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Months after Ahmaud Arbery's death, Georgia governor plans to sign hate crimes bill

"My family thanks everyone for not letting my son's death be in vain," Arbery's mother said in a statement.
Image: Georgia NAACP Holds Protest For Shooting Death Of Jogger Ahmaud Arbery
Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., on May 8.Sean Rayford / Getty Images file

The governor of Georgia plans to sign a hate crimes bill after the Legislature voted to approve it, months after Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was shot and killed.

The state Senate voted 47-6 Tuesday to pass HB 426. The House then passed the bill by a vote of 127-38.

Gov. Brian Kemp's communications director tweeted that he "commends the General Assembly's bipartisan work" and will sign the bill pending legal review.

Georgia is one of only a few states without a hate crime law. South Carolina, Arkansas and Wyoming also have no such laws, according to the Justice Department.

Arbery was fatally shot in Brunswick on Feb. 23 after he was pursued by Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, in their pickup truck.

IMAGE: Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery in a family photo.Courtesy of Family

The McMichaels were arrested last month and charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in connection with Arbery's death, which was captured on cellphone video by William "Roddie" Bryan.

Bryan is accused of joining the pursuit and using his vehicle to try to "detain" Arbery, according to a warrant. He was also taken into custody and charged with felony murder and attempted false imprisonment.

A grand jury indicted the McMichaels and Bryan on the murder and assault charges, the Cobb County district attorney announced Wednesday.

Under the bill, a person who is convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime would face at least three months, but no more than 12, in prison. A felony hate crime conviction would carry a prison sentence of at least two years.

Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery's mother, praised the Legislature for passing the bill.

"My family thanks everyone for not letting my son's death be in vain," she said in a statement through the state NAACP. "I know he is still with us and this law is evidence of that and I look forward to being present when it is signed."

Arbery's family has said he was out for a jog when he was chased, while the McMichaels said they thought he was a burglary suspect and had armed themselves because they believed he might have had a gun. Lawyers for Arbery's family have said he was unarmed.

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Bob Rubin, an attorney for Travis McMichael, has said Arbery's death is a tragedy, "but that does not mean a crime has been committed."

Gregory McMichael's lawyers, Laura Hogue and her husband, Frank Hogue, have cautioned against a rush to judgment.

"So often the public accepts a narrative driven by an incomplete set of facts, one that vilifies a good person, based on a rush to judgment, which has happened in this case," the Hogues said in a statement.

Bryan's attorney, Kevin Gough, said at a preliminary hearing this month that Bryan had nothing to do with Arbery's death. He described Bryan's actions as "what any patriotic American citizen would have done under the same circumstances."