Ahmaud Arbery murder: Convicted men face hate crimes charges next

US prosecutors in federal trial set for next year will seek to prove three white men killed Arbery because he was Black.

A woman holds a sign that reads, 'Justice for Ahmaud'
A jury in the US state of Georgia this week convicted three men of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in February last year [Marco Bello/Reuters]

A United States jury this week convicted three white men for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was chased and fatally shot while jogging in Georgia last year, in a decision that was welcomed as bringing some measure of justice to Arbery’s family.

The 11-member jury in Brunswick, Georgia on Wednesday found Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan guilty of the 25-year-old’s murder, among other charges.

“A jury believed the evidence of their eyes and saw the meanness in the killers’ hearts. May this verdict bring a small measure of peace to #AhmaudArbery’s family and loved ones,” Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, said on Twitter.

The three men chased Arbery on February 23, 2020, through the coastal community of Satilla Shores, just outside of Brunswick, and killed him with a shotgun. They face life in prison, and a judge will decide whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole.

While the McMichaels and Bryan are expected to appeal their convictions, they also still face an upcoming federal trial in which they will face hate crimes charges.

All three have pleaded not guilty in what will be an entirely separate case that is not affected by the state trial’s outcome this week – and which a civil rights lawyer representing the Arbery family has said will provide a final chance to get to the “crux” of what he called a lynching.

“This was predicated on the colour of Ahmaud Arbery’s skin,” Benjamin Crump said outside Glynn County Superior Court in Brunswick before the verdict was read on Wednesday.

A graphic video of Arbery’s killing leaked two months after the three men chased and fatally shot him in the largely white community.

It fuelled mass public protests against anti-Black racism and vigilantism, as well as calls for accountability, and prompted Georgia state officials to take over the case and ultimately charge the trio.

The federal indictment charges the three men with hate crimes, saying they infringed Arbery’s civil rights by chasing and killing him because he was Black, among other charges. It does not show what evidence prosecutors might present to convince a jury that racism played a role.

The Arbery family hopes that evidence of racist language allegedly used by Travis McMichael, none of which was shown to the Glynn County jury, will finally be considered by the justice system, Crump said.

In pre-trial motions, state prosecutors told the court that they had evidence of “racial animus” motivating the defendants. At a bond hearing, they said Travis McMichael, 35, had used racial slurs on social media and in a text message.

At a pre-trial hearing, an investigator recounted Bryan telling him he heard McMichael use a slur as he stood over Arbery’s body, although McMichael’s lawyers raised doubts about Bryan’s reliability.

Prosecutors also decided against showing the jury the vanity license plate the younger McMichael affixed to his pick-up truck in 2020. The plate includes the old Georgia state flag, which prominently incorporates the Confederate battle flag.

A debate has taken place across the US in recent years about symbols, statues and monuments linked to the Confederacy, a group of 11 US southern states that fought against the abolition of slavery in the 1860s.

A person reacts outside the Glynn County Courthouse after the jury reached a guilty verdict on Wednesday [Octavio Jones/Reuters]

Critics have said such monuments are a display of white supremacy, slavery and decades of institutional racism, while proponents argue they display southern pride.

“You better believe that a federal judge is going to be willing to hear evidence of racial animus, including specific text messages, when racial animus is a key element of the charge,” Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a director of Case Western Reserve University’s Social Justice Institute, told the Reuters news agency.

The US Department of Justice said in a statement that there may be some overlap in witnesses between the two cases, but they were otherwise independent of each other.

The lawyers representing the three men in the federal trial either declined or did not respond to requests to comment from Reuters.

US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood has scheduled jury selection in the federal trial to start February 7.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies