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CNN This Morning

Fresh Probe into Death of Teen with Ties to Murdaugh Case; World Watches Trump; World Watches Xi and Putin; London's Met Police Culture Exposed. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 21, 2023 - 06:30   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: The CDC with a new warning this morning about a deadly apparently drug-resistant fungus that is here in the United States. The agency says that it has spread at an alarming rate in long-term hospitals and other healthcare facilities. It's being called candida auris, and has been detected in more than half the country. CDC data shows that more than 1,400 cases were reported 2001, a 200 percent increase from 2019. It's not a risk to people who are healthy, but it can be a very serious danger to people who have compromised immune systems, including the elderly.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I thought the Murdaugh saga was over. It is not. There are fresh questions this morning with ties to the Murdaugh family in South Carolina. As you remember, the former attorney, Alex Murdaugh, was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife and younger son. Now investigators have reopened the investigation into the death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith. He was found dead in the middle of the road near the Murdaugh family home - Murdaugh home back in 2015.

Now, Smith was a classmate of Murdaugh's older son, Buster. And questions remain about how Smith died. His family now pushing for Smith's body to be exhumed.

And for more we turn to CNN's Dianne Gallagher. She joins us live from Charlotte, North Carolina, this morning.

Good morning to you.

The Smith family attorney says this is about seeking justice and has nothing to do with the Murdaugh's. What do you know?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Don, the attorneys saying, look, they want a fresh start with a fresh look at Stephen Smith's body. From the beginning, the Murdaugh name has sort of swirled around the death of Stephen Smith from witness interviews back in 2015, to the state saying they reopened the case because of information they gathered while investigating the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. But those are just rumors. There's never been a direct connection. And now Buster Murdaugh is speaking out about those rumors for the first time. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

911 DISPATCHER: Where is your emergency?

CALLER: Hello. I just going down Crocketville Road. I see somebody laying out.

GALLAGHER (voice over): It's been nearly eight years since the body of 19-year-old Stephen Smith was found in the middle of this country road in Hampton County, South Carolina.


The teen's death gained national attention in June, 2021, nearly six years after he was killed when the state law enforcement division announced that it was opening an investigation into his death based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.


GALLAGHER: Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of his wife and son earlier this month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the rest of your natural life.

GALLAGHER: And investigators have never revealed what information they gleaned from the Murdaugh murders investigation that resulted in his case being opened.

Today, new, private efforts launched to uncover the circumstances, spearheaded by Smith's mother, Sandy, and two attorneys. The first goal, exhuming Smith's body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think we have good cause to show why a fresh set of eyes on this would be beneficial. It kind of has to start with a fresh new look at the body.

GALLAGHER: Initial reports said the nursing student died on July 8, 2015, from blunt force head trauma, originally said to be the result of a hit and run. But the accident investigation team report cited, quote, no vehicle debris, skid marks or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle.

SANDY SMITH, STEPHEN SMITH'S MOTHER: I just love my son. And since I couldn't protect him, I'm going to fight for him.

GALLAGHER: Smith's mother said she worried her son may have been targeted because he was gay. According to police files during interviews with friends and family after Smith's death, the Murdaugh name kept coming up, but no suspect has ever been named and authorities have never connected anyone in the Murdaugh family to Smith's death.

Still, rumors and innuendo persisted as the Murdaugh case spawned podcasts, documentaries and a rabid social media following, often with Buster Murdaugh, a former classmate of Smith, at the center of the speculation. He broke his silence in a statement provided to CNN saying in part, I have tried my best to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith's tragic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother. These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death and my heart goes out to the Smith family.

Smith's attorney caution the public, this is not about the Murdaugh's.

ERIC BLAND, SMITH FAMILY ATTORNEY: This is not an Alex Murdaugh 2.0, or any Murdaugh 2 .0. This is a Stephen Smith 2.0. It's all about Stephen.


GALLAGHER: And at the heart of this, this is a mother who, for nearly eight years, has wondered what happened to her son and who did it to him. Sandy Smith started a GoFundMe. She's raised more than $75,000 that will go to pay to exhume her son and a private autopsy once a judge allows that petition that they plan to file.

And, look, Don, we did reach out to SLED. They said that their investigation is active and ongoing. They told us that they have made progress looking into the death of Stephen Smith.

LEMON: Oh my goodness, there's so many twists and turns when it comes to what's happening with the Murdaughs.


