CHICAGO — The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he is headed to the Ahmaud Arbery trial next week after one of the defense attorneys asked the judge that he does not want any more Black pastors there.
An attorney for one of the white men standing trial in the death of Ahmaud Arbery told the judge Thursday he doesn’t want “any more Black pastors” in the courtroom after the Rev. Al Sharpton sat with the slain man’s family.
Kevin Gough represents William “Roddie” Bryan, who along with father and son Greg and Travis McMichael is charged with murder and other crimes in Arbery’s Feb. 23, 2020, killing. The 25-year-old Black man was chased and fatally shot after the defendants spotted him running in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Gough does not have a right to overrule family decisions as to who can and who can’t attend the trial.
“They use their strength to eliminate jurors based upon race as far as sending them to the disqualified rank. I will not dignify his position. I’ll be in court next week,” Jackson said.
Gough told Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley that he was concerned Sharpton’s presence in court Wednesday was an attempt to intimidate the disproportionately white jury hearing the case. The jury was not in the courtroom when he made the remarks.
“Obviously there’s only so many pastors they can have,” Gough said. “And if their pastor’s Al Sharpton right now that’s fine, but then that’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here … sitting with the victim’s family, trying to influence the jurors in this case.”
Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichael’s lawyers, told the judge he didn’t notice any distractions caused by Sharpton, who sat in the back row of the courtroom gallery wearing a mask.
Gough said he didn’t realize Sharpton had been there until after court had adjourned for the day.
“You weren’t even aware of it until later?” the judge said. “I’m not sure what we’re doing.”
Sharpton held a prayer vigil and news conference outside the Glynn County courthouse Wednesday afternoon to show support for Arbery’s family. Afterward he joined Arbery’s parents and their lawyers to listen to portions of the trial testimony.
Sharpton said in a statement that 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.”
Jury selection ended last week with prosecutors objecting to the final jury of 11 whites and one Black juror. The judge agreed there appeared to be “intentional discrimination” in the exclusion of Black potential jurors, but said Georgia law limited his authority to intervene.
One juror, a white woman, was dismissed before the trial began for medical reasons. Fifteen total panelists are hearing the trial — 12 jurors plus three alternates. The judge has not given the races of the alternate jurors, and they were not asked to state their race in open court.