Murder trial with racist overtones opens in Denmark

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The trial opened Monday of two brothers suspected in the killing of a biracial man on a Danish island in June.

The case had led to concern about racism, and provoked debate in Denmark, especially as it came shortly after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and shared some similarities. But both the prosecution and defense lawyers have ruled out a racial motive and say it was a personal relationship that went wrong.

The body of Phillip Mbuji Johansen, was found in a forest on Bornholm, in the Baltic Sea, on June 23. He had spent the evening drinking beer there with the brothers, ages 23 and 26. They are accused of kicking Johansen, stabbing him with a knife and beating him with a wooden pole and a bottle. The brothers also pressed a knee against the man’s neck. Neither of the defendants can be named under Danish rules.

They have admitted to attacking the 28-year-old victim, who had Danish and Tanzanian roots, but deny having intended to kill him. They claimed they assaulted him because he raped their mother. The rape had never been reported to police.

Speculation that the killing could be racially motivated began after it emerged that the victim’s death bore some similarities to that of Floyd, whose death sparked protests around the world demanding racial justice and condemning police brutality.

Chief prosecutor Benthe Pedersen Lund said officials did not find sufficient grounds to charge the brothers under Denmark’s hate crime legislation. Defense lawyers also deny a racial motive.

The trial is taking place in Roenne, the main town on Bornholm, south of Sweden. If found guilty of murder, the brothers face up to 10 years in prison. The verdict is likely to come on Tuesday.

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