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Authorities Investigate Alleged Cleveland Kidnappings; Interview with Congressman Bill Keating of Massachusetts; Interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

Aired May 9, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon.

The prosecutor in the Cleveland kidnapping case is giving a press conference.

Let's listen in.


TIMOTHY MCGINTY, CUYAHOGA COUNTY, OHIO, PROSECUTOR: The county prosecutor will also engage in a formal process in which we evaluate whether to seek charges eligible for the death penalty.

Capital punishment must be reserved for those crimes that are truly the worst examples of human conduct. The reality is, we still have brutal criminals in our midst who have no respect for the rule of law or human life.

The law of Ohio calls for the death penalty for those most depraved criminals who commit aggravated murders during the course of a kidnapping. In the meantime, I ask for everyone's patience to avoid damaging the investigation or the victim.

The victims in this case have gone through a traumatic, decade-long ordeal that few among us are capable of ever understanding. The FBI victims assistant specialists have informed us that the victims desperately need space and time.

These victims need to be decompressed. They need a chance to heal before we seek further in-depth evidence from them. We cannot have them subjected to 50 interviews and then go seek the interview that -- to get the detailed evidence that we need.

It is imperative that the community and media be respectful of these young women and their families and give them and their families the privacy they need and they deserve. I also greatly appreciate the members of the bar who have stepped forward pro bono to assist the victims and their families in this period of shocking change, particularly Henry Hilo (ph), Jim Wooley of Jones Day and other attorneys, and attorneys in my office, the prosecutor's office, Ms. Perk (ph), and others, who have gone out of their way to help these individuals and will continue to do so.

On behalf of all the citizens of Cuyahoga County, I salute and thank the heroes this case has already revealed, first and foremost, the victims who have found the internal strength and courage to outlast their tormenter and survive this decade of torture and depravity, and, second, the victims' families who never lost hope for their loved ones and spurred all officials on, third, the neighbors and police officers who acted decisively and bravely to rescue these victims.

We also commend the professionalism of the Cleveland Police Department, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and all the specialists they have given us and the many hundreds of hours they have spent and will spend on this case.

And they work together effectively and whose determination to bring this case to justice never wavered. For further questions, please submit them to our public information officer, Maria Russo, who will give you her e-mail.

We will work tonight to respond in writing as many questions as the law allows us to answer. I thank you for your time. I thank you for your concern. And on behalf of Cuyahoga County, we thank everyone who has worked on this case, everyone who has worked to achieve justice and will work to achieve justice.

I know each and every one of you in the media are here to help in this case. I cannot answer all your questions. So, I want to do it carefully and legally and do nothing that would jeopardize this case.

So, we're going to -- tonight, we are going to stay and answer every single question we can. We're going to do in writing. So, I thank you. Thanks very much.

TAPPER: That was Timothy McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor in Cleveland, Ohio.

Many new details emerged today in that kidnapping case. McGinty pleaded for the media and for the public to give the victims a chance to heal. He talked about how they need space.

We're also getting an exclusive look today at the backyard of Ariel Castro, the man accused of abducting those three women and holding them captive. These photographs were taken by a neighbor. In one of them, if you look closely, you can see a cross near the fence line, almost like a grave marker.

Police say the women were only allowed outside on the property twice. Another photograph shows the FBI activity in the backyard at night, obviously a very intense and thorough search at that house.

Earlier today, we got our first look at Ariel Castro in the flesh. He appeared in court and was held on $8 million bond, $2 million for each of his alleged victims, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and, of course, the daughter Berry had in captivity.

We're learning more about the hell these women endured inside Castro's home. A police source tells CNN that Castro ordered Knight to deliver Amanda's baby in a kiddie pool to contain the mess. Also -- and this is a rather horrifying detail -- Knight told police that she was impregnated at least five times in captivity, but Castro would starve her and punch her in the stomach until she miscarried.

Knight is the only one still in the hospital.

