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New Day Saturday

Magnitude 4.4 Earthquake Rattles Los Angeles Area; Setback for White House as FDA Board Rejects Boosters for General Public, Recommends for Ages 65+ and High-Risk Only; U.S. Military Admits 10 Civilians were Killed in Kabul Airstrike; South Carolina Lawyer Accused of Plotting His Own Death Released on $20k Bail. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired September 18, 2021 - 06:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. I'm Boris Sanchez.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christi Paul. So good to see you. You know, if you're over 65 or at risk for severe illness, you could be eligible soon for COVID booster shots. Why the recommendation, though, falls short of the White House plan to get booster shots to everyone.

SANCHEZ: Plus, D.C. on high alert. A rally in support of insurrectionists stirring fears of violence at the Capitol. We'll take you to Capitol Hill and hear from officials that are taking extra steps to avoid a repeat of January 6th.


GENERAL KENNETH F. MCKENZIE JR., COMMANDER, UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND: And as the combatant commander, I am fully responsible for this strike and its tragic outcome.


PAUL: The U.S. military admitting that it killed 10 civilians in a drone strike in Kabul last month. How the deadly mistake happened and the questions it raises about so-called "over-the-horizon strikes."

SANCHEZ: Plus, a tragic saga. The strange case of a prominent attorney that allegedly hired a hit man to murder him all for insurance money. Why that case is raising questions about links between that family and other mysterious deaths.

We are so glad that you're waking up with us this Saturday, September 18th. Good morning, Christi. How you doing?

PAUL: Good morning to you. And you?

SANCHEZ: You know, hanging in there. Got my apple juice ready to start the day.

PAUL: It's 6:00 A.M. on a Sunday morning and we already have makeup on, but, hey, what the heck?

SANCHEZ: Hey, here we are. We start this morning with some news out of southern California.

PAUL: Yes.

SANCHEZ: They got a bit of a scare last night, a 4.4 magnitude earthquake striking the area according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake was felt throughout the Los Angeles area and some surrounding cities.

PAUL: You know, some people were reporting feeling a jolt ranging from a moment to as much as 10 seconds. So far, no immediate injuries or significant damage being reported there, but the Los Angeles Fire Department says they are in earthquake emergency mode. They're patrolling the area with vehicles and helicopters just in case they come upon any emergencies.

Now, vaccine advisors to the FDA voted yesterday to recommend COVID-19 booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine specifically for anyone 65 years and older and for those at high risk of severe illness.

SANCHEZ: Notably, the panel overwhelmingly rejected Pfizer's application to give boosters to everyone 16 and older. That decision is at odds with the Biden administration's initial plan to start administering boosters to the general public, a plan that was supposed to roll out just days from now. Officials later clarified that any action would depend on a sign-off from the FDA and the CDC.

PAUL: Now, that also comes as hospitals across the southeast are on short supply of staff and ICU beds. Take a look at the map there. You can see the states that are in some dire situations right now. Alabama, for instance, seeing coronavirus deaths on the rise.


DR. SCOTT HARRIS, STATE HEALTH OFFICER, ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: ICU beds are still more than maxed out. You know, we still have more patients requiring critical care than we have ICU beds. We also are continuing to have double-digit numbers of deaths, which accounts for some of the decline in hospital numbers.


SANCHEZ: Yes. It's important to remember so much of this is preventable. Case in point, only 41 percent of Alabama residents have received both doses of the vaccine. CNN's Nadia Romero has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know that there may be differing opinions.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (Voice over): After a long day of sometimes contentious debate, advisers to the Food and Drug Administration on Friday rejected Pfizer's request at a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine to everyone 16 and older.


ROMERO (Voice over): Instead, voting to recommend emergency use authorization of a booster for people 65 and older and those at high risk.

HAYES: We do have a unanimous 18 out of 18 who voted yes.

ROMERO (Voice over): Regardless of today's outcome, one public health expert says the booster debate is just a distraction to the real problem -- the unvaccinated.

DR. ALI KHAN, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER COLLEGE OF PUBLIC HEALTH DEAN: Two-thousand people dying a day, currently still about 100,000 people hospitalized. So the focus should be on the 67 million people who've not been vaccinated. They're the ones driving this pandemic, not those who've already been fully vaccinated.

