After three white men chased Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black jogger, through their Georgia neighborhood, local prosecutor took no action on February 22.
In May of that year, Travis McMichael, 36, his father Gregory McMichael, 66, and a neighbor, William "Roddie," 52, were accused of murder. In late November, the three were found guilty of murder.
Race and racism - questions local prosecutors had ignored during the murder trial - were at the core of federal hate crimes prosecutions that began on February 14 at Brunswick, Georgia, near where Arbery died in the Satilla Shores neighborhood.
After a week of listening to testimony about the defendants' long history of racist social media posts and conversations, a predominantly white jury on Tuesday discovered racial animus motivated Arbery's murderers. In that moment, the justice system took note of the entire circumstances of a death that perpetrators had confessed to authorities who initially sounded disinterested in holding them accountable.
After the verdict, "We got a victory today, but there are so many people out there who don't get victories because of those who we have fighting for." Arbery's mother said after the verdict.
Cooper-Jones accused the federal prosecution team of attempting to get a plea deal earlier, which would have meant that disturbing evidence of the defendant's deadly racism would not have been heard before the public. Despite the plea agreement, U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood had made a rare move in allowing the trial to go ahead.
"They were forced to do their job today," said Cooper-Jones of the Department of Justice justice justice justice department.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Department failed to file charges against 82% of the roughly 1,800 individuals suspected of federal hate crimes between 2004 and 2019.
Reluctance to seek charges may result in fears they will be difficult to prove. Following Tuesday's verdict, Wood told the prosecutors in the Arbery hate crimes case that "it may be difficult to prove the racial motivation of hate crimes. You had the evidence and you introduced it in a skillful and professional manner."
Page Pate, a federal criminal defense lawyer with 25 years of experience, told Reuters that prosecutions had a large lift because the federal hate crime legislation was originally intended to turn on concrete evidence.
"The law was originally written for KKK (Ku Klux Klan) types of violence where there was no mystery, according to Pate in an interview.
"Every case is decided on its own merits," says US Attorney General Merrick Garland, who speaks after the verdict against Arbery's murderers. "We have done a number of hate crime prosecutions in the last year years, and we will continue to prosecute those cases where we have the facts and the law on our side."
Garland did not answer a question about Arbery's mother's initial plea deal criticism.
"I cannot imagine the pain that a mother experience to have her son run down and shot down while joging on a public street and the family," Garland said, sounded shocked.