Kevin Gough, the defense attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan, one of three defendants on trial for the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020, asked the court to declare a mistrial Monday after requesting that African American pastors be banned from the court room gallery. Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. was in attendance. Gough made the same request late last week after Rev. Al Sharpton was spotted seated with an Arbery family member last Wednesday.
Gough told Judge Timothy Walmsley emphatically “we don’t want anymore Black pastors coming in here…But if we’re going to start 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 — could be consciously or unconsciously — an attempt to pressure or influence the jury.” Gough’s claims that African American pastors such as Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. intimidates jurors were immediately shot down by Sharpton in a press release statement issued the same day. Sharpton noted that “the arrogant insensitivity of attorney Kevin Gough in asking a judge to bar me or any minister of the family’s choice underscores the disregard for the value of the human life lost and the grieving of a family in need spiritual and community support.”
Gough concluded his motion to ban African American pastors from the gallery saying “We have school board members, we have county commissioners, we have all kinds of pastors in this town. Over 100. And the idea that we’re going to be serially bringing these people in to sit with the victim’s family, one after another, obviously there’s only so many pastors they can have. And if their pastor right now is Al Sharpton, that’s ﬁne. Then that’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here … trying to influence the jury in this case." Judge Timothy Walmsley acknowledged that Sharpton was in the court room and that he “noticed him” but the MSNBC pundit and founder of the National Action Network did not prove to be a distraction for the jury. “In fact,” Judge Walmsley continued, “what I just heard is that nobody was even aware that he was in here.” Walmsley then proceeded to tell the defense attorney that he was not going to ban anyone from the gallery if they followed the court’s instructions. “And my comment to that was simply, as long as things are not disruptive and it’s not a distraction to the jury or anything else going on in the courtroom, so be it," Walmsley said. "But if it violates the court’s rules with regard to the conduct of the trial or violates my orders with respect to how people are to conduct themselves in this courtroom, I will take it up with whomever I need to take it up with.” Judge Walmsley conﬁrmed that he was aware that Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. would be in the court room and that he did not have a problem with it. “If individuals, based on the limitations that we have, in the courtroom, end up sitting in the courtroom, and they can do so respectful of the court’s process and in compliance with this court’s orders with regard to the conduct of the trial” without distraction, Walmsley told Kevin Gough, “then I am not going to blanketly exclude members of the public from this courtroom."
But on Monday, Gough returned with another demand upon the court to ban African American pastors from the court room. “How many pastors does the Arbery family have?" Gough asked sarcastically. "Which pastor is next? Is Raphael Warnock going to be the next person appearing this afternoon?" Then to add insult to injury, Gough had the temerity to add “there is no reason for these prominent icons in the civil rights movement to be here. The seats in the public gallery of a courtroom are not like courtside seats at a Lakers game." Such blatantly racially charged and insensitive remarks still did not move Judge Walmsley who appeared frustrated with Gough’s latest request. “At this point, I don’t know what exactly you’re doing. I have already ruled on this court’s position when it comes to the gallery. I have already ruled on this court’s position with regard to the gallery," Judge Walmsley informed the three defense attorneys who decided to ﬁle a motion for a mistrial.
Atlanta Pastor Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church an organizer of the coalition of pastors and ministerial support for the Arbery family opined to the press that “I was in utter disbelief.” Bryant revealed that the pastors gathered for the beneﬁt of the parents and family of Ahmaud Arbery and is not a protest or meant to be a source of intimidation, but instead a display of support and buttress. “We are coming with no plaque cards, no bullhorns and signs. We are coming as pastors that believe in the power of prayer," Bryant told reporters outside the Glynn County Courthouse last week. Defense attorneys for Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael, along with Gough also had an issue with the audible emotions heard from Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper in the gallery saying that the jury would be “swayed” hearing the outburst of emotions. Judge Walmsley denied the motion.
Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down by the three defendants on what is being surmised as a citizen’s arrest gone awry last February on the suspicion of burglary. Father and son duo Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are charged with murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment. Testimony revealed in a 911 tape that both Gregory and Travis McMichael followed Arbery after he jogged past them in the suburb of Satilla Shores. Under the false assumption that Arbery was the perpetrator of the recent slew of burglaries in the area, the men chased him in their pickup trucks, corralled and "cornered [Arbery] like a rat" leading to his death.