Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Guilty Verdicts in Ahmaud Arbery Trial. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 14:00   ET



BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's how fragile our democracy is. And that's how tired and exhausting it is for people of color, particularly black folk in this country.

So, yes, today, we had accountability. I have been talking to Ben Crump and Lee Merritt all day long. Today, we have had that (AUDIO GAP) accountability. But I will tell you that this is just one day. And, finally, we got it. And tomorrow will come, and, hopefully, more black people won't be killed because of the color of their skin.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Bakari Sellers, thank you. Thanks to all of our guests, our analysts, our reporters this past hour.

I'm going to hand off our coverage now to my colleague Alisyn Camerota, who picks up the breaking news now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota. We have breaking news.

After 11.5 hours of deliberations, jurors find all three defendants in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial guilty of murder. Ahmaud Arbery's his mother, Wanda, was visibly emotional as the verdict was read. And you can see that crowds outside of the courthouse are chanting "Ahmaud Arbery" as the guilty verdicts came in and were celebrating.

Let's go straight to Sara Sidner and Ryan Young, who are outside the courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia.

So, tell us the reaction that you're seeing around you, guys.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, just outside the court, and that's where people have been this whole time, waiting in chair sometimes, sometimes milling about.

But they have now all gathered out in front of the courthouse, the courthouse steps, where we have seen the mother of Ahmaud Arbery and her attorneys, Lee Merritt, going in and out of court every single day of this trial. They are there to support the Arbery family very clearly. They have been chanting his name. They have been saying, we got justice.

There was an -- you could hear sort of a scream of relief. You could hear people whooping and hollering, if you will, when they heard the first verdict, when they heard Travis McMichael and this jury deciding that he was guilty of the first count of malice murder, and then all of the other charges.

All three of these men will now -- are now convicted of murder charges. There were a couple of murder charges that dropped off for Greg McMichael. One of those charges, Travis' father, one of those murder charges dropped off. And for William "Roddie" Bryan, a couple of murder charges that dropped off for him, but they are facing a lot of time in prison in this particular case.

And, look, people have been waiting here for two full weeks during this trial, right, and then coming back and forth as this has gone on for many weeks. And as Ryan has talked about, this has taken a long time to get to this point where people feel like justice was served -- Ryan.


And you think about this, especially, Alisyn, the sort of racial undertones that have played out through this that sort of shocked the law community, when you think about what was said in court, a lot of times with the jury not in the room.

But the idea that black pastors wouldn't be allowed here really touched off a lot of hurt feelings. I have actually received some information from Reverend Jackson, who says, "Justice was served."

He texted that after this all happened. He's very angry about what happened in terms of being called in a court. We saw the pastors respond here and show up and march in the streets. And if you look behind us, you can see the amount of people who have shown up here.

But then there are the business leaders who live in this community, once who aren't black, by the way, some of them who are white, who were very angry about how their community was being portrayed over and over again. They did not want this to be the stamp on their community. They wanted justice to be heard.

And you think about that back and forth with who was going to be in this jury. That was another sore spot for this community. You have been here and seen the people sort of react. The crowds kind of swell. Then they go away.

But everybody's been peaceful. and they have wanted that reaction so far.

SIDNER: That's exactly right. The community was very worried about what the reaction might be. And we know that this jury was 12 white Americans and one black American. There were quite a few more women than there were men.

The only black juror was a black male, but they all came together and made a decision, a decision that obviously the crowd out here and many of the folks in this community did think was the right decision. The jury's decision, as we know, is sacrosanct. You can hear people. You can now see people chanting outside of the court.

It has been very peaceful here. There were prayers last night. There was a vigil last night. But everyone is watching this. And what Ryan mentioned is really important. The under and over tones, that racial overtones of this trial have been very, very clear to many, many people.

The things brought up in court and the dehumanization of Ahmaud Arbery by one of the attorneys in particular, the attorney for Greg McMichael, when she talked about not just his character, but then talked about his appearance and mentioned his long dirty toenails -- this is a man who was shot in the chest. And she went there.

And that really caused consternation. People were disappointed. Some people were disgusted. And, certainly, his mother was so, so hurt.



YOUNG: And you think about this, the prosecution hammering on what he was wearing, the fact that he could not have had a weapon when he was running, the fact that his hands were by his side the entire time, the fact that he went inside that building so many different times, and never took anything, didn't arrive with a backpack, didn't show up with a car, didn't even have a cell phone on him.

