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Jury Finds Alex Murdaugh Guilty of Murdering Wife and Son; Tornadoes Tear Through North Texas Leaving Trail of Destruction; Russian Forces Blow Up Vital Supply Bridge to Bakhmut Overnight. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 03, 2023 - 07:00   ET





Their voices was heard tonight and justice was brought for them. We can't bring them back but we can bring them justice.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: A case that the whole country is paying attention to. That was the South Carolina attorney general, who we're going to talk to him later on this hour. Good morning, everyone.

This happened fast.



HARLOW: Very fast.

LEMON: Like no one. Everyone was like, you're going to have to talk about the deliberations tomorrow morning, and I looked at my phone, nope, I'm not. I'm going to be talking about the verdict because there is one, three hours, three hours. The verdict from the Alex Murdaugh trial, found guilty of murdering his own wife and son. He's about to learn his fate just hours from now at his sentencing. We're going to speak to the attorney representing the family of Murdaugh's dead housekeeper that they have been seeking justice for years after she died in a serious fall in Murdaugh home.

HARLOW: Also, tornadoes just ripping through the south as the powerful coast-to-coast winter storm brings heavy snow to the Midwest and to the northeast. People in California still trapped in their homes, running out of food after the same storm system dumped seven feet of snow there.

COLLINS: Also this morning on the international front, the situation is critical for Ukrainian forces who are in the besieged city of Bakhmut, a vital supply bridge. The only really main bridge into the city has been blown up. Russian mercenaries say that the Ukrainian defenders have been surrounded. We're going to take you live on the ground to Eastern Ukraine.

LEMON: Here's where we begin, with a verdict in the double murder trial that has gripped the nation's attention.



Verdict, guilty.

Verdict, guilty.

Verdict, guilty.


LEMON: Guilty all the way around. Alex Murdaugh found guilty of murdering his own wife and son. It took the jury less than three hours to reach a verdict. The sentencing is set to begin soon 9:30.

As he was placed in handcuffs, it appeared that Murdaugh mouthed the words, I love you, to his only surviving son, Buster. Prosecutors say Murdaugh murdered his own wife and son as a distraction from his financial crimes and problems as it spiraled out of control.

The prosecution is seeking life in prison without parole. The minimum is 30 years. Murdaugh's defense attorneys say they will appeal.

So, let's discuss now. Eric Bland is joining us, he is a criminal defense attorney, the host of Cup of Justice podcast and the attorney for the family of Gloria Satterfield. She was the Murdaughs' longtime housekeeper of Alex Murdaugh who died in 2018 on that property, on his property. And the state claims that Murdaugh stole more than $4 million in insurance money that was supposed to go to her family. Thank you for joining us this morning, sir. We appreciate it.


LEMON: Give me your reaction to this quick jury verdict. They came back really quickly. What is your reaction?

BLAND: Well this case had all the earmarkings of stench, the stench privilege and power. The jury didn't just return a guilty verdict, they returned an incredibly guilty verdict. Alex put himself square one in front of this jury when he decided to testify, which is a very rare thing for somebody to do in his position, especially in a circumstantial evidence case. But once he did, it became a referendum on him. He basically said, look, I'm a drug addict, I'm a thief and I'm liar. And everybody else in this trial is lying, his sister-in- law, Mark Tinsley, SLED, the house keeper for his mother, Shelley Smith. And what he said is that you got to believe me today. When the devil is at the door, I'm going to tell you the truth. And, fortunately, the jury didn't believe him. They came back with a verdict within three hours, which is extraordinarily fast. And, you know, to be a lawyer in South Carolina, you have to understand the soil that you practice on, and we do. And these juries understand guns, they understand the realities of guns and how to keep him safe and this family kept him loaded, tons of guns in the house and tons of guns in cars and in golf carts. And they just didn't believe him that you couldn't hear the sound of gunfire in his house, it's that simple, plus the lie at the kennel.

HARLOW: Let's remember that you represented Gloria's family. And she died on this property and the allegations from the state are that Murdaugh stole millions of dollars. It was supposed to go to her family. We heard the South Carolina attorney general say last night at a press conference, this is at least justice. We can't bring them back but it's justice. Does it feel like justice to the Satterfield family as well?

BLAND: Sure. I mean, look what they accomplished. We recovered over $7.5 million for them. We have a confession, a judgment against Alex for $4,300,000. We got him disbarred as a result of it. We've got him criminally charged in the Satterfield case.


And last week, he admitted to that on the stand. So, his not guilty verdict now is going to be very problematic when they schedule this trial on the Satterfields. And at the end of the day, we have the Glorious Gift Foundation that has been established to provide gifts for underprivileged families in Hampton County this Christmas. So, Gloria did not die in vain. Remember, once we came forward, hers was the first case to unravel all of these financial crimes and it empowered other victims to come forward as well.

