all three serve out their sentences in state prison. In late January, they asked U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to reject a plea deal that would have allowed the McMichaels to spend 30 years 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. “It gives them one last chance to spit in my face.”

Balbo’s court filing included a letter from Greg McMichael’s wife, Leigh, in which she called Arbery’s killing “a tragedy of epic proportions.”

“Please have Mercy on Greg,” she wrote. “His intention in this tragedy was not to hurt anyone.”

In a separate sentencing memorandum filed Thursday, Travis McMichael’s attorney said her client has received so many threats that he’s stopped counting.

Amy Lee Copeland noted the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into Georgia’s prison system and raised concerns her client will be killed if he’s sent to a state-run facility.

“The threats have included statements that his image has been circulated through the state prison system on contraband cellphones, 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.”

Pete Theodocion, Bryan’s attorney, said he would also like to see his client serve his time in a federal prison, where he has a better chance of being protected.


“I have zero faith in the ability of the state of Georgia’s prison system to protect any inmate, much less my client,” Theodocion said in an interview, noting the high-profile nature of Arbery’s murder.

He also argued that Bryan was less culpable than than his two co-defendants because he never armed himself that afternoon and later turned over his cellphone footage to police. But prosecutors in both the state and federal trials said Bryan used his truck to prevent Arbery from escaping as he ran for his life on that Sunday afternoon.

Even if the men end up in state prison initially, Georgia law allows for the Department of Corrections to request that a prisoner be transferred into federal custody “if it is determined that the custody, care, treatment, training or rehabilitation of the inmate has not been adequate or in the best interest of the inmate or his fellow inmates.”

So far, however, the state has told attorneys it has no intention of doing that, Copeland said in her filing.

“Until sentencing is determined by the courts, the GDC cannot speculate on the pending placement of these individuals,” a Department of Corrections spokeswoman said in an email Friday afternoon.

Travis McMichael’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Eastern time Monday, followed by Greg McMichael’s 1 p.m. and Bryan’s at 3.

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