So it was the conversation about what actually happened that day. And they pointed to the fact that what really everyone reacted to was a black man running through a neighborhood. And you talk about that attorney. She said, our neighborhood, the other attorney, our neighborhood.

Well, what were you referring to when you said our neighborhood? So it looks like it didn't play well with that jury, who basically came back pretty quickly, you think about that.

CAMEROTA: Guys, I'm just getting -- I just want to be able to read you Ben Crump's statement. He, of course, is the civil rights attorney who has been with the family throughout all this. I know you all have spoken to him.

Here's what he is saying right now in the moments after these guilty verdicts. He says: "Guilty, guilty, guilty. After nearly two years of pain, suffering and wondering if Ahmaud's killers would be held to account, the Arbery family finally has some justice. Nothing will bring back Ahmaud, but his family will have some peace, knowing that the men who killed him will remain behind bars and can never inflict their brand of evil on another innocent soul. While today is not one for celebration, it is one for reflection.

"This case, by all accounts, should have been open and closed. The violent stalking and lynching of Ahmaud Arbery was documented on video for the world to witness. But yet, because of deep cracks, flaws and biases in our systems, we were left to wonder if we would ever see justice. Today certainly indicates progress. But we are nowhere close to the finish line."

I think that, obviously, we can assume that that's how the family is feeling as well. This is not -- this is not a moment for celebration for them, but perhaps some closure.

We know that Martin Savidge is on the ground also there for us.

What are people saying around you, Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, yes, we're directly in front of the courthouse here. You can hear the crowd chanting in the background here, saying his name, Ahmaud Arbery, over and over.

I was is in the thick of this crowd as they were listening to the verdict come down. It was both a gasp and a cry of relief, as well as joy, to hear, even though these are very serious charges. The emotions here have been pent up for a very long time.

I want to introduce you to Linda Gamble (ph), who joins me.


SAVIDGE: You're from this community.

And I watched you as you listened to that verdict. What was going through your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happiness for my community, for the Arbery family, for Wanda Cooper-Jones.

I think it was a horrible thing that happened to their son. There are friends of my family. My families are friends with theirs. We wanted to be here to support them, to make sure that they know that they had love, not just in this community, but far away as where I live at in Atlanta.

SAVIDGE: Did you ever have doubt? It took over two months before there was even an arrest in this case.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Initially, I was sought out by the uncle looking for some advice on the killing of his nephew.

We gave a little bit of advice. But when it came out, it really was just horrific. It was awful. It was terrible. And then the chips start falling (AUDIO GAP) right here where we're at now. And we have (AUDIO GAP)

And now my community can heal again. Ms. Jones and Mr. Arbery can probably rest a little bit better at (AUDIO GAP) at Thanksgiving.

CAMEROTA: Yes, we're having some trouble there with Martin's microphone.

Let's go back to Sara Sidner and Ryan Young.

Guys, if you're still with me and listening, I just want to ask you, because I know that you have both had an opportunity to speak to the attorneys in this case. You have been there all week for us reporting on this.

Do you think that the resounding guilty verdict -- I mean, there were only I think three not guilties in the 27 charges, yes -- I think or four not guilties. Do you think that that was a surprise to them, Ryan?

YOUNG: I want to say no, because they really felt like they had a strong case, especially when you watch the video.

And I think we also shouldn't forget here there are federal charges pending as well. So this could compound for them. And you think about that. And I look at Martin as he's reporting this, and he's been doing it for quite some time. He's told several stories going into that neighborhood.

When you think about the video and those moments afterwards and how everyone played a role in this, when you think about that first officer who arrived and never put a hand on Ahmaud when he was down and his leg was still moving, the fact when they made the first phone call to Wanda Cooper-Jones and said he was a suspect in a burglary.

Like, you think about all these things compounding. This family has been really buoyed by these lawyers who came in here and tried to help them, guide them through this justice process. And it worked out.


But you also have to think the GBI came in. Georgia changed the law. There's the law. That citizen's arrest no longer exists in the state. So you can see some of that happening as this goes through.

Sara, I mean, people have been talking to you about that as well.

SIDNER: They have been.

And I think one of the things that people forget, the jury did not know this, but the public did. The jury was not allowed to use this in their deliberations. But there were two, not one, but two prosecuting attorneys who recused themselves in this case before this ever even got into the hands.

