Return to Transcripts main page


O.J. Simpson Takes The Stand; Arias' Jurors Weight Death Penalty; IRS Targeting A Criminal Probe

Aired May 15, 2013 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a blockbuster day for three big stories across the country. In Las Vegas, O.J. Simpson is on the stand right now. The imprisoned football legend is trying to get his robbery, assault and kidnapping convictions thrown out. We'll listen into his testimony throughout this hour.

In phoenix, Jodi Arias is back in the courtroom where a jury will decide if she deserves the death penalty for killing her ex-boyfriend.

And here in Washington, up on Capitol Hill, the attorney general, Eric Holder, he is on the hot seat. He's facing serious questions right now about the handling of the associated press telephone records and allegations the IRS targeted conservative organizations.

This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting in Washington.

We're seeing a first today and it's happening right now inside a courtroom in Las Vegas. O.J. Simpson, he is under oath on the stand and on camera for the first time in his long history of legal trouble. This is not a trial, it's a hearing, letting Simpson argue his request for a new trial. He's four years into a 33-year sentence for armed robbery, assault and kidnapping. Let's listen in right now.


BLITZER: All right. We're going to break away from O.J. Simpson's testimony. He's answering questions from his own personal criminal defense attorney, Patricia Palm. Let's get some analysis. Paul Callan is joining us from New York. He's one of our legal analysts. Also, Danny Cevallos is joining us, a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia.

Paul, first to you. As you know, O.J. Simpson is blaming his own lawyer for losing this case four years ago. And he's now spending 33 years in jail. He didn't testify then so why is he testifying now?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's very interesting. You know, the only time he actually has testified, it was a very minor case of road rage case in Florida. And that's where he met Yale Galanter, who is now his personal attorney and plays a major part in this case. And he is saying that Galanter basically was orchestrating his defense on the robbery case, told him not to take the witness stand. There are other allegations that Galanter was making a lot of money and he didn't share enough of the money with the local Las Vegas council to give O.J. Simpson a fair defense. And finally, O.J. is saying that Galanter basically told him that because he was retrieving property, personal property that actually belonged to O.J. Simpson, it would not be a robbery or illegal for him to have done that. So, he's attacking the advice of his attorney. He says the attorney didn't tell him that there was a plea offer. Told him not to take the witness stand. So, the judge has said, you know, I'm going to have a hearing on this. And we're going to hear the testimony of all the lawyers and O.J. Simpson to get to the bottom of it. And it's called a habeas corpus proceeding. And that's what we're looking at. Very unusual though to see O.J. on the stand.

BLITZER: It certainly is for those of us who have watched him over the years going back to when he was a football player and then a movie star.

Danny, let me bring you into this conversation. One of the arguments he's making is that he had legal malpractice, if you will, from his lawyer during this case in the sense that the prosecution supposedly offered a plea deal. He would serve a year in jail in exchange for pleading guilty, that Yale Galanter rejected that. Supposedly O.J. wasn't even informed of that plea arrangement. As a result, he's seeking this hearing now arguing he was not well-represented by his lawyer. He deserves another trial. What do you make of that argument?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's probably his strongest in a host of not-so-strong arguments. It's maybe the best of the worst. The defense attorney has an obligation to communicate every plea offer made. I have to do it all the time, letter, visitation, however you can get that offer communicated. It's critically important. However, that being said, almost daily, thousands and thousands of petitions are filed alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. It is not unusual. And also, it's a very difficult case to make because the law understands that attorneys make certain strategic decisions. Not all attorneys are created equal.

However, those strategic decisions, if they have a bad result, do not necessarily mean ineffective assistance of counsel. The other -- the conflict of interest, although this is an unusual factual case where the attorney was involved prior to and may have counseled him on it, again, high burden to meet for O.J., however this is not your normal ineffective assistance. I think O.J., if he can establish that the attorney was directly involved in this sort of heist, which is the word I'm using, there may be something there. However, overall, very difficult habeas petition to make.

People need to understand, this is not a trial we're watching. This is just a hearing where O.J. has to climb a very steep hill to decide -- to have a court decide whether or not he gets a new trial.

