BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Defense attorneys on Thursday told Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley that high-profile pastors such as the Rev. Al Sharpton in the courtroom on behalf of the family of Ahmaud Arbery are intimidating and an unconscious attempt to pressure the jury.
Sharpton sat in court Wednesday with members of the victim’s family as testimony continues in the murder trial of Greg McMichael, 65, and his son Travis McMichael, 35, who armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after he ran past their yard, five doors down from the unfinished house with no doors or windows. A neighbor, 52-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times at close range.
The issue of pastors in the courtroom came up Thursday after the Rev. William J. Barber spoke outside the courthouse during the lunch break.
“All he talked about was building a house for his mom and dad,” Barber told reporters. “And he liked looking at houses that weren’t like the houses he grew up in. He was dreaming,”
Barber said that Arbery being on that property didn’t mean he had to die that day.
Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, objected to the presence of Sharpton.
“I have nothing personally against him, Mr. Sharpton. My concern is -- it’s one thing is it’s one thing for the family to be present. It’s another thing for the lawyers to be present, but if we’re going to a precedent starting yesterday, to bring high-profile members of the African-American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in the presence of the jury, I believe that’s intimidating and an attempt to pressure -- could be, consciously or unconsciously -- an attempt to pressure or influence the jury,” Gough said. “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here or other -- Jessie Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week -- sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence the jury in this case.”
The judge said if people in the gallery of the courtroom aren’t a distraction, he won’t keep any member of the public from coming inside.
“I’m not going to blanketly exclude members of the public from this courtroom,” Walmsley said. “If individuals, based on limitations we have in the courtroom, end up sitting in the courtroom and they can do so respectful of the court’s process and in compliance with the court’s orders with regard of the conduct of the trial and they’re not a distraction, I’m not going to do anything about it. I did not hear from anyone that there was a distraction whatsoever. In fact, what I just heard is nobody was even aware that he was in here.”
COMPLETE COVERAGE: The Ahmaud Arbery Case
The bulk of Thursday was spent watching a prerecorded deposition given by Larry English, who owns a home in Satilla Shores that was under construction where Ahmaud Arbery was seen before he was killed. The videos show multiple occasions where various people walked through his partially-built home.
As a contractor, English said it is common for people to walk in and out of properties under construction. He testified on video that he did not have any no trespassing signs up but he did have multiple cameras on-site and called police on trespassers.
In one 911 call, he described a Black man with tattoos, just plundering or walking around.
“I never seen him before but it don’t look good,” English told the dispatcher.
He also said the person looked like he was on drugs but told the court it was a spare-of-the-moment call and that the person looked disoriented.
“In going through all the videos, you never saw anyone steal anything, correct?” Travis McMichael’s attorney Robert Rubin asked.
English told the defense he was concerned for both the people in the video and his property. He said something was stolen from his boat, but didn’t know who took it or when it happened.
English said he showed the videos to his neighbor, Diego Perez, who messaged him back saying to call him if he sees someone else on his cameras and he’ll respond immediately.
Rubin read a text message Perez had sent to English: “I have night vision goggles if they come around at a time…and pin them up… I can’t stand thieves,”
English gave Perez permission to go on his property.
Rubin goes on to question English, saying Perez is not the police or even a former officer, but English was grateful for him looking out for his property.
Rubin said that on the night of Feb. 11, a black man was back on the property and instead of calling the police, English called Perez.
The state had English clarify that he did not give the McMichaels permission to confront anyone on his property.
English says he spoke with Travis McMichael after the shooting and McMichael told him he wished people would stop talking about it on social media.
The trial continued Thursday -- Veterans Day -- over the objection by Gough that holding legal proceedings on a federal holiday unconstitutional. Court recessed for the day just after 4 p.m. and witness testimony is set to resume at 9 a.m. Friday.