Kevin Gough, a defense attorney in the trial over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, has sparked outrage after asking the court to limit the number of Black pastors who can sit with the Arbery family, claiming their presence could influence the almost entirely white jury.
On Thursday, while addressing Judge Timothy Walmsley, who is presiding over the trial, Gough claimed that high-profile Black pastors such as the Rev Al Sharpton and the Rev Jesse Jackson could be “intimidating” for jury members.
“There’s only so many pastors they [Arbery’s family] can have. If their pastor’s Rev Al Sharpton right now, that’s fine. But that’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors in here or others,” said Gough.
As others in the court discussed Sharpton’s presence in the court room, Gough went on to say, “If a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks … ” before being cut off.
Walmsley refused Gough’s request, stating: “I’m not going to start blanketly excluding members of the public from this courtroom.”
A representative for Sharpton has been contacted for comment.
Gough previously said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the jury selection pool in the case did not have enough “bubbas or Joe six-packs”, meaning white men over 40 without a college degree.
“We want a diverse jury,” he said in the interview. “But we’re missing a segment of what would normally be here.”
Defense attorneys representing the three white men accused of murdering Arbery eventually struck all but one potential Black juror, meaning the jury for the case consists of 11 white members and one Black member.
The jury was shown video on Thursday of Ahmaud Arbery walking around a vacant property on an earlier visit to the mostly white southern Georgia neighborhood where the 25-year-old Black man was later fatally shot after being chased by the three white men.
Defendants Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, have pleaded not guilty to murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment. They face life in prison if convicted of murder.
The trial is in its second week of hearing arguments and evidence in a case closely-watched and widely regarded as a litmus test for the state of racial justice in the US, although it got underway with a jury of 11 white members and only one Black member, vastly out of proportion with the county demographics.
Speaking outside the Glynn county courthouse as the trial opened, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said she found the final jury’s racial makeup “devastating” but was confident the jury would “make the right decision”.
The defendants have argued they thought Arbery might have been fleeing a crime, rather than going on one of his regular jogs in the area, and they pursued in an attempt to make a citizen’s arrest when he ran through Satilla Shores, a suburb of the small coastal city of Brunswick, south-eastern Georgia, in February 2020.
They chased him in two pickup trucks for several minutes, closing in on him and attempting to block his path, before the younger McMichael pointed a shotgun and fired as Arbery ran toward him and appeared to reach toward the weapon.
Their lawyers are arguing this was justified self-defense.
During the fifth day of witness testimony on Thursday the jury was played a video deposition recorded in September.
In it, Larry English said he had been slowly building a house in Satilla Shores, which would end up setting in motion the events that led to Arbery’s killing.
“My dream was to have a place on the water,” he said. He knew local kids sometimes roamed about the property, which was unfenced, and worried about people having an accident around the boat dock out back, so he installed surveillance cameras that sent videos to his phone.
A clip of Arbery walking around the dock at night in October 2019 was played, along with a recording of the 911 call English made.
“I got a trespasser,” English told the operator, saying he could see on camera a “colored guy” with tattoos on his arms and curly hair and who may have been drunk or on drugs as he was “plundering around” the property.
In the deposition, English said he decided soon after that it was more likely the man was not intoxicated but moving cautiously in the dark in a way that looked odd on the night-vision video.
Nothing was taken that night, English said. A clip from November showing a man and woman, both white, wandering through the property at night was also played, along with the 911 call English made to report them.
However, English shared the clips of Arbery with some of his neighbors, and the McMichaels have said they knew about the reports of a Black stranger roaming around English’s property when Arbery ran by their driveway on 23 February 2020, during the daytime.
English has also said, via a lawyer, that he later concluded that Arbery had been stopping by a faucet on his property for a drink of water.
The trial continues.
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