State Watch

Judge in Arbery case rebukes defense lawyer, calls comments ‘reprehensible’

The judge presiding over the trial for those charged with murder of Ahmaud Arbery admonished defense attorney Kevin Gough on Monday after Gough motioned for a mistrial, citing the presence of prominent Black pastors  throughout proceedings.

“How many Black pastors does the Ahmaud Arbery family have?” Gough said to the judge, arguing that presence of figures such as the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson was putting pressure on the jury.

It’s the second time Gough has made remarks about the presence of Black pastors in the court room.

Judge Timothy Walmsley called those comments “reprehensible” and immediately ruled against the motion for a mistrial.

“What we have now with individuals coming into the courtroom, I will say that is directly in response, Mr. Gough, to statements you made which I find reprehensible,” the judge said to Gough.  

“The Colonel Sanders statement you made last week, I would suggest maybe something that has influenced what is going on here,” Gough said.

Arbery, who was Black, was jogging through a Brunswick, Ga. neighborhood on Feb. 25, 2020, when a trio of white men — father-son duo Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan — began trailing him in two vehicles. The three say they believed Arbery was connected to a string of alleged break-ins in the area.

The men eventually stopped and surrounded Arbery, 25. There was a brief struggle before Arbery was fatally shot in the chest with a shotgun.

Graphic footage of Arbery’s killing wasn’t released until three months later in May 2020, quickly going viral and sparking national outrage.

The McMichaels and Bryan, who Gough represents, are all facing counts of felony murder.

Race is at the forefront of the trial, and prosecutors have highlighted the fact that the defense successfully used its challenges against a number of prospective jurors who were Black. Only one member of the jury is Black.

Gough has repeatedly sought to argue that the presence of figures such as Jackson and Sharpton at the trial is unfair to his client. 

Jackson, a former presidential candidate, was present in the courtroom Monday morning when Gough made his mistrial motion.

On Thursday, Gough moved to have Sharpton and other prominent Black figures barred from the courtroom, arguing that they could be used to “intimidate” the jury.

“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here,” Gough said at the time.

Gough went on, eventually making a reference to Colonel Sanders — the mascot of fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“If a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks sitting in the back, I mean, that would be … ” he said before Walmsley cut him off.

The next day the defense attorney made a public apology in the court, but his actions have nonetheless garnered widespread push back.

It also led Sharpton to call on other Black pastors to come to join him outside of the Glynn County Courthouse this coming Thursday.

“There is no way to clarify his insult. It shows basic bias- the same bias that killed Ahmaud Arbery,” Sharpton said in a statement.

Running concurrently with the trial is the court case of Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenager who shot multiple protestors during the unrest in Kenosha, Wis., last August that was sparked after a local white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, at point blank range.

Rittenhouse faces multiple felony counts, including two murder charges. 

Tags Ahmaud Arbery trial Georgia
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