Nov. 12 (UPI) -- An attorney representing one of the men on trial for murder in the death of Ahmaud Arbery apologized Friday after objecting to the presence of "Black pastors" in the Georgia courtroom.
The lawyer, Kevin Gough, took issue with the Rev. Al Sharpton sitting in the courtroom and observing the trial earlier this week. He brought it up Thursday to Judge Timothy Walmsley.
"We don't want any more Black pastors coming in here or other Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim's family to influence a jury in this case," Gough said Thursday.
He said that allowing Sharpton to observe proceedings set a "precedent ... where we're going to bring high-profile members of the African American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in the presence of the jury."
"I believe that's intimidating and it's an attempt to pressure."
Sharpton and civil rights attorney Ben Crump held a prayer vigil with Arbery's family on the steps of the courthouse Wednesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Gough represents William "Roddie" Bryan, one of the three men on trial accused of running down Arbery in their trucks, boxing him in and then shooting him to death Feb. 23, 2020. Greg McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael, and Bryan each face charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Civil rights activists have decried the shooting as racially motivated, saying Black men such as Arbery aren't safe going for a jog in a residential neighborhood without the threat of violence or suspicion. The McMichaels and Bryan, all of whom are White, said they chased and shot Arbery because they suspected him of theft.
Jason Sheffield, who represents Travis McMichael, called Gough's comments "asinine and ridiculous."
"We feel anyone is welcome to come show their support," he said. "Come one, come all."
Gough offered an apology for his remarks Friday in court.
"I will let the court know that if my statements yesterday were overly broad, I will follow up with a more specific motion on Monday putting those concerns in the proper context. And my apologies to anyone who might have inadvertently been offended," Gough said.
Walmsley said Thursday he gave permission for Sharpton to sit in the courtroom as long as he didn't create a distraction and he was unaware that his presence created any disturbance.
During testimony Friday, police officer Robert Rash said he, other police officers and residents in the Satilla Shores neighborhood where the shooting took place were familiar with Arbery. The 25-year-old had been spotted multiple times on surveillance footage at a vacant property under construction.
Rash said he showed the footage of Arbery at the property to multiple people, including Greg McMichael, in order to identify him. Rash said that while he thought Greg McMichael might make an "expert witness" because of his law enforcement background, he didn't "deputize" him to detain Arbery.
Rash testified that the owner of the property said Arbery never took anything from the site and that he only wanted to speak to him to tell him to stay off the property.
"Nobody seems to know who this kid is, where he's coming from," Rash is heard saying in body camera footage shown in court. "But, like, he's always, in all the times on the video that Mr. English sent me ... it's always been just in there plundering around. He hasn't seen him actually take anything."