‘We’re going to bring 100’: Ahmaud Arbery family lawyer reacts to defence complaint of Black pastors in court

William ‘Roddie’ Bryan’s defence attorney Kevin Gough faced a backlash after saying he didn’t want “any more Black pastors coming in” the courtroom

Rachel Sharp
Saturday 13 November 2021 14:18 GMT
Lawyer in Ahmaud Arbery Case Doesn’t Think ‘Black Pastors’ Belong in the Courtroom

An attorney for Ahmaud Arbery’s family has vowed to “bring 100” Black pastors to the court where three white men are on trial for his murder after one of the defence attorneys said he didn’t want “any more Black pastors coming in here”.

Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family of the Black jogger, said it “is not illegal” for Black pastors to come to support the Arbery family and promised to bring more religious leaders of colour to the courtroom in protest.

"The parents of Ahmaud Arbery suffered the unspeakable loss of their son, who was hunted down, cornered and shot, for being a Black man jogging in a white neighbourhood,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter on Friday.

“It is not illegal for Black pastors to support the parents of Ahmaud Arbery or any other Black victims.

“We are going to bring 100 Black pastors to pray with the family next week.”

Mr Crump fired back after defence attorney Kevin Gough shocked the courtroom and the public on Thursday as he sought to ban Black activists from attending the trial in support of the Arbery family.

Mr Gough, who is representing defendant William “Roddie” Bryan, claimed that having “high-profile members of the African-American community” present at the trial was “intimidating” and an attempt to “pressure or influence the jury”.

The attorney appeared to even shock other members of the defence team who were seen raising their eyebrows and looking down as he went on to say “we don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here”.

“The Right Rev Al Sharpton managed to find his way into the back of the courtroom. I’m guessing he was somehow there at the invitation of the victim’s … family, in this case?” he said, in comments made while the jury was on recess.

Rev Sharpton had attended the trial on Wednesday at the invitation of the family of Mr Arbery and then held a prayer vigil outside Glynn County courthouse.

Mr Gough continued: “I have nothing personal against Mr Sharpton. My concern is that it’s one thing for the family to be present, it’s another thing to ask for the lawyers to be present.

“But if we’re gonna start a precedent starting yesterday where we’re gonna 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 is an attempt to pressure – could be, consciously or unconsciously – an attempt to pressure or influence the jury.”

The Arbery family attorney Ben Crump, Rev. Al Sharpton and Ahmaud Arbery’s family outside the courthouse on Wednesday
The Arbery family attorney Ben Crump, Rev. Al Sharpton and Ahmaud Arbery’s family outside the courthouse on Wednesday (AP)

Mr Gough then told the judge that it was “fine” for Rev Sharpton to attend but “that’s it” and he didn’t want “any more Black pastors” such as Rev Jesse Jackson – who has not attended any of the trial.

“To my knowledge, Rev Al Sharpton has no church in Glynn County, never has. ... So we have all kinds of people. We have school board members, we have county commissioners, we have all kinds of pastors in this town, over 100,” he said.

“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’s Al Sharpton right now, that’s fine, but then that’s it.

“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here or other ― Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence the jury in this case.”

Mr Gough then went on to say he wants “to keep politics out of this case” and asked the court to address his concerns “about bringing people in who really don’t have any ties to this case other than political interests”.

The prosecution told the court that the state had no part in Rev Sharpton’s presence in the room but said that “it is a public courtroom”.

Mr Gough then made a bizarre comparison saying: “What if folks came in here dressed as Colonel Sanders dressed in white masks in the back.”

Judge Timothy Walmsley cut the attorney off before he went any further.

The judge said he was “not going to blatantly exclude members of the public from the courtroom” and said he didn’t hear from anyone that Rev Sharpton “was a distraction”.

“The fact that nobody else even noticed that he was in here means that everybody complied with this court’s rulings on sitting in this courtroom and listening to the evidence,” the judge said.

“I don’t hear a motion, and I will tell you this: I’m not going to start blanketly excluding members of the public from this courtroom.”

Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead by three white men in Georgia in February 2020
Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead by three white men in Georgia in February 2020 (Marcus Abery via Reuters)

On Friday morning, Mr Gough apologised “to anyone who might have inadvertently been offended” by his comments after facing a backlash.

“I will let the court know that if my statements yesterday were overly broad, I will follow up with a more specific motion on Monday putting those concerns in the proper context.”

The attorney added that he had been “asked to address some comments” but it was not clear who had made the request.

Judge Walmsley said the request had not come from the court.

Rev Sharpton also slammed the defence attorney for his comments and request calling it a “disregard” for Mr Arbery’s family.

“The arrogant insensitivity of [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 [of]spiritual and community support,” he said in a statement.

He called for “clergy across ecumenical lines” to join him and Mr Arbery’s family outside the courthouse next Thursday in protest.

Mr Gough’s comments pinpointing the race of some supporters of the Arbery family come after the defence has repeatedly insisted that race is not a factor in the case and did not play a role in the death of Mr Arbery.

Mr Arbery was shot and killed in the Satilla Shores neighbourhood near Brunswick, Georgia, on 23 February 2020.

The Black 25-year-old was running through the largely white neighbourhood when he was chased by Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael in their pickup truck.

Neighbour Mr Bryan jumped in his own pickup truck and joined in the chase, filming the incident on his smartphone.

The footage shows Travis McMichael shooting Mr Arbery dead in the road.

The three white men are accused of chasing down and shooting him in a racially motivated killing.

The defence claims they were attempting to carry out a citizen’s arrest in the belief that Mr Arbery was responsible for some break-ins in the neighbourhood and that Travis McMichael then shot him in self-defence.

The three men each face nine charges, including malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. They have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

An almost all-white jury will decide after the defence struck several potential Black jurors in a move the judge said was an act of “intentional discrimination”.

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