(Reuters) – A lawyer for one of the three white men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery said his team did not want “any more Black pastors coming” into the Georgia courtroom after a civil rights leader attended proceedings.
Thursday’s comment by Kevin Gough drew sharp criticism from the Rev. Al Sharpton, whom the defense attorney cited in asking the judge in the high-profile case to exclude African-American clergy.
Arbery, a 25-year old Black man, was chased by the three men and shot dead in a mostly white neighborhood in the coastal city of Brunswick in February 2020. The three have pleaded not guilty to murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment in the trial.
“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 … sitting with the victim’s family, trying to influence a jury in this case,” said attorney Kevin Gough, who represents defendant William “Roddie” Bryan.
Sharpton had attended the trial on Wednesday and conducted a prayer vigil with Arbery’s parents outside the courthouse, he said on his official Twitter account.
The trial comes as the killings of Black Americans by police in recent years have sparked a renewed push for civil rights in the United States, with the murder of George Floyd captured on video last year sparking worldwide protests.
“The arrogant insensitivity of attorney Kevin 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,” Sharpton said.
He said his attendance was “not disruptive in any way” and was “at the invitation of the family.”
Gough, who said he did not learn about Sharpton’s presence until after that day’s court session, told Judge Timothy Walmsley, “We want to keep politics out of this case.” He suggested the presence of figures like Sharpton “could be consciously or unconsciously an attempt to pressure or influence the jury.”
The judge told Gough he was “not going to blanketly exclude members of the public from this courtroom.”
Bryan, 52, as well as neighbor Gregory McMichael, 65, and his son Travis McMichael, 35, face life in prison if convicted of murder.
The jury was shown videos on Thursday of Arbery walking around a vacant property on earlier visits to the Georgia neighborhood where he was shot. Prosecutors say Arbery was an avid runner out for a Sunday afternoon jog.
(Reporting by Mana Rabiee; Writing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by William Mallard)