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Guilty Verdicts in Ahmaud Arbery Trial. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 15:00   ET




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.

Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda, was visibly emotional as the verdicts were read. You can see her response there, looking heavenward and then looking down.

And crowds outside of the courthouse celebrating, chanting Ahmaud Arbery's name as the guilty verdicts came in. Moments later, Ahmaud's family and their lawyers and supporters exited the courthouse with their arms raised, and then they spoke to the crowd.


WANDA COOPER-JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: It's been a long fight. It's been a hard fight. But God is good.


COOPER-JONES: Early in, I never saw -- to tell you, I never saw this day back in 2020. I never thought this day would come. But God is good.

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.


CAMEROTA: Let's get to our Martin Savidge. He has covered this trial since it began and since this story began last year.

So, Martin, for months and months, you have talked about this. So tell us the reaction there today. MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Outside of the courthouse here, it

was just explosive emotion. It was joy. And it was relief at the same time.

People were obviously watching on every device that they had. And then when they began hearing guilty, guilty, guilty, they broke down into tears. You could just see and hear as it just rocketed through this crowd. And people quickly began to understand that the justice they had waited so long for, the justice that they feared might even elude them, was finally here, finally at hand.

So just -- it was such a remarkable moment to be caught up in because we have covered this from the very beginning. I was in this community that day that horrific cell phone video was released, which changed everything in the trajectory of this case. Ironically, of course, it's one of the defendants that took that video.

And that video had been released, released by an attorney that was assisting the McMichael family. They clearly believed, if the public saw that video, that somehow they would have sympathy for the McMichaels, when it was just the opposite. As a nation, we were horrified. And the end result is the verdict that you heard just a short while ago here.

The defendants were led out of this building while there was still celebration in front of the courthouse. They are now back at the county detention center, where they will remain. We're waiting for sentencing.


CAMEROTA: We want to now to the defense attorneys who are speaking.

This is for Travis -- the defense attorneys for Travis McMichael, who was found guilty of every charge. Let's listen to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I appreciate that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we appreciate you.

CAMEROTA: ... entirely ready.

OK. It appears that Travis McMichael's attorneys are getting ready to speak.

JASON SHEFFIELD, ATTORNEY FOR TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: First of all, we want to thank everyone who gathered here in front of the Glynn County courthouse to show their support either for the Arbery family or for the McMichaels.

We understand more you know than how valuable it is to have people come together, peacefully assemble, share their voices, share what's in their hearts, share what's in their minds.

This is a very difficult day for Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael. These are two men who honestly believed that what they were doing was the right thing to do. However, a Glynn County jury has spoken. They have found them guilty, and they will be sentenced.

And that is a very disappointing and sad verdict for myself and for Bob and for our team.

But we also recognize that this is a day of celebration for the Arbery family. We cannot tear our eyes away from the way that they feel about this. And we understand that they feel they have gotten justice today. We respect that. We honor that, because we honor this jury trial system.



QUESTION: Do you plan to appeal?

RUBIN: Yes, absolutely.


RUBIN: We haven't had a chance to talk to him yet. He was taken back to the Glynn County jail. He was very stoic. I was right next to him feeling his body next to mine and was ready for him to react.

And I really didn't feel any reaction. He's a strong man. He understood that the potential consequences in this. And he -- whatever he was feeling, he was holding into himself.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) larger conversation around the country about racial injustice (OFF-MIKE)

SHEFFIELD: We very much honor the larger conversation that's happening around the country.

The fact that this case was brought into the fold of that conversation has made it very difficult indeed, to have a trial in the normal sense of what we typically experience. And so to the extent that that has played a role in this or played a role in the verdict, we don't fully understand it right now. But I'm sure, in the oncoming months, we will get more information about it.

RUBIN: I don't think any single case is a referendum on the criminal justice system in America. This case was about these people at this moment in time.

We had good prosecutors, good defense lawyers and a good judge all working hard to make sure justice occurred in this courtroom. And whether the verdict had been the way it went or had been the other way, not guilty, justice would have happened in this courtroom, and it doesn't speak about the larger problems in America.


