Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Five Ex-Memphis Officers Charged With Murder In Tyre Nichols' Death; Ukraine Says, At Least 11 Killed In New Russian Missile Strikes; Prosecution Wraps Day One Of Witness Testimony In Murdaugh Trial. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 26, 2023 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we're learning new information about the timeline leading up to the confrontation and the crucial moments where prosecutors alleged the officers failed to call for help. This hour, I'll ask the chairman of the Memphis city council how his community is preparing for the release of the footage expected tomorrow evening.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our top story tonight, murder charges in the death of Tyre Nichols, five former police officers now in custody as prosecutors lay out their case for the public.

CNN's Don Lemon is on the ground for us in Memphis. Don, each of these men now facing several very, very serious criminal charges including second-degree murder, you're there on the scene, you're talking to a lot of folks, give us the latest.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Extremely serious charges, second-degree murder as you said, Wolf, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, which is an interesting one, official misconduct and official oppression. Those are the charges that could land these officers in jail for a very long time if they are found guilty in a court of law.

Now, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the TBI, his name is David Rausch, he held a press conference. It was part of a press conference earlier with the district attorney here saying, according to David Rausch, that he found what the officers' actions as it relates to what he saw in the videotape sickening. Watch this.


DAVID RAUSCH, TENNESSEE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION DIRECTOR: Simply put, this shouldn't have happened. I've been policing for more than 30 years. I've devoted my life to this profession. And I'm grieved. Frankly, I'm shocked. I'm sickened by what I saw and what we've learned through our extensive and thorough investigation. I've seen the video, and as D.A. Mulroy stated, you will too. In a word, it's absolutely appalling.


LEMON: Now, some of the attorneys for the men who are accused in the beating death here, they took offense to his language, but he is sticking by what he said. He said he found it appalling, as you heard.

And just moments ago, Wolf, I got off -- by the way that videotape is expected to be released tomorrow evening after 6:00.

I spoke to one of the attorneys. I just got off the phone with one of the attorneys for Desmond Mills. His name is Blake Ballin, the attorney. He thinks that his client, as it relates to his client, that his client is being overcharged. And even though the video is the centerpiece, he believes, of their investigation, he thinks that it will show that his client, there was no reasonable belief that his client's actions would cause death and he believes that will be very difficult to prove in this case, even though that videotape is supposedly, according to people who have watched it, very difficult and very damning for those officers.

BLITZER: Don, I want you to stand by. We're going to get back to you in just a moment. We're also learning new information tonight about the timeline of events leading up to Tyre Nichols' encounter with the Memphis police.

CNN's Nick Valencia has a closer look at those crucial moments.


STEVE MULROY, SHELBY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: If it was a legal detention to begin with, it certainly became illegal at a certain point.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, nearly three weeks after the death of Tyre Nichols following a traffic stop in Memphis, we're learning new details about how this all unfolded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got one male, black running.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Set up a perimeter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) car pulled over. So, he's trying to (INAUDIBLE). We have one running on foot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Run that tag and see what's the address.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's fighting at this time.

VALENCIA: This afternoon, the Shelby County district attorney detailed more of what happened, saying there was an initial traffic stop followed by an altercation involving several officers and Nichols where pepper spray was deployed and Nichols fled.

MULROY: There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols. After some period of time of waiting around afterwards, he was taken away by an ambulance.

VALENCIA: After the incident earlier this month, Memphis police released a statement saying Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving, and that as officers approached the driver of the vehicle, a confrontation occurred and the suspect fled the scene on foot.

The statement said, after another confrontation, Nichols was taken into custody but complained of having shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene. Nichols died three days after that traffic stop from his injuries, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Less than two weeks after the incident, Memphis P.D. fired five officers after an administrative investigation found officers had violated multiple department policies, including excessive use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid.


Two members of the city's fire department were also fired. The police officers fired days before the Nichols family and attorneys were shown the video of the encounter.

RODNEY WELLS, TYRE NICHOLS' STEPFATHER: No father, mother, should have to witness what I saw today.

TONY ROMANUCCI, NICHOLS' FAMILY ATTORNEY: It was an unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes.

VALENCIA: Retired Shelby County Sheriff's Captain Bennie Cobb is a family friend who visited with charged former officer Emmit Martin III, and says Martin was remorseful but defended his use of force.

