McMichaels’ attorneys file motions for acquittal in hate crimes case

Travis McMichael (left) and his father Greg.

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Travis McMichael (left) and his father Greg.

Attorneys for the father and son sentenced to life in prison for Ahmaud Arbery’s murder filed motions this week to have the men acquitted of their federal hate crimes convictions.

In a 43-page filing, Travis McMichael’s attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, argued the government failed to prove the 25-year-old Black man’s killing occurred on a public road. McMichael, his father Greg and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were convicted last month of interfering with Arbery’s right to use a public street and targeting him because of his race.

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Ahmaud Arbery

Ahmaud Arbery

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Ahmaud Arbery

Arbery was shot to death Feb. 23, 2020, after being chased for about five minutes through the Satilla Shores neighborhood just outside Brunswick. The McMichaels grabbed their guns, hopped in a truck and chased Arbery through the subdivision because, they have said, they suspected him of stealing from a nearby home under construction.

Bryan joined the chase in his own pickup after seeing Arbery run past his house with the McMichaels in pursuit. He also filmed the cellphone video of Arbery falling dead in the road after being shot at close range by Travis McMichael.

ExploreComplete coverage of the Ahmaud Arbery case

All three men were convicted of murder and other charges in a state trial last fall and convicted of federal hate crimes charges last month.

Copeland argued during the hate crimes trial that the neighborhood roads where Arbery was killed were never formally accepted as public streets, though a Glynn County public works employee testified the roads are maintained by the county and have been for decades.

“The government’s evidence showed only that the developer offered to dedicate the Satilla Shores neighborhood streets to the county, but the county did not expressly or implicitly accept that offer,” Copeland wrote in her motion. “As a result, sufficient evidence does not support a finding that Glynn County ‘provided [or] administered a public street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood.’”

In a separate motion filed Tuesday, Greg McMichael’s attorney made a similar argument. A.J. Balbo also suggested that federal prosecutors failed to prove the elder McMichael “harbored any specific animus toward Mr. Arbery” because of his race.

“It also should be noted that the government presented the jury with no evidence that defendant Gregory McMichael uttered the ‘n-word’ or other racial epithets against African Americans, despite presenting copious evidence on this point against the other two defendants,” Balbo wrote.

He said prosecutors failed to prove that Greg McMichael, a former police officer and investigator, “associated African Americans with criminality ... although it is true that the government admitted evidence and testimony demonstrating that defendants Travis McMichael and William Bryan may have.”

In messages and social media posts, Travis McMichael and Bryan regularly used the n-word and said incendiary things about Black people, witnesses testified at trial. But the FBI was never able to crack the passcode on Greg McMichael’s iPhone.

ExploreAhmaud Arbery case: Racist posts introduced at hate crimes trial

In his motion, Balbo said the “nauseating and repugnant” racial evidence against the other two defendants “contaminated the jury’s view” of his client.

No acquittal motion had been filed by Bryan’s attorney as of Thursday afternoon, and a sentencing date has yet to be scheduled following the hate crimes convictions.