CNN's Martin Savidge is covering this story in Cleveland, his hometown.

Martin, did the prosecutor mention the death penalty just now as an option for Ariel Castro?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did. And, you know, that is something that people have wondered about here.

He mentioned that he may be pursuing aggravated murder charges here and he was going to see if there could be circumstances in which it might be that the death penalty was eligible or that the charges could be eligible for the death penalty.

That's the first time that has been said publicly by anyone here. Tim McGinty was elected not that long ago actually, and he ran on the basis that he was going to be tough on crime in the city of Cleveland. So, allegedly, what he would be doing here is he is alluding to what you were just describing, that these statements that have been made by a number of the girls, at least one of them there, Michelle, and that she says that she was forced to miscarriage as a result of the abuse that she suffered, the physical beating from Ariel Castro.

So, given that, the prosecutor is now saying he is going to see if he can get murder charges and then beyond that see if it is possible to even get the death penalty. It is an extremely serious statement that is coming down from this prosecutor and he plans to move forward as fully as he can on that case -- Jake.

TAPPER: Martin, tell us about the letter that Ariel Castro wrote that the police found in his home.


This letter has been classified in a number of different ways by a number of different sources. It's essentially -- it is a letter that law enforcement has told me that they have seen and that was written by Ariel Castro. Now, it was written in 2004, so it was written some time ago.

But in the letter -- and it appears that this letter goes on for more than one page -- he makes a number of different statements. There were times that he alludes to suicide, but it is probably not a suicide note. He isn't dead, by any means. And then on top of that, he implies that he tries to give reasons for his actions. And no one is giving credence to these, but he says that he was suffering from abuse, and he implicates another family member as a result of that.

That is about as far as that note goes -- or at least that is what we have heard from authorities. But it is an interesting piece of evidence among many that have been pulled from that home, a collection of material from over 10 years of a horrible crime.

TAPPER: All right, Martin Savidge in Cleveland, thank you.

Police maintain that no one ever raised any red flags about Castro before this week, but neighbors are telling us a different story.


TAPPER (voice-over): For nearly 10 years, Ariel Castro's house on Cleveland's Seymour Street doubled as a prison for three young women.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What they told law enforcement was key and it's going to be a key part in the case.

TAPPER: Police say that over those years they never had a reason to suspect anything out of the ordinary was happening behind Castro's boarded-up windows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have asked ourselves that question numerous times over the last 10 years. Are we missing anything? Is there something, is there a sign?

TAPPER: Neighbors say, yes, there were signs. In 2011, after he heard yelling from within Castro's house, Israel Lugo says he called the police.

ISRAEL LUGO, NEIGHBOR: Cops come, I don't know, a half-hour later on. They knock on the door for about five, 10 minutes about 20 good times. No one answered. They look around. They can't see through the windows, so what they do usually, they get back in the squad car and they leave.

TAPPER: Neighbor Elsie Cintron told CNN her granddaughter also noticed something deeply disturbing at the home.

ELSIE CINTRON, NEIGHBOR: They noticed in the backyard this white woman crawling on fours like a dog.

TAPPER: And a few months later, Cintron says she warned police that something just was not right.

CINTRON: I told the two police officers. I told the women, I said, I have a problem on Seymour. I need somebody to go down there and check it out. She told me that she could not help me.

TAPPER: In a press conference, police had a different version of the history of Seymour Street.

MARTIN FLASK, CLEVELAND DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC SAFETY: Our review indicated there were no other calls, except one call for service in 2000. And we were able to identify that Cleveland police were at the home once in 2004 for an incident that involved Mr. Castro as part of his employment as a school bus driver here in the city of Cleveland.

TAPPER: Cleveland police have been criticized in the past for their slow response to residents' concerns in low-income communities. Back in 2009, officers discovered the bodies of 11 women inside the home of Anthony Sowell. At the time, the former Marine lived in this poorer section of Cleveland's Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Neighbors said they had complained to police and the city council about a foul smell coming from his home.

