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All Three Men Guilty In Killing Of Ahmaud Arbery; Prosecutors Tell Trump Org Exec He Likely Won't Be Charged; Holiday Getting Off To Wet, Chilly Start In Parts Of U.S. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired November 25, 2021 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Thursday, November 25. I'm John Berman. Brianna is off this morning. Chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is here.


Happy Thanksgiving to you.


BERMAN: The reward for all the hard work and reporting you do at the White House is you get to work this holiday morning. I'm grateful that you're here, so thank you.

COLLINS: Of course.

BERMAN: This morning, the nation reflecting on a verdict that the family of Ahmaud Arbery once feared might never come. Three white men convicted of murder.


JUDGE TIMOTHY WALMSLEY, SUPERIOR COURT, STATE OF GEORGIA: "We, the jury, find the defendant, Travis McMichael, guilty."



BERMAN: You heard that word "guilty" from the judge 23 times. All three defendants guilty of murdering an unarmed black jogger. Their self-defense claim dismantled by the prosecutors. They now face the possibility of life in prison.

COLLINS: And you heard someone there become emotional in the courtroom after the judge read the first guilty verdict. That was Ahmaud Arbery's father. And the judge had him removed as he read the rest of the verdict.

Arbery's mother was also in the courtroom and in tears as the verdict was read. She later thanked supporters outside the courthouse.


WANDA COOPER-JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: I thank each and every one of you who fought this fight with us. It's been a long fight. It's been a hard fight. But God is good. For those who marched, those who prayed -- most of all, the ones who prayed.


COLLINS: Prosecutors insist they were confident that the nearly all- white jury would come to the right decision, and that the verdict was based purely on facts and evidence.

BERMAN: The attorney for William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., the defendant who videotaped the murder, doesn't see it that way. He says he plans to appeal.

Our Ryan Young is on the ground in Brunswick, Georgia.

Ryan, I imagine this morning so much emotion over this verdict. This was so much for this community.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely, John. First of all, good morning and happy Thanksgiving to you.

And you can only imagine what this was like. So many of us were wondering whether the holiday was going to play in this decision.

There was so much tension in the city. In fact, when they were getting ready to read the verdict, everyone was outside of that courthouse, hovering around their phones, listening to the verdict bit by bit, yelling each time the word was read out, "guilty."


WALMSLEY: I understand you have reached a verdict as to each defendant.

YOUNG (voice-over): The jury handed over a folder holding their decision, ending 11 hours of deliberation over two days.

WALMSLEY: "Count one, malice murder. We, the jury, find the defendant, Travis McMichael, guilty. Count two, felony murder. We, the jury, find the defendant, Travis McMichael, guilty. Count three, felony murder. We, the jury, find he defendant, Travis McMichael, guilty."

YOUNG: Travis McMichael guilty on all nine counts of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while jogging outside Brunswick, Georgia, last year. The judge asked Arbery's father to leave the courtroom after he cheered the first guilty verdict for McMichael.

Next the verdicts for McMichael's father, Gregory McMichael.

WALMSLEY: "Count two, felony murder. We, the jury, find the defendant, Greg McMichael, guilty."

YOUNG: He was found guilty on eight counts and not guilty on one count of malice murder.

William Bryan, the last defendant to hear his fate. He filmed the disturbing video showing Arbery's final moments from his pickup truck.

WALMSLEY: "Count three, felony murder. We, the jury, find the defendant, William R. Bryan, guilty."

YOUNG: Bryan was found guilty of six of the nine counts against him but not guilty of malice murder, one felony murder charge and aggravated assault with a firearm.

As the judge read the convictions, Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper- Jones, listened from the public gallery in tears.

Outside the courthouse, supporters of the Arbery family emotional about the decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today, justice was served.

YOUNG: The three defendants say they chased Arbery down, because they were trying to make a citizen's arrest, claiming they believed Arbery was behind a series of burglaries in the neighborhood after seeing a video of him trespassing at a construction site of a home in the weeks ahead of the fatal shooting.

After their convictions, the McMichaels and Bryan left the courthouse wearing handcuffs.

Meantime, the Arbery family shared their gratitude with a crowd of supporters.

COOPER-JONES: I just want to say, thank you, guys.


COOPER-JONES: Thank you. Thank each and every one of you who fought this fight with us. It's been a long fight. It's been a hard fight.

In our prayers, which -- You know him as Ahmaud. I know him as Quez.


JONES: He will now rest in peace.


YOUNG: Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski also getting cheers as she had her term to speak.

LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts --


DUNIKOSKI: -- based on the evidence.


DUNIKOSKI: And that was our goal, was to bring that to that jury so that they could do the right thing.

