What does Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of the fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken, have to do with the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial? For that you’d have to ask defense attorney Kevin Gough.
This week a jury, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and Gough’s client, William “Roddie” Bryan, of murder after they chased and killed Arbery, a Black man who was out for a jog.
During the trial in Brunswick, Georgia, Gough complained to Judge Timothy Walmsley after the Rev. Al Sharpton sat in the courtroom in support of the Arbery family.
“The Right Rev. Al Sharpton managed to find his way into the back of the courtroom,” said Gough.
He added, “We don’t want any morecoming in here … sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case.”
But Rev. Sharpton was apparently so unobtrusive, Gough admitted he didn’t even notice Sharpton was there until it was pointed out to him. “And I’m not saying the state is even aware that Mr. Sharpton was in the courtroom, I certainly wasn’t aware till last night.”
But Gough kept pushing, claiming the Arberys’ high-profile supporters wanted to turn the trial into a spectacle – and, some say, making a spectacle of himself. He inexplicably invokes the brand ambassador for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
He said, “If a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks sitting in the back, I mean, that would be—”
Judge Walmsley cut him off, “I don’t want to hear about that … I was asked at lunch whether the court had any objection to the Rev. Al Sharpton coming into the courtroom … and my comment to that was simply, ‘as long as things are not disruptive, and it’s not a distraction to the jury, or anything else going on in the courtroom, so be it.'”
Days later, hundreds of Black clergy gathered to support the Arbery family. They held a vigil in front of the courthouse. Gough repeatedly pushed for a mistrial and prosecutor Linda Dunikoski grew frustrated saying, “Your honor, Mr. Gough is a brilliant lawyer … He stood up knowing he was on television … He got the response that he wanted … Now he’s asking for a mistrial based on something he caused.”
Was bringing up the Colonel and the Black pastors a carefully considered strategy or a last-minute scramble to deflect from a sinking case?
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing the Arbery family, told “48 Hours” he believes Gough was worried his client was in trouble.
Gough denies it, but Merritt told “48 Hours,” “Roddie Bryan asked for a plea deal … he wanted to turn state[‘s] evidence.”
But there would be no deal, and Bryan was convicted of multiple counts including felony murder.
After the trial, we called Gough to ask about his Colonel Sanders comment. He told us it was “not a reference to Kentucky Fried Chicken.” He went on to explain he was referring to the all-white suits the Colonel often wore – not to the man himself.
“I should have been more direct,” Gough said. Then he brought up the Klan. “They wouldn’t let you come [to court] dressed as the Klan.”
Gough went on to theorize that if a Klan member “were gonna sit in a courtroom in the 21 Century” to intimidate a jury he might come dressed in “an all-white suit.”
To many in the press it’s apparent Gough enjoys being provocative.
It did not translate to a victory for his client.
Stream 48 Hours “A Promise to Ahmaud” on Paramount+.