The Georgia Superior Court judge presiding over the trial of the men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, one of the most high-profile cases of the year, usually oversees a court nearly 80 miles away.
Judge Timothy R. Walmsley of Savannah was tapped to preside over the Arbery case in 2020 after all five judges in Glynn County, Ga., where the shooting occurred, recused themselves.
He has appeared largely calm and patient throughout the trial, though twice he has rebuked the lawyers arguing before him.
The judge described statements by a defense lawyer, Kevin Gough, as “reprehensible” after Mr. Gough urged him to keep high-profile Black pastors out of the courtroom because Mr. Gough claimed their presence was intimidating to the jury. Specifically, Judge Walmsley cited Mr. Gough’s comparison of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s appearance in court with a scenario in which “a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks.”
Judge Walmsley repeatedly rejected Mr. Gough’s requests to bar Black pastors, as well as calls from the defense lawyers for a mistrial.
The judge also chastised a prosecutor for asking a witness if she believed that someone who stole something deserved the death penalty. He called the question inflammatory, prejudicial and unnecessary, and instructed the jury to disregard the question.
The killing of Mr. Arbery, one of several cases that prompted racial-justice protests across the country in 2020, has brought significant national attention to Judge Walmsley’s courtroom. Even before the trial began, protesters had gathered, demanding justice for Mr. Arbery. And after Mr. Gough complained about the presence of Black pastors, scores of ministers convened outside the courthouse in protest.
Judge Walmsley himself drew attention by approving the seating of a nearly all-white jury, drawing criticism from some in the community who were already concerned about the fairness of the proceedings. Mr. Arbery was Black; the men accused in his death are white.
Judge Walmsley was appointed to the state’s Eastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court in 2012 by Gov. Nathan Deal. He previously worked as Chatham County magistrate and was a partner at a Savannah law firm, specializing in commercial and real estate litigation.
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