Three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia

By Jonathan Allen and Rich McKay

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (Reuters) – Three white men were convicted of murder on Wednesday for chasing and shooting a Black man named Ahmaud Arbery as he ran in their neighborhood, with a Georgia jury rejecting a self-defense claim in a trial that once again probed America’s divisive issues of race and guns.

The verdict was delivered by the jury, consisting of one Black man and 11 white men and women, after about a two-week trial in the coastal city of Brunswick in a case that hinged on whether the defendants had a right to confront the unarmed 25-year-old avid jogger last year on a hunch he was fleeing a crime.

Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were charged with murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony. They face a minimum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Jurors reached their verdict on the second day of deliberations.

There was never any dispute that the younger McMichael fired his pump-action shotgun three times at Arbery at close range on Feb. 23, 2020, in the suburban community of Satilla Shores. It was captured on a graphic cellphone video made by Bryan, stoking outrage when it emerged more than two months later and the public learned that none of the three men had been arrested.

Lawyers for the McMichaels argued that the killing was justified after Arbery ran past the McMichaels’ driveway in a neighborhood that had experienced a spate of property thefts. Both McMichaels grabbed their guns and jumped in their pickup truck in pursuit, with Bryan, unarmed, joining moments later.

Prosecutors said the defendants had “assumed the worst” about a Black man out on a Sunday afternoon jog. He was chased by the defendants for about five minutes around the looping streets.

The three men face a federal trial next year on hate-crime charges, accused in an indictment of violating Arbery’s civil rights by embarking on the fatal chase because of his “race and color.”

Some Black Americans used a despairing phrase to describe a case seen as another example of Black people falling under suspicion while innocently doing an everyday activity: “running while Black.” Arbery’s name was added to those invoked in nationwide anti-racism protests in 2020 that erupted after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both of whom were Black.

The prosecution was widely seen as another test case in how the U.S. justice system handles instances of unarmed Black people killed by white people. During the trial, there was almost no evidence presented or discussion of race as a motive.

The issue of race hung over the trial. A nearly all-white jury was selected, and one of the defense lawyers repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, sought the removal of Black pastors and civil rights leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson from the courtroom.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said he was required to accept the “race-neutral” reasons defense lawyers gave for the removal of all but one potential Black juror. Black activists said it showed again how the justice system was skewed against Black Americans.

CITIZEN’S ARREST

Defense lawyers cited a Georgia law codified during the 19th century U.S. Civil War that allowed anyone to make a citizen’s arrest of someone they have reasonable suspicion is fleeing a serious crime they committed. The law was repealed in the wake of Arbery’s killing.

The elder McMichael’s lawyer, Laura Hogue, told jurors the defendants had a duty to catch Arbery, who she portrayed as a frightening burglar with “long dirty toenails,” using a description from the autopsy report.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski chided the defense for aiming to “malign the victim,” calling that “offensive.”

No evidence ever emerged connecting Arbery to any Satilla Shore thefts.

Travis McMichael, a former U.S. Coast Guard mechanic and the only defendant to take the witness stand, tearfully testified that he fired in self defense as Arbery grabbed the shotgun he was carrying while chasing him in the truck.

Under cross-examination by a prosecutor, he conceded he told the police hours after the shooting he could not say for sure if Arbery actually grabbed the gun.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Brunswick; Editing by Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman)

Accused Colorado supermarket shooter deemed mentally incompetent

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) -Psychologists who evaluated a 22-year-old man accused of fatally shooting 10 people at a Colorado grocery store in March have found him incompetent to stand trial, but prosecutors are seeking a second mental health evaluation, court records showed on Monday.

Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder, and dozens of attempted murder and related charges stemming from the March 22 rampage at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, about 28 miles northwest of Denver.

Prosecutors allege Alissa stormed the supermarket and opened fire with a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic pistol that he had legally purchased six days before the rampage.

Among those killed was a responding Boulder policeman.

Alissa has been held without bond since his arrest, and last month a judge ordered that he undergo a competency evaluation.

The report by the two court-appointed psychologists has not been released, but their conclusions were set out in a motion filed by prosecutors for a second examination, to which defense lawyers object.

In their motion, prosecutors argued that the initial evaluation showed Alissa is aware of his legal predicament.

