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Travis and Gregory McMichael seek acquittal of hate crimes convictions in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder

Defense lawyers argue that the killing of Arbery, a Black man, did not happen on a public street, and that the elder McMichael was not proven to be as racist as his son.
Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael
Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael walk into the courtroom in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia, on Nov. 24, 2021, for the reading of the jury's verdict in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing.Stephen B. Morton / Pool via Reuters

Gregory and Travis McMichael, the white father and son convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, filed requests for acquittal of federal hate crimes convictions handed down by a jury last month.

Travis McMichael's motion for acquittal, filed Tuesday, focuses largely on arguing that the killing of Arbery, 25, and other crimes against him did not happen on a public street.

Federal civil rights laws cover public spaces, McMichael’s attorney argued in the 43-page document. The Georgia street where Arbery was cornered and fatally shot is part of a subdivision, and the county never "expressly accepted the dedication" of the street, the motion said.

Gregory McMichael’s 12-page motion for acquittal uses the same private street argument.

His lawyer, however, also disputed the jury’s finding that the elder McMichael chased Arbery because he was Black.

While testimony proved Gregory McMichael had a history of racism toward Black people, with one witness testifying he had once said “he wished all Black people were dead,” the “Government nevertheless failed to demonstrate that Defendant Gregory McMichael harbored any specific animus toward Mr. Arbery,” according to the motion.

The lawyer added the government proved that Travis McMichael had used racial slurs, but did not bring the same evidence against his father.

"The Government also failed to supply the jury with any evidence that Defendant Gregory McMichael associated African Americans with criminality," the document said. "In fact, during a career in law enforcement spanning over two decades, the Government provided absolutely no evidence that Defendant Gregory McMichael displayed racist attitudes in the presence of coworkers, subordinates, and supervisors."

Prosecutors on Thursday had not filed a response to the motions.

Last month, after a day of deliberations, a jury found the McMichaels and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan guilty of all the federal charges they individually faced, including hate crimes, attempted kidnapping and the use of a firearm to commit a crime. The conviction came one day before the second anniversary of Arbery’s murder. 

The McMichaels and Bryan chased Arbery, 25, through their coastal Georgia neighborhood in trucks. The three men, who spotted Arbery running by their homes in February 2020, cornered him and Travis McMichael fatally shot him with a shotgun.

The McMichaels and Bryan were free for several weeks after the shooting. They were arrested only after the video that Bryan recorded was released and the case was taken over by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

They were convicted of murder and given life sentences in the state trial. 

The federal hate crimes trial centered on the history of the three men and their racial bias, a motive that prosecutors in the state case largely avoided, even though Arbery’s killing gained national attention at the same time that the United States reckoned with issues including racism and bias in policing.