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Zimmerman Verdict Protest Rallies Planned; Zimmerman Juror Speaks Out; What It's Like to be a Juror; Backlash Over McCarthy's "View" on Vaccines

Aired July 16, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If you have only seen the protests on TV, well, they may be coming to a city near you this weekend.

I'm Jake Tapper and this is THE LEAD.

The national lead, 100 rallies and vigils, 100 cities, some civil rights leaders today announcing ambitious plans to protest the George Zimmerman verdict across the country, even while a handful of demonstrations tip over into violence on the West Coast.

Also, what's it like to sit on a jury, deciding one of the most controversial trials in a decade, to have so many questioning your rationality, your judgment? We will ask a juror who served on another infamous murder case.

And the pop culture lead. We love the ladies of "The View," but they're not shy about firing away on topics about which they aren't exactly experts. Now that Jenny McCarthy is joining the show, will it become a platform for her scientifically false and potentially dangerous beliefs about childhood vaccines?

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We begin with the national lead. Despite the blistering summer heat, you could see a lot more hoodies in crowds gathering across the country this weekend. The Reverend Al Sharpton today called for 100 rallies and vigils in 100 cities on Saturday, referring to it as Justice for Trayvon Day, in protest of George Zimmerman's acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin.


AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: People all over the country will gather to show that we are not having a two- or three-day anger fit. This is a social movement for justice.


TAPPER: Sharpton called on protesters to remain peaceful. But not all of them are taking those words to heart. A handful of demonstrations on the West Coast turned violet. Police in Los Angeles say they will crack down even harder after protesters allegedly jumped on cars, kicked out windows, trashed a Wal-Mart and maybe even attacked other people. And 14 were arrested just yesterday. Meanwhile, the White House today again said President Obama will not apply any pressure for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. The president will leave all of that up to the Justice Department.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When it comes to this case, which obviously the Justice Department is continuing to look into, we're not going to get out ahead of that and we're not going to comment on any particulars. Right now the president views this as a tragedy, the loss of a young person, for his family, for the community and for the country.


TAPPER: But Attorney General Eric Holder is not staying on the sidelines. Later this hour, he will speak to the NAACP Convention in Orlando, Florida, amid a ton of pressure from the black community and beyond to pursue charges against Zimmerman at the federal level. We will bring you his remarks live.

A few moments ago on CNN, we showed you Anderson Cooper's exclusive interview with juror B-37, who explained in great detail and with some emotion about how the jury came to a not guilty verdict in this case.

We want to get some reaction from our live panel.

Joining me here in Washington is Clinton Yates, a columnist for "The Washington Post," and we have also have CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who is in New York.

Welcome to you both.

First of all, let's listen to what juror B-37 said about racial profiling and what role, if any, she thought it played in the case.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you feel that George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin? Do you think race played a role in his decision, his view of Trayvon Martin as suspicious?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think he did. I think just circumstances caused George to think that he might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were an unbelievable number of robberies in the neighborhood.

COOPER: So you don't believe race played a role in this case?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it did. I think if there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation where Trayvon was, I think George would have reacted the exact same way.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Clinton, you have said you think this case is in fact about racial profiling. Here is a juror who said it was not for her.

CLINTON YATES, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I don't think that Zimmerman uses the word suspicious, I don't think that that enters his mind unless there is some element of race involved there.

It's just one of those things that it's very difficult to explain specifically what it is. But a lot of people walk around neighborhoods doing a lot of things. Just because one teenager happens to be looking into a house, the difference between suspicious and not suspicious is oftentimes race.

TAPPER: But he is of course a neighborhood watchman. There had been some robberies. Here he is, Trayvon Martin, being where he's never seen this guy before, he's a young man. Young men white or black are responsible for a lot of crime in this country.

YATES: Yes. I don't understand though where the entrance of punks getting away with things comes into the story when it's literally just a guy walking around a neighborhood. Again, there is an assumptive component to what he said on that 911 call that made if seem as if, hey, you know what? I have got a problem with this guy. And I think I know why.

TAPPER: Jeffrey Toobin in New York, listening to this interview last night, I have to say it just seemed like everything the defense said went right into this juror's brain and she just completely agreed with their theory.


