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Ahmaud Arbery's Parents, Supporters, Attorneys Speak Following Guilty Verdicts; Biden Issues Statement On Arbery Murder Verdicts. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired November 24, 2021 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MARCUS ARBERY, FATHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: So, hey, that's what it's all about because if one side wouldn't have worked, it wouldn't have happened.
You've got to have people when you weren't working. Go in the office.
We conquered that lynch mob. We got that lynch mob -- this is today letting you know that all life matters, not just black. We don't want to see nobody go through this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.
M. ARBERY: I wouldn't want to see no daddy watch their kid get lynched and shot down like that.
M. ARBERY: So it's all our problem. It's all our problem.
So, hey, let's keep fighting. Let's keep doing and making this so, hey, let's keep fighting. Let's keep doing and making this a better place for all human beings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.
M. ARBERY: All human beings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.
M. ARBERY: Everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.
M. ARBERY: Love everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Love everybody.
M. ARBERY: All human beings need to be treated equally.
We're going to conquer this lynching. Today is a good day.
(CHEERING) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.
REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Before the lawyers come back, let me also say, as I said to all of the activists, the family thanks them. We thank a lot of those that were local.
SHARPTON: -- who stood up even when other clergy wouldn't stand up. This pastor stood with the family. There are others.
We want to thank Barbara --
SHARPTON: -- who's been here from the beginning. All of the ministers that came last Thursday.
We want to thank Cliff who's been a rock.
SHARPTON: And I want to thank, if he's watching, Reverend Jesse Jackson --
SHARPTON: -- who despite his illness, came down and sat in that courtroom.
And all of us, this is a day white and black activists showed we could unite and beat the lynch mob that killed Ahmaud.
And though I never say this often, I must say we want to thank the prosecutors.
SHARPTON: They stood and fought for this family.
SHARPTON: Tomorrow, and all our joy today, there will be an empty chair at Wanda's table. Ahmaud will not be at Thanksgiving tomorrow. But she can look at that chair and say to Ahmaud, I fought a good fight and I got you some justice.
SHARPTON: We can't fill that chair for you, Wanda, but we can say that you are a mother above all mothers. You fought for your son.
And, Marcus, you fought for your son.
And even though it will be a sober and solemn Thanksgiving, you can thank God you didn't let your boy down.
SHARPTON: Thank you, thank you.
LEE MERRITT, ATTORNEY FOR AHMAUD ARBERY'S MOTHER: So Ben and I had a difficult task to do when showing up to this courthouse and turning the case over to the prosecutors.
We want, as attorneys, as advocates, we want to exercise control over something this important. It was difficult to relinquish that control to the Cobb County prosecutor's office. Of course, we had to under the law.
And they did what they had to do to secure a conviction. And I applaud them for putting on an airtight case that resulted in conviction for all these men.
MERRITT: They have invited Wanda and Marcus and their supporters to stand with them for their press conference.
So we're going to do something else that's difficult to do. We're not taking any questions.
We're going to step back and allow the prosecutors to make a presentation about their case as we stand with them in solidarity and thank them for their efforts.
It's a good example for when Lee Merritt is Texas attorney general.
LATONIA HINES, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, COBB COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: Hello. My name is Latonia Hines. And I'm the assistant district attorney for the Cobb County --
MERRITT: Hold on. Hey, y'all, please be quiet so we can give them the respect they so richly deserve.
HINES: Hello. My name is Latonia Hines. And I'm the assistant district attorney for the Cobb County District Attorney's Office.
I bring you greetings and remarks from our district attorney who was appointed as district attorney pro-tem for this case and for the prosecution of this case.
Unfortunately, he was not able to be here due to a family medical emergency.
First and foremost, we want you to know that from the moment this case came to our office, it was our foremost goal to ensure that we got justice for Ahmaud Arbery's family.
And in particular, we are so very proud and thankful for the confidence that the family has given to us.
We admire and commend the courage, the steadfastness and the strength of Miss Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud's mother, and Mr. Marcus Arbery Sr., the father of Ahmaud, in seeking justice in this process.
It has been a long road and we are so happy that we're able to be here at this end of this road.
We'd like to also say thank you, and we commend the courage and bravery of this jury to say that what happened on February 23rd, 2020, to Ahmaud Arbery, the hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery, it was not only morally wrong, but legally wrong. And we are thankful for that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.
