How will federal hate crime charges in Ahmaud Arbery’s death impact state trial?

GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. — A new federal indictment may impact the state trial for the three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery was shot and killed in February 2020 while jogging in a Glynn County neighborhood.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced federal hate crime and attempted kidnapping charges against the three suspects, Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr spoke with a legal analyst about what the indictment means moving forward with the case.

“This one, I think came about because of the public outcry that there was no hate crime statute in Georgia,” Esther Panitch said.

[READ: 3 men charged with federal hate crimes, attempted kidnapping in Ahmaud Arbery death]

The indictment charges the three men behind Arbery’s death with federal hate crime offenses from unlawfully seizing Arbery and based on his race, using force and threats to intimidate and interfere with his right to be on the Brunswick street where he was jogging.

The group claimed Arbery was a burglary suspect in the neighborhood. They claimed citizen’s arrest powers in the chase before Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery. Bryan recorded the shooting on video, which went viral months after Arbery’s death.

The federal case will run parallel to the state’s criminal case. That is still awaiting a trial date in Glynn County.

“It is certainly possible for the feds and the state to negotiate with the defendants and their lawyers to resolve both cases together,” Panitch said.

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The legal analyst took on the defense in Georgia’s first federal hate crimes case nearly a decade ago. That experience may give a window into what to expect from legal teams moving forward between the parallel cases.

“My client plead guilty in the state case and then we crafted a resolution with the federal prosecutors to run his sentence concurrently in both cases. Which meant they ran at the same time. He wasn’t doing any additional time in the federal case that he wasn’t already doing in the state case,” Panitch said.

A federal conviction for most charges in the new indictment would carry a life sentence for the defendants because the result of their actions were Arbery’s death.

Whoever tries the case first would determine the best and worst case defendant scenarios.

“It’s likely, although not for sure, that they might take a plea in the state case in order to run it concurrent with the federal, although I imagine there will be appeals resulting from any conviction,” Panitch said.

Now that Georgia does have a hate crimes law because of this case, Panitch said it is likely that more of them are tried at the state level versus the already-rare federal cases.

Since the case started, the state also repealed the citizen’s arrest law, which is the root of the McMichaels’ defense.