The striking thing was that she knew the evidence pretty well. She was talking about facts of the case, but every time there was an inference that could be drawn, every time there was someone you could believe and someone you could not believe, she believed the defense version. She believed that it was George Zimmerman who was screaming. She believed it was Trayvon Martin who threw the first punch.

That is a reasonable inference from the evidence, but it also suggests a juror who was very primed, very ready to believe the defense's version of everything that happened here.

TAPPER: Here's another clip where the juror talks about her perception of George Zimmerman.


COOPER: What did you think of George Zimmerman?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods and wanting to catch these people so badly that he went above and beyond what he really should have done. But I think his heart was in the right place. It just went terribly wrong.


TAPPER: Clinton, a lot of people have reacted to her use of the term "these people." Your thoughts?

YATES: Well, "these people" obviously is an indication that she's trying to set herself aside from some others that may or may not be known which sounds mysterious or dangerous.

But the other thing she said there was that she thinks George Zimmerman's heart is in the right place. He also shot someone through the heart. People that don't get the benefit of the doubt are the young black men of America that are looked at as dangerous. They don't get the benefit of the doubt on their hearts being in the right place.

TAPPER: There is this theory, the defense theory, Clinton, that she believes and at least five other people in that jury box believed, which is that whatever happened leading up to the confrontation, there was this confrontation, Trayvon started it in her view and that's the defense theory and that George Zimmerman at some point reasonably believed he needed to kill Trayvon Martin or else he was going to die himself.

YATES: Again, this is where the notion of I think a certain level of institutionalized racism comes into things.

A guy starts a confrontation and gets into it with another person, but suddenly the guy who began it is not responsible? That just does not make sense to me.

TAPPER: Jeffrey, do you think her answer there shows a certain level of sympathy for George Zimmerman that might just be inherent?

TOOBIN: An enormous amount.

In fact, there's another answer, and Anderson asks, do you feel sorry for Trayvon Martin? The jurors says, I feel sorry for both of them. Trayvon Martin is dead. George Zimmerman was inconvenienced. The idea you could put your sympathy equally to the two of them was really shocking. I'm not saying she voted for the wrong verdict. I think there were a lot of problems with this prosecution's case.

But her degree of sympathy for George Zimmerman was really striking to me and indicative of someone who was a very good defense juror right out of the box.

TAPPER: Jeffrey, she also talked about -- she mentioned the stand your ground law, which, of course, was not introduced in as a defense.

TOOBIN: She did, although some of the articulation of the stand your ground law was actually part of the jury instructions.

But, certainly, for example, another thing she said was, well, everybody has a right to a gun. You know, this is -- it was a real, I have to say, Central Florida attitude toward guns, which is that guns are a constitutional, Second Amendment right. This is a different attitude that you see in a lot of big cities like Washington or New York where lots of people are much more suspicious of guns.

And I thought, again, that was indicative of a juror who was primed to agree with the defense theory of the case. George Zimmerman had a gun, he was entitled to a gun and he was entitled to use it.

TAPPER: A jury of his peers almost.

TAPPER: Jeffrey Toobin, Clinton Yates, thank you so much for joining us.

We will have much more on this in the show and also coming up this week.

Coming up on this show, after the verdict is read, what happens to the jury in a case the whole country has been watching? I will talk to a man who has first-hand knowledge of what the Zimmerman murder trial jurors might be feeling right now.

And later it's government-sponsored junk food, why Uncle Sam is giving handouts to keep Twinkies alive. Stay with us.


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

Continuing with our national lead, we can all speculate as much as we want about what it was like to be a juror in the George Zimmerman trial, but many of us will never fully understand what those six people experienced emotionally, how the process affected them, maybe forever.

But for those who have served on a jury in a high-profile case, they have a bit of an inkling as to what really goes on and how tough it can be.

Mike Belmessieri served on the jury in the Scott Peterson murder trial. Peterson was convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Lacy, who had gone missing in Modesto, California. Her body and the body of her unborn child eventually turned up on the San Francisco Bay. Scott Peterson is currently on death row.

Mike joins us now from San Francisco.

Mike, we want to play you some portions of the interview Anderson Cooper did with juror B-37 and get your reactions. But first let me ask you how difficult it was for you to be a juror in the Scott Peterson case. Do you sympathize? We heard juror B-37 crying during her interview with Anderson. Do you understand why she was crying?