COLLINS: Yes. It was amazing to see him admit on the stand that, yes, he did steal from his clients, he did steal from people like her family and from his own law firm.

You're talking about moving quickly with the verdict. We are also going to see the sentencing hearing this morning. What you are expecting to happen there?

BLAND: Well, I think what you're going to see is the state is going to say that he shouldn't get 30 years or anything other than life and life without parole. This is an extremely violent crime with aggravating circumstances, multiple guns and it's familicide. It's killing your wife and your son and then lying about it to your only living son.

Look, the biggest victim in all of this is Buster. Buster, the young son, who is 26 years old, he doesn't have a mother, brother, and now losing his father. And this family dynasty, this name is tarnished forever, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes, that's a really good point to keep him in mind. He was in the courtroom during this trial. LEMON: Eric Bland, thank you so much. We really appreciate you appearing here on CNN this morning. Be well.

BLAND: Sure, have me back.

LEMON: Of course, absolutely.

BLAND: Have a good day, guys.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

So, in our next hour, we're going to talk to Alan Wilson, he's the South Carolina's attorney general, about this verdict.

HARLOW: This morning, tornadoes tearing through North Texas, knocking out power to thousands of customers and forcing the cancelations of hundreds of flights in Dallas. Wind gusts reaching up to 70 miles an hour, strong enough to topple tractor trailers and destroy some homes and businesses.

Ed Lavandera is live in Little Elm, Texas, with more. Ed, what's behind you? What happened?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was the facade of a meat market that was blown over in the storm, crushing about a half dozen cars underneath there. This all happening last night as this line of severe storms blew through Texas and into Southern Oklahoma. In fact, at one point, this storm system stretched about 500 miles long from San Antonio all the way in to Southeast Oklahoma with winds close to 70 miles per hour at times.

So, rather intense, and as you mentioned, causing flight delays and flight cancelations at a number of airports and we're waking up this morning to about 100,000 customers or so without power. Many o fhtose customers include school campuses. So, we're seeing reports of a number of school districts here in the North Texas area. They are cancelling classes today because campuses are without power.

But the good news is that there isn't widespread damage. In fact, this is probably the worst we have seen. There were no reports of major injuries or deaths through this. But it is also the second line of severe storm that's we've seen happen this week. We were in Oklahoma earlier this week where the wind gusts were intense, in some places, well over 100 miles per hour. So, this is a vivid reminder that we are off to an early start in the spring storm season, and it is going to be a long few months, I suspect. Poppy?

HARLOW: Well, Ed Lavandera, thank you for your team getting up overnight to cover it.

COLLINS: Also this morning, California has activated its National Guard to help San Bernardino County dig out from all that snow. The snow has left people stranded without the essentials, like baby food and formula. Some areas saw over 7.5 feet of snow. Look at this, right here. The weight caused the roof of this town's only grocery store, the only one, to collapse in on itself. In Lake Arrowhead, firefighters are trying to put out this blaze but it was all made difficult because of just how much snow there is still on the ground.

CNN's Camil Bernal is joining us live from San Bernardino, California. You know, you can see how frustrated these residents are, that they're kind of reaching this point where the snow has stopped but they can't get out of it. They can't get basics. Is there any sign of when they're going to actually be able to get out of their homes?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, good morning. Unfortunately, it is going to be a while. Officials saying it could take up to ten days to allow people in and out of the mountain. They are responding to emergency calls. They're doing everything they can to evacuate people that need to be evacuated. But the bottom line is that it is going to take time and a lot of the people that I talk to told me that they're scared, that they're frustrated and they want to see more being done here.


DEREK HAYES, STRANDED IN SNOW: First, it was really frustrating. But now, it's to the point where we're somewhat scared.


BERNAL (voice over): Derrick Hayes trapped in the mountains of Southern California after an epic winter storm.

HAYES: There is nowhere to put the snow. There is no way to walk around. It's up to my neck in a lot of places. You take a step, you sink all the way down. You have to crawl yourself back out of the snow to try to get on top of it to even move around.

BERNAL: Derek just one of many who are stranded.

HANNAH WHITEOAK, STRANDED IN SNOW: It's pretty unfathomable.

BERNAL: The only thing they can do is wait for help.

CHARLENE BERMUDEZ, STRANDED IN SNOW: It's just crazy. There is no way to get out anywhere.

BERNAL: Their concerns, food, heat, medical emergencies or medicine and food for their pets, just to name a few.

The San Bernardino Mountains do get plenty of snow in the winter, but the past few weeks have been unprecedented, with the National Weather Service issuing its first ever blizzard warning.

