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Massachusetts Shooting Suspect Pleads Not Guilty in Arraignment

Aired December 27, 2000 - 8:59 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go ahead and start today with the emotional and legal aftermath of a deadly office shooting in Massachusetts. The suspect is Michael McDermott and he is scheduled to be arraigned this hour. We will bring you live courtroom coverage.

There is a live picture right now from the courtroom in Malden, Massachusetts.

McDermott is accused of gunning down seven co-workers at Edgewater Technology. That is an Internet consulting company in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

Our Frank Buckley is joining us now from Malden, Massachusetts where this morning's arraignment is being held.

Frank, good morning.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.

We -- I just came out of the courtroom where the arraignment is set to get under way momentarily here. We do know that Michael McDermott is in the courthouse. He arrived at about 8:30 Eastern amid very heavy security, members of the Special Operations Unit of the Middlesex County Sheriff's Department heavily armed, surrounding the defendant as he arrived here at the courthouse. He was wearing what appeared to be a bulletproof vest as he was quickly hurried inside of the courtroom.

We're expecting the arraignment to get under way at 9:00 a.m., Assistant District Attorney Tom O'Reilly representing the state. And we expect that an attempt to set bail will take place. And then we will also hear the formal arraignment, which is the formal charging of seven counts of first-degree murder -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Frank, do we know anything else more? We've been saying "seven victims." What do we know about the people who so tragically lost their lives on the day after Christmas?

BUCKLEY: We know very little, frankly, about the roles of each one of the people. The authorities are still trying to piece together and recreate exactly what happened moment by moment. Late last night, they had little to say about what each person's role was within the company. We do know or do believe that, according to authorities, two people were shot and killed in the reception area, one of them the receptionist, and that the five additional victims were shot and killed in the accounting or human resources area. And that helping authorities to -- in their working theory, which is that the motive of this case may have had to do with the garnishment of wages that was going to take place, according to authorities, after the holidays, the IRS apparently seeking back taxes from the defendant, Michael McDermott.

KAGAN: All right, we see -- while you were talking there, Frank, somebody put their fingers up in the camera with the number two. I think that's our two-minute warning for when this arraignment is about to begin.

While we stand by and wait for that to begin, let's bring in our legal analyst, Roger Cossack, who's with us here in Atlanta this morning.

Roger, good morning.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Hello.

KAGAN: First, a little "Legal 101": arraignment.

COSSACK: OK.

KAGAN: What happens at an arraignment?

COSSACK: An arraignment is basically where the defendant is brought in -- the suspect in the case -- and is advised of his rights in this case. They will tell him certain rights that he has under the law: he has a right to a speedy trial, he has a right to an attorney, nothing he says can be used against him -- all of those kinds of rights that we've all become so familiar with from television crime shows.

And then certain dates will be set: a set -- a date for hearings, a date for motions. And then there'll be, perhaps, a request for bail, although in this case, in a capital case in Massachusetts, I'm sure that he's not entitled to bail. And that will be about it. It will be quick, it will be over in a hurry. There'll be -- the lawyer will then make some decisions probably, maybe ask even today to have has client examined. There's clearly going to be an issue...

KAGAN: His mental condition?

COSSACK: ... of mental status here. And those are the kinds of things. It's the beginning.

KAGAN: It's the housekeeping items, basically.

COSSACK: Well, it's the beginning. It's the advisement of rights. It's how a matter begins.

KAGAN: This is not where we hear how the defendant pleas.

COSSACK: No, no, no, although they may enter a plea of not guilty today as sort of a technical issue. Later on, that plea could be changed to not guilty by reason of insanity, it could be changed to guilty. But this is the beginning.

KAGAN: And, of course, under our system, innocent until proven guilty. But when it's a case like this, when somebody has been found at the scene of a shooting holding three loaded weapons...

COSSACK: Right.

KAGAN: ... how much can a defense attorney really do?

COSSACK: Well, this is a case, obviously, in which there's not going to be much discussion over whether or not this person did it, unless he == some ridiculous claim. But it's going to be really an issue of what is this person's mental status at the time that this crime was committed? And that's really where a defense attorney is going to do what should be done: get him examined.

Now, the people will have a right -- the state, the prosecutor -- will have a right to have him examined and get some reports and find out about this. And that also will happen.

So, what the defense attorney here is going to do is try and do the best that person can do in regards to try to show the court what status his client was in at the time these crimes were committed, what stress he was under, perhaps, and perhaps, in the final analysis, try and save his life.

KAGAN: Anything unusual we know about Massachusetts state law? Do they have the death penalty there?