ROMERO (Voice over): The Biden administration doubling down on its plan to mandate vaccinations for employees of large businesses and federal workers.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: That means more Americans getting back to work. It means safer schools and healthier families.

ROMERO (Voice over): COVID in the classrooms now putting our nation's children at risk as school districts face virus outbreaks, sending kids back to remote learning. One Metro Atlanta school district becomes the first in Georgia to mandate all teachers and staff must get vaccinated with just a few exemptions to the rule.


And with Georgia governor Brian Kemp using his power to try to limit mask and vaccine mandates, some speculate the district could face lawsuits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no reason to sue them. For what? It's to protect yourself and the kids. So there's no reason to sue. They'll put something else. Then you going to find another job that you got to get vaccinated. So what you going to do?

ROMERO (Voice over): In Texas, state leaders hoping iconic Big Tex welcomes back a new sense of normalcy after the state fair was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. Now, Big Tex and the fair back this year.

SUZANNE BRENNAN FIRSTENBERG, ARTIST: I was outraged at the devaluation of the lives of the elderly and lives of color.

ROMERO (Voice over): The toll of the pandemic is front and center at an art installation in Washington D.C. commemorating the Americans who died due to COVID-19.

ARCHIE THE MESSENGER, POET: Sometimes our loved ones leave us quickly like a thief in the night.

ROMERO (Voice over): Nadia Romero, CNN, Atlanta.


SANCHEZ: Thanks to Nadia for that report. Let's bring in public health physician Dr. Chris Pernell. She's a fellow at the American College of Preventive Medicine. She also participated in the Moderna vaccine trial after she lost her father to COVID-19. Dr. Pernell, always a pleasure to have you on. Appreciate your expertise. I want to get your immediate reaction to the FDA making this decision to approve the booster shots for people 65 and older, but not for everyone as the Biden administration had initially planned.

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Morning, Boris. The FDA advisory committee, I think, got it right. They were accountable to the science. We should only approve what the science is very conclusive about or authorize what the science only shows that there is a greater benefit than there is risk. So I believe the FDA panel got it right at this time and I couldn't double down or emphasize or impress anymore that the greatest priority is getting those who are unvaccinated vaccinated. We can do both, but we have to right-size our priorities.

SANCHEZ: Let's talk about that. We actually have a graphic to share with our viewers that shows the disparity between hospitalizations. The vast majority of COVID hospitalizations happen among the unvaccinated, not the vaccinated. Dr. Pernell, I feel like we've had this conversation so many times. What more needs to be done to get shots in the arms of those who are still hesitant at this point?

PERNELL: Persistence. That's what needs to be done. We cannot let up. We are in this for the long haul, not until we can round a significant corner, which I don't think we're at yet.

Look, as long as we have this significant amount of the population that's unvaccinated, this pandemic will rage. As long as this pandemic will rage, you will see health systems under threat, health systems that are vulnerable and overwhelmed and that means people who need to use the hospital, especially those who need critical care, they will be vulnerable and at risk because they make -- there may not be resources to treat them.

So we've got to emphasize that those access issues have been appropriately dealt with and handled and we got to continue to have those conversations and have those conversations with the credible messengers that community is willing to listen to.

SANCHEZ: And you saw it there, people that are unvaccinated 17 times more likely to wind up hospitalized than people who are vaccinated. I'm curious, from your perspective, I've heard it said from some doctors that there's hesitation to treat the unvaccinated considering that now people who are suffering from routine medical ailments are struggling to get care because ICUs and hospitals are overwhelmed. What's your perspective on that, on perhaps limiting the amount of unvaccinated people getting care to help others who may need it?

PERNELL: Look, I'm very concerned about those who delay or those who avoid care or those who can't get care because of the surge on hospitals treating those with coronavirus, but never can we allow the decision not to get vaccinated to become a barrier to receiving treatment.

I'm very, very concerned that if that becomes the standard, then those who are going to be disproportionately impacted are persons of color, historically excluded and stigmatized community, low income communities, communities in rural areas in geographic distribution. So while our systems are taxed, this cannot become a survival of the fittest because no one wins when this is a survival of the fittest. Our situations only get worse.

SANCHEZ: Yes. So important not only to make sure that people have access to the vaccine, but also access to the right information to get them, you know, where they need to be. We appreciate you sharing the right information with us this morning, Dr. Chris Pernell. Thank you, as always, for the time.

PERNELL: Thank you.


