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Racist texts should be allowed in the hate crimes trial of 3 men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, prosecutors argue

William “Roddie” Bryan’s hostility toward Blacks should be permitted as evidence, according to a new filing in the federal case against Ahmaud Arbery’s killers.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Rejecting arguments that evidence of William Roddie Bryan’s allegedly racist attitudes would unfairly bias the jury, federal prosecutors are asking a judge to allow that evidence at trial.

Prosecutors are responding to a December motion by Bryan’s attorney that seeks to bar several examples of Bryan’s alleged hostility towards Black people. 

The motion specifically asks to prevent prosecutors from "suggesting [Bryan] has racial animus towards African Americans” or “generally associates African Americans with criminality.” 

They also want to block “witness testimony that would suggest Bryan did not approve of his adopted daughter dating an African American man.”

Bryan is charged along with his former neighbors, Greg and Travis McMichael, with federal hate crimes and kidnapping charges in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, 25. The McMichaels also face federal gun charges. The three men were convicted of Arbery’s murder in state court in November and have been sentenced to life in prison.

In the recent filings, prosecutors said that evidence is central to their case. “Bryan’s racial motive is an element of Count Two of the Indictment—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’—and thus the government respectfully submits that evidence of his racial animus is admissible to prove that element.”

The government’s response also alluded to additional “evidence of motive” contained in a sealed document in which “the government specifically identified the racial-animus evidence it will seek to introduce against the defendants at trial, and outlined the reasons why such evidence is relevant and admissible.” There are several sealed records on the court docket.

Bryan’s original motion in limine seeks to exclude:

  • “Text messages on or about MLK Day in 2019 and 2020 between Bryan and friends which contain racially insensitive language, both direct and euphemistic."
  • “June 5, 2019, text message from Bryan to his ex-wife containing racially insensitive language."
  • “January 1, 2020, text messages between Bryan and his ex-wife where each uses racially insensitive language."
  • “Witness testimony that would suggest Bryan did not approve of his adopted daughter dating an African American man."

The motion also asks the judge to bar an Oct. 10, 2016, Facebook comment “regarding a friend’s stolen bike, suggesting that an African American was the likely suspect” as well as a racially tinged text message from May 21, 2019 “regarding health care and disability programs.”

According to Bryan’s motion, “The Government has no evidence that Defendant Bryan has ever harmed an African American or any person of color. Likewise, there are no communications by him suggesting approval of any harmful act toward African Americans. There is no evidence Bryan has ever associated with organizations hostile to African Americans (such as the KKK, White Nationalist organizations, the Proud Boys, etc.). In the absence of such evidence, the Government instead will seek to admit text exchanges such as those wherein Defendant Bryan suggests that a particular bicycle thief was likely Black, opines that there are Black people unnecessarily on disability, or shows disapproval of his adopted daughter dating an African American.”

It continues, “The evidence Defendant Bryan seeks to exclude is of a highly inflammatory nature and would significantly limit his ability to be fairly tried by an impartial jury. An African American juror would be particularly and rightfully angered at such language and would naturally be hyper-inclined to make a decision on an improper basis.”

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Jan. 21 at the federal courthouse in Brunswick.

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