“Defendant indicates an understanding of his charges, the potential sentence, the roles of the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney,” the prosecution motion said.

In objecting to the prosecution request, defense attorneys said Alissa mistakenly believes he could be executed if found guilty.

“The death penalty is not a potential sentence in this case, and the report reflects his (Alissa’s) fixation on that as a sentence,” the defense motion said.

Under Colorado law, a judge is required to conduct a competency hearing before ruling on whether a defendant is mentally fit to stand trial.

The judge has not ruled on the prosecution request, though the issue will likely be argued during an Oct. 14 competency review hearing.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Grebler and Alistair Bell)

Uganda charges lawmakers allied to opposition leader with murder

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Ugandan prosecutors on Tuesday charged two lawmakers allied to opposition leader Bobi Wine with the murder of three people, following a spate of unsolved killings that have stoked widespread public alarm.

Wine’s opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) dismissed the prosecution of the two MPs, Muhammad Ssegirinya and Mr Allan Ssewanyana, both NUP members, as a politically motivated attempt by authorities to smear the party.

Appearing at a court in Masaka town in central Uganda, south of the capital Kampala, the two were charged with the three murders and remanded in prison, Joel Ssenyonyi, a fellow NUP lawmaker and the party’s spokesperson, told Reuters.

Security agencies have been investigating a spate of killings of at least 26 people in a wide area around Masaka in recent weeks.

In accounts widely reported in local media, machete-wielding men would arrive at victims’ homes in the middle of the night and cut them to death. Most of those killed were elderly people.

The area where the attacks have occurred voted overwhelmingly against incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, 76, in a presidential election in January 2021.

Police on Monday said they had arrested 23 suspects linked to the killings, adding some implicated the two lawmakers during interrogation as “the masterminds behind the vicious murders.”

The motive, police said, citing suspects, was to attack elderly residents who had voted for Museveni. Information minister Chris Baryomunsi last month told local television that politicians were behind the killings, but did not name them.

The NUP reacted dismissively.

“This is just political witch-hunt,” Ssenyonyi said.

“This is just a plan they hatched to implicate the opposition … they know the real killers,” Ssenyonyi said.

Riding on his youthful energy and his fame, 39-year-old Wine, who is also a pop star, has gathered a large youth following. Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has presented a formidable challenge to Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement party.

Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, was ultimately declared winner of the election, although Wine rejected the results as fraudulent. The United States and other western countries said the poll lacked credibility.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema, Editing by William Maclean)

Haiti former first lady calls for help in unraveling husband’s murder

By Dave Sherwood

(Reuters) – The widow of Haiti’s slain President Jovenel Moise called on the international community to help track down those responsible for gunning down her husband in a late night raid by suspected mercenaries at the couple’s home in July.

Moise’s assassination plunged the Caribbean nation, already plagued by hunger and gang violence, further into chaos, and triggered a hunt for the masterminds across the Americas.

Wearing a black dress and sling following the injuries she suffered during the attack, Martine Moise told Reuters in a room flanked by bodyguards on Monday that while Haitian authorities had made some advances, she feared progress had slowed.

“I feel that the process is… stalling a little,” she said. “The people that did this are still out there, and I don’t know if their name will ever be out. Every country that can help, please help.”

Nearly two months after the July 7 assassination of her husband, key aspects of the murder remain shrouded in mystery. Haitian police have arrested more than three dozen suspects, including 18 Colombian mercenaries, an obscure Haitian-American doctor they say aspired to be president, and the head of Moise’s security team.

But they have made public little in the way of evidence.

“Those people (they have arrested) did it, but someone gave the orders, someone gave the money,” Moise told Reuters.

She said she had spoken twice with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and felt they could “find the people that financed that odious crime.”

As security worries have dogged the investigation in Haiti, one judge investigating the case stepped down, citing concerns for his safety.

First lady Moise said Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is also now dealing with the aftermath of an August earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people, must call for elections as soon as possible to ensure stability.

“I think the advice that my husband would give him (is) try to have an election. With the election you can have peace, you can think long term,” she said.

Elections initially slated for September have been postponed until November, and some have speculated they could be delayed further following the quake.

“If they want elections to happen, (they) will,” said Moise.