YOUNG: She told the jury in her closing that the defense claims of a citizen's arrest were invalid, because they had not witnessed a crime; and said they couldn't claim self-defense, because they instigated the confrontation.


DUNIKOSKI: I wanted to make sure that the jury understood that the self-defense case was absolute garbage. That was not what took place. And I was doing my best in the moment to dismantle it.

YOUNG: President Joe Biden also weighed in on the outcome of the trial in a statement, writing, "Nothing can bring back Mr. Arbery back to his family and to his community, but the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished. While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough."

While Arbery's mother says she's thankful, another morning and holiday without her son will be difficult.

COOPER-JONES: This is the second Thanksgiving without Ahmaud. But at the same time, this is the first Thanksgiving that we'll have with justice for Ahmaud.

YOUNG: His family says they have hope Arbery can be remembered for how he lived and not only for the way he died.

THEAWANZA BROOKS, AHMAUD ARBERY'S AUNT: Ahmaud was an amazing young man. He had a heart of gold, a smile that lit up a room. He was a giver.

The world should know that Ahmaud's death was not in vain and that we will continue to scream his name until we leave this earth.


YOUNG: John, you think about all the pressure that was involved in this case. Look, we've been talking for weeks and weeks about this. This community seemed to sort of just let it all go yesterday.

And one other thing that I want to talk about. I got to witness this for myself. Kevin Gough was walking to his car on the way out of here. He was passing a black preacher, who stopped. He said, "Kevin, I still love you." They knew each other. They stopped. They hugged each other, and then they both kind of held each other for a little bit. He goes, "Kevin, we'll talk later."

It was a very interesting thing, to see how this all played out in the end, with both sides sort of walking away with a little something, except for the defense side, obviously. They took a big loss. BERMAN: What a scene that must have been to witness. Ryan Young, we

appreciate the work you've done down there, talking to us about the story and the journey of this community, which really has been remarkable. Thank you.

YOUNG: Thank you.

COLLINS: Joining us now is the founder of the Hatchett Firm and the host of "The Verdict," Judge Glenda Hatchett; and CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie -- Elie Honig.

Judge Hatchett, I'd like to start with you. Just what was your reaction as you saw this verdict read yesterday? The "guilty," "guilty," "guilty," as the judge read what the jury had decided.

JUDGE GLENDA HATCHETT, HOST, "THE VERDICT": I was very pleased. But I have to say that the prosecutors did an amazing job of dismantling the whole notion that this was some kind of valid citizen's arrest and that they could not stand on the defense of self-defense in a situation that they initiated, that they provoked.

I thought the theme about a driveway decision based on assumptions was very, very strong. And so I applaud them.

And I also have to give credit for the state, having the sense to appoint special prosecutors, given the history of the prosecutions -- prosecutors down in the Brunswick area.

BERMAN: Look, they had to take it out of Brunswick, right? Because of -- because of exactly how those prosecutors dealt with this case.


BERMAN: Which is one of the parts of this story that I think some of us had forgotten. That it took so long --

HATCHETT: Exactly.

BERMAN: -- for this even to be charged and arrested. It wasn't until the video was released, a video that was handed over by the defendants, because they thought it would help them.

HATCHETT: Exactly. And I also will say, too, that we have to remember that the D.A., the initial D.A., actually advised McMichael to go home and wash his hands and has now been indicted for interfering with this investigation, which I think speaks volumes about this situation.

And had we had not seen this video, I think we would all agree that this would have never happened, with what happened yesterday.

COLLINS: Well, and Elie, that's been such a big part of this, because trial after trial, case after case in the U.S., we have seen where a video has been critical to the outcome of this. And this, of course, is one of those, where this case has essentially stalled for two months with no arrests until this video had surfaced. And so when you see that and you see what the prosecutors were saying

about this, how they felt like the facts were on their side. But obviously, this video was critical to that verdict from yesterday

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Kaitlan. That's a more and more common phenomenon in the world of criminal justice. More and more, we see videos deciding cases. And that's a good thing. Because what we want our juries to do is to decide on the facts.

And I think what happened in this case is a good example of our jury process, our justice system doing its job, doing it right and effectively. What a judge tells a jury over and over again is you are to shut out all the noise, all the distractions, all the outside influences. Decide this case only on the facts and the law.

And I think if you look at the verdict that this jury returned, it really hews very closely to the specifics of this case. They didn't just wave their hands and say, all guilty, or all not guilty. They delivered separate verdicts as to each of the three defendants. And I think those verdicts really accurately reflect what we see on that video.

HATCHETT: Exactly.

BERMAN: I think it's a really interesting point, Elie, as you look down and what they didn't convict on, in some ways it gives more weight to what they did. It makes some sense. You can see --

HONIG: Exactly.

BERMAN: -- the way that the jury was thinking there.

