The lawyer for a man convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery is asking the federal judge for a lighter sentence, says Gregory McMichael, who once saved a black man’s life and suffers from various medical conditions

A federal judge has denied a motion by white men who gunned down an unarmed black man in a Georgia neighborhood, a murder that has fueled the existence of modern racial violence in America, to have their federal heat crime convictions vacated.

Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael followed Ahmaud Arbery in their pickups in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Waycross in February after suspecting him of breaking into a house under construction. Travis McMichael shot the 25-year-old man three times, and his father, who helped corner Arbery, recruited help from his former boss, a local district attorney, to avoid prosecution.

The father-and-son duo argued there was no evidence the crime was racially motivated and that the street where Arbery was killed was not public, which is what is needed to prove she was infringing the rights of the man man would have hurt. US District Judge Lisa G. Wood dismissed the arguments Thursday.

“The McMichaels argue that there is insufficient evidence to support their beliefs. You are wrong,” Wood wrote in the 27-page report on Thursday. “Most of their arguments either misinterpret the relevant legal provisions or fail to properly apply the Rule 29 standard to the evidence. Thus, the McMichaels have no right to an acquittal.”

Defendant Gregory McMichael looks on during his trial at William “Roddie” Bryan and Travis McMichael, who are charged in the February 2020 death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, at Glynn County Courthouse on November 23, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia . (Photo: Octavio Jones Pool/Getty Images)

The McMichaels and a third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, who recorded the murder, were sentenced to life in prison without parole on state murder charges. In February, a federal jury found the vigilante guilty of hate crimes and attempting to kidnap Arbery as he was jogging down the street. They are expected to be sentenced on August 8th.

The elder McMichael argued that unlike his co-defendants, who used the racial epithets, he was motivated by race. Most of the evidence of his racism came from him and Bryan, his defense attorneys argued. However, the judge said Gregory McMichael posted memes comparing black people to white Irish people, made “derogatory and racist remarks” about a black tenant and vilified a civil rights activist.

The McMichaels also argued that the kidnapping charges should be dropped since there is no evidence they arrested Arbery for “ransom or reward,” but Wood said the men were pursuing the black man to support their “vigilante group.” , for which prosecutors provided Facebook posts discussing the latest thefts at the vacant home.

Wood must also consider Gregory McMichael’s plea for leniency in his sentencing. He was found guilty of also using, carrying, and wielding a .357 Magnum revolver. In his memo filed Monday, his attorney Attilio J. Balbo asked the judge to sentence McMichael to 20 years in prison and allow him to serve his time in a federal facility instead of the recommended life sentence.

Balbo said the judge should consider Gregory McMichael’s safety in prison, his past efforts to rescue black people, his military and law enforcement career and the 65-year-old man’s health.

“Clearly the offenses of which Greg McMichael has been convicted warrant substantial incarceration; that is not disputed in this memorandum,” Balbo wrote. “However, to ensure Greg McMichael’s physical safety, he should not be sent to a state prison system whose operation could allow inmates to engage in dangerous and even deadly activities.”

During McMichael’s time in the US Navy, Balbo said Gregory McMichael saved a black shipmate from drowning. His wife, Leigh McMichael, has denied allegations that her husband is racist and was recalled when he was protecting a black man who was driving a lawnmower 10 miles on a freeway at 3am to find food. Gregory McMichael worked in law enforcement for over 30 years and received awards for his humanity, Balbo wrote.

“Greg’s partner at the time recently let me know that Greg chose to follow the guy back upstairs rather than make life difficult for the guy [Highway] 341 to make sure he gets home safely,” Leigh McMichael said in her letter, asking Wood to “have mercy on Greg.”

Gregory McMichael worked in law enforcement for over 30 years and has received awards for his humanity, according to his defense attorney. (Photo: Court Records)

Still, federal prosecutors did mention during the trial that Gregory McMichael broke into a “long, angry tirade” after discussing the death of civil rights activist Julian Bond.

“I wish this guy had been stuck in the ground years ago,” he was quoted as saying. “All these blacks are nothing but trouble. I wish they would all die.”

Balbo said the elder McMichael was also “the quintessential family man,” and included smiling family photos in the court documents. He added that the older man had been battling a number of “medical ailments,” including a stroke and battling depression and anxiety. Travis McMichael testified at state trial that his father had a heart attack and had hip surgery.

“Any discussion about Greg McMichael as a person cannot end without addressing the severity and history of his medical conditions. He suffered a stroke about six years ago that resulted in a monitor being implanted in his heart to catalog atrial fibrillation,” Balbo wrote. “Prior to his incarceration in 2020, Greg McMichael used a small phone-sized device to receive data from this monitor. Since his arrest in May 2020, this regular monitoring is no longer possible, increasing the risk of atrial fibrillation going undetected and increasing the risk of a cardiac event.”

The defense attorney also compared Gregory McMichael to Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of choking George Floyd to death by pressing his knee on his neck for over nine minutes. Balbo said there are “significant differences with similarly convicted individuals whose culpable conduct is far exceeded.” Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years in his federal case, which will be served concurrently with a more than 22-year state sentence for murder.

The judge has already rejected a plea agreement that would have allowed McMichael to serve the first 30 years of his state sentence in federal prison, reports show. Prosecutors have not yet submitted any sentencing documents. The lawyer for a man convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery is asking the federal judge for a lighter sentence, says Gregory McMichael, who once saved a black man’s life and suffers from various medical conditions

James Brien

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