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The jury begins deliberations in the hate crimes trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers


Jurors will continue deliberations today in the federal hate crimes case against three white men already convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. The 25-year-old Black man was jogging through a coastal Georgia town in 2020 when he was chased down, then shot and killed. The defendants, father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan, are accused of targeting Arbery because of his race. Civil rights attorney and former prosecutor Charles Coleman Jr. joins us now. Charles, in closing arguments yesterday, the prosecutors said the defendants saw Arbery not as a human being but as an offensive racist stereotype, and their case hinges on proving Arbery was chased and killed because he was Black. So, Charles, do you think the prosecution succeeded?

CHARLES COLEMAN JR: I do, A. I think that they did a wonderful job of laying out all of the evidence that was in front of them. They had a very difficult task, but they also were helped by a litany of witnesses that talked about different racial incidents involving all of the defendants, as well as social media posts that the defendants had made regarding violence against Blacks, racial epithets and a lot of other evidence that came in during the course of the trial that they brought back during their summation that really brought it home to the jury that this wasn't a case about what but a case about why.

MARTÍNEZ: And that video, too. I mean, we wouldn't even be here - right? - if it weren't for that video.

COLEMAN: Correct. And I think that that's an important point for us to think about is that despite everything that we have learned, despite everything that we now know about this case, none of it would have taken place if it weren't for that video. It is very conceivable that these individuals would not have even been arrested were it not for the perseverance of that family, as well as the presence of that video. We have to get to a place where we no longer require ocular evidence to be able to validate the lived experiences of Black people in America, and I think that this trial really brings that home. When you think about this trial, when you think about George Floyd, the question has to become, what happens for those individuals who are not beneficiaries, if you can use that word...


COLEMAN: ...Of having video present because those people still deserve to have accountability in their cases when they have been wronged, and they have been violated in the ways that so many people are.

MARTÍNEZ: What about the defense, Charles? I mean, did those lawyers present evidence that negates the prosecution's case at all?

COLEMAN: I think from a legal standpoint, the defense did the best with what they could. But I think it was very telling that they were all willing to take plea bargains and plead guilty before this case went to trial, that - those pleas were rejected by the judge in this case, and so that did not move forward. But usually a defendant is not going to take a plea if they believe even they have a shot at being successful at trial. And the fact that they did not tells me a lot about what they knew going into this, that this was going to be beyond an uphill battle. I think, legally speaking, what the defense tried to do was basically suggest all of these things may be true, perhaps my clients are horrible people, maybe they're racist, maybe they're distasteful, but that does not necessarily coincide with their motive for the actions they took on August 25, when Arbery was killed.

MARTÍNEZ: We mentioned the video earlier, Charles. Was there any evidence presented during this federal trial that we did not see in the state case that really stood out?

COLEMAN: Well, I think that a lot of the evidence regarding the text messages, the conversations with co-workers, the use of racial epithets, the social media posts, those were not things that really came out during the state trial because they were things that all spoke to motive, things that all spoke to sort of their intent or at least their mindset, and in a way, that spoke a lot more to the elements of the federal charges, rather than those on the state level.

And so that focus on race, on racial animus, on racial epithets, on their feelings about Black people and the conversations they had, the way they would refer to Black people, the conversations they had about previous actions around bullying and things of that nature, those things had not come in during the state trial because they were of questionable relevance. And I'm not sure that the judge would have allowed nearly as much of it to come into play, whereas for the federal case, because this is a case where they had to prove these things, I do believe that they had much more relevance and that the judge allowed them, so that's why we saw so much of that in this trial.

MARTÍNEZ: Civil rights attorney and former prosecutor Charles Coleman Jr. Charles, thanks a lot.

COLEMAN: Thanks, A. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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