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Jury Selection Begins in Murdaugh Case; Pena in Court for Shootings; Pressure on GOP Leaders over Santos; No Deal Yet on Tanks to Ukraine; Hamlin at Stadium to Watch Rematch. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 23, 2023 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Just moments ago we did see Alex Murdaugh arriving at court. This as jury selection is set to begin any moment for his double murder trial. This for the death of his wife and son. There he is. The disgraced South Carolina attorney is now charged with two counts of murder, as well as possession of a deadly weapon.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: That is all related to, according to prosecutors, their deaths. They say he killed Maggie and Paul Murdaugh at the family's hunting property in 2021. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges. An affidavit, though, reveals some new details of the prosecution's case.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher joining us now from Walterboro, South Carolina.

So, some of that new evidence is this Snapchat that Paul Murdaugh sent just a short time before his death. The prosecution says it is critical to the case. Why?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in fact the exact words there from the prosecution was that the video was important to proving the state's case in chief. They say that it was critical video that was sent out to friends by Paul at approximately 7:56 p.m. on the night of the murders.

Now, what is key here is that is roughly, I don't know, a little less than an hour before the beginning of that window of time that the state says that both Paul and Maggie were shot and killed.

Now, this comes out of a subpoena of a Snapchat representative. The judge did sign, commanding them to essentially appear here for this trial. They did not indicate what was on those Snapchat video - that Snapchat video that was sent to those friends, but that's something we'll likely find out once the trial gets underway. It was part of a flurry of motions that have really been filed in the days leading up to today, the beginning of jury selection.

We're learning things and waiting to find out whether or not the judge is going to allow specific evidence as well, including all of the financial crimes that Alex Murdaugh is accused of committing against others. That is part of the state's motive theory that they're going to present, saying that he killed his wife and his son because he was afraid that he was going to be found out for these financial crimes.

We're also waiting to see if the judge will allow evidence of this white t-shirt that Alex Murdaugh was wearing the night of the murders. That they say had blood spatter evidence that connects him to the crime. However, the defense has said that shirt simply had blood on it because he found the bodies of his wife and son.


Now, that shirt was actually destroyed during evidence testing. And so that's something to see whether or not we're going to get that in there.

Now, again, right now, what we have is simply the jury selection that is set to begin shortly. We're running a little bit behind schedule here. I'm not sure how much you can see behind me, but there's a queue of media who's waiting to still get in. We were supposed to allow media in around 9:15 this morning. Jury selection is supposed to be beginning right now. But, look, we are on for roughly two to three days, the defense believes, that's what's set aside for this, on how many people can become on this jury. How they do that.

They issued a statement essentially saying, the defense isn't going to be speaking anymore. They're done talking. But they also noted, quote, Alex looks forward to his opportunity to clear his name of these heinous charges so that the attorney general can finally begin looking for the actual killer or killers of Alex's beloved wife and son.

And, of course, look, Jim, this is something that people are wondering how they're going to find a jury this quickly. He is well-known. His family has been a legal entity here for a century. How are they going to find people who don't know about what they're calling the case of the century here in Walterboro.

HILL: Yes, it is certainly a big question.

Dianne Gallagher, appreciate it. Thank you.

Former New Mexico Republican Candidate Solomon Pena now accused of masterminding a series of shootings targeting the homes of elected Democrats, heading back to court in just a few short hours.

SCIUTTO: Listen, it's an alarming story. Prosecutors say that Pena hired a team of accomplices to attack the homes of his political rivals.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov joins us now.

I wonder what we expect to hear from prosecutors at this hearing today.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a judge is set to decide if Solomon Pena will stay behind bars until the trial or if he will be released with conditions. Something that prosecutors are very strongly urging against, saying that Pena's actions show the lengths he is willing to go when he's dissatisfied with reality. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Pena, you will be afforded a hearing on the state's motion for pretrial detention.

KAFANOV (voice over): That next hearing for Solomon Pena will happen later this morning, where prosecutors are expected to begin unraveling his journey, from Republican state candidate and election denier, to accused mastermind behind four politically motivated drive-by shootings targeting the homes of Democrats like Debbie O'Malley.

DEBBIE O'MALLEY, FORMER BERNALILLO COUNTY, NEW MEXICO, COMMISSIONER: This happened when my husband and I were asleep and my grandkids could have been spending the night.

KAFANOV: Albuquerque Police say Pena was fueled by election lies and drew from his criminal past. Pena spent years in prison for charges, including burglary and larceny, telling reporters last summer that jail time had changed him.

SOLOMON PENA: I had nothing more than a desire to improve my lot in life.

