Hours before 12 jurors found three people guilty of the murder of Ahmaud Arberi, they had a request for a judge. They asked to watch videos of Mr. Arbury’s murder three more times.
A graphic video of the murder on a mobile phone, filmed by William Brian as he chased Mr. Arbury in his truck, brought the case to the world’s attention a few months after the incident.
This sparked a nationwide outcry and prompted the state legislature to make significant changes to Georgia’s criminal law, including the passage of the state’s first hate crime law. This led to the indictment of the former district attorney for the county on charges including ordering police officers not to arrest Travis McMichael, who shot Mr. Arbury.
And ultimately, the video appears to have played a pivotal role in Wednesday’s jury’s decision to recognize Mr. Brian, along with Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael, guilty of the murder.
“The defendant’s own video shows that Mr. Arbury was unarmed, that he was jogging,” said Sarah Gerwig-Moore, a professor at Mercer University Law School in Macon, Georgia. – It shows that he fought for his life. … “
The ubiquitous proliferation of bystander cell phone footage and police footage has raised video evidence at the center of many recent trials, often replacing other jury persuasion, including witness testimony and defense attorneys.
“We lawyers no longer control this story,” said Mary Fan, a law professor at the University of Washington and a former prosecutor. “It doesn’t matter how dramatically I open or close, or how my witnesses tell their testimony, because the jury will be looking at visual evidence and my words will be just words. I can never compare to video drama. “
In the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, which ended in a not-guilty trial just days before Arbury’s murder conviction, the defense focused on eyewitness footage taken moments before the first shooting. The video shows that Mr. Rittenhouse was pursued in the parking lot by Joseph Rosenbaum, the first person he shot, which defense lawyers say supports their argument that Mr. Rittenhouse acted reasonably in self-defense.
It was a mobile-phone video of George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. – captured and uploaded to Facebook by 17-year-old bystanders – sparked international protests against racism and police violence. The video was critical at the trial, which found former officer Derek Choven guilty on two counts of murder.
Several legal experts said the videos provide objectivity, especially when compared to testimony that may be unreliable.
Understand the murder of Ahmaud Arbury
Shooting. On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbury, a 25-year-old black man, was gunned down after being chased by three white men while jogging outside his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Georgia. The murder of Mr. Arbury was captured in a graphic video that was widely viewed by the public.
“In a trial, you are trying to place the jury at the time, place and circumstances that the witness testifies to,” said Melissa Redmon, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia Law School. “When you have a visual aid to do this, it makes it much easier.”
But as video evidence plays an increasingly important role in jury deliberations, some experts warn that it may be exposed to some of the same vulnerabilities as other forms of evidence.
“When we watch the video, it seductively makes us think, ‘Hey, I saw what happened,” said Ms. Fan. But, as with other types of evidence, it may not reflect the full picture. Depending on the person’s previous experience, she added, the same footage makes our eyes “follow different details, we notice different things, we amplify different things,” prompting the jury to fill in the gaps in the story “in very different ways.”
Jack Rice, a criminal defense attorney based in St. Paul, Minnesota, said the outcome of a case often comes down to which side’s lawyers can get the jury to view the video in a way that matches their arguments.
“The undeniable nature of the video means that if you can rotate it to support your storytelling, it could very well make your storytelling undeniable,” he said. “From the point of view of protecting interests, this is great. You cannot ask for more. “
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs made reporting.