SHEFFIELD: No, we haven't had second thoughts about it. I'm sure that our decision to keep the case here, to not move for a

change of venue will be discussed ad nauseum. And it will certainly and could certainly become a part of the appeal. Right now, we are respecting the verdict that's at hand.


RUBIN: We were glad they wanted to look at the video, because we felt from day one that the video show that Travis McMichael acted in self- defense.

Obviously, the jury felt very differently than we did. And maybe we had our own little tunnel vision going. But I always thought the video was helpful to us, just as Greg McMichael said the very -- at the very moment it happened.

CAMEROTA: OK, we have been listening there to attorneys for Travis with Michael.

And they said very interesting things. I mean, they praised the family of Ahmaud Arbery. They praised the judge and they praised the prosecutor for their professionalism, and for what they said the jury having done justice, but they also appear to be doing some soul- searching about anything they could have done differently. They do say that they will appeal this decision, the guilty verdicts.

So let's bring in our Ryan Young.

Ryan, have the other defense attorneys been speaking out yet?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not just yet. But you got to wonder when they will step out.

Of course, yesterday, I got a chance to talk to Kevin Gough after everything was set into place. And he obviously said that he was thinking that about the families who were involved in this.

It was kind of interesting. I wanted to ask him a question about black pastors. Would love to ask the other attorney about the dirty nail comment. Obviously, she put out a statement talking about being floored.

But you think about the idea of them moving forward and marching for that sort of racial kind of, like, hairline conversation, it didn't really play well outside of the courthouse. So you have to ask them how this will play out.

I will say, Mr. Sheffield, who stepped out and talked, has been talking to us quite regularly as he walked out. And he was the first person who walked out and said he did not like that black pastors comment the day after that happened.

So you could see, with three different defendants, every attorney had a different way of going about what they were going to do. When those comments were made each day, you could see the crowd almost groan and be angry by what was being said, especially the nails. It just really stands out to all of us when you think about it.

But as you move forward and you think about this, each one of them is going to be questioned about how they moved forward with pressing their case. But it's that video that really stands out to all of us. And, clearly, the way they were talking, they saw it differently than a lot of other people saw it.

In fact, the most important people, the 12 people on the jury, saw it the same way the prosecution did. They felt like they had another way of handling things besides getting out and confronting an unarmed man and firing shots.

CAMEROTA: All right, Ryan, stick around with us, if you would.

But I want to bringing our legal panel. We have Elie Honig, former assistant U.S. attorney Southern District of New York, as well as our CNN legal analyst, and Page Pate, criminal defense attorney, with us, and Eric Guster, criminal and civil trial attorney.

Gentlemen, great to have all of you on.

Page, I want to start with you because you know some of these criminal defense attorneys. And so, I mean, clearly, their tactics they used, particularly ones that Ryan Young was talking about, which struck some as just straight-up racist, did not work with this jury.


PAGE PATE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No, Alisyn, obviously, it didn't work.

And it was interesting to hear Bob Rubin say that he saw this video and he saw self-defense. And if you will remember -- and I think Martin said this earlier -- their original lawyer saw the video and saw self-defense, and that's why they released it.

And we heard from at least one witness during this trial, a neighbor to the McMichaels, who saw the video and saw self-defense. So there are still some people who see that as not a crime. But, fortunately, I think, for Glynn County, this jury saw it very differently.

CAMEROTA: But, Page, one more thing, I mean, just about the racist tropes, I mean, the fact that one of them -- that Laura Hogue, that criminal defense attorney, that she talked about Ahmaud Arbery's appearance, and she said he's no victim in this case.

I mean, clearly, that didn't work with the jury. But I just want to read you her first response once they were all found guilty of varying counts here. And she said -- quote -- "I'm floored, floored with a capital F," she said, as the room emptied out around her and her face was red with tears.

I mean, why did she do that?

