Greg McMichael, who was convicted along with his son, Travis, and their neighbor in the inflammatory killing of Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020, is making a last ditch effort to lessen his punishment.

McMichael, 66, and his son Travis, 36, and William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were convicted of both state murder charges and federal hate crimes. They received life sentences in state Superior Court and are scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 8 at the U.S. federal courthouse in Brunswick.

Now, the elder McMichael is requesting that his incarceration occur in federal prison instead of state prison, where he claims he is a target by other inmates for his role in Arbery’s death and because of his status as a former law enforcement officer, according to a sentencing memo filed on Monday. 

It’s the same accommodation that he tried to receive in a plea deal that was rejected before the hate crimes trial commenced.

“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 and even deadly activity,” his lawyer, A.J. Balbo, wrote.

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The Ahmad Arbery mural painted by artist Marvin Weeks. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

Balbo, based in Richmond Hill, cites how the Georgia prison system is under investigation by the Justice Department, which is looking into whether the system’s conditions adequately protects prisoners from violence and sexual abuse.

“For these same reasons, this Court should retain custody of Greg McMichael, at least until the current investigation into the conditions of Georgia prisons is concluded by the Department of Justice and Greg McMichael’s safety can be reasonably assured,” Balbo wrote in the filing.

At the core of the hate crimes trial was whether or not the McMichaels and Bryan had racist intent when they pursued the 25-year-old Arbery who was out for a run in the Satilla Shores neighborhood.

Evidence in trial revealed how McMichael had previously referred to a civil rights leader who died and other Black leaders as “troublemakers” who deserved to be “put in the ground,” according to previous reporting in The Current (Greg McMichael denies making those statements). Other evidence pointed to how Travis McMichael used the “n-word” and other vulgar language to describe Black people. Witnesses said Bryan frequently denigrated Black people in conversation and upon learning that his daughter was dating a Black man, Bryan wrote that she “doesn’t have respect for herself.”

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Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, Willam “Roddie” Bryan Credit: Court pool photos

The jurors agreed the three men infringed upon Arbery’s civil rights and voted to convict them in a historic verdict.

Prior to the start of trial, U.S. prosecutors had reached a plea deal with the McMichaels, which in exchange for guilty pleas on the hate crimes charge, the father and son could serve their time in federal prison, rather than first complete their murder sentences in state penitentary. 

U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood rejected the deal after protests from Arbery’s family, who felt like it would undercut the severity of punishment meted out to their son’s killers.

“Please listen to me,” Wanda Cooper Jones, Arbery’s mother, previously told the judge. “It is not fair to take away this victory that I prayed and I fought for. It is not right. It is not just. It is wrong. Granting these men their preferred conditions of confinement would defeat me. It gives them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son.”

Greg McMichael’s sentencing memorandum is his last chance to get that result. While jurors decide upon a person’s guilt, it’s up to a judge to decide on the length and severity of a sentence.

Wanda Cooper Jones
Wanda Cooper Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, thanks the crowd for their prayers and support. Credit: copyright, Jason Miccolo Johnson

The court document also cites other factors, including a statement that Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, received a lesser sentence than what McMichael received.

Balbo also pointed to anecdotes to illustrate McMichael was not racially biased, like how he saved a Black shipmate from drowning while serving in the Navy, rented property to people of color, and “never received any complaints in his personnel file for racism, harassment, or police brutality” during his 31 years in law enforcement.

McMichael’s declining health and depression are also cited as reasons why he should serve time in federal institutions. McMichael asks for a sentence of 20 years from the judge.

Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...