‘We Don’t Want Any More Black Pastors in Here,’ Says Defense Lawyer in Ahmaud Arbery Case

The defense lawyer for a man accused of filming the murder of Ahmaud Arbery — a Black man who was jogging through a Georgia neighborhood when two residents shot and killed him in 2020 — said that he didn’t want “any more black pastors” in the courtroom during trial.

Reverend Al Sharpton sat with Arbery’s family on Wednesday to observe the court proceedings. Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son, stand accused of murder and aggravated assault. Also on trial is William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the incident. Bryan is represented by Kevin Gough, the attorney who made the remarks about black pastors. All three men are white. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

In court on Thursday, Gough objected to having any more leaders like Sharpton in the room because their mere presence would intimidate the jury (which is made up of almost exclusively white people). “If we’re going to start a precedent starting yesterday 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 intimidating, that’s an attempt to pressure… or influence the jury,” Gough told the judge.

He continued: “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’s Al Sharpton right now, that’s fine. But then that’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here — Jesse Jackson, or whoever was in here earlier this week — sitting with the victim’s family, trying to influence the jury in this case.”

Gough then started to dig himself into an even deeper hole, saying, “If a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks sitting in the back…”

But Judge Timothy Walmsley interrupted the lawyer, stopping him mid-sentence. “The fact that nobody even noticed that [Sharpton] was in here means that everybody compiled with this court’s rulings,” Walmsley said, adding that he wasn’t going to “blanketly exclude members of the public.” Gough admitted during his rant that he hadn’t realized Sharpton was in the room until later that evening.

This isn’t Gough’s only strange statement in this case. During jury selection, Gough claimed that older, white Southern men were “significantly underrepresented” in the jury pool, from which the eventual jury was to be selected.

Those eventual selections, however, have drawn criticism. Eleven white people and one Black person now sit on the jury, with only white people serving as alternates. That’s because the defense struck 11 of 12 potential Black jurors.

In addition to charges they face from the state of Georgia, a federal grand jury indicted all three men on hate crime charges this past April.

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