SANCHEZ: Of course. A quick programming note to share with you. You can join Dr. Sanjay Gupta as he talks with scientists about the origins of COVID-19. Did it start naturally in a wet market or did it occur as the result of a lab leak? A new CNN special report tomorrow night at 8:00 P.M.

PAUL: Right now, there are security preparations going on in Washington for a far-right rally. The ralliers today supporting the rioters from January 6th. We're going to tell you what officials are doing.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Plus, a deadly mistake. The U.S. military says a drone strike in Kabul killed 10 civilians, including seven children. We're going to break down how this operation could have gone so horribly wrong. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: Just a few hours from now, crowds are set to descend on Washington D.C. for the Justice for J6 rally.


This is an event in support of the rioters, the insurrectionists, who were arrested for storming the Capitol on January 6th.

PAUL: Yes. The organizer of the rally is a former Donald Trump campaign staffer. He told CNN earlier this week that the event will feature, quote, "A largely peaceful crowd." Now, law enforcement officials have heard some chatter, so they are taking no risks here. CNN's Pete Muntean is in D.C. with more. I know that it looks like a fortress this morning. I wanted to ask you if you can give us any insight into this quote that he's saying it will be a largely peaceful crowd. Does he expect pockets not to be peaceful?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, remember, the big difference here, Christi, that on January 6th, Congress was in session. This time around, that is not the case and police insist they have a very strong plan in place to tamp down any sort of violence. You can see all of the D.C. snowplows that have been coming in here on Third Street in front of the Capitol.

Then there is the concrete barrier, then the bike fence and then the large fence around the Capitol Complex itself. Twenty-five agencies have been involved in planning for this day. It is Capitol police responsible for protecting the building, it is D.C. police responsible for protecting the streets and the surrounding neighborhoods here.

The National Guard has been put on standby in case of an emergency. One-hundred unarmed members would come in here. Capitol police chief Tom Manger says they're planning for this for weeks with table top exercises and he says they're taking any threats and any intelligence very seriously this time around.


CHIEF THOMAS MANGER, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: We would be foolish not to take seriously the intelligence that we have at our disposal. How credible it is, how likely it is, people can make those judgments, but the fact of the matter is that we are hearing -- we are hearing some chatter that I think would be responsible for us to plan the way we've been planning and put the precautions in place.


MUNTEAN: Capitol police chief Tom Manger says the goal here is to protect everybody's free speech. There will be three counterprotest groups that are planned to be here and he says the biggest risk is violent clashes between two groups on different sides. Now, the question is will this so-called Justice for January 6th rally be well attended? Seven-hundred people on the permit, 500 according to organizers registered online. We will see if it's a dud, Christi and Boris, or if all of this planning was just overkill.

PAUL: You know what? A dud would not be a bad thing by any means.

SANCHEZ: Right. A hundred percent.

PAUL: Pete Muntean, thank you so much. We appreciate the report.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Pete. Coming up, the Pentagon is apologizing after a drone strike in Kabul meant to target ISIS-K fighters instead kills 10 civilians, including children. How it went wrong and what military officials are saying about it now.



PAUL: Twenty-two minutes past the hour. It's good to have you with us here. The Pentagon says that it will continue or it will conduct a thorough review of the investigation into that drone strike that turned out to be a horrible tragedy.

SANCHEZ: Yes. This is just heartbreaking. The head of U.S. Central Command admits that 10 civilians were killed in the strike in Kabul in late August, including seven kids. General Kenneth McKenzie says the U.S. struck what he thought was an ISIS-K target, but it was actually an aid worker and his family.


MCKENZIE: This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport, but it was a mistake and I offer my sincere apology. As the combatant commander, I am fully responsible for this strike and its tragic outcome. While the team conducted the strike did so in the honest belief that they were preventing an imminent attack on our forces and civilian evacuees, we now understand that to be incorrect.


PAUL: CNN correspondent Anna Coren is with us live. Anna, listen, you and your team, we know, have investigated this strike prior to the U.S. even admitted that it was a mistake. What have you learned about what happened here?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Christi, Boris, we know that the U.S. military was on heightened alert obviously after that airport attack where a suicide bomber killed those 13 U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans, but this drone strike was based on wrong intelligence, the wrong car, the wrong target. Basically they got this operation wrong from the get-go.