ZACK REED, CLEVELAND CITY COUNCILMAN: We received a phone call from a resident that said, Councilman, there is a foul order that is coming from across the street and it smells like a dead person.

TAPPER: Instead, the victims' bodies were discovered after police went to the home to investigate a sexual assault complaint.

Sowell was arrested, convicted of the murders, and sentenced to death. The serial killer case resulted in multiple lawsuits filed against the city and its law enforcement officials, some of which were dismissed. Nonetheless, Cleveland's mayor impaneled a special commission to investigate the police the police department and its sex crimes unit.

That panel made dozens of recommendations, including steps to ensure all requests for assistance received a timely response, and making better efforts to collaborate with community members to find missing people. That last recommendation was based in part on a suggestion from the family of a teenager who disappeared on a walk home from school. The teen's name? Georgina DeJesus.

SANDRA RUIZ, AUNT OF VICTIM: There are not enough words to say or express the joy that we feel for the return of our family member Gina.

TAPPER: Yes, the same Georgina DeJesus who was rescued from Seymour Street this week.


TAPPER: I want to bring in someone very familiar with the investigation, Detective Jeff Follmer of the Cleveland Police Department. He is also president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman Association.

Detective, thanks so much for joining us.

What do you make of these neighbors who say that they did raise concerns about Ariel Castro over the years? I know that the police say they don't have any records of it, but why do you think there is this disagreement?


We do document everything. Our 911 calls are recorded. We have all the history of these calls. You know, I don't know why people are saying this right now we haven't been out there. And our department took this very seriously and have been looking very hard for these girls for a long time.

TAPPER: Let's turn to this case.

After 10 years, what made Amanda Berry, in your understanding of the case, finally make a break for it on Monday?

FOLLMER: You know, I'm not too sure about that, because I'm not involved in the investigation right now, but thank God she did and thank God that we got there in a timely manner and was able to have these girls out alive and Ariel arrested.

TAPPER: Can you go into any detail at all about how the women were kept captive inside the home?

FOLLMER: No, I can't go anything right now in detail like that right now, because the case is still pending. They're still doing interviews. And it wouldn't be fair to the family or anybody else.

TAPPER: As we mentioned before, after the Anthony Sowell case, a special commission recommended a number of changes for the police department in terms of being more responsive to low-income communities in Cleveland.

Do you -- in your experience, were those recommendations acted upon?

FOLLMER: Yes, there were recommendations and were they acted upon? We respond to the calls when they call us. We come right away. It doesn't matter what area of the city we're in. And this shows right -- this is a good example of how quick we got here and responded to everything.

TAPPER: All right, Detective Jeff Follmer, thank you so much. And we wish you the best of luck.

Coming up on THE LEAD: One congressman wasn't getting the answers he wanted after the terror attacks in Boston. So, what did he do? He sent someone straight to Russia to find out for himself. He will tell me what he learned about Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Plus, he admits it is likely to be the highlight of his career, and it is about to come to an end. I will ask Rainn Wilson, AKA Dwight Schrute, about his time on "The Office" and for a hint of what happens on the series finale next week.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, and other national news.

Boston marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev's body has a resting place. We just don't know where it is. Police will not say where the body has been entombed only that it is not in Worcester, Massachusetts. Tsarnaev's mother told CNN she has not been told if and where her son has been buried.

And some new, incredibly sad details from the family of one of the Boston bombing victims. The family of 8-year-old Martin Richard released an update on the condition of his younger sister who has undergone 11 surgeries in just 23 days. She lost her left leg below the knee and will eventually be fitted with a prosthesis. She is fighting infection and complications and on top of that had to be informed that her brother was killed. That's a reminder while Boston is sending a message of resilience, the victims are still struggling to recover. This all on the day Congress held its first hearing looking into the events that led to the marathon bombing.

