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Lufthansa Flight Forced to Land Due to Severe Turbulence; FBI: Passenger Checked in Suitcase with Hidden Explosive Inside; Rail Workers Getting Sick after Toxic Train Derailment; Defense to Deliver Close in Alex Murdaugh Double Murder Trial. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 02, 2023 - 06:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR/CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Now Ticketmaster is showing all of his concerts in the U.S. to France, Australia and Denmark are canceled.


Bieber has been dealing with Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which recently left half his face partially paralyzed. We wish him well.

All right. Thanks for joining me. I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.


CREIGHTON WATERS, LEAD PROSECUTOR, ALEX MURDAUGH TRIAL: Everyone who thought they were close to him, everyone who thought they knew he was -- who he was, he's fooled them all.

Don't let him fool you, too.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: I cannot stop watching it.

LEMON: Everyone is fascinated by --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It's on the "People."

LEMON: It's on the cover of "People" magazine. I really need to, like, bone up on this. I'm not following.

HARLOW: Well, because it goes to the jury maybe today.


HARLOW: So verdict could be very soon.

We are glad you're with us. We're talking about really dramatic closing arguments in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial. Today, the defense gets its turn to close.

But first, this.

Terrifying moments in the sky on two different flights. A cabin filling with smoke after a fire breaks out. A retired firefighter jumping in to help that crew put it out.

And also several passengers hospitalized this morning after severe turbulence on a flight from Texas to Germany. Reports of blood even splattered on the seats.

LEMON: What is going on, on airplanes? And at the airport, as a matter of fact. There was an alarming discovery at a Pennsylvania airport. A suitcase packed with an explosive intercepted before it was loaded on a flight. What we're learning about the suspect and the device that was allegedly hidden inside his checked luggage.

COLLINS: And in Ohio this morning, railroad unions say that workers are getting sick after they were cleaning up that toxic train disaster in East Palestine. The urgent plea that they are now sending to the Biden administration.

LEMON: Air and the rails, huh?

HARLOW: But we do begin this morning with a scare in the sky. Seven people are in the hospital this morning, recovering from severe turbulence. This is what happened inside of the plane. That's what it looked like. Food, papers, luggage scattered after Lufthansa flight from Texas to Germany had to make an emergency landing at Dulles, just outside of the nation's capital.

The woman who shot this video is five months pregnant. She said she just finished eating. She was about to go to the bathroom when this turbulence suddenly hit out of nowhere.

She describes it like this: "During dinner service, there was suddenly a wind shear. The plane increased altitude. Then we felt -- fell 1,000 feet. It was like unexpectedly free falling for five seconds off the top of a roller coaster. Plates and glassware were up at the ceiling. There was a moment of, 'Oh, my God, am I going to meet my daughter?'"

Pete Muntean joins us now from Washington, D.C. Can you imagine? I can't. Having that happen, let alone being five months' pregnant, and filming it all.

What is the FAA saying this morning?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, worse yet, Poppy, this seems to be happening all the time. We'll get to that in a second.

But the FAA says it's investigating now after this flight at 37,000 feet, 90 minutes into the flight over Memphis, Tennessee, went through severe turbulence.

We're talking about Lufthansa Flight 469, an Airbus A-330. It is a very big airplane. The severe turbulence rocked so it hard that several passengers were injured. I want you to look now at the scene on board. This was the video from

a passenger who took this. You can see all of the debris there in this twin-aisle airliner, thrown around the cockpit.

We've seen some reports of food in the middle of food service being thrown up to the ceiling. One passenger reportedly badly injured so much that they had a bloody face.

We know that first responders met the plane at the gate at Dulles International Airport, where this flight diverted to, was going from Austin to Frankfurt.

What is so interesting here is that Lufthansa says this occurred in clear air turbulence. I want you to see the statement now from the airline. It says, "Clear air turbulence, which can occur invisible [SIC] weather phenomena -- without visible weather phenomena or advance warning. And the cockpit crew decided to make an alternate landing at Washington Dulles after flying through the turbulence." The spokesperson says, "Lufthansa regret -- regrets the inconvenience this caused to passengers."

But it seems like we're reporting on this more and more all the time, Poppy. In other words, this incident back in January. This Hawaiian Airlines flight went through turbulence. Some passengers on board that flight were injured.

The NTSB says this is a huge issue. It says turbulence is the biggest cause of incidents onboard commercial airliners. About a third of all incidents onboard airliners involve turbulence, although rarely ever with injuries like this.

