State wants racist posts in evidence to show motive in Arbery case

Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, sits for a portrait at Pendleton King Park in Augusta, Friday, July 24, 2020. On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot while jogging in a neighborhood near Brunswick. Travis McMichael, father Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan were indicted on malice murder and other charges. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, sits for a portrait at Pendleton King Park in Augusta, Friday, July 24, 2020. On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot while jogging in a neighborhood near Brunswick. Travis McMichael, father Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan were indicted on malice murder and other charges. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Racist social media posts and cellphone texts should be admitted into evidence at trial against the three men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, state prosecutors said in a recent court filing.

One reason to allow the evidence: “proof of motive,” prosecutors said.

The 25-year-old Arbery, a Black man, was chased down and killed with three shotgun blasts on Feb. 23 just outside of coastal Brunswick. Three white men, Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shots; his father Greg McMichael, who initiated the chase; and William “Roddie” Bryan, who joined in the chase, stand indicted on malice murder and other charges.

Ahmaud Arbery: Suspect allegedly used racial slur after shooting, investigators say
Ahmaud Arbery: Suspect allegedly used racial slur after shooting, investigators say

Prosecutors say Arbery was jogging through the neighborhood the day he was killed. Attorneys for the McMichaels say their clients chased Arbery because they believed he may have been burglarizing a house under construction. Police said they found nothing on the unarmed Arbery that he might have stolen.

In the recent court filing, prosecutors said they want to introduce into evidence against Travis McMichael a “racial highway video Facebook post,” “a Racial Johnny Rebel Facebook post” and a racial text message, all posted or sent in 2019. They seek to admit into evidence an “Identity Dixie Facebook post” and “Racial Johnny Rebel Facebook post” against Greg McMichael.

They also want to introduce unspecified racist messages extracted from Bryan’s cellphone. At a bond hearing in July, lead prosecutor Jesse Evans said Bryan repeatedly used the n-word in texts that contain “a ton of filth.”

GBI agent Richard Dial also previously testified that Bryan told investigators he heard Travis McMichael say the expletive-laden epithet, “f---ing n-word,” as he stood over the dying Arbery.

Ahmaud Arbery and mugshot of William “Roddie” Bryan.
Ahmaud Arbery and mugshot of William “Roddie” Bryan.

Credit: WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

In an interview last month, McMichael’s lawyers, Bob Rubin and Jason Sheffield, said they believe Bryan could not have heard their client make any statement and denied he said such a thing. They also said the McMichaels did not chase down Arbery because he was a Black man.

In a separate court filing, prosecutors also asked Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley to prohibit the defense from introducing bad character evidence about Arbery at trial. This includes his past convictions, prior encounters with law enforcement and his mental health history, they said.

Savannah Judge Timothy R. Walmsley was appointed to oversee the cases for those accused in the Ahmaud Arbery killing. (Photo: Chatham County)
Savannah Judge Timothy R. Walmsley was appointed to oversee the cases for those accused in the Ahmaud Arbery killing. (Photo: Chatham County)

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Such evidence, the motion said, is “irrelevant and inadmissible as to the issues in this case, including the issues of self-defense.”

No trial date has been set because of the coronavirus pandemic, and all three defendants remain in jail.

In July, Walmsley denied bond to Bryan. Two months ago, the McMichaels filed motions seeking bond, but Walmsley has yet to schedule hearings.

“The Ahmaud Arbery case” is the subject of the eighth season of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s award-winning Breakdown podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

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