ROMAN DURAN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL: Our main concern right now is to try to get the infrastructure up the mountain to be able to clear some of these roadways so that we can essentially get, you know, the people that live up there back to their houses and the people that are stuck up there back down.

BERNAL: Emergency crews so far carrying out roughly 100 rescues.

Governor Gavin Newsom also declaring a state of emergency for San Bernardino County and 12 others, activating the National Guard. Residents say lives are in danger.

BERMUDEZ: We're actually going to be getting a neighbor out of his house. He's a cancer patient who is elderly and he has a doctor's appointment that he's going to try and get to.

BERNAL: Some have been struggling nonstop.

WHITEOAK: Dig out the truck for the fourth time.

BERNAL: But not all are able to do so.

WHITEOAK: It's one of the roughest experiences and that you sort of go into survival mode and you just keep pushing through. I feel incredibly bad for anyone that hasn't got that physical presence.


BERNAL (on camera): And we are expecting members of the National Guard today, so we're likely going to see some progress.

I also want to point out that these storms have improved drought conditions in California. The snowpack is the largest it's been in decades. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yes, thinking of all those people who are stuck right now. Camila, thank you so much.

LEMON: The fighting has been nonstop in Bakhmut as Russian forces inch closer to taking the city. Alex Marquardt has been covering this for us live in Ukraine.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Don. I'm Alex Marquardt live in Eastern Ukraine. Coming up on CNN This Morning, we'll have the latest on a critical bridge that was destroyed in the battle for Bakhmut. Stay with us.



HARLOW: Fighting in Eastern Ukraine is intensifying. Soldiers say Russia's assault on Bakhmut has been constant as they inch closer to taking that city overnight. A critical bridge, the last remaining supply route in and out of the city was blown up by Russian forces. A mandatory evacuation order has been put in place. About 5,000 people, including children are still there in Bakhmut.

Our Alex Marquardt is in Eastern Ukraine with a lot more. This was the question all week, Alex, as you've been reporting on the ground. What was going to happen to this bridge? Now that it has been blown up, what does it mean for the people? MARQUARDT: Well, Poppy, this means are particularly grim for Ukrainian forces in and around Bakhmut and the civilians who are still inside. You mentioned those thousands of civilians who are still in Bakhmut. We were actually going on an evacuation mission with a team earlier today. That operation was called off because this bridge was blown up. This bridge was on main supply route, really the only paved road that Ukrainian forces were able to use in and out of Bakhmut.

We showed you that road on the edge of town Chasiv Yar yesterday. You saw all those military vehicles going to and from the front. Now, we understand from a Ukrainian soldier in Bakhmut that that bridge was taken out by a large missile, which means, Poppy, that Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut are surrounded on three sides. So, if they want to resupply, if they want to pull out, if they want to evacuate people, they have to do so on dirt roads or across fields, which is very difficult. It leaves them very vulnerable.

For now, there is no order to evacuate. Ukrainian forces, we're told, are still standing their ground, but it is getting very, very difficult for those Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, Poppy.

HARLOW: And on that point of evacuation, what is the significance, Alex, of the founder of the Wagner Group, Yegeny Prigozhin, calling on President Zelenskyy to order a withdrawal from Bakhmut?

MARQUARDT: Yes. And Prigozhin's forces have been the ones who have been leading the fight in Bakhmut against the Ukrainian forces. Prigozhin, in a new video this morning, telling President Zelenskyy to pull his forces out because his forces are surrounded. He says that that will be completed in a day or two and so that he should pull those troops out now to save their lives.

We were speaking with Ukrainian forces yesterday in that neighboring town of Chasiv Yar just about three miles or five kilometer as way from Bakhmut, and they're saying that they needed to keep fighting for the city of Bakhmut, because if it is taken by the Russians, it will be a major victory. They will be able to press forward deeper into Eastern Ukraine and that Chasiv Yar, that that town and many others like it, would be the next target for Russian forces. Poppy?

COLLINS: Right, where we just saw you in Chasiv Yar this week. Alex, thank you very, very much. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: And what is happening there on the ground with Alex and in Ukraine overall is sure to be on the agenda today as President Biden is now preparing to welcome a key NATO ally to the White House. He is going to have a face-to-face with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz. That is coming of new concerns about Ukraine's struggle to fight off the Russian offensive and the willingness of allies to send weapons. Today, the White House is set to announce another round of military aid to Ukraine, we should note, though.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is covering this live at the State Department this morning.

[07:20:00] Kylie, the last time the German chancellor visited the White House, Russia had not yet invaded Ukraine. And so it's kind of remarkable just how much their relationship has changed and his relationship now in this one-year period.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Completely, Kaitlan. I think this moment does beg a moment of reflection just to look at what has happened over the last year, how NATO has really been lockstep.

