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Snipers Shoot at U.N. Inspectors in Syria; Obama Hints at Syria Action; Rim Fire Burns; Second Suspect Arrested in Beating Death of WWII Vet; Witnesses Afraid to Testify in Arias Retrial; Octogenarian Shot by Eight-Year-Old Playing "Grand Theft Auto"; Trump in Trouble over Education Fraud Claims

Aired August 26, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: An 87-year-old grandmother shot and killed; the gunman, an 8-year-old boy. Police say he pulled the trigger right after playing a "Shoot 'em up" video game.

Also this hour, legal trouble for Donald Trump: New York's attorney- general suing that billionaire for $40 million. Trump says it's nothing but extortion. Both men pleading their case to CNN -- you'll hear it.

And since when is it a crime to feed the homeless in a city park? Since right now. One church group in North Carolina is fighting back.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the LEGAL VIEW. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Monday, August 26th. Let's get started and let's get straight to the big headlines of the day.

In Syria, the United Nations says sniper fire hit one of its vehicles carrying U.N. weapons inspectors who were just trying to check for evidence of an alleged chemical weapons attack.

There were no injuries, luckily, and there's no word on who was pulling the trigger in that sniper attack. Activists say the inspectors later reached the alleged attack site and had been checking for evidence with doctors there.

A White House official this morning saying President Obama has made no decision yesterday on taking any military action in Syria.

In an exclusive interview on CNN's "EARLY START," Mr. Obama hinted that time to act may be near.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale, that is very troublesome. This is something that is going require America's attention and hopefully the entire international community's attention.


BANFIELD: Wolf Blitzer is going to join us at the bottom of the hour for more on this developing story. There are a lot of layers to it. Also, want to get you out to the massive wildfire that's burning into our national treasure, Yosemite National Park. It's now threatening as many as 4,500 homes, as well as the park.

That Rim Fire has now burned an area the size of Chicago. There are more than 3,000 firefighters now who have descended upon this thing and trying to stop it. They say a top priority is stopping the further spread now into the park.

A second 16-year-old suspect has now been arrested in Spokane, Washington, in connection with that beating death of an 88-year-old World War II veteran. Delbert Felton was brutally beaten last week, and police say the two 16-year-olds were trying to rob Mr. Belton.

In less than 30 minutes, the woman who single-handedly riveted the nation with a trial in which he was convicted of brutally murdering her ex-boyfriend will again appear in a courtroom in Phoenix.

It's expected to be the fight of Jodi Arias' life. And when I say that, I mean it literally because, since jurors couldn't agree on a life or death sentence for Jodi, a brand new set of jurors are going to have to make that decision.

But this time around, defending her may be even more difficult because the witnesses are afraid for their own lives, key witnesses like a woman named Alyce LaViolette.

CNN's Ted Rowlands spoke with her exclusively in this interview.



TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wiping away tears, domestic violence expert Alyce LaViolette talks about the hate she received after testifying for Jodi Arias.

LAVIOLETTE: It's very sad for me. I think people were surprised I wasn't angry, and I really wasn't.

I was so sad that people were filled with such hatred for somebody they didn't know. And I'm talking about Jodi, not just me.

My name is Alyce LaViolette.

ROWLANDS: LaViolette spent nearly three weeks on the stand, telling jurors she thought Jodi was the victim of domestic violence.

After a few days, she says the attacks began on social media, and with nasty e-mails and voice messages.

LAVIOLETTE: I hope you choke on a chicken bone, you fat bastard. I hope you get hit in the face with a baseball bat. Ninety-eight percent of America hates you and hopes you die.

ROWLANDS: She also received several death threats. LAVIOLETTE: I know where your office is. And if Jodi Arias doesn't get the death penalty or life without, you will get the death penalty. Make no mistake.

ROWLANDS: As her testimony continued, so did the attacks. An online petition started to get her fired from a scheduled speaking engagement.

Plus, people wrote horrible reviews about her book on Amazon.

It got so bad that halfway through her testimony, she had an anxiety attack.

