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O.J. Simpson Takes the Stand; Jodi Arias Aggravation Phase; Ariel Castro's Lawyers Speak; IRS Workers Blamed; Attorney General On the Hot Seat

Aired May 15, 2013 - 14:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Ashleigh Banfield, reporting live in Phoenix for special coverage of a blockbuster day involving courtroom drama and hot seats. And it is all happening at this very moment.

First, the Jodi Arias trial. She's in court for a mini trial of sorts. This is the first part of her sentencing phase in her criminal trial. It will decide whether she gets life in prison or death.

In Washington, Eric Holder is being grilled on a couple of scandals that are rocking the Obama administration right now.

But we're going to begin in Las Vegas, where America's most famous defendant officially speaks. O.J. Simpson taking the stand.

And O.J. appears wearing prison blues with his feet shackled and originally his hands shackled, but his right hand freed. He's testified now for nearly two hours in his effort to win a brand-new robbery and kidnapping trial. Remember, he did not take the stand at his double murder trial. He did not take the stand at the original robbery and kidnapping trial that landed him here. But here he is right now and he's decided to speak under oath, officially.

So far he has told the court that he was reluctant at first to try to recover personal items that he learned some memorabilia dealers were selling. They were his items, he said. He changed his mind, though, he said when he learned that the items included family photos and photo albums, including one that had belonged to his mother. He says he agreed to a plan to recover those goods during a trip to Las Vegas. He says he rounded up a recovery team after he got there and that he took, quote, "big guys" because he didn't want any trouble.

Let's listen to O.J. Simpson, in his own words, as he is questioned by his friendly own attorney Patricia Palm.


PATRICIA PALM, ATTORNEY FOR O.J. SIMPSON: Until the time that you are in the room, was there any discussion between you and Mr. McClinton or Mr. Alexander about using any guns or --


PALM: About showing any guns? SIMPSON: No. Certainly not. Walter, I would never even have fathomed he would have a gun.



PALM: So you didn't ask them?


PALM: Hey, show them your piece or your gun?


PALM: When you get in there?


PALM: OK. And did you have any weapon discussion with anybody else prior to entering the room?


PALM: All right. So you're in the room and you see that's your items on the bed. What happens next?

SIMPSON: Well, when I first walked in and I couldn't -- it was - it was packed, like. But the only opening that I could see is I -- as I kind of work my way by these two guys was I could see in the bathroom there was a lot of stuff and then I could see the bed almost immediately. And I turned to Cashmore and Early (ph) and said, don't let anybody out of here. And I walked in and I was kind of stunned because I - I was looking at stuff that I hadn't seen in, you know, 10 years.

PALM: OK. When you're saying that you've heard on the audiotape, you saying repeatedly, don't let anybody out of here.


PALM: Why are you saying that?

SIMPSON: Because these guys are in here with my stuff. I don't want them to leave because if, you know, if they don't volunteer it to me, I want them arrested. And when I said these guys, I wasn't talking about those two guys, I was a little concerned with - I didn't know Cashmore and I didn't really trust Walter.

PALM: OK. So you're saying don't let anybody out here. You're looking at your stuff. You're also looking --

SIMPSON: Yes, I'm looking and I'm - you know, I'm - I -- it's, you know, I'm inhaling, look at this stuff. You know, some of this stuff I honestly didn't even know it was gone. I had forgotten about it, you know. So, you know what, I -- PALM: Like what, for instance?

SIMPSON: An all-American certificate. And as far as I knew it was - you know, I had it framed. Bob Hope had given it to me, you know, from Kodak. And (INAUDIBLE) to J. Edgar Hoover. I mean these are things that, you know, you live with them in your house on the wall, you forget them. You don't see them. It's wallpaper. And these are things I hadn't seen in 10 years that I had - I was a little emotional about it.


BANFIELD: Well, we've been waiting five years for that. O.J. Simpson on a witness stand talking under oath, publicly. Maybe not about the things some people want to hear about, but CNN's Paul Vercammen has been in the courtroom, he's been watching these proceedings.