HARLOW: Right. And those injuries are very concerning. I would know. It just shows what planes can withstand.

MUNTEAN: So true.

HARLOW: I mean, I'm a nervous flier. So to see these planes land after this like this just reminds us of that.

But is this really rare, clear air turbulence like this that they just cannot detect at all?


MUNTEAN: You know, the airlines have gotten a lot better at forecasting turbulence. They've gotten a lot better at avoiding it.

Typically, you can see it. Usually associated with weather phenomena, although clear air turbulence, in this case, is very different. It's usually caused by wind shear, different layers of wind at different speeds, sort of colliding into one another.

This is the FAA definition: "without visual clues to warn the pilot of a hazard." That is the big issue with clear air turbulence. And that is what makes it so dangerous. You know, this really seems to be happening all the time. And airlines

have even indicated that, because of climate change, that is causing more of these turbulence issues to happen.

So we may see this more and more. And it just reinforces the fact that you want to wear your seat belt onboard a commercial airliner all the time. Even if the seat belt sign is off, you might want to keep it on, especially with incidents like this occurring with more frequency, Poppy.

HARLOW: Definitely keep it on. Pete, thanks very, very much.

LEMON: Stay safe. Fasten your seat belts.

Yet another scary incident on a plane. This is smoke filling the cabin on a Spirit Airlines flight on its way to Orlando. Can you imagine? Look at that.

This happened after the crew reported a battery fire in an overhead bin on Wednesday. A retired New York City firefighter jumped in to help put out that fire.


ROCCO CHIERICHELLA, RETIRED NYC FIREFIGHTER: I'm a retired New York City fireman. And that gives us the instinct. We were lucky we got to it right away, so we averted a major problem. You know, it could have been really bad.


LEMON: Here's what we're hearing from the passenger who shot that video, describing his experience, saying, "The smell was terrible. Made it very hard to breathe. I was coughing a lot for a good two hours after."

The flight from Texas was forced to make an emergency landing in Jacksonville instead. Officials saying one person was taken to the hospital for minor injuries. No word on what caused the fire. The FAA now investigating.

And there was an alarming discovery at an airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The FBI saying a passenger checked in a suitcase with an explosive device hidden inside the lining.

TSA agents intercepted the luggage before it was loaded onto a flight to Florida, and the bomb squad rushed to that scene.

Investigators say the suspect left the airport when security started paging him over the intercom. He's now under arrest and is set to appear in court just hours from now.

So what exactly is going on here? Danny Freeman live at the airport where it all went down.

Danny, good morning to you. Welcome to CNN. What are we learning about this explosive device and the suspect?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Don, and good morning.

Well, first, let's talk about that suspect. We're talking about 40- year-old Mark Muffley. He's from Lansford, Pennsylvania. It's about a little less than an hour Northwest of Lehigh Valley International Airport where we are right now.

The FBI says he was the man who checked -- or I should say tried to check a suitcase into this airport onto this plane back on Monday. But as you said, TSA agents were able to discover something unusual in that suitcase: explosives.

Let me actually tell you what was found. Specifically, the TSA and an FBI bomb technician found powder consistent with, quote, "commercial grade fireworks," a can of butane, a lighter, a pipe with some white residue, a wireless drill, and two outlets taped together.

Now Don, the bag also happened to have a luggage tag on it with Mr. Muffley's name. So as you said, the airport then called his name over the P.A. system here at the airport. Well, at that point, he was caught on surveillance video turning around and leaving the airport.

But then the FBI knew his name. They were able to go to his home in Lansford and apprehend him and arrest him without any incident later Monday night -- Don.

LEMON: And what about the legal fallout for Muffley? What's he facing here?

FREEMAN: Yes. So Don, he's facing two serious federal charges. First, possessing an explosive in an airport. And then attempting to place an explosive on a plane.

We reached out to his public defender to get comment. We have not heard anything back. But Mr. Muffley is due to appear in federal court in Allentown, not far from here at 1:30 this afternoon. We'll bring you updates, of course, as we get them -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Danny Freeman will be following this and many more stories here on CNN. Thank you, Dan.

COLLINS: Also this morning, union leaders are reporting that rail workers have been getting sick at the site of that toxic train derailment in Ohio.

In a new letter to the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, they say that many of their employees continue to experience migraines and nausea.

