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CNN This Morning

Jury Finds Alex Murdaugh Guilty for Murder of Wife and Son; Alex Murdaugh to Face Sentencing in Murder Trial; Residents of East Palestine Demand to be Relocated after Train Derailment Causes Toxic Chemical Spill; Tornado Damages Parts of Shreveport, Louisiana; President Biden to Host German Chancellor at White House; Today: Biden & Scholz Meet & Strategize About Helping Ukraine; Families Of Slain Journalist, 9-Year-Old Girl Unite In Grief. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 03, 2023 - 08:00   ET



KEVIN O'LEARY, "SHARK TANK" JUDGE: Really raise money. But, boy, do I disagree with their own policy.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: It's a discussion that needs to be had, but you were talking about places that are un-investable right now and not --

O'LEARY: We are sitting in one right here. Sorry.

LEMON: That's a bigger conversation.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to ask Governor Hochul for her response to that.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we are. That debate, see it here on CNN THIS MORNING.

O'LEARY: No money for this place. Sorry. That's it.

LEMON: Good to see you, Kevin.

O'LEARY: Take care. Thank you.

LEMON: Have a good weekend.

HARLOW: CNN THIS MORNING continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guilty verdict, signed by the forelady, 3/2/23.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we had no doubt that if we had a chance to present our case in a court of law that they would see through the one last con that Alex Murdaugh was trying to pull. And they did, and we are so grateful for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: The prosecution team in South Carolina feeling good this morning. They got that verdict in just about three hours. And now we are waiting for them to be back in the courtroom this morning because the sentencing hearing is going to be underway.

Good morning, everyone. Alex Murdaugh has been found guilty on all counts in the double murder of his own wife and son. This morning, we will find out if he is going to get life in prison. South Carolina's attorney general is going to join us live here on the program as the judge is preparing to sentence Murdaugh.

LEMON: Plus, emotions running high in East Palestine, Ohio, last night, outraged and desperate families demanding to be relocated after last month's toxic train derailment.

HARLOW: And two families brought together by tragedy. We will speak to the parents of television journalist and nine-year-old girl killed in last week's shooting spree near Orlando.

COLLINS: But we're going to begin with the news out of Walterboro, South Carolina. Alex Murdaugh has been convicted of murdering his own wife and son. The jury finding the disgraced lawyer guilty on all counts. One of the jurors just spoke to "Good Morning America," said it only took really about 45 minutes of deliberating for the entire jury to agree he was guilty.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you first got in the room you took a vote?

CRAIG MOYER, JUROR: It was two not guilty, one not sure, and nine guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was your vote?

MOYER: Guilty.

We started deliberating, going through the evidence. And everybody was pretty much talking. And about 45 minutes later after all our deliberating we figured it tout.


COLLINS: Inside the jury room. Here is what that juror thought, though, about Alex Murdaugh's tearful testimony when he took the stand.


CRAIG MOYER, JUROR: I didn't see any true remorse or any compassion or anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even though he cried a lot.

MOYER: He never cried.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He never cried? What could you mean like that?

MOYER: All he did was blow snot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you not see tears?

MOYER: No tears.


COLLINS: CNN's Dianne Gallagher has been following this trial since the beginning. Dianne, it's remarkable to see after days and weeks of testimony now all of a sudden this verdict came down in less than three hours. And now it's less than two hours we're going to find out about the sentence. What are you seeing on the ground?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kaitlan. That juror said that it was that key piece of evidence, a video found on Paul Murdaugh's phone more than six months after he was murdered that featured his father's voice, putting him at the scene of the crime minutes before the state says Maggie and Paul were murdered that convinced the juror that Alex Murdaugh was guilty.

You can probably see behind me there are people lined up ready to get in to see the sentencing. Alex Murdaugh showed no real emotion when the jurors read the verdict. We will hear victim impact statements to see today before the judge does his sentence.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guilty verdict. Verdict guilty. Verdict guilty. Verdict guilty.

