The judge presiding over the Ahmaud Arbery trial rejected the defense team’s request to remove civil rights activist Jesse Jackson from the court room during Monday’s proceedings.
A lawyer representing one of the men indicted with murder and other crimes in Arbery’s death argued Jackson’s presence in eyeshot of the jury could bias their deliberations.
“He is, your honor, I think we all know, an icon in the civil rights movement,” attorney Kevin Gough told Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley, after the jury had been sequestered.
“And in other circumstances, I think everybody would be happy to have their picture taken, maybe get an autograph, but in the context of this trial, we object to his presence in the public gallery inside the courtroom,” he added.
Gough, who represents William “Roddie” Bryan, one of three defendants in the trial, took issue with the number of pastors who have attended the court proceedings already, referencing Al Sharpton, who held a prayer vigil outside the Glynn County Courthouse last week in solidarity with Arbery’s family.
“I guess the next question is which pastor is next?” Gough said. “Is Raphael Warnock going to be the next person appearing this afternoon? We don’t know.” Raphael Warnock is an influential pastor and a newly elected Democratic Georgia senator.
Gough suggested that the presence of civil rights figures might prejudice jury members since the case involves the shooting of a black man.
He told Walmsley that the public viewing area of the courtroom is “not like courtside seats to a Lakers game.”
“There is no reason for these prominent icons in the civil rights movement to be here,” he said.
The judge, however, denied the objection and considered it an unnecessary distraction.
“With all candor, I was not even aware the Rev. Jackson was in the courtroom until you started your motion,” Walmsley said. “At this point, it’s almost as if you’re trying to continue this for purposes other than just bringing it to the court’s attention. I find that objectionable from the court’s standpoint.”
“I’m done talking about it, Mr. Gough,” he said.
“The court is not going to single out any particular individual or group of individuals as not being allowed to be in this courtroom as a member of the public,” Walmsley said. “If there is a disruption, you’re more than welcome to call that to my attention.”
Gregory and Travis McMichael chased down and fatally shot Arbery, who they believed to be a burglar, in the street at close range while their neighbor, Bryan, videotaped the incident. All three were arrested on murder charges.