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ISSUES WITH JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL
Special Investigation: Murder in America
Aired November 26, 2008 - 19:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JANE VELEZ MITCHELL, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, a special ISSUES investigation. Murder in America. From an 8-year-old Arizona boy suspected of gunning down his dad, to Hollywood millionaire Phil Specter, allegations of murder fill the headlines in this country.
America is the murder capital of the developed world. One reason? We`re armed to the teeth, with one gun for almost every man, woman and child. Tonight we`ll search for real solutions to this nightmare.
Also, is justice delayed, justice denied? We`ll look at murders where the prime suspect has not been brought to justice. From the brutal killing of a New York City co-ed to the triple murder of Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson`s family. Are the wheels of justice grinding to a halt?
All this, and more, in a special ISSUES investigation, "Murder in America," tonight.
VELEZ MITCHELL: Almost 17,000 people are murdered every year in America. Most are killed with a gun. Gun ownership is at an all-time high. Now it`s time to investigate the issues behind murder in America.
Tonight I`ll show you how our gun culture and the slow wheels of justice are making a bad problem worse. Plus, I`ll have the latest on the murders of Jennifer Hudson`s family. And I will update you on the search for Stacy Peterson. Should police name her ex-cop husband a suspect in her very suspicious disappearance?
But first, I want to remind America of a recent tragedy: a double murder that made headlines around the world. The most shocking fact in this case, an 8-year-old boy -- 8 years old -- had a loaded gun. In fact, he had been trained to use it by his father. Now that father is dead.
On November 5, 2008, police were called to a home in St. Johns, Arizona. What they found were the bodies of two men. They made only one arrest: the 8-year-old boy. The victims were the boy`s father and the dad`s friend. The charge? Premeditated murder of both men.
Police say the boy -- yes, the boy -- shot them with a 22 caliber rifle. Authorities say they are dismissing the charge that the boy killed his father in the interest of justice. But the murder count in the shooting death of the second man remained.
Here to analyze this truly horrific situation, Wendy Murphy, a former prosecutor, author of "And Justice for Some" and a law professor at New England Law, and Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, and Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
First I want to play you a piece of the shocking police interrogation of this child. Again, he`s a child. Some legal experts are saying it`s totally inadmissible because there was no lawyer present and no family member present. But as you listen, remember, this is the voice of a child.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I shot my dad because he was suffering, I think. He was suffering.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I shot him. I didn`t want him to suffer. And then I went, and then I went outside and saw, but at first I saw (WORD DELETED). And then I think the gun went off at that time, because he was shaking and I think that time it went off. And then I went upstairs and I saw my dad and I think I shot him because he -- he was suffering.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ MITCHELL: "I shot him because he was suffering." Astounding stuff. The boy changed his story repeatedly. But the bottom line is that this 8-year-old boy had a gun. And he allegedly used it to shoot two people.
Daniel, let`s start with you. Why is an 8-year-old boy allowed to handle a loaded weapon? Apparently, there are no laws against this, at least not in Arizona. And why not?
DANIEL VICE, BRADY CENTER TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: Amazingly, under federal law, there are no age limits for children to possess rifles and shotguns. It`s far too easy in this country for children and dangerous people to get their hands on dangerous weapons.
But we have hope now, because Americans have demanded change. After eight years of supporting NRA policies, of allowing assault rifles on our streets, of allowing gun sales without even a background check, we saw a dramatic change in the elections where the NRA lost big. Pro-gun control candidates were elected.
So we`re very hopeful that finally we can put an end to the carnage where eight children and teens are shot and killed every day in this country, where 80 Americans are killed by gunfire every day in this country.
VELEZ MITCHELL: Well, Larry Pratt, we want this to be an open and fair debate. That`s why you are here to talk about gun ownership. Arizona`s gun laws do not require adults to keep their guns locked away from kids. They don`t even require people to install trigger locks.
When you see a case of an 8-year-old boy accused of killing two grown men, does it make your doubt your position even slightly?
LARRY PRATT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GUN OWNERS OF AMERIC: Well, it makes me doubt the coverage that the media gives to situations like this, when not long ago, a few years ago, in Indiana, an 11-year-old youngster, seeing his mother being threatened and physically mistreated and about to be killed by an invader in their house, ran upstairs, got a .45-caliber pistol, came downstairs and shot the man who was actually standing behind the mother, holding her as a shield. Killed the guy with one shot.
Now, seems to me we could spend a little time studying how that kid was able to shoot so well under so much stress. I think that`s the kind of model we ought to be looking at rather than saying, what went wrong. Why don`t we look at what went right?