PATE: I have no idea. I have known Laura Hogue for more than a decade, and her husband,

Frank. They are good lawyers. They are generally progressive people. They are not racists, in my experience. People have asked me, what sort of strategy was she using? I assume they knew something about this jury that we didn't. Maybe they were trying for that one person the jury they thought they could reach to get a mistrial.

I don't see the strategy in it. I didn't see the strategy when she said it. I mean, it shocked me. It nauseated me, because, number one, I know her, and that's not who she is. And, two, I don't see how that could have possibly worked. And it didn't.

CAMEROTA: Eric, your thoughts as we find out all of these guilty verdicts. There were only four things, four counts that were not guilty, three of those with Roddie Bryan. One of them, the malice murder, which was the most serious or the intentional murder charge, Gregory McMichael was found not guilty of, but guilty on all the rest of the 24 counts.

Your thoughts.

ERIC GUSTER, CRIMINAL AND CIVIL TRIAL ATTORNEY: My thoughts are that we should not have to rejoice over guilty verdicts of someone, these people who are obviously guilty.

That shows you how broken our justice system is for a segment of the population. Black people, brown people and poor people, it's broken for us. And we should expect this type of verdict, which, when I woke up this morning, and I know that the jury wanted to see that video, I got nervous all over again.

I was thinking, are they going to buy the self-defense case? Are they going to buy this prosecution, this version that they were trying to do a citizen's arrest? Are they going to buy these notions of the racial comments even?

Because it seemed like Laura Hogue was trying to reach that one or two jurors who could hang it out, because, in defense cases, in criminal defense cases, sometimes, you just want a hung jury so you can live another day. And being that she was on faculty of the National Criminal Defense College, she should know better.

NCDC actually put out a statement condemning her for those statements, because that is not what the values of the criminal defense bar are, because it doesn't matter how tough your case is. It doesn't matter what your client is facing. You have to have honor when you go into that courtroom and fight for your client.

And that was so dishonorable and so nasty that it has shocked so many of us in the criminal fence world.

CAMEROTA: Elie, the overwhelming finding of guilt for these three defendants, your thoughts? Was this a surprise to you?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It was not personally a surprise to me. Look, our criminal justice system is far from perfect, as Eric and

Page have said. However, it can work. And what we want our criminal jury trials to do is to put aside all of the distraction, all the sensationalism, the improper appeals, I think, here by some of the defense lawyers. And they should be separated.

I think the defense lawyer that we just heard from, Travis McMichael, he played this case straight and clean, the others, not so much, for reasons that we have just talked about. Ultimately, I think this jury showed us they went about this deliberation carefully. They took their time. They identified and zeroed in on the most important, most relevant pieces of evidence, the 911 call and that videotape.

And they came to, I think, a very careful, nuanced, and just verdict.

CAMEROTA: I think, Page, that's really interesting, because it was not one-size-fits-all, as Elie is saying.

I mean, the fact that the person with the gun, with the shotgun, which was Travis McMichael, the son, he was found guilty of that intentional murder, what they call malice murder, whereas Greg McMichael, who's his father, who did not have the gun, and William "Roddie" Bryan, who had no gun, but he had the videotape, they were found not guilty of that top charge of the malice murder, but then guilty on so many other counts.


PATE: Makes perfect make sense to me.

I mean, in Georgia, malice murder is, basically, you have an intent to kill someone. Felony murder is, you don't necessarily want to kill someone, but you're committing a felony offense and someone dies as a result of it. So what that shows to me is that this was not a reaction from the jury. It was careful deliberation, let's put the facts together with the law, and come up with what we believe is the right verdict.

And I think that's -- obviously, that's what they did. And I think it was the right verdict for this case.

CAMEROTA: And, Eric, I was asking our panel a few minutes ago about this, and I want to hear your thoughts, too. So much was made about the racial composition of this jury, 11 white people, one black person.

So many potential black jurors were dismissed by the defense. Do you think, given that they did their jobs, they looked at the laws, they looked at it, as you point out, looking at the videotape again, hearing the 911 call again, they seemed to be going through each count meticulously, do you think too much was made of the racial composition?

