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Jury deliberating in federal hate crimes trial for killing of Ahmaud Arbery

All three were convicted of murdering Arbery last year in a state trial and each received life in prison.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Jury deliberation started in the federal hate crimes trial over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery on Monday afternoon. The jury will work to determine if father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan violated Arbery's civil rights and killed him because of the color of his skin.

All three were convicted of murdering Arbery last year in a state trial and each received life in prison as a result of Georgia minimum sentencing guidelines.  

Federal prosecutor Chris Perry gave the first closing argument for the prosecution on Monday.

"There is a big difference between being vigilant and being a vigilante," he began. "He (Greg) didn’t call 911, he grabbed his son and he grabbed his gun...They were fueled by a mix of racial anger and pride."

The prosecution also relied heavily on digital evidence, including social media posts and text messages, which they argued highlighted the men's dislike and overall attitude towards Black people. Some of the evidence, including those racially-charged texts and social media posts, weren't included in the state trial.

Prosecutors also argued Travis McMichael had a revenge fantasy and that the only two things that Gregory McMichael knew for sure that day was that Arbery was Black and he was running away.

They also pushed this question: if you take away Arbery's race, would the men have grabbed the gun and chased after him?

Finally, the prosecution argued there was an overreaction to Arbery jogging and an under reaction to him dying. However, Travis McMichael‘s attorney, Amy Copeland, responded by arguing that this is not a murder case. She also said that a majority of the messages shown to the jury were private and that Travis McMichael was talking to like minded people, and stated this not a case about whether his beliefs should be punished. 

Credit: AP
This photo combo shows, from left, Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan, and Gregory McMichael during their trial at at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. Jurors on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021 convicted the three white men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man who was chased and fatally shot while running through their neighborhood in an attack that became part of the larger national reckoning on racial injustice. (Pool, file)

She also claimed there is no evidence that Travis McMichael used racial slurs the day Arbery died, and no evidence that he ever belong to any type of white supremacy group or had any violent race-based act towards any person of color. 

Meanwhile, Gregory McMichael's attorney, AJ Balbo, argued that there is no racism or racial prejudice in the act towards Arbery and that his client simply recognized Arbery as a person seen going inside an unfinished home in the neighborhood. Balbo added that if any other Black man would’ve been running by him that day, Gregory wouldn’t have chased him because he wouldn’t have recognized a person from the videos showing Aubrey in the house previously.

Gregory McMichael's attorney also argued the vast majority of the digital evidence came from the other two defendants, not from his client, and said there’s zero evidence of any complaints filed against Gregory during his decades of work in law enforcement, which the attorney argued speaks volumes. 

Lastly, William Bryan‘s attorney, Pete Theodocion, argued that his client recognized the truck that was following Arbery, knew it was a neighbor, and knew that neighbor was yelling stop to Arbery. With that said, he claimed it’s entirely reasonable that Bryan would believe that the guy who is being chased did something wrong. Theodocion also argued that’s what he would’ve done and it would’ve been his instinct no matter who is doing the chasing. 

Credit: Steve "The Artist"

He also responded to the text message evidence, arguing they do not show Bryan being someone out to get Black people. He added that it’s easy to argue with free-speech if everyone agrees with the free-speech. 

In the rebuttal, the government said, “there is no sign of recognition that Ahmaud was a human being twitching and gasping in the middle of the street," adding that all three defendants showed what's in their minds when it comes to Black people.

They added the jury cannot use racial evidence like the posts and messages to judge the defendants' character, they can only use it to help figure out what was in their minds, or what was their motive, saying “they didn’t show Ahmaud the dignity a dog deserves when it’s hit by a car“

Wanda Cooper Jones, who is Arbery's mother, said she cried in court. She could visibly be seen in tears as the video of her son's killing was being described and the defense alluded that Arbery's actions were the reason he got killed that day. She was also in tears as the prosecution ran down the list of names the defendants used against Black people, such as "subhuman savages," the N-word and "monkeys." 

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