The police on the scene of a man who was dead, and they could clearly see he was shot to death, did no arresting at that scene, no detaining, for example, no bringing people in, in a fast manner, and no charges from the DA.

Now, one of those DAs ended up getting a -- going in front of a grand jury. And there are charges now pending against her because of her actions in this particular case. So there are a lot of people saying the wheels of justice in this one fell off at one point. And you heard that there from the young woman -- or the woman that Martin was talking to, that this has been a long time coming.

And so, for a lot of folks, not just in this community, but around the country, watching how this case unfolded seemed so unjust to so many people. And now that the jury has come back, this case wasn't even going to be tried when it came to the first and second prosecuting attorneys here.

It took someone coming in, because the Georgia Bureau of Investigations got involved. And now you have an attorney from outside of this county, by the way, who came in as the prosecutor on this case. And, frankly, having listened to her closing arguments and her rebuttal, kit was the strongest one I have heard in quite some time.

YOUNG: Yes, when you talk to law enforcement officials, she's from the Cobb County area. When you talk to people outside of Atlanta, they talk about how she is a person who you don't want to go against, because she is so good with that closing.

And when you think about that law enforcement community, and the judge not being from here as well, got to give the judge credit for keeping this calm. How many mistrial moments were there where he was like no, and he had that steady hand? When you think about all the things that played into this to get us to this point, it shows you how justice can work when everything's moving in the right direction.

But, remember, it didn't work initially. And then they had to restart it. And then you think about those federal charges and the prosecutor maybe being in trouble in this, the DA being in trouble later on, it really compounds the situation when this community's been asking for change.

Even the police department has decided to do things differently now. They will bring the GBI in quicker in investigations like this, so they don't have some of the same issues.


SIDNER: But that, we should be clear, is because the community has demanded it after all of this.

And, again, I think Ryan touched on something that really needs to be stated, that it has been peaceful. There have been chants. There have been prayers. There hasn't really been any sort of trouble. There were folks who are out here armed, black folks out here armed. And there has been no real issue, no fighting that has happened out here, this community extremely afraid of what was going to happen.

And I am sure, as I talked to a couple of folks this morning, that there is relief as to what has happened in this case, and relief to see the community not breaking apart and fighting one another, but coming together calmly.


YOUNG: I mean, Alisyn, you have watched the video over and over again. So you understand why people feel, in terms of that bubble, wanting something to change. And it looks like they may have gotten some of that at this point. CAMEROTA: And everything that you are both telling us is such

important context to remember all the obstacles for this family in getting justice and then, as you describe, getting I'm sure the prosecutor that they feel was the best choice at the end of the day.

Guys, stand by, if you would.

I want to bring in our legal experts, Elie Honig, Laura Coates and Alexis Hoag, for us.

Elie, this is -- the guilty verdicts, I mean, there were 27 different charges. There were 27 possible guilties. They ended up having 23. So it was not one-size-fits-all, as you have pointed out. The jury had to meticulously go through the three different defendants and the nine different charges, and they made different decisions based on what happened.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Alisyn, we can tell from this verdict that the jury was very careful to tailor the verdict to the facts itself.

And just so people understand what happened here with the murder charges, so the jury found Travis McMichael guilty of intentional murder, what we call malice murder, meaning he intended to kill him Ahmaud Arbery and he did. Now, the jury found the other two defendants, Greg McMichael, the father, and Roddie Bryan, the friend who was down the street, not guilty of intentional murder, but guilty of felony murder.

And what that means is, the jury found that those two people intentionally committed the felony, the aggravated assault, chasing him with the truck, the false imprisonment, and, as a result of that, whether they intended it or not, Ahmaud Arbery was killed.

And under the law of felony murder, that makes the father and Roddie Bryan guilty of murder as well. They -- all three now face life sentences.

CAMEROTA: Alexis, I want to hear your thoughts, as well what you think ended up being the most compelling piece of evidence.


ALEXIS HOAG, BROOKLYN LAW SCHOOL: Yes, the most compelling piece of evidence is the fact that they hunted down a black man.

I know other commenters have called this a modern-day lynching. And that's exactly what it was. And it was no irony that they relied on this now repealed citizen's arrest law that was out of Georgia. And that was actually enacted in 1863 that really deputized private citizens to hunt down enslaved people and recapture them, return them to slavery.

And so that was undeniable. I know I have -- I was sort of remiss that the state didn't lean harder on that case, but that's essentially what carried today. It was clear as a bell. And you have the defense instead that was using sort of dog whistle racially coded language, and that ended up falling flat.