So the discussion is all about his former lawyer and what he thinks his former lawyer, Yale Galanter, did and didn't do in his defense. How much of a case has he been making? Has he been answering specifically to the fact that he says he was done wrong and needs to be -- at least retried, if not sprung altogether?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are building up to all of that, Ashleigh, and certainly they're laying the groundwork for a couple of different arguments here that are all part of these 19 claims that O.J. Simpson got in effective representation in that 2008 trial. So one direction they went in, to establish that O.J. Simpson had been drinking and that perhaps his vision would have been so clouded that he could have no idea that there were guns in that courtroom. Ashleigh, they also hit upon this point, which you heard in that sound bite that you played, that O.J. said he was totally unaware that any members of his posse were going to enter that courtroom with guns. And he also hit upon another issue, and that is, he says Galanter had been advising him that there had been five or six conversations about O.J.'s will to try to recover the memorabilia and the heirlooms that he believed were his. Let's go ahead and take a listen if we can, please.


SIMPSON: That if you were walking down the street and you saw your laptop with your name on it in a car, you can use your force to break the window of the car to get the laptop.

PALM: Did that plan ever involve a discussion of using any weapons?

SIMPSON: Never no weapons. Weapons was never an issue in this thing.

PALM: OK. So you never told Mr. Galanter, I plan to use weapons --

SIMPSON: No. No way. No.

PALM: It didn't come up?


VERCAMMEN: And I misspoke for a second there. I said guns in the courtroom. And, of course, I meant that very cramped Palace Station hotel room. That room that included nine separate men heatedly arguing inside it at the time of this raid, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, Paul Vercammen, watching this proceeding for us live. We've been waiting a long time for this, Paul Vercammen. We've been waiting a long time to hear O.J. Simpson speak. He's been quiet and probably very bored in that Vegas jail cell. So as you continue your work, thank you for that, Paul Vercammen.

I want to switch over to the other proceedings that we're following live. It is extremely busy today on the legal front because Jodi Arias, her case is back up and running. And, in fact, now we're looking at penalty phase. It's actually a sentencing phase broken into two distinct areas. She was guilty, she was found guilty of shooting her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, and stabbing him 27 times, as well as slitting his throat, and not just a little, a lot, ear to ear.

And now the jury has one more very big decision to make. Actually, two. First they've got to decide how cruel that killing was. How cruel Arias was, her actions, when she did this on June 4th of 2008. This is what you call the aggravation part of the sentencing phase.

And you're watching it transpire live right now in Phoenix, Arizona. In the last hour, Miss Arias began to cry. This was as the prosecutor, Juan Martinez, began explaining the kind of pain and suffering that Travis Alexander was enduring as Arias stabbed him over and over again.


JUAN MARTINEZ, PROSECUTOR: And as he sat there, the defendant, took a knife, a knife that she brought, and she took this knife and she stabbed him in the chest area. There were three strikes that she delivered as she, according to her testimony, was squatted down. That is painful if we are to apply the standard the defendant has laid out for us.

And during that first portion of the attack, Mr. Alexander suffered excruciating pain. One of those cuts or one of those stab wounds went into his heart. And it's something akin to a heart attack. At first he began to lose blood, experienced shortness of breath, and then the chest starts to tighten. So in addition to the initial, if you will, stab wound, when the nerve endings are cut and he felt that pain, he was also beginning to feel the pain of his heart running out of blood as the blood kept seeping out.


BANFIELD: This is intentional, folks. This is supposed to be ugly, these details. We're going to take you back live now into that hearing. That is Jodi's defense attorney, Jennifer Willmott. Painful details, yes, especially for her family, and also the victims' family. They're all in there. They're having to listen to all of this and go through it all again. They're vital details, though, because this jury needs to decide, before they can move any farther along in this process, if what Arias did was, quote, "especially cruel." That is the law in this state. They have to decide if those actions were cruel, then they can move on to the next phase. And then they can determine whether she's worth saving. They can determine whether there's anything to mitigate just how awful all of this has been and whether she is a life worth saving.