GALLAGHER: Alex Murdaugh, a scion from a prominent local family of lawyers and solicitors, found guilty of murdering his wife Maggie and son Paul after just three hours of jury deliberations.

CREIGHTON WATERS, LEAD PROSECUTOR: It doesn't matter who your family is. It doesn't matter how much money you have, or people think you have. It doesn't matter what you think, how prominent you are. If you do wrong, if you break the law, if you murder, then justice will be done in South Carolina.

GALLAGHER: The jury was seen with their heads down, never looking in Murdaugh's direction as the verdict was read. The prominent former attorney's only living son, Buster, was present in the courtroom while the verdict was read, appearing at times to wipe tears from his eyes.


After the guilty verdict came down the judge denied a motion from the defense asking for a mistrial and to set aside the verdict.

VOICE OF JUDGE CLIFTON NEWMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA CIRCUIT COURT: The evidence of guilt is overwhelming, and I deny the motion.

GALLAGHER: The prosecution has indicated they will be seeking a life sentence without the possibility of parole, sparing him the death penalty. The case wrapped up earlier Thursday with the defense's closing arguments, attempting one last time to poke holes in the state's case.

JIM GRIFFIN, ALEX MURDAUGH'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Their theory is that he slaughtered his wife and son to distract from an impending financial investigation. But he puts himself in the middle a murder investigation and he puts himself in the middle of the spotlight of a media firestorm.

GALLAGHER: And further slamming the investigation.

GRIFFIN: We believe that we've shown conclusively that SLED failed miserably in investigating this case.

GALLAGHER: The jury was un-swayed by this defense, favoring the prosecution's argument that Murdaugh was the only one with the motive, means, and opportunity to kill his wife and son.

JOHN MEADORS, PROSECUTOR: He did it. Nobody else could have done it. Nobody else did do it.

GALLAGHER: Over the roughly six-week trial the prosecution presented its case featuring testimony from 61 witnesses with phone forensics and extensive evidence of Murdaugh's financial misdeeds.

ALAN WILSON, SOUTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Our criminal justice system worked tonight. It gave a voice to Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.


GALLAGHER (on camera): You can see again the line getting longer here outside the courthouse. We have seen this each morning starting around 4:00 a.m., sometimes earlier because of all of the different interests around the entire country, but especially here in the low country in this case. This is a day that I talked to some of those trial watchers who have shown up every day. They wanted to see, many of them surprised that the jury came back with a verdict so quickly.

Interested to see how judge Clifton Newman delivers this sentence. Alex Murdaugh facing between 30 years and life in prison on those murder charges. But he does have a reputation for giving stiff sentences. We anticipate hearing victim impact statements. The attorneys will make their cases on what the sentencing should be, and then Alex Murdaugh will go to prison for the death, the murders of his wife and his son.

We don't know who is going to be in the courtroom, whether or not we are going to see his son Buster again, how that is going to sort of work out with the Murdaugh family. But we anticipate all of that, Kaitlan, to happened around 9:30 this morning. I spoke briefly with the defense attorney Jim Griffin last night. He said they wouldn't comment fully on the verdict until after the sentencing but told me they were very disappointed in that verdict.

COLLINS: Yes, Dianne, it's just been a trial that captivated the nation. I feel like everyone I know has been watching this. Those people lining up outside, a lot of people watching it on television as well. Dianne Gallagher, we know you will be watching it as well when the sentencing gets underway this morning.

And in just a few moments, we're going to talk to Alan Wilson, he's South Carolina's attorney general, about his view on the verdict.

HARLOW: Meantime, outrage, fear, and desperation boiling over in East Palestine, Ohio, last night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm begging you by the grace of God please get our people out of here.



HARLOW: Those are families demanding to be relocated from their homes at an emotional town hall meeting. They are afraid their kids are going to get cancer. They don't feel safe living there anymore. This is after the toxic train derailment spilled chemicals and burned a month ago. Last night Norfolk Southern's company representatives tried to reassure everyone there, but they just got an earful.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We understand. We are very sorry what happened. We feel horrible about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we have a plan. We have a plan to do that. We are ready to start tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do the right thing!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to do the right thing. We are going to do the right thing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to do the right thing. We are going to do the right thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you're not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You should have done it right the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are sorry, and we do care. We do.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you care about us, get our grandkids out of here, now! Get my children out! Get us out!