The military has told us that they were listening to intelligence on a ISIS safe house, what they believed was an ISIS safe house, and it just so happened that 43-year-old aid worker and father of seven Zamari Ahmadi drove his white Toyota Corolla to this house to pick up a laptop. It was his boss's laptop. He had a colleague in the car, they picked up this laptop and then from that moment, the U.S. military started watching this car.

They watched it for the next eight hours as Zamari Ahmadi went along his day, picking up more colleagues, stopping at a cafe, they went to the office. We have seen the CCTV footage of what transpired that day, but it was when the car left the compound of this NGO, U.S. based NGO, that he worked at where they were filling up water containers. He had no running water at his home. He'd been doing this for months.

So what the U.S. military was seeing from the sky was men lifting heavy packages into the car. The U.S. military thought that these were explosives when in actual fact they were merely water containers.


He then drops his colleagues off on the way home, he drives into the family compound and a U.S. official with knowledge of the operation told us that they watched the compound for four to five minutes before they decided that this was the place to strike. They believed that he posed an imminent threat and that this was a safe place to do so.

By firing that Hellfire missile on that car, not only did they kill this aid worker and two other men in the compound, they killed seven children, three of whom were toddlers.

SANCHEZ: You have to imagine -- really you can't imagine what American allies in Afghanistan, after witnessing all that they have and getting this news, you can't imagine what they feel like right now, especially having put their lives at risk to advance the American cause there. Anna Coren, thank you so much for bringing us that news.

PAUL: Anna, thank you. Well, in a speech last month, President Biden hailed the drone strike as a success.

SANCHEZ: Yes. White House reporter Jasmine Wright joins us now live. Jasmine, the strike, as Anna pointed out, was meant as a retaliation for a terrorist attack that killed more than a dozen U.S. service members. How's the White House now responding to this failure?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Boris and Christi. Look, this is no news that any White House wants to get, that the U.S. military, when trying to combat terror abroad, makes a fatal error that involves the death of several innocent children. Now, since the news broke yesterday, the White House has been particularly silent on this issue, allowing really the U.S. military to do the talking, but let's make no mistake about this, this is -- this is going to be consequential for the president for two reasons.

First, this is the last known missile fired from the U.S. during the Afghanistan withdrawal, really adding just another stain to the chaotic exit from the country, from that 20-year war. And, secondly, it calls into question the military's ability to really do those over- the-horizon attacks, something that -- those unmanned drone strikes that the U.S. does when they no longer have a presence on the ground.

And it's something that President Biden himself touted repeatedly during his defense of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and saying that we're able to withdraw because of these capabilities to combat terror remotely and even after this exact strike that is now in question, as you said, Boris, President Biden touted the success. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've shown that capacity just in the last week. We struck ISIS-K remotely days after they murdered 13 of our service members and dozens of innocent Afghans.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WRIGHT: So now we know that this was not an attack on ISIS-K, but instead it killed an innocent aid worker and his family and we know that President Biden was briefed on the findings of this military investigation before the findings became public yesterday, but we are still waiting to hear a response from the White House, Boris, Christi.

SANCHEZ: We know you'll keep us posted once it comes down. Jasmine Wright from the White House, thank you so much. Let's discuss this with CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton. He's with us this morning. Thank you, Colonel Leighton, for joining us. We appreciate having you.

What really stands out to me about this incident is the number of statements that have come, for example, from the Joint Chiefs chairman Mark Milley describing this as a righteous strike, the Pentagon saying days after the attack that the threat emanating from the location of the strike was, quote, "very real, very specific and very imminent." Those that were killed did not appear to be linked to ISIS at all. Most of them were children. How could this go so wrong?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Boris, good morning. There are a lot of ways that these things can go wrong and, you know, we're kind of seeing this unravel in real time, you know, as more information comes out and, you know, reports like Anna Coren's become part of the record of what actually happened and obviously the military is, you know, doing its own assessment of what went wrong.

I think that the big issue here is that intelligence -- you know, we have to realize that intelligence is not a perfect art, it is not a perfect science. It is a blending of those and there are a lot of things that we often don't know about a particular target. For example, when we went after Osama Bin Laden, which was a successful operation, that was basically a 50 percent certainty that we would get be able to get him.


