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CNN This Morning

Video of Police Interaction with Tyre Nichols to be Released; Trial of Alex Murdaugh for Death of His Wife and Son Begins; Russian Political Prisoner Alexei Navalny Placed Back in Solitary Confinement; Germany and U.S. Agree to Provide Tanks to Ukraine to Help Its Defense against Russian Invasion. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 26, 2023 - 08:00   ET



SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The family has already seen the video. But they really want to prepare the community for what they're about to see.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: What did you hear about the police chief ahead of releasing video making a statement like that? So that is an indication --

PROKUPECZ: Strong statement in terms of what she said, indicating how concerning it was for her to see this video, to see the actions of these officers. The way they treated Tyre Nichols and how inhumane, she used the word "inhumane." So that is very significant to hear from her. But now the big thing -- there are two things, right. It's the charges against these officers and this video, when will we finally -- when will the public finally get to see this video.

LEMON: Yes, and listen, I had a member, the executive director of the local NAACP who gave us information about the possibility of these officers surrendering themselves. But again, we want to check on that. That has not been confirmed. That is according to her and her sources that she has been speaking to.

In the meantime, the community reeling, family members reeling, and this community bracing for what is to come, Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we had a conversation with the senior pastor at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian church here. That is the church where they will have services for Tyre Nichols on February 1st. So there is real concern. He made no bones about worrying about whether this was going to be explosive, how people are going to respond once the video is released. But he said they have been in talks, and he said he saw something that he has never seen before happen in this community. Activists had gone to the presser and then they went over and marched to the district attorney's office and they demanded to speak with the district attorney. And they demanded charges be put forth.

And instead of what has happened in the past where they would call the sheriff's department potential on the folks and try to remove them, he actually met with them. He said give me 10 minutes, and met with the community members who had been out and concerned about all of this, and concerned about what has been happening with the police department over years. And they didn't just meet one time. Clergy met with them, members of the activist community and the community met with them. And so they feel like they have been allowed to see some transparency here. And that was really, really important, he said, to try to quell some of the extreme emotions that everyone is expecting, because this video is heinous.

LEMON: Sara, we've been on a number of these scenes sadly. I get a feeling, though, that this is being handled differently, they are being much more careful about the information that they give out, working with the family's attorneys and representatives, working with the family, working with community activists. There is -- I'm sure they have seen what has happened in other communities. But this is being handled very differently. There is a better coordination about events and details here.

SIDNER: And what we heard from some of the community is that you have a new police chief. She's only been here a year-and-a-half or so. You have a new district attorney. And the expectation was, this is really in some part the aftereffects of what happened to George Floyd and what happened in the Minneapolis community. There has been work being done here on the ground and with authorities that people want transparency, they want to know what is going on, they want change. And so some of those conversations have been happening, and that's in part why you are seeing a change. And it's a change, by the way, that the community members we spoke to like to see. They hate what has happened, but they at least are getting something.

PROKUPECZ: I don't necessarily think that everything that, obviously the police here, how they have been handling this is right. I think more information should be --

LEMON: Differently. That is right, they're handling it differently.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, but I think what they are doing here is they know how bad this is, and they are trying to prepare the community almost in a way, we've been telling you how bad this is, we've brought the family in, we allow them to view the video, we brought their attorneys in, to almost in a way -- someone basically described to me in the community they feel they are desensitizing what they are about to see to prepare them for what they are about to see and just how horrific this is. But the fact is information -- we don't have key details on how everything here went down. So I think that there is still a lot more that we need to know.

LEMON: That is what I was going to say, what there needs to be is, the video will be released at such and such a time on such and such a day and everyone will get it at the same time. That's what needs to happen next. But I think the next thing that will happen will be the charges.

PROKUPECZ: Right, and that why we're outside the courthouse. We're waiting on word on whether or not this will happen today.

LEMON: Thank you Shimon, thank you, Sara. And I need to tell you that later on this hour we're going to talk to Martavius Jones, Memphis City Council Chairman, so we'll be standing by, Martavius Jones will be here in minutes and we're going to get more information. Poppy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: A really important conversation. We'll get be back to you in just a minute with that.


