Judge rejects plea deal for man who killed Ahmaud Arbery

A US judge has rejected a plea agreement that would have averted a hate crime trial for a white man convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. The decision by US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood came hours after prosecutors gave notice that son and father Travis and Greg McMichael had agreed to plead guilty to hate crime charges that they chased, threatened and killed the 25-year-old because he was black. But Travis McMichael's sentencing hearing turned emotional and contentious as federal prosecutors urged the judge to approve the deal even after Mr Arbery's parents pleaded passionately for her to deny it.

Travis McMichael would have received 30 years in federal prison to be served alongside the penalty of life in prison without parole imposed by a state court judge for the murder conviction.

Ahmaud Arbery's mother Wanda Cooper-Jones asked the judge to reject the deal (Stephen Morton/AP)

By pleading guilty, he would have given up the chance to appeal his federal sentence. Judge Wood said she was rejecting the deal because its terms would have locked her into a specific sentence.

She said the Arbery family should have a say at sentencing in whatever punishment is ultimately given. The McMichaels armed themselves and chased Mr Arbery in a pickup truck after they spotted him running in their neighbourhood outside the port city of Brunswick on February 23, 2020. A neighbour, William "Roddie" Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck and recorded phone video of Travis McMichael blasting Mr Arbery with a shotgun.

A national outcry erupted when the graphic video leaked online two months later. Georgia was one of just four US states without a hate crimes law at the time. Legislators quickly approved one, but it came too late for state hate crime charges in Mr Arbery's killing.

Despite being convicted of murder in a Georgia state court trial last November, the McMichaels and Mr Bryan still face federal hate crime charges that accuse them of violating Mr Arbery's civil rights and targeting him because he was black.