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SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The white man who killed Ahmaud Arbery after chasing the fugitive black man through a Georgia neighborhood says he fears he could be killed by fellow inmates if sent to jail of state to serve a life sentence for murder.
Travis McMichael, 36, is facing sentencing in U.S. District Court on Monday following his federal hate crime conviction in February. His defense attorney filed a motion Thursday asking the judge to keep McMichael in federal custody.
Lawyer Amy Lee Copeland argued that McMichael had received “hundreds of threats” and would not be safe in a Georgia state prison system that is being investigated by the US Department of Justice in amid concerns about inter-prisoner violence.
On February 23, 2020, McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, armed themselves with guns and jumped into a van to chase Arbery after he drove past their home just outside the port city of Brunswick. . A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.
Arbery’s murder has become part of a larger national toll on racial injustice amid other high-profile killings of unarmed black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.
In Georgia, the McMichaels and Bryan were sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of Arbery’s murder in state court last fall. They have remained in a county jail in the custody of U.S. marshals since their trial in February in federal court, where a jury found them guilty of hate crimes. Each defendant now faces a potential second life sentence.
Once the men are sentenced on Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, protocol would be to hand them over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their jail time 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 his delivery to the state prison system for service of this sentence,” Copeland wrote in his sentencing motion. “He has received numerous death threats which are credible in light of all the circumstances.”
Copeland said he alerted the Georgia Corrections Agency, “which responded that these threats were unverified and that they could safely house McMichael in state custody.”
Greg McMichael, 66, also asked the judge to place him in federal prison rather than state prison, citing security concerns and health concerns.
Arbery’s family insisted that the McMichaels and Bryan serve their sentences in state prison, arguing that a federal penitentiary wouldn’t be as harsh. His parents objected forcefully before the federal trial when both McMichaels sought a plea deal that would have included a request to be transferred to federal prison. The judge ended up rejecting the plea agreement.
“Granting these men their preferred choice of confinement would defeat me,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told the judge during a January 31 hearing. “It gives them one last chance to spit in my face.”
A federal judge does not have the power to order a state to waive lawful custody of detainees by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Ed Tarver, an Augusta attorney and former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
“She can certainly make that request,” Tarver said of the judge, “and it would be up to the state Department of Corrections whether or not to agree to do so.”
Copeland’s court filing refers to a prior agreement between the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys to keep the McMichaels and Bryan in federal custody “until the completion of the federal trial and any post-trial proceedings. “. She argued that this means Travis McMichael should at least remain in federal custody while appealing his hate crime conviction.
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