Ahmaud Arbery’s killers deny racist motives in federal appeals

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The three white men convicted of the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery have submitted appeals to have their federal hate crimes overturned, claiming there was no racial motivation behind the killing — despite all three having previously used racial slurs in their private lives and on social media. 

“Every crime committed against an African American by a man who has used racist language in the past is not a hate crime,” attorney Pete Theodocion said in an appellate brief written on behalf of William “Roddie” Bryan, according to the Associated Press.

On Feb. 23, 2020, Bryan followed Greg McMichael and his son Travis McMichael in their trucks along the streets of Georgia, following 25-year-old Arbery as he ran past their home. The father-son duo had armed themselves with guns during the chase, and Bryan recorded Travis McMichael as he shot Arbery at close range with a shotgun.

Bryan’s cellphone video soon leaked to the public, spurring nationwide protests over what some labeled as a modern day lynching. 

In 2021, a Georgia jury convicted the three men of murder. The three were also found guilty of committing federal hate crimes in Arbery’s death, with part of the prosecution showing the jury about two dozen racist text messages and social media posts made by the McMichaels and Bryan.

During the trial, it was revealed that Bryan had used racist slurs in texts because he was upset his daughter was dating a Black man. According to one witness, Greg McMichael’s response to the 2015 death of civil rights activist Julian Bond was that “all those Blacks are nothing but trouble.” 

And in 2018, Travis McMichael commented on a Facebook video of a Black man playing a prank on a white person that he’d “kill that f—-ing n—-r.”

On March 3, the men all filed briefs in federal appeals stating their motives for the chase and subsequent shooting were because they thought Arbery was a criminal, not because he was Black. 

The elder McMichael claimed he’d seen Arbery on security camera videos breaking into a neighbor’s home. Though Bryan hadn’t seen the video, his lawyer claimed that he, too, assumed Arbery to be a criminal based on the McMichaels chase. 

“Arbery never called out for help or gave any signs that he was the victim of an unprovoked attack,” Theodocion wrote in Bryan’s appeal.

However, Travis McMichael’s appeal does not argue against racial motives. Instead, his attorney has argued that prosecutors failed to prove that Arbery was murdered on public streets, as the mens’ indictments stated.

The arguments are similar to what defense attorneys used in the original case. 

The McMichaels received life sentences in their federal cases; Bryan was sentenced to 35 years. All three men have also filed appeals of their murder convictions in Glynn County Superior Court, according to the AP.

The U.S. Justice Department now has 30 days to file legal briefs in response to the appeals. 

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