BENNIE COBB, RETIRED SHELBY COUNTY SHERIFF CAPTAIN: I saw the pain on his face. He said he hadn't slept, you know, in probably five or six days. When he was expressing to me the things that went on, he was teary-eyed.

VALENCIA: Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis was absent from the district attorney's news conference this afternoon. Wednesday, she made her first on camera comments about this case.

CHIEF CERELYN DAVIS, MEMPHIS POLICE: This incident was heinous, reckless and inhumane. And in the vein of transparency, when the video is released in the coming days, you will see this for yourselves.


VALENCIA (on camera): And according to the family friend, officer -- former Officer Martin went on to defend his actions saying that he did what he had to do in order to take Nichols into custody, adding that he used all the recommendations he was taught in his police training.

Clearly, the district attorney there disagrees, Wolf, charging him with second-degree murder among a slew of other charges. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Valencia, thanks for that report, very important indeed.

Right now, I want to bring in our Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Charles Ramsey, CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams and our Senior Political Correspondent Abby Phillip. And Don Lemon is back with us as well.

Chief Ramsey, what does it tell you that all five of these fired police officers have been charged now with murder?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I mean, obviously, and the people that charged, the D.A. certainly saw the video, Dave Rausch from TBI, he saw the video, and the way they described it, those charges are warranted. Now, we haven't seen the video yet but, certainly, what took place that day was totally outside of any policy, any training or anything else. And that's why they're charged criminally.

BLITZER: Yes. Elliot, just how serious legally are these charges and what do you make of everything from second-degree murder to aggravated kidnapping?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, to pick up on everything the chief said, of course, the murder charge is quite significant. That need not even be mentioned. The three charges related to official conduct, the kidnapping, the sort of official misconduct and official oppression, those are really interesting, Wolf, because those go to the manner in which the stop played out.

And I think if you read between the lines there, the prosecutors are clearly saying that, you know, the police behavior was just unlawful and the conduct of the search. So, either they stopped him improperly or stopped him properly and things went south in a manner that was unlawful.

They are -- you know, it's not often that the stop itself or the conduct of the police is itself on trial. You know, it's more than just a homicide here. It's actually an indictment of police behavior more broadly. And so it will be really interesting to see how this video plays out and what, you know, separate from the act of homicide, what transpired that night.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Abby, does the seriousness of these charges against these police officers do anything to tamp down the anger of what's expected to be the very, very disturbing video that will be released tomorrow?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think the seriousness of the charges is responsive not only to what is likely to be seen in the video but also what the community would expect given what we have heard about the video. And on top of that, I think it also reflects what has been many years in recent history in this country of dealing with incidents like this.

This is a police department that clearly has learned some lessons from this process and has tried to move quickly to articulate charges early on even before the video is shown, and I think that that goes a long way. It also goes a long way that officials here have been communicating with the Nichols family and the Nichols family has been very vocal about asking the community to wait for the judicial process to play out and also to be peaceful in the streets.

BLITZER: You know, Don, you're doing a lot of reporting out there, and we're grateful to you for that. You're learning, I understand, about possible opposition to the video's release. What are you learning?

LEMON: Well, it had been asked whether any of the attorneys for the officers, if they would try to fight the release of the videotape because of the possible tainting of a jury pool.


And as I have been speaking to attorneys, they said, well, they don't think that that is a winning battle. They actually think it is a losing battle because the public's right to know outweighs the possible tainting of a jury pool. So, it just would not be something that they would even dare risk in court because it's just a losing battle.

This community has the right to know what happened. The videotape has been said to be released tomorrow evening after 6:00. They believe the videotape will be released. And then once that videotape is released, then they have to start building their case in order to represent their clients.

BLITZER: Good point, Chief Ramsey, I'm curious, how are you reflecting in the fact that all five of these fired police officers in Memphis are African-American and that there were so many people involved and apparently no one intervened or deescalated what was going on?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, the fact that they're African-American doesn't take away from the fact that what they did was just totally out of line and totally inappropriate. You know, race should not matter. People should not die in police custody, period. And if it does happen, then there has to be a very thorough in-depth investigation into why.

You know, sometimes you have to use force to make an arrest. There's no question about that. But, you know, at what point in time does it become excessive, you know? And you look to see whether or not it's necessary, proportional or objectively reasonable.