The leaders met Wednesday with Buttigieg and the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration to push for safety, heightened safety amid these concerns about what is happening to these workers.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has been covering this story and is live in East Palestine this morning with more. Miguel, what you are hearing from officials about their concerns now

that they are seeing the reports of people getting sick while cleaning this up?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this was a letter that was sent on behalf of union workers that were here cleaning up the site immediately after the derailment: the toxic spill, the fire, and then that venting of toxic material, as well.

And this is something we've heard from officials, as well. That they feel that the -- the primary focus here was on getting those trains running again and not the cleanup.


So Norfolk Southern -- or the official from the union saying that some of the workers early on, while cleaning up the site when it was most toxic, weren't given proper gear to clean up that site. And in particular, respirators. And that's when they got sick and -- and had issues.

Their concern is that Norfolk Southern was focusing on getting those tracks open.

So even while East Palestine was evacuated, the letter saying that these workers were put to work over there and willingly, by Norfolk Southern, subjected to these high levels of toxins, which made some of them sick. The nausea and the headaches and the like.

You talk to locals here in East Palestine, they'll say as soon as that order to evacuate the city was lifted, the train started rolling through here in minutes. So it was very clear to everybody that the focus for Norfolk Southern wasn't necessarily the cleanup. It was to get those trains rolling again -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: And Miguel, we're also hearing from the EPA director there in Ohio who told CNN that that smell that is still lingering in East Palestine, that chemical smell, is being caused by butyl acelyte [SIC], which we know is one of the things that was leaked when that train crashed.

Can -- can you smell it where you are? What is -- what's actually going on with that?

MARQUEZ: I have to be honest. I've been here two weeks. I have not smelled anything. We've been down by the creeks. We've been on the East side of this. We've been all over East Palestine, and I have not smelled it.

But the creeks that run through town, they are treating them very heavily and trying to get -- those are contaminated. And they're trying to get whatever is in those creeks out of it. And they have stations set up throughout the area where they're trying to do that.

But, you know, people have experienced headaches, nausea, the redness in the eyes, their lips burning, their tongue burning throughout the area in the immediate aftermath of that fire.

In particular, on the Pennsylvania side where the plume went, that was where it was worse for that. For the most part, the wind blows away from East Palestine. So most people here haven't experienced it. When the wind blows back this way, they do feel it.

But, you know, it's going to be quite some time before they get everything out of the -- out of the soil and out of the water here.

COLLINS: Yes. And it's remarkable to think that, until just recently, the EPA didn't even have a certified test that labs could use to measure for that butyl acelate [SIC].

But Miguel Marquez, I know you'll stay on this. We'll check back in with you. So thank you.

Also this morning, we're tracking a college football standout. It's just a tragic story. He has turned himself into police overnight, months after that deadly car crash that killed two people. What the football star is saying this morning.

LEMON: And closing arguments now under way in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial. We're going to break it all down with criminal defense attorney Stacey Richman and Dianne Gallagher, who is live in South Carolina this morning.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Coming up on CNN THIS MORNING, live from Walterboro, South Carolina, motive, means, and opportunity. That's why the state says Alex Murdaugh killed his family. How will his defense team respond? That's next.



LEMON: This morning, the defense in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial is set to wrap up its case.

Prosecutors delivered their closing arguments on Wednesday. And jurors visited the family's hunting property, where Murdaugh's wife and son were murdered.

Straight now to CNN's Dianne Gallagher, live in Walterboro, South Carolina, for us this morning.

Good morning to you. What did the jury learn from visiting this hunting property?

GALLAGHER: You know, Don, they weren't allowed to speak to anybody when they were there, except for Judge Clifton Newman. But the attorney general for the state of South Carolina and the defense attorneys were there on the property.

They got a chance to see the property, perhaps see how far away things are. The media poolers that visited there said that they took steps between where Paul Murdaugh and Maggie Murdaugh's bodies were found, and there were just 12 steps between them.


WATERS: On behalf of the state of South Carolina, I ask you to return a verdict of guilty against the defendant, Richard Alexander Murdaugh.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The state of South Carolina closing out its double murder case against Alex Murdaugh.

WATERS: Because he was the threat to Maggie and Paul. He knows there's no vigilante out there.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Prosecutor Creighton Waters slamming Murdaugh as a thief and a liar who killed his wife and son to avoid a decade of financial crimes from being discovered.

