Tensions rise in court as defense asks for mistrial in Arbery murder case, claiming the ‘jury was tainted by victim’s mother weeping in the gallery’ – Judge denies motion, calling comments ‘reprehensible’
The jury for the first time, not only saw the 12-gauge Remington shotgun used to kill Arbery, but the cell phone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery with it, as well.
The court heard that barrel of the shotgun used to kill Ahmaud Arbery was fired at ‘near contact,’ possibly ‘one or two inches away’ from his chest, an investigator testified on Monday,
GBI Agent Brian Leppard said this was evidenced by the 4 to 5 inch holes in Arbery’s t-shirt
Judge Timothy Walmsley denied the defense’s request for a mistrial in the Ahmaud Arbery case on Monday
Defense attorney Kevin Gough was reprimanded by presiding judge for inflammatory remarks
Gough filed for a mistrial after civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson was seen sitting with Arbery’s parents in court
Gough alleged that the presence of high-profile pastors civil rights leaders in the courtroom was intimidating the jury
Furthermore, the sight of Arbery’s mother weeping in court as the video of her son’s shooting was shown was tainting the jury and prevented his client, William Bryan, from having a fair trial
Judge Walmsley denied the request, warning both the state and defense ‘your words have impact on a lot of what is going on’ inside and outside the courtroom
Jackson called the motion for a mistrial a ‘diversion’ and said he intends to be in court all week long Gough Last week asked that Rev. Al Sharpton be sent out of the courtroom
Sharpton in response has announced that 100 church leaders will be at the courthouse on Thursday to support Arbery’s family
Barrel of shotgun used to kill Ahmaud Arbery was ‘one or two inches away’ from his chest, murder trial hears: Tensions rise as defense argues for mistrial claiming jurors were tainted by Rev. Jesse Jackson comforting jogger’s mother in court
A defense attorney in the trial of a black man who was shot and killed while jogging by a trio of white men in Georgia, last year, has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed because, the sight of the victim’s mother weeping in the gallery, as the scene unfolded on police bodycam footage, is tainting the jury.
Attorney Kevin Gough, who is representing one of the accused men, William ‘Roddie’ Bryan Jr., filed a motion for mistrial, alleging the presence of high-profile pastors and other emotional outbursts in the courtroom haven’t allowed his client to have a fair trial.
‘We contend that the atmosphere for the trial, both inside and outside the courtroom, at this point, has deprived Mr Bryan of the right to a fair trial,’ he said.
The judge presiding over Arbery’s murder trial denied the defense’s motion.
Ex-cop Gregory McMichael, 65, and his 35-year-old son Travis McMichael, a former Coast Guard along with their neighbor William Bryan, 52, have been charged in the death of Arbery, a 25-year-old black jogger who was fatally shot last year after he was spotted running in the defendants’ neighborhood in Brunswick, coastal Georgia.
As the 8th day of the trial, the 12 gauge shotgun used by Travis McMichael in Ahmaud Arbery’s slaying was fired a few inches away from the jogger, an investigator testified in Georgia court on Monday afternoon as the state presented evidence photos of the jogger’s bloodstained t-shirt.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Brian Leppard, who conducted a muzzle-to-target analysis of the evidence in June 2021, said the 4 to 5 inch holes in Arbery’s t-shirt indicate the shotgun was in ‘near contact’ with Arbery’s shoulder and/or armpit when it was fired.
‘The end of the shot gun was very close to that fabric when it was fired. That’s evidence by looking at the large hole there,’ Brian Leppard told the jury.
Agent Leppard’s testimony came after the jury was shown graphic frame-by-frame video footage of the fatal shooting. On Monday afternoon, the jury for the first time, not only saw the 12-gauge Remington shotgun used to kill Arbery, but the cell phone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery with it, as well.
GBI agent Lawrence Kelly testified that he examined the cell phone video frame by frame.
The prosecutor asked if Kelly could see from the video if Arbery was armed.
It doesn’t appear that there’s anything in Mr. Arbery’s hand at any point while he’s running,” Kelly said.