HINES: We want to thank and specifically recognize some people who have been involved with regard to the prosecution of this case.
In particular, our team.
Our lead attorney, senior assistant district attorney, Linda Dunakowski.
HINES: Assistant district attorney, Alyssa Olivera.
HINES: Senior assistant district attorney, Paul Camarillo.
HINES: Our chief investigator, Charles Prescott. Deputy chief investigator, Keith Lamone, investigator Cameron Watson, investigator, Darius McClure.
We also need to thank people at home who have been helping us with regard to this case. Miss Kayla Willis, Miss Jada Baxter, who is here, Cindy Bard, Sara Wrap, Laramie Floyd, Matt Morgan.
Our communications department, our fire and EMA, I.S., DOT and GIS.
We need to thank the GBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.
HINES: In particular, Director Vic Reynolds, Special Agent Richard Dial, who I believe is here with us. Special Agent Jason Seacrest, Special Agent Lawrence Kelly, and Inspector Eve Rogers.
We also need to thank specifically with the Glynn County Police Department deputy chief, Ricky Evans, and Captain Jeremiah Burquist.
Also with the Glynn County Sheriff's Office, need to thank Glynn County Sheriff Neil Jump, Glynn County clerk of court, Ron Adams. Georgia State Patrol, Major Thornal King and Sergeant Chris Black. With GMA, we also thank operations managers for Homeland Security, Todd Keys.
What we can make note of, of this, is that Ahmaud's has signaled significant changes in our community, in this state and in our nation. With the passing of Georgia's first-ever hate crime bill and the changing of Georgia's antiquated citizen's arrest law.
We want to thank -- this community for the support that it has given to the family and to us and the community at large.
We want to have some opportunity to have some remarks also from our team.
So our senior assistant district attorney and lead attorney, Linda Dunakowski.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Linda!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Linda!
LINDA DUNAKOWSKI, SENIOR ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Thank you. Thank you very much.
But this was a team effort. I want everyone to know that this was a gigantic team effort.
D.A. Brody put his faith and trust in our team. And I could not have done it without my trial partners. They were all very, very instrumental in making this happen.
We had so many people on the team that helped bring justice for Ahmaud and his family.
And we really, really appreciate the support that we had and the faith for Mr. Arbery and Ms. Wanda Cooper-Jones, who have been with us and put their faith in us and trusted us to bring justice to Ahmaud.
The verdict today was based on the facts, based on the evidence, and that was our goal was to bring that to that jury so they could do the right thing.
Because the jury system works in this country. And when you present the truth to people and they can see it, they will do the right thing.
And that's what this jury did today in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery.
MERRITT: Thank you so much. Blessings.
BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR MARCUS ARBERY: Hey, let's thank Miss Polite (ph). The 87-year-old lady who's been here every day. Let's thank this 87-year-old lady who has been here every single day.
Hey! Hey, where Marcus at?
The parents, Wanda and Marcus, and the family of Ahmaud Arbery, Lee and Cliff and Rev, all of us, we've been here most days of the trial.
But there's a lady who is steadfast in her conviction. She's one of those, 87 years old, has been here every day of jury selection and every day of trial.
Where's she at?
MERRITT: She's over there.
CRUMP: So let's thank that hero, Miss Polite (ph). God bless.
It's people like her why we got justice.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: All right. We've been listening to very passionate, stirring speeches there from Ahmaud Arbery's parents, as well as from their supporters and their lawyers, their legal team, as well as the prosecutor of the case.
And, Sara, I just think so much of it harkens back to what you and Ryan were talking about, all of the obstacles that this family faced in the case.
Including no one being charged, including the original prosecutors having to recuse themselves because they had relationships with the defendants, et cetera.
And basically, when Wanda Cooper Jones, Ahmaud Arbery's mother, had no over resources, she prayed. That's the resource that she had.
As you heard Lee Merritt say, Wanda Cooper prayed the initial prosecutor out of the way and basically prayed the winning prosecutor into position so that today could happen.
I mean, that's how the family feels. You just heard them thanking God, thanking the community, thanking each other. They thought that this day might never come.
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, can I say a couple of things?
One, when you talk about Wanda Cooper-Jones praying her way to justice, that is why the pastor's comment was so much more blown up. Because this is a person who didn't have anywhere to go to get justice.
