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Soon, Sentencing For Three Men Convicted In Arbery Killing; Travel Nightmares Persist With Another Winter Storm Amid COVID Surge. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 07, 2022 - 14:30   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: We just learned from the judge in Brunswick, Georgia, that the three men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery will learn in 15 minutes if they have any chance of getting out of prison.

Because of minimum sentencing laws, Travis and Gregory McMichael and William Bryan must serve life. But the judge has the option of giving each parole at the sentencing hearing today.

We'll find out, again, in 15 minutes.

Ahmaud Arbery's parents and sister urged the judge to issue the maximum sentences possible.


JASIMINE ARBERY, SISTER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: He was robbed of his life's pleasures, big and small. He will never be able to fulfill his professional dreams, nor will he be able to start a family or even be a part of my daughter's life.

The loss of Ahmaud has devastated me and my family.

WANDA COOPER JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: These men deserve the maximum sentence for the crimes. Ahmaud Arbery never said a word to them. He never threatened them. He just wanted to be left alone.


BLACKWELL: A jury convicted the men just before Thanksgiving for chasing down and shooting Arbery who was jogging in the neighborhood.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is in Brunswick, Georgia.

In her victim impact statement, Dianne, Arbery's mother gave a rebuttal of sorts to comments made about her son during the trial. Tell us about those.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor. If you watched this trial in November, if you read about it or heard about it, chances are you remember a line that was widely condemned by just about everyone in the closing arguments of one of the defense attorneys in which she was speaking about the body of Ahmaud Arbery.

And she referenced his, quote, "long, dirty toenails." There was an audible gasp when she said that back in November.

And Wanda Cooper Jones, his mother, indicated how upset she was hearing that, that day.

It is obviously something that she has spent the 40-plus days thinking about because she referenced exactly that in her impact statement.

Take a listen.


COOPER JONES: He was messy. He sometimes refused to wear socks or take care of his good clothing.

I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for that jog that day. I guess he would have if he knew he would be murdered.


GALLAGHER: And just really hard to listen to Ahmaud Arbery's parents and sister during the impact statements, requesting that the judge give that maximum sentence of life without parole.

Now we've also listened to the attorneys for each of the three defendants, Victor.

They are asking for leniency. They are asking for the option of parole after they have served 30 years. Of course, the parole board would have to grant that. But that this would be giving them the option.

The attorneys have argued it does not appear that we're going to hear from the defendants at this point.

As the judge said that he will be giving his sentence within -- after this break, which we're expected to take about 10 to 15 minutes.

BLACKWELL: Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much.

Let's bring in now CNN legal analyst and attorney, Areva Martin, and criminal defense attorney, Page Pate.

Thank you both.

Page, let me start with you.


And I read at the top here that there are some minimum sentencing laws there in Georgia that require them to be in prison for a very long time.

What is and is not this judge deciding?

PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Victor, as far as the murder counts, there's really own one decision: Will he allow the defendants the possibility to seek parole after they've served 30 years in prison?

It is a life sentence that is required for both malice murder, which is what Travis McMichael was convicted of, and felony murder, which is what Greg McMichael and William Bryan were convicted of.

The only discretion that the judge has over the murder sentences is whether it is life with the possibility of parole after 30 years, or life without the possibility of parole.

So that is the big issue here today.

BLACKWELL: And is it also for the lesser charges, whether they're concurrent and, at the end of that, there will be parole?

PATE: Well, yes, although, really, given the way that this particular case was structured, several of those underlying felony counts were merged into the murder counts.

And the additional ones would be, for the most part, concurrent to both each other and the murder sentence.

So at the end of the day, the question is really life. You're going to serve 30 years and be considered for parole or you're going to serve the rest of your life in prison.

BLACKWELL: Areva, we heard from Ahmaud Arbery's mother and sister offering the rebuttal to the statement from one of the defense attorneys from the trial.

I want to hear from Ahmaud Arbery's father as well, his victim impact statement.


MARCUS ARBERY SR, FATHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: A man who killed my son has sat in this courtroom every single day next to his father.

I never get that chance to sit next to my son ever again.

Not only did they lynch my son in broad daylight, but they killed him while he was doing what he loved than anything, running.

That is when he felt most alive, most free.


BLACKWELL: And no question that the parents and the family have lost so much here. They deserve to be heard there in that courtroom.

But how much does a judge take these statements into consideration?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think the judge will, Victor, take into consideration the comments from the parents.

And we have not heard the powerful victim impact statements than the ones that we heard this morning. The one you played of Ahmaud Arbery's dad and his mother.

And we also heard powerful statements from his sister, humanizing her brother, talking about his dark skin and his curly hair.

Debunking this myth that somehow his blackness made him dangerous. Letting the world know that his blackness was his superpower. That is what made the special man and brother and son that he was.

So I think that the judge will take them into consideration.

This is -- Ahmaud Arbery died under the most heinous circumstances you could imagine.

As his dad said, he was running. He was doing what made him feel most alive. And while doing that, his life was taken from him.

So I think, at least for the McMichaels, I wouldn't be surprised if the judge did sentence them to the harshest sentence, which is 30 years, life without parole.


