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Ahmaud Arbery’s killers ask a US appeals court to overturn their hate crime convictions
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Ahmaud Arbery’s killers ask a US appeals court to overturn their hate crime convictions

Mar 27, 2024
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In a pivotal moment that continues to resonate across the nation, attorneys are seeking to overturn the hate crime convictions of three white men involved in the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man whose fatal shooting in a Georgia subdivision spurred widespread outrage and calls for justice. The case, set for oral arguments before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, revisits the harrowing events of February 23, 2020, when Greg and Travis McMichael, along with William “Roddie” Bryan, engaged in a deadly pursuit of Arbery in their pickup trucks.

The incident, which initially went without arrests for more than two months, gained national attention following the leak of Bryan’s graphic video depicting the shooting. This ultimately led to the involvement of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and subsequent murder charges against the trio. Their convictions in a state court for murder were later compounded by a federal jury’s verdict, finding them guilty of hate crimes and attempted kidnapping based on the determination that Arbery was targeted due to his race.

The defense challenges hinge on both the presentation of past racist remarks by the defendants as evidence of racial motivation and various legal technicalities. For Greg McMichael and Bryan, their attorneys argue that the pursuit of Arbery was under the mistaken belief he was a criminal, not because of his race. Such assertions are complicated by the revealed social media posts and text messages laden with racial slurs and disparaging remarks about Black people, used by prosecutors to establish a pattern of racism.

Travis McMichael’s appeal uniquely does not contest the racial motivation but rather disputes the technicality regarding the public status of the subdivision’s roads where Arbery was killed. His attorney posits that the prosecution failed to adequately prove these roads were public, a critical detail in the indictment’s charges.

Beyond the primary hate crime convictions, the appeals also contest the attempted kidnapping charges, questioning the applicability of using pickup trucks to prevent Arbery’s escape as fitting the federal crime’s criteria. The defense argues against the characterization of their actions as attempted kidnapping for lack of ransom or other benefits and disputes the trucks’ role as “instrumentality of interstate commerce.”

Prosecutors maintain that the evidence of deep-seated racial prejudice directly influenced the defendants’ actions and that their attempts to enact “vigilante justice” indeed meet the criteria for the charges laid against them.

Regardless of the appeals court’s decision, the defendants will remain incarcerated, serving life sentences for murder in Georgia state prisons, with pending motions for new trials in the state court system. The case continues to be a focal point for discussions on race, justice, and the legal system’s handling of hate crimes in America, with the forthcoming decisions eagerly awaited by Arbery’s family, the defendants, and a closely watching public.

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