Discussions about race are notably absent in the trial of Arbery's murder suspects

BRUNSWICK, Georgia – When Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was chased through a neighborhood in Georgia by three white men and sh...

BRUNSWICK, Georgia – When Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was chased through a neighborhood in Georgia by three white men and shot at point blank range, his murder was widely viewed as an act of racial violence.

One of the men uttered a racist insult moments after shooting Mr. Arbery, one of his co-defendants told authorities. One of the trucks the men were in had a vanity plaque with a Confederate flag symbol on it.

And yet, for 10 days of testimony in a South Georgia courtroom, jurors heard no discussion of race or the allegations of fanaticism. Prosecutors largely avoided the question, despite the chances of asking questions about it when presenting their case.

The absence has been notable, given that prosecutors signaled early on that they may be making race an important aspect of their case.

On Thursday, Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, asked for permission to speak to the jury about the claim that Travis McMichael used a racist slur – an allegation that Mr McMichael’s lawyers disputed. Ms Dunikoski encountered significant legal obstacles in obtaining such evidence. But before the judge could rule on the case, the defense had finished its evidence and refused its right to present cross-witnesses after hours of cross-examination of Mr. McMichael on the stand.

Yet the lack of any open discussion of race in court surprised legal experts and sparked disagreements over the wisdom of a prosecution strategy that could have been influenced by the fact that 11 of the 12 jurors are white.

“I am lost,” Esther Panitch, a longtime Atlanta-based legal analyst and criminal defense lawyer, said Thursday. “While the state is under no obligation to prove motivation, jurors would certainly want to know what would motivate defendants to commit a crime like this.”

The state murder trial, which takes place in the small coastal town of Brunswick, near the scene of the shooting, is not the last word on whether the defendants – Mr McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan – were motivated by racial animosity: A federal hate crime trial looms for the three men in February.

But in Brunswick in recent days, the gulf between the limited story presented in court and the larger story told beyond jurors’ earshot seemed to widen more than ever.

Kevin Gough, Mr. Bryan’s lawyer, has repeatedly introduces race into the public narrative arguing that the presence of prominent civil rights leaders in the courtroom, including Reverend Al Sharpton, Reverend Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III, could sway the jury. “We don’t want black pastors coming here anymore,” he said at one point. Mr. Gough, by court rules, always made these comments while the jury was not in the room.

He was joined this week by Jason Sheffield, an attorney for Travis McMichael, who said jurors must be protected from the “national conversation” the case has generated.

Mr Gough’s comments were widely criticized and prompted Mr Sharpton’s National Action Network to invite dozens of black pastors to Brunswick on Thursday to show their support for the Arbery family.

Some pastors were holding signs that read “Black pastors matter.” A group of Mr. Arbery’s aunts arrived wearing shirts marked “These are the black pastors for me.”

Reverend Christopher J Pittman of First Bryan Baptist Church in Savannah said Mr. Gough’s comments were reminiscent of rhetoric from the 1960s and earlier. “It takes me back in time,” he said. “We shouldn’t keep arguing about this.”

In theory, none of this is known to the jurors, who, at the end of each day of court hearing, were ordered by Judge Timothy R. Walmsley not to seek outside information about the case.

Instead, jurors heard repeated and detailed accounts of how the three men pursued Mr. Arbery in their neighborhood and were asked to determine if they had legal grounds to do so. The defense told jurors the men had reason to believe Mr. Arbery was a burglar amid a series of break-ins in the neighborhood. Ms Dunikoski argued that they sued him on the basis of what she described as shaky “aisle assumptions and decisions”.

They learned that Gregory McMichael told police that Mr. Arbery was “trapped like a rat” before being shot. And jurors saw the graphic video filmed by Mr. Bryan that shows Travis McMichael shooting Mr. Arbery three times with a shotgun.

A spokeswoman for the Cobb County district attorney declined to comment on the prosecution’s strategy. But Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, said the uneven number of white jurors may have played a role in the prosecution’s decision not to be more aggressive in framing the case in racial terms. Before the jury was made up, prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to convince the judge to block the defense decision of ban a number of potential black jurors.

“I’m sure that the fact that it’s a practically all-white jury matters,” Mr. Butler said. “There is a risk when racial discourse is introduced in a trial, so prosecutors, I think, obviously saw a risk in introducing evidence on race.”

Mr Carlson said the introduction of racial themes also carried the risk that an appeals court could eventually find such evidence too prejudicial. And if prosecutors felt this week they were winning, Mr Carlson said, they might have decided the risk was not worth it.

Prosecutors had previously told the court that they would in fact be making race an issue. Just before opening the arguments, the judge ruled that they could present photographic evidence of Travis McMichael’s truck, which showed it was adorned with a vanity plaque with the design of the former flag of the State of Georgia, which incorporates the Confederate Battle Flag. The defense had sought to keep her away from the jury, arguing that the photo was intended to “telegraph a reprehensible motive, bias or prejudice, which is not true.”

Last year, prosecutors filed a motion saying they planned to present what they described as “racial” evidence, including a Facebook post “Johnny Rebel” from Travis McMichael, “racial posts” extracted of Mr. Bryan’s cell phone and an “Identity Dixie” Facebook post by Gregory McMichael.

During a hearing, prosecutors read text message from November 2019 in which Travis McMichael used a racist insult about black people when he described the idea of ​​shooting a “crackhead” with “golden teeth”.

In the weeks leading up to the trial, however, prosecutors indicated that they had decided not to introduce “evidence of racial animosity in the form of the accused’s communications with third parties” into their presentation of evidence, calling it ” strategic decision ”.

Prior to the trial, defense attorneys insisted that the case was far from the modern “lynching” that people like Mr. Sharpton had described it as, but rather a legal attempt to make the arrest. ‘a citizen under state law at the time. Robert Rubin, an attorney for Travis McMichael, said the case concerned the “duty and responsibility” to keep the neighborhood safe, and noted the many times Mr Arbery had been seen surrendering without authorization in a house under construction.

Even without any open discussion of race in open court, said S. Lee Merritt, an attorney representing the Arbery family in a civil case, the defense appeared to “be looking at the benefits of the racial bias they hope to exist on the jury. “by arguing that it was incumbent on the accused to face” this external danger, this mysterious black man “.

Mr. Butler, a law professor at Georgetown, believes the prosecution should have raised the issue of racial motivation before making a decision. “If there is a verdict of not guilty, I think the prosecution’s failure to use evidence of racism by the defendants will be blamed,” he said.

Still, John Perry, pastor and former NAACP local president, said it was “refreshing” that the jury did not address the issue of race. “The facts in themselves are strong enough to show what these men did,” he said. “When you enter the race, you enter the intention, and I don’t know how their intention could be proven.”

Allen Booker, a Brunswick city commissioner who represents the majority of its black residents, said no matter what was discussed in court, he assumed jurors understood race was a factor in the case.

“If the 11 whites and the only black who live here don’t know this matter is about race, they could spend a year there and still wouldn’t know,” he said. “They know.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Discussions about race are notably absent in the trial of Arbery's murder suspects
Discussions about race are notably absent in the trial of Arbery's murder suspects
Newsrust - US Top News
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