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tv   ABC World News Tonight With David Muir  ABC  December 29, 2021 5:30pm-6:00pm PST

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breaking news as we come on the air. the jury reaching a verdict in the federal trial of ghislaine maxwell. the longtime associate of jeffrey epstein guilty of helping him sexually abuse teenage girls. the jury convicting her on five of six charges. the verdict coming in on the sixth day of deliberations, after about 40 hours. jurors pouring over testimony from the victims. the judge telling everyone in the courtroom to remain quiet and calm as the verdict was revealed. reaction now coming in. today's other major headlines. the u.s. shattering its own record for daily covid cases. more than 277,000 new cases reported in 24 hours. three people infected every second, with the delta and
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omicron variants sweeping across the country. cases doubling in eight states since last week amid long lines and hours of waiting. dozens of covid testing sites in new york and new jersey forced to close because of staffing shortages. and cdc director dr. rochelle walensky defending new guidelines about isolation and quarantine. major airlines in the u.s. canceling flights by the hundreds. seattle's sea-tac airport reporting the most cancellations in the world because of weather and the covid surge. pilots, flight attendants and staff all affected. airlines heading into the new year with some of the busiest travel days still ahead. and tracking severe storms as we come on the air. tornado watches in effect across several states. a reported tornado touching down in georgia. and the new winter weather alerts. heavy mountain snow and torrential rain again taking aim at the west. rob marciano timing it all out. outburst in court. the alleged driver accused of killing two children and injuring several others
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struggling with a deputy during his first appearance in court. tributes pouring in for two legends in their own fields. former senator harry reid, one of the longest-serving majority leaders in senate history. and nfl titan john madden, his passion on the field and in the broadcast booth. also, your chance to end the year on a high note. tonight's powerball jackpot drawing worth more than $441 million. good evening. it's great to have you with us on a busy wednesday night. i'm whit johnson, in for david. two major headlines that we're following tonight. the u.s. shattering the nation's record for average daily covid cases in just 24 hours. but we begin with the breaking news just coming in late today, the jury reaching a verdict in the sex trafficking trial of ghislaine maxwell here in new york. maxwell found guilty on five of six counts related to sexual abuse and trafficking of
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underage girls for jeffrey epstein, her former boyfriend and longtime associate. during closing arguments, the prosecution calling them partners in crime who sexually exploited young girls together. she was described as a sophisticated predator. the jury hearing graphic testimony from four accusers who said they were groomed by maxwell to be abused. the defense insisting maxwell was an innocent woman and the victim of, quote, straight up sensationalism, claiming prosecutors went after her because they were unable to convict epstein after he took his own life behind bars. abc's erielle reshef leads us off. >> reporter: tonight, that bombshell verdict. ghislaine maxwell guilty on five of six counts on her high profile sex trafficking trial. the british socialite who once ran in the circles of presidents and princes led out the back of the courtroom by two u.s. marshals. now facing up to 65 years behind bars. a jury of six men and six women deliberating nearly 40 hours, finding maxwell guilty on the
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most serious sex trafficking charges. >> a unanimous jury has found ghislaine maxwell guilty of one of the worst crimes imaginable. facilitating and participating in the sexual abuse of children. crimes that she committed with her longtime partner and co-conspirator, jeffrey epstein. >> reporter: maxwell, the former girlfriend of disgraced financier and convicted sex offender jeffrey epstein, has been in jail since her dramatic arrest at a new hampshire estate in the summer of 2020. prosecutors calling her a sexual predator who helped epstein abuse underage girls between 1994 and 2004. epstein and maxwell known for their lavish lifestyle. the government claiming there was a dark side to the globetrotting pair. and that maxwell was epstein's partner in crime, inviting young girls to give him explicit massages, managing the details "right down to the lotions and the oils." prosecutors said maxwell did it to keep epstein satisfied and to maintain her status.
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the case against maxwell hinging on the accounts of three women, who, in emotional and at times graphic testimony, said maxwell played a central role in their sexual abuse, beginning when they were just teenagers and lasting for years. but throughout, her defense team claiming maxwell is innocent, saying she became a scapegoat after epstein died by suicide in his jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial. >> so, let's get right to erielle reshef, who has been covering this story from the beginning. and erielle, no sentencing date was set for maxwell in court today, but she's facing decades behind bars. >> reporter: that's right, whit. the defense saying they didn't want to move forward with sentencing until maxwell receives her booster shot, in light of the rapidly spreading omicron variant. maxwell turned 60 on christmas while awaiting this verdict. she now faces the prospect of spending the rest of her life in prison. whit? >> erielle with the late developments today. thank you. now to the other major story we're following tonight.