VELEZ MITCHELL: I hear what you`re saying. I do hear what you`re saying.
PRATT: I don`t think you do.
VELEZ MITCHELL: But Wendy Murphy, it`s always that anecdote that comes up every time we talk about gun control. Well, remember that one time that that boy protected his mom? But here are the stats. Wait a second. The risk of homicide in the home is three times greater in households with guns.
I`m going to say one more time: the risk of murder in the home is three times greater in households with guns.
Wendy, weigh in on this.
WENDY MURPHY, NEW ENGLAND SCHOOL OF LAW: Yes, I mean, look, the problem is, with guns you can make a very rash decision to kill, and you can`t take it back. Unlike if there were no guns in the home and you were angry and you went to look for a bat, there`s so much more danger when there`s a gun around.
The problem is this. Even if we make all guns illegal, or, you know, make mandatory lock laws everywhere, it`s virtually impossible to police. And there will just be an underground market for...
VELEZ MITCHELL: That`s no argument. Let`s throw out all the laws, because, oh, gee, nobody can tell whether I`m breaking a law inside my home so let`s just throw out the law.
MURPHY: No. No, but that`s not my point. What I`m saying is, there are good reasons and good people can be responsible gun owners. We don`t - - but we don`t need things like assault weapons. And we don`t -- we certainly don`t need 8-year-olds as a matter of law to have permission to use guns. That`s silliness.
I don`t know that that would necessarily have protected this child from doing something terrible, because we don`t know the full story.
VELEZ MITCHELL: Oh, please. Do you think an 8-year-old is going to be able to kill two adults any other way other than having a gun and blowing them away? Do you think he`s going to come at them with his, you know, Guitar Hero and hit him over the head? No, I don`t think so.
MURPHY: No. No, but look it. Look, if there was something awful going on with that child, and look, the lack of affect in his confession sounds like he is terribly traumatized from something horrible.
But, you know, kids burn houses down. When kids are being abused, they do terrible things. Whether it`s with a gun or they burn houses, they get their protection from wherever they can get it. They`re desperate. They`re defenseless. So I don`t know that getting rid of all guns would have saved anybody in some of these examples.
VELEZ MITCHELL: Well, let me -- let`s talk about this boy`s mentality. Because the boy`s mom was interviewed on "Good Morning America." And she paints a picture of a happy, normal kid. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s my son. He`s a very good little boy. And what I think has -- what happened to being innocent until proven guilty? He`s very outgoing. He loves animals. Be likes to ride his dirt bike, skateboarding. You know, outdoor things.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ever been in trouble at school?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Not at all. I mean, acting out as far as, you know, you know, raising -- not raising your hand when he needs to speak. Or, you know, just normal -- normal stuff like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ MITCHELL: Daniel Vice, you just heard the mom talking. How does a child like that allegedly kill two men? Is it simply a case of this child was trained to kill by his father, because his father trained him to kill prairie dogs? So he knew how to fire, and he doesn`t understand the consequences of pulling the trigger?
VICE: The sad reality in all of these tragedies, day after day, is guns. Easy access to guns, lethal weapons that make it easy for even children to kill.
And the reality in America is we want a middle ground. We want common-sense solutions that will protect our communities. We`ve seen that states that pass tough gun laws have lower gun death rates. Massachusetts, for example, some of the strongest gun laws in the country. Lowest gun death rates in the continental U.S. New York City, new data just shows New York City is safest second only to Honolulu as the safest city in America, with lowest gun count, lowest crime rates.
VELEZ MITCHELL: Let me jump in here very quickly. Because I want to get to this. We have some video here of kids shooting recreationally. And we`re not talking about that. This is just video of kids shooting recreationally.
But there was a recent tragedy, not involving this video, but there you see kids shooting recreationally. This is a case of an 8-year-old Massachusetts boy. He died at a gun fair after accidentally shooting himself in the head with an Uzi sub machine gun. He was being supervised by licensed adults.
Now, I want to ask Larry, experts tell me that Uzis have these tremendous recoils. I just spoke to somebody today who said even an adult can be destabilized by the recoil of an Uzi. Shouldn`t it be illegal, at least, for kids to handle Uzis? Give me that one.
PRATT: Well, my grandchildren have been to the shooting range many times, and I must say, we haven`t had them using an actual machine gun. But a child, I think, should be trained how to use guns. And that`s really what I think is the argument that you`re trying to make should not happen.