Moise confirmed previous comments she had made in interviews on her interest in running for president herself but said that she would take care of her family first.

“I want to run for president. I won’t let the vision of the president die with him. With the earthquake too, there’s a lot to be done in Haiti,” she said.

HAITI RUMOR MILL

Amid the ongoing investigation and arrests, conspiracy theories about the murder in Haiti have swirled for weeks.

Friends of the murdered president have told Reuters he feared for his life immediately before he was killed.

His wife on Monday said he had not talked to her of a specific plot against him.

“If he knew he would talk about it… but he never did,” she said. “Because having Colombians, having soldiers here in Haiti, they are here for something.”

She denied social media rumors that Moise had squirreled away millions in cash in his official residence in the upscale suburb of Petion-Ville.

“It is a president. There is some money. But the amount of $48 million that I heard in social media, that can’t be true. Where in the room (can you stick) $48 million?”

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Head of Belarusian exile group found hanged in Ukraine, police open murder case

By Ilya Zhegulev and Margaryta Chornokondratenko

KYIV (Reuters) – Vitaly Shishov, an exiled Belarusian activist who was found hanged in a park in Kyiv in what police say could have been a murder, was an outspoken critic of the government in Belarus and staged rallies against it in Ukraine’s capital.

After leaving Belarus last autumn during huge anti-government protests that he took part in, the 26-year-old set up and led a Kyiv-based organization that helped Belarusians fleeing a sprawling crackdown on dissent.

Shishov, who was sporty and a boxing enthusiast, was sure he was under surveillance in Kyiv and he outed purported Belarusian agents at rallies, friends and colleagues said.

“He would photograph the person, film him and after that it wasn’t too hard to find him online,” Denis Stadzhi, a Belarusian journalist and diaspora member, told Reuters.

Police say his death was either a suicide or a murder made to look like a suicide. His colleagues accuse the Belarusian security services of murdering him. Authorities in Minsk have not commented.

Shishov was a fierce critic of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko whose declared win at last year’s elections sparked mass protests. Shishov described him in one post as a “bloodthirsty monster” and a “dictator”.

In Kyiv, he set up the Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU) together with a Latvian national. The group helps fleeing Belarusians find accommodation, jobs and legal advice. Kyiv has become a haven for Belarusians fleeing the crackdown.

Shishov’s group staged rallies and were involved in opposition events like a sit-in outside the Belarusian embassy and an event to commemorate Belarusian post-Soviet independence.

Ihor, 24, a group member who declined to give his surname, said the group had written manuals to help Belarusians settle in and legalize themselves.

“He didn’t shy away from anything. He advised people on how to leave Belarus, he organized food aid… He wrote posts with information, articles. He did everything,” he said.

“Vitaly was being followed… There was a case when a car followed him straight out of Kyiv. They noticed the tail, made a detour and saw that it really was following them,” he said.

Yuri Shchuchko, a close friend and activist, told Reuters that Shishov had run several channels on Telegram messenger that Belarus has labelled “extremist”. He said some of those related to a movement that “intended to struggle against the Lukashenko regime using not the most peaceful methods”.

Shishov was reported missing by his partner on Monday after failing to return home from a run.

“When a man is a warrior, he is ready for death,” Shchuchko said. “Judging from what I know about Vitaly, he was ready for the fight, he was a warrior, he suppressed his fear and that’s why went out for jogging (in the wood).”

Shchuchko said he had identified Shishov’s body and that a police officer at the site had said Shishov had a broken nose.

Police later said he did not have a broken nose, but there were abrasions on his nose and knee. It said a proper examination was needed to determine if he had been beaten.

(Additional reporting by Sergiy Karazy and Natalia Zinets; Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by William Maclean)

Minnesota judge finds aggravating factors in George Floyd murder

(Reuters) – A Minnesota judge has ruled that aggravating factors were involved in the death of George Floyd, opening the possibility of a longer sentence for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Chauvin, a white former officer convicted in a Minnesota state court of murdering Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, during an arrest last May, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25.

In a six-page ruling dated Tuesday, District Court Judge Peter Cahill found that prosecutors had proven Chauvin abused his position of trust and authority, treated Floyd with particular cruelty, committed the crime as a group and did so with children present, all aggravating factors.