Next, the medical examiner will testify about the details of the autopsy and exactly how Arbery died from the gunshot wounds.
Once the prosecution rests, the defense attorneys will disclose if any of the three defendants will testify..
Earlier in the day, tensions flared in the courtroom soon after Jackson sat in the back row of the courtroom between Arbery’s parents.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, requested that the judge to make the civil rights leader leave to avoid unfairly influencing the jury, and asked for a mistrial, claiming the jury was tainted by Arbery’s mother weeping in the gallery.
The judge refused to declare a mistrial and said no group would be excluded from his courtroom.
During testimony of how the 12-guage shotgun was used to kill Arbery, Leppard did not give a definitive distance that the gun was fired from. However, he indicated it was fired at ‘near contact’ which means a weapon was within one to two inches of the the victim.
‘It’s got to be close enough for the enough for the gas exiting the end of the gun to make an impact on the fabric – to cause that searing and tearing and rolling back as we saw’ Leppard explained.
The crime scene analyst also demonstrated how to load and fire the weapon, noting that a lever has to be removed to fire the gun.
The defense pushed back, asking Leppard if this meant the victim could have potentially grabbed the gun.
‘I think it’s reasonable to say if the end of the shotgun can touch your shirt, if you’re the victim, then it would be reasonable to think that you could also grab the shotgun,’ he noted.
The weapons demonstration followed a tension-filled day in Brunswick Superior Court, where testimony was largely disrupted by arguments over Jackson’s appearance.
Attorney Kevin Gough, who is representing accused William ‘Roddie’ Bryan Jr., filed a motion for mistrial, alleging the presence of high-profile pastors and other emotional outbursts in the courtroom haven’t allowed his client to have a fair trial.
‘We contend that the atmosphere for the trial, both inside and outside the courtroom, at this point, has deprived Mr Bryan of the right to a fair trial,’ he said.
Judge Timothy Walmsley, presiding over Arbery’s murder trial denied the defense’s motion.
During his motion for a mistrial, Gough cited concerns of alleged nonverbal communications between civil rights activists and the jury, as well as between the jury and victim’s family.
‘We have had civil rights icons sitting in here – in what the civil rights community contends is a ‘test case for civil rights in the United States’ – eyeballing these jurors,’ he said.
‘We have had several instances during jury selection of nonverbal communications between the victim’s family and jurors, or from jurors to the victim’s family.’
Gough also claimed that there were several emotional outbursts in the courtroom and that the front of the courthouse was not secure.
Brunswick Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley denied the motion for mistrial, calling Gough’s comments ‘reprehensible’.
Judge Walmsley alleged that many of the statements Gough made, including one he made last week about Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Sanders, has impacted what is taking place in court.
‘In response, Mr Gough, to statements you made – which I find reprehensible, the Colonel Sanders statement you made last week, I would suggest may be something that has influenced what is going on here,’ the judge said.
He warned both the state and defense ‘your words in this courtroom have impact on a lot of what is going on’ inside and outside the courtroom.
Walmsley added: ‘My measured response right now is to balance all of that and try to move forward with the trial. I’m not granting a mistrial at this point.’
The Rev. Jesse Jackson also claimed that the motion for mistrial was the defense’s attempt at a ‘diversion’
Jackson said outside the courthouse during a break in proceedings that he planned to attend the trial all week, calling it ‘a constitutional right and a moral obligation’.
‘They’re looking for diversion,’ he told 11 Alive of the defense lawyers.
Gough’s mistrial request was joined by the two other defense teams. Franklin Hogue, an attorney for Greg McMichael, said he fears the defendants aren’t receiving a fair trial in the community.
Jason Sheffiled, one of Travis McMichaels’ attorneys, said the weeping caused some jurors to look and see Jackson, an icon ‘whose autographed picture hung in my mother’s loft for decades.’
‘Several jurors did look over. Their faces changed (showing) the emotion and sympathy they felt,’ Sheffield told the judge.
Jackson told reporters that it was Arbery’s mother who wept ‘very quietly’ in the courtroom after prosecutors showed a photo of her son to a witness.
