Arbery's Killers Won't Be Doing Easy Time :: Articles
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Arbery's Killers Won't Be Doing Easy Time

Posted: 2/9/22

By Vincent Scala

At first blush, the plea seemed so reasonable. The men convicted in Georgia state court of killing Ahmaud Arbery were sentenced to life imprisonment (two of them to life without parole and one of them to 30 years minimum).

The men, you might recall, claimed "self-defense" (justification under the law) and the jury rejected that argument and convicted them.

The men denied any racial bias in singling out a young African-American man who was jogging through the largely white neighborhood.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice also prosecuted the three under somewhat different theories. The federal prosecution was a civil-rights prosecution and would require that the government prove a racial motivation was behind the killing.

Reasonable? Not to Mom

Late last month, the Federal Government appeared to have reached a deal with the defense whereby the three men would plead guilty and admit in open court that the killing was racially motivated (quite a change of attitude from them). This appeared reasonable, as they would receive sentences of 30 years (translates to about 25 years) concurrently with the life sentences.

Mr. Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, the singular figure behind making sure justice was done for her son over the last two years, blasted the deal and said she had been stabbed in the back.

At first blush, I had the view also that the deal was reasonable: the men would admit racial motivations and the case would be concluded.

Let's look a bit deeper at the deal and why these men wanted it. There was an enormous catch. In exchange for their guilty pleas, they would serve the 30 year sentences in Federal—not state—prison. As someone who has been prosecuting and defending criminals for 38 years, the moment I heard this, I agreed with Ms. Cooper-Jones.

Anyone remotely familiar with the criminal-law field knows that time spent in a Federal prison is radically different (easier, cleaner, safer, better) than time spent in a state prison. There really isn't any debate about this. The Federal system is better funded, has better food, has fewer violent criminals and is safer than state prison.

Preferential Treatment

If the convicted men agreed to plead to the Federal charges and serve their 30 years in the state prison where they're currently incarcerated, count me in. Otherwise, such special treatment is just another example of an unfair system that treats whites better than African-Americans, Hispanics and others.

Good for you, Ms. Cooper-Jones. The plea deal was rejected by the Federal Judge, and these men will now either go to trial or plead guilty with no "preferential" treatment. Poor boys. Tough on the outside but snowflakes on the inside.

Mr. Arbery was slaughtered for absolutely no reason. They got good legal representation, put the state to its burden and lost. Case closed.

Serve your prison sentences in the state system. No crocodile tears for these men.

Kudos to Wanda Cooper-Jones. Without her constant vigilance, they possibly wouldn't have been prosecuted in the first place and might well have served the first 25 years or so in much better conditions. Until we improve prison facilities for everyone, let's not make exceptions for these three.

Vincent Scala is a former Bronx Assistant District Attorney. He is currently a criminal-defense attorney in New York City and its suburbs.