BRUNSWICK, GA. – On Monday, Reverend Jesse Jackson joined Ahmaud Arbery’s parents in the trial of three white men accused of killing their son, prompting an unsuccessful request by a defense attorney to remove the civil rights leader.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased the 25-year-old black man in a pickup truck after seeing him run around their neighborhood on February 23, 2020.
Their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan joined the chase and told police he drove Arbery off the road in his truck before filming the video of Travis McMichael’s cell phone shooting him three times with a shotgun.
The same defense attorney complained last week when Reverend Al Sharpton joined Arbery’s mother and father in the Glynn County courtroom. Attorney Kevin Gough said he feared Sharpton was trying to sway the jury, telling the judge “we don’t want more black pastors to come in here.”
Gough renewed his concern Monday when Jackson sat in the back of the classroom gallery between Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, and father, Marcus Arbery Sr. The civil rights leader wore a mask, but a at one point he pulled it down under his chin while talking to Cooper-Jones.
“In the context of this trial, we object to his presence in the public gallery,” Gough told the judge as the jury was out of the courtroom. “How many shepherds does the Arbery family have? We had Reverend Al Sharpton last week. “
He added: “There is no reason these leading icons of the civil rights movement are here. With all due respect, I would suggest, intentionally or unintentionally, that inevitably a juror will be influenced by their presence in the courtroom. “
Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walmsley refused to ask Jackson to leave. Courtrooms are generally open to the public, although the judge has limited seats in the public grandstand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The court will not identify any particular individual or group of individuals as not authorized to enter its courtroom as a member of the public,” Walmsley said. “If there is an interruption, you can bring it to my attention.”
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Jason Seacrist returned to the stand on Monday and was questioned by a defense attorney about his interviews with Bryan. Gough insisted on Seacrist over his client’s claims that Arbery tried to get into Bryan’s truck during the chase. Investigators testified that they found Arbery’s fingerprints on the truck near one of the door handles.
“Is it fair to say that the first identifiable crime Mr. Bryan personally witnessed that day would have been Mr. Arbery trying to get into his truck?” Gough asked.
Seacrist replied, “Unless you ignore the fact that someone was trying to chase Mr. Arbery while he was running legally, jogging down the street.”
Bryan and the McMichalans are charged with murder and other crimes. Prosecutors say they chased Arbery for five minutes to prevent him from exiting the Satilla Shores subdivision outside the port city of Brunswick. The chase ended when Arbery, followed by Bryan’s truck, tried to get around the McMichael’s truck as it stood on the road ahead of them. The video shows Travis McMichael confronting Arbery and then shooting him as he throws punches and grabs by the gun.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery was a thief after security cameras recorded him several times inside the unfinished house five doors from their own home. Defense lawyers say Travis McMichael opened fire in self-defense.