US: Defense lawyer in Arbery slaying known for pushing limits

Georgia man who called cops on Ahmaud Arbery describes 'shocking scene' he later found

  Georgia man who called cops on Ahmaud Arbery describes 'shocking scene' he later found A man who called police to report Ahmaud Arbery inside a house under construction described a 'shocking scene' after Arbery's fatal shooting.Matthew Albenze, who has lived in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick for more than 30 years, said that minutes after he called the police nonemergency number, he heard shots and came across a "shocking scene," where Arbery's body was splayed on the road.

ATLANTA (AP) — When a defense attorney in the trial of three men charged in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery called for Black pastors to be barred from the courtroom, shock and outrage rippled across the country. But for people familiar with his courtroom style, it came as no surprise.

Defense attorney Kevin Gough speaks during the trial of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William © Provided by Associated Press Defense attorney Kevin Gough speaks during the trial of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan at the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. The three are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Octavio Jones/Pool Photo via AP)

A former top public defender whose firing five years ago was condemned by the local NAACP chapter, Kevin Gough is known in legal circles for his dramatic flair in the courtroom.

Ahmaud Arbery Trial Judge Denies Defense Request to Remove Jesse Jackson From Court

  Ahmaud Arbery Trial Judge Denies Defense Request to Remove Jesse Jackson From Court "The court is not going to single out any particular individual or group of individuals as not being allowed into his courtroom," the judge said.Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley declined to have the Reverend Jesse Jackson removed, saying Jackson was not causing any disruption to the court.

“I’m entirely not shocked at all by what everybody’s been shocked about. It's just classic Kevin Gough,” said Wes Wolfe, who covered Gough as a courts reporter for The Brunswick News from 2016 to 2020.

Gough frequently pushes the envelope if he thinks it will benefit his client, Wolfe said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It doesn’t seem to matter to him that it rubs people the wrong way, and it doesn’t seem to bother him that judges get irritated,” Wolfe said.

Gough did not respond to an email and a text message seeking comment.

The attorney, who represents William “Roddie” Bryan, has repeatedly argued that the presence of high-profile civil rights leaders and pastors could threaten his client’s right to a fair trial. Bryan, along with father and son Greg and Travis McMichael, is charged with murder and other crimes in the February 2020 shooting death of the 25-year-old Black man near the Georgia port city of Brunswick.

Travis McMichael testifies he wasn't under threat during pickup chase before fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery

  Travis McMichael testifies he wasn't under threat during pickup chase before fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery Travis McMichael returned to the stand under cross-examination on Thursday, then the defense rested its case in the Georgia murder trial.Travis McMichael also told prosecutors he did not tell police some of the details about the pursuit that he shared in court on Wednesday.

Defense attorney Kevin Gough speaks during the trial of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William © Provided by Associated Press Defense attorney Kevin Gough speaks during the trial of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan at the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. The three are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Octavio Jones/Pool Photo via AP)

Gough is no stranger to controversy and media attention.

He was appointed to head the Brunswick Judicial Circuit public defender's office in 2012, overseeing five counties in southeast Georgia, but was fired nearly four years later.

In a dismissal letter in April 2016, then-executive director of the Georgia Public Defender Council Bryan Tyson wrote that Gough’s conduct and history of poor management decisions left Tyson no choice but to remove him. Among other things, Tyson wrote in the nine-page letter, Gough “engaged in a media campaign designed either to secure your re-nomination, to discredit the district attorney, or both.”

Trial takeaways: Arbery's killer testifies; pastors rally

  Trial takeaways: Arbery's killer testifies; pastors rally BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — The man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery took the witness stand to tell jurors he pulled the trigger fearing for his own life. Meanwhile, hundreds of Black pastors rallied outside the Glynn County courthouse in coastal Georgia to show support for the slain 25-year-old Black man's family, compelled by a defense attorney's failed efforts to get prominent civil rights figures barred from the court. The trial of father and sonMeanwhile, hundreds of Black pastors rallied outside the Glynn County courthouse in coastal Georgia to show support for the slain 25-year-old Black man's family, compelled by a defense attorney's failed efforts to get prominent civil rights figures barred from the court.

Defense attorney Kevin Gough speaks during the trial of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William © Provided by Associated Press Defense attorney Kevin Gough speaks during the trial of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan at the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. The three are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Octavio Jones/Pool Photo via AP)

In a television interview two weeks earlier, Gough had accused the local district attorney of holding cases hostage — wasting taxpayer money and violating his clients’ rights to a speedy trial — in hopes that Gough wouldn’t be reappointed and she could file cases once he was gone.