GUSTER: No, racial composition is extremely important when it comes to jury trials, because each of us, we have different opinions, we have different life experiences and different cultures. And it's very important for all those cultures to come into a trial.

For example, in Jefferson County, we had a former DA who would make fun of nicknames and try to use it as a weapon in front of white juries, which some whites do not understand that black people have nicknames.

And that was kind of a weapon to try to demonize defendants in cases. So we would have African-American jurors who go back in the jury room -- just to give you an example, go back in the jury room and say, hey, that's not a bad thing. And I have talked to jurors after trials like that, because they had to go in and give their opinions and give their thoughts and let the other jurors know that some things -- that our culture may be different from their culture.

And it's very important for all those life experiences to come in, mix up and come up with a jury verdict. And like this case, I believe the jury verdict was absolutely perfect. It seemed right. It seemed just.

CAMEROTA: Elie, talk about what's next, because, as we have talked about, there are these federal hate crime charges against these now convicted murderers.

If they get life in prison, you still believe that the Justice Department will move forward with that -- those cases?

HONIG: I do think so, Alisyn.

Again, even if they're sort of academic, even if these defendants do get sentenced to life in the state, which they will -- they must under the state law -- I still think the Justice Department sticks with these cases. The Justice Department doesn't want to be seen as sort of a safety net or a backup. They brought these charges deliberately, and I think for a very specific reason.

And let's remember, the charges are a little bit different federally. The lead charge federally is the federal hate crimes statute. So that's going to get a little bit deeper into the motivations here. The other thing to watch for, back to the state cases, there will be an appeal. We just heard the lawyer say that. Virtually every person who's ever convicted at a criminal trial does appeal.

You have the right to appeal. I will say there are some times when I see a trial, and I think, oh, boy, they could have one or two or three significant issues for appeal. I do not see that here at all. I can't think of a single major, significant, substantive decision that went against the defense lawyers that will be enough to change these verdicts on appeal.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Page.

PATE: Well, he's right. It's hard to win an appeal in Georgia.

A murder case goes directly to our state Supreme Court. There's not an intermediate appeals court. I think the lawyers here will probably focus on the judge limiting some of the evidence they could bring in, the probation, the mental health status. I do not think that's going to be sufficient to overturn the verdict.

But I do believe that's what they will focus on.

CAMEROTA: I think it's so interesting, because you heard, Eric, that Ahmaud Arbery's family and Reverend Al Sharpton, who was there supporting them, and Ben Crump, who was there supporting them and acting as their attorney, believe that this does send a large message to the country about where we are and about justice.

And then you heard the defense attorneys for Travis McMichael say, no, it's just about these defendants. It doesn't have a larger point.

What do you think?

GUSTER: It definitely sends a message. And that's what we need. We need convictions. We need long terms to make people think about the things that they're going to do, the things that they're going to -- if they're going to approach someone in their neighborhood with a shotgun.

May think twice, hey I shouldn't do this. Perhaps I should just call 911 and let them figure it out and let them investigate.

So we have to make sure that the justice system and the wheels of justice turn for all citizens, and that, when we have these types of cases, that people are sentenced appropriately to try to deter others from doing the similar things

CAMEROTA: Elie Honig, Eric Guster, Page Pate, thank you all very much.

And our special coverage continues after a very quick break.

Bishop William Barber will weigh in on the jury's decision, finding all three men guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.



CAMEROTA: We are continuing to follow the breaking news out of Brunswick, Georgia, all three defendants in Ahmaud Arbery's murder found guilty of murder.

Ahmaud Arbery's family, lawyers and pastors exited the courtroom to cheers and applause with their arms raised in victory. According to pool reports, the defense attorney, Laura Hogue, who you see there, said she was -- quote -- "floored with a capital F" at the verdicts, as tears streamed down her face. She vows to appeal the verdicts.

Hogue and other defense attorneys in this case have drawn criticism for their use of race during this trial.


