The legal advocate for the parents and sister of Phillip Mbuji Johansen confirmed the family believed in a possible racist element to the crime, in appeal proceedings at the Østre Landsret high court.
“The extreme violence and unbelievable gruesomeness present here in relation to Phillip gives the parents the perception that there is an element of Phillip being looked down on and not respected as a person,” the lawyer, Tyge Trier, told the court.
Trier noted that this did not play a role in the family’s compensation claims in relation to the case, which follow standard Danish legal practice, he said.
He further noted that the prosecution authority did not press any charges in the case based on Denmark’s racism laws.
Two brothers were in December sentenced to 14 years in prison for brutally beating to death Johansen, whom they knew, in a forest on Bornholm in June 2020.
The brothers appealed the verdict, hoping to have it reduced. In the trial, they admitted gross violence but denied they intended to kill.
Johansen, who was 28 when he was killed, was Danish with Tanzanian heritage. The case became an international story in 2020 when the New York Times reported it, pointing out that the victim was Black and authorities’ insistence the incident was not a hate crime.
This drew a response from fact checkers and prosecutors in Denmark, who denied a racist motive, and the trial revolved around the personal relationship between the victim and his killers. In court, the brothers said they beat the victim because they believed he had sexually assaulted their mother.
Senior prosecutor Steen Hansen Saabye said on Thursday that there remained no indication that racism played a role in Johansen’s killing on the night of June 22nd-23rd last year.
“We still cannot, a year and a half later, say with certainty what the motive for this crime was. But there is nothing according to the prosecution’s convictions that suggests a racist motive was at play,” Saabye said.
“The accused said from day one that this comes down to a personal motive,” he told the high court.
Details about the crime and personalities of the brothers last year gave rise to speculation as to a racist motive.
According to the charge sheet against the two brothers, one of the accused placed a knee on the neck of the victim during the attack, echoing the murder of Black American George Floyd which occurred weeks earlier and sparked international anti-racism protests.
It also emerged that the older of the two brothers had a swastika and the words “White Power” tattooed on the underside of his leg. During the case against the two men, he was said to have got the tattoos to be provocative, not because of his views.
A verdict in the appeal trial is expected on Thursday.