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Defense attorney in the trial over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery sets off outcry

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It is the end of week four in the murder trial of three white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery last year. Arbery was a 25-year-old Black man jogging through a residential neighborhood in coastal Georgia. He was unarmed. Video of the fatal encounter sparked national protests. Reporter Lisa Hagen of member station WABE in Atlanta has been following this trial and joins us now with the latest. Welcome.

LISA HAGEN, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks.

CHANG: Hi. So one of the defense lawyers here, Kevin Gough, I understand, got a lot of reaction this week over something that he said during a break in the trial on Thursday. Let's hear a bit of that right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN GOUGH: 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, trying to influence a jury in this case.

CHANG: Can you just tell us a little more about what was he saying there exactly?

HAGEN: Yeah. So defense attorney Kevin Gough represents Roddie Bryan, who videoed (ph) the incident and allegedly helped chase Arbery with his truck. Gough says while this jury was out of the courtroom, he'd stood up to complain about the day before when Reverend Al Sharpton had briefly showed up in court. Gough was saying he's worried more high-profile Black leaders showing up might intimidate the jury. The judge pointed out that Gough hadn't even noticed Sharpton and that the reverend didn't break any of the court's rules. He basically called Gough's complaint a distraction, and this morning Gough did apologize. But of course, for a lot of folks watching, it feels like another example of race and racism swirling around Arbery's killing in this trial.

CHANG: Well, at the center of this case is this open construction site that Arbery would stop by during his jogs, and yesterday the jury heard from the owner of that site. Can you talk about what was the significance of that testimony?

HAGEN: So he's building this house and has surveillance video set up around it that he could check from his phone. He testified that Ahmaud Arbery was one of various folks who showed up on the site, as well as a white couple and a group of kids who built bike ramps out of plywood from the property. English talked about a cooler and some electronics that had been stolen out of his boat at some point and ultimately said he has no idea when that stuff was stolen or where. He also told lawyers he'd never authorized defendants Greg or Travis McMichael to pursue intruders on his land. Now, today jurors heard from Glynn County Police Officer Robert Rash. He'd been working with the property owner and other neighbors about alleged trespassing in the neighborhood. Sometimes that meant talking to defendants Greg and Travis McMichael. Here's prosecutor Linda Dunikoski questioning Officer Rash.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDA DUNIKOSKI: Did you deputize Greg McMichael?

ROBERT RASH: No, ma'am. No, ma'am.

DUNIKOSKI: OK. Did you give him any authority to act as a police officer?

RASH: No, ma'am.

DUNIKOSKI: All right.

HAGEN: He said Greg McMichael had offered to be on call if the property owner ever needed a neighbor to look in.

CHANG: Huh. OK, well, the defense has been making the argument that their clients were trying to conduct a citizen's arrest of Arbery. That law, of course, has been repealed in Georgia since all of this happened, but the defense can still rely on that law in their case, right?

HAGEN: Right. It was law at the time, and the jury will have to make its decision accordingly. And that's why the defense is doing what it can to build a picture of fear of property crime being rampant in the neighborhood. He started - Arbery had previously been seen on surveillance entering this completely open site at night, but the state has been pointing out that Greg McMichael's statements to police about Arbery changed over time. It started out accusing him of break-ins and then later on didn't know that Arbery had committed any crime.

CHANG: That is Lisa Hagen with member station WABE. Thank you.

HAGEN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.