I want to play some more sound, Judge, if I can, from the prosecution about what they said about this. Let's listen.

HATCHETT: All right.


DUNIKOSKI: The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts.


DUNIKOSKI: Based on the evidence.


DUNIKOSKI: And that was our goal --


DUNIKOSKI: -- was to bring it to that jury so that they could do the right thing. Because the jury system works in this country.


BERMAN: So the prosecutor there, Judge, echoing what you said, that this was a verdict based on the facts.


BERMAN: But I do think we need to knowledge what the concern was among many in the legal community, that maybe that's not how the jury would see it. That this jury, which only had one African-American on it, would be swayed by the appeals, in some cases overt appeals, to race that the defense was making there.


BERMAN: What does it take in this country right now for this type of justice?

HATCHETT: Well, I'll say, again, I applaud the prosecution. But there has been so much distrust, particularly in the black and brown communities in this country, because we haven't seen the kind of justice that we saw yesterday.

But I do think that this jury -- I certainly agree with Elie -- that this jury really took the time to look at each of these -- what you think about nine charges for each of these three men and came up to a just decision.

There was a lot of concern. Initially, the judge articulated the concern about the jury panel being only one African-American man. But these facts and the way that the prosecution approached this case, I thought, was so well done that it would have been practically impossible for them to do anything else, unless they decided categorically to absolutely ignore the law.

I also want to point out, too, that this case has triggered a lot of change in Georgia, which I'm very pleased about. We no longer have that citizen's arrest case -- statute on the books. And we now have a Georgia hate crime law.

And so not the perfect solution. Not anywhere close to where we need to be in this nation. There's so much work to do. But I think that this says a lot about the progress and the steps that we have taken and how much more work needs to be done.

COLLINS: And we know this isn't the road for these three men either. Because they are facing federal hate crimes --


COLLINS: -- early next year.

Judge Hatchett, thank you for joining us this morning, and happy Thanksgiving to you.

HATCHETT: Thank you.

COLLINS: Elie still with us, because we're going to come back to you.

We will be speaking with Ahmaud Arbery's mother in the 8 a.m. hour about the day that she once thought might never come.

Coming up, prosecutors are also telling a Trump Organization exec that they don't plan to bring charges his way, for now.

In a couple of hours the Macy's Day [SIC] Parade is returning to the streets of New York, as well. There will be gigantic balloons, floats, bands, and of course, baby Yoda. Right now, preparations are under way. We will take you there, live.

BERMAN: Our Miguel Marquez playing with the balloons as we speak.

And a brand-new smash-and-grab robbery at an Apple store overnight. The suspects making off with more than $20,000 worth of goods.



BERMAN: New York prosecutors telling a top Trump Organization executive he is safe, for now. The decision not to pursue charges against Matthew Calamari comes as the Manhattan's D.A.'s office intensifies its criminal investigation of the Trump business in other ways.

CNN's Kara Scannell, who's been all over this story, joins me, early on this Thanksgiving morning, with this important reporting -- Kara.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, so we have learned that the Manhattan district attorney's office, which is investigating the Trump Organization, has told one of its top executives, someone who's still loyal to the former president, Matthew Calamari, that they will not bring criminal charges against him, for now.

He is under investigation as part of this off-the-books compensation scheme. The question, whether he paid the appropriate taxes on corporate apartments, company cars.

This indicates that they're not trying to get him to flip. Because you'll remember, with Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer, they really were pressuring him to try to cooperate. He didn't. He was charged with this tax fraud scheme, along with the Trump Organization. They both have pleaded not guilty.

So this indicates prosecutors are really shifting away from that tax investigation and back to the original focus, which has been valuations.

How did the Trump Organization value certain of its properties: office buildings, hotels, golf courses? And the issue here is, were they giving banks, lenders, you know, even when they're trying to get tax deductions, were they inflating the value of those assets? And then those same assets, were they then giving an artificially low value when it came time to pay taxes?

Now, this investigation's been going on for years. And the Manhattan D.A., Cyrus Vance Jr., his term is up in five weeks. So the clock is ticking on -- you know, because he has wanted to make a decision on this before he's left office. Now, it's not clear if he will. But we're in the crunch time here.

And this investigation has been beset with delays. Remember, they went to the Supreme Court twice to try to get Trump's accounting firm records. And they did win them, and they got them.

There's a current ongoing fight that's under seal over a subpoena to the Trump Organization. So, you know, there's a lot that's still at stake here.

These cases are very difficult to bring. So if Vance doesn't make a decision in the next five weeks, then that will fall to his successor, the new D.A., who will be Alvin Bragg. He is an experienced prosecutor, worked at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan and also at the New York Attorney General's Office.


BERMAN: Do you know if he wants this on his plate or if he will pursue it as passionately as Cyrus Vance did?

