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CNN NEWSROOM

Will Jodi Arias Get Death Penalty?; Fertilizer Plant Blast Probe

Aired May 16, 2013 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: How you doing? Just before 3:00 Eastern Time, I'm Chris Cuomo in New York. We have some breaking news for you here out of Indiana. A school bus has crashed. We're looking at it right now. We're just getting this information in. We'll be watching the situation.

We have heard it's a special needs group of students that are in the bus. There are injuries. We don't know the circumstances yet surrounding why it happened, but we wanted to give this to you just because we know it's developing right now. We're trying to find out what we can.

The location, Indiana, between Zionsville and Lebanon in Boone County. Left lane, as you can see, is closed. Emergency crews are treating patients, trying to clean up the crash. We don't know yet, again, what's going on here. We don't want to give information that we haven't confirmed, but the patients are being taken to St. Vincent and Methodist hospitals.

"Eyewitness News" has learned this is a special-needs school bus from Lafayette Schools. It was definitely a bus rollover. There were injuries. We don't know more now. When we do, we will bring it to you. But that's the latest on this situation out of Indiana.

We want to move on now to exclusive reporting brought to you first by CNN's Jake Tapper, the headline, the U.S. government has lost two suspected terrorists who once participated in the federal witness protection program.

The government gave them new identities, protected them, and then lost them.

Let's bring in our chief Washington correspondent, anchor, of course, of "THE LEAD," Jake Tapper.

Jake, great to have you. What is the scoop?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, you and I have talked quite a bit, especially when we were in Boston covering the Boston Marathon bombing, about the problem of stovepiping, when intelligence agencies, national security agencies in this country, do not share information with other agencies.

And that seems to be the problem here, according to an inspector general report for the Department of Justice. And that is, the individuals in charge, the Department of Justice individuals and agencies in charge of the witness protection program, called Witness Security, gave new names, new identities to suspected terrorists who were helping them out with prosecutions, but they did not give those new names to the individuals who run the terrorist database in this country.

So they were able to fly. And of the hundreds and thousands of individuals on this list, while the inspector general was doing this audit, they told the Justice Department about it and the Justice Department tried to figure out and track down all these individuals and they realized that two of them have left the country and they're not exactly sure where they are.

So let's quote from the inspector general report that we obtained first today. "In July 2012, the U.S. Marshals Service stated that it was unable to locate two former federal Witness Security Program participants identified as known or suspected terrorists, and that, through its investigative efforts, it has concluded that one individual was and the other individual was believed to be residing outside the United States."

In another part of the summary of the report, the inspector general says: "As a result of the department not disclosing the information on these known or suspected terrorists, the new government-provided identities of known or suspected terrorists were not included on the government's consolidated terrorist watch list until we brought this matter to the Justice Department's attention. Therefore, it was possible for known or suspected terrorists to fly on commercial airplanes in or over the United States."

Now, the Justice Department has responded to this, of course. They say that they agree with the inspector general's audit report, that the Witness Security Program requirement's for admitting and moderating participants needed to be enhanced for terrorist-linked witnesses.

But it's, first of all, another example of that not sharing information that we have talked so much about, the stovepiping of information that we talked about, for instance, in the 9/11 case and also in the Boston Marathon case, when the FBI did not share with local Boston law enforcement suspicions that the Russian government had about the oldest Tsarnaev brother.

And then, of course, Chris, this comes within the context of really a horrible week politically for President Obama, whether you're talking about the investigation into Benghazi and scrutiny of the administration's role or perhaps, more importantly, the IRS, unfairly and inappropriately, according to the Obama administration itself, targeting conservative groups.

And then, of course, you have the third story about the Department of Justice subpoenaing records from the Associated Press in a leak investigation. A lot of people think that is very heavy-handed tactics to go after the Associated Presses phone records like that.

On top of all that, you now have the story of two terror suspects getting out of the control and getting out of the eyesight of the government agency that is supposed to be keeping a watch on them, Chris.

CUOMO: Well, Jake, you may have opened up the one that is going to worry Americans the most, because I believe somewhere else in that report, it said that the WitSec, the Witness Security part of this program wasn't aware of how many people they were monitoring. So while they're saying there are two that they know they lost, they may not know really who else is where and what's going on. And the unknown may be even more frightening than the known, right, Jake?

TAPPER: There's no doubt there's a lot of questions about the Justice Department and their record-keeping when it comes to how many terror suspects are on this list, on the Witness Security Program.

The Justice Department in the coming days and weeks I'm sure is going to face a lot of questions. When our Capitol Hill producer Ted Barrett asked lawmakers about this today -- of course, we just broke the story a few hours ago -- they did not even know about it yet. It was a story that the White House press corps, those called on at the press conference today, did not ask about because it's so fresh and new.

