Jury selection is set to begin in the federal hate crimes trial for the three white men who were convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery.
Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and William Bryan were all federally charged with hate crimes and attempted kidnapping by the Justice Department. The McMicheals have also been charged with one count of using, carrying, and brandishing a gun during a crime of violence. Travis McMichael, the man who pulled the trigger that killed Arbery, had also been charged with firing a gun during crime of violence.
On Nov. 24, Gregory and Travis McMichael, as well as William “Roddie” Bryan were convicted of felony murder and other charges in state court for the Feb. 2020 murder of Arbery. The 25-year-old Arbery was jogging through the Brunswick, GA neighborhood when the McMichales attempted a citizen’s arrest. Travis McMichael shot and kill Arbery, claiming self-defense in court. On Jan. 7, 2022, a judge handed down life in prison sentences for all three men convicted of murdering Arbery. Now, one month later the three men are back in court for federal proceedings. But how does the federal trial differ from the state trial?
The federal trial focuses on motive, whereas the state trial did not. Was the killing of Arbery racially motivated and did the defendants violate Arbery’s civil rights?
In the federal case, prosecutors will try to prove the three men violated Arbery’s rights when they willfully interfered with his right to jog on a public road. Arbery was Black and all three defendants are white. Prosecutors will have to prove they violated his rights because of his race.
A Georgia judge recently rejected a proposed plea deal, that would have allowed the men who were convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery to skip the hate crimes trial and serve most of their prison time in a federal prison instead of a state prison.
According to the federal government, hate crime laws include crimes committed based on the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. The term “hate” does not mean rage, anger, or general dislike, instead refers to a bias against people or groups with specific characteristics that are defined by the law.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been prosecuting federal hate crimes since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. But it wasn’t until June 2020, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law the state’s first hate crime bill, which the public demanded after the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
According to some experts, a conviction in the federal trial will be more difficult than a state case. “Here, not only do they have to prove that they killed, they have to prove that they did it because of racial prejudice and hatred,” said Page Pate, a trial attorney in Georgia. “You have to get inside someone’s mind, someone’s heart.”