SCANNELL: I mean, it's always an interesting question. You know, this will be the case as more of Vance's legacy and having to come into something new.

Now, everyone that I've spoken to who has worked with Alvin Bragg, who knows him very well, said that he will take a fresh look at this. He will, you know, not look at this through a political lens. And that he will apply all of these judgments, as he had over his career, to look at this evidence.

But you know, it is an interesting question. Because will he want this to be something that will define his early days in office?

BERMAN: Kara Scannell, thank you so much for that reporting. Happy Thanksgiving.

SCANNELL: Happy Thanksgiving.

COLLINS: Let's bring back in CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Elie, what's your reaction to this news that Calamari seems to be safe right now?

HONIG: Kaitlan, it tells me that the tax fraud investigation was largely a dud. If they don't have the goods to charge Matthew Calamari, there's no way they're going to have the goods to charge Donald Trump or any of the Trump children. It looks like all they're going to get out of that is the charge against Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization.

And the charge against Allen Weisselberg looks to be well-supported. But frankly, if he gets convicted, he has the chance to not even go to prison, given the nature of the charges in New York state. And then the indictment of the Trump Organization sounds like

something. But nobody, no individual can go to prison when a corporation is indicted. So it looks to me like that part of the case, the tax fraud part of the case, is really at a dead end.

COLLINS: Yes, and so Kara said they're kind of returning to the initial part of it, which is essentially, did he defraud potential lenders by overinflating the value of his properties? That seems to be pretty difficult to prove, potentially.

And I think what she said about the timeline is really interesting. Cyrus Vance, the district attorney in Manhattan, did not seek a fourth term. And he is -- essentially, his window is closing to work on this. So what do you predict when it comes to the timeline, based on these developments?

HONIG: Yes. So Alvin Bragg, who's taking over as the D.A., starting in January, I should say, is a former colleague of mine, a personal friend of mine. People should know that.

But Cy Vance is going to leave Alvin Bragg in a difficult position here. If I'm going in as the D.A., and this case is still unresolved and still out there, I'm thinking, boy, thank you for leaving me with this mess.

Now, as to the inflation and deflation of assets part of the case, like you said, Kaitlan, easier said than done. Easier said than proved as a prosecutor. It's not enough to just say, Well, they had this building. They valued it high over here, and they valued it low over here.

You have to show that a person, anyone you want to charge, specifically knew about that and was part of it. And I don't see how they get there on Donald Trump. Now, we know he's not an emailer. We know he's not a texter. There's not going to be some smoking gun document. And they don't appear to have a cooperator who's in position to do that.

COLLINS: Elie Honig, thank you for joining us and sharing your insights. And I hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

HONIG: Thanks. You too, Kaitlan.

BERMAN: So who will show up at the Thanksgiving parade today? Snoopy, baby Yoda, real human beings? Right now, preparations are underway. Miguel Marquez is sucking helium as we speak. We will take you there live.

COLLINS: Overnight, there was another smash-and-grab robbery at a Nordstrom in California. This time, the suspects pepper-sprayed a security guard. What's behind the troubling new trend.


[06:28:17] COLLINS: The holidays getting off to a wet and chilly start in parts of the country. Well, some people in New York City are hoping the weather will cooperate for the Macy's Day [SIC] Parade .

Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, joins us now with the holiday forecast. Jennifer, what are you seeing out there?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Kaitlan, good news for New Yorkers. I think the parade is going to go off without a hitch, as far as the weather is concerned.

There is a warming trend across the East, despite temperatures starting out in the 30s and 40s. There is a big shot of cold air, though, across portions of the Upper Midwest and the Plains.

This weather is brought to you by Servpro, making -- helping make fire and water damage like it never even happened.

So let's get to the radar. You can see that rain pushing through the Mississippi River Valley. That is going make its way to the East Coast. But not today.

We are going to wait until Friday and Saturday. So by the time you are returning home for Thanksgiving, that's where we could see a little bit of a headache.

But let's focus on today, with temperatures topping out at 52 degrees in New York City. During the parade, temperatures will remain in the 40s. Winds will be light. So those balloons will be able to fly high.

As you head into the weekend, though, we are going to look at another storm system. It could bring snow to portions of the Northeast and New England. This is Sunday. And you can see the possibility of snow across portions of the Northeast, and some of those big cities could be impacted -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Good. Hopefully that weather will stay good for the Macy's Day [SIC] Parade. Jennifer Gray, thank you for joining us this morning.

GRAY: Oh, well (ph).

BERMAN: And this morning, that parade does return to its pre-pandemic form, with high-flying balloons, floats and people in the crowd. Lots and lots of people.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is live on the parade route. Before we get to this report, Miguel, how many years in a row is this for you?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I've done many years. Six, seven, eight years.