A year ago, as you said, when German Chancellor Scholz was in Washington, it was before the Russian invasion. I don't think anyone would have imagined that Germany would have been the one that was sending Stinger parts or tanks to Ukraine, because Germany has historically taken sort of a pacifist approach to foreign policy because of its involvement in World War II. But Germany has really come along, and so it is worth mentioning that.

I do think now that they're going to be focused on looking forward, of course. We heard from the White House yesterday from John Kirby talking about the fact that they'll be looking at what Ukraine needs next, coordination in terms of what allies can give Ukraine.

And then there are two things that I'll be watching for. And I think the first is China, this idea of them potentially providing lethal assistance to Ukraine. Senior administration officials said that wouldn't be a central focus of this conversation. But we did hear earlier this week from Scholz warning China against going forward with this lethal aid. So, we could see some conversations about coordination if there is a response to that and then also how this war comes to an end.

Scholz talked about providing security guarantees and discussing that with allies this week. So, do they get into what some of those security guarantees for Ukraine could look like as they try and bring about a negotiated end but look towards fighting before that.

COLLINS: Yes. That's kind of looming over all of this. But we do know the U.S. is going to announce another aid package. Do we know what's going to be in there? Is there anything new that we haven't seen so far?

ATWOOD: No, we don't expect there to be anything new. Mostly what this will be, according to the White House, is additional ammunition for the systems that the Ukrainians already have. That is key because we know that is this battle heats up on the eastern front, the Ukrainians do need that ammunition, so it is significant. But John Kirby said that we shouldn't expect there to be any new developments in terms of accelerating assistance to Ukraine. Of course, that is a major question that reporters have been asking about. But there will be more assistance today.

COLLINS: All right. Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thank you.

LEMON: Well, it's official, Congress is investigating George Santos. The House Ethics Committee announcing they will be looking into the first term Congressman who has extensively lied about his past. Will it amount to anything? Live on Capitol Hill.

HARLOW: Also President Biden bounded the GOP and avoiding a veto fight over a Washington, D.C., law that many Republicans say is too soft on crime. Next, we will be joined by Democratic Senator Tom Carper, how he feels about this decision by the president.



LEMON: This morning, embattled Congressman George Santos officially under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Santos is facing intense scrutiny and calls to resign after admitting to extensively lying about his resume and biography.

CNN's Lauren Fox live on Capitol Hill with more this morning. Good morning, Lauren. There have been so many lies. So, what exactly is the ethics committee going to look at?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Don, this is the committee that Republican leaders have been pointing to as the reason they didn't want to take action against George Santos. They've repeatedly said, House Ethics is going to look into it, now they are, Don.

And, specifically, they're looking at a few areas, whether or not he may have broken federal election laws in the course of his campaign. They're also looking at whether or not he properly filed documents to the House of Representatives. That could include things like financial disclosure forms and they are looking at allegations into whether or not he engaged in sexual misconduct related toward an individual that was seeking employment in his office.

Now, the House Ethics Committee investigation could go on for weeks or months, Don, but there are a few powerful things that they could do or at least recommend the House of Representatives does. One of them is potentially expelling George Santos from Congress. They also could issue a censure which could force him to stand in the well of the House and be admonished by his colleagues, or they could issue some kind of reprimand, which is really no more than a slap on the wrist, Don.

But that gives you a sense of what the House Ethics Committee could actually do to George Santos if he were expelled from Congress, which has only happened five times in the House. They would need two-thirds of Republicans and Democrats in that body to vote for it, Don.

LEMON: He has denied the harassment allegations, by the way. We should mention that.

The committee is also investigating Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez. What is new in that investigation?

FOX: Yes. This was an official letter that the House Ethics Committee issued yesterday saying they're just continuing an investigation into whether or not the congresswoman may have improperly accepted gifts. This was related to her attending the 2021 Met Gala. There are responses from her office's council saying that they don't believe the congresswoman did anything wrong. But, again, this is just House Ethics issuing that letter, saying that they are continuing to look into this matter, Don.

LEMON: Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill this morning, thank you, Lauren.

COLLINS: Also this morning in Washington, President Biden now says he will not stand in the way of a Republican-led effort to overturn a new criminal code in Washington, D.C., vowing to Republicans and steering clear of a potential veto fight. Republicans have been hammering the district's council's changes as soft on crime. They repealed the measure in the House and sent it over to the Senate where momentum started to build as some Democrats are putting their support behind it.


SEN. BOB CASEY (D-PA): We don't support what the district did. It is surely not a question of supporting where Republicans are. I just don't support what the district did. If anything, we should be increasing penalties for certain offenses.


COLLINS: What we're talking about here is a new law that reduces maximum sentences for certain violent crimes, like carjacking, while increasing others.


The White House is arguing that Biden's concern about softening some of those sentences has outweighed his broad support for the district to govern itself.