Had there been an impediment on the gun that that child used in Indiana, to save his mother`s life, he wouldn`t have been able to save his mother`s life. So all these reasonable, seemingly feel-good gun laws that tie up a gun and keep people from using it don`t keep the bad guys from using it. They just keep the good guys.
VELEZ MITCHELL: I disagree. I think it`s an accidental death. It`s one of the leading causes of deaths by guns.
PRATT: NO, it`s not. That`s absolutely declining, and it`s not at all one of the leading causes of death. Automobiles, fires, bicycles, and excess of firearms.
VICE: It`s really outrageous that we can`t even have the gun lobbying agreeing that children shouldn`t be firing Uzis. We need common-sense solutions to our gun problems. Why are there no background checks when you buy guns at gun shows? Why are military style weapons for sale?
MURPHY: Can I just say something? Look at...
VELEZ MITCHELL: Wendy, briefly jump in. Then we have to break.
MURPHY: Massachusetts, the so-called safest state in the nation, with the best gun laws, that`s where that 8-year-old shot himself to death. So it isn`t always about the law. Look, sometimes, for example, in battered women`s cases, you give her a restraining order. It doesn`t stop the bullet. You give her a gun, you`re got a little bit...
VELEZ MITCHELL: Yes, we`ve got to have some laws. I don`t think we can just say laws don`t work, therefore, let`s not have them. I think something has to be done about kids handling weapons. I certainly don`t want a kid with a loaded gun anywhere near me.
Stay right there, panel.
Nearly six years ago, actress Lana Clarkson was found shot dead in Hollywood. Mogul Phil Specter`s home was the location. The case still drags on, six years later. Specter back on trial for her murder, after the first jury deadlocked. I`m going to update you on this very frustrating case and other high-profile murders where justice simply has not been served, in just a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don`t know what the motive really was at this time. But clearly, you have people who do know each other, so it wasn`t the case of a stranger type homicide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ MITCHELL: Murder can visit anyone in America, even the rich and famous. On October 24, 2008, singer/actress Jennifer Hudson`s mother and brother were found shot to death in the family home in South Chicago. The body of the superstar`s 7-year-old nephew was found sometime later in an abandoned SUV. He had been shot multiple times.
William Balfour, the estranged husband of Jennifer Hudson`s sister, Julia, was questioned in the killings. He was named as a suspect and held on a parole violation. Balfour has a long criminal history that includes prison time for attempted murder. Nobody has been charged in the three Hudson murders. Police suggested the Hudson family killings were domestic related, not random violence.
So with at least three women being murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day, we need to ask ourselves this question, how long can we keep inviting murder into our homes and our communities?
Back with me is my panel: Wendy Murphy, former prosecutor, author of "And Justice for Some"; Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America; and Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Wendy, let`s start with you. What the heck is taking so long to decide whether to file charges against this man? Police say he had a motive. He fought with the wife`s family. They recovered the gun. What are they waiting for?
MURPHY: You know, it`s so hard to answer that question, Jane. I don`t know. I mean, he`s obviously not a man of great influence, or I`d suggest some type of political motivation for the dragging of the feet.
This guy is not, you know, a saint. He`s got a long record. He could have been in prison, by the way. He had a cocaine charge back in June that he should have been surrendered on parole, but he wasn`t.
I don`t know. I suppose it`s that they`re lacking in forensic evidence. But, you know, come on, they`re holding him. These people are dead. Justice matters. It matters. And if it doesn`t happen swiftly, people become cynical about the law.
VELEZ MITCHELL: Absolutely. And, you know, Daniel Vice, this seems to be a classic pattern of escalating domestic violence. The prime suspect here, the estranged husband of Jennifer Hudson`s sister. There was a history of domestic violence involving this couple.
Julia Hudson, the sister, told police Balfour had threatened her and her family, telling her he would kill her if he ever caught her with a boyfriend. Now, she didn`t get killed. She is alive, thank God. But other people did in the family.
So how does the access to firearms increase the risk of violence in domestic situations?
VICE: The commonality we`ve seen in all these cases is that it was so easy for dangerous people and criminals to get guns.
There`s a case pending in the Supreme Court on whether convicted wife beaters should be allowed to have guns. And amazingly, the gun law filed in favor of the convicted wife beater. We need sanity; we need common sense.
Why can a convicted wife beater go to a gun show and buy a gun without a background check? Why can you buy assault weapons? Why is it so hard to pass gun laws in this country when our politicians for years have listened to the gun lobby?