COSSACK: You know, I'm not sure off the top of my head, but I -- there's something inside of me that says they don't have the death penalty. But I'm going to have to check that out for you, Daryn.

KAGAN: OK.

COSSACK: But there's something that says that they do not, but I don't want to go on record 100 percent on that.

KAGAN: OK. And what will -- so, basically, we're looking at housekeeping items. We won't get that much from today's arraignment.

COSSACK: Well, we're going to get exactly what I said. We're going to -- we'll see the client, we'll see the defendant, we'll see him presented to the court, he will be given counsel, and we'll see that those kinds of rights -- we'll see the proceedings begin. And this shouldn't take very long. As you pointed out, in this case there's not going to be much of an argument about evidence. This is really going to be an argument about, who was this man and why did he act the way he did? Who is this man and why did he act the way he did?

KAGAN: But this is the stage where bail is discussed, but...

COSSACK: No, not in this case. They're not going to allow this guy out on bail.

KAGAN: But I mean at an arraignment that is where bail is discussed, but this particular...

COSSACK: Yes, normally. If this was a lesser crime, if this was a, you know, a car theft or something of that nature, there would be a discussion about...

KAGAN: At your arraignment is where you find out.

COSSACK: ... yes, you'd be discussing bail.

KAGAN: Frank Buckley, are you still with us outside the courtroom?

BUCKLEY: I am, Daryn. And one other thing that I was told by the spokesman for the district attorney's office, he was telling me -- and Roger can clarify what the exact legal term is -- but he said that there would be sort of a reading of the brief synopsis of the crimes that McDermott is alleged to have committed. And potentially, the defense attorney may waive the reading of that, but that's one additional element that may occur here.

COSSACK: Yes, and that's right. What that is is a statement by the prosecution as to what the defendant is charged with. As we talked about, this is the informational proceeding, this is the beginning. So they will say a brief synopsis. And the defense attorney most likely will say, as Frank points out, waive reading of the complaint. The reason is, you know, who wants to hear these horrible things read? There's really no reason. Everybody knows what it is. It doesn't do anybody good. It's not like the defendant doesn't know what he's charged with. So they will waive reading -- they may waive reading the claim. Sometimes they read it, sometimes they don't. But it's the informational beginning of the case.

KAGAN: Roger, one other question. The police and the officials have come out talking about perhaps the motive in this case...

COSSACK: Right.

KAGAN: ... could have been that this man was going to have his wages garnished because he owned money to the IRS, allegedly.

COSSACK: Right.

KAGAN: Explain how that works. If you haven't paid your taxes or if the IRS decides that you owe them money, how does the government come into a company, a private company that you work with, work for, and garnish your wages?

COSSACK: Well, garnishment is really no different from the IRS doing it than if some other creditor that you owed money to -- a department store or some other vender that you owed money to. What happens is whoever you owe money to goes to court and gets a judgment against you for that money. Now the question is, how do you collect the money? If you don't have any money in your bank account, if you don't have any money sitting around, you don't have any furniture, well, one of the ways they can get that money is they go to your employer and they serve him with a notice of garnishment.

KAGAN: Going to interrupt you...

COSSACK: And that's how they do it.

KAGAN: ... because it looks like they're arriving in the courtroom. Let's go ahead and listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, your honor. Kevin Ryans (ph) and I represent the defendant. We waive the formal reading of the complaints. I would ask that the court automatically enter pleas on behalf of the defendant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, your honor. Thomas Seray (ph) with the commonwealth. The commonwealth would be proceeding and asking for Mr. McDermott be held without bail for the following reasons:

Yesterday morning at about 11:14, Wakefield police started receiving 911 calls from approximately 30, 40 different individuals. Those calls indicated shots being fired at the workplace at -- over on Albian Street in the city of Wakefield.

Upon arrival at that location, they came in and they found Mr. McDermott sitting in a chair just off the reception area. On the floor beside him was a semiautomatic rifle, sometimes referred to as an AK-47. Also on the ground was a 12-gauge shotgun. Both of them were within arm's reach of him.

Officers approached him, took him to the ground, and a subsequent search revealed .32-caliber semiautomatic revolver in his pistol -- in his pocket, right front pocket. They secured him.

Next to him on the bench where he was sitting was a black almost like tote bag. There was four -- minimum of four 30-round magazines fully loaded in that bag, along with boxes of ammunition. There was also shotgun shells boxes in that bag, and the ammunition for the semiautomatic revolver.

Lying just behind the reception area, a lady, a woman who had been shot dead as she stood. Just off to the side was the receptionist, who was also shot, an apparent indication that she was trying to flee as the wounds were through her back and her head.