And this jury, as Elie, walked through the charges, returned 20 -- 20 -- was it three of 27 guilty verdicts.

CAMEROTA: Laura, I mean, about some of that language that the defense attorneys used, I have heard you talk about it, resorting to going after Ahmaud Arbery's appearance, it was unvarnished racist tropes.

I mean, they weren't even trying to use coded language at some point. And I guess, today, we know that that tactic didn't work.


And, of course, Alisyn, you can go back even before those egregious, disgusting statements alluding to his hygiene in some way, as if that was the emphasis. You go back to the way in which the defense counsel, in at least more than one instance, initially said during jury selection, look, we don't have enough -- his words -- Bubbas on this jury. We need people who are not college-educated.

He was talking about what he thought would resonate with jurors in his defense. And in doing so, he made a gross miscalculation on more than one front, but the main one being here that somehow you would be able to have these either dog whistles or blatant attempts to try to -- have come to the surface latent bigotry, if it's not already there.


COATES: And he thought that, if you were somehow going to be white and uneducated, then you would side with three strangers who hunted him down.

CAMEROTA: Laura, give me one second. I'm sorry to interrupt, just one second.

I just want to point out what we're seeing, which is the family with their attorneys and the people who supported them. You see them, their arms raised in obviously a sort of victory gesture. And it's -- we're seeing Ahmaud Arbery's mom there. I think she is next to Al Sharpton. We see Ben Crump, I believe, there, right there in the front.

Let me just go back to Ryan Young and Sara Sidner for a second. I believe that they might be coming -- well, let's listen to him, because I think that his mom might be about to make a statement or her legal team and supporters.

So let's just listen to this for one second.

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Let us say, first and foremost, we're going to start by thanking God for shining on us.

Let us thank these lawyers. Let us thank the prosecutors. Let us thank the activist that you all called a mob that marched and stood up. Let us thank all of the people that believed. And let us, more than anything, thank the mother and father of Ahmaud. They lost a son, but their son will go down in history as one that proved that, if you hold on, that justice can come. This mother would tell me, "Reverend, we're going to win this," when I had doubts. She kept praying.

This father said: "We got to get some justice for my son."

And let the word go forth all over the world that a jury of 11 whites and one black in the Deep South stood up in the courtroom and said that black lives do matter. Let it be clear that almost, 10 years after Trayvon, God used Wanda and Marcus' son to prove that, if we kept marching and kept fight, we would make you hear us.

We got a lot more battles to fight. But this was an important battle today. This was proven that our children know their value. And that's why those people that marched -- I'm talking about the people here that was here when nobody else was here, they stood up.

Brunswick -- Brunswick, Georgia, will go down in history as the place that criminal justice took a different turn.


Let us pray.

Dear God, dear God, we come, thanking you for your mercy, thanking you for giving us a prosecutor's team that, when it looked us like they'd stacked the jury, that you still found a way to open up the minds of people to listen to the evidence, and weigh it based on facts, not based on skin color, that you gave strength to this mother, and you gave strength to this father to not give up on you, even when many of us doubted, even when many of us said it's not going to happen.

You came in the state of Georgia, a state known for segregation, a state known for Jim Crow, and you turned it around. You took a young unarmed boy that they thought was worthless, and you put his name in history today. Years from now, decades from now, they will be talking about a boy named Ahmaud Arbery that taught this country what justice looks like.

As we go forth, let us go forth in the victory you have given us. Thank everyone in Brunswick that marched, that stood out in front of this courthouse, that was called a lynch mob, but they kept on marching. And let us know that all whites are not racists, and all blacks are not worthless, that we are all your children, and we will give you the grace and give you the glory.

The glory be yours, not ours. Let us not be proud, and let us not be vengeful, but let us be thankful that you brought us closer together today.

These blessings we ask in your name and your sake. Thank you, lord. Thank you, lord.

We never had a Thanksgiving day like today.

We will hear from the attorneys and the parents.

Let us hear from the attorney for Wanda, who is running for the Texas attorney general. He asked me not to say it but I'm going to say it, because we need attorney generals like this, Lee Merritt, followed by the attorney general of black America, who flew in and out even as he handled other cases.

These lawyers kept going to the wall and stood up. We walked out of court buildings with tears in eyes. We cried inside, but they were tears of joy, because people like Thurgood Marshall others broke down barriers to produce a Ben Crump and a Lee Merritt.