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the u.s. smashing the record for average daily covid cases. now topping 277,000 new infections per day. that's higher than at any other point during the pandemic. americans across the country waiting for testing, adding to the frustration, dozens of covid testing sites in new york and new jersey forced to close because of staffing shortages. the white house task force reports a 126% increase in cases over the last two weeks, but hospitalizations remain lower than previous surges. and cdc director dr. rochelle walensky defending new guidelines about isolation and quarantine, insisting we are standing on the shoulders of two years of science. here's abc's trevor ault. >> reporter: tonight, a tidal wave of infections as covid cases shatter record highs set at the peak of last winter's surge. the u.s. now averaging 277,000 cases a day. about three americans testing positive every second.
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>> what i expect is the next couple of weeks, we're going to see increasing numbers of infections. our pandemic high was 250,000 in a day. no doubt we will hit half a million. we might hit a million a day. >> reporter: but even with cases exploding past their prior peak, the number of americans fighting covid in hospitals much lower than we saw in the darkest days of january. >> while it's good news that omicron appears to be less severe than the delta variant, with the sheer number of infections, we are going to see, unfortunately, pressure on hospital systems. >> reporter: and so many hospitals across the country are already buckling under the weight of these infections. luminis health doctors community hospital telling our affiliate wjla 52 of their employees are out sick with covid. but having staff to be able to - provide that care is one of the challenges that we're having currently. we're full. we're full. >> reporter: that staff shortage, combined with a surge in patients, is making it far harder to care for covid patients like edgar. >> when i breathe, it hurts. when i cough, it hurts.
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>> reporter: tonight, federal health officials insist the growing testing shortages are not the reason the cdc updated its guidelines to shorten the isolation time to five days without recommending americans test negative at the end of it. today, cdc director dr. rochelle walensky defending the move, saying a positive test result doesn't necessarily mean a person is still transmissible. >> we do know that the vast majority of viral transmission happens in those first five days, somewhere in the 85% to 90% range. so, we're really talking, if you can isolate for the first five days, that would be great. >> reporter: across the country, those long lines are still snaking through testing sites from maryland to massachusetts to florida, where this site had to shut down as they hit capacity. >> i've been waiting here for about two hours now. >> reporter: and today, new york city popping up several new sites to meet demand. but that spike in demand leading to long waits. >> it shouldn't be that people who are concerned about testing positive have to wait out here in the cold, especially the
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elderly. >> reporter: and the fda now says early data suggests rapid antigen tests still work to detect omicron, including many at-home covid tests, but they may have reduced sensitivity. >> we still are encouraging their use. they may not work as well as they had for the delta variant. >> reporter: and tonight, children's hospitals are sounding the alarm about the accelerating covid impact, with pediatric hospitalizations doubling in the last month. >> our most precious commodity in this united states of america is our children. and right now, we're on fire. >> concerns for so many parents. trevor ault joining us now. and trevor, you want to go back pointing to practical reasons behind those new recommendations on isolation and quarantine, saying many people just don't follow the guidance to begin with. >> reporter: yeah, that's right, whit. the cdc director says they've seen some studies that show when people are asked to isolate, only as much of a third of them actually do it. she says the new guidelines are based in science, but they also wanted to give people some guidance that they seem likely
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to actually follow. whit? >> all right, trevor, thank you. now, to the staggering airline cancellations across the u.s. tonight. hundreds of flights grounded again today with no end in sight to the holiday travel nightmare. seattle's sea-tac airport reporting the most cancellations in the world for the second day in a row. heading into new year's eve, bad weather combined with staffing shortages crippling travel for millions. here's abc's mireya villarreal. >> reporter: tonight, extreme weather on the move and millions of travelers are, too. in the south, severe thunderstorms taking aim. this possible tornado in southwest georgia. in the west, crews preparing for another round of heavy mountain snow and torrential rain. this is i-80 in placer county, california. traffic backups hindering first responders. authorities urging people to stay off the roads. the menacing weather, combined
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with covid-related staffing issues, crippling air travel all week. some 7,000 flights canceled since christmas eve, more than 900 today. >> at the u.s. airlines, 90% or more of employees at the largest carriers are vaccinated. but omicron has shown it's elusive and it's random. >> reporter: seattle's airport had the most canceled flights in the world for the second day in a row. that's the main hub for alaska airlines. tonight, they're warning customers of 20-hour wait times on the phone, urging "flyers with nonessential travel scheduled before january 2nd, 2022, to consider changing their travel to a later date." and there are already more than 500 flights canceled here in the u.s. for tomorrow, so, definitely not good news, seeing as about 12.5 million people are expected to fly from now through january 3rd. whit?
