The white man who shot Ahmaud Arbery to death after chasing the fleeing black man in a Georgia neighborhood says he fears he will be killed by fellow inmates if sent to a state prison to serve a life sentence. for murder.
Travis McMichael, 36, faces conviction in the United States District Court on Monday following his federal hate crime conviction in February. His defense attorney filed a lawsuit on Thursday asking the judge to keep McMichael in federal custody.
Attorney Amy Lee Copeland said McMichael has received “hundreds of threats” and will not be safe in a Georgia state prison system that is under investigation by the US Department of Justice amid concerns over violence among inmates. .
On February 23, 2020, McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, armed themselves with guns and jumped into a pickup truck to chase Arbery after he passed their home just outside the port town of Brunswick. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck and recorded a video on Travis McMichael’s cell phone detonating Arbery with a shotgun.
Arbery’s killing has become part of a wider national showdown on racial injustice amid other high-profile killings of unarmed blacks including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.
In Georgia, the McMichaels and Bryan were sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of Arbery’s murder in a state court last fall. They have remained in a county jail in the custody of US marshals since they were tried in a federal court in February, where a jury convicted them of hate crimes. Each defendant now faces a potential second life sentence.
Once the men are sentenced on Monday by United States District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, the protocol would be to turn them over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their prison sentence for murder. This is because they were first arrested and tried by state authorities.
For Travis McMichael, “his concern is that he will be promptly killed upon delivery to the state prison system to serve that sentence,” Copeland wrote in his sentencing request. “He has received numerous death threats that are credible in light of all the circumstances.”
Copeland said he alerted the Georgia Correctional Agency, “which responded that these threats are unverified and that he can safely house McMichael in state custody.”
Greg McMichael, 66, also asked the judge to put him in federal rather than state prison, citing safety and health concerns.
Arbery’s family family has insisted that McMichaels and Bryan serve their sentences in a state prison, arguing that a federal penitentiary would not be that difficult. Her parents strongly opposed before the federal trial when both McMicels asked for a plea deal that would have included a request to transfer them to federal prison. The judge ended up rejecting the plea bargain.
“Giving these men their preferred choice of confinement would defeat me,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told the judge in a January 31 hearing. “Give them one last chance to spit in their faces.”
A federal judge does not have the authority to order a state to surrender its legitimate custody of detainees to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Ed Tarver, an Augusta attorney and former United States attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
“He can certainly make that request,” Tarver said of the judge, “and it would be up to the State Corrections Department whether or not they agree to do so.”
The Copeland Court filing refers to a preliminary agreement between the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys to keep the McMichaels and Bryan in federal custody “through the completion of the federal trial and any post-trial proceedings.” He argued that it means Travis McMichael should at least remain in federal custody through appeals against his conviction for hate crimes.