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Defense attorney who referenced Ahmaud Arbery's 'long, dirty toenails' quits position following weeks of criticism

National blowback followed 'dirty toenails' comment in the trial of three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The attorney whose closing argument sparked racial outrage and offense in the trial of three white men convicted of murdering a 25-year-old Black man has resigned from her position with the National Criminal Defense College.

In a letter obtained by First Coast News, Atlanta-based lawyer Laura Hogue said she was resigning due to the direction the college was going.

“Given the direction the College is now heading, it is no longer compatible with my commitment to educating the next generation of supportive, creative, zealous, client-centered Sixth Amendment defenders of people accused of crimes.” She asked the college to “please remove me from your faculty list, committee positions, and donor lists.”

Hogue was on the receiving end of intense criticism following this statement during closing argument for her client, Greg McMichael: "Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts, with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails."

The condition of Arbery’s feet had been noted at trial by the Medical Examiner who conducted Arbery’s autopsy, but Hogue’s use of it during closing baffled and outraged observers. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, bolted from the courtroom following the comment, saying “I’ve got to get out of here.” At a press conference later, she called the comment “beyond rude.”

Others said the comment evoked racist tropes dating back to Black enslavement. The Rev. Al Sharpton said, “I’ve sat in many courtrooms, I have never sat in a courtroom where the victim was akin to an animal, talking about dirty toenails like he was not even human, but an animal.”

Hogue and her defenders contend the reference was designed to evoke Arbery’s mental health. He’d been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, which includes hallucination and distorted reality; personal hygiene can be a marker of that illness. But the judge refused to allow evidence about Arbery’s mental health at trial, so the connection fell flat for most observers – and possibly jurors.

An attorney who has closely followed the debate, speaking off the record, said, “The College ended up issuing a statement condemning her actions, and then there was a lot of turmoil a back and forth. The faculty split into factions, some believing that what she and her defense team did was very wrong, and others who were saying she was just representing the best traditions of zealously advocating for the client.”

He added, “it’s been really bad there’s been a lot of back and forth over the past week or two about it.”

First Coast News has reached out to Hogue for comment.

According to the NCDC website, where Hogue is still listed as faculty, “Laura has tried cases throughout the state of Georgia, successfully prevailing in matters as diverse as vehicular homicide, child cruelty, child molestation, aggravated assault on a peace officer, and tax fraud. Laura has successfully argued appeals before the appellate courts that have resulted in victories in cases such as murder, voluntary manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and aggravated child molestation.

Laura is a past President of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. For three years, Laura served as chairperson of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Amicus Committee. Under her direction, the Amicus Committee has prepared and filed briefs to the Georgia Court of Appeals, the Georgia Supreme Court, and the United States Supreme Court, addressing critical issues of concern to the criminal defense community. Through the efforts of this committee, there have been numerous victories on significant issues of constitutional and procedural law benefitting the rights and liberties of all of Georgia’s citizens.” 

Laura is a frequent speaker on criminal law and trial practice and procedure issues, having lectured for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Mercer Law School, Georgia Capital Defenders, the Macon Bar Association, and the Institute of Continuing Legal Education. Laura serves on the faculty of the William “Bill” Daniels Criminal Defense College in Athens, Georgia, and the National Criminal Defense College. In 2016, Laura was inducted as a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Credit: AP
Defense attorney Laura Hogue, center, asks a question during jury selection for the trial of Greg and Travis McMichael and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, at the Glynn County Courthouse, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. The three are charged with the February 2021 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

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