LAVIOLETTE: I woke up and I was crying and I was shaking. And I'm not like that. I mean, I have never had anxiety in my life.

ROWLANDS: In the end, LaViolette was successful in convincing some jurors, including the jury foreman, that Jodi Arias was a victim of abuse, which resulted in a hung jury for the death penalty phase.

But LaViolette says she is not going back for the retrial. Why don't you want to go back?

LAVIOLETTE: Threats to my life, threats to my family. My family doesn't want me to go back.

ROWLANDS: Patricia Womack, a friend of Jodi Arias, backed out of testifying after receiving the same types of threats, according to the Arias defense team.

Now they say they're having problems getting witnesses for the retrial.

LaViolette blames a lot of the problem on what she describes as biased and excessive media coverage.

LAVIOLETTE: We have got to do something about this so people in this country can get fair trials.


ROWLANDS: Jodi Arias was found guilty of first-degree murder. Her retrial will determine whether she gets the death penalty or life in prison.

At this point, it's unclear at this point who, if anyone, will be willing to testify on her behalf.


BANFIELD: And our Ted Rowlands is live now in Phoenix with more on this story.

Ted, that question is what's just lingering and hanging out there. Alyce LaViolette was a key witness, some say the only witness that helped this woman. Without her, who does Jodi use?

ROWLANDS: Well, they're looking for somebody. Apparently they have isolated somebody that is going to be willing to testify.

And what Alyce LaViolette testified to can be used. Of course it's not as effective. She spent so much time with Jodi Arias.

And you talk to the jury foreman, Ashleigh, she may have saved Jodi Arias' life the first time around because he believes she was a victim, Jodi, of domestic violence, and that's why he decided not to vote for the death penalty, so she's a key witness.

BANFIELD: Yeah, but, Ted, are we expecting anything substantial as well when it comes to picking a new jury? We're not going to see a bunch of potential jurors filing into that courtroom today, are we?

ROWLANDS: No, today is just a date setting for the retrial and another motion to put on the table, and that is to bar live television coverage for this retrial.

And given what happened to Alyce Laviolette, and she's mentioned in the motion, it's got some traction. The judge may say no to the second retrial in terms of the live coverage.

BANFIELD: Fascinating. Ted Rowlands, live for us in Phoenix. Thank you for that.

I want to bring in our criminal defense attorney, CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan.

Look, I was there, I saw the circus that developed around this case. And I also saw the pain and fear in this woman and watched as she pulled out of that phase of the trial.

You could say -- and you're the lawyer here -- that this is a potential mistrial. This is a potential appellate issue that Jodi arias could not get a fair trial.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, she'll make that claim, certainly.

Any of these high-profile cases that are tried -- and we see more and more now that cameras are in the courtroom -- you have the possibility that a witness will be threatened and a witness may back out of testifying.

But the court has to ensure the safety of the witness so that the witness can testify.

BANFIELD: The court can't follow that witness home and then to her job for the next six months to a year, can it?

CALLAN: It can't, but I have to say that, even when you don't have cameras in the courtroom, witnesses are threatened on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes it's a threat by a fellow gang member. Sometimes it's a threat by a fellow family member.

But we don't set trials aside because of that. We don't set verdicts aside because of that.

So I don't think the threat on this particular witness will cause a reversal or a mistrial later on.

BANFIELD: And when it comes to cameras in the courtroom, look, I am a huge proponent for cameras in the courtroom. I've been to countries -- Iraq under Saddam Hussein -- where these were summaries and secret and people just disappeared.

So we have a wonderful system of sunshine in this country. Let me just preface it by saying that.

On the other hand, I also see what happens sometimes when these things become circuses. And it's very difficult to pick juries. And there are stealth jurors, and, and, and, and, and.

Is that why each judge has his or her own discretion to choose, depending on the case?

CALLAN: It is. But we're torn in this country between fair trial for the defendant and open and free rights for the public to see the First Amendment.

You know, in Great Britain and other places, trials are basically secret. You only find out about what went on after the trial is over.

