Merrick Garland Sidestepped Criticism That DOJ ‘Ignored’ Ahmaud Arbery’s Mother in a Hate Crimes Case

  • A jury convicted three Georgia men on hate crimes charges tied to the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland largely sidestepped criticism of DOJ’s handling of the case.
  • Arbery’s mother said DOJ “ignored” her objection to plea deals that a federal judge later rejected.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday sidestepped criticism of how the Justice Department handled a hate crimes prosecution against the three men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was chased and gunned down in February 2020 while jogging through a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Georgia.

A jury convicted the three Georgia men — Travis McMichael, 36, his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — on federal hate crime charges Tuesday following a trial that featured evidence of them using racial epithets and insults. The guilty verdicts came just weeks after the three men received life sentences in state court on murder convictions, with only Bryan having a chance of parole.

Ahead of the trial, Arbery’s family objected to a plea deal the Justice Department reached with the McMichaels, in part because it would have allowed the father and son to serve the bulk of their sentences in federal prison rather than Georgia’s state system. A federal judge ultimately rejected the plea deals, paving the way for the trial that resulted in their convictions on hate crimes charges.

But Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, on Tuesday said she still felt “ignored” by the Justice Department.

At a press conference Tuesday, Garland appeared to grow emotional when asked about that criticism.

“I cannot imagine the pain that a mother feels to have her son run down and then gunned down while taking a jog on a public street. My heart goes out to her and to the family,” Garland said. “That’s really all I can say about this.”

Earlier at the press conference, Garland said the “defendants’ actions and the racism that fueled them have inflicted enduring trauma” on Arbery’s family and friends.

“No one in this country should have to fear the threat of hate-fueled violence,” he said. “No one should fear being attacked or threatened because of what they look like, where they are from, whom they love, or how they worship. And no one should fear that, if they go out for a run, they will be targeted and killed because of the color of their skin.”

Responding to the guilty verdicts, Cooper-Jones said she would “never heal” and that the convictions marked “another milestone, another challenge that we’ve overcome.”

“Today is Super Tuesday,” she said. “We got a guilty verdict on all charges for all murderers.”

Standing outside a federal courthouse conviction in Georgia, she noted that the came on the eve of the 2-year anniversary of her son’s death. On February 23, 2020, Arbery was jogging unarmed through a neighborhood outside Georgia when the three men jumped into a pair of trucks to chase him, with Travis McMichael later fatally shooting him three times at close range with a shotgun.

Cooper-Jones said she was thankful that the Justice Department brought hate crime charges against the three men. But she harshly criticized the Justice Department for moving forward with plea deals over the objection of Arbery’s family members.

Referring to the Biden-appointed head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, she said, “I spoke to Kristen Clarke and the lead attorney Tara Lyons, begging them to please not take this plea deal. They ignored my cry. I begged them.” “

“Even after the family stood before the judge and asked them not to take this plea deal, the lead prosecutor stood up and asked the judge to ignore the family’s cry. That’s not justice for Ahmaud,” she added.

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