Now, apparently it's no to all three of those things and that's based on what we're hearing from law enforcement professionals that have been in this business for a long time that have seen the video. And believe me, they know what they're looking at. I've seen hundreds of these things. And, you know, how much is too much and it's not that hard to figure out once you start watching that video, and I think that's what we're going to see tomorrow.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll get a lot of video. In fact, Elliot, we're expecting to see multiple sources of video, about an hour, we're told, documenting this brutal interaction. What specifically will prosecutors need to analyze in that video?

WILLIAMS: Okay. Well, look, let's start with the second-degree murder charge, Wolf. That is going to require proving a knowing killing of another person. That's going to require establishing that the -- this is -- picking up on the chief's point, that the level of force they were using was so excessive and so egregious as to necessarily -- that they would have known they would end in someone's death. So, that's what they're going to have to prove there.

Then on the aggravated kidnapping charge, it's sort of the same thing. It's, where is the point at which detaining a suspect in a manner that would comport with law becomes just holding someone, frankly, violently against their will. And in order to sustain a conviction there, they're going to have to find that -- you know, a jury would have to find that not just was the person being held but they're being held in an improper manner that exceeded the bounds of law.

And then on the other things, of course, it's just, were they -- did they stop or frisk or engage in a manner of police conduct that was just inappropriate. But, really, it's the nature of the assault, which is the word used in the indictment, that is going to help establish or not establish that homicide charge.

BLITZER: And, Don, you're there on the scene for us. What are officials there bracing for tomorrow?

LEMON: Well, listen, they're hoping that there's no violence. There's always a possibility. They prepared for that, but they don't believe at this point considering the way that it was handled by the police department, by the district attorney and so forth, that there is not going to be any violence. Let's pray that that is the case, indeed, the case here, Wolf.

But there's just some new information that I have, three of the officers, I believe, have $250,000 bail. The other two have $350,000 bails. Now, they're trying to gather that -- the money now and through the bonds process and what have you, but speaking to attorneys, they believe it's speaks to the culpability of two of the officers that the actions of two of the officers, they believe those officers may have been more responsible or had more of a role in the beating death of Mr. Nichols. And so their bails have been set at $350,000 rather than the $250,000 that the other three officers' bails are set at.

BLITZER: Yes, interesting indeed. All right, everybody stand by.

Just ahead the chairman of the Memphis city council joins me in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll get his reaction to the indictments and how this city is preparing for release of the dramatic powerful footage. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: More now on our top story, five former Memphis police officers are now in custody as prosecutors unveil murder charges in the death of Tyre Nichols.

Let's discuss with the chairman of the Memphis City Council, Martavius Jones. Chairman, thank you so much for joining us.

First of all, what went through your mind hearing these five fired officers are being charged with second degree murder?

MARTAVIUS JONES, MEMPHIS CITY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN: Well, thank you for having me, Wolf. We -- the city council met on Tuesday and we had members of the public coming down voicing their opinions loudly, I may add, about releasing the video as well as charges. So, although the video will not be released until tomorrow, this will go a long way in sending a message that the officers that were involved in this -- former officers that were involve in this situation will be held accountable for the deeds that they did to Mr. Nichols.

BLITZER: How is the Memphis community, Chairman, preparing for the release of this video, which authorities themselves are calling absolutely appalling?

JONES: Well, I want to thank you and the media for helping us get the message out that there are steps being taken to address this issue. You know, the -- so many times we've had situations where innocent people have died at the hands of law enforcement by something as innocent as a traffic stop and police officers not being held accountable. There are no charges. But in listening to some of the reports today, I didn't have a chance to see all of the press conference but listening to the reports today, the district attorney leveled charges against them that they feel that they can -- that can hold up this a court of law.


We've had too many instances where under the color of blue, people have gotten away with acts as heinous as this and others.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. What will justice, Mr. Chairman, look like for Tyre Nichols?

JONES: Justice will look like the people who are involved in this, and as our police chief indicated last night, there could possibly be other officers held accountable for this situation. Justice looks like they're not getting away with the killing of this man.

You know, I think about it. I'm not that tall, Wolf. I'm 5'7 and I weigh 160 pounds. This man was 150, 6'3, so he's a very slight build, and from the photographs that I've seen, some of these guys were six feet or greater and I would imagine that none of them probably weighed less than 200 pounds. So, to have that type of -- have the type of anger of multiple people to beat on another human being under the color of law, I think that those people really need to be held accountable for their actions.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens. Martavius Jones, the chairman of the Memphis City Council, thank you so much for joining us. I want to get back to our panel right now. And, Abby, let me get back to you first. I want to take a step back. We saw nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd. We all remember that but not much changed since then. Does it feel like we could be seeing a similar outpouring of anger, sadness and frustration right now?

