Posted on November 16, 2021

Pressure on Jurors in the Arbery Trial

Anastasia Katz, American Renaissance, November 16, 2021

On Monday, November 15, the defense called for a mistrial in the murder trial of Greg and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan for the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. Last week, Roddie Bryan’s defense lawyer, Kevin Gough, made waves for suggesting that black pastors be kept out of the courtroom, an awkwardly worded attempt to bring up the legitimate concern of whether the jury is being influenced by the high-profile blacks — in this case, Al Sharpton — who have been in the courtroom, sitting next to Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper Jones.

Jason Sheffield, who represents Travis McMichael, distanced himself from Mr. Gough’s remarks, telling reporters that Mr. Gough’s statement was “totally asinine, ridiculous.”

On Friday November 12, Mr. Gough offered a dubious apology: “If my statements yesterday were overly broad, I will follow up with a more specific motion on Monday. Putting those concerns into proper context, and my apologies to anyone who might have inadvertently been offended.”

On Monday, November 15, Jesse Jackson came into the courthouse with Miss Jones, and Mr. Gough made good on his promise, moving to remove him. “He is, Your Honor, I think we all know, an icon in the civil rights movement, 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.” Mr. Gough added, “The seats in the public gallery of a courtroom are not like courtside seats at a Lakers game. There are no First Amendment rights in the public gallery of a courtroom.”

Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Jackson have claimed to be offering pastoral care to Miss Cooper. “How many pastors does the Arbery family have?” Mr. Gough asked. “Which pastor is next? Is Raphael Warnock going to be the next person appearing this afternoon?” Mr. Warnock is a black preacher who was elected senator from Georgia in January.

Judge Walmsley maintained his position from last week, saying he would not keep anyone out of the gallery unless he disrupted the trial or violated court rules.

Later that morning, Ahmaud Arbery’s next-door neighbor, Carol Flowers, took the stand. The jury was shown a photo of Arbery when he was alive, and as the witness began to recall her pet name for Arbery, his mother began to cry loudly. Jurors watched as Mr. Jackson put his arm around her to comfort her. The judge dismissed the jury, and Mr. Gough moved for a mistrial. “We contend that the atmosphere of the trial, both inside and outside the courtroom at this point, has deprived Mr. Bryan of his right to a fair trial. I understand that co-council vehemently disagrees on some aspects of that motion and if they don’t want to join, that’s their business. But I represent Mr. Bryan.”

Mr. Gough explained further: “In extraordinary cases like this, additional steps have to be taken. We did not secure the front of this courthouse. The Transformative Justice Coalition still flies their banner virtually every day outside, in what should be protected grounds.” The organization claims that “American justice is on trial” in the case, and offered free bus rides and hotel rooms to people who wanted to come demonstrate in front of the courthouse.

Mr. Gough added that there had been nonverbal communication between jurors and the victim’s family during jury selection, and he mentioned Miss Jones’s emotional outburst that day. “We have civil rights icons sitting here in court in what the civil rights community contends is a quote-unquote ‘test case’ for civil rights in the United States. Eyeballing the jurors, including one today, with his mask down.” Mr. Jackson had come into court wearing a mask, but sometimes it was below his nose and chin.

Mr. Gough cited case law on mafia trials, which found that the presence of certain people in the gallery can intimidate jurors. He said he was not suggesting that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson belong to “a mob,” but he said there was a similarity in how jurors would be affected by high-profile blacks getting involved in an “organized” way.

“We have all of these community leaders, fearful that the city is going to burn down,” Mr. Gough said, “This isn’t a mob case. If you testify against a gangster, they might burn your house down, burn your business down, they’re not going to burn your whole city down. And that is the concern jurors have expressed during the voir dire [jury selection] process.”

Mr. Gough said that under the totality of the circumstances, a line had been crossed and Mr. Bryan would not be able to get a fair trial.

Attorney Jason Sheffield, who had condemned Mr. Gough’s approach last week, joined the motion. “On behalf of Travis McMichael, we’re constrained to join.”

Mr. Sheffield added that Miss Jones’s weeping was out of proportion with the piece of evidence the prosecution had used: a frequently published photo of Ahmaud Arbery. He noticed the jury watching as Jesse Jackson consoled Miss Jones. “Mr. Reverend Jackson, whose autographed picture hung in my mother’s law office for two decades, who is the ultimate figure of fairness and justice and equality, to see that, I don’t think it gets any higher in terms of the impression that makes. And for that reason, I think that makes this very unique and that’s why we’re constrained to join, Your Honor.”

Greg McMichael’s lawyer, Franklin Hogue also said, “On behalf of Greg McMichael, we are constrained to join this motion.” He said it was clear from jury selection that it would be difficult to find a jury that had not already formed opinions. “We would have loved to have had a jury that represents the demographic composition of Glynn County, which would have been three or four African-Americans on the jury. We were not able to do that.”

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said that the crying was a minor matter and that the judge had asked the jury to step out immediately. “It wasn’t somebody shouting, it wasn’t somebody . . . falling out hysterical,” she said.

Judge Walmsley rejected the mistrial motion, saying, “It is an emotional trial. That is not unique when it comes to murder trials.” He said again that the gallery will remain open to members of the public who do not disrupt the trial.