Judge denies 4th mistrial request about Black Pastors in Ahmaud Arbury murder trial
As the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial continued this week against father and son Greg and Travis McMichael, along with their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., a defense attorney has decided, for the second week in a row, to make race his courtroom punching bag.
Last week, Kevin Gouch, attorney for Bryan, complained to Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley about black pastors in the courtroom. This week he again complained to the judge, but this time he took exception to black pastors gathered outside.
During the first week of the trial, Gough made what some called racially charged comments when he asked the judge to ban black pastors from the courtoom. Gouch’s initial outburst and attack was against Rev. Al Sharpton for being in the courtroom with Arbury’s mother. He later complained about civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Each took turns accompanying Arbery’s parents in the courtroom.
Goughs’s complaints included ugly comments such as, “We don’t need any more black pastors in the courtroom.” Pastors from all around did not take kindly to Gouch’s commentary as they flocked to the courthouse in solidarity and in support of the slain Arbery. Hundreds descended upon the Glynn County Courthouse for a lunchtime prayer rally outside the courthouse and a march through Brunswick.
Gough called the rally by the Black pastors a “public lynching” and said his client, Bryan, could not get a fair trial. Gough claimed that the clergy created inherent prejudice for the jury, witnesses, and even the judge. “Just because they haven’t put a podium up with a hangman’s noose, doesn’t mean this isn’t a trial that’s been infected by the woke left mob,” Gough said in his complaint to Judge Walmsley. “This is what a public lynching looks like in the 21st century.” Gough asked the judge again for a mistrial and the Judge Walmsley again denied his request.
It is now four times and counting during the nearly two-week long trial that defense attorneys have complained in court about the presence of Black pastors, with a demand for a mistrial because of them.
Prosecutor Linda Dunokoski asked Judge Walmsley to deny their motions for mistrial, saying Gough’s first protest using the “no more Black pastors” and “Colonel Sanders” language was a strategy to incite Black pastors to come to the trial en masse just so he could then claim they were sources of influence and intimidation. Dunokoski wanted to make it clear to the Judge that Gough created the issues, set things in motion with his rhetoric, and came forward afterwards to say ‘mistrial’ without taking credit for what he had purposefully started.
Gough’s courtroom antics are not new and are not going unnoticed. Those who follow legal matters in Brunswick say Gough is known for pushing the envelope or creating a spectacle, if he thinks it will benefit his client. “I’m entirely not shocked at all by what everybody’s been shocked about. It’s just classic Kevin Gough,” said Wes Wolfe, who covered Gough as a courts reporter for The Brunswick News from 2016 to 2020. In an AP interview, Wolfe said, “It doesn’t seem to matter to him that it rubs people the wrong way, and it doesn’t seem to bother him that judges get irritated.”
Meanwhile, Travis McMichael, the shooter, was the only person to take the witness stand out of the three men on trial. He testified that he had seen security camera videos of Arbery inside the unfinished home and he spotted Arbery “creeping” outside of it 12 days before the shooting. He admitted that none of the five videos of Arbery inside the home showed him stealing anything. The video showed numerous people entering and leaving the construction, along with Arbury. The video was provided by the owner who said he installed cameras after items were taken from a boat he kept in an open garage. The Prosecution was able to get Travis to admit that Arbery did not threaten him in any way before he pointed his shotgun at him and killed the 25-year-old Black man.
At one moment in the trial, Travis wiped at his eyes and told the court that he feared for his life as he shed what some are calling “crocodile tears.” Members of the community we spoke with asked why Travis would stop Arbury and approach him if he truly feared for his life. They say the only person who feared for his life that day was Arbury, and his death substantiated the fears he must have had after being shot twice with a shotgun.
Many in the community found Travis’ tears and testimony offensive, pointing to similarities to other trials around the country where men with guns and rifles have tried to defend their actions for shooting unarmed persons by saying they feared for their lives while shedding tears.
The defense attorneys rested their collective cases on Thursday after calling seven witnesses, including Travis.