Travis McMichael's attorneys fear for his life in state prison

·3 min read

Aug. 6—Attorneys for the man who murdered Ahmaud Arbery requested Thursday that he first be sent to federal prison, saying Travis McMichael's life will be in jeopardy inside a Georgia prison.

McMichael, 36, his father Gregory McMichael, 66, and 52-year-old William Roddie Bryan will be sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Brunswick on federal hate crimes that include attempted kidnapping and violating Arbery's right to use a public street because of his skin color. The three White men already have been sentenced to life in state prison after a Glynn County jury found them guilty on Nov. 24, 2021, of murder in the shooting death of the 25-year-old Black man.

Held in solitary confinement in the Glynn County Detention Center since his arrest in May 2020, Travis McMichael has received more than 800 death threats, defense attorney Amy Copeland said in the motion. The threats included warnings that prisoners are "waiting for him" after his photos have been circulated via "contraband" social media throughout the Georgia State Prison system, she said.

Travis McMichael shot the unarmed Arbery with a 12-gauge shotgun on a street in Satilla Shores on Feb. 23, 2020, ending a harrowing incident in which Arbery ran for his life through the neighborhood's streets as the three men pursued him in pickup trucks.

All three have been held in protective custody in the county jail since their arrests in May 2020 by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Copeland said Travis McMichael fears for his life if he is placed in the general inmate population of a Georgia prison. In addition the notoriety for McMichael's role in the racially charged and highly publicized murder, Copeland said violence in Georgia prisons has been well-documented as a result of a 2021 U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the state correctional institution.

"His concern is that he will promptly be killed upon delivery to the state prison system for service of that sentence," the motion states. "He has received numerous threats of death that are credible in light of all circumstances, and the government has a pending investigation into the Georgia DOC's ability to keep inmates safe in a system where murder rates have tripled.

"There are several statutory sentencing purposes ... Retribution and revenge are not among them, no matter how unpopular the defendant."

Copeland asked that the courts consider sending McMichael to serve his federal sentence before serving his state sentence.

"Due to the multiple threats against McMichael and the government's investigation into the violence in Georgia state prisons, McMichael should remain in the physical custody of the federal government ideally through the term of his concurrent federal sentence, but at the very least through all 'post-trial proceedings,'" the motion read.

All three men could receive up to life in prison upon federal sentencing, with between seven and 20 additional years on lesser charges. Both McMichaels also were found guilty of brandishing a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

Travis McMicheal also is guilty of discharging a firearm in a violent crime.

Attorneys for Gregory McMichael filed a similar motion Monday asking that the elder McMichael be sent first to federal prison. The motion by attorney A.J. Balbo cited the threat posed to McMichael because of the volatile publicity surrounding the case, as well as the Justice Department investigation into the state prison system. It also noted Gregory McMichael's ailing health, which includes a history of strokes, high blood pressure and depression.

Both McMichaels had originally intended to avoid a federal trial by accepting a plea deal, which would have allowed them to first serve time in federal prison before serving time in state prison.

Arbery's parents vehemently objected to the deal, particularly its stipulation of federal time over state time.

U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood ultimately rejected the deal.

The McMichaels then withdrew their intentions to plead guilty.

Sentencing begins at 10 a.m. at the federal courthouse at 801 Gloucester St., Brunswick.