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Tornadoes Rip Through Texas; Arias Defense Moves to Withdraw from Trial, Denied; Three Scandals Plaguing Obama Administration; Boy Charged in Sister's Death
Aired May 16, 2013 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We've got pictures of the dramatic scene when tornadoes -- 10 tornadoes -- ripped through the area late yesterday, leveling much of the small town of Granbury, Texas.
Take a look at the images. Some are saying it is virtually like a war zone, and you can see why, reports of entire homes being flattened and wiped off their foundations, people still inside, cars flying through the air.
At least six people at this count are confirmed dead, but more than a hundred are hurt and seven people are still on the missing list. And those who have lost everything this morning are reeling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only place in our house that was probably safe enough was our hallway, and I grabbed a mattress, and, you know, I -- there's just nothing left. I'm sorry. There's just nothing left.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BANFIELD: A Habitat for Humanity neighborhood was among those neighborhoods hit worst, 110 homes there, most of them now gone. That's where officials say the six people who were killed actually did die.
The rescue workers are on the ground this morning, searching for those who are missing and also surveying the damage, and school buses are being sent to affected neighborhoods to help with the evacuation.
If you want to help, you can go to CNN.com/impact and find out how you can make a difference.
We are also live this morning in Phoenix, Arizona, where a murder defendant, Jodi Arias could face the death penalty in the final stage of her prosecution. In fact, those prosecutors have argued that her victim, Travis Alexander, suffered greatly, cruelly, in the minutes before he died, and that his murder was especially cruel, the jury agreeing to it.
Our sister network, HLN, captured this exclusive video of Arias in her prison stripes, shackled and walking back inside what is her temporary home, the Estrella Jail here. The video was taken just 45 minutes after a highly emotional day in court.
Here's CNN's Casey Wian.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the jury, duly empanelled and sworn in the above entitled action, upon our oaths do find that the aggravating factor, "especially cruel," has been proven.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jodi Arias sat solemnly as the jury decided she is eligible for a death sentence, that after a mini-trial known as the "aggravating factor phase" of a process that will ultimately determine Arias' sentence.
Even before prosecutor Juan Martinez called his first witness, the county medical examiner, family and friends of victim Travis Alexander fought back tears in anticipation of what was to come.
Martinez displayed graphic images of Alexander's body on giant screens enveloping the courtroom. They showed dozens of stab wounds, including one so deep it that it punctured a vein going into his heart that produced a gusher of blood and several to the head that dented his skull.
JUAN MARTINEZ, PROSECUTOR: She made sure that she killed him by stabbing him over and over and over again and then finishing him off.
WIAN: Then came the most horrific image, a gaping wound to Alexander's throat, sliced opened nearly ear-to-ear. It remained on the screens for what seemed like an eternity, as many in court, Alexander's sisters, Arias herself, even some jurors averted their eyes.
Martinez argued that Alexander's murder was especially cruel, a requirement for the death penalty in Arizona.
MARTINEZ: You can imagine the absolute terror as he's sitting there, defenseless, water coming down. That is extreme emotional anguish.
Let's just sit for two minutes.
WIAN: He also asked the jury to sit in silence for two full minutes. The time he contends it took Alexander to die.
Arias' defense team said that was an exaggeration and argued that, as Alexander fought for his life, adrenaline and rapid blood loss could have reduced his suffering.
MARTINEZ: And Dr. Horn, who testified just moments ago, told you that the adrenaline does, in fact, prevent the body from experiencing the pain.
WIAN: Jurors rejected that argument and now will decide whether there are enough mitigating factors to spare Jodi Arias' life.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BANFIELD: It took an hour and 33 minutes for the jury to reach that decision yesterday.
And Casey Wian is live with me here in Phoenix. Casey, some breaking news coming out this morning as well, and really just extraordinary news. Jodi's defense team has moved to quit, to get off this case.
What more do we know about this?
WIAN: It really is strange, Ashleigh. This was a decision that was reached by the judge at a closed-door hearing on Tuesday. The discussions have been sealed, but what we do know is that Kirk Nurmi, the defense lawyer for Jodi Arias, and his defense team requested to be withdrawn from this case. The judge denied that request.
This is the same defense attorney who not that long ago during the guilt or innocence phase of this trial was talking to the jury about how they shouldn't decide their verdict on whether they like or dislike Jodi Arias.
And Nurmi said, I don't like her nine out of 10 days, very strange to hear something like that from a defense attorney and then hear that attorney try to withdraw from the case.
We don't know, as I said, exactly what the reason for that is. We can only speculate that perhaps it has something to do with that interview Jodi Arias gave after her verdict to a local Fox television station reporter here in Phoenix.
It clearly speaks to the fact that there must be some kind of conflict or tension between Jodi Arias and her defense attorneys, Ashleigh.
