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Interview With Wendy Murphy, Lisa Bloom

Aired July 28, 2003 - 19:37   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a look at the legal side of some stories we've reported that are either on the docket or are about to be.
Now, as we mentioned, regarding the Kobe Bryant case, a judge this week is expected to decide whether to release 911 calls made by the alleged victim. The calls are not from the alleged assault but from episodes not involving Bryant, episodes some observers say have no relevance to this case.

We're also about to look at the case of convicted killer Darnell Williams. Indiana's governor tonight granted him a 60-day stay of execution to allow for DNA testing of blood evidence in the case.

Also on our docket, a Columbine lawsuit. The parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are expecting to give depositions this week about whether they did or should have known about the attacks. The parents of five slain students are suing, claiming the parents could have prevented the 1999 school shooting.

A lot to talk about in the next couple of minutes. Joining us now to help with us the legal angles, we have Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom. And from Watertown, Massachusetts, former federal prosecutor Wendy Murphy.

Appreciate both of you joining us.

Lisa, let's start with you in the Kobe Bryant case. Should these 911 tapes be made public?

LISA BLOOM, ANCHOR, COURT TV: Well, unfortunately, I think they should, because these are calls made to a government official. They are taped, and they're typically publicly available. I think it's very sad for the victim that this information's going to be out there.

But keep in mind, there is a difference between making them publicly available to the media and having them be admissible at trial. That will be an issue for the judge to determine later.

COOPER: Well, I mean, it is easy to split hairs now. Wendy Murphy, what do you think? I mean, some will say making these admissible to the public now might taint a potential jury pool.

WENDY MURPHY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Absolutely. I mean, it not only taints the potential jury pool, it invades her medical privacy. You know, there is something to what Lisa is saying, in that when the government receives information, it's presumptively public. We've heard lots of 911 tapes about reports of criminal activity.

But what's different here is, the nature of what was being reported. This is deeply personal stuff. This is medical private information.

And there is no reason we can't make judgment calls and say, for example, the fact that somebody calls 911 and says, Please, help me, I'm HIV positive, I have AIDS, you know, I'd like you to come help me, would we necessarily air that, just because it was a call to 911?

It is important to make judgment calls that have to do with both the private information, or the nature of the private information, as well as the fact that it may well deprive the public of a fair trial in this case.

COOPER: Well, Lisa, what about that? I mean, is it anyone's business, really?

BLOOM: Well, you know, I think it is unfortunate, because I am sympathetic to the victim and sympathetic to what Wendy says. But we have the First Amendment for a reason. And sometimes it is messy, and sometimes it is unpleasant when information is made public and made available to all of us, information that maybe we don't want to hear.

But I'm not concerned about tainting of the jury pool in this or any other case where we're talking about search warrant affidavits in the Kobe Bryant case, for example, being made public. I'm very confident that jurors can ferret things out, that they can be skeptical of the media, they can listen only to the evidence, and base the decision on the evidence.

MURPHY: But you know what? You know what, Lisa? We're forgetting something. When jurors are assessing evidence, they're supposed to be only assessing relevant evidence. And you said something important, you said this may not be admissible at trial.

Well, look, if it is not likely to be admissible, and based on what we know thus far, the mere fact that it was made, the fact that she might have been depressed or whatever, been struggling in her life, that is no way enough to connect the dots and make this stuff admissible at trial.

And if it is not going to be admissible at trial, then the media and certainly all of us can make the judgment now to say, We don't have to hear about this. It's private stuff. You know...

BLOOM: But the media is all over the case, Wendy. And the media is...

MURPHY: So what?

BLOOM: ... speculating and engaging in rumor and innuendo. Why not get the real information, get the real facts, whether they're in the search warrant affidavits, whether it's in her 911 call, get the true information out instead of all that rumor?

COOPER: All right, let...

MURPHY: No, but I'm talking about the 911 call with regard to her personal medical information, not the crime. I want all the stuff about the crime out. I'm with you there.

BLOOM: But I don't think you can pick and choose...

MURPHY: This has nothing to do with the crime.

BLOOM: ... when the First amendment is involved.

COOPER: Well, we're going to have to see on...

MURPHY: This has nothing to do with the case.