LEMON: Thank you very much, Dianne Gallagher. She's on top of it.

Widespread bullying, homophobia, misogamy and racism, that is what's going on inside London's Metropolitan Police Department, according to an official review released just moments ago. The response pouring in.



COLLINS: This morning, former President Trump and pretty much everyone else is awaiting to see if there is going to be an indictment of him over the hush money payment to the adult film star Stormy Daniels. And now New York City is preparing and embracing for possible protests after Trump called on his supporters to protest and, quote, take our nation back.

Trump's legal issues have drawn attention from around the world as he could be the first former U.S. president to potentially face criminal charges.

For more on the international perspective here, we want to bring in CNN's Bianca Nobilo and Max Foster, who are in London this morning.

Good morning to you guys. I mean we are all sitting back and watching and waiting. You know, this is unprecedented. I think both sides would agree with that. What are you - what are leaders there saying?

MAX FOSTER, ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL: Well, it's interesting, isn't it. It's definitely in the papers, as you saw there, but it's not on the front pages, it's not a headline story. I think people are really confused about which court case, what it means and then you very quickly find out that he could still run for president if he gets arrested today, as he's obviously claiming. So, I think people are a bit lost in it. But also you have -- don't you think he's gone off the radar a bit on the global headlines as opposed to, obviously, when he was in power?

BIANCA NOBILO, ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL: He certainly did, but that's why there's been a focus, almost a fixation on his return to social media and the internet. And that's actually been plastered across quite a few newspapers across Europe this week.

I think there is an incredulity of the fact that he could still run for president regardless of being indicted. For many countries, that's not a possibility or it's just normatively not acceptable. We see some similarities as well to the situation of the former Pakistani prime minister, Imran Khan, who has been called a Donald Trump of Pakistan. And they've been questioning if they're going to have their January 6th moment because he's been asking his supporters to come out in the streets and protest against charges against him, which he alleges are politically motivated from -- to prohibit him from being successful in the next election.

LEMON: It's interesting that you say that, Bianca, that people are sort of flummoxed that someone could run for president after being arrested. I mean I have to mention that one of our competitors last night did a very good take on people here, politicians in the United States who have been arrested, who ran for office. Some of them still won. And, you know, it wasn't earth shattering. The sky didn't fall. So, it's something that has happened here, except at the level of presidency.


I do want to turn now because - and, you know, well, sort of, speaking about the White House. They are closely watching Xi Jinping, this three-day trip that he has meeting with Putin. How is Europe reacting to that?

FOSTER: It's definitely front page stuff. It's the imagery, I think, more than anything, rather than what they're going to discuss. It's this idea of seeing them together over a three-day summit effectively and this locus really that feels away from Europe and America. And it's slightly unsettling.

A lot of the commentary is the idea that, you know, a reaction really to America, Europe being involved, getting involved in Asia Pacific, and this is Xi/Putin creating a new locus in Eurasia, if you like. So I think the idea that there's this alternative power base forming is quite unsettling to a lot of people.

NOBILO: Yes, it's become a bit of a lightning rod for this deepening anxiety which we see across Europe about this bipolarity, the west, the U.S., and NATO versus China, Russia, Iran. And you can see these political shifts occurring. And all of the events in the meetings and rhetoric only serve to underscore that happening. So, with the exception of, for example, a country in Europe, like Serbia, which is more closely aligned with Putin, there is that disquiet and unease at what we're watching unfold.

COLLINS: We also want to get your reaction because we're hearing from the prime minister there in London right now talking about this independent review of Britain's largest police force and apparently it has exposed this culture of institutional racism, misogamy, homophobia. What is the response going to be to that? What's the repercussions?

NOBILO: Well, first of all, Kaitlan, this is a startling report, 365 pages, which does uncover rampant discrimination, a failure of women and child protection, an inability of the police to police themselves, and what is tantamount to a shattering of public confidence in the police. Just to give you a taste of some of the stories that we've read about and reports that it contained, you hear about a Sikh's man's beard being cut because police officers thought it was funny. Somebody's turban being hid. Bacon being put in the shoes of a Muslim man. Women being forced to eat large amounts of cake until they vomit as part of a hazing and initiation ritual. I mean it's truly shocking stuff.