But this morning, the first witness expected to take the stand today in the trial of Alex Murdaugh. The disbarred attorney from a prominent South Carolina family is accused of murdering his wife and youngest son in 2021. Our Randi Kaye is following all of this for CNN THIS MORNING in Walterboro, South Carolina. Quite the opening statements yesterday, too, Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Poppy. We're already getting new details about what investigators learned at that crime scene, and some of those details were quite disturbing. They were shared in opening statements, and all the while Alex Murdaugh sitting at the defense table listening to that. He did have some support in court, his brothers were there, also his only surviving son Buster Murdaugh was there. But again, very disturbing details. Here is some of what we heard in court.


CREIGHTON WATERS, PROSECUTOR: The evidence is going to show that neither Paul nor Maggie had any defensive wounds. Neither one of them had any defensive wounds, as if they didn't see a threat coming from their attacker.

KAYE: That attacker, says the prosecutor Creighton Waters, was Alex Murdaugh. As he laid out what he says are the facts of the case in his opening statement, he described the brutal slaying of both Paul and Maggie Murdaugh on the night of June 7, 2021.

WATERS: He picked up that 300 black out rifle and opened fire on his wife Maggie, pow, pow, two shots, abdomen and leg, and took her down. And after that, there were additional shots, including two shots to the head that, again, did catastrophic damage and killed her instantly.

KAYE: The prosecutor also makes an attempt early on to convince the jury Alex was at the scene when Paul and Maggie were killed despite him saying he wasn't.

WATERS: At 8:44 and 55 seconds, Paul recorded a video. And you will see that video and you will hear from witnesses that identify Paul's voice, Maggie's voice, and Alex's voice. He told anyone who would listen he was never there. At 8:44 and 55 seconds, there is a video, the evidence will show that he was there.

KAYE: Murdaugh's defense attorney Dick Harpootlian opened with this.

DICK HARPOOTLIAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Alex, stand up. This is Alex Murdaugh. Alex was the loving father of Paul and the loving husband of Maggie.

KAYE: Then he moved to describe in gruesome terms how Paul Murdaugh died.

HARPOOTLIAN: Literally exploded his head like a watermelon hit with a sledgehammer. All that was left was the front of his face. Everything else was gone. His brain exploded out of his head, hit the ceiling in the shed, and dropped to his feet. Horrendous, horrible.

KAYE: The defense said an hour before Paul was killed, he and his father were having a good time riding around the property together. He told the jury it doesn't make sense that Alex killed his son. He also pointed out that whoever shot Paul would have been covered in blood given the violent nature of the shooting. Alex Murdaugh was not.

HARPOOTLIAN: His head exploded. He would be covered in blood from head to foot.

KAYE: Still, the prosecutor did his best to try to place the murder weapon in Alex Murdaugh's hand. He says Maggie was killed with a shotgun Alex had purchased, a gun that has gone missing.

WATERS: You are going to hear forensic evidence that the cases found in that flowerbed and the cases found across the street at that range were ejected out of the same weapon that fired all the cases that were around Maggie's dead body that killed her. It was a family weapon that killed Maggie Murdaugh.


KAYE (on camera): Alex Murdaugh has always said that he came upon the bodies of his wife and son. He found them, called 911 at 10:07 p.m. on that night. But as you heard the prosecutor there, Poppy, talking about this 8:44 p.m. audio that is on Paul Murdaugh's cellphone. We never knew what was on that audio that was recorded on his phone, but for the first time yesterday the defense old us in court. He said they were just talking about, it was Paul Murdaugh and Alex Murdaugh talking about a dog killing a chicken. There was nothing nefarious about it, nothing threatening about it. In fact, Paul went on to text a girl after that and ask her to go to the movies about 10 minutes later. But this is the first time we're hearing what is actually on that audio. And it does put Alex Murdaugh at the scene long before he called 911.

HARLOW: That's a very good point. Randi Kaye, thank you for the reporting on this. Don?

LEMON: Poppy and Randi, Alexei Navalny, Russia's most well-known political prisoner, is back in solitary confinement.


Navalny will remain in this three-by-two meter box for eight days. We're looking at those dimensions marked on our studio floor right. It is the 11th time he has been moved there, totaling 113 days in isolation, that is according to his team. In a court appearance on Wednesday, Navalny called out his captors, saying that they are treating him this way because of his political activism, saying in part, quote, they introduced censorship, they keep me in confinement, they put a psycho in front of me who yells, they don't let lawyers in, they put up these bars in the room where he meets with lawyers. These confinement cells are used as punishment or to separate the most dangerous offenders in the system.

