A defense attorney for one of the three White men charged in 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery’s killing objected Thursday to nationally recognized civil rights leaders attending the trial to support the victim’s family.
“If we’re going to start a precedent, starting yesterday, where we’re going to bring high-profile members of the African-American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in the presence of the jury, I believe that’s intimidating and it’s an attempt to pressure,” attorney Kevin Gough, who represents William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., told the court following a lunch break. “Could be consciously or unconsciously an attempt to pressure or influence the jury.”
In Georgia’s majority White Glynn County, where the trial is taking place, race has played a central role in the case.
Last week, following a long and contentious jury selection process, Judge Timothy Walmsley said the defense had appeared to be discriminatory in selecting the jurors but allowed the case to go forward — with only one Black member in the panel.
Just days prior, Gough had complained that older White men from the South without four-year college degrees, “euphemistically known as ‘Bubba’ or ‘Joe Six Pack,'” seemed to be underrepresented in the pool of potential jurors that had turned up.
The Rev. Al Sharpton joined Arbery’s parents Wednesday and led a prayer vigil outside the Glynn County Courthouse, asking for a just verdict in the case and calling Arbery’s killing “a lynching in the 21st century.”
Sharpton said that while the country has seen some positive milestones for the Black community, such as electing former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris, “you still can’t jog through Brunswick without being shot down, like you are a suspect, only because of the color of your skin.”
Sharpton was also in the small courtroom on Wednesday.
‘We want to keep politics out of this case’
The judge told Gough on Thursday that he was aware Sharpton would be inside, apparently taking the place of an Arbery family member, and that he did not have an objection as long as there were no disruptions.
Along with his comments on Thursday, Gough said he had “nothing personally against” Sharpton but added, “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here or other Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case.”
Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson has not been seen at the courthouse since the start of the trial.
“I think the court can understand my concern about bringing people in who really don’t have any ties to this case other than political interests and we want to keep politics out of this case,” Gough said.
In a statement, Sharpton called the attorney’s comments “arrogant insensitivity” which “underscores the disregard for the value of the human life lost and the grieving of a family in need spiritual and community support.”
“My attendance yesterday and in the days to come is not disruptive in any way and was at the invitation of the family of Ahmaud Arbery who have stated that publicly,” Sharpton said. “This objection was clearly pointed at me and a disregard to the fact that a mother father sitting in a courtroom with 3 men that murdered their son do not deserve the right to have someone present to give spiritual strength to bear this pain. This is pouring salt into their wounds.”
Black pastor says attorney is ‘intimidated by the truth’
Prominent Black pastor and social activist the Rev. William J. Barber II, who was in Brunswick earlier Thursday, said he left a member of his organization there to be with the family and called Sharpton to have additional ministers come down in the coming days.
“He can say whatever he wants to,” he told CNN in reference to the attorney’s comments. “He has to understand, for me, I’m not a minister; I’m a pastor first. I pastor people. I’ve had to go to families when they’ve had people killed and I sit in courtrooms.”
When asked about Gough’s objections that their presence may be intimidating the jury, Barber said the attorney is “intimidated by the truth.”
“This is ultimately about the truth and to suggest that we are the intimidating ones when this case is about White men who were riding around with guns … shooting an unarmed Black man … it just shows how disjointed this case is,” Barber said. “Truth is intimidating for people who want to run a lie.”
Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, said, “I don’t think Gough is really up to do the right thing. So he’s, he’s willing to eliminate anything that’s right. So it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
“I think that if the jury takes the evidence that the state presents, that we will get justice for Ahmaud,” she said.
Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and Bryan — are accused of chasing Arbery, a Black jogger, in vehicles and killing him in that neighborhood on February 23, 2020. Defense attorneys have said their clients were trying to conducts a lawful citizen’s arrest of Arbery, whom they suspected of burglary.
In response to Gough’s comments, Judge Walmsley said that he was not going “to blanketly exclude members of the public from this courtroom,” as long as everyone remains respectful of the court’s process and does not become a distraction inside the courtroom.
CNN has reached out to Jackson for comment regarding the attorney’s objection.
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