Lee Merritt.

S. LEE MERRITT, ATTORNEY FOR ARBERY FAMILY: You all don't want to hear from me right now. You want to hear from the family of Ahmaud Arbery, as we all do. We want to wrap our arms around them.

The only reason that I'm speaking is to provide an introduction for a praying mother. You all have known her now for the last 18 months; 18 months ago, when she learned about the murder of her son, they told her that she would just have to deal with it alone. They told her that there will be no arrests, that there will be no accountability, that there will be no justice.

And she made her son a promise before she laid him in the ground that her mom -- his mom would fight for justice for him. In order to do that, Glynn County had to change. She couldn't find justice in the Glynn County that she found in 2000 -- in the year 2000.

On February 23, there was a prosecutor standing in her way, Jackie Johnson. Wanda Cooper prayed her out of the way out of office and she's facing criminal charges herself. When she came to Glynn -- when she was looking for justice and Glynn County, she was faced with a corrupt legal system, one that never fully investigated her son's murder, as we learned during the course of this trial.

Wanda performed her own investigation. Wanda hired her own attorneys. And she woke up a nation. Can you all join me in just giving a round of applause for this fighting, faithful, praying mother?


MERRITT: I'm going to let Wanda come forward.

Come on, Wanda.

WANDA COOPER-JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: I just want to say thank you guys. Thank you. Thank each and every one of you who fought this fight with us.


It's been a long fight. It's been a hard fight. But God is good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he is. COOPER-JONES: And I just want to tell everybody, thank you, thank you

for those who marched, those who prayed, most of all the ones who prayed.


COOPER-JONES: Thank you, guys. Thank you.

And now, Quez, which I -- you know him as Ahmaud. I know him as Quez. he will now rest in peace. Thank you.

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF AHMAUD ARBERY: You all heard the gut-wrenching grunt that came out of Marcus Arbery when they pronounced Travis McMichael guilty.

He could not contain it any further, because think about how long he and Wanda have been enduring all the innuendo, all the allegations, all the character assassinations, long legs with dirty toenails. Just imagine all they went through, that, when he heard that, Reverend Al, he could not contain himself, because Marcus, as a father, they see their job as to protect their children.



CRUMP: And you can't experience the pain of a mother and a father who witnessed what they witnessed not being there to protect their child.

Every parent in America can take solace in knowing that we have an example of how to deal with tragedy and grief when they look at the example of Marcus Arbery and Wanda Cooper. And we should applaud them. They should be applauded.



CRUMP: And I tell you all, we together did this. We all together, black, white, activists, faith members, lawyers, prosecutors, we did this together.

We said, America, we will make us better than what we saw on that video.


CRUMP: And I would be remiss if we didn't acknowledge, even though we are clapping and we are cheering and we applaud, Wanda and Marcus still are devastated because they're missing Ahmaud, devastated.


CRUMP: And so even though this is not a celebration, it is a reflection to acknowledge that the spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob. The spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob. The spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob.

Marcus Arbery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go, Marcus. You got this. Go on, Marcus. Go on.

MARCUS ARBERY, FATHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: Number one, I want to give all glory to God, because that's who made all this possible.

Number two, I want to thank his mama, and I want to thank my sister and brothers.



ARBERY: And I want to thank my sister and brothers.

I want to thank my children for being strong through this raw times.


ARBERY: Because I know it was hard what they had to deal with.

And, number two, I want to thank all you all people, all the support you all gave us, you know, one of us didn't did this. It's not one side did this. God put us all together to make this happen.

So, it ain't no one side. That's what I tell you. God don't work one- sided. God works two-sided. All right, I'm going to put you here. I'm going to put you there.


ARBERY: So you all pull together and work this thing.


ARBERY: So, hey, that's what it's all about.


ARBERY: Because if one side wouldn't have worked, it wouldn't have happened.


ARBERY: You have got to have people working when you wasn't working.


ARBERY: Come on.

When you're wasn't working, you had people -- I ain't working (INAUDIBLE) going in the office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. ARBERY: We conquered that lynch mob.


ARBERY: We got that lynch mob. This is history today. Letting you know that.

Black kids' life don't matter.


ARBERY: For real, all life matter.



ARBERY: Not just black children. We don't want to see nobody go through this.


ARBERY: I wouldn't want to see no daddy watch their kid get lynched and shot down like that.