PHILLIP: Well, Wolf, I think that as the councilman said, this situation actually is very different from a lot of the others that we have seen. This is a jurisdiction that moved to fire the officers then show the video to Nichols' family so that they could see for themselves what happened, then we have the charges coming today and the video will be released publicly tomorrow.

That is a chain of events that is designed to be responsive to a desire from the public to have both accountability and to have transparency around this process. And I think for those reasons, we shouldn't assume that there will be violence and we certainly hope that there will not be, but I do think that when people go to the streets, it's often because they want something to happen. And in this case, a lot of the things that they would be seeking to happen are happening and I think that that is one of the reasons why you hear a sense of hope that that what we will see over the next couple of days will be people voicing their concerns peacefully but not violently in the streets.

BLITZER: What would be your advice, Chief Ramsey, and you're the former police chief here in Washington and the former police commissioner in Philadelphia, what would your advice be now? What would community leaders and law enforcement officials need to do to prepare for how people may react when they see this very, very graphic video?

RAMSEY: Well, they do have to be prepared and have enough people on standby, not necessarily visible but certainly on standby, should things go bad. You know, the biggest problem that you have to be concerned about, a majority of people who come out to protest are peaceful. It's a small group that try to hijack a protest and turn it into something violent and ugly. And that actually overshadows the important message that people are trying to get across through protests.

So, you have to be alert and aware of that and not only in Memphis. I mean, we learned from George Floyd that these protests can break out anywhere because people are concerned across the country. I mean, this is a national story and it's going to get national attention across the board. And so it's not just Memphis that needs to be prepared, other cities, as well, need to be prepared.

And so the only thing that I disagree with as far as the city, and I agree with Abby, they've done everything up to this point I think the way it should be done, but releasing the video tomorrow night, in my opinion, it should have been done immediately after the D.A.'s press conference. They should have gotten it out. And to put it out on a Friday especially at night, I don't understand the rationale behind that. Bad news doesn't improve over time. Get it out there. Be available to deal with the consequences and everything that comes up. Putting it out there on a Friday night as if there's going to be a one-day story in Saturday's newspaper, this is -- I just think it's a bad move.

BLITZER: Well, let me get Don Lemon to weigh in. You're there on the ground for us, Don. What are you hearing? What are do you see? What do you think?

LEMON: Well, listen, in defense of my colleague, Abby Phillip, and she doesn't need me to defend her, but I don't think she's saying everything that needs to be done, but I think that most of what the community had wanted, if you looked at those meetings, they were saying we want accountability.


Well, they're getting some accountability because the guys have been fired and they're being charged. The videotape is being released.

And so they're in the process of doing that, not that they've done everything, yes, there can be more transparency. They could have answered more questions today during the press conference, like what Chief Ramsey just said, why is the videotape being released on a Friday night?

I'm sure they had their reasons for it. I would have liked them to explain more why they're doing it when people don't have to go to work the next day. Maybe they feel at this point perhaps that they have done everything that they believe is in their power to try to tamp down the violence and that they're giving people time to absorb what has happened here, the charges, whether the officers are going to be out on bond. Are they going to be speaking to the media and what have you?

So, I think maybe they're just giving it some time and allowing people to be able to process what has happened so that it does tamp down any possibility of high tensions and violence.

BLITZER: Good point. Don Lemon, Abby Phillip, Elliot Williams, Charles Ramsey, guys, thank you very, very much.

And an important note to all of our viewers out there, be sure to join Don every weekday on CNN This Morning from 6:00 to 9:00 A.M. Eastern right here on CNN. I get up every morning and I watch it. It's an excellent, excellent show.

Coming up, Ukraine's president is calling on the west for more weapons after a new wave of deadly Russian airstrikes today left behind a path of destruction. We're going live to the war zone. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Right now we're following the latest Russian missile strikes on Ukraine which have killed at least 11 people. They come as the government in Kyiv desperately awaits advanced battle tanks pledged by western allies to fight off an anticipated spring military offensive by Moscow's forces.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is in the Ukrainian Capital of Kyiv for us tonight. What's the latest, Sam?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the latest has been a repeat, really, of the pattern that you and I have discussed now for some months, which is the use of Shahed Iranian drones followed by cruise missiles fired overnight by Russia to try to destroy the energy-generating and distribution capacities of the Ukraine.

