Defense calls for mistrial after Rev. Jesse Jackson joins Arbery’s family in courtroom
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WTOC) - On the seventh day of testimony in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial, tension continues to center around the public gallery in the courtroom.
Monday, civil rights icon Reverend Jesse Jackson joined the Arbery family in a show of support - a presence the defense objected to.
“And so now the court is faced with balancing a lot of things going on outside this courtroom and doing in a way that respects members of the public’s right to be in the courtroom, as well as what I’m trying to put out there is a fair trial, right? So you need to understand everybody that your words in this courtroom have an impact on a lot of what’s going on,” said Judge Timothy Walmsley.
Inside the courtroom, the attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan asked the judge to remove Reverend Jackson. Bryan’s attorney said he was concerned what effect it might have on the jury if they saw the high-profile Reverend in court.
The issue brought by Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, was similar to the one he raised late last week. That was when Reverend Al Sharpton was in the courtroom and Gough said he didn’t want any more Black pastors in the courtroom.
Monday, Gough said he didn’t see any reason why the prominent icons in the civil rights movement would be in the courtroom, adding there are other local religious and community leaders who could sit with the family instead.
“We are concerned about, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, the impact of their presence with respect to the jury and with respect to the proceedings in this case. And I guess the next question is, which pastor is next? Is Raphael Warnock going to make, be there next person appearing this afternoon? We don’t know,” said Gough. “With all due respect your honor, the seats in the public gallery of a courtroom are not like court side seats at a Lakers game. There are no First Amendment rights in the public gallery of a courtroom. There is no standing of any particular individual to be present in the public gallery of a courtroom.”
Judge Walmsley pointed out he already addressed Gough’s issue after Gough brought up a similar complaint after Reverend Al Sharpton’s sat in the courtroom with the Arbery family last week.
All three defense teams also asked for a mistrial Monday, but were denied by the judge.
“If you’re moving for a mistrial, you need to move for a mistrial,” said Judge Walmsley.
“I move for a mistrial,” replied Gough.
Late Monday afternoon the prosecution placed the shotgun used to kill Arbery into evidence. This is the first time the jury has seen the weapon in-person.
Before we could even get to that evidence - the defense asked the judge for a mistrial yet again.
Like all the other motions already filed, the latest request for a mistrial was denied by Judge Timothy Walmsley. The defense’s argument was about a weeping sound Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, sitting next to Reverend Jesse Jackson, made as a picture of her son was shown to the jury. Those defense lawyers said the image of a crying mother with Jackson at her side could affect the jury’s opinion on the case.
“Having jurors hear and see and visualize the emotion, and now to be comforted by someone for whom respect abounds, we’re in a very difficult position now with this jury to have seen and heard and felt that,” said Laura Hogue, attorney for Greg McMichael.
Hogue says she saw jurors look back into the gallery when they heard the noise. And an attorney for Travis McMichael added this.
“There were several jurors that did look over, their faces changed, the emotion, the sympathy that they felt. And to see then Mr. Reverend Jackson whose autographed picture hung in my mothers 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,” said Jason Sheffield, attorney for Travis McMichael.
Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski argued the noise was minor weeping, and that the court had the jury step out as soon as it happened.
“It wasn’t somebody shouting, it wasn’t somebody as they say falling out hysterical. Nothing along those lines at all. So we ask that you deny the motion for mistrial on that basis,” said Dunikoski.
Judge Walmsley did say he thought it was a good reminder to those in the public viewing area that there shouldn’t be any outbursts no matter what evidence comes up in court.
Jurors also heard from agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for the first time since the agency took over the investigation.
The state and GBI investigators showed us the weapon that killed Ahmaud Arbery. Investigators also shared how they analyzed prints, clothing and statement given to the GBI when they took over the investigation.
One by one agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified before the jury. Agents detailed how they analyzed video, forensic evidence, and combed through social media.
One piece of evidence seen only on the widely spread video of Ahmaud Arbery’s killing until Monday was entered into evidence - the gun Travis McMicheal used to kill Arbery.
“The end of the shotgun was very close to that fabric when it was fired. That’s evidence by looking at the large hole there. It’s four or five inches across,” said Brian Leppard, GBI Crime Lab.
One agent who specifically handled communication between the McMicheals and Roddie Bryan said prior to the day of the killing,
there was no communication between them.
Another agent who analyzed clothing fibers from the shirt Arbery wore the day he died, found similar fibers on Bryan’s truck.
“Whatever other people in this case may have done, Mr. Bryan came out there only armed with his cell phone. And his vehicle,” said Agent Jason Seacrist, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, GBI.
The investigator who analyzed fibers on Arbery’s shirt and Bryan’s truck added she could not definitively say the fibers found on the truck were from Arbery’s shirt.
However, the prosecution has said several times Bryan hit Arbery with his vehicle. The medical examiner in this case is expected to testify Tuesday.
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