I want to go now to some of the better legal minds to determine just exactly where we are and where this may be going. For our analysis, HLN's legal analyst Joey Jackson is standing by live, as well as criminal defense attorney and former colleague of mine, Jami Floyd.

So, Jami, first to you. Tears. I know you have been a defense attorney. You have worked with your clients. And I know that you do counsel them in how they are to behave in the courtroom. But are the tears at this point in a process this dire effective?

JAMI FLOYD, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, you know, we always hear that phrase crocodile tears. And a jury is no different than the rest of the public when assessing your client's demeanor. If she can't help herself, she can't help herself, but I don't think they're effective. I think the jury's going to do the job it has to do. And the question, as you point out, Ashleigh, is whether or not this jury feels this killing was particularly cruel, heinous, or depraved. Did the victim suffer unduly in a case that should be a death penalty case. That's the question for the jury. And jurors don't think clinically like lawyers. They think like brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers. That's the problem for this defense attorney we see addressing the jury now.

BANFIELD: And so strangely in Phoenix, I know, Jami, you'll remember from the years that you did this kind of analysis on court TV, every jurisdiction is a little bit different.

FLOYD: Right.

BANFIELD: This judge, strangely enough, took the heinous and depraved out and -


BANFIELD: Just by statute, suggested that only cruel applies to this question. So at least it's a little bit easier, maybe, for this jury to determine it.

But, Joey Jackson, how are these human beings, that Jami just outlined, supposed to think anything but dying in this manner with blood all over your bathroom and, you know, expressive blood into a mirror where you can see yourself dying, how are they to think anything but this being extremely and atrociously cruel?

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: Ashleigh, it's a wonderful point and I have to say I couldn't agree with Jami any more as she laid it out because I think the jury is processing it that way. And not only, Ashleigh, remember, are they evaluating it in the context of the stab wounds and the pain and the suffering and the gunshot, but they're also evaluating it in the context of what she, Jodi Arias, had to say when she testified and the fact that she took no responsibility, the fact that she trashed the victim.

Now certainly this hearing is limited to the issue of cruelty, but when the jury evaluates that, they're going to be looking at what they heard from a defendant who took no responsibility. So we did see an opening statement from Curt Nurmi (ph). He did try to define the law and say, well, ladies and gentlemen, it's not cruel you're looking at, it's unusually cruel. Was it depraved? And I think under the circumstances, with the doctor testifying, with the blood all over the place, it's going to be a very tough day certainly for the defense to try to establish that. And we know most of all, Ashleigh, it's a horrible day for that family as they sit in that courtroom having to listen to this.

BANFIELD: Oh, without question. We keep seeing these shots of the gallery and the victim's sister, front and center, often with an expression on her face. She's had to sit through four months of this to culminate in just the focus on the ugliest part of this crime.

Joey Jackson and Jami Floyd, stand by, if you will, and thank you for that. I also want to remind our viewers, don't forget to catch Joey on HLN's "After Dark" tonight. It begins at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Just a wide, varied look at all of the trial proceedings. A great program for you to catch up if you haven't had a chance to see everything that transpired live moment to moment in court.

Also, stay with us, because we're monitoring all the testimony that's going on right now, not only in the Jodi Arias case, but also in the O.J. Simpson case. We're going to bring you live updates over the next two hours. The highlights from what Mr. Simpson says he deserves to get and why.

And also up next, some stunning new developments in the kidnapping case in Cleveland, Ohio, the house of horrors. Sources are now telling us that Ariel Castro allegedly played favorites with his captives. One of them, however, was his, quote, punching bag. Seriously, a quote, a punching bag.

Plus, even though Castro has apparently confessed to the police, his lawyer says he didn't tell me that. In fact, he's going to plead not guilty. Stay right here. We're going to explain all of this and tell you why they're saying what they're saying and what they're saying comes next. (INAUDIBLE) special coverage live here on CNN.