You know, any time you go through a trial like Zimmerman went through and that we went through, it going to be emotional. We're talking about the death of a 17-year-old young man. That just doesn't set well with people and it should never set well with people, certainly not in this case, but it is a difficult task or difficult experience to go through.

And so I saw it on Peterson and I can understand where it's at now.

TAPPER: You and some of your fellow jurors wrote a book about your experience, and in it there is discussion on how people have nightmares, people are on antidepressants, one at least contemplating suicide, that it really has been emotionally difficult.

And this is a case, the Scott Peterson case, that was a lot more, it seemed at least from the outside, a lot more clear-cut than the George Zimmerman trial.

BELMESSIERI: Well, I don't know that it was any more clear-cut than what the Florida vs. Zimmerman was, but one thing for sure, it was definitely five-and-a-half months that were certainly taxing to the emotions. So, you know, that said, that's what happens.

The thing with Peterson was we -- after we rendered the guilty verdict, we heard cheers. So that would indicate that that decision was a popular decision, not that -- I don't think there could have been a popular or unpopular decision with Peterson quite frankly from my perspective. With the Florida versus Zimmerman, it was pretty obvious that anything but a guilty verdict was going to be a problem, it would be unpopular. So --

TAPPER: Tell me about what some of the --

BELMESSIERI: You know, that was probably --

TAPPER: Tell me what some of the jurors from the Peterson jury have gone through, about how difficult it has been for you, for them. And why do you think that is?

BELMESSIERI: Well, to answer your question, some of the problems we went through, we had one juror after the trial have a nervous breakdown. Very stressful. Very stressful.

Yes, I talked to other jurors who had nightmares. A lot of things have happened.

One of the other things that happened was lives of the jurors or the jurors' well being was threatened. My personal life was threatened because of somebody who disagreed with our decision. So, you know, the answer to that is to the question of why does this thing happen in this country? Common sense in this country is uncommon and there are some people who are just troubled and they don't --

TAPPER: The threats I can understand, sir, that would be horrible for anybody. But is there a degree of guilt in holding someone's life in your hands and that making a decision that will affect that life? Does it -- I know that that's a lot of power to give to a person.

BELMESSIERI: Yes, it is. And I can tell you that there's no guilt -- understanding it from my point, my personal experience, plus that of having spoke with each one of the jurors, there's no guilt about our decision. Nobody -- you know, I'm probably even more firm now in my conviction that Scott Peterson is guilty than I was at the time of the trial.

The man is where he belongs to be. And if you were to ask my 11 fellow jurors, they would tell you the same thing I'm sure. Although we haven't spoke with each other for some time, I have stayed in touch with a few. So, you know, it is an awesome responsibility to have a person's life in your hands.

And, you know, we don't -- we don't normally -- the average citizen, normally, they'll never get that opportunity. And they should thank the Good Lord that they don't --

TAPPER: Well, we thank you --

BELMESSIERI: -- because it's something you don't want to do.

TAPPER: -- we thank you, Mike. We thank you for your -- you and your fellow citizens on that jury. Mike Belmessieri, thank you so much.

Coming up: she's a model, an actor and a comedian. She's also an activist with some think is a potentially dangerous message. Is Jenny McCarthy the right pick to co-host "The View"?

And he's the first African-American attorney general. This hour, Eric Holder will tell the NAACP his personal feelings about the death of Trayvon Martin.

Stay with us.


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

Now, it's time for the Pop Culture lead. Here's a quiz: what do the former "Playboy" playmate of the year, the ladies of "The View", and a tragic medical mystery all have in common?

Well, I'll tell you. The tragic medical mystery I'm referring to is the rise in autism and related diagnoses, which remained as compounding as it is heartbreaking. The one thing the credible medical community seems to agree upon however is the rise in autism is not related to vaccines given to children, vaccines that save lives.

The National Institutes of Health states that, quote, "Many studies have been conducted to try to determine vaccines are a possible cause of autism and, quote, "none of the studies has linked autism and vaccines."

Now, here's a part of this that makes it our pop culture lead. In recent years, actress, model, former game show host and 1994 former "Playboy" playmate of the year, Jenny McCarthy, has made it a crusade of sorts to spread the word, the unscientific and unmedical word, that vaccines cause autism.