Bishop William Barber is the co-chair of Poor People's Campaign and president of the Repairers of the Breach. He joins us now.

Reverend, thank you so much.

What is your reaction to everything you have heard this afternoon?

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER, CO-CHAIR, POOR PEOPLE'S CAMPAIGN: You know, this morning we had an interfaith, interracial prayer, Jews, Muslims and Christians, praying for this day and praying for this country and his family.

It's a good and powerful day for justice, three vicious killers convicted for killing an unarmed young black man for running in the wrong place, according to them. But it's a sad and ridiculous day that we even had to have a trial like this, that a person would be shot down in this way, that a life would be wasted in this way, and Ahmaud can't be with this family.

It's a sad day that we had to hear the mother even today say, I never thought this day would come, that she didn't even think justice was possible.

And it's a complicated day. It's a complicated day because we had to go through a lot of DAs to get here. It's not as though this case went straight to trial. It's a complicated day because the mother and the father had to fight vigilantly to get the case to be even heard in the first place.

And it's a complicated day because we have to ask questions like, what if the killers had not videoed themselves? And when you look at America now, the cases that are often successful, George Floyd and this case, are all cases where they have been video.

What if there wasn't video? What lies would the defense have told if there wasn't video? What does it say about us that the only time it seems you can really get the kind of justice you ought to have is when there's a video? And, in this case, if the killers themselves had not been so arrogant in the racism, and the lawyers have not been so arrogant, we can't even imagine.

So it's a good day. It's a sad and ridiculous day. And it's a complicated day in America, and it's far from over in terms of us dealing with racial justice and violence.

CAMEROTA: I hear you. And I think that your points are very well taken, because one of the things that Wanda Cooper, Ahmaud Arbery's mother, said was how much she had to pray. And when she didn't have any resources, she had to rely on God. That was her only source of resources.


CAMEROTA: Because the -- at first, no one was charged, as you know, for a very long time in this case. Two of the prosecutors had to recuse themselves because they had some sort of connections with the defendants. BARBER: That's right.

CAMEROTA: And so, I mean, as you heard Lee Merritt say, Wanda Cooper prayed the initial prosecutor out of the way.

Now, that I think that prayer is very powerful. And that's important. However, that shouldn't be your only line of defense. And it sounds like, for Wanda Cooper, for a long time, it was.

BARBER: Well, she's standing in a serious tradition.

Sojourner Truth once said, I pray and stand in the truth because I have no fear my enemies, because the truth is all-powerful.

But think about that. She had no resources. And I'm going to say some things. There are a lot of people in the space now, and thankfully, people on camera and all of that, but many of us, myself, even, we weren't there. She fought a lot of this by herself. She kept pushing. She prayed with her feet, and with her soul.

This case happened before the George Floyd case. But it didn't get the traction. And what happened was, the video came out. Again, what if there had been no video? The racism in this case started long before a few comments that were racist. It was the racism of them not even being tried in the first place. It was the racism of a DA telling them to go home and wash up.

It was the racism of the cover-up. And then you had the racism of the case being blocked. And so we have to really not overplay this. Just this week, we have seen two very different courtrooms in America, the one that happened in Wisconsin and one here in Brunswick.

In the last two weeks, we have seen -- I have seen two black men, one name Strickland in Missouri, one named Dontae Sharpe in North Carolina, who exonerated four murders they did not commit, and they spent 20 and one spent 40 years in jail. One spent 20.

And then, here, we see a case where some people are convicted for vicious killing, but we have to wonder, what if there had been no videos? What would have been the story? What would the defense have done? How would they have destroyed the character of Ahmaud if there had been no video?

So, we have to really probe this and not just having exuberance, but a true examination of where we are and how far we have to go. That's why I appreciated the president's comments so much and his statement.

CAMEROTA: Yes, he too said that it's not over in terms of how the country deals with things like this, but that he felt that, I think, justice was done.

Bishop William Barber, we always appreciate talking to you. Thank you.

BARBER: Thank you so much. Take care.