Thankfully, we see change, and we see progress. We see that states that have tough gun laws have lowered their death rates. We`ve seen the Brady background check stop 1.6 million dangerous people from getting guns. We need to expand that to all gun sales. We need to make sure dangerous people like this can`t get their hands on guns.
VELEZ MITCHELL: I want Larry Pratt to weigh in on this U.S. Supreme Court hearing this case. Right now, federal law bars domestic abusers from having guns. This is how I understand it. Correct me if I`m wrong.
But a convicted wife beater challenged the law. As you just heard, the Brady Center is fighting to keep the wife-beater gun ban in place. But apparently, you have filed to keep -- to change this law to allow wife beaters to get guns?
PRATT: Oh, yes. We`re in favor of wife beaters, absolutely. And the next question, I guess, is when did I stop beating my wife? No, actually, what this...
VELEZ MITCHELL: Good comment. I mean, I see your humor. But it is a wife beater gun ban. And you filed some kind of motion in there.
PRATT: We`re -- first of all, we`re in favor of wives having guns. And they`re not three times more likely to be killed in their home if they have a gun. That study was actually a government-funded study. And when the government finally got the data years later and reviewed it, they found that that wasn`t what was happening at all.
VELEZ MITCHELL: What`s happening with -- what`s happening with this case? What`s happening with this particular case? The U.S. Supreme Court.
PRATT: I want to get to that. But I don`t want to let things that were just grossly inaccurate hang out there as if they were a fact, when indeed it`s just the opposite.
The problem is that, when you live around people that are already criminals, that`s what makes you vulnerable, and that`s when you need a gun.
Now, the case before the Supreme Court involves a man who fell under an expansion of the law by the bureaucrats when the law does not say all domestic -- or all misdemeanor violence. It simply says those who have had a charge involving a domestic partner. Those are the targets. And the guy in question never was charged with domestic violence.
VELEZ MITCHELL: All right. OK. I hear you. This is a condensed conversation on television. I get your point. You`re saying that he was not a serious offender. OK?
VICE: This is a man who beat his wife, kicked his wife. The
PRATT: No. Get off of that. Get off of that. That was not even the charge.
VELEZ MITCHELL: We are -- we are coming back in a second with another brutal case. Stay right there. So much more to talk about. Hot-button issue. Imette St. Guillen, brutally raped and murdered.
VELEZ MITCHELL: As we continue our investigation into murder in America, I want to remember Virginia Tech massacre of April 16, 2007. One student -- one student -- killed 32 people. Thirty-two people. And wounded countless others. The shooter finished his rampage by committing suicide. This remains the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.
But could it have been prevented? The killer had a history of mental illness and yet had no problem obtaining two semiautomatic firearms.
Back with me again is my panel: Wendy Murphy, Larry Pratt and Daniel Vice.
Now, Wendy, I don`t think this is what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they talked about the right to bear arms. They didn`t know from semiautomatic weapons...
VELEZ MITCHELL: ... where you can kill lots of people in a short period of time.
MURPHY: Yes. And there`s no question that there`s been an overuse of the Second Amendment as some kind of absolute authority to use any weapon you can create. That`s silliness.
But you know, Jane, I don`t like guns. I don`t even know anybody who owns a gun. So I`m not in that camp. But I`ve gotten to a kind of desperate point when it comes to representing particularly women victims of violence, that over and over again they are faced with the most horrific of family circumstances, where the perpetrator has a gun. And the court system keeps sending him home, saying, you know, well, you beat your wife, we treat it like shoplifting. And she doesn`t have a gun.
I sort of said, stop giving her a restraining order. Give her a gun, so you have domestic detente. You know, he`s not going to kill her if he thinks she`s might kill him first. But we`ve gotten that desperate. I don`t like funs, but we have gotten to that point when it comes to violence against women.
VELEZ MITCHELL: Right. Well, I am right there with you in terms of violence against women. Ninety percent of murders are perpetrated by males.
So Daniel Vice, what`s the answer? Only allow women to carry guns?
MURPHY: That will do it.
VELEZ MITCHELL: Or do we have to provide some way for women to defend themselves in this culture of violence where they`re so often targeted?
VICE: The answer is that we need sanity in our gun laws. We need to stop making it so easy for dangerous people, for convicted wife beaters, for felons and criminals and children to get their hands on guns.
And we`ve seen what works. We have hope. For example, after the Virginia Tech shootings, we passed the first major gun control law in more than a decade. The gun lobby, unfortunately, Gun Owners of America, opposed it.
VELEZ MITCHELL: All right.
VICE: It was just a requirement that health records be sent to the background check system.