In the United States, we want an open process. It goes back -- when Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer, a defense lawyer working the circuit in Illinois, the most popular thing was to go to the courthouse and watch him try a case.

You know what the camera does? It saves you the walk to the courthouse.

BANFIELD: It saves you the walk to the courthouse.

CALLAN: And that's all we're doing.

BANFIELD: And I think that educating the public is a great thing when it comes to what happens in these procedures.

Paul Callan, stick around. I do have more for you as we go on in the program.

This case, it's just -- it defies logic, an eight-year-old boy with a loaded gun, and now his 87-year-old caregiver is dead.

We're going to tell you why investigators are taking a closer look at what was on the screen that he was watching when they arrived.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: Day after day it seems there are a lot of stories about senseless killings that have been going on in the news, kids killing a jogger reportedly because they were bored, and a World War II vet beaten to death. Again, teenagers suspected.

Then there is this story out of Louisiana that I can honestly say just defies belief. An 87-year-old woman shot in the back of the head as she watched television. And the gunman, police say, was the eight- year-old -- eight-year-old -- in her care.

Sara Sidner with the story.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A neighborhood is stunned after investigators say an eight-year-old shot and killed his 87-year-old caregiver, Marie Smothers.

GERALD METHVIN, OWNER, COUNTY BREEZE TRAILER PARK: It's a shock to me as much as it is to anyone else, you know, because everything's been so peaceful.

SIDNER: The little boy told sheriff's deputies it was an accident.

But in a statement, the sheriff's department says their evidence, quote, "has led investigators to believe that the eight-year-old juvenile intentionally shot Mrs. Smothers in the back of the head as she sat in her living room watching television."

Police say the boy pulled the trigger minutes after playing the very popular and very violent video game, "Grand Theft Auto IV," which awards points for killing people.

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST/ATTORNEY: In this particular instance, the direct correlation of the video game playing during the shooting and even still on the television when police arrived cannot be overlooked.

Can you conclusively say that it caused him to shoot? We don't know. There are too many variables that work in a child's mind.

SIDNER: Video game makers say it is unfair and unjustified to blame this tragedy on a game.

A statement sent to CNN by the makers of "Grand Theft Auto" said this is about access to guns, not video games, and "ascribing a connection to entertainment, a theory that's been disproven repeatedly by multiple independent studies, both minimizes this moment and sidesteps the real issue at hand."

Sara Sidner, CNN, Atlanta.


BANFIELD: According to local media, the gun belonged to the 87-year- old woman, and this boy is not going to face any charges, even though police say they think that the shooting was intentional because under Louisiana law, a child under the age of 10 is exempt from any criminal responsibility.

I want to bring in now our legal panel. CNN legal analyst Paul Callan is back with me. And criminal defense attorney Tara Knight is joining us for the first time on the program. Welcome.


BANFIELD: Paul, let me start with you.

The first thing many people want to think is, lord, how is it that we can't have any law that applies to a child.

But maybe more importantly, the parents? Perhaps there are parents who put this child in the care of an 87-year-old woman who had a loaded gun in the house.

Is there any exposure on their part if there are parents at all at this point?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think theoretically the parents could be charged with some child endangerment charge only if they knew that this 87-year-old caregiver had a gun that was unsecured and available to their child. Now, there are things we don't know yet about what the parents knew. The gun belonged to the caregiver, supposedly, the 87-year-old. But did the parents know she had a gun, a loaded gun? Was it easily accessible to the child?

Putting the child in harm's way with that caregiver could theoretically create liability. But it's a real tough case. I don't think you'll see an arrest made.

BANFIELD: So if I'm a parent in this community, I'm thinking -- my children are going back to school. Is this child, Tara, allowed to go back to the same public school with all the same kids and live in the same community without any intervention from the state in any way?

KNIGHT: Ashleigh, there could be some intervention in that respect by the school system but there are reasons juveniles are treated differently than adults. They don't have the same judgment; they lack the impulse control that adults have; they don't understand the consequences of their actions. And that's why the law doesn't punish them or criminalize their behavior at such an early age.