WATERS: And he fooled Maggie and Paul, too. And they paid for it with their lives. Don't let him fool you, too.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Waters telling the jury the gun used to kill Maggie Murdaugh has since disappeared but that her husband would have been familiar with it.

WATERS: Family weapons were used to commit this crime.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): While recalling all the details, video and testimony presented to the jury over the nearly six-week trial.

WATERS: And after an exhaustive investigation, there is only one person who had the motive, who had the means, who had the opportunity to commit these crimes.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): With emotional descriptions, painting the state's picture of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh's final moments on June 7, 2021.

WATERS: You heard that Maggie had no defensive wounds. You also heard Paul had stippling from a first shot, a close-range shot. No indication that he detected a threat from the person who fired that weapon. And why? Because it was him.

Same with Maggie. Because Maggie sees what happens, and she comes running over there, running to her baby.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): After denying he was ever at the crime scene before the murders, prosecutors say the video found on Paul's phone changed everything, forcing Murdaugh's bombshell testimony, admitting he'd been at the kennels in the minutes before the state says Paul and Maggie were killed there.

WATERS: One thing I will agree with him. He said up there, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive." How appropriate coming from that man.

[06:20:02] GALLAGHER (voice-over): Jurors getting to see that crime scene for themselves Wednesday morning. A media pool, granted access after the jury tour, described the now-overgrown, deserted Moselle property as haunting, the last place Maggie and Paul were seen alive.

WATERS: We couldn't bring you any eyewitnesses, because they were murdered.


GALLAGHER: Now the prosecutor spent the majority of his three-hour closing arguments talking about the time line, technology, and the crime.

But he also spent quite a bit of it defining reasonable doubt and explaining that circumstantial evidence is still evidence.

Alex Murdaugh has admitted to a lot on the stand, including lying and stealing. But he has not admitted to killing his wife and his son. He has maintained his innocence, Don.

And I can anticipate that, when the defense gets up there this morning to begin its closing arguments, we're going to hear a lot about reasonable doubt and circumstantial evidence.

LEMON: And we'll be watching. Dianne Gallagher, thank you.

HARLOW: So let's talk about all of this as the defense gets ready to close, with criminal defense attorney Stacey Richman.

Good morning to you.


HARLOW: The prosecution was not able to find and show a murder weapon.

RICHMAN: There's no murder weapon here.

HARLOW: How do you close today in court if you're the defense counsel?

RICHMAN: The defense counsel is going to mine all of the things that they've laid down throughout the trial.

There are gaping holes in this evidence. There is reasonable doubt that can be found here.

So the lack of the weapons. The possible other people. The placement of Mr. Murdaugh at various times, as he claims.

The one problem that I think the defense really has to contend with are the lies at the point where he says he's napping. It's not so much that he denied being at the kennels. Because psychologically, oh, my God, you just found your wife and son murdered. You might blank. You can't remember your last conversation. You're in shock. Many people in that situation can't remember things.

But the lie, the specificity of some of the lies, the nap, I think will be a problem for the defense.

But I think the defense has done an excellent job with laying the groundwork for the potentiality here of actually finding reasonable doubt.

COLLINS: Part of the argument that we've seen from the prosecution is that he's a liar, that he has lied about all of these things. He admitted to stealing from his law firm, from his clients; that he basically tricked everyone, is essentially what they're trying to say.

That he -- if you've sat there and you've watched him, that don't believe what's before you, you know. When he talks about what he says about his wife and his son.

They're kind of making that as their closing argument. What do you expect -- does the defense push back on that today in their closing argument?

RICHMAN: The pushback is you can be a liar; you can be a thief. But are you a murderer? OK?

Everyone's describing this man as an obsessed narcissist. He'll do anything for himself.

But his son was the spitting image of himself. So I think that you're going to have a psychological aspect, is would he destroy himself?

And one of the other problems with the prosecution is they've laid him out as such a clever mastermind. He's done all these machinations. Yet, this is kind of a sloppy crime if he did it.

Because his family has a history of being prosecutors, 87 years in this community. He has skills as a defense attorney. He understands what goes into a trial. That's part of the push and pull of this case.

Were those crocodile tears? Was that genuine?

It is the personal interpretation of those jurors in that courtroom watching the evidence, not as we see it by picking things apart and highlighting things, but as they're taking it in and it is summed up for them by the prosecution and the defense.

LEMON: Well, and also taking in going to the crime scene. Which is fascinating to me for those of us who can remember the jury in the O.J. Simpson trial, getting onto the buses and whatever and then heading to the scene to see.