And to be clear, it wasn't just that she prayed. One of the prosecutors has been indicted by a grand jury because of her nonwork, if you will, on this case.
I do want to mention what Miss Wanda Cooper-Jones said, "I never thought this day would come."
And she thanked not only the prosecutors, but she thanked the crowd. She thanked the people who have come out to protest in Ahmaud Arbery's name.
She said, you know him as Ahmaud and now he will rest in peace. That was a really touching moment from his mother.
Then you heard from his father, and he said I don't want to see nobody's daddy watching their son get shot down like that. All human beings need to be treated equally.
And then he ended with this. Love everybody. Love everybody.
And I saw one more thing that both Ryan and I looked at each other and said we've never seen anything like this.
When the prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, came out of that courtroom, you would have thought it was a rock star. People were hollering, they were screaming, they were cheering, they were clapping.
It is not all that often, just to be real here, for a whole bunch of black folks to be cheering on a prosecutor, but that is what you saw.
Every time she made a move, they were chanting and cheering for her. And she made her statement about what happened in court, it being about the facts and being about the evidence.
She was very straightforward. She said what she had to say and then moved on, but the crowd loved her.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You think about story time in the sense of when Reverend Al stepped out and started talking about Thanksgiving, one of the things that stuck out to me was the talk of the empty chair.
When you think about all this excitement and everything that's going on, we're all going to go home but we're not going to have an empty chair where we had to watch our loved one be shot over and over and over again.
How many times has Wanda Cooper-Jones had to watch the video of her son being shot, and then having a comment made about how he looked and his hygiene even in death. That woman's composure has really hit and struck all of us.
Alisyn, you've talked to her before.
The fact she's shown up every single day and been able to keep it together.
And the idea that the father had an outburst after that first guilty, it all makes sense, considering what this family has done.
You think about all the cameras that are in front of them, and every single day, having to keep that straight face going into that courtroom and seeing these horrific pictures, by the way, that are in there really stands out.
But again, we did look at each other when Linda came out because when you think about this, this team coming from Cobb County, just outside of Atlanta, one of the largest counties in Georgia, and putting on a professional presentation. Never really going to the other side.
Even when they were being baited about race, they never fell for that. They kept moving the ball forward when it came to the actual facts, the video, and how everything laid out.
And to take it another step, the idea that laws have changed in this state surrounding this case is just amazing. We really don't see things move that fast in progression.
When you think about it, the George Floyd Act still hasn't passed but in this case, in Georgia, they have made changes already.
SIDNER: And we have to mention one more thing. There are more charges coming, federal charges. So that's a whole other potential trial or maybe they make a deal, I don't know. But there are more charges coming.
Right now, these three men are facing life in prison without parole if that is what the judge decides. We know that's what the prosecution is going to be asking for.
But that is the potential sentence for each and every one of these men who all were convicted of several counts of murder.
CAMEROTA: Sara and Ryan, thank you so much. Please stand by.
I do want to go back to our legal panel right now for some of those very questions that Sara and Ryan just raised.
I want to go to you first, Laura Coates, because we're just getting response from the defense, from that attorney, Laura Hogue, who had made those comments about Ahmaud Arbery's appearance that struck so many as racist tropes.
Have you seen her response yet, Laura? Do you want to read it to us? LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I have not.
CAMEROTA: Let me read it to you.
COATES: Do you have it?
CAMEROTA: "I'm Floored." Floored with a capital "F." Laura Hogue says, Gregory McMichael's lawyer, she said as she left the courtroom gallery her face was red with tears.
COATES: Well, frankly, I'm not sure why she'd be floored when she was in the gutter when it came to the comments about the hygiene of a victim.
Imagine, if you will, a lot of people didn't want to talk about this in terms of race. I've talked about it in terms of gender, as potentially more palatable.
What if we were talking about the clothing of a rape victim. We don't allow that in the courtroom because we know there's a line that ought to be drawn in the denigration of people who have been harmed by criminals.
For her to engage in that behavior was egregious.
But more importantly and less shockingly, it's not an effective strategy as a defense.
What she was hoping, I'm assuming to try to galvanize people around, was that somehow they would look upon him as less than human. As somehow somebody who was dirty, who did not deserve the humanity that is required when you deal with human beings.
And her calculation was that if I can get you to see this person as less than, you will give less than a guilty verdict.