Now, in the latest attack, the Ukrainians say that over the Kyiv airspace alone, they shot down 20 cruise missiles. 20 cruise missiles, Wolf. Some of those cruise missiles are armed with warheads carrying some 400 kilos of high explosive. Others are completely empty repurposed nuclear weapons without the nuclear warhead, of course.

But the Shaheds are used, both of them, and alongside the former nuclear missiles, the cruise missiles, to soak up and waste effectively the surface-to-air defense capabilities of Ukraine. And it's that really that President Zelenskyy is calling out for more and more loudly with every wave of these missile attacks. This was his latest plea.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: This evil, this Russian aggression can and should be stopped only with adequate weapons. The terrorist state will not understand anything else. Weapons on the battlefield, weapons that protect our skies.


KILEY: Now, control over the skies is not just about protecting the civilian population, which is being attacked regularly in this way, but also very important for the Ukrainians if they want to prosecute any forward offensive particularly come the spring, Wolf.

You alluded there in the introduction to preparations for an anticipated Russian offensive. But, similarly, the Ukrainians may be planning their own offensive and they certainly will be wanting to control more of their airspace indeed, maybe even get some more fighter bombers into their air force in order to prosecute that. They're very anxious that this war doesn't extend beyond the next 12 months. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, the air raid sirens must have been going off a lot today. Sam Kiley on the ground for us in Kyiv, stay safe over there, Sam. Thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of these late breaking developments. Joining us now CNN Military Analyst, retired Major General James Spider Marks and CNN Senior Political Commentator, former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, he's a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air National Guard. Spider, first to you, what do you make of the time line we're learning now on when these German Leopard tanks will start arriving in Ukraine and the fact that the U.S. will send a more lethal upgraded version of the Abrams battle tanks?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, in my mind, it's all good news. But, clearly, there's a logistical tale associated with the deployment and then the training necessary to get the Ukrainian forces up to speed and confident with these main battle tanks. Also bear in mind you have got Challengers from the U.K. So you have a mix of capabilities. You certainly have to address the training, the logistics, the maintenance, sustainment. But all those are considerations. Those aren't impediments or barriers that would lead you to a decision, a no-go decision.

So, I frankly am very glad the United States has stepped forward, Germany has stepped forward and all those considerations will be addressed but there will be a time lag between this decision and when the realization of all those capabilities can be maximized on the battlefield.


BLITZER: You're right.

Adam, Ukraine is already pushed, we understand, for even more weapons. Very much on their wish list include fighter jets. Do you see that as the next step for western allies potentially?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think what we need to understand here is pretty much everything Ukraine has pushed for. It's taken a while for the U.S. and the allies to finally agree they, in fact, need that stuff and part of that is the United States doesn't want to step out too far ahead of Europe. It's keeping this alliance together.

But I think the -- here's one of the biggest untold things that's going on in this war, which is one of the struggles in Eastern Europe over the past decade or two has been they have old Russian equipment, how do they move over to NATO standard equipment, obviously very different supply lines and very different training and actually what this war has done is flushed a lot of that Russian equipment in eastern Europe into Ukraine.

They've started bringing a lot of these eastern Europeans country back into total NATO standard and in Ukraine I think we have to look and recognize Ukraine will be a NATO standard military equipment country, and that includes F-16s. They have an excess capability right now of pilots.

I have talked to these pilots. I, in fact, led the last effort in Congress to begin training them that can come here and learn the F-16. It will take a couple of months because it's a very different mission set and, of course, weapons system, that way they're ready if and probably inevitably when the U.S. and the west decide to send F-16s that way. BLITZER: Yes. The Ukrainians have made it abundantly clear they want the U.S. to start supplying F-16 fighter jets, a very important development potentially, indeed.

Spider, the fight is still incredibly intense in the eastern part of Ukraine. But are U.S. officials right to advise Ukraine to cut its losses there and prepare for renewed offensives?

MARKS: Well, the renewed offensive is going to come and I would tell you that it will arrive in the Donbas area or just north in the vicinity of Kharkiv but will also be to bolster the presence that exists within the land bridge and in the vicinity of Crimea.

