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29 Apr, 2021 10:59

3 Georgia men, accused of murdering black jogger Ahmaud Arbery, indicted with federal hate crime charges

3 Georgia men, accused of murdering black jogger Ahmaud Arbery, indicted with federal hate crime charges

The federal government has added hate crime charges to the accusations against three white Georgians who were involved in the killing of a black jogger last year. The state didn’t have hate crime laws at the time of the incident.

The US Department of Justice has charged the three suspects with one count of interference with rights, which is considered a hate crime, and with one count of attempted kidnapping. The indictment stems from the February 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot while jogging through the defendants’ neighborhood. The suspects “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race,” the DOJ said.

Arbery, 25, was shot after being chased and stopped by Gregory McMichael, 65, and his son Travis, 35. The third suspect is William ‘Roddie’ Bryan, 51, a neighbor of the McMichaels who was involved in the armed pursuit, but not directly in the shooting itself.

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The three men told the police they went after Arbery because they suspected him of being a burglar. Several reports of theft had been made in the neighborhood in the weeks before the shooting. Arbery himself was filmed by security cameras entering a house under construction minutes prior to being killed. The suspects claimed they wanted to conduct a citizen’s arrest and wait for the police to arrive.

Investigators said they found no evidence that Arbery was involved in any crime in the neighborhood and that he appeared to be simply jogging. The suspects said they believed their target to be armed, but the police found no weapons at the crime scene.

The moment of the shooting was filmed by Bryan. It shows the McMichaels’ truck parked down the two-lane street where Arbery was jogging. Shouting is heard followed by a gunshot, and then Arbery and the younger McMichael can be seen struggling for a shotgun. More shots follow, and seconds later, Arbery can be seen trying to run away, and falling to the ground.

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The video of the shooting was leaked to the local media by Gregory McMichael in May 2020 and quickly went viral. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) quickly took over the investigation from the local authorities and arrested the two McMichaels. Bryan was taken into custody two weeks later. The following month, a Glynn County grand jury indicted the three men each with nine counts, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

A dispute remains over whether racism was a factor in the crime. A GBI investigator testified that Bryan told the bureau he heard Travis McMichael call Arbery a “f**king n****r” right after he was shot. His attorney denied that he used the slur. However, during a bond hearing, prosecutors presented evidence that the younger McMichael had used racist slurs in a text message and on social media.

The circumstances of the case and fact that no arrests in the case were made for 10 weeks after the shooting and reported reluctance of the local authorities to prosecute the case fueled public anger. Outraged people accused the three suspects of vigilantism and compared Arbery’s death to a lynching. One of the consequences of the scandal was that Georgia lawmakers passed hate crime laws, stipulating an additional penalty in cases in which certain crimes are motivated by traits such as race, religion, and sexual orientation.

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At the time of Arbery’s killing, Georgia was one of just four US states where no such legislation existed. His alleged murderers will not be subject to the new laws, since they don’t apply retroactively.

Attorneys representing the defendants responded to the new federal charges by expressing disappointment. The DOJ “bought the false narrative that the media and state prosecutors have promulgated,” the lawyers representing Travis McMichael said. Bryan’s attorney reiterated that his client “committed no crime” and was merely a witness to the shooting.

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