Jessica Yellin, our senior White House correspondent, yelled out a question to President Obama, but he didn't take her up on her offer. But I think that the response that we're going to hear is going to be fairly strong, because, as you say, national security and the idea of the government knowing where suspected terrorists are, giving them new identities because they're cooperating with an investigation, not sharing that information with the agencies that are supposed to keep an eye on suspected terrorists, and then losing track of two of them, well, that's pretty astounding, Chris.

CUOMO: Right. And hopefully this is not just the way things are done there. Hopefully, this is an aberration. But obviously your reporting will force answers and hopefully some accountability.

Jake, thanks for being with us in the NEWSROOM. And we know you are going to have a lot more on this and those other situations facing the White House on "THE LEAD." Appreciate it, pal. I will be watching the show later on, of course.

Jake's show starts, "THE LEAD," at the top of the hour.

Now, right now, we want to move on to a different situation developing. Prosecutors proved Jodi Arias is a murderer and a liar. The big question now is, will the 32-year-old woman be put to death? The jury is deciding this, eight men, four women. They're in a hearing. They already have found in this hearing that this murder was especially cruel.

That triggers the next phase of analysis in the hearing, which is, are there mitigating factors that would keep her from deserving the death penalty, aggravating factors that make this worthy of the death penalty? So the jurors are listening to victim impact statements. They're taking looks at the pictures of the stabbing wounds and all of the brutal things that were done to Travis Alexander. They did hear, as I said, from family members. They may hear from Jodi Arias herself in something called an allocution, which is where she gives her take on the situation, but is not cross-examined.

Her attorney said in his opening statement, he referred to that. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN ALEXANDER, BROTHER OF MURDER VICTIM: My brother's murder has had a major impact on me. It's even invaded my dreams.

I have nightmares about somebody coming at me with a knife and then going after my wife and my daughter. When I wake up, I cannot establish what is real, what is a dream. I have even gone through the house searching through rooms, shaken my family to wake them up to make sure that they are alive.

My wife has woken me up out of nightmares because I was screaming in my sleep. It may sound childish, childish, but I cannot sleep alone in the dark anymore. I have had dreams of my brother all curled up in the shower, thrown in there, left to rot for days, all alone. I don't want these nightmares anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: That is the victim's brother, obviously. This will be decided by the jury. It must be unanimous, but they will be working off of what has been given to them largely by the attorneys.

So, let's bring in CNN legal eagles here. We have one analyst, Paul Callan, criminal defense attorney Jami Floyd as well.

Thanks to you both of you for being here.

This situation of analysis, aggravating factors, mitigating factors, big words, sounds complicated. The simple version is, they are going to look at what is before them and decide whether it's worthy of death.

Paul, I will start with you.

Only one juror, if it has to be unanimous, has to decide she doesn't get the death penalty and then they move on to life, or 25 years, possibility of parole that the will judge decide.

Would you say that the odds are in favor of Arias not getting the death penalty?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: I would say that she's on a fast road to the death penalty at this point.

With the jury coming back yesterday in I think slightly less than two hours finding that this was an exceptional cruelty case, triggering this death penalty hearing, that's highly suggestive that all of the jurors think, at least they're leaning toward it as a death penalty case, because you have to consider, Chris, if one juror didn't want the death penalty, that juror could have chosen a battle yesterday and fought back.

Two hours, they come back and say, let's go to the next phase. So I think she's in trouble at this point. And we will see. She's made public statements that she wants the death penalty. If she gets on the stand and advocates that, wow, I think her lawyers have a tough job on their hands.

CUOMO: Jami, give me the other side of it, because it could be, counter to Paul's point, that it's cruel on its face, it is exceptionally cruel, it's cruel by any definition, but now to look at it specifically as whether it's worthy of the death penalty could be a little different in the minds of jurors. How do you see it going down?

JAMI FLOYD, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, I tend to agree with Paul, but I will take it your bait and I will give you the other side.

First of all, jurors are aware that there are other cases more heinous, more cruel, more depraved than this. I could cite just two. Jeffrey Dahmer comes to mind, cannibal, refrigerated young boys and did not get the death penalty. Charles Manson, notorious serial killer, did not get the death penalty, and there are many more. And jurors are aware of that, even though they're not to expressly consider it.

Also, she's a woman. And we don't like putting women on death row in this country or in Arizona; 3,000 people or more are on death row; only 63 of those women, only three in Arizona, a state that has 63 people on death row. No, it has 100 -- I'm so sorry -- 125 or so on death row. So it's not something we do in this country. And so that cuts in her favor.

All that being said, I think it is a very, very difficult path for the defense, especially given that you're working, Chris, with a death- qualified jury. These are people who have already said from jump that they can impose and will impose the death penalty if they feel it's appropriate.

CUOMO: All right, so if you both think that we're going in that direction, what is the strongest case for why this deserves the death penalty? Paul, I will start with you. Jami, you follow on that.

