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Judge denies defense request to remove Jesse Jackson from court in trial for Arbery death

"There is no reason for these prominent icons in the civil rights movement to be here," William "Roddie" Bryan's attorney, Kevin Gough, said Monday.
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A request by an attorney for one of the white men standing trial in the death of Ahmaud Arbery that the Rev. Jesse Jackson be removed from the courtroom was denied Monday.

The lawyer, Kevin Gough, represents William "Roddie" Bryan who, along with father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael is charged with murder and other crimes in Arbery's killing in February 2020.

"He is, your honor, I think we all know, an icon in the civil rights movement," Gough told Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley, adding that Jackson was "not just a witness to it, but the personification of it."

The jury was not in the courtroom when he delivered his remarks.

"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," Gough said.

Jackson was sitting in the back of the courtroom with Arbery's parents.

"The issue that I brought up previously is how many pastors does the Arbery family have?" Gough said. "We had the Rev. Al Sharpton here earlier, last week."

Jackson could be seen in the back of the court wearing a blue mask below his nose and mouth while Gough was speaking.

"I don't know who Mr. Rev. Jackson is pastoring here," Gough said.

He said Jackson's presence could have an impact on the jury and on the proceedings.

"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."

Warnock is a pastor in Georgia and one of the state's senators.

He told Walmsley the seats in the public gallery of a courtroom "are not like courtside seats to a Lakers game."

"There is no reason for these prominent icons in the civil rights movement to be here," Gough said.

Walmsley denied his request, saying the court's position had not changed.

"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."

He added: "I'm done talking about it, Mr. Gough."

"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."

The defendants' attorneys also called for a mistrial Monday citing various reasons, including Jackson's presence.

Walmsley said comments Gough made last week may have lured some people to the courthouse.

"I will say that is directly in response, Mr. Gough, to statements you made, which I find reprehensible," Walmsley said.

Walmsley referenced a comment Gough made Thursday in which he speculated what would happen "if a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks sitting in the back."

Jackson told reporters outside the courthouse he was there in a show of support for Arbery's family and that the lawyers who objected to his presence are "afraid of the decency factor rising up."

He said it was his constitutional right and moral obligation to be there.

Jackson said Arbery's killing was the "Emmett Till of our day."

Gough later complained during a recess that Jackson did not have his mask on properly.

Gregory and Travis McMichael armed themselves and used a pickup truck to pursue Arbery after they spotted him running in their neighborhood in Satilla Shores. Their neighbor, Bryan, joined the chase and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery in the street at close range. They were arrested months later, after video leaked online and sparked widespread outrage.

Defense attorneys have said the three defendants were justified to chase and attempt to detain Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar. They say Travis McMichael fired in self-defense when Arbery threw punches and tried to grab his gun.

Gough claimed last week that the presence of Sharpton and other high-profile African American leaders in the courtroom could intimidate the jury. Sharpton, the leader of the National Action Network and an MSNBC host, sat in the gallery Wednesday and held a prayer vigil outside the Glynn County Courthouse that afternoon to show support for Arbery's family.

Last week, Sharpton said Gough's remarks showed "arrogant insensitivity."

"I respect the defense attorney doing his job," Sharpton said, "but this is beyond defending your client, it is insulting the family of the victim."

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery, also weighed in last week.

"It is not illegal for Black pastors to support the parents of Ahmaud Arbery or any other Black victims," Crump saidFriday. "We are going to bring 100 Black pastors to pray with the family next week."