The nearly two-week-long trial was defined by heated exchanges, high-profile players and profound emotion — not surprising in a case that captured national attention and stoked demands for social justice.
Arbery, who is Black, was shot and killed in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Ga. in February 2020 by three white men. The controversial circumstances of the case — described alternately as a citizen’s arrest that turned deadly — were compounded by the delayed reaction of law enforcement. The three men weren’t arrested until May 2020, after the release of cell phone video of the fatal shooting was leaked to the media.
Because of the high-profile nature of the case, more than 1,000 Glynn County residents were initially summoned for jury duty. Fewer than half showed up to serve, and most conceded they had strong, inflexible opinions about the case. After 11 days of jury selection, a panel was selected — composed of 11 white men and women and one Black man.
Prosecutors objected to the racial makeup of the jury, saying the defense attorneys struck all but one Black person out of a pool of 48. The judge shared the state’s concerns, saying “there appears to be intentional discrimination” in the jury selection process, but he allowed the case to move forward anyway.
Throughout the case, defense attorneys clashed with state prosecutors, the judge and occasionally each other in the high-stakes trial. All three men faced life in prison if convicted, and the family of Ahmaud Arbery said they would accept nothing less.
The issue of race, which did not enter into evidence, surrounded the case from the day of the shooting and was frequently injected into proceedings by Bryan’s attorney Kevin Gough, who made headlines for objecting to the presence of Black pastors.
After the Rev. Al Sharpton joined the Arbery family in court to offer his support, Gough objected that high-profile individuals in the courtroom would intimidate jurors. “Obviously, there’s only so many pastors they can have, and in the fact that their pastor is Al Sharpton right now that’s fine, but then that’s it. We don’t want any more black pastors coming in here…,” Gough said.
Following national blowback over his comments, defense attorney Kevin Gough offered a lukewarm apology — but continued raising similar objections on a near-daily basis.
Gough’s race-based comments sparked criticism from co-defendants attorneys, as well as a national call-to-action, with hundreds of Black pastors showing up in the following days outside the courthouse in a demonstration of solidarity.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the eldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Luther King III, later hosted a “wall of prayer” outside the Glynn County Courthouse.