Tension mounts over high-profile attendees as Ahmaud Arbery death trial continues

Defence lawyer tried to force civil rights leaders Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson out of court during murder case in Georgia

Trial evidence entered a second week on Monday in the case of three white men charged with murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery after they spotted the 25-year-old black man running through their neighbourhood.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after he ran past their house on February 23, 2020.

Their neighbour, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase, initially telling police that he ran Arbery off the road with his own vehicle before taking mobile phone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times with a shotgun.

Tensions rose when a lawyer for one of the three white men charged with murdering Arbery failed in an attempt to have the judge remove civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson from the courtroom.

The lawyer, Kevin Gough, made a similarly unsuccessful attempt last week to get the court to prevent any more "black pastors" from attending the trial after the Reverend Al Sharpton, another civil rights leader, was seen sitting with Arbery's parents in the public gallery.

After the jury was sent out, Mr Gough stood in the Glynn County Superior Court and said he objected to what he called "an icon in the civil rights movement" sitting between Arbery's parents.

"How many pastors does the Arbery family have?" he said, referring to a similar objection he had made on Thursday to Mr Sharpton's visit.

"The seats in the public gallery of a courtroom are not like courtside seats at a Lakers game."

Mr Gough said the presence of civil rights leaders might influence jurors hearing the high-profile case.

Mr Jackson quietly listened to Mr Gough, holding the hands of Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery Sr, and mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones. When Mr Gough, who wore no Covid-19 mask, complained that Mr Jackson's mask was not covering his mouth and nose, Ms Cooper-Jones reached and lifted Mr Jackson's mask back up.

Judge Timothy Walmsley was audibly exasperated as he rejected the motion by Mr Gough, saying his ruling last week that he would not issue any blanket bans on who could enter a public courtroom would still stand. He said he was not aware that Jackson was in the room until Mr Gough made his motion.

The judge said it was odd that Mr Gough kept objecting to black pastors showing up and that he was "done talking about it."

"At this point, I'm not exactly sure what you're doing," the judge said.

"It's almost as if you're just trying to keep continuing this for purposes other than just bringing it to the court's attention and I find that objectionable."

Mr Jackson said outside the courthouse during a break in proceedings that he planned to attend all week, calling it "a constitutional right and a moral obligation."

Mr Sharpton has said he will be joined by more than 100 black pastors at the courthouse on Thursday.

Earlier on Monday, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Jason Seacrist returned to the witness stand on Monday and was questioned by a defence lawyer about his interviews with Mr Bryan.

Lawyer Kevin Gough pressed Mr Seacrist about his client's claims that Arbery tried to enter Mr Bryan's vehicle during the chase.

Investigators said they found Arbery's fingerprints on the vehicle near one of the door handles.

“Is it fair to say the first identifiable crime Mr Bryan personally witnessed that day would be Mr Arbery trying to get in his truck?” Mr Gough asked.

Mr Seacrist replied: “Unless you discount the fact that somebody was trying to chase Mr Arbery down while he was legally running, jogging in the road.”

Mr Bryan and the McMichaels have been charged with murder and other crimes.

Prosecutors say the men chased Arbery for five minutes to keep him from exiting the Satilla Shores subdivision outside the port city of Brunswick in southern Georgia. The chase ended when Arbery, trailed by Bryan, tried to run around the McMichaels' vehicle as it idled in the road ahead.

The video shows Travis McMichael confronting Arbery and then shooting him as he throws punches and grapples for the gun.

The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery was a burglar after security cameras recorded him several times entering an unfinished home five doors from their own house. Defence lawyers say Travis McMichael opened fire in self-defence.

Updated: November 15th 2021, 6:47 PM
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