Down the corridor, approximately 40 yards down, they located the bodies of three other individuals. One of them was underneath his desk. He had been shot numerous times. Another was a young lady slumped over the keyboard of her computer. She had been shot through the back. Another individual was lying next to a Xerox machine. He had been shot through the face with a shotgun, as well as shot in the leg. Subsequent witness testimony indicated that Mr. McDermott had approached the reception area, was queried as to why -- what he was doing with "that." He said he had to look for human resources, and he began firing. He then went down into the accounting area where several individuals had barricaded themselves in an office. Mr. McDermott blew the door off, and the door handle, with the shotgun. He then went inside and he shot one individual three times in the chest in an apparent attempt -- as he was like crawling on his back trying to flee him. Another woman was shot twice in the legs and then shot in the head with a shotgun.

The witness was able to hide behind a coat and a chair underneath a desk, and she witnessed this entire matter.

Mr. McDermott then went out to the reception area and sat down in a chair. This whole series of events, we estimate, took no more than seven to eight minutes; his minimum is five minutes.

He reloaded the weapons several times. State police ballisticians counted 37 rounds from -- fired from the semiautomatic rifle and numerous shotgun shells. There was very little, if any, missed shots. Most of the wounds went through and through the bodies, as there was evidence of ricochets off the cement flooring underneath the rugs.

Police subsequently got a search warrant last night and searched his work area at the company. They found in his trash basket at his desk some shotgun shells. They found in his desk -- or in a cubbyhole above his desk -- rounds, again, for weapons. In his locker right next to him, they found a .460 Magnum semiautomatic bolt-action rifle with a sniper scope. There was ammunition; five or six boxes of that. Each one of those rounds is approximately four inches long.

They then executed a search warrant at his home last night into the early morning hours this morning. They finished about 6:30 this morning. In that they found numerous fuses, blasting caps. They found bomb-making magazines. They found three gallons of liquid nitric acid, which is an ingredient of nitroglycerin. They were labeled in boxes, "dangerous, do not move," as well as numerous rounds of ammunition for the AK-47 semiautomatic rifle.

The testimony that we have -- the evidence that we have received so far from witnesses to the scene seem to indicate that Mr. McDermott had an issue with the company concerning garnishment of wages by the Internal Revenue Service that had been ongoing for several weeks. On this morning, he appeared at work in normal fashion, was at his desk in a normal fashion, had talked to people about the holidays. And somewhere around 11:10, he came in, he walked by individuals who were working and specifically targeted the individuals we believe he shot. They were from the accounting division. And a woman who was at the reception desk at the time was the vice president, I believe, of human resources.

The commonwealth would feel that this was a methodical undertaking with deliberate premeditation. And the method of shooting also arises to the issue of extreme atrocity and cruelty. The commonwealth feels he's a flight risk notwithstanding the fact he has no prior record. The commonwealth would ask that the charges alone justify it, and the facts alone support it, that he be held without bail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your honor, on behalf of the defendant, we would waive argument on a bail. My only concern or request to the court right now would be that when he is remanded to the Middlesex facility, that he has been undergoing psychiatric treatment, and he has been on medication. And my concern would be that, with the assistance of the court, that if I have any difficulty having the facility allow him to continue with his medication, then I could come back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take it up with the department -- the sheriff's department in Middlesex County...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and they'll do what they have to do, I'm sure, all right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, thank you, your honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything else?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jan. 31 is the date that we suggest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your honor, there's seven different complaints. I ask that they be set on the first numerical one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The court holds that the not guilty plea should be heard, all matters, Jan. 31, pre-trial confidence, no cash bail. That's under plate number 00503390. No cash bail, Jan. 31.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, your honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Recess?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Recess.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All rise, please.

KAGAN: Well, the arraignment hearing for Michael McDermott went quickly, just as Roger had tipped us off that it would indeed. But in the few minutes that it did last, we learned a number of details -- a number of disturbing details that the district attorney is alleging about what happened yesterday at this Internet company in Wakefield, Massachusetts, at the Edgewater Corporation. The details, as they filled in, that when they arrived, the police say that they did find Michael McDermott with three loaded guns. He also had a black tote bag with a number of ammunition, and that he went to the reception area and killed two woman there. Also gave details about the way that these people were killed, in a gruesome manner, many shot in the back, many shot in the head, shot in the leg; that he went back to the accounting department, where a number of employees had barricaded themselves, and he used his guns to blow open the door, and once he was in there, killed more people in there. Yet there were eyewitnesses hiding who were able to witness that whole thing.

With search warrants, they went ahead and they searched his work area at Edgewater. They found shotgun shells and a rifle and more ammunition that he had at work, allegedly. Also, at home they say they found a number of explosive materials.

