Kevin Gough is the defense attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., one of three men convicted in the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. Gough faced public ridicule during the trial for comments he made before the court, the Associated Press reported, and some on Twitter called him a racist.
The Brunswick chapter of the NAACP defended Gough, saying he was a skilled attorney who, as a public defender, had taken a stand against a system where his clients, including Black clients, were being “railroaded” in the criminal justice system, according to the Associated Press.
A jury found Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and Bryan guilty of felony murder after lengthy deliberations concluding Wednesday, November 24, 2021, according to CNN. On Friday, January 7, 2022, Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced Bryan to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The McMichaels were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The jury heard two versions of the events that led up to the slaying of Arbery, with defense attorneys for the men claiming their clients were lawfully trying to prevent a burglary and acted in self defense. Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski countered the defense attorneys’ arguments, saying Arbery was not involved in criminal activity and had no involvement in thefts that had occurred in the neighborhood. She said he did not have a weapon or even a cellphone and did not make any threats toward the men.
“All three of these defendants made assumptions, made assumptions about what was going on that day. And they made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a Black man running down the street,” Dunikoski said. “He ran away from them for five minutes. No weapon. No threats. No way to call for help. Didn’t even have a cell phone on him. Ran away from them for five minutes.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Gough Faced Public Backlash for Comments on ‘Black Pastors’
Walmsley gained public support with his response. He was quoted by NPR as saying:
At this point, I’m not exactly sure what you’re doing. I have already ruled on this court’s position with regard to the gallery. And with all candor, I was not even aware that Rev. Jackson was in the courtroom, until you started your motion. It’s almost as if you’re just trying to continue this [request] for purposes other than just bringing it to the court’s attention, and I find that objectionable.
Gough was not the only defense attorney to face public backlash. Laura Hogue, the defense attorney for Greg McMichael, stirred controversy in her closing arguments during the trial for saying Arbery had “long, dirty toenails” and that he was “not an innocent victim.”
2. Gough’s Client Was Found Guilty of Felony Murder & Faces a Maximum Sentence of Life in Prison
Bryan was convicted on six of the nine charges lodged against him, according to CNN. He was acquitted on the charge of malice murder, found not guilty on one of the felony murder counts and not guilty of aggravated assault with a firearm, according to CNN. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, CNN reported.
Travis McMichael was found guilty of malice murder and guilty of four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony, CNN reported. Gregory McMichael was also found guilty of felony murder, and also faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Travis McMichael faces a minimum sentence of life in prison, according to CNN.
The three men are also facing federal charges. The federal trial is scheduled to begin in February, CNN reported.
Judge Timothy Walmsley ordered the men be held in custody, and CNN reported he would set a sentencing date “in the coming weeks.”
3. Gough Described a Rally of Black Pastors Outside the Courthouse as a ‘Public Lynching’ of the White Defendants
When Black pastors rallied outside the courthouse in support of Arbery’s family, Gough described the actions as a “public lynching” of the White men now convicted in the jogger’s murder, according to the Associated Press.
“This is what a public lynching looks like in the 21st century,” Gough told the judge, according to the AP.
He asked the judge for a mistrial several times, the AP reported, among those being at the time of his “lynching” comment. He said at the time Bryan’s right to a fair trial was being violated by a “left woke mob.” Walmsley “dismissed the mistrial motion with little discussion,” the AP reported.
4. A Court Reporter Who Covered Gough Said He Was ‘Not Shocked’ By Gough’s Comments
The Associated Press interviewed Wes Wolfe regarding Gough’s controversial comments. Wolfe was a court reporter for The Brunswick News from 2016 to 2020, covering cases involving Gough at the time, according to the AP.
“I’m entirely not shocked at all by what everybody’s been shocked about. It’s just classic Kevin Gough,” Wolfe said, according to the AP.
The AP reported that, according to Wolfe, Gough “is not above making a spectacle.”
“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 told the AP.
5. Gough Was Fired From the Public Defender’s Office & the NAACP Defended Him
Gough oversaw five southeastern Georgia counties after he was appointed head of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit public defender’s office in 2012, but was fired about four years later, the Associated Press reported. The NAACP stepped in to defend him, according to the AP, and made additional comments in his defense during the Arbery trial.
In an April 2016 dismissal letter reviewed by the Associated Press, then-executive director of the Georgia Public Defender Council Bryan Tyson wrote that Gough had a history of poor management and said he “engaged in a media campaign designed either to secure your re-nomination, to discredit the district attorney, or both.”
Two weeks before that, Gough told media outlets the local district attorney was delaying cases in a way that was violating rights of his clients to a speedy trial and wasting taxpayer dollars, the AP reported. Gough threatened a hunger strike saying he would not eat “unless and until” problems were fixed, the AP reported.
The Brunswick chapter of the NAACP also had concerns about the district attorney’s office at the time, according to the AP. The Rev. Zack Lyde took complaints for the local NAACP chapter at the time, Lyde told the AP, and opposed Gough’s firing. Lyde told the AP Gough was hiring effective public defenders who were winning cases.
“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,” Lyde told the AP in a phone interview.
The AP reported that, according to Lyde, 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.” Lyde told the AP he would hire Gough if he ever needed a defense attorney.
“I assure you, if I had to get a criminal lawyer to defend me in Glynn County, Gough would be the man,” he said, according to the AP.