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Ahmaud Arbery's accused killers plead not guilty to federal hate crime charges

All three defendants pleaded not guilty on the federal charges of allegedly killing Arbery because of his race and will remain in the state's custody without bond.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — (Note: The video above is from a previous report.)

The three men accused of murder and federal hate crimes in connection to the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery say they are not guilty.

Travis McMichael, age 35, along with 65-year-old Gregory McMichael and 51-year-old William "Roddie" Bryan were indicted on one count each of hate crimes and attempted kidnapping charges last month. The two McMichaels were also charged with separate federal counts of using firearms during a crime of violence.

All three appeared in federal court Tuesday in Brunswick, for the first hearing on the federal charges of allegedly killing Arbery because of his race. The 25-year-old Black man was running down a road in the Satilla Shores neighborhood when cellphone video shot by Bryan shows the McMichaels struggling with Arbery over a gun before the deadly shooting.

All three defendants pleaded not guilty and will remain in the state's custody without bond following Tuesday's hearing.

Marcus Arbery Sr., Ahmaud's father spoke after the hearing.

"I thank all the people supporting my family right now. When the [federal prosecutors] stepped in we know we're close to getting justice for my son," Arbery Sr. said.

Arbery's father sat next to his brother and sister in court. They could be seen comforting each other through the 30-minute hearing.

Arbery's mother did not appear due to her travel schedule according to a family attorney. On Monday, she stood by Governor Brian Kemp for the repeal of the citizen's arrest law in Georgia, which was used by a previous district attorney to justify the McMichaels' actions.

Family attorney Lee Merritt believes it's appropriate to label Arbery's killing a hate crime.

“[The judge] took the time to walk through the charges and the facts to show how closely the facts of this case mirror hate crime charges which are difficult to reach in a federal setting,” Merritt said.

“As he described it, you could see the facts we all saw in the video, the facts we know, line up directly with the requirements of the law and we believe it should result in a guilty verdict,” Merritt added.

The charges of interference with rights carry a penalty of up to life in prison, the third count of attempted kidnapping carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. The fourth count, using a firearm during a crime of violence carries a penalty between 10 years and life in prison. Count five carries a penalty of seven years to life.

Arbery's aunt Thea Brooks says eyewitness accounts made clear to her that his death was racially motivated.

"The slur that Travis McMichael used when he killed Ahmaud, that's when we knew it was indeed a hate crime," Brooks said.

Travis and Gregory McMichael and Bryan also have hearings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday of this week in Glynn County Superior Court. Defense lawyers are asking Judge Timothy Walmsley to allow details of Arbery's past encounters with law enforcement, as well as alleged evidence of his mental illness.

Attorneys for Travis McMichael say that evidence bolsters their claim of self-defense. Merritt denies that claim.

“I don’t believe Ahmaud’s mental state or something in the past impacted these men’s decisions to chase him down the road without speaking to him and gun him down, but I understand they have to provide some sort of defense,” Merritt said.

Jury selection in the state's criminal trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 18.

RELATED: Trial date set for 3 men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery

RELATED: Ahmaud Arbery murder suspects now facing federal hate crime charges

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