Lawyer in Arbery case: ‘We don’t want any more Black pastors’ in court

BRUNSWICK – An attorney representing one of three men on trial in the deadly shooting of Ahmaud Arbery made a bizarre request Thursday afternoon when he called for the judge in the case to ban Black pastors from the courtroom gallery.

“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here,” Kevin Gough, who represents William “Roddie” Bryan, told the judge before the jury returned from their lunch break.

The Brunswick attorney for the man who recorded the cellphone video of Arbery’s death has repeatedly taken issue with the ongoing demonstrations on courthouse grounds during the widely publicized, racially charged trial.

Gough was referring to an appearance by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who sat in on some of Wednesday’s court proceedings and held a lunchtime prayer vigil outside the courthouse. During his remarks on the courthouse steps, Sharpton criticized the racial composition of the nearly all-white jury overhearing the case, calling it “an insult to the intelligence of the American people.”

Gough told Judge Timothy Walmsley that having “high-profile members of the African American community” was “intimidating” to the jurors empaneled for the trial.

Gough said that while he was cross-examining a witness, “the right Rev. Al Sharpton managed to find his way into the back of the courtroom.” Gough added that he had “nothing personal” against the civil rights activist and that he wasn’t aware Sharpton was in the courtroom until Wednesday evening.

“To my knowledge, Al Sharpton has no church in Glynn County,” he said. “Never has.”

He added, “The idea that we’re going to be serially bringing these people in to sit with the victim’s family, one after another, obviously there are so many pastors they have. ... There’s pastor Al Sharpton right now that’s fine. But then that’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here.”

Gough then made a peculiar reference to the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“If a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks sitting in the back, that would be—” He was quickly cut off by the judge.

Gough then asked Walmsley to take “appropriate steps” to address the issue.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski reminded Gough that the case is being tried in a public courtroom, and said the state had nothing to do with Sharpton’s appearance.

Walmsley said he’d heard Sharpton would be appearing with Arbery’s family and that he was asked if he would have any objection to the reverend sitting in.

‘I’m not sure what we’re doing’

“My comment to that was simply, as long as things are not disruptive and it’s not a distraction to the jury or anything else going on in the courtroom, so be it,” Walmsley told him. “I noticed him once and that was it.”

The judge said he would not issue a blanket order to exclude members of the public from observing the trial.

“If individuals, based on the limitations we have, end up sitting in the courtroom, and they do so respectful of the court’s process and in compliance with this court’s orders with regard to the conduct of the trial and they’re not a distraction, then I’m not going to do anything about it,” Walmsley said.

“Let’s not overstate what’s going on here, Mr. Gough, because this will become a distraction that we’re going to waste a bunch of time on it,” the judge said. “You weren’t even aware of it until later? I’m not sure what we’re doing.”

On Thursday evening, Sharpton issued a strongly worded statement criticizing Gough’s remarks, calling them arrogant and insensitive.

“The only way I could have been identified as a member of the ministry is if I was recognized for my public position and leadership,” Sharpton said. “How else would the defense attorney know who was a ‘black pastor’ or not?”

Gough’s comments, Sharpton said, were insulting to the family and “pouring salt into their wounds.”

Arbery never stole anything, homeowner says

The owner of a home under construction that Arbery entered at least five times in the weeks leading up to his death testified that the 25-year-old never took anything from the vacant house in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, according to a video played Thursday.

Arbery was seen running out of the home on Feb. 23, 2020, and he was soon chased by three men — Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and Bryan, their neighbor. About five minutes later, Travis McMichael killed the unarmed Arbery with shotgun blasts.

The three men, who are white, are now standing trial at the Glynn County Courthouse on murder and other felony charges in the death of Arbery, who was Black. Thursday marked the trial’s fifth day of testimony.

Larry English, owner of the vacant home, said in a deposition that he never saw Arbery steal anything or damage any property while he was there.

“Was anything ever taken from the construction site itself?” prosecutor Paul Camarillo asked him.

“Not that I know of,” English replied.

Jurors were shown surveillance video of Arbery walking through the home under construction moments before he was killed.

Credit: Surveillance photo

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Credit: Surveillance photo

Jurors spent the day watching the nearly four-hour deposition given by English and were played a series of 911 calls that he made from his home in the city of Douglas, in Coffee County, Georgia — nearly 100 miles from his Glynn County property, which has a dock overlooking the a river.

A deposition is testimony given under oath and where a witness is questioned by attorneys from both sides. The 51-year-old English did not testify in person Thursday because of poor health, but his videotaped testimony taken on Sept. 24 was played to the jury.

The home under construction was unsecured and had no doors and no fence. English had installed motion-activated security cameras around the Glynn County house. He first installed the cameras because he was worried about children walking out on his dock. He installed additional cameras after he believed more than $2,000 worth of electronics equipment had been stolen from his boat.

But he told Camarillo that he wasn’t certain when those items were stolen. English brought his boat back and forth between Brunswick and his home in Douglas, he said in the deposition. And he acknowledged those items may have been taken while his boat was stored in Coffee County.

Arbery’s first known visit to the home under construction was Oct. 25, 2019. English called Glynn County dispatchers after his phone alerted him to someone on his dock.

“I got a trespasser there. He’s a colored guy, got real curly-looking hair,” English told the dispatcher. “He’s tattooed down both arms.”

English also told the dispatcher it looked like Arbery was “plundering around.” But when asked by Camarillo what he meant by that, English said Arbery “was looking around, checking things out.”

Travis McMichael (left), his father Gregory McMichael (center), and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan face murder and other felony charges in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man.

Credit: Body camera photos

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Credit: Body camera photos

Arbery wasn’t the only one who visited the empty home, according to surveillance footage played in court. Two children from across the street rode their bikes to the house and took some plywood, English said. In November 2019, he called the police several times after spotting a man and a woman — both of whom were white — enter his property carrying a bag.

English said he knew both Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael from the neighborhood, but never really spoke to them at length. After Arbery was killed, however, English said Greg McMichael walked up to him in the driveway to discuss the case.

“Some of it was talking about what had happened, and he made the comment that he wished people wouldn’t be talking about it on social media,” English said.

English said in his deposition that he alerted some his neighbors about the suspected thefts, though he never specifically told the McMichaels to watch his home.

One neighbor, Diego Perez, offered to watch the house at night and told him to alert him if he saw anyone on the property, English told attorney Bob Rubin, who represents Travis McMichael.

In a text message exchange read aloud in court, Perez told English he had tools stolen from his own property, and offered to “keep an eye out and make the rounds in the evening before I go to bed.”

“I have night vision goggles, and if they come around at a certain time, I may be able to intercept them or pen them up for the police,” Perez told him, according to Rubin. “I can’t stand thieves or people who disrespect property.”

“You have my permission,” English responded.

But after realizing his missing property may not have been stolen from the home under construction, English failed to alert his neighbors, he told Rubin.

“Never announced it on Facebook, for the neighborhood, right?” Rubin asked him.

“Never posted any kind of alert to your neighbors, ‘Hey, never mind, it wasn’t stolen from this neighborhood it was stolen from somewhere else.

“No,” English replied.

“Therefore Mr. English they were left with the impression stuff had been stolen from your boat at 220 Satilla Drive,” Rubin said.

“I guess so,” English said.