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Judge denies mistrial request in trial over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery

The Georgia trial judge also refused a defense attorney's request to remove Reverend Jesse Jackson from the courtroom.

(CN) — Tensions in the Georgia murder trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s death were high Monday as one defense attorney objected to Reverend Jesse Jackson presence in the courtroom and the defense team requested a mistrial after jurors heard the victim’s mother crying.

Defense attorney Kevin Gough asked the judge to remove Jackson, saying he was worried about the effect the prominent civil rights leader’s presence might have on the jury.

“He is, your honor, I think we all know, an icon in the civil rights movement,” Gough said. “And in other circumstances, I think everybody would be happy to have their picture taken, maybe get an autograph. But in the context of this trial, we object to his presence in the public gallery inside the courtroom."

The jury was not in the courtroom when Gough made his statements.

“The seats in the public gallery of a courtroom are not like courtside seats at a Lakers game," Gough continued. "There are no First Amendment rights in the public gallery of a courtroom.”

Gough’s objection comes just days after he told the judge he wanted Black pastors banned from the courtroom in response to Reverend Al Sharpton sitting in the public gallery. He argued that having “high-profile” members of the Black community in the courtroom could put more pressure on jurors.

The attorney apologized for the statement Friday morning.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said he had already addressed the issue of public access to the courtroom and would not track which members of the public enter.

Gough represents William “Roddie” Bryan, who, along with Greg McMichael and his son Travis McMichael, is charged with murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment for the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. The three white men are accused of chasing Arbery, who was Black, in their trucks as he jogged through their coastal Georgia neighborhood last February.

Bryan filmed the chase on his phone and captured the moment when Travis McMichael fired two shotgun blasts at Arbery as they tussled over the gun, killing him.

Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones has been a near-constant presence in the courtroom. On Monday, Reverend Jackson sat beside her in a show of support.

Walmsley said he was not aware Jackson was in the courtroom until Gough pointed it out.

The judge cautioned Gough that his “words in this courtroom have an impact on a lot of what’s going on” and indicated he believed the attorney was drawing unwanted attention to himself.

“Individuals coming into the courtroom — I will say that is directly in response to statements you made which I find reprehensible. The Colonel Sanders statement you made last week I would suggest may be something which is influencing what is going on here,” Walmsley said.

The judge was referencing a comment Gough made on Thursday while talking about Sharpton being in court.

Gough had told the judge he didn't want "any more Black pastors" in the courtroom.

“If a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks sitting in the back, that would be —” the attorney said before Walmsley cut him off.

Later Monday morning, Gough was joined by the rest of the defense team in moving for a mistrial. The attorneys said their clients’ chance for a fair trial was jeopardized when jurors saw Jackson comfort Arbery’s weeping mother.

Walmsley sent the jury out of the courtroom after Arbery’s mother cried out over a photo of her son which was entered into evidence.

Laura Hogue, who along with her husband Franklin Hogue represents Greg McMichael, said she was concerned that jurors could be swayed by the display of emotion.

“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 felt and heard that,” said Hogue.

Jason Sheffield, an attorney for Travis McMichael, said he saw jurors look over at Arbery’s mother.

“Their faces changed … And to see Mr. Reverend Jackson, whose autographed picture hung in my mother’s 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,” Sheffield said.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski countered that the noise was minor and that the judge had asked the jury to step out immediately when it happened.

“It wasn’t somebody shouting, it wasn’t somebody … falling out hysterical,” Dunikoski said.

Walmsley rejected the motion, saying, “It is an emotional trial. That is not unique when it comes to murder trials.”

Testimony in the trial continued throughout the day, with jurors hearing from Georgia Bureau of Investigations forensic experts and viewing digitally enhanced videos of the chase originally filmed by Bryan.

Prosecutors will continue to present evidence Tuesday.

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