“The slow death of George Floyd occurring over approximately six minutes of his positional asphyxia was particularly cruel in that Mr. Floyd was begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge that he was likely to die but during which the defendant objectively remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s pleas,” Cahill wrote.

A jury convicted Chauvin, 45, of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter on April 20 after hearing three weeks of testimony in a highly publicized trial.

Floyd’s death after he was handcuffed on a Minneapolis street with Chauvin’s knee on his neck for more than nine minutes prompted massive protests against racism and police brutality in many U.S. cities and other countries last summer.

Three other former officers who were at the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death and are set to go on trial on Aug. 23.

Cahill, who presided over the trial, will also sentence Chauvin, who technically faces a combined maximum 75 years in prison if the sentences run consecutively. State guidelines, however, give judges leeway to impose sentences that are far less harsh.

Prosecutors on April 30 asked Cahill to consider several aggravating circumstances in Floyd’s death so that he could make “an upward sentencing departure” in the case.

While Cahill accepted most of the prosecutors’ arguments that aggravating circumstances were present, he rejected one of them, finding that they had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Floyd was “particularly vulnerable.”

Also pending before Cahill is a May 4 request for a new trial in which Chauvin’s lawyer argued that his client was deprived of a fair trial because of prosecutorial and jury misconduct, errors of law at trial and that the verdict was contrary to the law.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Aurora Ellis and Howard Goller)

Mozambique militants beheading children as young as 11, Save the Children says

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Children as young as 11 are being beheaded in Mozambique, UK-based aid group Save the Children said on Tuesday, as part of an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced many magnitudes more from their homes.

Save the Children said it had spoken to displaced families who described “horrifying scenes” of murder, including mothers whose young sons were killed. In one case, the woman hid, helpless, with her three other children as her 12-year-old was murdered nearby.

“We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him,” the 28-year-old, who Save the Children called Elsa, is quoted as saying.

“We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too.”

Another mother, a 29-year-old Save the Children calls Amelia, said her son was just 11 when he was killed by armed men.

Reuters could not immediately reach Mozambique police or government spokespeople for comment.

Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado has since 2017 been home to a festering insurgency, linked to Islamic State, that has escalated dramatically in the past year.

While beheadings have always been a hallmark of the attacks, throughout 2020 the insurgents began regularly engaging the military to capture and hold key towns. Brutality also continued, with mass killings including the murder of around 52 people at once in the village of Xitaxi in April.

Altogether almost 2,700 people on all sides have died in the violence, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a consultancy that tracks political violence. Almost 670,000 people have been displaced, Save the Children said.

The United States last week declared the Mozambique group a foreign terrorist organization over its links to Islamic State, saying the group reportedly pledged allegiance to it as early as 2018. Islamic State claimed its first attack in Cabo Delgado in June 2019.

The U.S. embassy in Mozambique on Monday said U.S. special forces will train Mozambican marines for two months, with the country also providing medical and communications equipment, to help Mozambique combat the insurgency.

Amnesty International found earlier in March that war crimes were being committed by all sides in the conflict, with government forces also responsible for abuses against civilians – a charge the government has denied.

Chance Briggs, Save the Children’s country director in Mozambique, said reports of attacks on children “sicken us to our core”.

“The violence has to stop and displaced families need to be supported as they find their bearings and recover from trauma,” Briggs continued.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Additional reporting for Manuel Mucari, William Maclean)

Ex-FARC commanders accept Colombia war crimes accusations

By Oliver Griffin

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Former commanders from Colombia’s demobilized FARC guerrillas on Thursday accepted accusations by a transitional justice court that they committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the group’s 50-year war with the state.

The ruling in January by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created under the 2016 peace deal between the government and the rebels, was the first time the JEP attributed criminal responsibility for hostage-taking to former leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The former commanders were also accused of other war crimes connected with the treatment of kidnap victims, including murder and torture, among others.

“We recognize that during (the conflict) actions and conduct punishable in the eyes of international humanitarian law took place. Actions and conducts that have been individually and collectively recognized by the JEP, society in general, and in activities with victims,” a statement signed by six of the former rebel commanders and published on Twitter said.