Former independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut who had investigated the Fort Hood shooting, testified today that these tragic events could have been avoided.


FORMER SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I believe that though it would not have been easy, it was possible to have prevented the terrorist attacks in Boston.


TAPPER: And joining me now is Democratic Congressman Bill Keating. He's a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

REP. BILL KEATING (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Jake, great to be here.

TAPPER: I want to get to what your office found in Russia. But before I do, I want to start with the hearing today, specifically this exchange between the chairman of the committee, McCaul, and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: Before the bombing, were you aware of the Russian intelligence warning regarding Tamerlan and the fact that he may travel overseas to meet with the extremists?

ED DAVIS, BOSTON POLICE COMMISSIONER: We have three detectives and a sergeant who are assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force. One of my detectives is actually in the squad that investigated that. We have access to all the databases. But we were not, in fact, informed of that particular development.


TAPPER: Now, Commissioner Davis cautioned that this is all in hindsight and even if they had that information, it might not have made a difference. But still, what was your reaction to that?

KEATING: Well, this was billed as a first look. It was a hard look. And I think it surprised a lot of people. But it didn't surprise me. I think that our job as a different branch of government is to come in and ask those hard questions.

And really from our vantage point going forward, whether or not it would have made a difference isn't our real issue. Our issue is if there are gaps in intelligence, if there are not information sharing and there should be, that's got to be corrected. TAPPER: You sent a staffer to Russia to find out more information. What did that staffer find?

KEATING: Well, we wanted to ask the question, too, when the FBI called back and wanted more information out of Russia why they didn't give more and what there was to give. We wanted to get someone on the ground dealing with governmental sources and nongovernmental sources of information because we're discussing right now going to Russia ourselves with the congressional delegation to pursue these things.

Now, what they found out was that indeed, Tamerlan had contact with two insurgents, two people that were members of the insurgency there in the region.

TAPPER: William Plotnikov and Mahmoud Nidal one other.

KEATING: Yes. And informally, non-governmentally, we learned that, indeed, Plotnikov had been someone known to Tamerlan before. He was a boxer in Canada. Tamerlan was a boxer. And somehow they had known each other before.

And there they were meeting in Russia. And then he met with Mahmoud Nidal, another known insurgent. What happened there, also, was he was living in his parents' home, Plotnikov and Nidal were both killed in raids. He moved out of his parents' home after that period and he came back to the United States.

And what happened with the Russians, it wasn't as much a warning in my opinion as it was just a request. What do you know about this person? So let's classify it the way I think it was.

Plotnikov was questioned by the Russians. He gave names according to nongovernmental sources of other individuals. One of those names was Tamerlan Tsarnaev. That prompted the Russians to put him on the radar and they saw jihadist Web sites and they saw him there. That's when we would like to believe they contacted the U.S.

So what we have is we have two countries with a mutual interest, both for their own security. But we have two countries that have huge, historic distrust that exists until today.

TAPPER: Sure. Cold war era --

KEATING: So, this is not going to be a very easy lift to get this kind of cooperation. But it's in everyone's interest and Senator Lieberman today emphasized that this is one of the most important aspects going forward and maybe we can have a breakthrough with Russia where we can have better information sharing.

TAPPER: How sure are you about this information? One hundred percent sure?

KEATING: I'm very sure but you always check things and verify.

TAPPER: Congressman Bill Keating of Massachusetts, thanks so much for sharing this information with us. KEATING: Great to be here.

TAPPER: Coming up next on THE LEAD, why do you pay more for your loans than huge banks do? That's what Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren wants to know. Now, she is on a new crusade to even the playing field. That's our "Money Lead" and it's next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In our "Money Lead": $27,000, that's the average amount student loan borrowers that graduate end up owing, $27,000. Also in obvious news, college is expensive. Now, what's not so obvious is that the interest rate on federal student loans is set to double this summer if Congress does not do anything about it.

