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Toobin: The big trials of 2005

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin


On the Scene
Jeffrey Toobin
Crime, Law and Justice

(CNN) -- It was a year of high-profile trials, ranging from the spectacle of pop star Michael Jackson arriving at court in pajamas to the outbursts of ex-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien discussed 2005's big cases with CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk first about what seemed to be culture wars that almost made it into the courtroom. ... The Terri Schiavo case [was] very high profile.

TOOBIN: One of the things about American courtrooms -- and this has been true throughout American history -- is that struggles elsewhere in society almost always wind up in court. And with the Terri Schiavo case ..., we saw the culture wars on trial.

And the Schiavo case -- you think about how amazing it was that you had the United States Congress mobilized over -- literally overnight. The president of the United States flies across the country to sign a bill that says Terri Schiavo, this brain-damaged, very ill woman in Florida, needed to be further evaluated before a feeding tube was removed. And it kind of backfired. The interesting thing was that the country said, "You know, this is more of a private matter."

O'BRIEN: Congress needs to stay out of it.

TOOBIN: Congress, the politics, politicians need to stay out of it. So that was an effort on the part of the president and [former House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay to advance what they call the culture of life. But it was not particularly successful and, sadly, of course, Terri Schiavo died shortly thereafter.

O'BRIEN: One of the most bizarre court cases ... that was wrapped up after many, many years was the "BTK" [case].

TOOBIN: "BTK" was ...

O'BRIEN: "Bind, Torture, Kill."

TOOBIN: That was like an airport novel.

... I mean, when you think about, you know, a mild-mannered man, Dennis Rader, a church official in town. For years, up to 1991 ...

O'BRIEN: I mean talk about a hidden life.

TOOBIN: Through the 1970s through 1991, he killed in the most gruesome way 10 people, [then] disappeared from view. But [Rader] had a compulsion to get back in touch, leaving clues. He was finally caught. The reason he didn't -- wasn't a candidate for the death penalty -- is the last murder took place in 1991 and Kansas did not have a death penalty then.

O'BRIEN: Gosh, that was really riveting. To hear him speak in court was absolutely astounding.

TOOBIN: It was like a movie.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it was. Of course, Saddam Hussein, which is -- I mean talk about a movie. What a bizarre trial this has been. Literally you can see, even when you don't necessarily get the translation, the grapple for power between Saddam Hussein and the judge in the courtroom.

TOOBIN: You know, what I always think about with the Saddam Hussein trial is that in the Nuremberg trials after World War II, at that point, most of the world didn't know about the Holocaust. It took the trial really to bring it out to the public.

I think what's been unfortunate about the Saddam Hussein trial so far is that he has dominated it and his outbursts so much that the crimes that are being outlined against him haven't gotten the attention perhaps that they deserve. And I think that's a struggle that's going to go on for some time.

I don't think there's any chance that Saddam Hussein is going to be acquitted, but the public education has not taken place perhaps the way it should.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Michael Jackson. That got -- can you believe how long it's been since we were covering Michael Jackson's trial?

TOOBIN: You know, for all that it was goofy and awful and comical at times, you know, I thought the jury reached the right result. I followed that trial pretty closely, and I thought, given the nature of the evidence against him, the untrustworthiness of so many of the witnesses -- you know, I'm not -- I certainly wouldn't leave my kids with Michael Jackson, but I didn't think he was proved guilty.

O'BRIEN: I mean I think that case defines circus atmosphere.

TOOBIN: It did. You know, I sometimes resent the use of that term because I think a lot of trials are actually pretty good.

O'BRIEN: No, no.

TOOBIN: Not that one.

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