The call for a mistrial came after the pastor attended court with Arbery’s parents on Monday, despite prior objections from the defense. The group was seated behind accused shooter Travis McMichael’s mother as the murder trial continued.
Gough, before calling for a mistrial, verbally objected to Jackson’s presence.
‘In the context of this trial, we object to his presence in the public gallery,’ he said. ‘Which pastor is next? Is Raphael Warnock going to be the next person appearing this afternoon? We don’t know.’
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.’
Walmsley declined to ask Jackson to leave.
‘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, adding, ‘If there is a disruption, you’re welcome to call that to my attention.’
Last week, Gough complained when the Rev. Al Sharpton joined Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, and father, Marcus Arbery Sr., inside the Glynn County courtroom.
Gough said he feared Sharpton was trying to influence the jury, saying: ‘We don’t want any more black pastors coming in here or other Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case.’
However, Jackson alleged he was ‘invited there last week by the defense attorney.’
Jason Sheffield, attorney for defendant Travis McMichael, called Gough’s comment ‘totally asinine. Ridiculous,’ and said, ‘In no way do we want to exclude anybody from this process.’
Sharpton has said he will be joined by more than 100 black pastors at the courthouse on Thursday. Meanwhile, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Jason Seacrist, who interviewed defendant William ‘Roddie’ Bryan Jr. on at least two occasions, returned to the witness stand Monday and was questioned by a defense lawyer about his interviews with the accused.
Gough questioned Seacrist about Bryan’s claims that Arbery tried to get into his 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.’
The defense began their cross-examination of Seacrist late Friday before court adjourned for the weekend. At that time, he testified that Bryan, who videotaped the Arbery pursuit from his pickup truck, had an ‘instinct’ that Arbery had committed a crime.
‘Because I figured he had done something wrong. I didn’t know for sure,’ Bryan said in a May interview with Seacrist, according to a transcript read aloud in court late Friday. ‘It was just instinct man, I don’t know. I figured he stole something.’
Defendant William ‘Roddie’ Bryan told Agent Seacrist he thought Arbery had done something wrong: ‘I didn’t know for sure. It was just instinct man, I don’t know. I figured he stole something.’
The fresh evidence on day seven of the trial follows a dramatic week in which Georgia State prosecutors focused on destroying the defense claim that their clients were trying to make a lawful citizens’ arrest of a man they suspected of local burglaries.
The McMichaels and Bryan all deny charges of murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for chasing Arbery down a residential street in their pick-up trucks, leading to him lying dead in the road after three shots were fired.
Their defense attorneys have been arguing Arbery was suspected of burglary after reports of thefts in the neighborhood – and the trio were trying to make the citizens’ arrest when the black man fought back in a tussle with Travis who was wielding a shotgun.
But Georgia State prosecutor Linda Dunikoski last week called witnesses to try to convince the jury the McMichaels were acting like vigilantes tracking down the mystery black man – and they ended up using deadly force.
The McMichaels were armed with a .357 Magnum handgun and the shotgun, the court heard. They began their chase when they spotted budding rapper Arbery running past their home on February 23 last year.
Unarmed neighbor Bryan joined the chase in his own truck after seeing the McMichaels in pursuit of a black man in flight – and would film the shocking cell phone footage of the deadly encounter only minutes away.
Jurors have heard Gregory McMichael said Arbery was ‘trapped like a rat’ when the black jogger was finally confronted at the end of the chase. Glynn County Police detective sergeant Rod Nohilly took the stand and read out a portion of his interview with the accused.
McMichael, a former Glynn County police officer who ended his career as an investigator with the local district attorney’s office, told the responding officer him: ‘He [Arbery], was trapped like a rat. I think he was wanting to flee and he realized that something, you know, he was not going to get away.’
He told the detective he and Travis had shouted for Arbery to stop, and added: ‘He was much faster than Travis would ever be.
‘He had opportunity to flee further you know. We had chased him around the neighborhood a bit but he wasn’t winded at all. I mean this guy was, he was in good shape.’
