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Virginia Commonwealth Attorney Addresses Reporters

Aired November 8, 2002 - 14:11   ET


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Developments today in the sniper case, with both suspects doing the so-called perp walk on their way into court in Virginia. A court hearing for 17-year-old suspect John Malvo has just come to an end. Earlier, John Muhammad made his first court appearance in Virginia in an orange prison jumpsuit and shackles. Today's hearing amounted to a reading of the charges against him. The Virginia case involves the sniper killing of a man at a gas station in Manassas. The judge said a public defender will be named to represent Muhammad by next week.
We want to dip into a news conference that is apparently going on in Fairfax County, Virginia, regarding this case. Let's listen.



HORAN: No, no other identified prints on the rifle other than his.

QUESTION: Bob, you mentioned that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was seen at the sniper shooting, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), that he was seen near the sniper shooting site in Massaponax, and that they were seen (UNINTELLIGIBLE) after the Home Depot shooting. Could you say what you said before?

HORAN: You already said what I said in court. And you've got it right. He got it right.

QUESTION: Did any of these witnesses (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the juvenile at or near the location describe what they told the police before their arrest?

HORAN: Well, I am sure they did. But I am not going to detail that for you.

QUESTION: But police had...

HORAN: Now, remember, what rules we're under here -- fair trial, free press rules -- and I'm not going to get into detail about the evidence in the case. I can only tell you what I said in the courtroom. I'm not going to tell you what the evidence is.

QUESTION: In the courtroom you said something that, frankly, I don't think anybody has heard before, was that this -- the escape that Lee Malvo attempted right after he was arrested was more severe, more in-depth...

HORAN: Yes. I told the judge that what happened, he got up in the ceiling tile of the room he was in and crawled along the top of that tile down for a couple more offices, and eventually he fell through the tiles in an office, I think, it was two down from where he started.

QUESTION: What is the actual process for having to try him as an adult?

HORAN: Well, with all juveniles, you must begin in juvenile court, you can't begin with a grand jury indictment. The process is for a judge of the juvenile court to hear the evidence and decide whether there is probable cause. If the judge finds probable cause...

SAVIDGE: Robert Horan talking, he is the Virginia Commonwealth attorney and he is referring to the case of John Malvo, one of two suspects in the D.C. sniper case all to itself.

Now, a look at the suspects and their legal situation, and for that we turn to Jeffrey Toobin. He is with us from New York. It's good to have you with us again.


SAVIDGE: How much trouble is this young man in, now that they seem to be treating him as an adult?

TOOBIN: How wide can you spread your arms, Marty? That's how much trouble he's in. You know, this is an extraordinary case. I mean, every day the net seems to get wider and the problems seem to get deeper for both of these two.

You know, here there is a process involved, as Mr. Horan was just describing, the prosecutor, moving him from juvenile court to ordinary criminal court, but I don't think anyone doubts that that is going to take place.

One thing that is worth noting that came through in both press conferences today is that this process is going to slow down considerably. Remember, we haven't even had defense attorneys assigned, and if these defense attorneys know what they're doing, as I'm sure they will, the first thing they're going to ask for is a delay in the big way. They have got a lot of evidence to digest, and they also want to see their jury pool, regardless of where it is in Virginia, calm down a little bit, and a year to trial, I think, would be somewhat optimistic.

SAVIDGE: That's right. Somebody said that today. They said about a year from now, we ought to be getting started. Regarding the potential for this trial, though, every day we've had these new developments. Why do you think Virginia got first dibs?

TOOBIN: Very simple, the death penalty. Virginia is a place where people get executed a lot. Second most executions behind only Texas since the death penalty came back in 1976. John Ashcroft personally and institutionally in the Justice Department is committed to increasing the number of executions. He made clear, as he put it in his press conference, that the available penalties was an important factor in his decision. that's why it's going to Virginia, and it is pretty amazing, when you think about it, when you have six people murdered by these -- allegedly by these same suspects in Montgomery County, and only one in these Virginia counties; the Justice Department steered it to Virginia. But that's why they did it, because of the death penalty.

SAVIDGE: And Jeffrey, say that this goes through to trial, both of these suspects are convicted, they get the death penalty, are they really going to to march them into other states, other jurisdictions and go through this again?

TOOBIN: That's an interesting question. I don't really know the answer; it's sort of without precedent. What I would imagine would happen is that the jurisdictions sort of line up behind, and the Justice Department, again, sort of sets an order of trial, but if in fact, they're convicted and if they are sentenced to death, the appeals process will continue. But if the appeals process runs out while some jurisdictions haven't tried them yet, I assume they would just be executed without being tried everywhere, but I have to say, we're getting ahead of ourselves by a matter of years, not to mention, you know, convicting them in advance. But it is an odd situation, to say the least.

SAVIDGE: All right, Jeffrey, stay with us, because we want to get back into this news conference, we are hearing more, and this is a good chance to listen in.

HORAN: Well, one of the requirements of the Virginia law is that the parent or parents of the juvenile be notified that the court proceedings are under way, and it says in the code that you shall locate them, if you can.