HARLOW: Our Miguel Marquez joins us again live in East Palestine, Ohio. That said everything. It sounds like anything short of enough money to leave and live somewhere else and get a job, et cetera, is not going to be enough.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: People are absolutely upset, angry. They want certainty. They want absolute answers. There are people who live near the tracks, and unfortunately, many people are not going to hear the answers they want quickly enough.

I want to show you sort of, we are as close as we can get to the derailment site here, and work is starting. One thing they talked about last night, this is going to be a major piece of the cleanup here, there are two tracks, at least two tracks that run through there. Today they have already started as there is heavy equipment on the south tracks right now. They are going to start pulling up those south tracks, excavating those hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic material under those tracks, lay down new soil and then put those tracks back on and then do the same thing on the north side. That is going to take some time.

Testing for dioxins is also being to happen. This is something that people asked for. EPA and the state's environmental protection entities have been testing for the chemicals that were on the train but they had not been testing for dioxins. Dioxins form when you burn plastic materials or other materials. It is harmful to humans and people have been very concerned about that. EPA now has a plan to test for dioxins, which is difficult to do because they are everywhere all the time, but they're going to test a very wide area to see if they can figure out if there is a higher level here.

But all of this is going to take time. The tracks themselves, officials saying it will take to the end of April before those south and north end tracks are pulled up, the soil removed. But even after that, there is going to be monitoring and continued cleanup for quite some time to come. Poppy.

HARLOW: So much to come, Miguel, thank you. We appreciate your reporting throughout this whole disaster from the last month on the ground.

LEMON: We want to get you now to the weather system that has been hitting a big part of the south. Take a look now at these live pictures from Little Elm, Texas. These are live from our affiliate KTVT there. This is where heavy winds damaged a shopping plaza and vehicles in a parking lot there. It looks like you are looking at a storefront. Again, these are from the chopper images coming from our affiliate there, and they are live pictures. Unbelievable what the storm has wrought on the south, powerful storm packing a triple threat of large hail, damaging winds, and tornados tearing through the south overnight and into the morning. And in Louisiana a twister touching down overnight. Louisiana State

University campus there was damaged. Some homes and businesses destroyed. Look at that. You can see the rolling through there. Nearly 4 million people under a new tornado watch across the Mississippi River Valley. Carlos Suarez is in Shreveport, Louisiana. Carlos, good morning to you. Looks like you are seeing lots of damage there.

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. Don, good morning. That tornado that hit the Shreveport area was on the ground, by all accounts, for just a few seconds, well under a minute, but in that time it managed to damage several homes, several businesses. The worst of it that we saw on our drive in this morning is this laundry mat behind me. It's where you can see exactly just what this storm was able do in the short time that it was on the ground. You can see the roof of the building was just torn off. The front, the sign out here fell on top of these three cars.

There was one line of storms that moved in in the afternoon yesterday. That's when this tornado hit. Then we had a second line of storms that hit well into the night around 10:00 or 11:00 at night. But that line of storms only brought with it some more rain as well as some strong winds. Cellphone video from this part of Louisiana captured exactly what was going on.

Now, as of about an hour ago we are told by the power company out here that about 1,000 people that live in this neighborhood are waking up without power. Guys.

LEMON: All right, Carlos Suarez in Shreveport, Louisiana, thank you, Carlos.

COLLINS: In Washington today, President Biden is preparing to welcome the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the White House. This is a face- to-face coming after a transformative 12 months for Germany and amid new concerns about Ukraine's struggle to fight off the Russian offensive. Today the White House is set to announce another round of military aid to Ukraine.

CNN's M.J. Lee is live at the White House. M.J., the last time the German chancellor was where you are now, Russia had not invaded Ukraine. How different is this meeting going to look today? What does the White House want to have out on the agenda for them?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kaitlan, it's really pretty extraordinary if you think about how much the last year since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began has really transformed President Biden's presidency, his foreign policy, and also the United States' relationship with its western allies. And I think when the German chancellor visits here at the White House later today we are going to see all of that in such clear focus.

