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What was the defense up to in the Arbery case?

What was the defense up to in the Arbery case?

Apart from the facts and the testimony in the Georgia murder trial of the three men who chased down and killed Ahmaud Arbery, the defense counsel for William Ryan, attorney Kevin Gough, made news by making unusual – and some say racist – comments in support of a motion for a mistrial.  They were not made in front of the jury, but the jury is not sequestered and have access to news reports.

His complaint was the presence of black pastors sitting in the gallery with the Arbery family.  Specifically, he was referring to Al Sharpton.  Regardless of whether one thinks of Sharpton as a civil rights leader or an opportunist race-baiter (I lean to the latter), it was a seemingly knuckle-headed action.  Not only did he object to Sharpton’s presence but said he did not want to see more black pastors in the audience.  He claimed their presence, itself, could prejudice the jury.

It has all the markings and optics of a trial that might have taken place in Georgia in the 1940s.  Gough even looked like one of those racist lawyers of yore.

His request for a mistrial was not granted, of course.  And he seemed to have handed the high ground to Sharpton in the court-of-public-opinion.  It also presented a challenge for black pastors to push back.

In the following days, Jesse Jackson arrived on the scene.  And then there was a demonstration of some 50 black pastors outside the courthouse.  That led Gough to again complain about black pastors and again request a mistrial.  And again, it was rejected – as Gough must surely have expected.

It was not even clear why Gough thought the presence of a black pastor sitting next to the grieving family would have prejudiced the jury against the defense.  And it did not seem like a misstatement.  Lawyers are very strategic in what they say.

So, what was this defense gambit all about?

I will offer my own opinion, although I do so with less than 100 percent confidence that I am correct.  Maybe only 90 percent.  But here goes.

Unlike many observers – especially on the left – I think Gough was concerned that the jury would not judge the case on racist lines.  The defense had a losing case, and they knew it.

But Gough may have hoped that there was at least one person on the jury who would put race over facts.  One juror who needed a little more encouragement to look at the case with a racial prejudice.  One juror who would prevent a unanimous decision against his defendant.  

If prosecutors feel that a case cannot win acquittal, then the best option is to get a hung jury – and to fight again another day.

We cannot even say that Gough, himself, is a racist.  It may be that he is doing what lawyers do.  They pull out all stops to try to win a case.  Although a willingness to promote racism could arguably make Gough a racist.  But he is not the one on trial.

Yes, I do believe Gough was playing the race card.  He seemed to be mining for racism among the jury –hoping they get the message.  I can think of no other reason for injecting race into the proceedings in such an overt way.  We will soon learn if he succeeded in finding that juror.

So, there ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. Frank stetson

    So you begin by saying some say it’s racist and end by saying you think he threw the race card.

    It’s usually pretty clear cut Larry. The fact that some say it’s is means some say it isn’t and that’s nor right. And you can’t pretend to say racist things to win a court case. Either you said it or didn’t. Your actual personal belief doesn’t matter. You said it. So, he said it, it is racist, he is a racist.

    Glossing over is just being complicit in your response. Racism isn’t a debate point, a matter of free speech, it’s wrong, it harms people, it kills people, it’s a drag on our economy. We fought multiple wars over it. Like child pornography wrong, this type of speech is and we know the horrors that can lead too. No place in America.

  2. AC

    Facts are, the defendants had an uphill battle legally. Whether in the 12 person jury or the courts of public opinion, the evidence is clear. The three were dead to rights at the outset. They lawyers taking on their defense had to know they faced a no win case. Angling for a mistrial or hung jury would be their only avenue toward some hollow victory. Even so, doubtful Georgia would not try this case until a just unanimous verdict was reached. Justice ruled against the three and came up short for the family. As justice always does in these cases. One life taken by another and many innocents whose lives are snuffed out. Each life lost leaves an immense pit in loved ones lives. No amount of financial remuneration can compensate for that life and lives. Each is connected to others in family and in community. The victims are human beings valued more than Justice can deliver.
    Who would deny family and friends offers of support and condolence when one of their own was killed. Especially, in this instance and situation receiving National attention. White on black out numbering one black person. Three armed and the one in jogging attire out for a run. Racial issues arise and sense every situation in the news today is given some political tag. Leaders both political and pastoral arrive. Their reasons may be politically or racially motivated , yet being among the mourners during this time is something appreciated.
    Considering this trial is judgement delayed by years with suspects freely living. Those who grieve where left in limbo mourning lost which requires justice for true closure.

    • Dan Tyree

      The guys are toast. Put them in general population.