Enter Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren. She has introduced a bill that would give a steep, temporary discount, taking the interest rate from 3.4 percent to under 1 percent. The senator joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, first of all, congratulations on your victory.

Tell me more about this bill. Why under 1 percent? Why not just keep it where it is?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, look -- the bottom line is that every day the United States government lends money to big, financial institutions. They've been doing it for years now. They've been doing it at about three-quarters of 1 percent. That's been the interest rate.

We have students who are out there borrowing money to get an education, working hard.

My view is if the American taxpayer is going to invest in those big financial institutions by giving them a great deal on their interest rate, let's invest in those students by giving them the same deal. That's what it's about.

TAPPER: Now, Senator, critics say comparing the student loan rate to the Federal Reserve discount rate is not quite apples and apples. The federal rate as you know involves virtually no risk they say because it's short term, it's bank-to-bank lending. Whereas with student loans, there is a risk involved.

How do you respond?

WARREN: Let's keep in mind, there is no risk in lending to the big financial institutions because they've got too-big-to-fail backing them up. You know, that doesn't seem like the right approach to me.

And do keep in mind on student loans -- our student loans are producing revenue right now and lots of it. For every dollar that the government is putting into a federally guaranteed student loan, they're getting 36 cents back over the life of that loan from the students.

So my view is, we shouldn't make students the target of profit center. We need to make investments? Great. Let's make at least a level playing field on those investments. Same deal that we give the big banks available to our students who are trying to get an education.

TAPPER: I have to confess I am a bit surprised that your first piece of legislation is not about Wall Street specifically. But let me ask you what excesses continue on Wall Street that in your view continue to put our economy at risk?

WARREN: Well, look -- we've got the too-big-to-fail problem and every variation on that. The too big for jail, too big for trial, all of the things that say the rules for the big guys are special. They are different.

Those aren't the rules that apply to little banks. Those aren't the rules that apply to ordinary families. And we've got to get that one back under control. That's fundamentally putting more risk into our economy.

And as we saw, what was it, just a year ago right now, with JPMorgan Chase and the "London whale", those banks are taking on big, big risks as we've seen with the LIBOR scandal, big financial institutions were out there -- were out there rigging the market on interest rates.

So, it's not as if the big financial institutions have said, hey, we get it. We admit it. We understand. We're backing up. We're really dialing down those risks.

Instead, we're still caught in this back and forth: too-big-to-fail and taking on risks and sucking up profits, leaving the American taxpayer on the hook if something goes wrong. I just think that's fundamentally wrong. We've got to fight back against it.

TAPPER: Senator, I want to definitely have you back to talk more about Wall Street. But before you go I want your thoughts on being a Massachusetts senator, having represented Boston. The House held its first hearing on Boston today and we know the Boston police were not informed of the Russian -- the Russian government flagging Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Does that concern you?

WARREN: Of course it does.

You know, this is what we have to do whenever there is a tragedy. We've got to go back, we've got to look, we've got to see if there was something we could have done better, and in this particular case, to share information better. And, you know, I'm just sorry that we didn't figure this out earlier. But it's clear that there's going to be an investigation and then we'll see what can be changed to try to get the information into the hands of local authorities.

You know, we have terrific responders in Boston. I'll put in a plug the other direction. We talk about siloed information and information that didn't get shared, I watched this Boston tragedy once the bomb had exploded, and I want to be clear there -- everybody worked together. Our first responders, our firefighters, our police officers, our national guard, the federal authorities, everybody came in. And it was a case of what can we do to help? They all worked together. It went beyond Boston out to the Watertown Police, police across the commonwealth. We worked as one unit and that is what made us strong, Boston strong.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Elizabeth Warren, we'll have you on again soon I hope. Thank you so much for coming on.

WARREN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Her son was killed in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and eight months later she is back in Washington searching for answers. Did she get any? Sean Smith's mother, Pat, joins me next.