VELEZ MITCHELL: We hear you.
VICE: Why do we still sell assault weapons with these high-capacity magazines that the Virginia Tech shooter had?
VELEZ MITCHELL: Let me give Larry -- Larry, weigh in, because I don`t think we`re not saying no guns in America. We`re saying there are some crazy cases like 8-year-olds with guns, like psychopaths with semiautomatics. We`ve got to get a handle on these.
VICE: Why are you still opposing background checks?
PRATT: No. That question was directed to me. The problem -- one of the problems that we have that we never addressed us like the elephant in the room that we don`t want to look at, is that we continue to insist that we have gun-free zones.
Happily, there was not a gun-free zone when a wannabe mass murder went into the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last winter, last Christmastime. He was met by the 25 folks in that church that are part of their security detail. These are people that are members of the church, have concealed carry permits, and one of them was able to gun him down.
VELEZ MITCHELL: All right.
PRATT: And he was dead within 30 seconds.
VELEZ MITCHELL: OK. I hear your theme. I understand your theme. We`ve got more stories. You can weigh in in a second.
Stacy Peterson, that case coming up. Went missing over a year ago. What`s happening there?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, a special "ISSUES" investigation of murder in America. We`ll look at the slow wheels of justice in some of America`s most infamous killings. From a brutal murder of a pretty New York graduate student to the case against Hollywood music mogul Phil Specter.
I`ll try to find out what really happened and why justice hasn`t been served. It`s a special "ISSUES" investigation, "Murder in America."
24-year-old Imette St. Guillen`s nude body was found dumped in a desolate Brooklyn neighborhood, just beyond a New York City highway. She had been raped, sodomized and brutally murdered by suffocation. Her head wrapped in packing tape.
That was almost three years ago. Three years ago. The man accused of kidnapping and killing her is still awaiting trial.
It took a jury less than three hours to find Darryl Littlejohn guilty of abducting another young woman; 19-year-old Chaney Woodward. He faces 25 years for that conviction.
But he`s still awaiting trial three years later in connection with the horrific first-degree murder of Imette St. Guillen.
Former prosecutor Wendy Murphy with me again. She`s joined by Drew Findling, criminal defense attorney and Gregory Skordas the former chief deputy of the Salt Lake County attorney`s office.
Gregory, as you just heard, it`s been almost three years since Imette St. Guillen`s horrific murder, stomach churning. Attorneys describe by homicide investigators is one of the most gruesome they`ve ever seen. Why is Darryl Littlejohn still not brought to justice?
GREGORY SKORDAS, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, I suppose in deference to the prosecutors in that state, they did bring him to justice in the lesser crime that you just described. That is, the prior incident.
And so they`ve had the opportunity to hold him in custody while they wait and investigate and put together this murder case that they ultimately hope will put him into custody for the rest of his life.
So while justice hasn`t been served immediately on that homicide case, he`s not going anywhere. He`s sitting in detention. He`s sitting in jail and will be for, like you just said, 25 years while they make sure that this murder case is rock solid. And I`m assuming that`s what the state is doing in that case.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, you know, he`s not going anywhere. But neither is Imette St. Guillen`s family. They are stuck without any closure.
And that`s what`s so upsetting about this, Drew Findling, criminal defense attorney. And there`s tons of circumstantial evidence in this case. He escorted her out of the bar. His phone records show he was within a mile of the remote location where her body was dumped. He has a long rap sheet. He`s been in and out of prison for years. He has this previous case.
I mean, how much more do you need?
DREW FINDLING, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, Jane, I have to tell you, if I were defending him in this upcoming murder case, I would be concerned. And I know it seems like it`s taken a long time, but those of us that defend these cases are fearful of a methodical prosecution. And here they`ve done what they need to do, and that is, get a conviction on the similar crime.
You know, when you look at the location, and the modus operandi, they`re so similar, that now they`re going to eventually begin this trial, having in evidence, this conviction in Queens, New York, of another college student. I have to tell you, it`s a devastating blow to the defense. I know it`s taken awhile, but from a defense perspective, this is not good news.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wendy Murphy is it that sometimes DNA can work for you, and sometimes it can work against you? While there`s plenty of evidence here, carpet fibers linked to Littlejohn, some DNA, for example, under the victim`s fingernails, did not match his. Some DNA stains where inconclusive, could that be holding it up?
WENDY MURHPY, FORMER POSECUTOR: It is what it is. I don`t know why you have to take three years to figure out how to explain that to a jury. No.