The Brunswick NAACP had raised concerns about the district attorney’s office and, the day after his firing, Gough threatened a hunger strike “unless and until" the issues were addressed.

The Rev. Zack Lyde, who said he took complaints for the local NAACP at the time, strongly opposed Gough’s firing and credited him with bringing in talented public defenders who were actually winning cases against the district attorney’s office.

What we learned from testimony in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing

  What we learned from testimony in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing Closing arguments are expected to begin Monday morning in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killing, after jurors heard from more than 20 witnesses, including the man who shot and killed the 25-year-old jogger. © Stephen B. Morton/Pool/AP Travis McMichael speaks from the witness stand during his trial Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Travis McMichael, who took the stand last week, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan Jr.

Defense attorney Kevin Gough speaks during the trial of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William © Provided by Associated Press Defense attorney Kevin Gough speaks during the trial of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan at the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. The three are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Octavio Jones/Pool Photo via AP)

“That was very exciting to me because I’d seen ... a tremendous number of poor people, and in particular Black folks, who were railroaded by the system,” he said in a phone interview.

Lyde said he believes Gough is a skilled defense attorney who does whatever is required to help clients, so he doesn’t take issue with Gough’s call to bar Black pastors from the courtroom.

“I assure you, if I had to get a criminal lawyer to defend me in Glynn County, Gough would be the man,” he said.

As the Rev. Jesse Jackson sat in the courtroom Monday, Gough told the judge that civil rights icons had no reason to be there. "With all due respect, I would suggest, whether intended or not, that inevitably a juror is going to be influenced by their presence in the courtroom,” Gough said.

Defense attorney Kevin Gough listens to court proceedings during the trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga.  Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and neighbor William © Provided by Associated Press Defense attorney Kevin Gough listens to court proceedings during the trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Sean Rayford/Pool Photo via AP)

In addition to objecting to the presence of Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who sat with Arbery’s parents in the courtroom last week, Gough said the judge was violating the U.S. Constitution by holding court on Veterans Day and raised a host of other concerns, often repeating the same objections numerous times.

Attorneys make closing arguments in Ahmaud Arbery murder trial

  Attorneys make closing arguments in Ahmaud Arbery murder trial Jury hears closing arguments in Ahmaud Arbery murder trial.Arbery was running in the predominantly white Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020, when he was pursued by Gregory McMichael, 65, a former police officer, and his son, Travis, 35. Their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., 52, helped them to corner Arbery, following him in a pickup as he ran down the road.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley has calmly rejected most of Gough’s objections, but he said he found some of the lawyer’s comments while protesting the presence of Black pastors “reprehensible.”

The attorneys for the two McMichaels have, at times, distanced themselves from Gough. After Gough’s initial request to have Black pastors excluded from the courtroom, Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichael’s lawyers, called the comments “totally asinine, ridiculous.”

Page Pate, a longtime criminal defense attorney in Atlanta who opened an office in Brunswick several years ago, has been watching the trial closely. He said he doesn’t see a good defense strategy in making motions that will undoubtedly be rejected and which will likely have the opposite effect of what Gough says he wants.

Largely because of Gough’s comments, Sharpton called for Black pastors to descend on Brunswick to demonstrate outside the courthouse Thursday.

“Either he’s working on some strategy none of us can perceive or visualize yet or he’s just wrong,” Pate said.

Pate doesn't know Gough personally but says he has a reputation as "an outlier” and “a strange bird.”

“No one says he’s an incompetent lawyer. I don’t hear that at all," Pate said in a phone interview. "What I hear is he’s just an odd character.”

Gough’s eyebrow-raising statements as the prosecution’s case unfolded were made largely outside the presence of the jury. Once he began to address the jurors directly, he calmly and methodically laid out his case.

With a high-profile trial that's being watched by people all over the country, it would be easy to assume that Gough is performing for the cameras. But he's just being himself, Wolfe said.

“Most events I dealt with in Brunswick, I was the only reporter in the room and I don’t think he knew I was there,” Wolfe said. "He’s a performer when he gets up in the courtroom.”

White Vigilante Trio Guilty of Murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia .
The white men accused of needlessly chasing and fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery in cold blood in Georgia last February in what critics described as a modern-day lynching under the guise of vigilante law enforcement were found guilty of murder on Wednesday. Travis McMichael was found guilty of the most serious offense, malice murder, in the Feb. 23, 2020 homicide death of Arbery. Greg McMichael, his father, was found not guilty of malice murder but convicted of all other eight charges against him, including felony murder. William Roddie Bryan, a family neighbor, was fou , one count of felony murder, and one count of aggravated assault.

See also