(Reuters) – One of two men whose plea bargain on federal hate-crimes charges in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery was rejected by a judge last week has decided to proceed to trial rather than seek a new deal with prosecutors, court documents showed on Thursday.
Lawyers for Gregory McMichael and federal prosecutors filed a joint notice of withdrawal of McMichael’s plea agreement, saying the deal is “null and void” and that both sides were “ready for trial,” reaffirming his original plea of not guilty.
The case docket in U.S. District Court in Brunswick, Georgia, also showed that a change-of-plea hearing scheduled for McMichael on Friday had been canceled.
McMichael, 66, and his son, Travis, 36, were both sentenced in state court last month to life in prison without parole for their convictions on murder and other charges in the February 2020 shotgun slaying of Arbery, 25.
A co-defendant, neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, was sentenced to life with eligibility for parole after 30 years. All three men are white.
Arbery, who was Black, was shot to death by the younger McMichael after all three defendants had chased him down in pickup trucks as he jogged through the suburban neighborhood they shared.
The jury rejected claims by the McMichaels’ lawyers that their clients were seeking to make a citizen’s arrest of Arbery, whom they suspected of criminal activity, and had acted in self-defense when they confronted him.
The father and son subsequently reached a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for southern Georgia to plead guilty to federal hate-crimes charges and receive a 30-year sentence.
As part of the deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend that the defendants be transferred to a federal penitentiary for 30 years before being returned to the Georgia prison system, whose conditions are widely considered to harsher than those of a federal prison.
But after vehement objections from Arbery’s mother, U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood last week took the rare step of rejecting the terms of the plea agreement at a hearing for the younger McMichael, though not before he admitted for the first time that he had pursued Arbery because of his race.
Both McMichaels had been scheduled to return to court on Friday to formally re-enter guilty pleas. Court records indicated that only the son would appear for that hearing because the father had formally withdrawn his plea deal on Thursday.
It remained unclear whether Travis McMichael would seek a new plea agreement acceptable to the judge. There was no indication in court whether the third defendant, Bryan, was considering a plea bargain.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles. Editing by Gerry Doyle)