COOPER: ... Tuesday. The judge could rule on this as early as tomorrow, though. A lot of people are saying, a lot of court observers are saying it's -- he's likely not going to rule on it until there is some other rulings made regarding the search warrants, regarding other court documents. We're going to have to wait and see.

Let's move on, though, right now. Wendy, this Indiana death penalty case, Darnell Williams gets a 60-day stay of execution. Was this the right move, so he can get DNA testing?

MURPHY: You know, I guess I should start off, Anderson, by saying that I am not a fan of the death penalty, I'm not a supporter of it in a philosophical or moral way. But I'm also not a fan of the manipulation of public opinion or the manipulation of political leaders and public officials in these kinds of cases.

I mean, look, I'm all for spending tax dollars if new DNA tests on old evidence will in fact unveil important information with regard to someone's innocence, or even if it might mean that they don't deserve the death penalty.

But based on everything I've read about this case, there really is no question that whatever the tests reveal, he is still the person at the scene of the crime. He's seen going into the house with a gun. There is no doubt under Indiana law that whether he was the shooter or an accomplice, and I could care less. I mean, two guys at the scene executing two elderly people, I could care less which of them pulled the trigger.

BLOOM: But there's a difference, Wendy...


BLOOM: ... there is a difference between being a conspirator to murder, in which case he's going to get life in prison, and let's be clear, he's not going to be freed under any circumstances. He's either looking at life in prison or the death penalty.

And getting death, and this jury said that the reason why they gave him the death penalty was primarily based on two drops of blood on his pants back in 1986. The jurors themselves want to know if DNA tests are going to reveal...


BLOOM: ... if that blood is from his victims. I think this jury has to be respected in the very difficult decision they made...


BLOOM: ... to sentence him to death.

MURPHY: You know what, Lisa, thought? I mean, I agree with you. In a sense, jurors come to this process very emotional. The first time I was involved in a murder prosecution and the jury said guilty, I was the prosecutor, and I started to cry. It is a very heavy burden.

BLOOM: Sure.

MURPHY: But I can't tell you the number of cases I've seen where jurors come back years later or after the fact and they doubt themselves. This is a serious decision they've made. Whether it's to put somebody behind bars for the rest of their life or sentence them to death, there is no question they sometimes second-guess themselves.

I'm not interested in what jurors think. I'm interested in whether, as a matter of law, he was fairly prosecuted...

COOPER: Well, it is a, it is...

MURPHY: ... and convicted...

COOPER: We should also just point out...

MURPHY: ... and sentenced to death.

COOPER: ... it's not, it's not just one of the jurors, it's also the prosecutor in this case...

BLOOM: That's right.

COOPER: ... come forward again. It's just something we're going to have to follow.

Very briefly, final thing, Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, but their parents likely to go under depositions now, being sued by a number of the parents. Do the parents have a case here against the parents of Klebold and Harris?

BLOOM: Absolutely. And many parents are shocked to know that we are, in fact, legally responsible for the sins and crimes of our children. If our kid throws a rock through the window, we have to pay for that repair.

And more seriously, in this case, if our kids commit murder, and we knew or should have known how dangerous they were to the community, we as parents can be legally responsible for that. That's what this Columbine case is all about. And these parents having to submit to depositions four years later, I think, is very, very significant.

COOPER: I guess that's the question, Wendy. Did they know or should they have known?

MURPHY: Well, that is the legal test. And here Lisa and I will agree. You know, not only are parents sometimes civilly liable for the things they knew or should have known about what their children were doing in their house, and, I mean, there is some evidence here that in the Harris household, that's where the, you know, the bombs were being made.

I mean, what kind of parent allows bombs to be made in their home and has no idea what is going on? We need a system of laws that kicks the parents in the fanny a bit, you know, when that's going on and they're not noticing. One of the ways you get them to sit up and take notice is, you sue them, and you make them pay through the nose.

And even some states go so far, Anderson, as to find parents criminally responsible when you can show not only negligence, that is, they knew or should have known, but a high degree of negligence called recklessness. If you can show that, in some states you go, but you go to jail as the parent who should have known.

COOPER: Well, to have you two actually agree on something, I think we'd better leave it right there. Lisa Bloom, thanks. Wendy Murphy...


COOPER: ... thanks very much.

MURPHY: Thank you.


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