BRUNSWICK — Day seven in the trial of three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery continued Monday following the judge’s denial of a defense attorney’s request for a mistrial.
Attorney Kevin Gough said a number of factors are preventing his client, defendant William “Roddie” Bryan, from getting a fair trial — including the presence of well-known civil rights activists such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson inside the courtroom.
“Your Honor, we have had numerous instances during jury selections of nonverbal communications between the victim's family and jurors or from juror to the victim's family,” Gough said. “We've had several emotional outbursts during the trial of this case, not withstanding the substantial efforts of the court to ensure that they don't take place and we have had a civil rights icon sitting in here and what the civil rights community contends is, quote unquote, a test case for civil rights in the United States.”
Last week, Gough asked Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley to limit Black pastors seated in the courtroom, stating that they may be influencing the jury by sitting with Arbery’s family.
Walmsley declined the request and also denied Gough’s request Monday for a mistrial.
“If there’s a disruption, call it to my attention,” Walmsey said in response to Gough’s concerns of potential courtroom distractions.
Bryan, along with Greg McMcMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, are accused of chasing Arbery, a Black man who they say they believed was responsible for burglaries in the neighborhood.
Testimony indicated Bryan was working on his front porch in the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2020, when he saw Arbery run by his house with the McMichaels following behind him in their truck.
He yelled out “You got him?” before running inside his home and grabbing his keys to join the chase. While Gough stated Bryan did not grab a weapon before getting in his truck, GBI agent Jason Seacrist said Bryan was armed “with his vehicle.”
Gough asserted that as Bryan was attempting to block in Arbery to get a picture of him, Bryan was fearful as Arbery attempted to open the door to his truck. He said the first crime Bryan witnessed that day was Arbery trying to get in his truck.
“There were moments before and plenty of moments after” that Bryan could’ve called 911, Seacrist said. He asserted that if Bryan were truly scared, he would not have cornered Arbery to the left side of the road, and instead would have stayed ahead of Arbery on the right side.
GBI agents testified to some fibers on the side of Bryan’s truck and a part of Arbery’s palm print on the side of the truck.
The proceedings Monday also entailed viewing a slow-motion cell phone video that Bryan filmed from his truck, showing the final moments leading up to Arbery’s death. The video, filmed by Bryan, follows behind Arbery as he approached the McMichaels, who appear to be blocking off the road ahead.
Travis McMichael is seen exiting the driver side of the truck and appears to be pointing a shotgun. Arbery runs away from Travis around the other side of the truck and runs toward Travis, where a tussle ensues over the gun.
Shortly after, three gun shots are heard and Arbery later attempts to run away before falling to the ground where he died. Brian Leppard of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab testified Monday that Arbery was shot from contact or near close in the torso area and under his arm.
Last week, 911 calls, police testimony and a pre-recorded deposition from Larry English — who owned the under-construction property at 220 Satilla Shores — revealed that several calls had been made to report trespassers on English’s property on several occasions from October 2019 to February 2020.
Surveillance video from the property showed kids on one occasion, a white couple and a man believed to be Arbery on three occasions prior to Feb. 23, 2020.
“He’s always seen plundering around. Mr. English never saw him take anything,” Glynn County Police Officer Robert Rash said.
Arbery, said to be an avid jogger by prosecutors, was often seen taking off running from the property after browsing around inside.
Diego Perez, a neighbor across from the property, had reached out for English’s permission to watch his property in an attempt to catch the trespasser.
“I may be able to pen them up for police,” according to a text message from Perez to English.
English — who testified via a deposition due to potential COVID-19-related health risks — said he’d only met the McMichaels once and never gave them permission to watch his property. He said he did not want any of the trespassers caught on surveillance on his property but did not wish harm on anyone.
Nearly two weeks prior to Arbery’s death, Travis McMichael had called police the night of Feb. 11 to report a Black man, later believed to be Arbery, running into the home under construction.
According to recorded 911 call, Travis said the man had “reached into his pocket” and could be armed. By the time police arrived, they did not locate the Black man inside the home or on the property.
English sent Officer Rash a video surveillance from inside of the home, which captures the man; Rash showed the video to the McMichaels and others on the scene.
The McMichaels and Bryan say they were following and chasing Arbery Feb. 23, 2020 in an attempt to perform a citizen’s arrest.
Testimony from law enforcement revealed that no items were found on Arbery at the time of his death — no stolen items, no weapon, phone or wallet.
The McMichaels and Bryan were not immediately arrested for Arbery's death. It wasn't until Bryan's video was made public and after protests that the three men were charged in Glynn County Superior Court with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony in May 2020.
They are also federally charged with federal hate crimes — interference with rights and attempted kidnapping, alleging that the trio used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.