Clearly, an opportunity exists for the Ukrainians to try to separate those forces along the land bridge in the direction of Crimea. Once you do that, you can then hold the shoulder of one of those and reduce the other. You can't do it all at once. That is the long-term objective. But taking that Peninsula of Crimea is going to be very difficult.

BLITZER: We're told, Adam, that President Biden is considering a trip to Europe, possibly Poland, to mark the anniversary in February of Putin's invasion. It'll be one year next month. If he takes that step, the president, what sort of message would it send if he actually went inside Ukraine itself?

KINZINGER: Well, I think if he went, it would send a very powerful message. I think we can't necessarily be critical if he does it. being the president of the United States is even a very different security threat than any other really head of state, and that's a big deal. That's a big footprint.

If he actually did pull that off, though, I will tell you, I think it would be massive. I think it would send chills in the Russian leadership. I think it would embolden the Ukrainian people, because, look, Ukraine has shown the will to fight. That's the one thing we have seen, as they have absolutely shown that they are willing to fight to defend freedom.

You have somebody that's leading the country, that leads freedom even in times that we struggle sometimes here. I think that sends an extremely strong message that we are in this and the psychological impact of just going there and saying, we're going to be with you forever is what can give the Ukraine the fighting spirit to go through what is going to be a pretty tough few months.

BLITZER: Former Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thank you very much, retired Major General Spider Marks, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, the U.S. economy grows defying fears that the country right now is potentially on the brink of a recession. What President Biden has to say about the progress, we'll be right back.


[18:40:00] BLITZER: Tonight, positive economic news is putting a damper on fears of a possible U.S. recession. The numbers on growth are up while unemployment is down. Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, President Biden is clearly already touting all of these late numbers.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They were numbers that couldn't be more perfectly timed for what's really a ten- day push toward the state of the union address on February 7th, where the president will be on the road four different times and all four of those stops will focus intently on the economy, on the economic recovery and now the view that the economy remains both durable and resilient despite very clear concerns and in some cases predictions of recession.

Those are important points because the president now is making very clear that there is a contrast between what House Republicans now in the majority are putting on the table and what his administration accomplished in the first two years and wants to accomplish in the years ahead. It's something he detailed when he was in Virginia today. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Economic growth is up, stronger than experts expected, at 2.9 percent. Jobs, jobs are the highest in numeric number and the highest in American history and wages are up and they're growing faster than inflation.

I don't think it's unfair to say that this is all evidence that the Biden economic plan, because you all is actually working.


MATTINGLY: Wolf, notice the president said is working, not has worked. And I think that's an an important distinction here.

Then we talk to White House officials, they make clear they want to focus on the progress that has been made but they also want to make clear there is still more work to do. However, White House officials were keenly aware that this fourth quarter GDP report could come in somewhat soft or at least a little bit softer than may be they wanted. That ended up not being the case. It was the type of news any president would want to talk about, particularly at a big economic event leading into the state of the union address and, of course, the potential re-election announcement in the month ahead, Wolf.


BLITZER: Yeah, good point.

Phil Mattingly on the scene for us at the White House, thank you.

Coming up, a dramatic day full of witness testimonies in the double murder trial of disgraced former attorney Alex Murdaugh, including what officers saw when they arrived at the gruesome crime scene. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Day one of witness testimony has ended in the trial of now disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh charged with the 2021 murders of his wife and youngest son.

CNN's Randi Kaye is in South Carolina for us.

Randi, there were some very disturbing images shown to the jury in court today. What can you tell us?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the three investigators who were first on the scene testified in court today, and they walked the jury through the crime scene photos and also interest very disturbing body cam footage from their cameras that they keep on their vests, and they actually hid the screens in the courtroom because the images were so disturbing, so we weren't able to see them which is why we're not showing them to you.

But only the jury was able to seen them. They even cover the screen at the defense table, where Alex Murdaugh was sitting, but still even so he say but still even so he say visibly upset by what he was hearing and how the jury was reacting. He was crying at times at the table. His defense lawyer even put his hand on his back and tried to console him a little bit.

The jury, you could see how engaged they were. They were grimacing at times at what they were see, covering their mouths at some points. Here's a little bit of what we were shown in court.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the last time you were here with them or talked to them or anything like that?

ALEX MURDAUGH, FORMER ATTORNEY: It was earlier tonight. I don't know the exact time but I left, I was probably gone an hour and a half from my moms and I saw them about 45 minutes before that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They already checked them.

