ATLANTA — With closing arguments in the trial of the men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery looming, the defense lawyer who prompted widespread criticism for trying to keep Black preachers like the Rev. Al Sharpton out of the courtroom moved on Friday for a mistrial, arguing that demonstrators outside the courtroom amounted to a “woke left mob” who were unduly influencing the jury.
The mistrial motion on Friday was among many that had been submitted, or threatened, in recent days by Kevin Gough, the lawyer for William Bryan, one of three white men indicted on charges of illegally chasing and murdering Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man. Like other similar mistrial motions from Mr. Gough, this one was rejected by Judge Timothy R. Walmsley of Glynn County Superior Court.
But Mr. Gough — who earlier this week said, “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here” — took his provocative language to new heights on Friday.
Mr. Gough noted the large crowd of Black pastors and other civil rights demonstrators who gathered on Thursday outside the county courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. “This is what a public lynching looks like in the 21st century, with all due respect,” he said.
Civil rights leaders like Mr. Sharpton have referred to the February 2020 killing of Mr. Arbery as a lynching. Mr. Gough appeared to be speaking figuratively, since there have been no reports of violence or threats from the people who have gathered outside the courthouse.
In arguing against a mistrial, Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor in the case, called Mr. Gough a “brilliant lawyer.” She noted that it was Mr. Gough himself who was responsible for attracting a large crowd on Thursday when he made the controversial case that pastors like Mr. Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson should be kept out of the courtroom.
Mr. Gough’s words were, indeed, the catalyst for the peaceful demonstration. One of the participants, Jamal H. Bryant of Georgia, reportedly called Mr. Gough’s comments “absolutely unnecessary and distracting and polarizing.” Mr. Jackson defiantly stated, “We are going to keep coming until we get justice,” according to The Associated Press.
The three white men, who said they believed Mr. Arbery was responsible for break-ins in their neighborhood, have been indicted on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. They are facing up to life in prison. A jury made up of 11 white people and one Black person will hear closing arguments in the case on Monday morning, and then begin deliberations.
The jury was not in the courtroom on Friday. But lawyers spent the day sparring intensely over the language in the instructions that Judge Walmsley will read to jurors before deliberations begin.
CBS News reported on Friday that S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer for the Arbery family, said that the defense team for Mr. Bryan had asked the Cobb County District Attorney’s office for a plea deal, but that prosecutors turned it down.
Mr. Gough, in a brief interview with The New York Times on Friday morning, denied that his client had sought a plea deal. A spokeswoman for the prosecution declined to comment.