Look, the family needs closure. There`s a reason in every state in this country, victims, including the family of a homicide victim, have a right to a speedy trial. It`s just so disrespected and un-enforced; families go through hell as if they don`t count.
Look, there`s a constitutional right to a speedy trial for the defendant. But we all know that`s a joke. And by the way, I write about this case, Imette St. Guillen`s case in my book.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`ve written about it, too, in my book.
MURPHY: The constitutional right for a speedy trial, all defense attorneys really want is for the cases to be delayed until all the witnesses drop dead.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh yes exactly. I have to say, in my book, "Secrets can be Murder" I wrote about this case. And it was the most horrific case I think I`ve ever covered in terms of a gruesome, brutal rape and murder, especially the horrific fact that this poor woman`s face was wrapped in packing tape.
MURPHY: And by the way, Jane, why didn`t they charge it as a hate crime. He cut her breasts and her vagina. He treated her like trash, cut her hair. Why is that not charged as a hate crime?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I think it`s an excellent question. And you know I think we need to look, you`re a former prosecutor, Greg, we need to look at not just putting this guy away, but preventing future Darryl Littlejohns from becoming the people that they become.
Prevention, we need to stop just locking people up in jail and saying, well, that takes care of that problem, because somebody else comes along and does something even worse. This guy had been in and out of jail for years. He was first sent to jail when he was only a teenager.
That`s when he became emotionally stunted, according to the psychiatrists I talked to. That`s why he sometimes used cartoon names, names out of comic books, because he was trapped in his adolescence. I mean, why can`t we get to these high-risk kids before they become violent?
SKORDAS: Usually we do. And sometimes people slip through the cracks. And that`s not much of a consolation for the family.
But this man is about to serve 25 years in prison for a crime unrelated to this. He will ultimately be brought to justice for this crime. And he`ll have the burden, as my colleague just said, of having the other conviction be made known to the jury. His prior similar act be made known to the jury so that his defense counsel and he himself will have a very, very difficult time convincing a jury that he`s not guilty of this crime.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Drew --
SKORDAS: And I think that what you`ll get, ultimately, is a message to others, a message to people that society`s not going to put up with this.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I don`t think that message is getting across, Drew. We cover these stories day in and day out. Year after year and it doesn`t seem to stop people from resorting to horrific violence. So many -- just some of the cases that we`ve covered tonight, of the parolees who go on to commit more serious crimes, were supposed to go to anger management classes.
I`ve made this suggestion before, Drew, I think there should be anger management taught in the elementary schools. I think there should be violence prevention. And basically peaceful conflict resolution taught in schools. That`s more important than long division right now.
FINDLING: Jane, I can`t agree more. I think it`s a time to get to people; it`s in their youth because here`s what we learned. If we wait too late does it really mean anything? We`ve eliminated parole in the federal system. Has that stopped the commission of federal crimes? The answer is absolutely no.
We`ve seen federal crimes go out of control during the eight years of a so-called conservative administration with no parole. So parole has nothing to do with it. It means nothing. You`re not going to get paroled and commit more crimes. If you`re going to commit crimes, you`re going to commit crimes.
I think you`re absolutely right, get these people when they`re children, and then we`ll have a little bit of a different society.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wendy Murphy, you`re a former prosecutor, but you`re also a mom, you`re also a person I think who is very in touch with society. You know, why is it -- look, I`ve been in therapy for many years. I`m in a 12-step program because I`m a sober person.
I am not flying blind because of my -- the luck that I`ve had learning some tools to avoid conflict. Why can`t we teach some of these fantastic tools to kids so that they don`t have to get to the point where they resolve their differences with guns or resolve their anger with committing a horrific crime like this?
MURPHY: Yes. You know, Jane, the simple answer, and this is way too simple, is that we`re not spending the right amount of money on prevention and early intervention because it`s cheaper not to. It`s cheaper to put your finger in the dike.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: It`s not cheaper because prosecuting this guy, and feeding him and housing him in prison for the rest of his life if he`s convicted of the second crime is going to be very, very costly.
MURPHY: Yes. You took the words out of my mouth. What I was going to say was, it seems cheaper in the short run, but we know that the long- term costs are huge. I`m a very big fan of more money in terms of early intervention programs. No question, we`re not spending close to enough money.
But here`s another thing. If a guy slips through the cracks and it will always happen, that somebody will slip through, even if we spend all the right amount of money on prevention, someone will slip through. And then can we not talk about prevention? Because it`s a little too late. Once this woman died, it`s too late to talk about Darryl Littlejohn`s prevention problems.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I agree and I disagree. I understand what you`re saying. We`ve got to prosecute this guy to the fullest extent of the law. And I am outraged, I mean, you and I both wrote books, the books already in paperback, and this guy still hasn`t been brought to justice.