MURDAUGH: They did check them? That they're dead?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir, that's what it looks like.


KAYE: And, Wolf, just a few things on that buddy cam footage stood out to me. At some point you heard him turn to the investigator and say, hey, what's up. And they didn't treat him at all like a possible suspect. He was free to roam around the property, make phone calls, had a visitor come to the property. It was pretty bizarre behavior that raised some eyebrows in court, wolf.

BLITZER: Do we have any idea how long this trial is expected to go? KAYE: I spoke to a few people about that today. We do expect the

state will continue presenting its case through the end of next week at the very least. It's supposed to go until at least February 10th, so we'll see if they keep on track with that.

But certainly the state has a lot of witnesses to call. There were 205 witnesses on the list, Wolf. I don't expect we'll get to all of them.

BLITZER: And what do we expect tomorrow?

KAYE: We will probably hear from some more of the law enforcement that was first on the scene. This is something very important to the state to set the scene on what happened there between the 911 call and body cam footage, crime scene photos. We may also hear more about this shut gun Alex Murdaugh had at the scene. He did tell investigators as soon as they got there it was leaned up against the car, he wasn't physically holding it. We saw that in court today. We could hear more about that as well.

BLITZER: All right. Randi Kaye, we'll check back with you. Thank you very, very much.

And we'll have more news just ahead, including widening fallout in the Virginia school district where a 6-year-old allegedly shot his teacher in the chest this month.



BLITZER: Heightened criticism tonight against the Virginia school district where a 6-year-old student allegedly shot his teacher during class.

Let's get right to CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, so where does this investigation stand?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the investigation is moving along at a very rapid pace, witnesses being interviewed. No charges yet but those could be coming. The community there in Newport News still reeling and demanding answers even after some top school officials lost their jobs.


TODD (voice-over): Fallout from the shooting of teacher Abby Zwerner by her 6-year-old student being felt at the highest levels of the Newport News, Virginia, school system. The school board firing the superintendent George Parker in a 5-1 decision.

TERRI BEST, VICE-CHAIR, NEWPORT NEWS PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Out of tragedy comes opportunity for growth, for change.

TODD: In an e-mail obtained by CNN through our affiliate WTKR, Parker told school staff, quote, this decision was made without cause. But some Richneck Elementary School parents think removing the superintendent along with the departure of the school's assistant principal was the right call.

DAVID WILSON, RICHNECK ELEMENTARY PARENT: Discipline is important and needed, and people who are going to, you know, stand up for what's right.

KASEY SYPOLT, RICHNECK ELEMENTARY PARENT: Am I 100 percent comfortable sending him back? No. But I am hoping that the change in administration is going to make a difference.

TODD: The move coming after the wounded teacher's lawyer alleged that school administrators repeatedly failed to confiscate the weapon despite multiple warnings.

DIANE TASCANO, ATTORNEY FOR WOUNDED TEACHER: They didn't call security, the school administration failed to act.

TODD: School safety expert Ken Trump says that's a common thread in school shootings.

KEN TRUMP, SCHOOL SAFETY EXPERT: In analyzing the highest profile school shootings, we know that allegations of failures focused on failure of human factors, people, policies, procedures and training.

TODD: Newport News police tell CNN the investigation is ongoing and they are not able to say yet whether charges will be filed against the parents of the boy. Meanwhile, parents are grappling with how and when to send their kids back to an elementary school now featuring a metal detector.

Kasey Sypolt's son called her the day of the shooting to say there was a lockdown and that he was scared.

SYPOLT: You never think it's going to be your kid, your school. I really want what's best for him and I want him to feel safe at his school.

TODD: Thomas Britton's son is a classmate of the first grade shooter. After a welcome back day for students and parents to get reoriented with their school, Britton says his son just wants to get back to normal.

THOMAS BRITTON, RICHNECK ELEMENTARY PARENT: I think he had some nightmares the first few days, but those seem to have stopped. We've been able to kind of assuage his fears, and so he's having a great time reconnecting with friends.


TODD (on camera): Thomas Britton did confirm to us after attending that event at the school yesterday that there is indeed at least one metal detector now placed inside that school. School officials telling CNN that Richneck Elementary will resume classes full time starting this coming Monday, the 30th, Wolf, it will become an anxious day at least.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of the story together with you. Brian Todd just back from the scene, thank you very, very much.

And to our viewers thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.