KAFANOV: That path would lead to Republican politics as a follower of Donald Trump. Video shows Pena at multiple Trump rallies, from Washington, D.C., to Phoenix, Arizona.

And like Trump, when Pena lost his 2022 run for state office by a massive landslide, he invoked the former president, saying he never conceded.

PENA: Hi, my name is Solomon Pena. Can I speak with Debbie O'Malley.

KAFANOV: Ring video shows him tracking the homes of the Democrats he wrongfully blamed for his election loss. Police say Pena then texted the addresses of targets to four suspects to carry out the shootings, writing, they just certified it. They sold us out to the highest bidder. They were literally laughing at us while they were doing it.

Prosecutors alleged Pena then paid this man, Jose Trujillo, to help carry out the shootings. Things fell apart when officers caught Trujillo driving this car, containing fentanyl and guns. One of the guns traced back to the shootings. The car registered to Solomon Pena, according to a law enforcement source.


KAFANOV: So that alleged gunman for hire also happened to be Pena's top campaign donor. New Mexico's attorney general has launched an investigation into Pena's campaign finances. Police also now investigating whether drug money was laundered into Pena's race for office. His attorney, though, telling CNN, this accusation is still under investigation.

Erica, Jim, back to you.

HILL: Wow. Lucy Kafanov, appreciate the update. Thank you.

Still to come here, new CNN reporting on how Republican Congressman George Santos' lies are putting key members of GOP leadership in a very sticky situation, including one of his biggest campaign cheerleaders. The growing pressure is next.



HILL: The problems surrounding Republican Congressman George Santos and the lies he has told about his background are putting increasing pressure on key members of House GOP leadership.

HILL: CNN chief investigative correspondent Pamela Brown joins us now with more.

So, Elise Stefanik, GOP conference chair, number four in the GOP leadership, showed particular interest in this race.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: She absolutely did, Jim. I mean she was one of Santos' biggest cheerleaders throughout the campaign. She's the number four Republican, as you point out, in the House of Representatives. The most influential Republican in her home state of New York. A senior Republican strategist involved in the campaigns told me, quote, Stefanik's team was laser-focused on electing Santos to Congress more than just about any other race in the country.

Now, Stefanik insists she didn't know about Santos' pattern of deception until "The New York Times" revealed he made up stories about his past, including lies about his school, jobs, and family history.

But throughout the Santos campaign, Stefanik was a significant supporter. We talked to several people who donated to Santos' campaign, including one man who gave tens of thousands of dollars, who said, Stefanik's support influenced them to donate.


They wouldn't have without Stefanik.

Stefanik endorsed Santos early in his campaign, more than a year before the election, and her tweet included a link to a fundraising page that would benefit both her and Santos. And then she later tweet that a lunch event raised over $100,000 to help George flip New York District Three, as you see.

So, one donor who was at that lunch told CNN, the only reason they donated was because of Stefanik. And Santos himself understood the power of Stefanik's endorsement, as well. He used a photo of the two of them as the banner image for his Twitter page up until last week. Republican consultants said they first heard of Santos' issues in the summer of 2022, but it's unclear how so many pros in the political arena let Santos slip through the cracks.

Of course, though, Jim, there is an incentive for Republicans. They wanted that seat. They -


BROWN: Kevin McCarthy, for his part, they needed his vote, right? Kevin McCarthy, who said he always knew there were concerns with his resume, hosted a fundraising breakfast for him on October 3rd.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's the thing. As you say, they knew or at least got signals about this months before the election.


HILL: Yes, and I guess, you know, Pamela, the concern too here is, she's a very powerful New York Republican, as we know. Elise Stefanik has endorsed a number of candidates. This one, though, understandably different because of what appear to be so many red flags that were missed.

BROWN: Exactly. So many red flags and I think also - I mean she was involved in a lot of different races, but in this case she didn't just endorse and help fundraise for Santos, according to the sources we've been speaking with. One of her top aids was actually advising his campaign. We should note, there's no record. It was in an official capacity. But we're told he even helped Santos hire people.

So, when we asked Stefanik for comment, her spokesperson said, no one from her team worked or advised Santos. And they sent us this statement that reads in part, Congresswoman Stefanik supported all GOP nominees and targeted New York seats, just like every other New York Republican elected official, and the entire House Republican leadership team.

SCIUTTO: Pamela Brown, fascinating stuff. Thanks so much.

BROWN: Thank.

SCIUTTO: New this morning, Poland says it will send Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine if, quote, a small coalition of countries agrees to do the same.

HILL: The transfer of those still needs to be approved by Germany, which manufacturers the tanks.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is live in Kyiv this morning.