BANFIELD: Yeah, but as you mentioned, this judge made the decision and said, no, keep at it. We spent a lot of money on this case so far, on her defense, more than $1.7 million. That's just not going to happen no matter what these attorneys have said.
Casey Wian, thank you for that.
And you just heard it, Jodi Arias' defense attorneys moving to withdraw and to walk away from her. That motion denied.
HLN's legal correspondent and former prosecutor Beth Karas is with me now in Phoenix, and in New York, CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Beth, I want to begin with you here in Phoenix. Look, this is not the first time that we have heard defense attorneys ask to get off a case. I'm not sure that I've ever heard it at this 11th hour.
But it is a very unusual move, but perhaps not a surprising decision by the judge.
BETH KARAS, HLN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not a surprising decision at all. And maybe the defense is just preserving the record. Who knows what will happen if she is going to get the death sentence? Maybe she'll have an issue on appeal, ineffective assistance of counsel, and they're just preserving the record.
But I'm not surprised that the judge did not let him out. There are really only a handful of days left in this case.
BANFIELD: Is it a stretch to suggest -- this comes on the heels just days ago of this extremely unorthodox interview, Beth, that she gave with a local TV station, saying, you know what? I'm done. I don't want to live the rest of my life in prison. I'd prefer kill me now.
Is it -- does it -- is it a stretch to connect these two moves?
KARAS: I don't -- no, I don't think it's a stretch at all because, coming out of the same hearing, we know that the judge ordered the sheriff's department not to allow any more media interviews.
But the portion of the hearing is sealed that deals with this motion the defense filed to withdraw. So I think all of the -- all of it regarding the timing is suspicious and it's probably related.
BANFIELD: Jeffrey Toobin, I don't even -- I can't even for a moment imagine what it's like to be her defense attorneys.
This has been a difficult case from the get-go, and the mitigation specialist has worked valiantly for months and months, if not years, visiting her to try to put together a case as to why she should live. And then you have this.
What do you do when you have a rogue client, when you have a rogue client who may be doing things against your advice? What is your alternative if are you that attorney?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is a really difficult situation for an attorney, and these kind of issues come up fairly often.
Clients drive their lawyers crazy under many different circumstances. It rarely comes to the point where the defendants -- where the lawyers say, I can't deal with this, I have to leave the case.
But it just underlines the nature of the conflict between the two, and I agree with Beth. There is no way any judge is going to let defense attorneys off the case after months and months and months of trial with just a few days to go.
But it presents some complexities about how this case will proceed in the penalty phase.
BANFIELD: So let me just ask you about how we're proceeding because today we do move into this penalty phase. And this is the time when people stand up on both sides of this case and beg for what they want.
On Travis Alexander's side, his siblings will testify about how life has changed for them. This is victims' impact. And, on her side, she's got a friend and an ex-boyfriend that are scheduled, likely to testify.
Jeff Toobin, what can they possibly say? What do they need to say? If she doesn't want to save her life, how can they save her life?
TOOBIN: Well, I think, actually, the defense has a lot of opportunity to make a case here. She is not the classic death-penalty recipient. She doesn't have any criminal record. She is not someone who has a history of terrible behavior.
There is the possibility that she could serve some sort of purpose in terms of life in prison. She could contribute in some way.
There are only three women on death row in Arizona. Most women who are convicted of murder do not get the death penalty.
And, remember, she only needs one juror to veto the death penalty. It does not need to be unanimous for a non-death-penalty sentence.
It has to be unanimous for death, but 11-to-one for no -- in favor of the death penalty means no death penalty. So she does have some advantages going into this process.
BANFIELD: Beth, Karas, I have to wrap it. I need you to clarify something for me if you would, just on the technical next phase.
If Jodi decides to take the stand, is this an allocution where she's allowed to, unchallenged, make a statement to the court, have her moment in the sun? Or is it testimony where they can go after her?
KARAS: She will not be examined by the attorneys, so there is no direct and cross-examination. It's simply a statement.
Now, I've been told she will actually stand at a podium in front of the jury. I'll believe it when I see it. Maybe she'll be on the witness stand where she spent 18 days during the trial.
She will simply make a statement. Maybe she'll express remorse. Maybe she'll say, I've been a good inmate in the jail for four-and-a- half years. I've got a good record there.
And, as Jeffrey just said, you know, that she may say, I can do good in prison. I can teach other women not to make the mistakes that I made that landed me in prison for the rest of my life.
BANFIELD: If that's what she plans to say. Who knows?
Beth Karas, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you both for that input. We do appreciate it.
We have other big stories that we are following as well. The IRS targeting conservatives has the White House on the defensive, just one of several big scandals that has the White House and Washington all aflutter.
