The U.S. Department of Justice is defending its decision to offer a plea deal to the convicted murderers of Ahmaud Arbery, but an attorney representing the deceased jogger’s family is pushing back on the feds’ narrative.
The DOJ spoke out hours after a Georgia judge on Monday rejected the proposed deal that civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said would have transferred father and son Greg and Travis McMichael to a federal prison that he equated with a “country club” in comparison to state correctional facilities.
Merritt said Monday morning in a series of social media posts that “the DOJ is attempting to ‘snatch defeat from the jaws of victory’” by offering the McMichaels what he described as a “back room deal.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, described the proposed deal as being secretive and duplicitous in nature.
“The DOJ has gone behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to make their time in prison easier for them to serve,” Cooper-Jones in a statement. “I have made it clear at every possible moment that I do not agree to offer these men a plea deal of any kind. I have been completed betrayed by the DOJ Lawyers.”
However, the DOJ refuted the claims from Cooper and Merritt and said that’s not at all what happened. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the DOJ would accept the court’s decision to reject the plea deal. However, Clarke made clear that the DOJ would not accept the narrative being put forth by Cooper and Merritt.
“The Justice Department takes seriously its obligation to confer with the Arbery family and their lawyers both pursuant to the Crime Victim Rights Act and out of respect for the victim,” Clarke said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. “Before signing the proposed agreement reflecting the defendants’ confessions to federal hate crimes charges, the Civil Rights Division consulted with the victims’ attorneys. The Justice Department entered the plea agreement only after the victims’ attorneys informed me that the family was not opposed to it.”
In response, Merritt — a current Democratic candidate for the Democratic nomination to be attorney general in Texas — posted statements on social media refuting the DOJ’s claims.
“The DOJ failed to communicate the terms of the proposed plea deal to the family of Ahmaud Arbery or to their attorneys,” Merritt wrote Monday afternoon. “The first time the family was informed of the intent to allow these men to be transferred into federal custody as a condition of their plea it was rejected.”
In a subsequent post, Merritt suggested the court’s rejection of the DOJ’s plea deal vindicated him.
“The moment I learned prosecutors planned to move forward with a plea deal that would transfer the defendants from state custody into preferred federal detention, I hopped on a plane to Brunswick, GA to assert his families opposition in Court,” Merritt added. “The Court listened.”
The development came about a week before the McMichaels and their co-defendant, William “Roddie” Bryan, were set to begin their federal civil rights trial for Arbery’s killing, for which the three of them were sentenced earlier this month. Court documents did not mention Bryan in regard to the plea deal.
Monday’s hearing was continued until Friday.
On Nov. 24, 2021, the McMichaels and Bryan were found guilty and convicted of felony murder and other charges for the murder of Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020. The 25-year-old Arbery was jogging through a subdivision in the rural Georgia town of Brunswick when the McMichaels racially profiled him, armed themselves and purportedly attempted a citizen’s arrest. Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery in broad daylight in the middle of a street, claiming self-defense in court.
This is a developing story that will be updated as additional information becomes available.