According to a University of Michigan study, one out of four parents surveyed say they place some trust in information provided by celebrities about the safety of vaccines. And now, Jenny McCarthy is getting a powerful platform speaking to moms as one of the ladies of "The View."


BARBARA WALTERS, THE VIEW: Our next newest co-host is Jenny McCarthy.

TAPPER (voice-over): The search to find a new woman for the ABC powerhouse "The View" is over.

WALTERS: She's opinionated enough to help us begin the latest chapter in "The View" history.

TAPPER: But some of those opinions are, according to her critics, potentially lethal to children.

The former playmate is no doubt gorgeous and compelling, but Jenny McCarthy is also an outspoken and many doctors and scientists say irresponsible voice on the topic of vaccines. She believes immunizations led to developmental for her son Evan, seen her on McCarthy's Twitter feed.

JENNY MCCARTHY, ACTRESS: Without a doubt in my mind, I believe vaccinations triggered Evan's autism. So, I think they need to wake up and stop hurting our kids.

TAPPER: There may not be a doubt in her mind, the problem is that the credible, medical and scientific communities say she is wrong, that numerous studies have found no link between vaccines and autism and in this celebrity-suffused culture, her words could have a potentially deadly impact by scaring parents away from vaccines.

SETH MNOOKIN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, MIT: That message she's giving out has been roundly, roundly disproved time and time again. I think it's a really, really unfortunate and some ways dangerous step that ABC is making.

TAPPER: MIT professor Seth Mnookin wrote about the campaign against vaccines based on falsehoods in his award-winning book, "The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine Autism Controversy."

MNOOKIN: I think what ABC has done here is further legitimatized her views, and those are views that have been shown not only to have absolutely no founding in science, but also to be potentially really dangerous.

TAPPER: We've reached out to ABC for comment but we have not heard back. One thing is certain: McCarthy is a force to be reckoned with.

MCCARTHY: They can't survive.

TAPPER: She's written three books about healing autism through the environmental changes she says cured her son. McCarthy is also president of Generation Rescue, a national organization the provide support for the autism community.

MCCARTHY: When you do raise a concern about environmental trigger, there is another side that wants to label you, especially us, as an anti-vaccine movement, which is absolutely not true.

We're not telling people not to vaccinate. I don't understand when it's so freaking hard to comprehend we deserve safe shots.

TAPPER: Well, it's hard to comprehend because the vaccines without preservatives McCarthy advocates for are not considered a viable alternative by most experts.

MNOOKIN: What she's advocating is a return to vaccines that don't have preservatives in them that both keep them safe and also make sure that those vaccines aren't contaminated in any way. So, she's proposing something that isn't a realistic option.

TAPPER: As for McCarthy's new permanent position, she released a statement saying in part, "I look forward to making top topics a little bit hotter."

JOY BEHAR, THE VIEW: What am I talking about?

MCCARTHY: I don't know but it sounds (ph) a bit crazy.


TAPPER: The Jenny McCarthy era of "The View" is set to begin on September 9th.

And now to the "so bad it's good" department. It's been five long days since the instant classic "Sharknado" debuted on Syfy, and created a feeding frenzy on social media, but the waiting is almost over. "Sharknado" screenwriter tells Mashable that "Sharknado 2" is already in the works, even though the Twitter buzz did not translate into ratings gold.

Extra's Mario Lopez caught up with the star of "Sharknado", Ian Zeiring, at his Chippendale show in Las Vegas, and Zeiring said there has to be a sequel.

I just want to make sure everybody absorb all that. A.C. Slater went to Vegas to interview Steve Sanders who is in the Chippendales to talk about "Sharknado". OK.

And for those of you who can't wait for another terribly good action movie that looks like it was made on Vine in a weekend, enter "Ghost Shark." We're getting a sneak peak at the next Syfy original. "Ghost Shark" premieres August 22nd. Just awful.

Coming up in politics: New York is a town of second chances. At least it looks that way, now the two formerly disgraced politicians are suddenly leading in the polls. Is there enough forgiveness for both Weiner and Spitzer to get back in the game?

And the criminal trial is over but the Department of Justice could still try to pursue criminal charges, civil rights charges rather, against George Zimmerman. We'll hear from Attorney General Eric Holder live this hour.

Stay with us.