COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- A Danish appeals court on Thursday increased a sentence to two brothers by a year, giving them 15 years in prison each for the murder of a biracial man on a Danish island in June 2020, a slaying that had sparked a nationwide debate about racism.
The Eastern High Court ruled that Mads and Magnus Moeller, aged 23 and 26, were guilty of murder but it also found insufficient evidence of a racist motive in the killing, saying it was a personal relationship gone 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 sland of Bornholm on June 23, 2020. He had spent the evening drinking beer and vodka there with the brothers, whom he knew.
They allegedly assaulted Johansen, stabbing him with a knife and beating him with a wooden pole and a bottle. The brother tortured him for at least 20 minutes, according to medical examiner reports, 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 biracial caused speculation that the murder could have been racially motivated as it resembled the killing of a Black man, George Floyd, in 2020 by U.S. police in Minneapolis, which sparked protests around the world.
The defendants admitted 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. Earlier this month, the rape was reported to police.
On Dec. 1, the lower District Court in Roenne, the main town on Bornholm, gave them 14 years each after finding them guilty of murder. The appeals court sits in Copenhagen.