And we are all over these latest developments. They're coming at you, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BANFIELD: Damage control, big time, that's the modus operandi of the White House this morning as it struggles to get out in front of not just one but three major scandals that are squarely in the lap of the Obama administration, the IRS targeting the tea party and the other conservative groups, the killing of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, last year, and the Justice Department seizing the phone records of the Associated Press in an investigation.
The Obama investigation in clearly on the offensive, thrice actually, trying to limit this fallout, including accepting the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS Steven Miller. That happened last night and then this morning, we're just learning that the president will appoint a few acting IRS commissioner sometime this week.
But none of this is muting the outrage of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and others in the Tea Party Movement. She held a news conference earlier this morning. We'll have more on that in just a moment. And also in about 15 minute's time the speaker of the House, John Boehner, is going to hold his weekly news conference and I think it's safe to say there could be some fireworks.
Dana Bash and Jim Acosta join me live now on Capitol Hill, and our senior CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin stand by in New York.
First to you, Dana. With the speaker of the House set to hold this news conference, I can only imagine that the damage control has just begun. That this is almost all out war.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you know -- just so you know, there is another issue going on here on Capitol Hill today. And that is that the House, once again, for the 30 something time, is going to vote to repeal Obamacare. So that is probably going to be the thrust of what the speaker is going to talk about. And then he will probably do a little bit of gloating when it comes to the IRS and other issues.
I actually, Ashleigh, just had a chance to speak with the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Dave Camp Kemp. I actually went into the hearing room where he is going to chair a hearing tomorrow morning with Steven Miller, the very man who was fired yesterday as acting chair -- acting commissioner, rather, of the IRS. And I asked what he wants to know from Steven Miller. Listen to what Camp said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAVID CAMP (R), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS CHAIRMAN: I want to know what he knew, when he found out, and why he didn't disclose any of this to the Congress knowing that we were inquiring about this because we had been hearing that people had been targeted and we were trying to get answers. So I want to know what he knew. I want to know when he knew it and I want to know from his standpoint what they've done to make sure this doesn't happen again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So this is kind of a rare thing and it's unusual. A man who was just fired a couple of days later is going to now be testifying on Capitol Hill. We were wondering whether or not he was even going to show up. Dave Camp said, yes, he is going to come, his lawyer told him so, because one of the reasons is because Steven Miller is actually still working for the IRS. Even though the White House made a very big deal out of the fact that he was asked to leave, he is staying on until June. So he still is the point person for Congress when they do their oversight into what exactly happened at the IRS.
BANFIELD: All right. Well, stand by on that. But still with the same topic. The IRS and that scandal.
Jim Acosta, I want to go over to you on Capitol Hill. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has for many people been the face of the Tea Party, Jim, and this morning she was out in full force with her concerns and a lot of supporters. Can you give me a feel for essentially what the takeaway is and what the case was that she made?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ashleigh. She is the chair of the Tea Party Caucus and it was interesting to hear Dana's reporting there about Dave Camp saying what did Steven Miller know and when did he know it because Michele Bachmann was here surrounded by a group of Tea Party leaders from across the country as well as members of the House and the Senate. And she was asking the question, what does the president know and when did he know it?
And so there were shades of those kinds of Watergate-Nixon questions that were being asked here. And I asked the congresswoman, well, what did she mean by all this? Does she feel that the president might be subject for impeachment if this thing keeps going? And here's a little of what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), CHAIRMAN, TEA PARTY CAUCUSES: It goes all the way to the White House. We need to know what the White House knew and when they knew it. As I have been home in my district and the 6th District in Minnesota, there isn't a weekend that hasn't gone by that someone says, Michele, what in the world are you all waiting for in Congress? Why aren't you impeaching the president?
He has been making unconstitutional actions since he came into office. So I will tell you what I am hearing from people back home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now she did go on to say that she wants to make sure that the facts are laid out, that she doesn't want to jump to conclusions, and she wants to see whether or not there is proof that anybody at the White House was involved in this IRS scandal. But having said all of that, Ashleigh, there were a lot of skeptical Tea Party leaders here at this news conference, many of them offered their own personal stories of how they went through years of dealing with the IRS trying to get the tax-exempt status for their groups.
And one woman I talked to, a home school mom she called herself, said that her organization receives really no donations, but yet she had to go through question after question from the IRS in order to get her tax-exempt status. And they feel that all of that is unfair -- Ashleigh.
BANFIELD: All right. Jim Acosta, thank you. Don't go away because I want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin on this very issue.
Jeff, you're hearing Jim Acosta's reporting and Michele Bachmann's concerns, Dana Bash's concerns as well and the hearing that's scheduled, the Ways and Means Committee, tomorrow and what it all stem from is this issue of what it means to be a 501(c)(4). And who goes for this kind of status. And how many on either side of this equation may have come up against roadblocks with the IRS.
