BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Whether racist text messages will be allowed as evidence in the hate crimes trial of three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery is one topic that will be discussed at a scheduled Friday hearing.
Several issues, some public some not, are on the federal court docket in Brunswick.
Travis McMichael, his father Greg, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan were convicted in November of killing the 25-year-old Arbery, who is Black, as he ran through their suburban Georgia neighborhood. They were sentenced to life in prison in December.
All three now face hate crime and kidnapping charges in federal court. The McMichaels also face federal gun charges.
One motion to be discussed, filed by Bryan, asks the judge to exclude what his lawyers call “highly inflammatory” comments of his that would “rightfully anger” …any “African-American” jurors.
Prosecutors say that evidence is central to their case.
“Bryan’s racial motive is an element of Count Two of the Indictment,” prosecutors wrote in their response to his motion. “That defendant Bryan ‘did willfully, by force [or] threat of force, injure, intimidate, [or] interfere with Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man, because of Arbery’s race [or] color.’” Prosecutors added, “thus the government respectfully submits that evidence of his racial animus is admissible to prove that element.”
The judge is also expected to hear arguments about whether to limit discussion of the defendants’ state murder convictions. Prosecutors want the judge to prevent defense attorneys from arguing that the defendants “should be acquitted of the federal charges against them because they have already been convicted of state murder charges and/or because they have been sentenced to terms of life imprisonment” or “that the federal government’s decision to continue the prosecution, notwithstanding the outcome of the state trial, is unfair or politically motivated.”
The judge is also expected to close the courtroom to the public and the media to hear several sealed motions.
At least one involves “the racial-animus evidence [prosecutors] will seek to introduce against the defendants at trial,” buttressed by their “reasons why such evidence is relevant and admissible.” There are numerous sealed records on the court docket.
Race did not play a significant role in the state murder trial of Bryan and his neighbors, Greg and Travis McMichael. But race will be the centerpiece of their hate crimes trial.
Jury selection in the case begins Feb. 7. Unlike in the state murder case, cameras are not allowed in federal court.