And here is a reminder for you. Navalny was sentenced to nine years on fraud charges that he has claimed were unjust and entirely politically motivated. His attention came after he survived an assassination attempt that he says the Russian government was behind. The Kremlin and Russian security services denied that they played any role in Navalny's poisoning.

HARLOW: Don, thank you.

at least one person has died, two injured in Kyiv, Ukraine, this morning after Russia launched more than 30 missiles at the capital.




HARLOW: That is an air raid alert. It remains in place over the city. Moscow's latest attack has forced many residents to seek shelter in the underground metro system. Just look at that. I remember those images from the beginning of the war. The city's military spokesperson said around 20 of those missiles have been intercepted and destroyed. And these attacks come less than 24 hours after the United States and Germany announced they will send those battle tanks to Ukraine, a sign potentially to Putin that the allies may not be concerned about provoking Russia.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: The decision you saw today by both Germany and the United States was several weeks in the making through many, many discussions with the Germans and allies and partners. It is about coordination. It is about the unity here and the resolve that we all have together to help support Ukraine.


HARLOW: The Russian embassy in Berlin said this, quote, is an extremely dangerous decision, it takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about their unwillingness to have Germany be drawn into it.

Fareed Zakaria, host of FAREED ZAKARIA GPS on CNN is with me. It's great to have you. Thank you so much. So what do you think big picture here, yes, it's a dramatic shift for Germany, but in terms of what it tells us about whether the west really fears Putin at all anymore? FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": I think this is one

of those cases where the official line actually is accurate, that it really is about the unity and resolve of the western powers. It really is extraordinary, if you think about it, if you compare this war with something like Iraq which half of Europe was in violent opposition to the United States' strategy, here you have basically the entire western world plus a lot of nonwestern countries that have banded together. And they are ratcheting up as the Russians ratchet up, because Putin has fundamentally decided he can't beat the Ukrainian army, so he will try to defeat the Ukrainian nation.

Those air raid sirens you were talking about, this is indiscriminate bombing into civilian parts of the city. Kyiv, I was there in September. It is not a military city. It doesn't have huge military bases. He is just killing civilians. And so in order to do something to break what is, what appears to be a somewhat congealed stalemate on the frontlines, the western countries are trying to ask themselves how can they move forward. I think it's a remarkable display of the fact that you have, with all the problems created by Putin's invasion, oil prices, energy crisis, that the west is united.

HARLOW: You just interviewed Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Davos. And I thought it was interesting that he just told Sky News is a new interview that he is not interested, that's a quote, in meeting with Putin. And then he went on to say Putin is a nobody. That sort of reflects the sentiment you got from him as well.

ZAKARIA: Yes, and I think he in some way is reflecting the sentiment in Ukraine. I've noticed a very interesting change with Zelenskyy over the last year or two. At the start of the war when I would ask about whether or not there was room for negotiation, his answer was always yes. His answer was, look, there is a way around this, there are formulas we can come up with, we can describe the areas that Russia occupies as frozen. We will never accept their legitimacy, but we move on.

And then came the brutality of the Russian offensive, the attacks on civilians, the war crimes, Bucha, all that. And I think that it has turned the country, it has turned Ukraine, one thing it has done it has really created a sense of Ukrainian nationalism far stronger than anything I've seen. But it has also created an absolute determination that they are not going to surrender.



ZAKARIA: They are going to see this through to the end.

HARLOW: It is just so fascinating, isn't it, to see the evolution of his leadership that so many questioned when he got elected, right? And look what he has become.

ZAKARIA: Look, the guy was a -- was a comic and --

HARLOW: Yes. ZAKARIA: -- producer. And it turned out that, you know, we never know this about leaders, that when confronted with a crisis.


ZAKARIA: He had the one thing that perhaps you need above all else in a great leader.

HARLOW: Which is?

ZAKARIA: Which is courage.

HARLOW: Courage.

ZAKARIA: He -- I mean, if he had not had the courage that first day to say, I don't need a ride, I need ammo.


ZAKARIA: And if he hadn't run, the whole history --

HARLOW: He never left.

ZAKARIA: -- of this war would be completely different.

HARLOW: I loved your op-ed this weekend, sort of your takeaway from the World Economic Forum in Davos, as it pertains to sort of what will lead the world. And it's not just the United States, you say there are encouraging signs that we are actually witnessing is a new kind of order built on unity and cooperation of the world's free nations. And that just got accelerated, did it not, with the U.S. and Germany coming together in this move this week?

