Suspects in Arbery killing plead not guilty to hate crime charges

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A screenshot showing Ahmaud Arbery from a gofundme supporting his family. - gofundme/New York Daily News/TNS

ATLANTA — The three Georgia men already facing state murder charges for last year’s fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery answered, for the first time, federal hate crime charges leveled at them in late April.

Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan all pleaded not guilty Tuesday at their arraignment on five federal counts. They were not accompanied by attorneys. Each man asked for court-appointed representation.

The charges, read aloud by U.S. Magistrate Benjamin Cheesbro, allege the three white suspects “did willfully, by force and threat of force, injure, intimidate, and interfere with Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man, because of his race and color.”

Two of the counts, revolving around the use of firearms during an alleged crime of violence, carry the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

The prosecution said they are prepared to turn over one terabyte of discovery evidence to the defense within the next week, along with the complete GBI case file.

Travis McMichael, 35, shot and killed Arbery with a Remington shotgun, and his 65-year-old father — a former cop and investigator for the Brunswick district attorney’s office — was toting a .357 magnum revolver.

On Feb. 23, 2020, Greg McMichael told police he saw Arbery running down the street in front of his house. McMichael called inside to his son and the two men jumped into a pickup truck in pursuit of Arbery. Bryan, 51, who lived nearby, joined in the chase and at one point tried to block Arbery with his pickup.

Trapped, Arbery lunged at Travis McMichael, who had gotten out of his truck with his shotgun trained on Arbery. Travis McMichael fired three shots, killing Arbery, who was not armed. The McMichaels told police they believed Arbery was responsible for a string of break-ins in their neighborhood and were making a citizen’s arrest, since outlawed by the Georgia General Assembly.

Travis McMichael acted in self-defense, say his attorneys in the state case. The younger McMichael was later accused by Bryan of using the N-word as he stood over a dying Arbery. Travis McMichael denies this.

“There is absolutely nothing in the indictment that identifies how this is a federal hate crime and it ignores without apology that Georgia law allows a citizen to detain a person who was committing burglaries until police arrive,” said attorneys Bob Rubin and Jason Sheffield, who represent Travis McMichael in the state case.

Frank Hogue, who represents Greg McMichael in the state proceedings, said his client didn’t see Arbery’s color but instead a man “they had reasonable and probable grounds to suspect had committed a burglary in their neighborhood and was attempting to escape by running away.”

Video of the incident, shot by Bryan, was released just over one year ago and set off protests nationwide. The GBI swiftly opened an investigation and soon the trio were charged with murder. Each was denied bond. Jury selection in their trial begins October 18.

Pretrial hearings in that case are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday this week. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley will hear arguments on several motions, most notably the defense’s wish to submit 10 incidents of “prior bad acts” committed by Arbery.

Two of those incidents led Arbery to plead guilty to felony charges.. Others involve confrontations he had with law enforcement and a disagreement witnessed at a local convenience store.

The defense also believes jurors should know about Arbery’s mental illness — schizoaffective disorder. It explains why Arbery acted the way he did when the McMichaels began chasing him, Rubin and Sheffield said.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said that’s irrelevant to the facts of the case.

“Ahmaud Arbery was chased down by men with guns, in two pickup trucks, who were attempting to unlawfully detain him, even though they had not seen Mr. Arbery commit any crime,” the prosecution wrote. “The only purpose for placing the other acts of Mr. Arbery before a jury is to smear the character of Mr. Arbery and suggest that his murder was deserved.”

US-NEWS-GA-JOGGER-KILLING-3-GET. - Glynn County Sheriff's Office/TNS/TNS
Gregory McMichael after being arrested in connection with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, at the Glynn County Detention Center on May 7, 2020, in Brunswick, Georgia. - Handout/Getty Images North America/TNS
Travis McMichael after being arrested in connection with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, at the Glynn County Detention Center on May 7, 2020, in Brunswick, Georgia. - Handout/Getty Images North America/TNS