US judge rejects mistrial request over Ahmaud Arbery killing
Ahmaud Arbery

Lawyers for three white men charged with the murder of a Black jogger called Monday for a mistrial on the grounds that jurors were being influenced by the presence of leading African-American pastors in the court gallery.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley dismissed the defense request and ordered the high-profile trial to proceed.

Gregory McMichael, 65, a retired police officer, his son Travis, 35, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan, 52, are facing murder and other charges for the February 2020 shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

The McMichaels, who were armed with a shotgun and a handgun, and Bryan chased Arbery in their pickup trucks through their Georgia neighborhood of Satilla Shores and he was shot by the younger McMichael after a struggle.

The three defendants contend they believed Arbery was a burglar and have invoked a since-repealed state law that allows ordinary citizens to make arrests.

A graphic video of the shooting of the unarmed Arbery went viral on social media and added fuel to last year's protests against racial injustice sparked by the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Kevin Gough, the defense lawyer for Bryan, had objected last week to the presence of civil rights leader the Reverend Al Sharpton in the public gallery.

"We don't want any more Black pastors coming in here," Gough said.

Judge Walmsley said he was not going to police who could attend the trial, and Gough apologized to "anyone who might have inadvertently been offended."

'Eye-balling these jurors'

But Gough, who reiterated his concerns in court on Monday as Jackson attended the trial, was joined by the lawyers for the McMichaels in requesting a mistrial.

"We contend that the atmosphere of the trial, inside and outside the courtroom at this point, has deprived Mr. Bryan of his right to a free trial," Gough said.

"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, eye-balling these jurors.

"Case law out there in mob cases and other cases demonstrates all the ways that presence in the gallery can influence jurors in a case.

"I certainly don't mean to suggest that Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or any other pastor belong to a mob.

"But at the same time," he said, "we have all these community leaders fearful that the city's going to burn down."

After listening to Gough and the other defense lawyers make their arguments, the judge issued a curt response.

"I'm not granting a mistrial at this point based on these arguments being made," he said.

There is only a single Black juror on the 12-member jury although about 25 percent of the 85,000 residents of Glynn County, where the trial is taking place, are Black.

Local prosecutors, for whom Gregory McMichael had worked for a long time, did not make any arrests in the case for nearly three months.

It was only after the video of the shooting was leaked online that the case was transferred to state police and charges were filed.