BLITZER: And very quickly, Paul, if, in fact, it is proven in this hearing that the lawyer, Yale Galanter, did not inform his client O.J. Simpson about this potential plea agreement, a year in jail as opposed to the 33 years he eventually got once he was convicted. Is that enough to reopen this whole case? DANNY: Yes, it could very well be. There are about two or three points that are -- that have been raised in this. And if the judge finds in Simpson's favor, she could order a new trial. So, it's a serious proceeding. And the one thing I would just end with is that Galanter being involved financially with O.J. Simpson is a big point. Simpson is saying, you know, he didn't want me to take the stand. He didn't want to spend money on my defense because he has a financial interest in my career. You know, when lawyers get involved financially and in a business way with people they represent, they often get into trouble. And that's what Simpson's focusing on here, that claim.

BLITZER: All right. And we'll see what the attorney, Yale Galanter, says about this as well because he's right at the heart of this appeal that O.J. is undertaking right now.

Guys, don't go too far away. We're going to continue to monitor what's happening in this courtroom.

But let's go to Phoenix right now. Another courtroom where the same jurors who convicted Jodi Arias of first-degree murder must now decide whether she lives or dies. To get a death verdict, prosecutors have to convince jurors that Arias killed her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in a cruel or especially depraved way. Dramatic and potentially graphic testimony expected today from the medical examiner. We'll have a live report from Phoenix. That's coming up shortly.

Here in Washington, the Attorney General, Eric Holder, he's on the hot seat right now up on Capitol Hill. He faces some serious questions about those phone records the Justice Department secretly collected from the associated press. Holder's about to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. The Justice Department defends the seizure of the phone records. Officials saying it was part of an investigation into what they described as a major national security leak with American lives at stake.

Our Crime and Justice Correspondent Joe Johns is following these late breaking developments for us. Joe, how potentially damaging is all of this to the Obama administration and the president's critically important second term agenda?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, Wolf, there's a -- there's a problem here for this administration. The first problem, of course, is just the question of getting off the ball and getting ahead of controversies like this instead of having to react to them. That's something the Obama administration certainly has not been real good at, at least so far.

In the long term, a lot of this remains to be seen because what we have is two investigations. We have the IRS investigation as well as the associated press investigation. These are things that the attorney general can invoke the fact that it's an ongoing situation and he can't comment. He's also recused himself. As you know, in the matter of the A.P. phone records. So, it sounds like it's not going to be very satisfying for this committee and there are a lot of unanswered questions we're going to have to hear more about down the road -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, will he be able to simply say, I recuse myself. I don't really know anything about it since I myself was questioned about this leak. Is that going to satisfy members of Congress?

JOHNS: It's a tough position for this attorney general to be in. And as you know, he's been in many tough positions before committees on Capitol Hill. He's had a lot of critics there especially, as you'll remember, during the Fast and Furious investigation called a scandal by many over gun running out of Mexico.

So, he's been in this position before. They have been tough on him. And I expect he's probably not going to -- he's probably going to take as good as he gets -- Wolf.

BLITZER: On the IRS investigation, I -- the president has now received a letter from all 45 Republicans in the Senate saying they want a lot of documents. They want a complete investigation. As you know, Republicans especially, they think someone or some people should go to jail as a result of what's going on in the IRS investigation. I know Holder is going to be questioned about all of these kinds of related issues. That seems to be escalating, the intensity of the anger on this IRS and IRS specifically going after conservative Tea Party groups.

JOHNS: It certainly does seem to be escalating. And we've been asking around as to what individuals might be charged with in this situation after this FBI investigation is complete. Our sources have told us the first thing they'd be looking at is whether there were any false statements made, either to members of Congress or perhaps later to investigators. There's been some talk also of possible charges or investigation into breaking the laws of civil rights.

So a couple opportunities there, but if you talk to legal scholars, they will tell you that in previous administrations both Republican and Democrat there have been similar charges leveled before on these types of matters relating to the IRS. And a lot of times it didn't go anywhere, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Holder yesterday announced that a criminal investigation is underway to determine if any laws were in fact broken as far as this IRS scandal is concerned. Joe is going to be following this hearing for us throughout the day.

Criticism of the Obama administration is coming from some members of his own party. Congressman Charlie Rangel, the Democrat from New York says President Obama owes the public an explanation about the A.P. Phone records and the IRS scandal. Congressman Rangel, he'll join me live in "THE SITUATION ROOM" later today -- 5:00 p.m. eastern.

And Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he's planning his own hearing next week on the IRS scandal. Congressman Issa also will be in "THE SITUATION ROOM." That will happen during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. Here's a question, does Jodi Arias deserve to be put to death for brutally murdering her ex-boyfriend? We're going to Phoenix for the aggravation phase of this Arias trial. Standby.


BLITZER: As we mentioned, we're watching a number of high profile court cases right now. O.J. Simpson, he's on the stand in Las Vegas. He's trying to get a new trial on robbery, assault, and kidnapping charges from 2007. Simpson says he received bad legal advice from his lead attorney four years ago. Currently he's serving a 33-year prison term. They're taking a break right now. They'll resume that hearing shortly.

Just a few minutes ago Jodi Arias returned to a Phoenix courtroom for a critical phase of her trial. The same jurors who convicted her of first-degree murder will now be deciding whether she deserves to die for killing her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander. But before they make that decision, they must determine if Arias was cruel when she committed the murder.

Ted Rowlands is joining us from outside the courthouse in Phoenix right now. Ted, Arias stabbed Alexander, what, nearly 30 times, she slit his throat from ear-to-ear, she shot him. That sounds pretty cruel to me. So will prosecutors have to lay out even more evidence of brutality?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, they will. This is basically a little mini-trial where jurors will listen to first the coroner, we believe will take the stand. And we're just watching the judge give initial instructions to the jury now. We believe it will be the coroner and possibly a detective. And what the prosecution will lay out is exactly what you said in more detail to express to this jury this was especially cruel. They'll deliberate that. If they agree with the state, then she's eligible for the death penalty.

BLITZER: So when can we expect a decision on this second phase of the trial?

ROWLANDS: As early as today. We're only expecting one to two witnesses. It's a relatively short proceeding. And immediately after both sides have finished with mini-closing arguments, the injury will have this portion of the case and they could decide relatively quickly because there won't be a lot to discuss, but it all depends on how much decision time it takes once they arrive at a decision one way or another, if they say yes, then she's eligible for death penalty. We step into the next phase. If they say no, then their job is over and the judge will sentence Jodi Arias either to life in prison with or without parole. That will come 30 to 60 days after the jury is finished.

BLITZER: We'll see what the decision is today presumably. Standby for that. Ted, appreciate it. Here's more of what we're working on in CNN NEWSROOM this hour. We're learning more disturbing details about what one of the Cleveland kidnapping victims went through allegedly at the hands of Ariel Castro. Plus, his former daughter-in-law speaking out about how Castro allegedly abused his own son and wife years ago.


BLITZER: We're getting disturbing new details on the condition of the women rescued after years of alleged captivity inside Ariel Castro's home. A family friend of victim Michele Knight says she was Castro's main punching bag. And that's a quote. The friend says Castro abused Knight with every and anything including hand weights. As a result she suffered vision loss, joint and muscle damage, and has other physical issues right now. According to the friend, Amanda Berry was treated slightly better than the other two girls and Knight was treated the worst. The former daughter-in-law of Ariel Castro says she steered clear of the Ohio kidnapping suspect because of stories she heard about his abusive nature. Monica Stevens talked to our Piers Morgan.


PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: What kind of man was he?

MONICA STEVENS, FORMER DAUGHTER-IN-LAW OF ARIEL CASTRO: I never had the desire to get to know him personally or very closely. Both my ex- husband and his mother had shared with me stories of how he had beaten them, locked them in the house. You know, just treated them like hostages. So I never had a desire to get to know him. He didn't have that like, you know, father-in-law appeal.


BLITZER: Castro faces charges of rape and kidnapping in connection with the alleged ten-year abduction of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight.

Angelina Jolie is reportedly going to have another surgery to reduce her risk of getting cancer. "People" magazine reporting the actress is planning to have her ovaries removed. Jolie got a preventive double mastectomy in February followed by reconstructive surgery. She carries a gene mutation that substantially increases her chances of getting breast and ovarian cancer. Sources tell "People" magazine she'll get her ovaries removed as soon as possible.

As two more victims of the Boston bombings are released from the hospital, the city's fire chief is getting slammed for his actions immediately following the bombings. You're going to hear why his deputy chiefs are calling him out.