Three men accused of killing bus driver in 1996 South Florida case face trail

The hearing will take place this Wednesday, Jan. 7 at 10 a.m. at the Fort Lauderdale, FL federal courthouse.

For the first time, federal prosecutors allege the perpetrators of the 1996 killing of Broward County bus driver John Arbery were African-American men. The jury must decide whether Martin DiBiaso, 45, James Bridger, 54, and John Chambers, 47, are guilty of kidnapping and carrying out a hate crime.

The three were arrested and charged in the death in 2015 after authorities got a break in the case. The trio were indicted in 2017.

During a trial that began Tuesday, prosecutors painted a portrait of the trio — who will be tried together in some matters but on separate juries in the fate of each defendant — as members of a violent violent street gang known as the Latin Kings. Bridger is an alleged high-ranking member, and Chambers is accused of acting as a lookout.

In the early-morning hours of Jan. 7, 1996, Arbery, 48, answered his stop sign and was shot multiple times by the men, who were later chased out of the country by the FBI and arrested. The defendants waived their right to a jury trial and will appear together in court.

Prosecutors claim the men kidnapped Arbery as part of an extortion scheme, then shot him after he wouldn’t take the money. They expect to present a large amount of physical evidence and the confession of Bridger, who said in court he watched from a lower-level defendant’s house as the alleged plot unfolded.

The motivation behind the slaying of Arbery, a longtime Broward County bus driver, is not entirely clear, according to prosecutors. They say the FBI has evidence showing Arbery’s murder was carried out in an effort to collect a loan, but there is no indication it was motivated by a racial motivation. It also remains unclear what happened to the suspects after the alleged abduction, whether they fled the country or paid off the debt in exchange for immunity.

Defense attorneys say the government offered Bridger a plea deal that would have resulted in four decades in prison, but he rejected it, wanting to go to trial. They say the government’s case is flimsy and lacks any concrete facts of what exactly happened to Arbery.

CNN’s Nicole Lee and Marco Santana contributed to this report.

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