You are absolutely right that the last time that the two leaders met here in Washington the invasion had not yet begun. And over the course of the last year, we have really seen the two leaders at the forefront of trying to figure out this new world of the Ukraine war and sort of staying together and working together to keep the alliance of countries banded together to support Ukraine.


They don't always though it's worth pointing out see eye to eye on everything in terms of how to handle the conflict, particularly when it comes to what kind of assistance Germany, should offer Ukraine, and how much? And so, that is certainly expected to be a topic of discussion as well, as they try to figure out well, what is sort of the path forward as this war drags on. And particularly, if they're open to having discussions as well, about how possibly this war can come to an end? Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, major questions and of course notable there is no press conference between the two leaders today. MJ Lee, we know you'll be watching the visit closely though. Thank you so much.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Unspeakable heartbreak in Orlando, after a gunman killed a young journalist and a nine year old girl, their families are here next.



GARY LYONS, FATHER OF PINE HILLS SHOOTING VICTIM DYLAN LYONS: I'm so sorry to my son because I wish I could've taken the bullet. (INAUDIBLE)

BRANDI MAJOR, MOTHER OF PINE HILLS SHOOTING VICTIM T'YONNA MAJOR: Me too. She was just my heart, my angel, like in a moment (INAUDIBLE). I can't do this.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Boy, family members speaking out for the first time, since their loved ones were shot and killed outside Orlando last week. We told you about the killings of journalists Dylan Lyons and third grader T'yonna Major. And I want to remind you of the horrific chain of events that led to their deaths. The Government's Multisim rampage started last Wednesday, when he allegedly shot an acquaintance in a car. Police say the gunman later returned to the same area and shot two Spectrum News13 journalists, who are at the scene to report on that first incident.


24-year-old reporter Dylan Lyons was killed. Photojournalist Jesse Walden was critically injured. And moments after they were shot, authorities say that the suspect entered the home on the nearby street and shot a mother and her nine-year-old daughter Tiana. The accused gunman is 19-year-old, Keith Moses, and according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office, he has been arrested nearly 20 times before. He is now facing three first degree murder charges among others.

So, joining us now and speaking out together, the parents of nine- year-old T'yonna Major, Tokiyo and Brandi Major. The parents of Dylan Lyons, Gary and Beth Lyons, as well as Dylan's fiance Casey Fite, along with their attorney, Mark NeJame. Good morning. Thank you. I'm so sorry for your loss and let's just get through this and honor your loved ones. So, thank you for joining us this morning. Brandi and Tokiyo, I'm going to start with you, tell us about Tiana. Tokiyo, why don't you go first.

TOKIYO MAJOR, FATHER OF T'YONNA MAJOR: She was my everything. Hi, my name is Tokiyo. For me, my daughter was everything to me. Also, my wife and son. T'yonna was so sweet and genetic. She loves to go on walks with me and mom, and raises our dog. At the age of three, we took her to a tryout for gymnastics and you see, she loved it. So, we kept doing it. She was so great as you can see, by the medals around my neck a total 26. Yaya (PH) was smart, she read so well, read through every night.

She hasn't first of her grade, wasn't perfect, so, we study until we got a (INAUDIBLE). She made me watch Gabby Douglas, over a million times. So, that's why I named my love Gabby Douglas. Because I knew she was going to be my little Olympian. I miss her so dearly. I can't sleep, I'm lost, it feel like my heart and soul is gone. She was my pillow, my everything, she was my Yaya. She never wanted me mad. She loves cooking with me. She's my whole world. I'll do everything in my body to make her happy.

B. MAJOR: No, babe.

T. MAJOR: Other word she made me a good dad. In a gymnastic day, I will always be your number one fan. Yaya strong. She's my world.

B. MAJOR: Yaya is my baby. She was my --

LEMON: Brandi?

