Motion seeks federal time over state for elder McMichael

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Aug. 4—Attorneys for convicted murderer Greg McMichael have asked that he be allowed to first serve his federal prison sentence, saying the 66-year-old's poor health and the notoriety for his role in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery would endanger his life inside a Georgia state prison.

McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, 36, and 52-year-old William "Roddie" Bryan will receive federal prison sentences Monday in U.S. District Court in Brunswick for their roles in Arbery's racially charged murder. Sentencing will take place beginning at 10 a.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood at the federal courthouse at 801 Gloucester St.

Already sentenced to life in state prison for the Black man's murder, the three White men could receive additional life sentences in federal prison, as well as between seven and 20 years on lesser charges.

Travis McMichael shot the unarmed Arbery dead with buckshot from a 12-gauge shotgun on the streets of Satilla Shores on Feb. 23, 2020, ending a harrowing pursuit in which the three men pursued in pickup trucks the 25-year-old Arbery, who ran for his life through the neighborhood.

In a motion filed Monday in federal court, attorney A.J. Balbo asked that Greg McMichael be sent first to federal prison rather than state prison. Because of the highly publicized nature of the trial and its racial components, McMichael's welfare could be jeopardized in the state prison population, he said.

Balbo further noted a prevailing perception of unchecked violence within Georgia's prisons, an issue that in 2021 sparked a U.S. Justice Department investigation.

Further, the motion cited McMichael's health, which includes a record of stroke, heart disease and depression.

"To ensure the physical safety of Greg McMichael, however, he should not be sent to a state prison system whose very operation may enable inmates to engage in dangerous or even deadly activity," the motion states.

Noting the volatile nature of the murder for which McMichael is convicted, the motion suggests McMichael would be in greater danger in the state prison system than in federal prison.

Greg McMichael spent 20 years as an investigator with the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office before retiring in 2019. He had spent seven years with the Glynn County Police Department before his stint with the district attorney's office.

"He is also a former law enforcement officer who has been convicted of a hate crime resulting in the death of a young African American man, all of which has been reported worldwide," the motion states. "Those factors implicate personal safety concerns at whatever penal facility he is assigned.

"In other words, Greg McMichael will most assuredly be a target for violence because of his prior profession and his offense."

Based on prior sentencing for persons in similar situations as McMichael, Balbo asked Wood to consider a federal sentence of 240 months, or 20 years.

Included in the motion was a letter to Wood from Leigh McMichael, Travis McMichael's mother and the wife of Greg McMichael for 39 years.

"The death of Ahmaud Arbery was a tragedy of epic proportions," she wrote in the letter. "Contrary to popular opinion, my family cannot imagine the pain and hurt that the Arbery family and friends must be experiencing. I am resigned to the fact there is nothing anyone in the McMichael family can say or do to ease their hurt, but nonetheless I offer my deepest sympathies.

"Please have mercy on Greg. His intention in this tragedy was not to hurt anyone."

A Glynn County jury convicted the three men of murder on Nov. 24, 2021, ending a six-week state trial. All three were subsequently sentenced to life in state prison.

The three stood trial in U.S. District Court on charges that included firearms violence and violating Arbery's civil rights because he was Black. A federal jury delivered guilty verdicts Feb. 23 against the trio, convicting them of attempted kidnapping and interfering with Arbery's right to use a public street because he was Black.

Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, additionally were found guilty of brandishing a firearm in the commission of a violent crime. Travis McMichael also was found guilty of discharging a firearm in a violent crime.

The father and son nearly did not stand trial in federal court. The week before trial, Greg and Travis McMichael offered to plead guilty in a deal that would have allowed both men to serve out their federal prison sentences before starting their life sentences in state prison.

But Arbery's parents vehemently objected to the plea deal and the perceived leniency of federal prison over state prison. Additionally, Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery Sr. wanted to see the three men stand trial for the federal hate crimes leveled against them.

Ultimately, Wood rejected the plea deal, the McMichaels withdrew their guilty plea offers and the trial proceeded.