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Defence sparks outcry by describing Ahmaud Arbery’s toenails at trial

Defence sparks outcry by describing Ahmaud Arbery’s toenails at trial
Defence attorney Laura Hogue’s ‘racist’ remarks elicits gasps in the Georgia courtroom

A defence attorney for one of three men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery sparked outcry by describing the victim’s “long, dirty toenails” during her closing argument.

Gasps rippled through the Glynn County, Georgia, courtroom on Monday when Gregory McMichael’s lawyer Laura Hogue made the remark as part of a broader effort by the defence to paint Mr Arbery as a criminal, and the three defendants accused of killing him as heroes.

“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails,” Ms Hogue told jurors.

She appeared to be referencing an autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which described Mr Arbery’s toenails as “long and very dirty”.

Mr Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, responded by standing to leave the courtroom. “I gotta get outta here,” she said on her way.

The remark prompted outrage outside the court as well, as experts accused Ms Hogue of drawing on centuries-old racist tropes.

It came at the tail-end of a trial which has shone a spotlight on racist roots of vigilante justice.

Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan are standing trial on charges including felony murder of Mr Arbery on 23 fevereiro 2020.

The three men, who are white, chased the 25-year-old Black man through the Satilla Shores neighbourhood near Brunswick before Travis McMichael shot him dead. Their defence attorneys have asserted that the men were justified in pursuing Mr Arbery because they suspected he was responsible for a string of burglaries in the weeks prior, and in killing him because they claim he tried to grab the gun.

Ms Cooper-Jones, the victim’s mother, explained her disgust at Ms Hogue’s toenail comment to CNN na segunda-feira.

“I thought it was very, very rude to talk about his long, dirty toenails and to totally neglect that my son had a huge hole in his chest when he was shot with that shotgun," ela disse.

She said she believes the remark was made because the defence knows its case is weak.

“[Eles] don’t have the proper evidence to get a conviction,” Ms Cooper-Jones said in apparent reference to the defence’s efforts to portray her son as the real criminal in the case.

“So they’re actually going to any measure to get it, to get a conviction, which is not there for them.”

Charles Coleman Jr, a civil rights attorney and former prosecutor, told CNN he believes Ms Hogue’s comment had a more sinister aim: to present Mr Arbery as a “runaway slave”.

Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan are standing trial on charges including felony murder of Ahmaud Arbery (pictured)

“Her word choice was intentional, her descriptions were unnecessary. And the description ultimately is inflammatory,” Mr Coleman said.

He said Ms Hogue was trying to “trigger some of the racial tropes and stereotypes that may be deeply embedded in the psyche of some of the jurors”.

Another former prosecutor, Mark Eiglarsh, said the comment could work in favour of the defence with the jury.

“As outrageous and offensive as I found it personally, I know that she wouldn’t have made it if she didn’t think it would resonate with those particular jurors,” Mr Eiglarsh told CNN.

Only one of the jurors is Black and the other 11 are white. The panel’s racial make-up has drawn scrutiny because it doesn’t match that of Glynn County, Onde 69 per cent of the population is white and 27 per cent is Black.

The prosecution is set to present its rebuttal on Tuesday morning, after which the case will land in the hands of the jury.