FOSTER: Yes, and it's - it - well, she's very clear, the author, she investigated for a year. This is institutional racism, sexism and homophobia. It's completely engrained. And, I mean, we've been covering racism in the MET for decades. It just hasn't changed. So, she actually suggests the solution is to break it up.



LEMON: Wow. Talk to us more about that. How so?

FOSTER: Well, just because it hasn't changed. If it's so engrained, and she describes a boy's club in the -- who - and the - and members of staff and the public weren't protected about -- from abusive officers. And if you go back to the Stephen Lawrence case, you know, we've been talking about racism in the MET police for so many years, and they just don't seem to progress. So she's saying you should break it up.

LEMON: Well, my question, is there an appetite for that, Max, is there -- to break it up, is there an appetite? Could that really happen?

FOSTER: I think if you lose trust in the police, what's the alternative? You've got to change the brand at the very least, don't you? NOBILO: This report feels like a jumping off point for wider

conversations about reform. I think generally in the United Kingdom there hasn't been the same kind of discussion about what to do with the police. But now that this has been exposed in such a stark way, in black and white, and we've had, certainly with the female population, as well as the issues with racism, assaults against women, the murder of Sarah Everard by a former police officer, I mean this is really shocking. And I'm sure it will precipitate more conversations about what to do here because the problems are not going away. If anything, there's been evidence that people are trying to cover them up within the police and that they're only going to become more entrenched.

COLLINS: Yes. That's a remarkable report.

Bianca and Max, thank you both for joining us this morning.

All right, also what we're talking about, a remarkable development. It is being called a complex but calculated murder. What police are now revealing about a Colorado dentist who's been accused of killing his wife by poisoning her protein shakes.




LEMON: OK, listen to this story. There is a dentist in Colorado who has been charged with fatally poisoning his wife in what authorities are calling a heinous, complex and calculated murder. Now, Aurora Police say James Craig drove his wife Angela to the hospital on Wednesday because she was having severe headaches and dizziness. Now, her condition deteriorated quickly and she was declared medically brain dead before being taken off life support.

According to the affidavit, police say Craig bought arsenic and cyanide off of Amazon, secretly dosed his wife's protein shakes. Screen shots of text messages from earlier this month show Angela telling James, quote, I feel drugged. And then James replied, given our history, I know that must be triggering. Just for the record, I didn't drug you. I'm super worried, though. You really looked pale before I left, like in your lips even.

Investigators say Craig's internet search history includes, quote, how many grams of pure arsenic will kill a human. Is arsenic detectable in autopsy? And a YouTube video for top five undetectable poisons that show no signs of foul play.

Angela's sister told police that James had multiple affairs and that the family was struggling financially. The Craigs have six children.

COLLINS: Can I just say, if you tell someone you feel like you were drugged and they respond, I didn't drug you, it's a little suspicious.

LEMON: It's a little weird. I mean - and how suspicious is that internet history? I mean basically it - COLLINS: Yes, which is what we saw in that other case as well.


LEMON: There you go.

COLLINS: Anyway, OK, moving on to something on a lighter note. Could Washington, my former lovely home, be getting a little touch of magic?


CNN has learned that the NBA legend, Magic Johnson, has now joined an effort to potentially buy the Commanders NFL team. One of Magic's representatives tell us that he is teaming up on the bid with Josh Harris, that's the billionaire co-owner of the 76ers and the New Jersey Devils. Magic is currently a part owner of the Dodgers. And details around the bid are still unknown. Right now we do know Dan Snyder owns the Commanders. He has faced several investigations and scandals, including allegations of fostering a toxic workplace. And last year he indicated that he was taking steps to sell the team. Estimates suggest any deal would have to be between $5 billion to $7 billion.

LEMON: Love, love, love Magic Johnson.


LEMON: Magic and his wife Cookie and son EJ, they're just a fantastic family. But I love Magic Johnson. He's an amazing businessman as well.

COLLINS: Well, and it's a collective feeling, I think, in Washington, that team needs some revitalization.

LEMON: Oh, yes.

COLLINS: Stadium. Everything. People want to be able to go to those games and have fun.

LEMON: And Magic could help. Let's hope so. All right.

So, right now, New York and D.C. bracing for possible protests ahead of a potential Donald Trump indictment. Can you believe that? Look at the preparations underway in these two cities, right? You see those gates and barricades. It's all about a hush money probe. Hush money probe. The latest details. Stay with us.