Ken White discusses the DOJ case against the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery

Travis McMichael finishes the defense

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As By Ahmaud Arbery As the killers were set to plead guilty to federal civil rights charges last week, two of the men appeared ready to tell the judge they chased and killed a 25-year-old man because he was black people. Those admissions would represent a long-delayed calculus in a case that has revived the racial justice movement globally and drawn attention to what many describe as a racial divide. modern division in the Deep South.

Then the deal disbandedwith Arbery’s family accusing prosecutors of even contemplating such a plea agreement.

On the latest episode of Law & Crime podcast “Object: with Adam Klasfeld“Famous legal commentator White Ken—Better known by nom de plume Popehat—Provide why it happened, what it means for the criminal justice reform movement, and what to expect at a trial that begins this week with jury choice.

“They suffered an unspeakable tragedy”

Hidden in the family’s anger over the deal was the assumption that federal custody was too good for the gunman. Travis McMichael and his father Greg McMichaelwho prepared last week to admit that their crimes were racially motivated.

“I don’t blame family members for this at all,” notes White. “They went through an indescribable tragedy. These three boys have, essentially, taken their loved ones out on the street for no other reason than to be black in America.”

On January 31, the McMichaels were prepared to admit that they killed Arbery “because [his] race and color,” a central element of the civil rights charge they were initially prepared to plead guilty to. However, the plea agreements will allow them to serve the first 30 years of their current life sentence in the federal government rather than the state. That led to Arbery’s mother’s emotional protest Wanda CooperJones and dad Marcus Arbery.

Young Ahmaud Arbery with father Marcus Arbery and mother Wanda Cooper-Jones

Young Ahmaud Arbery with father Marcus Arbery and mother Wanda Cooper-Jones

“What they actually said frankly was that they didn’t want them to be in federal custody, because that was too nice, and one of them even said, because it’s not as dangerous as home incarceration. water, that’s true,” White noted.

After the United States District Judge Lisa G. Wood rejected the terms of the settlement, McMichaels opted to go to court, starting with a jury selection on Monday. Arbery family attorney Lee Merritt said in a statement that the mother would not attend the federal hate crime trial, as that was irrelevant. Murder Sentence Means McMichaels and Their Neighbors William “Roddie” Bryan would be sentenced to life in state prison, either way.

“It’s a win-win,” Merritt wrote.

While an understandable sentiment, White said, it paints an inaccurate picture of what federal detention means.

“Now, these three guys, if they were doing federal time, would do it in a high security facility,” he said. “It’s not the ‘Club Fed’ you hear about. It is not a prison camp. It would be a high-security federal prison, and that’s not imaginary leniency. However, it’s a little less bad than state prisons. “

White notes that state prisons in the United States are plagued by rapes, murders, and substandard health care, and there is an irony for those in the criminal justice reform movement who support support that situation in this case.

“We are really Americans, we are not sure what imprisonment is. I mean, in theory, it should be to punish, to deter, to incapacitate — so that the person doesn’t commit more crimes — and to recover. But really the only thing we really care about is helplessness and punishment. And many people think that the purpose of punishment is to torture, as inhumane as possible, that is a feature, not a fault”.

There is no accepted theory of punishment in the law that accepts that — at least not “publicly,” notes White.

“But when it comes down to it, everyone thinks it has to be as gruesome as possible, and I think a lot of people think that have never really seen what a real prison hell is like,” he said. more.

“This strange situation”

The way state and federal authorities prosecute Arbery’s killers speaks volumes about the case’s tumultuous history.

For months after Arbery’s murder on February 25, 2020, local authorities in Georgia took no action. Arbery’s mother applied federal lawsuit On the anniversary of her son’s first death, she accused local police and Glynn County prosecutors of a cover-up. Brunswick District Attorney Jud Justice Circuit Jackie Johnsonwho handled the initial investigation, was later criminally charged for breaking his oath as an officer and obstructing an officer’s duties.

Georgia authorities only took action against Arbery’s killers after an attorney for Bryan leaked the footage, thinking it would help defend the three men. Instead, it created public pressure to prosecute them.

Under the Ministry of Justice Small policy — named after the 1960 Supreme Court case Petite sues the USProsecutors should prosecute federally when a state fails to meet interests.

“Well, here it turns out the last concern didn’t play out,” White said. “Federal interests have been proven by state prosecutors, and so now, you have this strange situation where people think federal prosecutors add crimes. reputation will lead to too lenient treatment.”

Family attorney announced that Cooper-Jones would like to speak to the Attorney General Merrick Garland about the federal prosecution of her son’s killers.

Kristen Clarke

Kristen Clarke makes comments after being nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as assistant civil rights department at The Queen theater on January 7, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

In fact, the official who is actually leading the prosecution is the Assistant Attorney General. Kristen Clarke, who recently became the first Black woman to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Clarke previously blamed the Arbery family’s legal team for the miscommunication, and claimed that their attorney had previously expressed openness to a plea agreement.

“It’s been very difficult politically because the Department of Justice can’t really come out and say, ‘Oh, we’re sorry, you’re right. Federal prisons are too beautiful compared to state prisons,” noted White. Having an option of leaving it out for the sake of the state completely vindicated the concerns. These people will be jailed for life. They were found guilty of murder, but I don’t think they felt they could do it politically. “

Meanwhile, federal prosecution carries risks because proving racial motives is harder than imagined, especially when one needs to convince a unanimous jury.

“So I think what they have to do is try the best case that they can, hope they don’t have jurors barring on issues of race or anything, and then sentence them. as long as possible, and can rely on the activity of many, he said.

Attorneys for Lee Merritt’s family did not respond to an interview request placed with his representative.

Listen to the podcast below:

(Screenshot via Law & Crime Network)

Is there a trick we should know? [email protected] Ken White discusses the DOJ case against the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery

James Brien

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