BANFIELD: Want to take you to Cleveland now. How do you defend a man who is accused of some of the worst crimes -- kidnapping, raping, beating, starving, and imprisoning three women for a decade. There is video now of Ariel Castro's attorneys being grilled, being questioned about what they plan to do and giving the best indication yet of one of the ways they plan to defend this man in court and it is blame the media. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG WEINTRAUB, ARIEL CASTRO'S ATTORNEY: I think that the initial portrayal by the media has been one of a, quote, "monster," and that's not the impression that I got when I talked to him for three hours.

JAYE SCHLACHET, ARIEL CASTRO'S ATTORNEY: He is a human being. And what's offensive is that the media -- and I don't mean it towards you, but the media and the community wants to demonize this man before they really know the whole story. And I think that it's unfair and it's just not equitable.


BANFIELD: Well, that is often the case. The media can be blamed for some things for sure, but the video tells the story of police breaking down a door and rescuing two young women who had been missing for 10 years. A third rescued by another member of the public. That is indisputable. Those three women were missing. They were found in his home. And his own family has decried him, has disowned him, and has called him a monster. His own family, through the media. CNN's Pamela Brown now live with me in Cleveland.

Look, every attorney has a good reason to recommend their client pleads not guilty. In this particular case, I don't deny that this is a - this is a viable way to proceed, but how -- why would they go out publicly in the press and go further to suggest all of these other things, that he's been misrepresented, that he loves his daughter, that he wants to see her grow up healthy and happy. Why are these lawyers doing what they're doing, Pam?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is the big question today, Ashleigh. Basically his attorneys are trying to mount the best defense possible and, for whatever reason, they believe coming out to the media and saying that Castro will plead not guilty if he faces kidnapping and rape charges, and a grand jury indictment, is the best way to build their case and to mount their defense. His attorneys, as you heard in the sound there, are saying essentially that he's been unfairly portrayed in the media, and asking people not to rush to judgment that he is a monster. And they also, you know, they talked about not only how he's been depicted, but that he hasn't admitted anything to them about his actions the past 10 years that we've been hearing about.

But, Ashleigh, you have to think about where they're coming from, and the professional obligation they have to their client, and also weigh that against what we've heard, what we've been reporting, what our affiliates have been reporting, that Ariel Castro has confessed to at least some of his actions. But no doubt about it, Ashleigh, a lot of people were surprised to hear his attorney speak out and say that he's going to plead not guilty.

BANFIELD: And maybe I'm not surprised to hear that the initial plea will be not guilty, but I am surprised to hear this additional defense in the press that he's no monster, after, like I said, those three women were in that house and rescued. There is no disputing that. It's on video. And the police released that video.

The police are also, in dribs and drabs, and investigators, police sources, telling us some of the details about what these young women went through and how their ordeal changed over the years. What have your sources been telling you, Pam?

BROWN: That's right. You mentioned the evidence. We know they brought out around 200 pieces of evidence from his home here on Seymour Avenue. And in addition to all that, we're learning from sources about how Castro allegedly treated the women over the years. We're hearing from sources that his behavior evolved and that he treated the women differently. That Amanda Berry was treated slightly better than the rest and that Michelle Knight was treated the worst.

But want to just make it clear here that it's a bit of a jump to say that there was a hierarchy at play. All these women were treated poorly according to sources. So just want to be careful there. And the treatment was nuanced. It wasn't a dramatic difference in the way they were treated, but it's clear, in talking to sources, Amanda Berry was slightly favored. Of course, she had his child, the little six-year- old girl that we've been talking about, so we don't know if that perhaps played a role here.

Also, Ashleigh, we're learning that, as far as Michelle Knight go, a source is telling us that she was his personal punching bag. That he was -- she was his main target and that he would beat her in every way possible and he would beat her with hand weights at times. That's according to a family friend of one of the victims I spoke with. And we've also heard that Michelle Knight suffered vision loss, muscle and joint damage during her years in captivity. It is clear, though, Ashleigh, that all of these women went through a significant ordeal the past 10 years and have a long road of recovery ahead of them.