So, Fred, Ukraine doesn't just want the Leopard tanks, they are saying they really need them right now.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly do really need them they say, Erica. And we found out some fascinating details over the weekend. We were speaking to some top Ukraine officials. They said that part of this is simply staying in the fight in all of this. They say they're having a lot of trouble getting spare parts and also ammo for their Soviet-era tanks. Even internationally, they say, that stuff is becoming very difficult to source, especially because of the attrition on the battlefield here. Now, a senior Ukrainian source that we spoke to said they need around

300 to 400 modern western main battle tanks. And they believe, with that number of main battle tanks, they could possibly beat up to 2,000 to 3,000 Soviet era and Russian battle tanks. So certainly they say they need a lot of this, but it would also have a huge effect, especially if they want to get their territory back, which obviously a lot of which is still occupied by Russian forces.

It's still shaping up to be quite difficult. I was in touch with some senior German sources throughout the course of the day, and they're still saying they want a broader coalition in all this. They especially want the U.S. onboard, which means they would love the U.S. to give those Abrams main battle tanks. Of course, we've heard from the Pentagon and from Washington that right now they're not willing to do that. They believe that the Abrams is not suited for the battlefields in eastern Ukraine. Obviously, it takes a lot of gas, has that very complicated turbine engine.

However, the Germans seem pretty adamant about that point. They do seem to be trying to work out a compromise and there is the feeling that it could happen, but right now it seems as though there are still some things that need to be sorted out.

Nevertheless, the Ukrainians say the most-suited tank for the terrain here is really that German-made Leopard II battle tank, guys.

SCIUTTO: And it always raises the question with these more advanced systems, what about the training? You can't just sort of parachute it in there and get started.

Fred Pleitgen, thanks so much.

Still ahead, in sports, the Buffalo Bills' season ends, but not before batman, Damar Hamlin, made an emotional, triumphant return. Notable, he was making a little heart sign there as he watched the game in the snow. We're going to be live the Buffalo, coming up.



HILL: Damar Hamlin back at Buffalo Bills stadium this weekend cheering on his team less than three weeks after he suffered the cardiac arrest on the field.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, the Bills couldn't give him a win. That is too bad. But, boy, to see him there, Damar Hamlin, at that stadium watching.

Coy Wire, former Bill himself, joins us now.

What a moment for that team. And I've got to say, when I saw him doing that little heart sign, that was moving.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes, incredible stuff. No doubt about it. A full range of emotions for Buffalo yesterday. First excitement and anticipation of this gorgeous snowy night. Then disbelief in what played out on the field afterwards. Players were in tears. One young fan was crying his eyes out and he told me, I just love this team so much.

The Buffalo Bills had become America's team in a way through all of this, persevering through adversity. The team and Damar Hamlin uniting so many people along the way.


WIRE (voice over): Damar Hamlin's first public appearance since suffering cardiac arrest on the field when these two teams played each other 20 days prior. Hamlin, in a suite with his family during the game, pumping the crowd on the Jumbotron and holding up his heart hands, which have become a symbol for spreading love.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was a pretty cool moment.

JOSH ALLEN, QUARTERBACK, BUFFALO BILLS: We wanted to play for him and continue our mission. And, again, we just -- we ran into a team that played better than us tonight.

WIRE: The psychological roller coaster of these last three weeks seemingly leaving the Bills emotionally exhausted as the Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow plowed through the snow, jumping out to an early 14-0 lead.


Bills' star quarterback Josh Allen trying to throw their way into a comeback. Just wasn't happening. Cincinnati winning 27-10.

So, it's Bengals and Chiefs in Kansas City in the AFC championship next week, not the Bills and Chiefs in the first ever neutral site title game in Atlanta.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better send those refunds.

ZAC TAYLOR, HEAD COACH, CINCINNATI BENGALS: We don't care who's favored, who's not. We're built for this and - and we're excited to go on the road to Kansas City.

WIRE: As for the Buffalo Bills and their fans, they have so much of which they can be proud.

ALLEN: We could have made a lot of excuses throughout - throughout the year on what was going on, but guys continued to fight.


WIRE: This team continued to fight for the people of Buffalo time and time again this season, Erica and Jim. They were out in the community after a racist mass shooting eight months ago, gave back after a tragic snowstorm claiming the lives of dozens at Christmastime, and then through all the Damar Hamlin, it's unbelievable that they were able to be one of the best teams in the NFL despite all of that. SCIUTTO: Yes. No question.

HILL: Yes, absolutely.

Coy, really appreciate it. Thank you, my friend.

Still to come here, what we're learning about the man who opened fire at a dance club killing 10 people at a lunar new year celebration. We are live with the Monterey Park mayor, next.