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Video evidence played a key role in Arbery murder trial

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Video evidence played a key role in Arbery murder trial

Hours before 12 jurors found three men guilty of killing Ahmaud Arbery, they had a request for a judge. He asked to rewatch the video of Mr Arbery’s murder three times.

Graphic cellphone video of the murder filmed by William Bryan chasing Mr Arbery in his truck drew world attention to the case in the months following the incident.

This sparked nationwide protests and prompted the state legislature to make significant changes to Georgia criminal law, including passing the state’s first hate crime statute. This prompted allegations from the former county district attorney, in which he directed police officers not to arrest Travis McMichael, who shot Mr Arbery.

And finally, the video appeared to play a key role in the jury’s decision on Wednesday in which Mr Bryan was convicted of murder along with Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael.

“The defendant’s own video suggests that Mr. Arbery was not armed, that he was jogging,” said Sarah Gerwig-Moore, a professor at Mercer University School of Law in Macon, Ga. “It showed he was fighting for his life.”

The ubiquity of cellphone videos from bystanders and body camera videos of police officers have made video evidence at the center of many recent trials, often outpacing other methods of judging, including the testimony of witnesses and the arguments of lawyers.

“We lawyers, we no longer have a lock on the story,” said Mary Fan, a professor of law at the University of Washington and a former prosecutor. “It doesn’t matter how I dramatize my opening or ending or how my witnesses tell their accounts, because the jury is going to look at the visual evidence and my words are just words. I don’t care about the drama of a video.” Can’t match.”

In Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial, which culminated in a verdict of not guilty just days before the verdict in the Arbery murder case, the defense’s argument focused on viewers’ video of moments before the first shooting. That footage appeared to show Mr Rittenhouse was chased into a parking lot by Joseph Rosenbaum, the first person he shot and killed, which defense lawyers said supported his argument. that Mr. Rittenhouse had done a reasonable act in self-defense.

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It was a cellphone video of a Minneapolis police officer’s death below the knee of George Floyd – captured by a 17-year-old bystander and uploaded to Facebook – ignited international protests over racism and police violence. The video was crucial in the trial that found former officer Derek Chauvin guilty of two counts of murder.

Some legal experts said the videos provide objectivity, especially when compared with testimony, which can be unreliable.

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Melissa Redmon, assistant professor at the Georgia School of Law, said, “What you’re doing in a trial is you’re trying to keep the jury at the time, the place, and the circumstances in which the witness is testifying. ” “When you have a visual aid to do this, it makes it that much easier.”

But as video evidence plays an increasingly larger role in jury deliberations, some experts warn that it can be prone to the same weaknesses as other types of evidence.

“When we watch the video, it has this kind of seductive way of making us think, ‘Hey, I see what happened,'” Ms. Fan said. But like other types of evidence, it may fail to take the full picture. Based on a person’s prior background, she said, the same footage leads our eyes to “observe different details, we notice different things, magnify different things”, leading the jury Fills in the gaps in the story “in very different ways”.

Jack Rice, a criminal defense attorney based in St. Paul, Minn., said the outcome of a case often comes down to which side’s attorney can lead the jury to view the video in a way that best suits their argument.

“The undeniable nature of video means that if you can change it to support your narrative, it can make your narrative unquestionable,” he said. “From an advocacy standpoint, it’s fantastic. You can’t ask for more.”

Nicolas Bogel-Burroughs Contributed to reporting.

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