Judge Rejects Call for Mistrial in Case Against Men Accused of Killing Arbery

ATLANTA — Lawyers for the three white Georgia men on trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, tried unsuccessfully on Monday to convince a judge to declare a mistrial, with one of the lawyers reiterating his argument that prominent Black pastors should not be allowedin the courtroom because they unfairly influence the jury.

Kevin Gough, who represents the defendant William Bryan, 52, unleashed a wave of condemnation last week when he declared that “we don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here” after the Rev. Al Sharpton spent a day observing the trial in the courtroom’s public gallery. On Monday, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson came to the courtroom and sat between Mr. Arbery’s parents, prompting a second effort from Mr. Gough to ban the prominent civil rights leaders from the proceedings.

“Which pastor is next? Is Raphael Warnock going to be the next person appearing? We don’t know,” said Mr. Gough, referring to the Atlanta minister who was elected to the Senate this year. “Your honor, I would submit, with all respect to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, that this is no different than bringing in police officers or uniformed prison guards in a small town where a young Black man has been accused of assaulting a law enforcement officer or corrections officer.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson sat between Ahmaud Arbery’s parents in court on Monday.Credit…Pool photo by Stephen B. Morton

Mr. Gough’s statements have inspired a rally, scheduled for Thursday, in which more than 100 Black pastors are planning to join Mr. Sharpton and the Arbery family in forming a “wall of prayer” in front of the courthouse in Glynn County, Ga. In a statement announcing the rally, Mr. Sharpton said Mr. Gough’s words demonstrated “basic bias — the same bias that killed Ahmaud Arbery.”

Mr. Gough, in an interview with The New York Times last week, said he was trying to ensure a fair trial for his client.

In recent days Judge Timothy R. Walmsley has rejected Mr. Gough’s request for a mistrial declaration, his call for a ban on Black preachers in court and a motion to have protesters moved away from the area directly outside the courthouse. The judge told Mr. Gough on Monday that some of his statements have been “reprehensible,” specifically mentioning a moment last week when Mr. Gough wondered aloud what it would be like “if a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks sitting in the back.”

The failed effort to seek a mistrial was the most dramatic moment in the seventh day of testimony in the trial, which was mostly given over to interviews with investigators who handled forensic evidence in the case.

Mr. Jackson spoke briefly Monday morning on the courthouse steps, his voice seemingly ravaged by Parkinson’s disease, the neurological disorder with which he announced he was afflicted in 2017. He called the fight over his presence a “diversion” in a case he compared to that of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old murdered by white Mississippians in 1955. Mr. Jackson also spoke of a “decency factor” in the South, and said he sensed a “streak of fairness” in the jury.

Judge Timothy R. Walmsley has rejected several defense requests for a mistrial.Credit…Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

Mr. Gough had previously called for a mistrial. But the fact that he was joined in his effort on Monday by lawyers for the two other defendants, Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory, demonstrates how widespread the skepticism has become over whether this trial can be considered fair. Those doubts have been loudly voiced by supporters of Mr. Arbery, who have noted that the jury hearing the case is made up of 11 white people and one Black person, even though Glynn County is about 27 percent Black.

Understand the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery

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The shooting. On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed after being chased by three white men while jogging near his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Ga. The slaying of Mr. Arbery was captured in a graphic video that was widely viewed by the public.

The victim. Mr. Arbery was a former high school football standout and an avid jogger. At the time of his death, he was living with his mother outside the small coastal city in Southern Georgia.

The suspects. Three white men — Gregory McMichael, 67, his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — stand accused of murdering Mr. Arbery. They have also been indicted on federal hate crime charges. The men told authorities they suspected Mr. Arbery of committing a series of break-ins.

The fallout. The release of the video of the shooting sparked nationwide protests and prompted Georgia lawmakers to make significant changes to the state’s criminal law, including passage of the state’s first hate crimes statute.

The trial. With an unsettling video set to play a starring role in court, the case bears similarities to that of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer found guilty of murdering George Floyd. The trial is likely to address issues such as vigilantism and the role racism played in the three defendants’ actions.

The jury. After an extraordinarily long process, 12 jurors in the case were selected. The jury, which is made up of residents of Glynn County, where more than a quarter of the population is Black, only includes one Black person.

Jason Sheffield, a lawyer for the younger Mr. McMichael, said on Monday that he was “constrained to join” in calling for a mistrial. He referred to a moment on Monday morning when Mr. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, burst out in sobs after her son’s photo was shown to the jury. Mr. Sheffield said several jurors looked toward Ms. Cooper-Jones sympathetically, and in so doing also saw Mr. Jackson, whom Mr. Sheffield referred to as “the ultimate figure of fairness and justice and equality.”

In moving for a mistrial, Franklin J. Hogue, a lawyer for Gregory McMichael, said he disagreed with some statements that Judge Walmsley made this month as he ruled on the composition of the jury. The judge said at the time that there had been an appearance of “intentional discrimination” when the defense moved to reject several Black people during jury selection.

The comments, Mr. Hogue said, have “continued the difficulty we have had from the beginning in trying to determine, is this the right venue for this case?”

After the jury was dismissed in the afternoon, Mr. Gough told Judge Walmsley that he had hoped to “hear back from the court” over remarks he made this morning.

“On what?” the judge replied, tartly. “I’m confused — what are you waiting for, Mr. Gough?”

Mr. Gough backed off.

“We’re in recess,” the judge said.

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