2:45 PM PST, November 12, 2021
The first full week of testimony in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial concluded Friday, with controversy erupting over the courtroom remarks of a defense attorney who said, “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here” in a case that has been racially charged since its inception.
After the court reconvened Thursday following a lunch break, lawyer Kevin Gough, who represents defendant William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., spoke about civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton. Gough said Sharpton’s presence could be intimidating to the jury.
“There’s only so many pastors they can have,” Gough said. “If they have Pastor Al Sharpton right now, then that’s fine. That’s it. We don’t want anymore Black pastors coming in here or Jessie Jackson, or whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case,” the attorney told the court.
Social media blew up with posts accusing Gough of making racist statements. On Friday he issued an apology of sorts, saying in a statement, “My apologies to anyone who might have inadvertently been offended.”
Gough’s remarks to the court were made outside the presence of jurors. He complained against what he called “A precedent, 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.” he said.
The three defendants, and 11 members of the jury, are all white. Sharpton, who has supported Arbery’s parents, sat in the back of the courtroom Thursday. The judge said he had been made aware in advance of Sharpton’s presence, and that it caused no disruption in the proceedings.
Sharpton, in a statement said Gough’s remarks showed “arrogant insensitivity.”
“I respect the defense attorney doing his job,” Sharpton said, “but this is beyond defending your client, it is insulting the family of the victim.”
Arbery, 25, who is Black, was shot to death in February 2020 as he ran through a suburban Glynn County neighborhood on a Sunday morning. Father and son Greg McMichael, 65, Travis McMichael, 35, and neighbor William Bryan, 52, are all accused of murder.
Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told the jury last Friday during opening statements: “All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions, not on facts, not on evidence.”
Arbery’s mother wept in court as Dunikoski showed an extended version of mobile-phone footage taken by Bryan, in which Arbery is seen being shot three times by Travis McMichael. It was the first time the mother had seen the video. The three defendants have pleaded not guilty and said they were pursuing Arbery because they thought he was responsible for burglaries in the area.
Greg McMichael told investigators his son fired in self-defense. The attorneys for the accused have said in court their clients were trying to perform a citizen’s arrest on Arbery. Travis McMichael’s lawyer said his client feared for his life when he fired his shotgun.
Earlier this week, officers with the Glynn County Police Department detailed the initial statements after Arbery’s death from the accused. One of the first officers to arrive on the scene testified he did not try to perform CPR on Arbery because he was not medically trained to do so.
The trial is expected to continue for at least another week.