If I can get you to see it the way that perhaps her client as we articulated from the prosecution's side actually viewed it, then maybe I can capitalize on it.
It was a gross miscalculation. It was insulting to the intellect, I'm certain, of those jurors. It was also insulting obviously to the family of Ahmaud Arbery.
But also insulting as a prosecutor or a defense attorney that that would be your strategy.
Now, of course, I'm sure she's thinking what else can I possibly go with here. I've got a videotape, I've got three men who were party to a crime, I've got somebody who was falsely imprisoned who fought for his life after running for five minutes. I've got to try something.
But the bar is supposed to be at least high enough that you present a viable defense that has to do with attacking the elements of the crime, the prosecutor's inability to meet or carry their burden.
Instead, she resolved that perhaps this was an effective tactic. And it was not.
And I hope, frankly, as much as the verdict should be a deterrent to anyone else who attempts to be a vigilante and to attack, assault and go after somebody because they happen to be running through, quote, unquote, "your town."
I hope it's also a deterrent for future defense attorneys that you do not, you do not go to the gutter, hit below the belt in some pretextual reason to defend your client.
If you cannot defend above the belt, you need not be in the courtroom.
CAMEROTA: Laura, stick around.
I want to go to Martin Savidge who is on the ground now.
You have information on where the three defendants, now convicted
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. As you were listening to lawyers and Ahmaud Arbery's family speak, at the same time, the three, as they were being led out of the courthouse, they were wearing leg shackles and handcuffs.
And taken individually to the vehicles that will transport them back to the Glynn County Detention Center where they have been held throughout this trial.
What's next is sentencing in this particular case but not long after, you have the federal proceedings.
Remember that all three men have been charged federally with hate crimes. And that trial is also going to take place right here in Brunswick, Georgia. And it's slated to begin with jury selection on February 7th.
Now, one thing to know about the jury selection is, it's a district, so it will cover many counties, but Glynn County is among them.
So the jury pool is likely to be potentially even whiter than it was this time because it's more rural counties that will be considered.
But the charges against the men federally were filed last spring. They include interfering with Arbery's right to use a public street because of his race. That's a hate crime.
And then also Travis and Greg McMichael for additional weapons charges, there are also kidnapping charges.
These are charges for which, if convicted, they could face life in prison. And these are the hate crimes that many in the state of Georgia wanted to see charged against these men.
But of course, Georgia, at the time the crime was committed, didn't have a hate crimes law. It does now, as has been pointed out, but the federal case next to come.
And so this community won't have long before it braces for another round of prosecution on the McMichaels and William Roddie Bryan.
CAMEROTA: Martin, thank you very much.
I want to go back to our legal panel now.
Let's talk about that, Elie. I want to ask you about this.
Is it necessary now for the federal hate crimes? I know they send a different message.
But first of all, what do you think the sentence is that the judge will come up with for these three defendants? Are they looking now at life in prison? If so, will the federal case still happen?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: They are looking at life in prison under the Georgia law. The judge's only decision is to give them possibility of parole or no parole.
Interesting decision for the Justice Department. There are pending federal charges. I think it's very likely that DOJ keeps those charges and pursues those charges in large part because they're different legally.
The lead charge is a hate crime charge, which was not charged in the state. As Martin said, that was not the law at the time. So I do think DOJ is going to follow through with these charges.
Whether the defendant has decided we're going to do life in the state, we'll take a plea, maybe they can't afford it. That will be a strategic decision between the parties.
CAMEROTA: As we just heard from Martin there, they will have to choose another jury pool, and so much was made out of the -- just the makeup of this jury.
As well as who was dismissed by the defense attorneys, who were potential jurors and whether or not there would be able to be justice with 11 white people, men and women, and one black man on this juror.
And as you heard from Al Sharpton say today that this jury of 11 white men and women, one black man in the state of Georgia proves that all whites are not racist. All blacks are not worthless.
Do you think that in some ways attorneys and the media put too much emphasis on the racial composition of a jury which, in fact, it turns out that lots of people can be open minded and fair minded?
COATES: Yes, I think it's hard to make generalizations about the verdict that this jury delivered.
I think that what my reaction initially was to 11 white people on a jury and one black person is that this harkens back to jury service in this country. And historically, jury service has been about citizenship, and
historically black people were not deemed as citizens. We have this unbroken threat historically between the way juries used to operate and the way they do now.