So, Page, Areva did something there that is a great segue into the separation of McMichaels from William Bryan.

And we heard from him attorney trying to do the same thing.

Let's hear that.


KEVIN GOUGH, ATTORNEY FOR WILLIAM "RODDIE" BRYAN: Roddie Bryan was not a vigilante and not a party to fight crime in Satilla Shores. Roddie Bryan had no idea what was going on or why, until after the tragic death of Mr. Arbery.


BLACKWELL: Two questions, significant point? And do you think it will be reflected in the sentencing?

PATE: Yes and yes. The judge has to treat each defendant separately and individually.

And so even though this was an obvious horrible crime, the jury convicted them all of murder, in different ways, the judge has to impose a sentence that is reflective of what happened but each defendant's relative culpability. And I think it is clear from the evidence here and from the prosecution's recommendation of a lower sentence that Mr. Bryan did not play as big of a role in this case as the McMichaels did.

Now the judge certainly has a discretion to give Mr. Bryan the same sentence, life without the possibility of parole, despite his lawyers arguments at the beginning of the hearing.

But I certainly think, especially with the prosecutor's recommendation, Mr. Bryan is the most likely to get some chance at parole at the end of day.


BLACKWELL: All right.

According to the judge in this case, this break that he's taking should end in about five minutes and we'll learn the sentence.

Areva, let me come back to you for one more question here.

Would you have expected to have heard from the McMichaels and from Bryan today? They have not spoken on their own behalf.

MARTIN: Well, the lawyers made the point, Victor, that they couldn't speak because they are facing federal hate crime. And that trial -- that trial is slated to start in February.

So they leaned heavily on the argument, as good defense lawyers, they couldn't allow their clients to take the stand.

But what we saw in the Derek Chauvin case was he was also charged in federal -- with federal hate crimes and he reversed his not-guilty plea to guilty.

So they had an option. They could have done the same.

So the notion that they could not take the stand and express remorse, that is a tactical decision on the part of their lawyers. There's nothing preventing them from doing that.

BLACKWELL: Understood.

Areva and Page, stay with us.

We're going to take a quick break. I think we have a couple of minutes here before we get that sentence from the judge. We'll bring that to you live as it happens.

And I want you to be with us back after it. So stay with us.

Let's talk about this winter storm that is mixing with coronavirus outbreaks. It is adding up to thousands of canceled flights. Big nightmare for passengers and the airlines. We'll talk about that as well.

And here is a look at some of the other events we're watching today.



BLACKWELL: So we're just moments away from the sentencing of the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery who was jogging in their neighborhood when he was chased down and shot.

Ahmaud Arbery's family gave their statements in court urging the judge to give the maximum sentence to those men, which is life in prison without parole.

Of course, stay with us. We'll bring you the sentencing live as it happens.

Let's turn now to the weather. And more than 40 million people under winter weather alerts today.

And more snow is expected in the northeast over the weekend. And an entire season's worth of snow fell across parts of the southeast and the Ohio Valley yesterday.

A 20-car pile-up on the western Kentucky parkway left drivers stranded for hours. Look at that.

Airlines also canceling thousands of flights, again today amid the weather woes.

CNN aviation correspondent, Pete Muntean, is at Reagan National Airport in Arlington.

Listen, Pete, you have to stay nimble because I might have to take us back to Brunswick.

But how bad is it today?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, flight cancellations today, Victor, have already exceeding the total number of cancellations for the full day yesterday.

These are the number according to Flight Aware, 2,500 flight cancellations today alone, 2,700 flights delayed.

You know, travelers just can't catch a break here buzz the airlines can't catch a break.

Winter weather a huge issue. Places like LaGuardia and Boston and in Denver where the temperatures were bitterly cold.

But there's another layer to this. A ton of airline workers calling out sick because they've been exposed to coronavirus or they've become infected with coronavirus.

Look at the numbers, airline by airline.

Southwest Airlines has canceled about one in every five of the flights for last few days in a row.

It's solution, trying to get more people to work. Incentivizing flight attendants to come into work paying them as much as double pay for the rest of the month.

Different strategy with Alaska Airlines. It's cutting back the schedule by about 10 percent for the rest of the month.

Said it simply needs to hit re-set on the operation because it is canceling about 16 percent for all flights for the last few weeks.

This has been a problem for weeks, Victor. And 27,000 flights, can you believe it?


BLACKWELL: Pete, I have to jump in here.

I have to take us back to the courtroom in Brunswick for the sentencing of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery.


The defendant is represented by counsel.

The way the court's going to address this, I'm going to make a few remarks and then address each one of the defendants with regard to sentencing.

And the remarks are intended to be general but also taking into consideration in the individual sentencing portion of the court's statement. So that's how we intend to proceed.


So the court has heard the evidence in the case, has accepted the jury's verdict, listened to the presentations here today in aggravation and mitigation, and candidly have spent a lot of time thinking about this.

This is a case that has taken a lot of time and energy on a lot of people's parts. And has been a case of, no, not just in this community but really in a lot of communities.

What we're here today to determine is what an appropriate sentence is, quite separate from the notoriety of the case and any other outside influence that may exist.