B. MAJOR: -- angel, she was my twin.

LEMON: Brandi, but I know you want to speak about your -- about Yaya. You were shot as well. How are you doing?

B. MAJOR: Yes. I'm doing better. It gets better, better every day. But, my heart hurts more than anything. Sometimes, I just wish I could have took every bullet for her. And she could be here and still shining, showing y'all how great she is. It still so hard for me. I took her to school every morning, I picked her up from school every morning. In between in times, I missed her so much. And when we get in the car, we would tell each other, how much we miss each other, and it was only a few hours. So, I'm just (INAUDIBLE) sad. I'm dying.

LEMON: I'm so sorry. So, so, sorry. Gary and Beth? I see you're dealing with your own, and I see that you are there. Trying to help another family. What do you want everyone to know about Dylan? Beth, why don't you go first.

BETH LYONS, MOTHER OF DYLAN LYONS: Dylan was the most wonderful person. The most wonderful son in the world. He would help before himself. He wanted to get the story out there. It didn't make a difference of your color, your religion, your money. It was there for everybody. He was just the apple of my eye. He was a mama's boy, that would do anything for me -- anything for me and the world. It went sad when Dylan Died, I died -- I died. I have (INAUDIBLE) died.


He was just the most wonderful son, person in the world. And then, when he met Casey, he was so happy. He said, Mom, I met my dream girl. He met my dream girl. He wasn't -- to mommy her and a have their children together. It just -- he was so happy after he met Casey. He just met --he was the most wonderful son, mother and we name that her, you treated her the same way. It just a heart break, he wanted to get the story out there for other people. For anybody would tell him he would just do anything for anybody. And it's not right to do sitting here is just not right.


B. LYONS: He's dreamt to make it to New York. And everybody sent us a young journalist, he would. He was a go gather -- go gather. And he was so kind to people when he was interviewed the day before he was killed. Someone said, from a letter, that they have confidence in journalists because he was so kind the way he interviewed the person. I don't know what else to say. He was just the most wonderful son in the world.

LEMON: Yes. Casey, if you can speak right now. I know you lost her fiance, the love of your life. What do you want people to know about Dylan?


B. LYONS: I'm sorry, A popped out of my ear.

G. LYONS: That's OK sweetie.

B. LYONS: OK. I'm sorry, a popped out of my ear.

FITE: Dylan was, what I always dreamed of. I always wanted a man like him. And it took -- it took a long time to find him. And I'm just so devastated but it was ripped from me so, early. We had so many plans. And we were so excited. Just live our life together with our family. And grow with that family, adding a baby and another baby. We wanted to have three babies, we have the names picked out already, which is we were so happy.

LEMON: I know that you're going to try now. Correct? To make part of that dream come true.

FITE: Yes, and I'm just completely devastated, he won't be here with me. Yes, that's all we ever wanted.

LEMON: Gary, what do you want to say?

G. LYONS: Don, I just want to say Dylan was my only son. He was an exemplary son, brother, uncle to my sister -- my daughter's children. He used to do everything in the world for them. And it was taking care of Casey, he was great to Casey love Casey. Dylan, love being a journalist. He always wanted to tell the story for the people who weren't there, to tell them to hear a story.

But Don, today, it's about the bonding between our families. We're bonded forever because of this tragedy, and we want change it in America. We want change because this should never happen. This person should have never had a gun, in our lives are forever brokenhearted. But we've cried with Tokiyo and Brandi. We shared each other's lives, stories about our children. Were fathers and mothers and fiance's who've lost such a -- our lives will never be the same and we just want change in America.

LEMON: Mark? You know, Gary mentioned he should never have had a gun. There are reasons, very strong reasons, why you took this case to help these families. Talk to us about that.

MARK NEJAME, ATTORNEY FOR LYONS FAMILY, FIANCE AND MAJOR FAMILY: Thank you, Don. The family all believe they've been political pawns. And it's just a shame that people are exploiting their children's deaths. There's been a seemingly political vendetta going on by Senator Rick Scott and Governor DeSantis against a local prosecutor. Monique Worrell.