I think one of our producers, Carolyn (ph), said this morning, the Aaron Hernandez jury went. It doesn't happen very often. And it's fascinating to see that happen. Why?

RICHMAN: It's really fascinating because, first of all, there's this factor, you're going to a place where two people were killed. OK? Societally, that's very traumatic. Right?

But here, it is so important, because the defense has to mind the distance between the kennel and where Murdaugh was back in the house.

COLLINS: And it's really remote.

RICHMAN: It's really remote. It's the question of how far away could he have gotten in those essential five minutes?

But what else is really important, what these people are going to be looking for, how quiet was it? What would he have heard if you have all of these gun shot blasts?

So it's not just eye-witnessing. It's ear-witnessing.

COLLINS: And the emergency response took so long. That's another part that I think is interesting. He called -- I think it was 12 or 14 minutes later, because the property is so hard to get around.

RICHMAN: And emergency response couldn't find their way. But he knew the way. So that's going to be a part of the discussion.

This is a really fascinating evolution that we've all gotten an opportunity to look into. Because there's a lot to work with, with both sides. And I think the defense has done a great job.


HARLOW: Really quickly, criminal defense attorney Mark O'Mara said on the CNN special last night on this, he talked about the -- how detrimental it is for the prosecution not to have a murder weapon here. Listen to this.


MARK O'MARA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The harsh reality is you should have found those guns. They could have found the guns. They worked this case for a year and a half to get ready for it. And the fact that they don't have it leaves a gaping hole through which reasonable doubt is going to be found.


RICHMAN: I can't say it's a gaping hole. There are crimes where they don't find the weapon. But I think that it is something for the defense to absolutely work with.

They've searched everywhere. They waited a very long time to bring this case, so -- but they didn't have anyone else. And people want an answer. Sometimes the incorrect judgement is made because people just want an answer.

HARLOW: Got to get these jurors on the same page here if the prosecution is going to get a conviction.

LEMON: Usually, you know, you watch a trial and they're sort of up, like, on Court TV or whatever, you know, just in passing. But why is everybody fascinated with this trial? RICHMAN: People are obsessed, I think, with the -- the oddities and

the grotesque aspects of life. A murder, murdering one's family, that's grotesque. A murder in a scion (ph) family, it's like an episode of any of the major shows we've all grown up with, from "Dynasty" to "Dallas."

LEMON: That happens a lot. People murder their families, sadly, too often. They do.


LEMON: Members of their family.

RICHMAN: Yes. And you know, when you see murder and divorce, I think it's far easier to get divorced, or kinder. May cost you a little bit. But --

LEMON: Right on.

RICHMAN: Murder costs a hell of a lot more, and it's the cost of life.

HARLOW: Stacey, thank you.

LEMON: It's everywhere. Just like, page after page. The cover of the magazines, the newspapers, whatever. And then specials. And wow.

RICHMAN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

LEMON: Good to see you.

RICHMAN: Have a great day, all.

LEMON: You, too.

COLLINS: Also this morning, we're tracking some very sad news out of Georgia. University of Georgia defense lineman, a star on the team, Jalen Carter, has now surrendered himself to police in Athens overnight.

The standout was projected to be a top pick in next month's NFL draft. He's not been practicing in the combine. He's now facing charges of reckless driving and racing from that car wreck that happened on January 15th.

That was when Devin Willock, who was a teammate of his, and the team employee, Chandler LeCroy were both killed.

Carter is maintaining his innocence. On Twitter, he wrote, quote, "There is no question in my mind, when all the facts are known, that I will be fully exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing."

Authorities do believe that alcohol was a factor in the crash. It happened hours after the Georgia Bulldogs were celebrating their second consecutive national championship during a parade on campus.

In the next hour, we're going to talk to CNN's Nick Valencia, who is live in Atlanta, and also speak to "The Athletic's" senior college football writer, Nicole Auerbach, about all of this.

Also this morning, on the international stage, Finland is ready to join the military alliance known as NATO. But what is holding things up for their neighbor Sweden? What we are hearing from the State Department this morning.

HARLOW: Also, Nada Bashir is standing by at the site of that tragic and deadly train crash in Greece.

NADA BASHIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, we're in Tempi, Greece. And recovery teams are still working behind me, trying to sort through the wreckage from this deadly collision and, of course, trying to recover the bodies of those who passed away.