After a federal jury found the three men that killed her son guilty of taking his life because of his race, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother says why she is angry with the Department of Justice — even though she is pleased with the verdict.
On Tuesday, Feb. 22, Arbery’s three killers were found guilty of federal hate crimes charges in connection with his death. The jury took less than 24 hours to come back with a verdict.
Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan each faced one count of interfering with the Black man’s civil rights and one count of attempted kidnapping. The father and son both faced an additional firearm charge. Each count was anchored in their desire to harm a Black outsider because of his race.
At a news conference surrounded by supporters, Wanda Cooper-Jones rebuked the DOJ’s earlier decision to offer the McMichaels a deal that would have avoided a trial and allowed them to spend the first part of their sentence in a federal facility.
The family called this offer to the McMichaels an “unauthorized backroom deal” made against the family’s wishes. Bryan, the other defendant, did not file with the two and does not appear to have reached an agreement with the federal prosecutors.
The mother bluntly stated, “I now want to address the members of the DOJ. I am very thankful that you guys brought these charges of hate crime, but back on Jan. 31, you guys extended a plea deal with these three murderers who took my son’s life.”
“Marcus [Arbery] and two of Ahmaud’s aunties stood before the courts and begged the judge not to take a plea deal that the DOJ went before the judge and asked him to [consider].”
The family was given the opportunity to go before the judge in January to share why the three men should not be offered a deal.
The frustrated parent echoed the words of her legal counsel, Ben Crump, that identified the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, Kristen Clarke, as the architect behind the offer to the convicted murderers.
Cooper-Jones continued. “As I traveled to Brunswick, on that Sunday afternoon, I spoke to Kristen Clarke and the lead attorney Tara Lyons, begging them to please not take this plea deal. They ignored my cry.”
“I begged them,” she recalled. “The lead prosecutor, Tara Lyons stood up and asked the judge to ignore the family’s cry. That’s not justice for Ahmaud.”
According to KIRO 7, prosecutor Tara Lyons argued before the judge that Travis McMichael was not a member of hate groups. She also noted that the crime committed on Feb. 23, 2020, was not planned by the defendant, further stating, “He had made assumptions about Ahmaud Arbery that he would not have made if Ahmaud Arbery had been white.”
Lyons stated that Travis McMichael believed Arbery was responsible for several of the crimes in the neighborhood and blamed the jogger for a missing firearm from his vehicle.
The assistant AG said the white man had these suspicions even though he didn’t have evidence and another white person was already pegged as a suspect in the case.
She said, “As reflected in (Travis McMichael’s) social media posts, (he) had for years … associated Black skin with criminality and had harbored resentment towards African American people.”
“Today’s federal agreement, which includes a waiver of any federal appeal, ensures that regardless of any state appeal, (McMichael) will serve their prison time on the federal charges,” the prosecutor said during the plea hearing.
Despite her original offer to not go to trial, during her closing arguments on Monday, Feb. 21, she stated, “All three defendants told you loud and clear, in their own words, how they feel about African-Americans.” Her words echoed the family and their attorney’s statements from the hearing.
Filled with rage, Cooper-Jones asserts that the family pushed for the trial and if they didn’t, the DOJ would have not done their jobs. She believes her team’s advocacy made the difference in justice being served.
“What we got today, we would not have gotten today, If it wasn’t for the fight that the family put up on Jan. 31,” she stated as the crowd of relatives, advocates, and friends erupted. “What the DOJ did today, they were made to do. They didn’t do it because they wanted to do it. They were made to do their jobs today.”
The verdict comes a day before the anniversary of Arbery’s 2020 death. Sentencing for the three is pending.
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