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Judge Denies Mistrial Request Amid Racial Tensions in Ahmaud Arbery Case

Judge Denies Mistrial Request Amid Racial Tensions in Ahmaud Arbery Case

Tensions flared on Monday in the Georgia courtroom where three white men stand accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and pursued the unarmed 25-year-old in a pickup truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. Their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan joined the chase and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times with a shotgun.

The morning’s testimony was largely disrupted by arguments outside the jury’s presence over the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s appearance. Jackson quietly sat in the back row of the courtroom between Arbery’s parents as defense attorney Kevin Gough asked the judge to make the civil rights leader leave to avoid unfairly influencing the jury. Gough, an attorney for Bryan, also complained last week when the Rev. Al Sharpton joined Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, and father, Marcus Arbery Sr., inside the Glynn County courtroom. Gough told the judge Thursday “we don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here.”

BRUNSWICK, GA – MAY 08: Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on May 8, 2020, in Brunswick, Georgia. Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael were arrested the previous night and charged with murder. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Bryan and the McMichaels are charged with murder and other crimes. Prosecutors say they chased Arbery for five minutes to keep him from exiting the Satilla Shores subdivision outside the port city of Brunswick. The chase ended when Arbery, trailed by Bryan’s truck, tried to run around the McMichaels’ truck 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 inside a home under construction, five houses away. Defense attorneys say Travis McMichael opened fire in self-defense.


“There is no reason for these prominent icons in the civil rights movement to be here,” Gough said Monday. “With all due respect, I would suggest, whether intended or not, that inevitably a juror is going to be influenced by their presence in the courtroom.” Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley declined the request. Courtrooms are generally open to the public, although the judge has limited seating in the public gallery because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The judge said he found the defense lawyer’s complaints last week about Black pastors to be “reprehensible” and no group would be excluded from his courtroom. He also denied the defense’s mistrial requests Monday after defense attorneys claimed jurors were “tainted” by weeping from the gallery where the slain Black man’s parents sat with the Rev. Jackson.

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