COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- A court in Denmark on Tuesday sentenced two brothers to 14 years in prison each for the murder of a biracial man on a Danish island in June, which had sparked a debate about racism.
But the prosecution said there was insufficient evidence of a racist motive in the killing, which the court viewed as a personal relationship that went wrong. Witnesses and defense lawyers ruled out racism, and the defendants denied it.
The body of Phillip Mbuji Johansen, who had Danish and Tanzanian roots, was found in a forest on the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm on June 23. He had spent the evening drinking beer and vodka there with Mads and Magnus Moeller, ages 23 and 26.
The brothers allegedly assaulted Johansen, stabbed him with a knife and beat him with a wooden pole and a bottle. They tortured him for at least 20 minutes, according to a medical examiner who testified in court, and left Johansen helpless in the woods.
During the assault one of the brothers pressed a knee against the victim's neck. This and the fact that he was bi-racial caused speculation that the murder could have been racially motivated as it resembled the May 25 killing of a Black man, George Floyd, by police in Minneapolis, which sparked protests around the world.
The Danish chapter of SOS-Racism, an international association, had said a racist motive couldn't be ruled out, and the Danish chapter of Black Lives Matter had portrayed the case as a “racial murder.”
The defendants admitted to the three judges and six jurors to attacking the 28-year-old, but denied having intended to kill him. They claimed they assaulted him because he allegedly had raped their mother. The rape had never been reported to police.
Chief prosecutor Benthe Pedersen Lund said she was satisfied with the sentence for the “gruesome murder.” Before the start of the trial, she repeatedly had said there were not sufficient grounds to charge the brothers under Denmark’s hate crime legislation.
Both defense lawyers said they would appeal the verdict and the sentencing.
The trial took place in Roenne, the main town on Bornholm, south of Sweden.