A huge crowd of supporters and more than 100 pastors have gathered outside a courthouse in Georgia in support of Ahmaud Arbery’s family after the attorney for one of the three white men accused of his murder made repeated attempts to have Black pastors ousted from the trial.
Hundreds of people travelled to the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick on Thursday to hold a prayer vigil and rally outside the courthouse where Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan are currently standing trial for the Black 25-year-old’s murder.
Renowned civil rights icons and pastors including Martin Luther King III, Rev Al Sharpton, Rev Jesse Jackson and minister Jamal Bryant were among the crowd gathered as organisers vowed to “stand in solidarity” with Mr Arbery’s family.
“Black men are considered armed and dangerous with no evidence and we need to hold these men accountable for their actions. No American should be at risk of death while jogging in their own neighborhood.”
The huge “Prayer Wall”, organised by National Action Network, has come in response to repeated comments from Kevin Gough, the attorney for Mr Bryan, who has complained about Black pastors joining the Arbery family in the public gallery in the courtroom.
Last Thursday, Mr Gough first complained about Rev Sharpton’s presence in the courtroom and argued that having “high-profile members of the African-American community” present was “intimidating” and an attempt to “pressure or influence the jury”.
“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here,” he told the judge, also singling out Rev Jackson who at that point had not attended the trial.
Rev Sharpton called the comments “absurd” and vowed to show up at the court with 100 Black pastors, while Rev Jackson responded by joining Mr Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones in court.
Mr Gough has made complaints almost every day since then, including unsuccessfully filing a motion asking for mistrial on Wednesday.
On Thursday, he filed another motion asking to ban Rev Sharpton and Rev Jackson from the courtroom and complaining that he had spotted someone wearing a shirt reading “I support Black pastors” inside the courthouse building. The judge denied the motion.
The attorney admitted that he had “lost count” of how many times he had complained about their presence.
Rev Jackson entered the courtroom that morning and sat with Ms Cooper-Jones.
The defence rested its case on Thursday and jury was told to return on Monday morning for closing arguments.
The McMichaels and Mr Bryan are accused of chasing an unarmed Mr Arbery through the Satilla Shores neighbourhood and shooting him dead on 23 February 2020.
The three white men all face nine charges in the death of Mr Arbery, 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.
If convicted, they each could face life in prison.
Travis McMichael told police he ‘can’t remember’ if Ahmaud Arbery grabbed gun
Travis McMichael returned to the witness stand on Thursday morning for his cross-examination by the prosecution.
The 35-year-old, who fired the fatal shots that killed Mr Arbery, testified to the court that he had struggled to “recall every minute detail” of the shooting after the court revealed he had told police he “can’t remember” if the Black man grabbed his gun before he shot him.
Travis McMichael had testified on Wednesday that Mr Arbery attacked him and grabbed his shotgun, leading him to fire his weapon in a “life or death situation”.
“He had my gun. He struck me. It was obvious that he was attacking me, if he would have gotten the shotgun from me, it was a life or death situation,” he said, while wiping away tears.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikowski pointed out inconsistencies in his version of events in the court compared to what he told police officers in the hours after the shooting.
When questioned by police if Mr Arbery had grabbed the shotgun at all, Travis McMichael replied: “I want to say he did but honestly I do not remember. I mean, me and him were face to face the entire time.”
Travis McMichael admitted that he did not tell police Mr Arbery had grabbed his gun but claimed that was because he was "mixed up" after the shooting because it was the “most traumatic event I’ve ever been through in my life”.
“I was trying to think of that exact moment, trying to give him as much detail as possible under the stress of what’s going on,” he told the court.
“It was obvious that he had the gun from what I was saying, he had the weapon the way I was describing.”
“But he did not have the gun at that second, I don’t know why. I won’t say he did, but I honestly cannot remember.”
He added: “It happened so fast I obviously missed every minute detail.”
The prosecutor questioned why he would be “nervous” during the police questioning tow hours after the shooting.
“I just killed a man. I had blood on me still. It was the most traumatic event of my life. I was scared to death,” he said.
“I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t be scared, stressed or terrified or anything. I mean it was horrible.”
Travis McMichael says Ahmaud Arbery was ‘just running’ when he chased him
Travis McMichael also testified that Mr Arbery was “just running” when he first decided to chase him in his pickup truck and admitted that the Black jogger had not indicated he was armed and had not threatened him.
The 35-year-old also admitted he didn’t tell Mr Arbery he was planning to carry out a citizen’s arrest of him.
He also didn’t tell police that was the intentions of him and his father, he acknowledged.
“He never reached into his pockets? Never yelled at you? Never threatened you? Never brandished any weapon? Didn’t pull out any gun or knife? Never reached for anything?” the prosecutor asked.
Travis McMichael said “no” to each question adding: “Yes, he was just running.”
Alleged use of a racial slur
Before Travis McMichael took the stand on Thursday morning, the prosecution and the defence argued over whether the state should be allowed to question him about his alleged use of a racial slur after he had shot and killed Mr Arbery.
An investigator with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified during a preliminary hearing that Mr Bryan had told him Travis McMichael called Mr Arbery a “f***ing n****r” as he stood over the Black man’s dead body.
Rob Rubin, an attorney for Travis McMichael, argued the defendant should not be questioned about using the term because there is “no admissible evidence of that epithet”.
Kevin Gough, an attorney for Mr Bryan who allegedly heard the 35-year-old use the term, told the court his client was not planning to testify in his defence.
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