And so the court is going to be very careful in explaining that the court has considered just the evidence and what is appropriate under the circumstances of this case to consider in the superior court.

So that all being said, I'll start with this statement.

As we all now know, based upon the verdict that was rendered in this court in November, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. It's a tragedy. It's a tragedy on many, many levels.

Almost 20 -- I'm sorry -- on February 23rd of 2020, almost two years ago, a resident of Glynn County, a graduate of Brunswick High, a son, a brother, a young man with dreams was gunned down in this community.

As we understand it, he left his home apparently to go for a run and he ended up running for his life.

He entered the English home at approximately 1:04 p.m. And left that home at 1:08 on that day.

At 1:14, Greg McMichael calls 911 to let them know that there's a black male running down the street. And within moments, Ahmaud Arbery is shot and killed.

The three men that are before this court chased him in a residential neighborhood for at least five minutes in pickup trucks, armed with a shotgun and a .357 revolver.

The state mentioned this today about the time period, but I do want to put that time period in context. And the only way I could think to do so may be a little theoretical but I think it's appropriate.

I want us to all get a concept of time. What I'm going to do is I'm going to sit silently for one minute. And that one minute represents a fraction of the time that Ahmaud Arbery was running in Satilla Shores.


WALMSLEY: That's approximately a minute.

Again, the chase that occurred in Satilla Shores occurred over about a five-minute period.

And when I thought about this, I thought from a lot of different angles, and I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores.

The jury heard the evidence and returned a verdict. And what a difficult job they had under the circumstances.

Without any comment on the verdict itself, I think all counsel will agree and accept that this was a very difficult case to even get a jury impaneled on.


And there are issues out there with regard to the jury that were brought up in the press and elsewhere.

But I want to give credit to those members of the panel, not because of their verdict, just because of the fact that they were willing to go through the process that they went through with the state, with the defense, and with this court.

We're here today to sentence the defendants. In discharging the duty, this court is required to consider all mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

The court has considered those circumstances, including but not limited to all aspects of the crimes charged, the past criminal record or the lack thereof of the defendants.

I've also considered any lawful evidence which tends to show the motive of the defendants, their lack of remorse, their general moral character, and any predisposition to commit other crimes.

Now, I think in this case, the record speaks for itself. And the defendant's own words, I think, guide this court with regard to sentencing.

I went back through my notes and other resources to pull some of the quotes that we have in this case.

I'll start with Greg McMichael.

In my opinion, Greg McMichael, very early on in this, tried to establish a narrative.

He made comments like, "Ahmaud Arbery was trapped like a rat, stop or I'll blow your" -- and I won't repeat it again -- "head off."

He effectively admitted that he wasn't sure what Ahmaud Arbery had done wrong.

Quote, "I don't think the guy has actually stolen anything out there, or if he did, it was early in the process. But he keeps going back over and over again into this damn house."

Again, back to the narrative. Told Travis, "You have no choice."

He told another individual at the scene, "This guy ain't no shuffler, this guy is an asshole."

He commented that he wanted him, Ahmaud Arbery, "to know that we weren't playing. If I could have gotten a shot at the guy, I would have shot him."

Travis McMichael claims he was in shock. But it's interesting because he talks about his concern for his child and his own wellbeing. Part of this was while the victim was actually laying there in the street.

He commented, "This is the worst day of my life." Well, I think it's been touched on here today, there were other individuals that were impacted.

I looked at the video of this incident -- when I say the video, I think everybody knows what we're talking about.

But there was one part of it that struck me as absolutely chilling. And that is, I believe it's in the enhanced video provided by the GBI.

There's a frame where I believe Ahmaud Arbery, it looks to me, if he's 20 yards out, that may be close, 30 yards out. And it's the frame of Travis McMichael lifting the shotgun to fire at Ahmaud Arbery. And you watch that with context.

And when I say context, after hearing the evidence in this case, again, thinking about a young man that had been running at that point for almost five minutes, and it is a chilling, truly disturbing scene.

And we got there because Travis McMichael's father saw Ahmaud Arbery hauling down the street and calls out, "Let's go."

At that point, Travis McMichael, despite whatever may have been going on in his life at that time with regard to family or otherwise, just goes, grabs a shotgun, and goes because he assumes that it is the right thing to do.

Ahmaud Arbery was then hunted down and shot. And he was killed because individuals here in this courtroom took the law into their own hands.

Mr. Bryant, he joined in after calling out to the McMichaels, "You all got him?"

He claimed he didn't know what was going on. But obviously, wanted to know if this individual who was running through the neighborhood, who he didn't know, had been caught in some way.

Said quote, "I figured he'd done something wrong but I didn't know for sure." Or it wasn't actually the quote. Those are two separate quotes. "Didn't know for sure." "I thought he would get away."

And this is the part that is disturbing to me with Roddie Bryan. "If the guy would have stopped, this would have never happened."

All of these quotes give context, I think, to the video that we saw during the case.


And Ms. Wanda Cooper Jones, this morning, made a statement that I think, when you look at the statements and you see the videos, is very true. And that is, she said, "When they could not scare or intimidate him, they killed him."