So, that wasn't only 50 percent chance that we had the right target even with a lot of Intelligence on that target. When it comes to this really tragic case involving the Ahmadi family in Kabul, it really is one of those cases where there's just so much information that cannot be distilled in a real coherent fashion in such a short period of time. Yesterday, General McKenzie mentioned that they had been following the car for eight hours, and that's really not enough time to develop a pattern of life and understanding of who these people are and, you know, what they're really doing.

And that, I think, is a real issue here. It's -- you know, there's a limitation to what we can do with these over the horizon capabilities.

SANCHEZ: And given the limitations that you're describing, how confident are you going forward that as President Biden had previously pointed out, that the U.S. does have strong over-the-horizon capabilities in targeting terrorists?

LEIGHTON: Well, it depends on the specific target set. In some places, we have some really good Intelligence and we know who the bad actors are that we're going after, but in many places, we don't have that ironclad Intelligence. And that's the real problem here. And you know, you look at a city like Kabul, very crowded in certain areas, you know, with safe houses of ISIS-K sympathizers and ISIS-K operatives interspersed with innocent civilians, and that is the challenge that we're going to be facing.

So, my confidence level is actually fairly low that we can get this right because it depends on the quality of not only the Intelligence we collect, but how we analyze that Intelligence. And if we don't analyze it properly and don't understand what's going on in the daily lives of these people, then we risk making mistakes like this. And it's a very dangerous, very slippery slope to be on.

SANCHEZ: And colonel, what would you say to those allies in Afghanistan of the United States who have risked so much in advancing America's interests in that country, and also to allies in the region where being friendly with the United States is often really putting yourself at risk.

LEIGHTON: Yes, that's -- you know, this is one of the big vulnerabilities that we have. We have to treat these allies exceedingly well. They have risked everything. They're continuing to risk everything because of their service to the United States. There are many of them that are still waiting to get out of Afghanistan and trying to find ways to do that, and there's no discernible help from the U.S. government in many cases to make that happen and that needs to change. We need to help these people. We need to get them out of there.

When it comes to this specific incident, you know, first of all, we need to make sure that they understand that we know we made a mistake, that we are truly sorry for what happened and that we don't want anything like this to happen again. We depend on people like our allies to make sure that these mistakes don't happen, or at least to help us in that regard. And, you know, if you don't have them and if you can't access them, then it becomes far more likely that we made these mistakes. So, we have to realize that we're dependent on them and we have to treat them with the respect that they deserve.

SANCHEZ: And simultaneously, incidence like these will become fodder, right? For ISIS-K and other terrorist groups to go after --

LEIGHTON: Absolutely --

SANCHEZ: The United States with propaganda. Colonel Cedric Leighton, we always appreciate your time, thank you sir.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Boris, thank you so much.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Coming up, it's like something out of a crime novel. Mystery killings, stolen money, drug addiction. Next, how a prominent South Carolina attorney is at the center of what appears to be a soap opera. Stay with us.


PAUL: Disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh is out of jail on a $20,000 bond. He's embroiled in this scandal and it involves theft, drug abuse, a botched suicide attempt, insurance fraud, after admitting that he arranged for his own killing so his only surviving son could collect $10 million in life insurance money.

SANCHEZ: There is yet another bizarre twist in the story because now state investigators have opened up two other criminal investigations, including one into the 2018 death of the Murdaugh family's long time's housekeeper. CNN's Dianne Gallagher is in South Carolina with the latest.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prominent South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh in a tan jumpsuit, hands and ankles shackled appeared before a judge Thursday before being released on a $20,000 personal recognizance bond to check back into an out-of-state Detox facility.

DICK HARPOOTLIAN, ALEX MURDAUGH'S ATTORNEY: He has fallen from grace. It has been a tremendous -- I mean, before any of that falling happened, his wife and son were brutally murdered, and that has had an extraordinary effect on him.

GALLAGHER: Becoming emotional at times as his lawyer argued, he'd be released on bond.

HARPOOTLIAN: He cooperated to the extent he cooperates, given his current mental and physical condition.

GALLAGHER: The 53-year-old is now charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report for his role in allegedly conspiring with a former client to shoot and kill him.


His attorneys say the shooting was a scheme to leave behind $10 million in a life insurance policy for his only surviving son. But Murdaugh survived. Instead, attorneys say it left Murdaugh with a fractured skull and brain bleed. The man accused of shooting Murdaugh in the head, Curtis Edward Smith also appeared in court, Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to listen to the third offender(ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm probably going to look for one, yes.