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>> this mess continues. mireya, thank you. and we saw those images from across the country, millions bracing for severe storms. let's get right to abc's senior meteorologist rob marciano. and rob, you're watching major tornado threats tonight. >> reporter: yeah, we had record heat today across the southeast again, whit, and that is feeding these storms that are rolling through dixie alley. take a look at the tornado watches now extending all the way into georgia until at least 10:00. that line that moved through tupelo and nashville has some damaging winds, it's moving through huntsville and eventually it will make its way through atlanta. we had temperatures that broke records in shreveport, over 80 degrees there. that's feeding this. it goes away by tomorrow morning. that next system now dropping into california. we'll get all the way into southern california and stays there for a good day or so. san diego, look at that plume tomorrow morning. flash flood watches posted there. more mountain snow and that energy gets into the plains for another severe weather threat come new year's eve. whit? >> concerns heading into the new year. rob, thank you. and news out of washington tonight. president biden and russian president vladimir putin scheduled to speak tomorrow over the tensions involving ukraine.
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the white house confirms putin requested the call to discuss several issues. the biden administration concerned about the tens of thousands of russian troops on the border. russia has not de-escalated its military presence there since the two leaders last spoke earlier this month. turning now to new developments in the deadly hit and run in broward county, florida. the alleged driver arrested following an intense manhunt. he's accused of plowing into a group of children, killing two of them, and then speeding away. today, the suspect seen struggling with a deputy while appearing in court. abc's victor oquendo is in florida. >> reporter: tonight, the man allegedly behind the wheel of a deadly hit and run erupting in court. >> you can't make me stay in this -- >> reporter: the outburst as charges were read against 27-year-old sean charles greer. the broward sheriff's office says greer was driving a 2009 honda accord, hitting and killing two children, sending four others to the hospital, and driving off, leaving them for dead on a sidewalk on monday. >> she's pinned underneath the
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car, help, help. >> reporter: evidence left behind at the scene, like the car's bumper and witness statements, eventually helped authorities track down the car and take greer into custody. the children who died, 5-year-old kylie jones and 6-year-old andrea fleming. the children who were injured ranged from 2 to 10 years old. in arrest documents, a woman telling police that greer said, "i [ bleep ] up and my bumper came off and caused a crash." the woman said he asked, "if the cops come by, don't tell them whose car that is." adding that greer's mom picked him up and he left the car behind. deputies say that greer was on probation for burglary. he's now being held without bond. and according to prosecutors, his license had been suspended since 2016. whit? >> and we're thinking about those kids and their families. victor, thank you. next tonight, the nation remembering and honoring former senator harry reid, one of the longest-serving majority leaders in senate history. he died at the age of 82,
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following a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer. president biden ordering flags to half staff. former presidents obama and clinton, and one of his toughest rivals, senator mitch mcconnell, also paying their respects. here's abc's mary alice parks. >> reporter: the late senate majority leader harry reid, a proud son of nevada, grew up in a small mining town in the shadow of the great depression. his family had no indoor toilet or running water. but he was a fighter, in every sense. an amateur boxer turned lawyer who went on to serve in the u.s. senate for 30 years, one of the nation's long-serving senate majority leaders. >> i didn't make it in life because of my athletic prowess. i didn't make it because of my good looks. i didn't make it because i'm a genius. i made it because i worked hard. >> reporter: reid was so soft-spoken he could be hard to hear, but he was known for his shrewd deal-making and tenacity. >> it's been a long, hard road for all of us. >> reporter: in the senate, he was instrumental in passing the
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historic affordable care act to get health insurance to millions for the first time. >> we stand on the doorstep of history. we recognize that. but much more importantly, we stand so close to making so many individual lives better. >> reporter: president obama sharing a personal letter he wrote to reid recently, saying, "i wouldn't have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support. we both saw something of ourselves in each other. a couple of outsiders who had defied the odds, knew how to take a punch and cared about the little guy." senate minority leader mitch mcconnell saying reid was a pivotal figure, writing fondly of his old sparring partner. "i never doubted that harry was always doing what he earnestly, deeply felt was right for nevada and our country." but one of reid's proudest accomplishments was his family. a father of five and grandfather to 19, his wife of 62 years saying she's heartbroken. well, in his own tribute, president biden listed some of harry reid's many legislative
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accomplishments and called him a great american. adding this, "harry believed it was within our capacity to do good, to do right, and to do our part of perfecting the union we all love." whit? >> mary alice, our thanks to you tonight. we have much more ahead on "world news tonight." the surveillance video of the suspect in monday's deadly shooting spree in denver, just moments before three people were shot. and one man's death bed confession, stunning his friends and family. every year we try to exercise more, to be more social, to just relax. and eating healthy every single meal? if only it was this easy for us. (swords clashing) -had enough? -no... arthritis.