Let's bring back in our Frank Buckley, who was standing outside the courtroom during this arraignment.

Frank, we also heard them once again talk about what they think is the motive in this case and that Michael McDermott's wages were going to be garnished by the IRS through his paychecks at Edgewater.

BUCKLEY: We did hear about that as the potential motive. That is what's been called the working theory of investigators. Obviously we were hoping that we might hear more about that. And it was possible that, in the search warrant, that investigators would have discovered something that would have added some additional detail to their working theory. We obviously didn't hear that particular detail.

But as you say, we did hear the very gruesome details of how this crime occurred: three individuals shot very quickly, one who was under his desk; another person was found slumped on her keyboard; another person shot at a copying machine; two people shot in the reception area, the receptionist and the person believed to be the vice president of human resources.

And then we heard that the shooter went to the accounting area and where two people had barricaded themselves inside, that, according to authorities, McDermott then took the 12-gauge shotgun that he was armed with, shot open the door, went inside and killed two additional people.

KAGAN: Frank, prosecutors also alleging that Michael McDermott had specific targets in mind, and that this all actually went very quickly, lasting somewhere between five to eight minutes.

BUCKLEY: Well, that is the -- and we were told that last night, that the figure was five to 10 minutes. Earlier this morning, I was told by someone at the district attorney's office that essentially that figure was sort of a working figure, that it may have been less than five minutes. It could be longer, but this is just based on very preliminary information. Obviously they try to piece together moment by moment exactly what happens. Typically, investigators in a case like this, from the moment that the -- they come upon a crime scene, work their way backward, try to figure out exactly what happened the moment before the murders took place, two minutes before, three minutes, one day, 10 days, and work their way back to try to get a very clear picture of exactly what was happening.

One thing that we did learn here was that Michael McDermott, according to authorities, was heavily armed. And he also had weapons at the workplace. Now, whether or not those weapons were placed there yesterday or had they been placed there earlier, we don't have the answer to that. And that is one of the questions that investigators will be seeking to answer.

KAGAN: Frank Buckley in Malden, Massachusetts, thank you very much.

Now back to Roger.

We also learned in that arraignment that, according to his own attorney, that this man, Michael McDermott, has been under psychiatric care.

COSSACK: Right, right. And that seems pretty clear what -- in what direction, and probably the only direction that the defense can go in this case. This is a man who clearly -- at least we understand -- was under psychiatric care. To what degree we don't know, but that will be examined by the court. As we've talked about, there doesn't seem to be much dispute, if any, about what actually happened, the terrible events that actually happened. Who knows what set this man off.

And I notice that we're talking about the garnishment of wages, we're talking about a lot of things, but, you know, will we ever really know what set this man off? Who knows?

KAGAN: We don't know. But we do know the next trial date -- or next, actually, court date, Jan. 31.

COSSACK: And that's a pre-trial conference.

KAGAN: What happens then?

COSSACK: OK, that's a time when the lawyers will get together with the judge to talk about the future of the case, to talk about what's happened so far, the investigation, whether or not the lawyers have been able to talk prior to that time, the prosecutor and defense attorney to figure out a plan of action of which they can both go along with, perhaps even a change of plea. It's a time for the parties, the lawyers and the judge, to get together to try and figure out how the rest of this case is going to go.

It's clear this is not going to be a trial in which someone says, look, you have the wrong man.

KAGAN: Whodunnit.

COSSACK: If there's anything here, it's going to be a trial of psychiatrists as to what the competency is in this case.

KAGAN: One other question, Roger. When we were hearing the D.A. talk, we heard a lot of gruesome details about how these people were shot, how they believe that Michael McDermott made his way through Edgewater Technologies. What's the purpose of offering up those kind of details at this stage in the court process?

COSSACK: You know, I think that's done for a couple of different reasons. It's clear that the district attorney really didn't have to say anything to succeed in not -- in making sure that McDermott was never released on bail.

KAGAN: Right.

COSSACK: But I think that, in some ways, he understood also that there was a camera in that courtroom. It's an informational process, to get the horror of this on the record so that people will understand exactly what happened. And I think it's really a question of having the prosecution say what happened and let the facts be known.

As I said, it's clear he didn't have to say anything to make sure that McDermott was not going to be released on bail, but I think that there is a process that they go through. And I think there's some good in getting information out there, and I think that's probably what the prosecutor had in mind.

KAGAN: Roger Cossack, thank you very much.

COSSACK: Thank you.

KAGAN: Good to have you with us to understand the process. Also our thanks to Frank Buckley, who is outside the courtroom in Malden, Massachusetts.

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