Attorney in Arbery case apologizes for ‘Black pastors’ comment

Rev. Al Sharpton calls for clergy to join him at courthouse next week

BRUNSWICK – A day after calling for the judge presiding over the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial to ban Black pastors from the courtroom, defense attorney Kevin Gough issued an apology.

The Brunswick lawyer — who represents William “Roddie” Bryan, the man who filmed Arbery’s death — took issue with the Rev. Al Sharpton sitting in the courtroom Wednesday to observe proceedings. The attorney then made a series of unusual remarks about it on Thursday.

“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here,” Gough said Thursday to Judge Timothy Walmsley. Gough argued that having “high-profile members of the African-American community” in the courtroom could pressure or intimidate the jury.

After sitting in court Wednesday, Sharpton held a prayer vigil with Arbery’s parents on the courthouse steps.

The civil rights leader issued a scathing statement directed at Gough following the lawyer’s comments, calling the remarks insensitive to Arbery’s family, who had invited him to sit in on the trial.

On Friday, Sharpton called for clergy members of all faiths to join him outside the courthouse next Thursday.

Before testimony continued Friday, Gough addressed the court.

“My apologies to anyone who might have inadvertently been offended,” he said.

ExploreAJC Complete Coverage of the Ahmaud Arbery Case

Attorney Jason Sheffield, who represents Travis McMichael in the case, distanced himself from Gough’s remarks, calling them “asinine and ridiculous.”

“We feel anyone is welcome to come show their support,” Sheffield said during the lunch break. “Come one, come all.”

‘He hasn’t seen him actually take anything’

The officer who patrolled the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick where Arbery was killed told Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael that Arbery wasn’t suspected of taking anything from a nearby home under construction.

The McMichaels and Bryan, who are white, are on trial at the Glynn County Courthouse in the fatal shooting of Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020. They are contesting the charges, contending they were making a valid citizen’s arrest while chasing Arbery, who was Black, through their neighborhood. The chase ended with Travis McMichael using his shotgun to kill the unarmed Arbery as they tussled over the weapon.

Credit: Body camera photos

Credit: Body camera photos

Arbery, 25, had been spotted entering the vacant property on multiple occasions in the months leading up to his death, and several neighbors in the Satilla Shores subdivision were aware of that, Officer Robert Rash testified Friday.

Rash showed surveillance photos of Arbery to several people in an attempt to identify him, including Greg McMichael.

Rash said he believed the elder McMichael would have made an “expert witness” because of his prior law enforcement experience. But he testified repeatedly on Friday that he never “deputized” McMichael or told him to detain anyone.

He also said that if he had been able to locate Arbery, he would have simply told him to stay off the property.

Credit: Surveillance photo

Credit: Surveillance photo

Just 12 days before he fatally shot Arbery, Travis McMichael spotted the Black man at the vacant home. He grabbed his father, dialed 911, and searched for Arbery along with police officers and other neighbors, according to body camera footage played in court.

During the search, Rash told the McMichaels that Larry English, the owner of the vacant home, recognized Arbery from prior surveillance footage.

“Nobody seems to know who this kid is, where he’s coming from,” Rash told the men. “But like he’s always, in all the times on the video that Mr. English sent me — he’s sending me one now — it’s always been just in there plundering around. He hasn’t seen him actually take anything.”