The Rev Jesse Jackson joined Ahmaud Arbery’s parents on Monday at the trial of three white men charged with murdering their son – prompting an unsuccessful request by a defense attorney to have the civil rights leader removed.
The same lawyer complained last week when another civil rights leader, the Rev Al Sharpton, joined Arbery’s mother and father in the Glynn county courtroom.
Kevin Gough said then he feared Sharpton was trying to influence the jury, telling the judge “we don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here”.
Amid outrage and complaints that his comment was racist, Gough apologised “to anyone who might have inadvertently been offended”.
Arbery was killed on 23 February 2020, when father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and pursued the 25-year-old Black man in a pickup truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood.
A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and told police he ran Arbery off the road with his own truck before taking cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times with a shotgun.
On Monday, Jackson sat in the back of the courtroom gallery, between Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, and father, Marcus Arbery Sr.
“In the context of this trial, we object to [Jackson’s] presence in the public gallery,” Gough told the judge while the jury was out. “How many pastors does the Arbery family have? We had the Rev Al Sharpton last week.”
He added: “There is no reason for these prominent icons in the civil rights movement to be here. With all due respect, I would suggest, whether intended or not, that inevitably a juror is going to be influenced by their presence in the courtroom.”
The judge, Timothy Walmsley, declined to ask Jackson to leave. Courtrooms are generally open to the public, although the judge has limited seating because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The court is not going to single out any particular individual or group of individuals as not being allowed into his courtroom as a member of the public,” Walmsley said. “If there is a disruption, you’re welcome to call that to my attention.”
An agent from the Georgia bureau of investigation, Jason Seacrist, returned to the witness stand. Gough pressed Seacrist about claims that Arbery tried to get into Bryan’s truck during the chase. Investigators testified they found Arbery’s fingerprints on the truck near one of the door handles.
“Is it fair to say the first identifiable crime Mr Bryan personally witnessed that day would be Mr Arbery trying to get in his truck?” Gough asked.
Seacrist replied: “Unless you discount the fact that somebody was trying to chase Mr Arbery down while he was legally running, jogging in the road.”
Bryan and the McMichaels are charged with murder and other crimes. Prosecutors say they chased Arbery for five minutes to keep him from leaving the Satilla Shores subdivision outside the port city of Brunswick.
The chase ended when Arbery, trailed by Bryan’s truck, tried to run around the McMichaels’ truck as it idled. The video shows Travis McMichael confronting Arbery and shooting him as he throws punches and grapples for the gun.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery was a burglar after security cameras several times recorded him inside the unfinished home five doors from their own house. Defense attorneys say Travis McMichael opened fire in self-defense.