Judge rules ‘Justice for Ahmaud’ signs, supporters can stay outside courthouse

Jury selection continues in trial of 3 Glynn County men accused of murder in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – A defense motion seeking to limit signs and demonstrations outside the Glynn County Courthouse where three men are on trial in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery was denied Tuesday morning by Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley.

Since the trial began last Monday, there have been anywhere from 10 to over 100 people sitting on the lawn -- some holding signs, some chanting, “Justice for Ahmaud.”

“I will note, when I came in this morning, I didn’t see anyone. In fact, it has been relatively quiet on the courthouse steps,” Walmsley said. “There have been individuals that have come over the last week or so. I have checked in with the sheriff a couple of times just to make sure we have not been having any issues that would cause the court concern. No reported arrests. No issues.”

Kevin Gough, the defense attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan, had argued that people showing their support for the 25-year-old shot and killed in February 2020, should not be allowed to gather outside the courthouse, saying it reflects an “effort to intimidate or influence the jury.” He wants to have the area restricted along certain streets surrounding the building.

In his argument, Gough showed the court four aerial photos of the crowd on the lawn of the courthouse and a screenshot of a reporter with MSNBC interviewing with Lee Merritt, an Civil Rights attorney who has filed a civil suit on behalf of Arbery’s mother. Gough showed the court a Merritt’s Twitter post that read “Register to vote, show up for jury duty, and remember the phrase ‘I can be fair.’”

“From this day forward we need to restrict the access to the jurors in this case,” Gough argued. “(They are) stoking fears in the Black community of an all-white jury.”

Merritt said he is used to Gough’s accusations.

“Mr. Gough the attorney for William ‘Roddie’ Bryan is desperate because of the overwhelming evidence that exists against his client,” Merritt said.

FULL COVERAGE: The Ahmaud Arbery Case | After 5 days, court halfway to needed jury pool | News4Jax is livestreaming jury selection, although audio is muted most of the time

Across the street from the courthouse, a First Amendment Rights stage was erected over the weekend. It’s a place where people can speak about the feelings on the case, chant, etc. But the sheriff told News4Jax this morning that demonstrations are not limited to that space, adding that any limit of people expressing their opinion anywhere on public property would be an infringement of their constitutional rights.

Last Thursday, when the motion to ban the demonstrations was filed, Gough said: “The due process rights of our clients in this context outweigh the First Amendment rights of those who want to see our clients convicted.”

“We not doing nothing out here to hurt nobody, ”Ahmaud Arbery’s aunt, Ruby Arbery, said last week. “Everything we doing out here is for justice, peace, love and support.”

Also Tuesday morning, the judge heard arguments from Laura Hogue, who is representing Gregory McMichael, asking Walmsley to approve three additional questions defense attorneys would like to ask prospective jurors:

  • Does the amount of time between Feb. 23, 2020 (when Arbery was killed) and when the defendants were charged has played any role in how you feel about the case or defendants?
  • If you were in the place of the accused, would you want someone with your views on the jury?
  • Do you think a “not guilty” verdict will affect your standing in the community or for your loved ones?

While Walmsley said the additional questions may be objectionable, “because I think it may go a little too far in this case,” he said he would rule on the issues individually if and when they were raised during the questioning of the jury.

After the motions hearing ended, another group of potential jurors was brought in the assembly room and the sixth day of efforts to qualify people for a jury pool of 64 began. At the beginning of the day, 32 had already qualified.

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Veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor

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