GALLAGHER: Smith posting his $55,000 bond for several charges including assisted suicide and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, leaving jail hours later. The alleged self-arranged attempt on Murdaugh's life seemingly a desperate move amidst personal turmoil, including financial troubles. One day before the September 4th shooting, Murdaugh resigned from his law firm after being accused of misappropriating funds which his lawyer say were used to fuel a drug addiction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are they breathing?

MURDAUGH: No, ma'am.

GALLAGHER: An addiction they claim was worsened by the June 7th murders of Murdaugh's wife and son at the family's estate. Their murders are still unsolved.

HARPOOTLIAN: He has had a tremendous opioid addiction. The death of his wife and son have put him over the edge in terms of that addiction, and that is why one of the major reasons he was considering having himself killed.

GALLAGHER: State investigators are also opening two other investigations linked to information uncovered in the Murdaugh family murders. One, regarding a mysterious 2015 unsolved death of a teen whose body was found on a Hampton County road, and a new criminal investigation into the 2018 death of the Murdaugh family housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. In part, it's due to, quote, "information gathered during the course of our other ongoing investigations involving Alex Murdaugh, Satterfield died from injuries sustained in what was described as a trip and fall accident at the Murdaugh home."

But an autopsy was never done. Hampton County's coroners sent a letter requesting a state investigator re-examine Satterfield's death, noting on the death certificate, the manner of death was ruled natural which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident.

ERIC BLAND, ATTORNEY FOR ESTATE OF MURDAUGH FAMILY HOUSEKEEPER: Certainly, there were questions by my clients because after she unfortunately fell, she was air-lifted to a hospital and she had a traumatic brain injury. She never was able to communicate with them for the next three weeks until she died.

GALLAGHER: Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Hampton County, South Carolina.


PAUL: CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson with us now. Joey, oh, my gosh, so much to unpack on this one. Now, attorneys for Murdaugh say the scheme was, quote, "attempt on his part to do something to protect his child." Alex Murdaugh was afraid of something. So, talk to us about that first and what you're reading into all of this.

JOEY JACKSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Sure, Christi, good morning to you. The first thing is, it's just so unusual for your attorney really to go on TV and admit to all of the material elements of the offense. Remember, this attorney who his defense attorney admitted to the fact that he engaged in this conspiracy. What does that mean? An agreement with one other, Mr. Smith, to take his life. He agreed that the motivation that underlie that undertaking, right, was because of this $10 million that was to go to his elder son. He agreed essentially that it was a ruse, initially, that he said on September 4th, he had no clue with respect to what that roadside shooting was all about.

And then later said, well, never mind, I do know what it's about, and it's about me engaging in this insurance fraud scheme. So, all of that makes little sense. I want to make clear, Christi, that while an opioid addiction which his attorney is also out there indicating, all of this goes to mitigation. And what does that mean? It means that if you're proven guilty, you could tell that to the court to attempt not to justify what you did, but to explain, to make it more sympathetic when the attorney talks about in June, his wife and his son were gunned down, when the attorney talks about the opioid addiction.

So, just a very strange set of circumstances which means or indicates to me that there's really not a defense here, and that's why it's surprising.

PAUL: OK, so that is surprising. Let's talk about these three separate investigations now. How does all of this connect and what does it mean for Alex Murdaugh?

JACKSON: Yes, so, you know, Christi, as we look there at the investigation, right, of the long-time housekeeper who apparently in 2018 took a trip and fall, very mysterious, she dies. We know about of course, the son and his wife in June of this past year, 90 days or so ago, they're shot and killed under brutal circumstances. He indicates that he had nothing to do with it, doesn't know what, when, how, who, why?


And so it unravels that. Because remember, everything is about credibility and everything is about what makes sense at the end of the day, what's reasonable. We have someone here who apparently has this addiction and has so many other things going on in his life, he fabricated the September 4th instance where he was to be shot in the head and die for the insurance policy, initially saying I have no clue, and then saying, well, I really do and this is what happened.

So, the police then, right, Christi, would say, well, if you were lying about that, could you be lying also as it relates to the circumstances surrounding your wife and son, we don't know the connection, an answer to your question, but sure seems strange as it does with respect to the housekeeper. So, a lot of dots to connect here. They have not been connected, but SLED, the South Carolina Law Enforcement division is working very hard to do just that.

