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Nov. 18—Defense attorney Kevin Gough again objected Wednesday morning to the courtroom appearance of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, saying the national civil rights leader's presence could influence that outcome of the trial of three White men accused of murder in the killing of a 25-year-old Black man.
Judge Timothy Walmsley again succinctly denied Gough's request for a mistrial, saying there is no evidence that Jackson's presence in the courtroom was even noticed by the juror or that he might somehow influence their verdict.
Jackson sat Wednesday in a back row of the courtroom with the parents of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot dead on Feb. 23, 2020, after running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood while being pursued by the three defendants in two separate pickup trucks. Travis McMichael, 35, his father Greg McMichael, 65, and 52-year-old William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with murder in the killing of Arbery.
Representing Bryan, Gough had called for a mistrial on Monday when Jackson first joined Arbery's parents in the courtroom. Gough also complained last week when the Rev. Al Sharpton joined the family, saying the presence of Black pastors in the courtroom might influence or intimidate the jury.
Attorneys for Greg McMichael and for Travis McMichael joined Gough's mistrial motion Monday, citing also a member of the gallery's audible emotion when a portrait photo of Arbery was shown on a large video screen during testimony. Walmsley denied that motion, adding that murder trials can be "emotional."
While defense attorneys Jason Sheffield and Frank Hogue did not support Gough's motion for mistrial Wednesday, Sheffield did request that any prominent national figures wishing to observe the proceeding be asked to join others in the Jury Assembly Room across the hallway from the courtroom. Because of COVID-19 social distancing requirements and public demand of the highly publicized trial, space is limited in the courtroom itself. The public and the media at large are being accommodated in the Jury Assembly Room.
"I think it's abundantly clear that the people joining the Arberys are people who represent a national conversation that is in favor of a conviction of the defendants," Sheffield said. "That is improper influence."
In response to Gough's repeated complaints about Black pastors, Sharpton and others have called for pastors "across ecumenical lines" to join in a prayer vigil outside the courthouse Thursday morning.
Walmsley again stated that his belief that the extensive jury selection process created a panel that will not be influenced by public activities surrounding the trial.
"I'm confident that the process has resulted in a panel that is willing to listen to the evidence," Walmsley said. "I'm denying a mistrial for the same reason I have before."