CALLAN: The strongest case that it deserves the death penalty is the cruelty of the killing and also the pre-planning of the killing. I mean, it's the functional equivalent of hiring a hit man to kill someone.

She planned it carefully. She executed it in the most painful way possible by stabbing him 29 or 30 times and then shooting him. And so I think you could make a case that it's an exceptionally cruel case. And, statistically, just getting back to this interesting point that Jami raised, we very rarely put women to death in the United States.

But I was looking at the stats. Of the 12 women who have been put to death in the recent past since the 1970s, six of them killed husbands or lovers. So jurors don't seem to be too sympathetic to cold-blooded killers of husbands or lovers.

CUOMO: And, Jami, final point?

FLOYD: Let me also point out, with great irony, that the first person ever executed in Arizona since it became a state was a woman, believe it or not.

That being said, I have to say, Chris, I don't believe this is a death penalty case. I really don't. I know it's a horrific crime, and I do believe that he suffered. But I don't think, even for those of us who believe in the death penalty, that this is a case that rises to that level.

CUOMO: Why not?

(CROSSTALK)

FLOYD: Well, because I think that we reserve the death penalty for cases of serial killers and terrorists and people who are treasonous against our country.

I don't know that this is a woman who would repeat this kind of crime and is a danger to society, especially if she is given life without any possibility of parole. We have to remember that if she goes to prison, she will go. The jury has the option. If they kick it to the judge, she will have that option. It is life without any possibility of parole. We're not talking about the kind of criminal who we are dealing with in that penalty, even if you believe it's a legitimate penalty.

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAN: Just on that last point, Chris.

CUOMO: Last word, Paul. Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAN: Yes, they really -- jurors always look at that thing. Will this person kill again if we release her? And I think they would have to say yes.

She -- obviously, she picked this guy out, got into an affair with him. Who's to say that she wouldn't do it to somebody else?

FLOYD: But she's not going to be able to, Paul.

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAN: Well, she is going to be in prison someplace. Would there be another prisoner? Will she be out in 25 years because she's so good in prison that a governor decides to pardon her? Very few people really do serve life in the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: On the flip side, though, on the flip side, there is no greater burden to put on a jury than that which is before them right now.

CALLAN: Yes.

FLOYD: Indeed.

CUOMO: The decision of whether or not to take someone else's life, it is a very heavy burden, and certainly those 12 men and women have a job cut out for them. They did move very quickly to the penalty phase of this, seeing it as cruel. How could you not? What happens next is going to be a very difficult situation for them, especially after listening to those victims, having to go through all the evidence again, very difficult analysis.

But I appreciate the legal points. Paul, Jami, great to see you both. Thank you for joining me here on the NEWSROOM. I appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

FLOYD: Thank you.

CUOMO: It's 14 minutes past the hour now. Up next, the devastation is shocking. We want to take you down to Texas, take a look at what the tornadoes have done, ripping through a large section of communities there, homes destroyed. People have lost their lives. We're going to take you there and tell you how you can help those who have lost everything.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Welcome back to NEWSROOM.

I want to take you back to Phoenix. You're looking right now -- that is Samantha Alexander. She is Travis Alexander's -- the victim of Jodi Arias. This is the victim's sister. Let's listen to her.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SAMANTHA ALEXANDER, SISTER OF VICTIM: ... guidance during times like this.

None of us ever thought that he would never -- that he wouldn't be here when we needed him the most. To think that someone so loving, so caring, so giving could be taken from us, given the already tragic lives that we have lived, but to have Travis taken so barbarically is beyond any words we can find to describe our horrific loss.

I cannot adequately express how much we will miss our brother. We all miss his contagious laughter, his singing voice-mails, his jokes, his funny dances, his help in hard situations, his guidance when we are lost, his motivation, his insight, his huge smile... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exhibit 661.

S. ALEXANDER: ... and being there on the holidays.

Travis was the glue in our family. Our family has not been together since Travis has been gone. It's simply too hard to think of that one empty chair. We miss his charisma, his goal to make someone feel good about themselves and to make someone smile, no matter who they are or what they look like. Travis had an incredible heart. He had a huge heart.

And it was this huge heart and his kindness that will forever be missed. We were robbed of so many good memories, so many awesome moments with Travis. Our lives will never be the same. We can never get him back.

We are so grateful for our wonderful brother, and we feel so lucky and blessed for the time we had with Travis, however short-lived. We would give anything to have him back, anything.

Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, and we heard there the pained words of Travis Alexander's sister: "We can never get him back."

Remember, the jurors are sitting there. They're listening to these victim-impact statements. They're going to have to look at what was taken, the life that was lost, balance it with anything they can see that could mitigate, that could lessen the cruelty of this crime, and then decide whether or not Jodi Arias deserves the death penalty. That's the hearing we're monitoring.

