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Jesse Jackson visits the courtroom in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing

Rev. Jesse Jackson, left, sits with Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, at the murder trial of Greg McMichael his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in the Glynn County Courthouse.
Stephen B. Morton
Rev. Jesse Jackson, left, sits with Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, at the murder trial of Greg McMichael his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in the Glynn County Courthouse.

Prosecutors are closer to resting their case against three white men who are charged with murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Racial aspects of the trial were prominent again on Monday, as a defense attorney objected to Rev. Jesse Jackson being in the courtroom, saying the presence of a civil rights icon could influence the jury.

The state continued its questioning of Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents and experts as the trial entered its second full week. "We're getting close to the finish line," a prosecutor said during a late-morning recess, according to a pool report that was highlighted by journalist Kailey Tracy.

Gough again objects to pastors' presence

Jackson was seated alongside Arbery's mother when attorney Kevin Gough, who represents William "Roddie" Bryan, asked Judge Timothy Walmsley to remove him from court, renewing his objection that made headlines last week, when he stated, "We don't want any more Black pastors coming in here."

Noting that the Arbery family has been yielding some of its apportioned space in the courtroom to figures such as Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton, Gough added, "The seats in the public gallery of the courtroom are not like courtside seats of the Lakers game."

Gough had started the day by asking Judge Timothy Walmsley to order sheriff's deputies or bailiffs to identify and record movements of anyone attending the trial. Walmsley rejected that idea, and he reiterated that he would not place limits on the presence of pastors. That did not deter Gough from attempting to have Jackson removed.

"At this point, I'm not exactly sure what you're doing," Walmsley said. "I have already ruled on this court's position with regard to the gallery. And with all candor, I was not even aware that Rev. Jackson was in the courtroom, until you started your motion."

"It's almost as if you're just trying to continue this [request] for purposes other than just bringing it to the court's attention, and I find that objectionable," the judge said.

Walmsley later said he found it "reprehensible" when Gough wondered last week, after speaking out against Black pastors, about what might happen in the courtroom if "a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks, sitting in the back." Gough did not get a chance to finish that idea last week, as his comment was cut off by Walmsley.

Judge denies mistrial motion after Arbery's mother weeps

Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, reacted to seeing an image of her son in court by weeping — a brief emotional outburst that prompted Walmsley to order a brief recess. In court, Jackson could be seen comforting Cooper-Jones, placing his arm around her shoulders.

Gough then moved for a mistrial, saying that because of the outburst, along with racial justice protests outside the courthouse, "these defendants can no longer get a fair trial."

Defense teams for the other two defendants — Greg and Travis McMichael — joined the motion, noting that there had already been at least one emotional outburst earlier in the proceedings. But Walmsley cited legal precedent in stating that emotions could be expected to run high at a murder trial, and he noted that judges have successfully avoided a mistrial by taking immediate and curative action, such as declaring a recess and removing the jury.

Walmsley denied the motion for a mistrial, and he cautioned the attorneys in the case to be mindful of the language they use.

"You need to understand — everybody — that your words in this courtroom have an impact on a lot of what's going on," the judge said.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Jackson later said that the defense's case is weak, saying Gough and other attorneys are hoping for a mistrial to spare their clients from a murder conviction, as Lisa Hagen of member station WABE reports.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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