And in a transcript of an interview with Detective Parker Marcy which he read to the court, McMichael said: ‘I said stop. I’ll blow your f***ing head off, or something.
‘I was trying to convey to this guy we were not playing, you know.’
Gregory McMichael also told Glynn County Police officer Jeff Brandeberry: ‘The guy comes hauling a** down the street. I’m talking about dead run, he’s not jogging.’
‘So I haul my a** into my bedroom to get a .357 Magnum. I don’t take any chances.
‘To be perfectly honest with you, if I could have gotten a shot at the guy, I’d have shot him myself.’
He added: ‘That ain’t no shuffler. This guy’s an a**hole.’
In a police report of the shooting, Gregory McMichael alleged Arbery began fighting over the shotgun being held by Travis and there were two shots – although evidence has been given that there were three shots.
The McMichaels’ belief that Arbery was a burglary suspect was based on previous security footage showing him wandering around a partly-constructed house two homes away from their own in Satilla Drive.
Jurors at Brunswick Superior Court last week saw security videos of the young black man at the house on five occasions.
Four of these were at night and one around lunchtime on the fateful day when he was chased to his death.
Arbery did not touch any items in the house being built by owner and construction boss Larry English on any of the five visits.
Nothing was stolen from the home when he was there, the court heard.
Glynn County Police patrol officer Robert Rash testified that he had been trying to identify the then unidentified black man since being alerted to the first recorded visit to the waterfront property on October 25, 2019.
He said he planned to talk to Arbery about possible trespassing, not burglary, and just warn him to stay off the property.
Any subsequent action or charge would be the decision of English, he added.
Rash had shown the October 25 security video to Gregory McMichael during his inquiries in the neighborhood, he told the court.
Then 12 days before the black jogger was killed, Travis McMichael made a breathless night time 911 call saying he had confronted and ‘chased’ a black man at the house.
Travis, panting heavily, told the 911 operator he had ‘caught a guy running into a house being built’ the jury heard. ‘Black male, red shirt. He is in the house.’
Travis also told the dispatcher that the man reached into his pocket and ‘could be armed’.
Rash attended the scene after being told by his dispatch there was a possible burglary in progress. Jurors were shown dramatic footage from his bodycam as he entered the house, his gun drawn and aimed in front of him with a flashlight leading the way. But Arbery was nowhere to be seen.
Back outside, the footage revealed both McMichaels trying to hunt down the mystery black man, with three neighbors also present. One of these was Matt Albenze, who jurors heard was to call the police non-emergency line on February 23, when he spotted Arbery at the house again.
As the officer and neighbors swapped information, the body cam reveals Gregory McMichael telling Rash: ‘Travis just walked down there’ referring to the back of the property and nearby homes.
He adds: ‘He’s armed by the way.’
Rash told the court: ‘I was the first officer and on my arrival Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael were on the scene. I stood by for other officers to get there before proceeding to check the property for the unidentified male. I believe they [the McMichaels], told dispatch about having guns, but I didn’t see them brandishing guns.’
The officer said he viewed the McMichaels as witnesses and had no plans to deputize them.
Rash told the court he had put English in touch with Gregory McMichael, because he believed the latter could be a reliable witness if there was another situation at the house due to his law enforcement experience.
But during English’s four-hour pre-recorded video testimony at the trial, he denied McMichael was given any permission to hunt down anyone spotted there.
Prosecutor Pail Camarillo asked English: ‘At any point in time did you authorize the McMichael to ever confront anybody on your site?’
English replied: ‘No’. Camarillo followed up: ‘Or act on behalf of the police on your site.’ English said: ‘No’.
The homeowner who lives with his family 90 miles away in Douglas, Georgia, and suffers from sarcoidosis, a serious condition of the heart and lungs, revealed he was building his ‘dream home’ and staying there in a camper around two weekends a month during construction.
In the wake of incessant trespassing at the site, English in 2019, had installed about eight security cameras at the site. Images were relayed to English’s cell phone after the motion sensors tripped.
Not all the visitors were Arbery, the court heard. Children were among the first spotted and on November 17, 2019, a white couple were captured on video entering the premises at night.
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