We will give you more when we have more information on it.

We're going to move on now. We're just a couple of hours away from finding out what investigators think might have caused a deadly fertilizer plant explosion that devastated the tiny town of West, Texas. It's been almost a month since ammonium nitrate stored at the plant blew up, so powerful it registered as an earthquake. The blast killed 14 people, many of them first-responders, wiped out parts of the town.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is West, Texas, where state and federal investigators are preparing to hold a news conference to announce the results of their investigation.

Ed, what's the latest on what we can expect to hear?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Chris.

I just want to give you a sense of the backdrop that you see behind me. This is a house not just but a few hundred yards from the plant that exploded nearly a month ago. The cleanup here still continues. This is a house that we were in just a few days after that house exploded. This is one of the neighborhoods that had been cordoned off for quite some time. And what many people in this area are anxious to hear is what kind of definitive answers investigators will provide this afternoon as to what might have caused the fire that erupted inside the fertilizer plant and then moved to this bin of ammonium nitrate that exploded so dramatically that we saw here nearly a month ago and killed so many of the first-responders that had responded to that fire scene.

But it's not clear, Chris, if we will get a definitive answer, whether or not this will be something that -- a fire that started accidentally or if it was a case of arson. Investigators say they have not ruled out any kind of criminal conduct in this case. And, of course, in the last few days, there's been a great deal of intrigue surrounding a man by the name of Bryce Reed, a former EMS worker here in the town of West who was arrested last week in charges of possessing a pipe bomb.

Authorities are not saying whether or not he is connected to the explosion investigation here at this point. His attorney insists that he had nothing to do with the explosion and is innocent of all the charges that have been filed against him. So -- but, regardless, a lot of questions surrounding him, swirling around him, as to what exactly his role may or may not have been in this explosion. And so far investigators aren't providing many answers. We will see here if that it changes in the next couple of hours, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Ed, let us know what you hear. Thanks for the report. And we will be back in a little bit to you.

We are going to go elsewhere in Texas, North Texas now, because 10 deadly tornadoes like this one caused at least six deaths there. Seven people are still missing. Over 100 homes were just flattened overnight. We're getting a better glimpse today with some daylight just how vicious the storm was, cars and houses in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood literally ripped to sleds.

Take a look at the roof of a home in Granbury, Texas. The neighborhood has just been wiped out. Folks are now combing through what's left of their homes, like you see there, rescue crews desperately searching subdivisions for the people that are still missing.

We have Alina Machado. She is on the ground there in Granbury.

Alina, take us through -- what's the latest that you're learning about the situation from people on the ground right now?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, this is going to be a very long recovery effort for these people.

We have seen a lot of destruction in this area, and we have also seen a great sense of community among the people of Granbury, Texas. There have been dozens of volunteers out here all day picking up debris, putting them in neat piles for people who were affected by this storm, and this is kind of an example I want to show you over here of what they have been dealing with.

This used to be a mobile home. We're told, thankfully, nobody was inside when the tornado hit. Now, the area that we're in is about a mile from the hardest-hit area, which is a subdivision called Rancho Brazos. We were able to look at the damage there. This is the place where six people died. Six people lost their lives here.

It's also where search-and-rescue crews have been focusing their efforts all day trying to find victims of this disaster. There are still seven people who are missing. Now, we have heard from the city of Granbury's spokesperson that their search-and-rescue operation has now changed into a search-and-recovery phase. She would not elaborate beyond that. It is unclear, though, how long that phase will take -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, and obviously that distinction is painful to hear because that means that they don't believe they are going to find people alive. Hopefully, they're wrong. Hopefully, we get some good news. And certainly, no matter what develops there, there's so many who need help.

Alina, we will check in with you again. Thanks for the reporting.

And we want to remind all of you out there you can help the victims of the Texas storms. You can visit our Impact Your World page at CNN.com/impact.

All right, we're going to take a break now. When we come back, a very important controversy, the IRS scandal. To hear it from the politicians, it's all about going after conservatives. What did the IRS really do? What is it supposed to be doing? There are some big questions, not just the ones we have heard. We will go through it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Welcome back to NEWSROOM, just about 3:30 Eastern now.

The president is trying in earnest to blunt the swirl of controversy that threatens to sap his second term in office. He's forced the resignation of Steve Miller, the acting head of the IRS, after what? Well, the audit that showed conservative groups were singled out, forced to jump through hoops to gain tax-exempt status.

Speaking shortly after noon from the Rose Garden, the president said he is not finished trying to fix that mess.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In addition to making sure that we have got a new acting director there, we're also going to make sure that we gather up the facts and hold accountable and responsible anybody who was involved in this.

We're going to make sure that we identify any structural or management issues to prevent something like this from happening again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)