Those that are likely to not be summoned for juries, much higher percentage of people of color, jury service is connected to voting rights.
It's hard to make a generalization out of this one case.
And I keep returning to the fact that this verdict, the outcome, isn't because the system worked. It's really in spite of the system.
I think we can all remember there was multiple-months delay in the state even indicting the three men that were responsible for Ahmaud's death.
And that it was really in response to national and local activism, local outcry, this video linked. I'm glad that CNN's coverage focused on those in the community.
That is why there was an indictment. That is why there was a trial.
You had a judge in this case that recognized that the defense was engaged in intentional racial discrimination in the composition, in the selection of that jury.
And so it was really remarkable that this jury was able to return the verdict that they did because jury diversity matters.
There's no shortage of social science research that shows racially diverse juries, juries that have diverse life experiences, they grapple over evidence for a longer period of time.
They spend more time looking at the facts, weighing the credibility of witnesses.
And then also the chance that they would engage in implicit bias drops when you have diversity on the jury.
And so this case, the outcome. I hope it brings comfort. I hope it brings some sort of relief to Ahmaud's family and the community.
But I think we have as a nation a long way to go until we achieve justice.
CAMEROTA: President Biden is now reacting to this verdict. Let me read it for you.
It says, quote, "Ahmaud Arbery's killing, witnessed by the world on video, is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go for racial justice in this country."
"Mr. Arbery should be here celebrating the holidays with his mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, and father, Marcus Arbery."
"Nothing can bring Mr. Arbery back to his family and community. But the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished."
"While the guilty reflects our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough."
"Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin."
"My administration will continue to do the hard work to ensure that equal justice under the law is not just a phrase emblazoned in stone above the Supreme Court but a reality for all Americans."
Laura, your thoughts?
COATES: You know, this is a case that has reached the upper echelon of our government for a reason. Because it was an instance of such a gross injustice.
One that was really having a visceral reaction because it showed a demonstration of a lack of humanity for a human being.
And I'm glad the president of the United States has weighed in. I'm glad he recognizes why this is of such importance.
But it also is an indication, just the level of celebration that is coming as a result of this verdict, really is indicative of how oftentimes justice has alluded so many people in this country.
It has alluded communities of color and alluded, in a sense of prosecutors decisions. It's alluded people in the sense of trying to figure out a way to bring some semblance of justice.
This should tell you, as much as people can celebrate the notion that justice in this instance has been achieved in the courtroom, that we have a long way to go. And the president does, in fact, recognize that.
And I just want to say, for those of us who began the day today, Alisyn, watching along with the jurors, watching the death of a human being three times in an open courtroom, to watch the mother and father's reaction to this moment in time.
It's a moment that is incumbent upon all of us to really recognize that a human being's life was lost and for what?
Talk about senseless violence, this was the illustration of senseless violence, and I'm glad that justice came in Brunswick, Georgia, no matter how late.
CAMEROTA: Elie, in our few second left here, you were saying that watching this just as a professional attorney general as professional attorney as you are that the prosecutor and judge's handling of this were just models of professionalism.
HONIG: Yes, a marked difference from what we saw last week in the Rittenhouse trial in both respects.
The judge was firm, in control, courteous, kept the jury properly focused. Did not inject himself into the case.
The prosecutor was meticulous, right to the point, let the facts speak for themselves.
And the defense lawyer, I think, especially the one who Laura was speaking about who made the toenails comment, look, that comment should live with that lawyer in infamy. It is a mark of shame.
And I want people to understand, at a criminal trial, lawyers say things that are controversial, explosive, close to the line. I have never heard anything that far over the line and that inappropriate.
CAMEROTA: We have a few seconds left, Alexis, your final thoughts.
ALEXIS HOAG, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF LAW, BROOKLYN LAW SCHOOL: You know, again, I hope that the outcome brought relief and comfort to the community and his family.
He's not going to be back for Thanksgiving. And I know that sits heavily with them, but I'm hopeful that that community can move forward.
CAMEROTA: Laura Coates, Alexis Hoag, Elie, thank you so much. I really appreciate all of your insight walking us through this.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CAMEROTA: We are almost at the top of the hour right now. I'm Alisyn Camerota.
And we're following the breaking news out of Brunswick, Georgia, where all three defendants in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial were found guilty of murder.