The last known address for the mother of this defendant, the last place we know she actually resided was in Florida, which is the date the police gave at the time the petition was filed. Since then, we have learned that she is in the vicinity of Bellingham, Washington. We have an address; we will attempt to serve here there. The FBI has in its hands right now the petition charging this juvenile, and we hope that by the time the weekend is over, we will give her the formal notice that Virginia law requires for her if she can be found.

As far as we know, she is in the state of Washington as we speak. But she has not been found yet by the FBI.


HORAN: The birth records of this juvenile, which come out of Kingston Parish in Jamaica, those birth records only indicate the name of the mother, there is no name of the father in those birth records. I know that there is a man who has been on television, certainly, indicating he is the father, but whether he is or not I don't know.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to Attorney General John Ashcroft (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

HORAN: I talked to the attorney general yesterday.

QUESTION: Did you lobby for this case to come here? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) said that he didn't, you know, he didn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HORAN: I knew yesterday morning at 9:30 when I got a phone call saying that the juvenile was going to be sent here for trial when the federal charges were dismissed. My position throughout this whole thing has been to send it to the place that has the best law and the best evidence. I've always felt it should be evidence driven. The attorney general of the United States had available to him the fact patterns and the evidence from each of these jurisdictions. It was the attorney general's call, and he decided to send the juvenile here and the adult to Prince William County, and I happen to agree with his decision, but I had nothing to do with making it. I never spoke to the attorney general of the United States before yesterday, and -- nor had I ever speak to any member of his staff prior to yesterday.


HORAN: Lots of them.

QUESTION: So based on the fact that the only fingerprints found on the rifle were that of the juvenile, do you have any reason to believe that anybody else may have fired?

HORAN: I am not going to get into what the evidence is.

QUESTION: About the potential escape, how close did this juvenile come to actually escaping? Did he come that close?

HORAN: Well, he certainly got out over two offices, headed in direction towards the exists.

QUESTION: Who was with you last night (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

HORAN: Oh, I have no idea.

QUESTION: The attorney general cited a third reason -- two that you cited, best law and best evidence, and the third one, and that was the best, the biggest range of consequent (ph) penalties. Is that a valid reason to put the case here?

HORAN: It's absolutely valid. I mean, even if you don't believe in capital punishment, the legislature said capital punishment is available for certain crimes. If this one doesn't qualify, none of them should qualify. It is an absolute consideration, among other things, judicial economy. Why not try him in the place with the largest possible penalty first, rather than try him in some place with lesser penalties only to have the other jurisdictions come on board later.

There is no way in the world these people should be tried five times. QUESTION: When you talk about being evidence-driven, do you believe Virginia has better evidence to prosecute these two men than Maryland does?

HORAN: No, when I'm talking about being evidence-driven, I'm talking about it would be in what factual evidence is available in the individual case.

QUESTION: This morning (UNINTELLIGIBLE) terrorism charge, and the issue of finding a jury that the public has seen as potentially (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Do you have any thoughts about that issue?

HORAN: You know, I have been astounded through the years how many people don't read newspapers and don't watch television. I remember there was a famous case many years ago, the Watergate case in Washington, D.C., there was a judge in that case by the name of John Sirica, and in the course of that, there is a footnote in the opinion when the former Attorney General John Mitchell, Haldeman and Ehrlichman got convicted in the Watergate case, and it had been in the newspapers for two solid years, front page, television, newspapers, and Judge Sirica said, you know, you folks think that the average citizen out there waits on your every word every day. He says, this case proves that is absolutely not true, because there was a whole bunch of people in the jury panel who had never heard of Watergate.

And I'm sure in this case...

SAVIDGE: You're listening to Robert Horan. He is the Commonwealth attorney for Virginia. And Jeffrey Toobin, we want to bring you back in. Thanks for waiting as we listen to this.

John Lee Malvo, have we got to the point where we know he is going to be tried as an adult, and if so, how does that change things and how do they go about doing it?

TOOBIN: Well, we don't know that at this point. The process is just starting, but I don't think there is much doubt that he will be. What makes it -- it just makes it much more likely that he will get the death penalty if he is tried him as an adult. Virginia does allow execution of 17-year-olds, but it makes it much more likely if he is in the adult system, and given the magnitude of this crime, if in fact he is convicted, he will be just that much more likely to get the death penalty.

SAVIDGE: And we also heard from Mr. Horan saying that he didn't see how we would be putting him through five other trials, apparently.

TOOBIN: Yeah, it's easy for him to say that, because he's first in line. You know, he is -- these prosecutors who are behind him are going to be very anxious to try these people regardless of how many times they have been tried first. You know, prosecutors are very serious about wanting to vindicate the lives of people who are killed in their jurisdiction. You know, they take very seriously that if someone was killed in their county, in their burrow, that they want to try the case. And also, there is an element of publicity that attaches to this case no matter what. So I think he's all -- he thinks that the debate is over about how many times these people will be tried. It think that it's very far from clear, and well be literally years in the making, that decision.

SAVIDGE: It is not the beginning of the end, it is just simply the end of the beginning right now when it comes to this particular case.

TOOBIN: Indeed.

SAVIDGE: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much for joining us.


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