ZAKARIA: I'm so glad you see, you noticed that. Because what does this latest tank business show us? The Germans were very concerned about not wanting to be out in front on this kind of thing. And by the way, we should all be very grateful that the Germans are concerned about not seeming too militaristic, right?

HARLOW: Of course, they have been in the past.

ZAKARIA: They have a -- there's a history that they are very conscious of insensitive, too. So, they say to the Americans, if you want us to do this, you've got to be in lockstep with us.


ZAKARIA: And so, the Americans really largely simply to accede to that German request, agree to send the Abrams tank. So, it's a case of genuine cooperative, Democratic leadership. This is not Iraq. This is not the United States saying it's my way or the highway, you know, people are being forced along. It's really consensus building, which is what we have to hope is going to happen in the future because the U.S. ain't going to bear the burden alone anymore.

HARLOW: They can't. ZAKARIA: And it does seem like there's a kind of new Democratic

leadership coming about.

HARLOW: I was happy to read about your optimism after being with all of those leaders. Fareed, thank you very much. Of course, we'll be watching, as we always do on Sunday. Thank you. Some teachers in Florida are very afraid they could actually face criminal charges if the books in their classrooms and libraries are not approved by the state.


DON FALLS, HISTORY TEACHER, MANATEE HIGH SCHOOL: Anytime you restrict access to information, to knowledge, it's censorship. There's -- I don't think there's any other way to categorize it.




DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone, to CNN THIS MORNING. Don Lemon live in Memphis for you this morning. Scared and confused teachers in some Florida counties are scrambling to comply with a new law championed by the Governor Ron DeSantis. They're removing or physically covering the books in their classes because the law now requires classroom libraries be approved by a trained media specialist. Violations could be charged as a third-degree felony. Leyla Santiago is live for us in Miami this morning. Leyla, what in the world is going on here?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. So, Don, this is -- this is related to a law that actually took effect in July of last year. But as recently as just a few weeks ago, the Florida Department of Education was still putting out guidance. And, you know, when -- as I've been watching these school board meetings, you hear from parents that will tell you this is about transparency. This is about parent's rights. But I've also talked to parents and teachers that are using some of those words, you've just used, Don. They're saying that they're describing this as angst, fear, and confusion.


SANTIAGO (voiceover): Behind the covered wall of paper in this Manatee County classroom, books. Teacher Don Falls told us he covered the bookshelves out of concern for a new state law that requires all books in classroom libraries to be approved or vetted by a media specialist or librarian that is trained by the state.

FALLS: We were instructed last week, that we were essentially had three choices as far as our personal libraries that are in our classrooms. We could remove them completely, box them up, we could cover them up with paper or some sort of something, or they could be entered into a database where the school district has all of the library books, and all the other kinds of books. And if the book was in the system, then it could remain on the shelf open.

SANTIAGO: Falls who was part of a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis, regarding his Stop WOKE Act, says it has all caused him and other teachers much fear and angst. But the district says it never instructed teachers to shut down classroom libraries. According to the school district, volunteers will be helping to catalog books in classroom libraries. If a book already has the green light, it can go right back on the shelf for students. But if it is not pre-approved, it must be vetted before students can have access to it.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We are going to make sure that parents have a seat at the table, and that we protect their rights because nobody is more invested in the proper well-being of kids than the parents themselves.

SANTIAGO: According to Florida's Department of Education, selection of library materials which includes classroom libraries must be free of pornography and material prohibited under state statute. Suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented. Appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used and made available. Violations can result in a third-degree felony.

CHAD CHOATE III, MANATEE SCHOOL BOARD CHAIR: This is us protecting the teachers, not saying we're banning books.

SANTIAGO: During a school board meeting this week, Manatee County school officials acknowledged they don't know how long it'll take to verify all the books. In the meantime, the district said students have access to books in their school's main library, but the process has sparked confusion and high emotion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would not suggest banning books. It's a slippery slope. This is good literature with value. Please do not ban books.

SANTIAGO: During a school board meeting in Pinellas County, school officials confirmed they too are working to align policies with state requirements. School officials say a group of library media specialists reviewed 94 book titles over the summer.

