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Three Men Charged in Georgia with Murdering Ahmaud Arbery Plead Not Guilty to Federal Hate Crime Charges

Ahmaud Arbery's accused killers Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, William Bryan

Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan are seen in jail booking photos.

The three men charged at the state level with allegedly murdering Ahmaud Arbery, 25, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to a federal indictment charging them with hate crimes, attempt kidnapping and other offenses.

Father and son defendants Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael, along with their accused accomplice William “Roddie” Bryan, Jr., were first arrested roughly a year ago in Georgia, one of four states without a hate crime law.

A federal grand jury filled that gap a little less than two weeks ago, charging the trio with interfering with Arbery’s rights “because of Arbery’s race and color.”

Defense attorneys for all three men appeared in federal court on Tuesday, during a hearing made available remotely to the public in light of the COVID-19 indictment.

During the hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Benjamin W. Cheesbro read the men their rights and then recited the charges of the indictment. Lawyers for all three men entered their pleas shortly after that, and the judge confirmed that decision with their clients.

The broad strokes of the allegations have been well-publicized in state and federal courts, sparking outcry around the world that animated the Black Lives Matter movement.

On Feb. 23, 2020, Arbery was running on a public street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia, when prosecutors say the McMichaels armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck, and chased him.

Ahmaud Arbery. Image via Attorney Benjamin Crump.

“Specifically, the three defendants chased Arbery through the neighborhood, using their trucks-and in the case of the McMichaels, firearms-in an attempt to restrain Arbery, restrict his free movement, corral and detain him against his will, and prevent his escape,” prosecutors allege.

The federal indictment has five counts. No trial date has been set in the state case.

Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper sued the three men, Glynn County, police and others on the first anniversary of Arbery’s death.

“An avid runner, Ahmaud frequently jogged around his neighborhood and surroundings areas in Brunswick, Georgia, including Satilla Shores,” Cooper’s attorneys wrote in their complaint, before describing what made that day different. “That day three armed white men, Defendants Gregory McMichael, Travis McMicheael, and William Bryan — entrusted by local law enforcement to respond to recent trespasses in the area, and armed with a Police-Department-issued revolver and a 12-gauge shotgun — hunted Ahmaud down in their trucks. Based on a ‘gut feeling’ that Ahmaud was responsible for prior thefts in the neighborhood, these Defendants shot Ahmaud three times at close range with their shotgun and killed him. As Ahmaud lay bleeding out on the pavement, Defendant Travis McMichael stood above him and said, ‘fucking N*****.’”

The original lawsuit uses the N-word without redaction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara Lyons told the judge that the charges carry the possibility of life imprisonment. The case file is said to be large: Lyons said that the government is prepared to turn over a terabyte of discovery on a “rolling basis,” within “no longer than” 30 days.

The suspects waived a right to a detention hearing on Tuesday.

(Image via mugshots)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."