So far we are hearing a lot about conservative groups. But we're also starting to hear about some of them were progressive liberal groups as well. Do we need to all take a big step back and wait for the numbers before the accusation continue to fly so fast?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right. I think, you know, this is a big Washington phenomenon at the moment, but the notion that this is some earth-shaking scandal and that responsible people should be talking about impeachment seems, frankly, ridiculous at this point.
Remember, no one is entitled to be a 501(c)(4) organization. You have to be involved in a public welfare organization. That's what 501(c)(4) means under the law. A public welfare organization. You can't be a purely political operation and be a 501(c)(4). So the IRS is required by law to investigate these organizations and say, what do you do? And ask, you know, are you political or are you public welfare? That's the IRS' job.
Now it is inappropriate and wrong and possibly even illegal if you only scrutinize conservatives but not liberals. But it's not clear that there were liberal organizations applying, certainly, in the numbers that the Tea Party were. So I think everybody needs to take a deep breath. We need to figure out what went on here. A lot of these organizations that are complaining wound up getting approved for 501(c)(4) status. So, you know, what are their damages? Again, we need to know a lot more, but we need perhaps a little less hysteria, too.
BANFIELD: Well, without question, I think the facts are critical and hopefully those will start coming out, starting with maybe tomorrow's hearing. Who knows.
Dana Bash, Jim Acosta, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you for that.
Also making news, an 8-year-old girl stabbed to death. Murder charges against the suspect who is not even old enough yet to drive and happens to be her big brother. Coming up after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: A California boy stood before a judge yesterday wearing a green jumpsuit and not appearing very nervous, at times even smiling in a courtroom, which is really not what you'd expect for someone who is facing down a second-degree murder charge. And someone who is accused of repeatedly stabbing an 8-year-old sister until she died.
I did say he's a boy because he's just 12-years-old.
Here's CNN's Dan Simon.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It was a relatively brief court appearance for the 12-year-old boy accused of killing his sister. Wearing a green jumpsuit, he did not appear nervous as the judge explained the charge and the process going forward.
(Voice-over): Holding hands, appearing shell shocked by the allegations, the 12-year-old's brother, father and the father's fiancee emerged from the courthouse, unwilling to talk about the boy or the murder charge. It was the fiancee Crystal Walters who placed the call to 911, she describes an intruder, apparently based on second-hand information.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They say he ran out but they are really scared.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: OK. Of course. How old are you kids?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twelve and 9.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're on our way.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: So you had a break-in?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: OK. Did they -- did they see the man? Were they able to describe him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They did see him, yes.
SIMON: But as it turns out, Walters wasn't at the home herself at the time of the 911 call and couldn't have been more wrong when she told the operator that the two children were OK. Eight-year-old Leila Fowler was dying from multiple stab wounds.
(On camera): Can you clarify in that 911 call why she said that the little girl was OK?
MARK REICHEL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There could be many reasons. And we don't know yet because we just -- we just got to discovering. We just got to -- we've done no investigation. We've never really spoken to the D.A.'s office about how they're making their case so there's no way I could intelligently give you a good answer to that. SIMON: Just one of the many puzzling questions in this case. The Sheriff's Office hasn't explained what led them to arrest the brother. The boy's attorney maintained his innocence.
STEVE PLESSER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: We have a lot of same questions that you do and the community does, and those questions are, why do the police think the minor did it? What forensic evidence is out there? How solid is it? How is it possible for a 12-year-old to commit an offense like this?
SIMON: Counselors have been on hand at the 12-year-old's school. While no one told us they saw any signs of overt violence, this student told us how the boy was suspended earlier the school year for bringing a knife.
(On camera): Did you see the knife?
CHRIS PEIFER, CLASSMATE: Yes.
SIMON: Did he show it to friends and classmates?
PEIFER: He showed it to kids.
SIMON: It was a little Swiss Army knife, like a little pocket knife?
SIMON: And what happened?
PEIFER: He was like showing it to people and so then he gave it to -- I mean, someone told on him. He went to the office.
SIMON: The boy will have another court appearance later this month. Although most juvenile cases are handled in private, this one is public because it's a murder charge.
Dan Simon, CNN, San Andreas, California.
BANFIELD: Dan, thank you.
It is going to be another extremely emotional day here in Phoenix for the final phase, the final phase of the Jodi Arias murder trial. People who both love her and hate her fighting to save her or see her die. The evidence from the medical examiner was so graphic yesterday, it caused the family of the victim to break down.
We're going to play key moments of that testimony for you so you can determine for yourself point by point if what the jury decided that this murder was especially cruel was right on the mark.