BANFIELD: That's fine, but, again, if that child is going to school that kind of judgment and impulse issue that has now proven to be deadly, do I as a parent have to accept that this child's going to be in school with my children?

KNIGHT: I don't think so. Because I think in every state, and I'm sure Louisiana has such a Child Protection Agency, that will get involved, will get this child into a different school. I don't think this child is going to be mainstreamed back to school after this kind event. But it's not a criminal matter. It's more of a school district matter.

BANFIELD: And it is a big social matter how this at all ended up happening in the first place.

I was going to get to the civil exposure with regard to the gaming but I'm out of time. Maybe we can do that on another foray into this particularly story. But Paul Callan, Tara Knight, thank you.

Stay with me if you will because, yet again, big story. Donald Trump. Here we go again. This time he says he's a political target and it ain't because he says he might, might, might run for president. That gets old, doesn't it? Now it's the New York attorney general filing a lawsuit against him claiming that the former Trump University did not deliver on its promise to its students. We've heard from both of them, and you will, too, when we come back.


BANFIELD: This has the making of a heavyweight fight -- the State of New York versus Donald Trump. Just let that germinate for a while.

The state is suing the Donald for $40 million over Trump's money school. Money, money, money, money. It is something that's called Trump University -- well, used to be called that anyway. Now it is the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative. Donald Trump says he's being extorted by this lawsuit, that his school has a 98 percent approval rating.

He talked about the suit with our Chris Cuomo on CNN's NEW DAY.


VOICE OF DONALD TRUMP, BILLIONAIRE ENTREPRENEUR: The bottom line is the school was very, very successful. We didn't think we were going to get sued because of the fact that we have a 98 percent approval rating.

You know, Chris, you can go on television at night and you see all these different schools and all these characters on television talking about get rich and do this and do that. Our school was terrific. We had wonderful people. And it's a shame.

I'm a very honest person. I say what's on my mind. If I thought I was guilty of -- I could have settled the case easily. It was a very easy case to settle. They wanted to settle. I could have settled. I chose not to. They actually thought I'd settle because I wouldn't want to take bad publicity; I'm used to bad publicity. I get plenty of it. I get plenty of good, too, but I get bad publicity.

Now, I have to -- the truth is we have 98 percent. We have a lot of happy students. They'll all be testifying. We'll get many, many, many people to testify about how they loved it and we'll see what happens. I mean, we're just going to see what happens.


BANFIELD: OK. That's fine. He can see what happens. Because Chris Cuomo also had an opportunity on NEW DAY to speak with the New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, who by the way says that Trump just did not deliver -- simple, did not deliver, on the promises to the students. Have a look.


ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Trump claims he wrote the curriculum and was very involved. So he said it himself. But the president said that he insisted on seeing all the promotional materials, Trump, and he was the pitchman. He was in all the videos. People came to the seminars thinking they were going to meet him. In fact, all they got was a chance to stand next to a life-sized poster of Mr. Trump to make it appear as though they had met them. But he clearly was involved.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Trump is coming at you personally. He says that you were begging him for campaign contributions and that this was -- that's what this is about. Your response?

SCHNEIDERMAN: Listen, we're used to -- prosecutors are all used to people who commit fraud making wild accusations when they're caught.


BANFIELD: Well, there you have it. Both sides. Joining me is Joe Concha, a columnist for and CNN's legal analyst Paul Callan is back with me, too.

Joe, you see a lot of the Donald. This may be a legal segment, but it is also a promotional segment for the most part. Because that's how Donald Trump tends to take all adversity. He turns it into a promotion. Is it working this time?

JOE CONCHA, COLUMNIST, MEDIAITE.COM: Absolutely, Ashleigh. Because Donald Trump rates. He was on ABC this morning. You just saw him with Chris Cuomo on CNN. Everybody loves to book this guy because he's candid. He's brutal sometimes, particularly when he's taking on an opponent. And the Donald is a guy, when he is on TV, he is compelling.

BANFIELD: But is there any value to trying to sway public opinion in all of this? Because after all, this is not going to be up to the public opinion, Paul Callan. This is up to the court.