MURPHY: And it`s a good book.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I thought it was -- thank you. And yours is, too.
But what I`m saying is, is that we can`t just repeat insanity is doing the same thing other and over again and expecting a different result. America needs to shift its entire focus on how it deals with crimes by focusing a lot more money on prevention even if we go to something which I`ve been accused of being flaky for suggesting, group therapy in public schools.
Now, stay right there, everyone. We`ve got another extraordinary case coming up.
Legendary music producer Phil Specter facing a retrial for murdering an actress. I`ll take a look at this case and other high-profile murders that still after years have no answers, no justice. Right after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Phillip did not shoot this woman. He did not force a gun in this woman`s mouth. And he didn`t do it. That`s what the evidence will show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh, will it? It`s been nearly six years since the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. She was found shot to death while in music producer, Phil Specter`s, Los Angeles castle, yes castle. The infamous Specter was accused of murder but the case ended in a mistrial in 2007.
Now Specter is in the middle of a retrial for second-degree murder. The 68-year-old faces a minimum of 18 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. He contends Clarkson, age 40, shot herself while in his ornate mansion.
A jury dead locked on his guilt last year after a five-month-long trial. I`m joined once again by Wendy Murphy and Drew Findling and Gregory Skordas.
Let`s start with you Gregory. As a former prosecutor, when it`s a high-profile suspect who also happens to be very wealthy, it really seems like these trials can be dragged out forever with all sorts of maneuvers. He switched attorneys multiple times. He`s gotten a lot of delays. Can a rich person play the system?
SKORDAS: Of course, and I`d be remiss if I said anything other than that. Because a rich person can, as you indicated, change gears, can hire a different attorney, can hire more attorneys, can hire more aggressive attorneys. And the public defenders throughout the state or throughout the country are wonderful, and they do great work, but they`re very, very overburdened. They don`t have the time to do the gyrations and motions and speculations and get fired and rehired and changed like private attorneys can. So in some respects, he does have that benefit.
He also has the benefit of being rich and being able to post bail. So he`s out. A poor person would be sitting in custody awaiting trial. And awaiting trial, they`re going to want their trial to go forward much quicker while they`re in custody. A man who`s free can drag it on.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We talked about the 8-year-old who is behind bars. An 8-year-old boy behind bars, who was accused of shooting to death one to two people. And yet Phil Specter has never spent a night in jail, Drew Findling. And not only that, he was able to hire a dream team of experts, including Dr. Henry Lee, the famous Dr. Henry Lee and the famous Dr. Michael Baden to testify. Rich guys get to hire these experts that cost a ton, and that helps them as well.
FINDLING: Let me say this, and that is, I don`t care how rich you are, you`ll never outspend the government. When you try a major case with the federal government or a state, they can bring in any expert they want. So that just evens the playing field.
I think what we`re really talking about here is the state of California. Because every time there`s an actor getting arrested, whether it be O.J., Michael Jackson, or anybody else in California, these cases take forever. I think California justice system needs to take a long, hard look at itself. Because let me make you one little bet, and that is, any of these cases in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, they`re two weeks and you`re done because we take care of business here.
Everything there lasts forever. We always remember that O.J. Simpson had a three-week preliminary hearing. You would be done with that here in 30 minutes.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Whatever happened, Wendy Murphy, to justice being blind? If you`re a celebrity, if you`re rich, you can play the system. Is that the way America is supposed to work?
MURPHY: Justice is not blind. Justice is a little dumb sometimes, but definitely not blind. You definitely get a better shake if you`re wealthy. And that`s unfortunate. It`s a necessary evil, I suppose, that you have to indulge tactics that make you sick sometimes, and judges get stuck.
Because if you say, I don`t think you should be able to change your lawyer, if a judge says I think the case should go to trial right now, I don`t care that you want to hire a new lawyer, and the guy`s convicted and he files an appeal and the appellate court says, that`s not fair, that`s not due process. If he had the means he should have been allowed to make that choice. The right to counsel of choice is constitutionally protected.
But you know what, it makes people crazy. It makes people absolutely crazy that because you`re rich, you cannot only change lawyers four times - - Robert Blake did it -- four lawyers in four years, which hurts the prosecution`s case. But then you can spend money on experts to do smoke and mirrors, dog and pony shows all over the place. So the jury has no idea what end is up.
