The three white men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in south Georgia pleaded not guilty on Friday morning in Chatham County Superior Court, in a case that spurred a national outcry after cellphone video footage of the shooting appeared on the internet.
Arbery, 25, who was killed on February 23 while jogging just outside the coastal town of Brunswick, became a touchstone in cross-country protests over racial and social injustice in the United States.
A former law enforcement officer, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, are charged with murder and aggravated assault.
They were charged in May after cellphone video footage of the shooting was leaked on social media and sparked nationwide protests.
Police have claimed that Travis uttered a racial slur following Arbery’s alleged murder.
Their neighbour who took the cellphone video, 50-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan Jr, was charged with murder and attempt to illegally detain and confine.
The three defendants chased Arbery in pick-up trucks and sought to box him in.
A grand jury indicted the three men in June on charges of malice and murder. They remain in detention without bond.
Police say Gregory McMichael saw Arbery jogging through his neighbourhood outside of Brunswick and believed he looked like a burglary suspect.
The elder McMichael called his son and the two armed themselves and drove after Arbery.
Bryan joined the chase in his own vehicle, police say, and took a video recording of the incident on his phone, which appears to show the McMichaels confronting Arbery before he was shot with a shotgun.
Judge Timothy Walmsley accepted the not guilty pleas and waived arraignment at the request of the defendants’ lawyers.
No court date was immediately set, but there were several motions pending for later on Friday morning on behalf of Bryan, including a request for bond.
“Keeping him in jail isn’t going to accomplish anything,” Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, told reporters on Thursday.