CALLAN: Well, it's up to the court and the attorney general of New York to bring the charges in the first place. And I've got to use the line -- Schneiderman saying, "You're fired," to Donald Trump. And he's saying it because originally this was called Trump University. The state came after him on that. Then they changed it to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.

And the claim, some of the claims are crazy claims. You know, that you are going to meet Donald Trump. Well, that consisted apparently of standing next to and getting your picture taken with a cardboard representation of Trump, right. And other things that Schneiderman says are utterly improper and fraudulent.

BANFIELD: Yes, there's a couple where he says, look, they got their teachers, but they never certified them as required by New York law. That they said this was a university and in fact never registered as a university. They have, I think, the most compelling piece of evidence is that they have the sworn testimony from the former president of Trump University.

But then you have Donald Trump, Joe, coming back and saying we have a 98 percent approval rating. Where does that come from? Did he survey all the -- where the heck did that claim -- because I've heard him make wild claims about his TV show and how it rates number one when it doesn't. In fact, it's been in the tank and he still says it's the best show on television. So where are these claims coming from that there's a 98 percent approval rating?

CONCHA: Well, he says it's from the students, right?

BANFIELD: Well, apparently there's a certain percentage of students who filed claims against him.

CONCHA: Apparently. yes.

BANFIELD: That's the antithesis of approval.

CONCHA: Let me announce something here, by the way. I am starting Joe Concha University. For $35,000, you too can dominate your Seinfeld trivia contest or fantasy football leagues. Boom, there it is. I just started a university.

Hey, look, here's the bottom line, that if he is saying -- now what was the question again?

BANFIELD: The question is the 98 percent -- does Donald Trump get away with just making these blanket statements and throwing numbers out there? Or is he going to actually have his feet to the fire on this?

CONCHA: It's a he said/he said kind of scenario right now between the A.G. and between Donald Trump. If I'm in the media -- and I'm in the media -- but if I'm producing segments now, I am on the phone, frantically. From CNN, on Fox, to MSNBC, and I'm trying to find these students. I want to get testimonials from them personally and I want to hear whether they're successful or not.

Now one point, by the way. Hundreds of thousands of students each year graduate from business schools. All right? They're given the tools -- if they graduate, that means they passed -- to succeed. However, you still have to work hard. You still have to have the right work ethic and you still have to have some luck, maybe some nepotism, maybe some connections in order to succeed. And particularly real estate, you've got to be likeable and persuasive. And if you don't have the tools, you're not going to be able to sell anything.

So that's where -- and I'm not a lawyer, but I don't know how you prove whether this is something that he is being misleading on or not. Either you can sell or you don't. And he's saying, look, I'm given the tools, guys. You've got to apply them. BANFIELD: Well if I'm one of those people that spent $39,000 on a Trump University education only to find out these were apparently failed teachers that weren't experts at all but had just come out of their own bankruptcy and their real estate ventures, I'd be ticked off.

CALLAN: But they're in New York. New York has strict consumer protection laws.

BANFIELD: That's what it comes down to.

CALLAN: And the attorney general's had a good record of going against other companies that do similar things. So we'll have to see how this plays out in court.

BANFIELD: And see if there's a settlement. Because he said, "I refuse to settle," but we'll see.

CONCHA: Where we'll have a problem is the whole picture-taking thing. Make it like Santa Claus at the mall. Just sit there, they sit in your lap, take a picture and move on. How hard is that?

BANFIELD: Goofy. All right, Joe Concha, thank you very much. Nice to see you again. Paul Callan, stick around. You're not done yet. I'm going to put you to work today.

So we're going overseas next to the United Nations because the inspectors -- what a dangerous job for them. They've finally reached the site of Syria's suspected chemical weapons attack, but not before they were shot at and had a disabled vehicle and then had to return to the site.

But we've got news. They've been able to get there. But then on this side of the ocean, why the Obama administration is pushing for the evidence and rethinking strategy when it comes to Syria. We're going to take you live to Washington next.