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next tonight, authorities in denver have obtained surveillance video they say is from monday's shooting spree that left six people dead, including the gunman. these images here, which law enforcement confirms are part of the investigation, appear to show the suspect exiting a car and calmly entering a tattoo parlor with a gun at his side. a few seconds later, he leaves. the rampage spanned seven different crime scenes before the suspect was killed in a shootout with police. now, to the massachusetts man who kept a major secret for more than 50 years from his own family. before 71-year-old thomas rendele died in may, he told his wife and daughter that his real name was ted conrad, and that he robbed a bank in cleveland back in 1969. authorities, who'd been looking for conrad since the heist, still don't know what happened to the stolen money worth $215,000. when we come back, alaska's steamy temperatures this december, breaking records scientists never thought possible. i'm still drawn to what's next. even with higher stroke risk due to afib
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dickerson was known for his friendly demeanor, clear voice, and straight talk. he leaves behind a young son. and alaska certainly gets its share of extreme weather, but 67 degrees on kodiak island in december is completely unheard of, smashing the old record by nearly ten degrees. parts of the state have also experienced record amounts of rain in recent days. government scientists say the state has been warming twice as quickly as the global average since the mid-20th century. well, if you haven't gotten your ticket, it's not too late. the powerball jackpot is up to $441 million. no one has won in the past 36 drawings. the last jackpot payout was back in october. the largest ever prize of $1.5 billion was shared by winners in three states in 2016. when we come back, looking back on the life of an nfl legend, super bowl-winning coach and sportscaster, the late john madden. cadillac.
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in addition to the substitute teaching. i honestly feel that that's my calling-- to give back to younger people. i think most adults will start realizing that they don't recall things as quickly as they used to or they don't remember things as vividly as they once did. i've been taking prevagen for about three years now. people say to me periodically, "man, you've got a memory like an elephant." it's really, really helped me tremendously. prevagen. healthier brain. better life. tonight, the nation also paying tribute to nfl icon john madden, who died at 85. the longtime face and voice of the league, the former head coach and broadcaster, with a
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unique style all his own. here's abc's kaylee hartung. >> reporter: tonight, the world of sports honoring the life of a giant among them. john madden. >> epitomizes coaching greatness. >> reporter: from the super bowl -- >> john madden's grin is from ear to ear. he looks like a slick watermelon. >> reporter: to the broadcasting booth. never at a loss for words. >> we want to throw those short little things where he can come back, set up, boom. right here, boom. you go left, left, left, boom, you get him. >> reporter: using that telestrator to draw viewers in, even when it didn't have anything to do with the game. >> if this guy here is pointing to this and if he takes this and dumps it on that, he'll be the player of the game. >> reporter: our michael strahan tweeting, "when you played and john madden was on the call, it was time to shine." troy aikman calling him a "reasure" and "an incredible friend." on thanksgiving, he was an institution. >> you cut it like right down here. >> reporter: and he was just as good as a pitch man, from beer -- >> boy could i go for a nice cold light beer from miller. >> reporter: to foot powder.
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>> boom, tough actin' tinactin. >> reporter: he transcended generations, with the help of his iconic madden nfl video game series. >> hello and welcome to madden nfl '09. >> reporter: richard sherman tweeting, "it was one of my greatest honors to grace the cover of your video game. thank you for the years of joy and motivation." >> i never worked a day in my life. i went from player to coach to broadcaster. and i am the luckiest guy in the world. this has been the sweetest ride of them all. thank you. >> our thanks to kaylee hartung for that report. have a great night.
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>> over why some are across cars and this massive eucalyptus tree took out a lot. bay area mask rules changed, when you hear how bad the surge is getting you will understand why it is necessary. >> moving solutions, this is abc 7 news. >> you are looking at what might be the last reign of the year, live doppler 7. after that -- i am ama i am amaa dan: and i dan ashley, glad you're with us. we are on storm watch for what might be the last time in a few days. after record-setting rain and
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snowfall in northern california, speaking of falling, take a look at this huge eucalyptus tree that crashed on monterey boulevard near highway 13 in the oakland hills. it took down power lines and landed on top of two cars parked in a driveway. pg&e was called to repair the power lines but there were no reports of injuries. ama: thousands of drivers trying to make it down from the sierra, 80 and 50 are open. caltrans, chp and other agencies telling people do not travel unless you have to. it is dangerous. the governor has activated the state operation center to handle the emergency storm response so let us get to the expert. spencer christian. dan: he's joining us from his home. the pictures are believable. spencer: there's been a lot of snow, driving conditions are just terrible. a lot of people like to