BANFIELD: You know what, Pam, and it's also just obvious and clear the words of one of those victims herself. When Amanda escaped that home, the words to the 911 operator were, I've been kidnapped for 10 years and now I'm free and I'm afraid, come now, because he's going to come home. I mean she said his name to the 911 operators in the midst of that rescue. So it will be fascinating, Pamela, to hear how these attorneys -- this is an uphill battle like none I've perhaps ever seen before.

Pam Brown, thank you for your reporting. And she's been doing an excellent job getting some information and knocking down some bad information, I will say, as well.

I want to turn your attention to Washington, because it is safe to say the Obama administration has had a terrible week, and it is only getting worse today. Right now, Eric Holder is getting grilled on Capitol Hill. The attorney general having to face questions over some very serious scandals, a pair of them to be specific. But get this, a source is now telling CNN, when it comes to the IRS, there were two rogue employees involved in that controversy. The information just coming into us. We're going to get it to you, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: We have some breaking news into CNN on the IRS scandal that is unfolding this week. A source is telling CNN that the IRS has actually been able to narrow down its investigation to two people at this point. And two people who are not in Washington, D.C., either. And this is coming from the top, in fact. This is coming from the acting commissioner of the IRS. He's using some pretty strong words like "overly aggressive" and "rogue." Our CNN's Drew Griffin has broken this news and he joins me live now.

What exactly is this all about and how are we going from Washington, D.C., to Cincinnati? Take me through this, Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's set the stage what Cincinnati is about. The IRS office in Cincinnati is not just for Cincinnati. That is the office that handles tax exempt status for everybody in the country. So if your group wanted to file for tax exempt status, you would send all your paperwork and applications to this office in Cincinnati.

Tea Party groups did that for the past two years. And many have complained that they haven't gotten that status, that they were being overly questioned by the IRS, that the records were gone through somewhat abnormally. Well, now the IRS acting commissioner, according to a congressional source, has told congressional investigators that he has pin pointed, as you said, two rogue employees. That was the word that the commissioner used in this briefing, who overly aggressively handled Tea Party requests for tax exempt status over the past two years. In a meeting in Capitol Hill, this acting commissioner, Steven Miller, described these employees, Ashleigh, as being - here's another quote -- off the reservation, and it was not precisely clear what that rogue behavior was.

We know from another source who's familiar with the acting commissioner's conversations up on Capitol Hill that those two staffers have been disciplined. And the second source said Miller emphasized that the problem was not just limited to these two employees, though they seemed to be very important people. It is that other employees may be involved, but they have pinpointed these two employees. We do know that Miller met with the Senate finance chairman, that's Max Baucus, and Max Baucus is trying to get the commissioner into a hearing.

We've reached out to the IRS, Ashleigh. We haven't got any comment back yet. We will, as soon as we do, pass it along to you. But right now, a lot of attention being focused on what exactly this means. Is it just these two guys who were involved in a Cincinnati office, or, as the Republicans think, there may be many, many more people involved, and it may reach back to Washington, D.C.


BANFIELD: That's great work, Drew. Good scoop. Wow. And wow even more because when you talk about discipline, that may be the next step. Drew Griffin, get back to us, if you will, if you get more on that. That's terrific. In the meantime, Eric Holder is ordering an FBI investigation to determine whether the IRS employees broke any criminal laws. You just heard Drew talk about the discipline. What about potential crime? Let's bring in chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash on Capitol Hill.

There's a lot of outrage that seems to be crossing party lines in Congress right now. It's all fun and games to hate the IRS, but this is serious. And if we're talking about crime, who is crying loudest about crimes at this point?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republicans are crying the loudest, but, most importantly, the attorney general, who, of course, works for a Democrat and is a Democrat, Eric Holder, is making very clear, just like he did yesterday, that he wants to investigate this as - wherever it goes for any criminal wrongdoing.