DR. DANIEL J. EVANS, DEP.SUPT. OF INSTRUCTIONAL SERVICE, MANATEE CO. SCHOOLS: And that team did recommend 10 titles to be weeded out of our collections, or moved to our adult-only resource library.


PAM MCALOON, PARENT: There is appropriateness and there is inappropriateness. Where books are concerned, we have to really keep the minors in mind. You cannot substitute adult supervision, you just cannot. Adult supervision, parents, whether it be a guardian or grandparent, have to be aware of what the child is being taught.

SANTIAGO: While some parents praise what they call parent's rights at work. Others worry it's a slippery slope. FALLS: Anytime you restrict access to information to knowledge, it's censorship. There's -- I don't think there's any other way to categorize it.


SANTIAGO (on camera): OK, so let's go back to that Pinellas County School Board meeting from this week for a minute, the school officials there made it clear that there could be additional titles that are removed as they continue through this process. And they are going to continue, they, say to err on the side of caution. Another challenge brought up by one of the school board members, the definition of age appropriate. How do you define what is age appropriate in this vetting process? I reached out to the governor's office as well as the Department of Education with that very question, and we have not received a response.

LEMON: Leyla, thank you. This is -- thank you. Poppy, this is bizarre. And what --

HARLOW: I know.

LEMON: What are we --

HARLOW: I know.

LEMON: What are we doing here? I mean, this -- I feel like we're going back. I feel like I'm watching a bad version of like Pleasantville, where you're -- I don't get what's happening, it feels like the 1950s all over again with like book banning. This is -- this is --


LEMON: -- cancel culture from people who are, I guess, they just want our kids to be ignorant, and to control the teachers. It is -- this is outrageous. I don't -- I really don't even know how to explain what's going on here. It's just ridiculous.

HARLOW: Yes, or another country. I mean, Leyla, you're a parent. You're a new parent. I got, you know, kids just starting to read, and when I read this in your reporting, that a teacher can face a felony if they knowingly distribute anything not approved by these DOE- trained professionals, like that is stunning. The -- you open your piece, and the books are covered with paper? That's happening in American classrooms. That's wow.

SANTIAGO: Right. And Poppy and Don, I should add, in Pinellas County, one of the things that came up in that -- in that school board meeting was a recent removal of a book just within the last month, that book was Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison.


SANTIAGO: And that became part of that debate, that there is a Nobel Peace Prize author whose book is being pulled. But from the other side, you have parents who say, I'm not comfortable with some of that material, I should know what is in my classroom. And this is a book that deserves, in --


SANTIAGO: -- their opinion, for their scrutiny.

HARLOW: And just to be clear, I know we got to go, but I'll be clear, I do think parents need a voice in this. I'm a parent who wants a voice in education. But I also think there's a lot that as they grow --

LEMON: But this isn't about a voice in education, Poppy.


LEMON: Poppy. I think that -- I think that's a red herring.


LEMON: At least I understand what you're saying. I think that's a red herring because there are lots of uncomfortable topics that are in books.

HARLOW: You didn't let me finish.


HARLOW: I was just going to say.

LEMON: All of it, right?

HARLOW: I was just going to --


HARLOW: -- say that was the second --

LEMON: Go on.

HARLOW: -- part of my thought, Don, is -- but I want my kids to read things that are uncomfortable to talk about, and have these --


HARLOW: -- notice conversations at home and in the classroom. So.

LEMON: That's how we learn about, that's how we learn things are uncomfortable. History is uncomfortable. Even the present is present. The moment that we're in is uncomfortable. Being here in Memphis, and discussing a man being beaten by police and five officers turning themselves in, and who could possibly face charges, that is uncomfortable, not everything is happy, happy joy, joy.


LEMON: And in order to grow as human beings and as a country and as a democracy. We have got to be able to face these things that are in our past. Toni Morrison is one of the most decorated authors in the history of this country in the world. I mean, it is outrageous people Ron DeSantis, stop it. You're not helping, you're hurting. Thank you, Leyla. Poppy, you're right as a parent, I agree. But this thing these things totally just get me riled up. And you know what? Everybody should be riled up. We got to stand up against this stuff, it is outrageous. In the meantime, I'm here in Memphis, and I'm talking about it this city is bracing. Speaking of uncomfortable things, bracing for the aftermath of this fatal police beating of a black man. Video of the incident is set to be released any day. Now we're going to speak to the chairman of the Memphis City Council that is next.