There`s a constitutional right to a fair trial. There`s no constitutional right to do smoke and mirrors and delay tactics until the case becomes a mess. That`s what`s wrong with our justice system.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: What`s really sad is I go into these courtrooms waiting for the famous case and I get there a little early and watch all the non-famous people. The system moves at light speed, Greg. These people, bing, bing, bing, it`s happening so fast you can`t keep track.
A lot of times these people may have a language barrier. The public defender -- it`s so fast.
Then the famous person comes in, and it slows down. Now, those poor people who are not famous, who aren`t rich, don`t know what the hell hit them when they get sent away to the slammer for years. There`s something wrong with our system.
SKORDAS: Well, maybe there is and maybe there isn`t. I think our public defender system works very, very well. They are burdened. The courts are burdened. We can`t spend five months on every trial. Unfortunately we end up doing that on the rich. Unfortunately we end up doing that in southern California more than we do the rest of the country combined.
The public defenders do a very, very good job. We have interpreters for people. I`m not going to sit here and say that justice is fair throughout. But I will say that even the poor and even those that don`t understand our system or our language are treated pretty fairly. And our constitution only provides that.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Thank you. We`re just getting to so many different issues here.
Drew, as we wrap up this case, the victim was put through the wringer. She was maligned. There were articles that alleged that she had been a call girl. They got a former friend who was not much of a friend to testify and say, oh, she was suicidal.
You know, this woman has been victimized, not once, but twice. Now, three times. And her family continues to have to wait through this humiliating saga. I mean, this is outrageous.
FINDLING: Well, unfortunately, the case did go to trial. We`re not talking about a situation where it didn`t go to trial. It went to trial.
It was 10-2 for guilty, there are unanimous verdicts. And as long as the law allows them to pursue a certain area, and it`s relevant, they`re going to get into it. It`s just the unfortunate reality. But let us not forget, this already did go to trial and they didn`t get a conviction.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, let`s see what happens in the retrial. I will say, time works against the victim. Hang tight.
Over a year ago, Stacy Peterson went missing, and police still haven`t recovered her body. I`ll tell you why her ex-cop husband is the prime suspect when our "Murder in America" special continues.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`ve all seen the footage of ex-cop Drew Peterson harassing the media outside his home. The death of his third wife, Kathleen, was ruled as a homicide this year. The 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, remains a mystery.
The bigger mystery is that the 54-year-old Peterson has not been charged in this either case.
Back with Wendy Murphy, Drew Findling and Greg Skordas.
Wendy, they determined wife number three was murdered but haven`t charged him with it. Wife number four has been missing more than a year. No charges there, either. Why not?
MURPHY: You know, this is a real head scratcher, because this is a guy who you just want to reach right through the television and grab him by neck and bang his head on a wall. If arrogance could be a crime, I think he would be arrested for that.
I don`t know what evidence they don`t have. It seems simple. But I think if they had a case, they would go after him, because they don`t like this guy, that`s pretty clear.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, Drew Findling, what`s fascinating is there a new bill based on this case. Some people even call it the Drew Peterson law. Basically it says if you kill a witness to prevent them from testifying against you then previous statements they make to others can be used as evidence where normally it would be considered and challenged as hearsay.
And that is because, according to the reports, and, again, this man hasn`t been charged with anything, much less convicted, so he deserves the presumption of innocence. But according to the report, some people have said that the missing wife, Stacy, had told them that he had acknowledged a role in wife number three`s death.
FINDLING: Yes. We call that in the law "manifest necessity." Fancy words for, you really need to get the hearsay in, because it`s normally not admissible. And that`s what we`re dealing with here. Apparently she told a priest or a minister, hey, he told me he killed his third wife, and they want to get that in. And every other statement that he may have made to her that she shared with others. That`s problematic, that they`re trying to do that to get this in.
But, you know, the bottom line is, again, I try cases for a living. I get worried when they`re taking they`re time. When they`re taking they`re time, it means they`re not rushing, and they`re fastidiously putting their case together and they`re going for the conviction.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Greg, we`ve got about ten seconds. Final thought, where does our justice system stand? Totally messed up or not?
SKORDAS: I love our justice system, and I will go to my grave with that. I think that there are some flaws. I think cases take a long time, but we`re doing a very, very good job in this country, maybe better than any other country in the world.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And with that, we`ve got to leave it right there but I would like to thank our panel for their terrific insights this evening.
I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell. Don`t forget to check in every night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for more real "ISSUES."
Have a great night.