PAUL: Real quickly, if this -- if this goes to trial and all of this comes into play, when you talk about mitigating factors, how would this speak to a jury, what this man has been through up to this point?

JACKSON: Yes, great question, you know, Christi, on that issue, and that is that, I don't anticipate that it would go to trial only because his attorney is admitting to everything. If it did though -- and you know, we've seen stranger things happen, a jury I think would essentially say, listen, this apparently did happen, but maybe there's excuses for it. But again, it's not a defense to what you did, it just explains your rationale and motivation as to why you did it. And so that's the bigger issue here. So, may not influence a jury or it may, jurors can do whatever they like as you and I both know, Christi, but it could of course influence a judge with respect to sentencing upon a conviction.

PAUL: Very good point there, Joey Jackson, we count on you for all of that. Thank you so much, sir.

JACKSON: Always, thanks, Christi.

PAUL: Thank you.

JACKSON: So, there's still much more ahead on NEW DAY, but first, here's this week's CNN hero.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After surviving prison, you come home thinking you're able to start over. You want to be part of the society, but there's just so many layers of discrimination, boxes, you have to get through just to get an opportunity. Society thinks, oh, you should just go get a job and it's not that easy. And once, you have a record, nothing is set up for them to win.

And up, one, two, right back under. At a second youth foundation, we give formerly incarcerated men and women national certifications and job placements, and booty gyms and corporate health clubs throughout New York City. You got to be thinking outside the box. You can't give someone a mop and say, this is your future, take minimum wage and deal with it.

There you go. You got it. when you provide people with livable wages, they're able to be productive members of society. Look at that belly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm almost there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's why we are a second you. We want to give you your second chance at life.


SANCHEZ: For more on this hero and others, go to



COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to NEW DAY, I'm Coy Wire with today's difference makers. In 2017, Solomon Thomas was a third overall pick in the NFL draft out of Stanford. A year later, his life was turned upside down when his older sister Ella took her own life. In the aftermath, Solomon says he and his family struggled, even acknowledging that at one point he himself didn't want to be alive. Now he and his family are sharing Ella's story and their own which the Thomas family says has provided them with the strength to keep moving forward.


SOLOMON THOMAS, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: I just want people to know it's OK not to be OK. That all the feelings you're feeling throughout the day, whether you're feeling sad, depressed, like anxious, angry, you know, these are feelings of the human experience. And you're not crazy for feeling them. I definitely also feel like it's amplified being a professional football player, we're taught to be tough and get to be these warriors, these gladiators, and you know, we can't show our weaknesses. You can be human and still be sad and be angry, and have these feelings and still be a warrior.

CHRIS THOMAS, SOLOMON THOMAS' FATHER: Every day I think about Ella, every day, I wake up praying, I thank God for the 24 years that we had with Ella, and I wish we didn't have to go through this pain, but as long as we can help make others not go through this pain and help make the defensive line a difference in other people's lives, then I'm OK with it because I feel that we're turning our tragedy into purpose.

S. THOMAS: I didn't want to do anything anymore, right? I didn't want to get out of bed. I didn't want to go to practice. I didn't want to be alive really. You know, I was having a lot of suicidal thoughts. You know, I would be at practice thinking about suicide and not wanting t be here anymore.

MARTHA THOMAS, SOLOMON THOMAS' MOTHER: It's part of our day every day, and sometimes you don't want it to be. Sometimes you just want it to be what it was before, but Ella would want us to do this. Ella cared immensely about other people. She was such a deep giver of love.

C. THOMAS: Even the night that Ella took her life, she was on the phone trying to help somebody else not take their life.

S. THOMAS: You know, that forever has impact on me and how, you know -- you know, I live my life.


In 10 years, I personally have this huge region for the defensive line where we have these clubs in every school in America, where it's a mental health club. And it's like the cool thing to do, is to go to your mental health club after school and talk about your mental health. When I see athletes, you know, especially at the top level, like someone like Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, Kevin Love, when I hear them and see them speak about it, you know, really, motivates me. You know, makes me happy because they're saving so many lives and helping so many athletes and helping so many people.


WIRE: October is national depression and mental health screening month. This is very important. If you or someone you know is struggling, please know that you are not alone, someone is ready to listen. The number for the National Suicide Prevention lifeline is on the screen or you can text, talk to 741741. NEW DAY continues after a short break.