The FARC used kidnappings for ransom to fund their war, while captured military or government personnel were used to pressure authorities into releasing jailed rebels, the JEP said last month.

By accepting the accusations, the former commanders could face restrictions on their freedoms for five to eight years.

If they had rejected them, the commanders would have faced up to 20 years in prison, per the terms of the peace deal.

The signatories were former top leader Rodrigo Londono – known best by his nom de guerre Timochenko – Jaime Alberto Parra, Pablo Catatumbo, Pastor Alape, Julian Gallo and Rodrigo Grande.

The JEP can also prosecute military leaders for allegations of war crimes, in addition to the cases it handles related to former FARC members.

Colombia’s conflict, which also includes former right-wing paramilitaries and drug cartels, has killed 260,000 people and displaced millions.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; editing by Grant McCool)

Judge orders mass trial as Italy takes on ‘Ndrangheta mobsters

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – A judge on Thursday indicted 444 suspected members of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia on an array of charges, including murder, attempted murder, extortion, money laundering and drug trafficking, a judicial source said.

The trial of 355 of the defendants will start on Jan. 13 and will be one of the largest cases to target organized crime in Italy since the so-called maxiprocesso that severely weakened Sicily’s more storied Cosa Nostra mafia group in the 1980s.

A further 89 suspects agreed to a quickfire trial in the same case, which will start on Jan. 27, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, who had a copy of the court indictments. Those who accept such shorter hearings get reduced sentences if found guilty.

The ‘Ndrangheta is based in the southern region of Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, and has surpassed Cosa Nostra to become the most powerful mafia group in the country – and one of the largest crime gangs in the world.

Anticipating Thursday’s ruling, a fortified courthouse has been built in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme, large enough to house the defendants, lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

The case hit the headlines a year ago when police arrested 334 people, including lawyers, accountants, public officials and court clerks, in one of the largest anti-mob operations ever seen in Italy.

“Obviously mafias change and evolve along with the society around them and they get to look increasingly like the rest of us. Mafiosi are not Martians, they live among us,” Nicola Gratteri, the lead prosecutor on the case, said this week.

“Mafiosi prefer corrupting people rather than killing them, because shootings draw unwelcome attention,” he added.

The last time Italy tried hundreds of alleged mafiosi simultaneously was in 1986 in Palermo in a case which represented a turning point in the fight against Cosa Nostra, marking the beginning of the group’s sharp decline.

The Calabrian trial involves a high number of white-collared workers and does not target the top hierarchies of the ‘Ndrangheta clans in the way the Palermo case did.

Gratteri told reporters that the group had spread far from its remote southern bastion and was present in every region of the country as well as in parts of Europe and north America.

He said it had grown easier for mobsters to infiltrate local administrations and win lucrative contracts or siphon off funds.

“There has been a sharp fall in ethics and morals (in society) in recent years … which has made it easier to corrupt public officials. This doesn’t just involve Italy. It involves the Western world,” he said.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by Barbara Lewis)

Man admits killing three in UK stabbing spree: BBC

LONDON (Reuters) – A man has admitted killing three people during a stabbing spree in the southern English town of Reading in June, the BBC reported on Wednesday, an attack police declared a terrorism incident.

Khairi Saadallah, 26, was accused of murdering the men and stabbing three others with a five-inch knife during the attack in a park in the town on the evening of June 20.

The BBC said Saadallah, who a security source told Reuters at the time of the incident was a Libyan national, had admitted murder and attempted murder at a hearing at London’s Old Bailey Central Criminal Court.

However, while the prosecution said the attack was a pre-meditated terrorism attack, his defense team did not accept that and said his mental health needed to be taken into account, the BBC reported.

Saadallah had targeted a group of seven friends, stabbing three fatally – James Furlong, 36, and David Wails, 49, from Britain and U.S. national Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39.

Another of the group required 28 stitches to a head wound. Two other men who were sitting with friends nearby were also stabbed, one in the back while the other suffered a cut to his cheek.

An off-duty police officer who was at the scene followed the attacker from the park and he was arrested nearby.

Earlier this month, the terrorism threat level in Britain was raised to “severe,” meaning an attack is seen as highly likely, after recent incidents in France and Austria, although the government said there was no specific threat.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)