BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WSAV) – Defense teams in the murder trial for three white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery rested Thursday.
Meanwhile, hundreds of pastors gathered outside the Glynn County Courthouse in response to repeated attempts to have Black ministers barred from the courtroom.
The 25-year-old Arbery’s death drew national attention last year following leaked cellphone video, and the fatal encounter has remained in the spotlight since.
The high-profile case brought Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to Brunswick. Each has sat with Arbery’s family during the trial — a point of contention for the defense.
“I believe that’s intimidating and it’s an attempt to pressure — could be consciously or unconsciously — an attempt to pressure or influence the jury,” Kevin Gough, attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan, said last week.
“Obviously, there’s only so many pastors they can have,” he continued. “And if their pastor is Al Sharpton right now, that’s fine, then that’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here.”
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley rejected the calls for a mistrial, saying guests are allowed in the courtroom so long as they’re not disruptive to proceedings.
In response to Gough, Sharpton and the Arbery family’s attorneys gathered pastors and activists to rally and pray outside the courthouse, including Martin Luther King III.
“We’re not gonna give up. We’re not gonna give out. We’re not gonna give in,” said the son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “We’re gonna keep coming back.”
Sharpton said he didn’t come to the trial to protest but to pray.
“You can’t imagine the pain of a mother to sit there and look at the killers of her son. And their families and nobody’s sitting there with her. The pain of a father who won’t get a call from his son anymore,” he said.
Hundreds of faith leaders, civil rights leaders and supporters from around Georgia and the country came together to lift up the Arbery family.
“When Ahmaud was killed on the 23rd of February, the family had some of the darkest times of our lives. We asked questions, we got no answers,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother.
“I asked the Lord to somehow tell me what happened,” she added.
Local pastors showed their support as well, with up to 30 clergy members making the trek from Savannah to Brunswick.
“This case has been one where there’s attempts to exclude clergy. We want to show that we stand in unison regardless of denomination, regardless of background, that we’re together,” said St. Paul CME Church Rev. Da’henrii Thurmond.
“It lets the world know, as Dr. King said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Thurmond continued.
Inside the courtroom, the day began with a cross-examination of Travis McMichael, who claimed he had probable cause to approach Arbery in the Satilla Shores neighborhood.
He said neighbors had been concerned about crime and that Arbery had been seen at a home under construction, adding Arbery matched the description of someone caught on surveillance video entering the home a few weeks prior.
The prosecution pointed out that nothing had been taken from the home and called out discrepancies in his testimony and written statement the day of the shooting.
McMichael said in court he believed he told Arbery that police had been called when he was trying to stop him — but his written statement didn’t mention that.
“You are telling this jury that you are all confused and can’t get the facts straight, as you are telling the police why you shot and killed a man,” said prosecutor Linda Dunikoski.
“I was trying with my best ability,” McMichael responded, “but like I said, under the circumstances of going through a traumatic event, this is the most traumatic event I’ve ever gone through in my life.”
The defense also called several neighbors who were concerned about crime in the area to testify. That led to a prosecutor posing a question reprimanded by the judge.
“Do you believe that someone stealing is deserving of the death penalty?” Larissa Ollivierre asked witness Lindy Cofer, a longtime Satilla Shores resident.
Gough filed his fifth motion for a mistrial based on the question.
Walmsley denied the motion but said it was “inflammatory and irrelevant.” The judge said the jury would be instructed to disregard the question.
The defense teams for Travis McMichael, his father Greg and Bryan all rested their cases.
The judge and attorneys will meet Friday to develop jury instructions. Walmsley instructed jurors to return to court at 9 a.m. Monday for closing arguments.