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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Three Teens Allegedly Involved in High School Shooting Plot

Aired July 7, 2003 - 20:00   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: In New Jersey tonight, three teenagers are accused of plotting a killing spree, Columbine style. Authorities say it was averted only because the teens botched a carjacking early yesterday.
CNN's Deborah Feyerick joins us from Oakland, New Jersey, and suburban Philadelphia, where the investigation goes on.

Deborah, what is the very latest from there?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hey there, Paula.

Eighteen-year-old Matthew Lovett, one of the teenagers, is in a medical ward in the county jail tonight. He met with a lawyer this afternoon. And the lawyer asked him whether he was depressed. The teenager said that, no, he's mentally stable, but not emotionally stable. Lovett graduated high school about three weeks ago. His father tells me that he was not planning on going to college and had no immediate plans for the future. His father was out of town over the weekend.

And that's when Lovett and two other teenage friends took several guns that were registered to the father and went out and tried this attempted carjacking. This was very late Sunday night at about 4:00 in the morning. The carjacker -- the man who was driving the car alerted police to what was going on. And police arrested all of the boys, apparently without struggle. Prosecutors do say that this could have been a massacre.

They point to Columbine, and, of course, also to the sniper incident that took place. They say that these boys had targeted classmates that they were going to go after. And once that was done, they were simply going to roam through the town of Oakland, trying to find other people to kill. One of the boys did leave a note saying that they were warriors for freedom. All the teens have been charged right now with conspiracy to murder -- Paula.

ZAHN: Deborah, tell us a little bit about the reaction of the local community to all of this.

FEYERICK: Well, the community is shocked by all this. That's always the word that comes up, shocked, stunned. The father said that this boy was not capable of this kind of violence. He said, yes, his son was shy, he liked his computers, he was a loner, but he wasn't capable of all this. His life had been scarred by tragedy, because, when he was 9 years old, he lost his mother. And so, whether that is something that sort of set him off as he entered this new chapter of his life, which is not really knowing what to do, the security of high school being taken away, that is one thing that his lawyer says he's going to be looking at.

ZAHN: Deborah Feyerick, thanks for the update.

Police describe 18-year-old Matthew Lovett as the mastermind of the alleged shooting plot. Here is a quote from the Camden County prosecutor. He said -- quote -- "They were going execute three individuals and continue until they ran out of ammunition with the killings throughout town."

But in a telephone interview on "AMERICAN MORNING," his father described him quite differently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON LOVETT, FATHER OF MATTHEW LOVETT: He was always a good kid. He just graduated with four "A"s on his report card. And he was most bashful in the school yearbook. He was kind of withdrawn after his mother died. His mother left a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old when she passed away.

And I've tried my best to raise him. He's never been in trouble with the law. I had no complaints all throughout high school about his behavior. And he's never been interested in guns, never fired one, never loaded one, doesn't know how to drive a car.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, that's one view. As you heard me just say, the Camden County prosecutor describes Matthew Lovett and his companions much differently, once again, basically saying these were three individuals out to kill a lot of people.

Joining us tonight is -- from Philadelphia is Craig Mitnick. He happens to be the attorney for Matthew Lovett.

Thank you very much for joining us, sir.

First off, your reaction to what the Camden prosecutor has said about your client.

CRAIG MITNICK, ATTORNEY FOR MATTHEW LOVETT: Well, good evening, Paula.

I was hit by the phrase, "They were going continue killing until all their ammunition ran out." The facts of this case show, Paula, that they had 2,000 rounds of ammunition. What hasn't come out: that those rounds of ammunition were 25 to 30 years old. And I don't even know if they could have been detonated.

We all need to take a deep breath and really look at what this is. Thank God no one was hurt, let alone killed, that no gun was ever shot. So everyone needs to calm. Everyone can't look at this as a Columbine incident immediately. We need to gather our facts before anyone rushes to what these individuals should really be charged with.

ZAHN: But, Mr. Mitnick, you can't say tonight that they were up to doing something good here, something positive.

MITNICK: Oh, Paula, absolutely not. You look at what they did. They left the home with guns. One was an 18-year-old, with a 14-year- old and a 15-year-old, two of his closest friends. As his dad said, Matt is an 18-year-old -- or is an 18-year-old, but it's a 12-year-old in an 18-year-old's body.

When I said to Matt today when I saw him, do you know what your bail is? And he looked at me and he said $7,500. And I said, no, Matt, $1 million. And he looked at me almost as in disbelief, as if to say, I'm not worth $1 million. There's self-esteem problems here. There's problems with a very fragile psyche.

But he was emphatic to say I never, ever was going hurt anyone. When we left our visit today, he said, I feel like I'm in the middle of a movie. And I said, well, you're in a lot more trouble than in the middle of a movie. These kids have no consequence of their actions.

ZAHN: But, sir, certainly, they have got to be sophisticated enough to know, if they were caught with this cache of weapons, they were going to be in big trouble and people would jump to the conclusion that maybe they did plan something harmful to have happened.

MITNICK: The weapons are absolutely charges that are appropriate for all three of these individuals to be charged with. Whether they intended to use these weapons, we all need to really wait and see, rather than jumping to conclusions here.

When I asked Matt if he knew the consequences of carrying around a loaded weapon, he had no clue of that. And that's what shocked me, because, you're right, they are sophisticated. They were computer savvy. They learned about cleaning guns and loading guns. But, at the same time, he has maintained that he never, ever intended to hurt anyone with these weapons.

ZAHN: As you know, some of the local press has gone around and talked with classmates of your client. And they indicated he and his two companions he was arrested with had had some problems with kids at their school before. They were described as walking around in black clothing. I guess students describe it as "Matrix Reloaded" type of clothing.

What was the nature of the relationship with other kids at school? And did they have problems with these kids?

MITNICK: I can't comment in regards to the two juveniles. But in regards to Matt, I think he was, as his father said, mostly a loner.

His mom died when he was 9 years old. He has a brother that is three years younger than he. His brother has a slight deformity, a cleft palate, and was ridiculed a lot in his life. Paula, this kid was much different. He lost his mother when he was 9. He grew up much too quickly. And I don't think he took ridicule the way most normal kids would. Does that mean he would have went out and pulled the trigger on someone? When I asked him that, he said, absolutely not.

ZAHN: Sir, we just have 10 seconds left. Apparently, a letter was found in his father's home written by your client. Do you know anything about that and can you confirm that to be the case?

(CROSSTALK)

MITNICK: I know nothing about that letter. There's rumors of a letter, but nothing that I have seen to date.

ZAHN: All right, Craig Mitnick, thank you very much for your time this evening. We appreciate it.

MITNICK: Thank you, Paula.

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