Return to Transcripts main page


14-Year-Old Held After Teacher Killed; Parents May Be Charged in Nevada School Shooting; White House Official Fired After Rogue Tweets; Utah Doctor on Trial for Murder; Calls for Sebelius to Step Down

Aired October 23, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Blood in a school bathroom, and a teacher's body found in the woods. Police on the scene in Danvers, Massachusetts right now, where every public school in town, in that district is now shut down.

Also this hour, it turns out a mystery tweeter that's been tormenting people in Washington, those officials in the government for over 2 1/2 years is in fact a White House insider. A high level national security council -- if you can believe it.

Now exposed, embarrassed and officially out of a job.

Also, they don't call them killer whales for nothing. No doubt they can be deadly, but is it human who are to blame for keeping these huge and highly intelligent creatures captive?

We're going to dive deep into the controversy that is sure to change the way you see these amazing animals and perhaps the way we see ourselves, as well.

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Wednesday, October 23rd. Welcome to "LEGAL VIEW," and we begin with breaking news in Danvers, Massachusetts.

One day after a big story about a 12-year-old boy who shot a teacher, now today, a 14-year-old boy suspected of killing a teacher, and it is a strange circumstance.

This morning, all public schools in that district are closed, and students and parents are still in shock as they wait for more information as to what happened and why one of the bathrooms is so bloody.

I want to bring in our national correspondent Susan Candiotti who is working this story right now.

Susan, this isn't your typical school shooting-style story where there is a crisis that's followed by officials descending upon the school. This is a mystery they're trying to figure out.

What are the circumstances that we know of?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We don't know exactly how this teacher was murdered. We do know that a 14-year- old young man is in custody right now and is charged with her murder.

A lot of details coming in right now, but let's take a look at what the police are telling us so far. First of all, we must mention the victim first. She is Colleen Ritzer. She is a math teacher at Danvers High School, and only 24-years-old, so she could not have been teaching for very long.

Danvers is a town that is about 20 miles north of Boston, a middle class suburb.

Let's go to the timeline of what the police are telling us about this. First, they said that at about 11:20 last night the police received a phone call that Colleen Ritzer, the teacher, had not returned home and was not answering her cell phone.

And now we have a graphic map to show you to try to piece together what happened next.

They're telling us that they then went to the school and searched it. They found blood in a second-floor bathroom. Then they are telling us that they used social media to help find the teacher and to find out who might be responsible.

Now we understand that the school has a Facebook page. We don't know all the details about how social media might have been used, but we do know there was a report on the school's Web site that a student was missing, and there were a lot of comments listed on the school's Facebook on their page.

We also know then that, overnight, perhaps this is what led them to the suspect, but this 14-year-old was sighted at a movie theater that you can see south of the school, about five miles or so south of the school.

And then just after midnight, police report that they see this young man, who had been identified as a possible suspect, walking on the road north of the school, north of the school nearby.

And then they skip forward to say that the teacher's body was discovered in the woods near the high school, believed to be behind the high school there.

They are not releasing the name of the 14-year-old, Ashleigh, because he is a juvenile. We have the name and we are not releasing that either per our policy. We will see what the police say as the case moves on.

BANFIELD: So what I don't understand, Susan, is that while officials are saying there's no threat to public safety, they've gone ahead and they've shut down every single public school in that district.

There's like five elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, and every single one of them is closed today.

Why is that? CANDIOTTI: We certainly have asked about that, and we're told the decision -- that decision was made by the superintendent of schools. It was up to that superintendent and that person made that call.

You know, we're left to speculate, because there is so much disruption there, perhaps a lot of people -- obviously would be stunned by what happened there, and perhaps to give people time to gather themselves. In any case, that's the call.

BANFIELD: Very distressing. Susan Candiotti, working the story for us, thank you for that.

And I mentioned it at the beginning, I'll mention it again, another school shooting, this one happening earlier in Nevada.

Screams and panic and chaos and feelings of sheer terror, now we can here hear them in the 911 recordings. Take a listen.


CALLER: This is a student at Sparks Middle School. Can you please send the police out here? There's a kid with a gun.

911 OPERATOR: OK, where are they with the gun?


911 OPERATOR: Where are they with the gun?

CALLER: Sparks Middle School.

911 OPERATOR: I know, but where at the school? That's what I'm saying.

CALLER: By the basketball court.

911 OPERATOR: By the basketball court?

CALLER: Yes, please send someone send them now.

911 OPERATOR: OK, I need you to talk to the paramedics, too. Don't hang up, OK. Hold on one second.


BANFIELD: Police are still not revealing the name of Monday's shooter, 12-year-old shooter, but his parents now could be on the hook for this.

They could be charged for failing to prevent that boy from taking a gun to school, and this is something a lot of people across the country are watching.

I want to bring in HLN's legal analyst Joey Jackson and also defense -- criminal defense attorney Midwin Charles.

Joey, let me just begin with you. We hear about this a lot, that parents are being held accountable, at times, yes, and at times, no, when their children access guns.

What are the specific laws in that state of Nevada?

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. Well, what happens, Ashleigh, is just generally speaking they are child access protection laws, and what those laws say is that if you have a firearm, you have to safeguard them.

Now Nevada is -- they're about 27 other states that mirror Nevada in their child access protection, but there are different types of what we as lawyers call mens rea. That is the state of the mind for the parents that are attached to criminal liability.

What do I mean? What I mean is that you store a weapon as a parent. Now in Nevada if you intentionally, knowingly or recklessly, right, allow your child access to that weapon then you could, right, face criminal charges.

The issue here, certainly they wouldn't have done it intentionally and knowingly, you would think not. So you turn, Ashleigh, to the issue of recklessness.

Did they consciously disregard -- the parents, that is -- the risk that the child could gain access to that weapon? That's the issue.

BANFIELD: So, Midwin, look, we're dealing obviously with parents who are going to be devastated right now. They've lost their child, too.

Do prosecutors ever look at that aspect of it and say enough is enough? Let's not pile on. Even though there may be this recklessness?

MIDWIN CHARLES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I doubt it. As you can see, this trend is something that occurring over and over and over again in schools, a place where we all expect would be a place of refuge.

I think at the end of the day what prosecutors want to do is send a message to gun owners. If you have a right to carry a gun, that right comes with responsibilities, and that responsibility is to ensure that the gun is kept in place where children don't have easy access.

So I don't see prosecutors kind of scaling back. In fact, I find them doing quite the on opposite, which is going forward and making sure that parents are prosecuted.

And let's not forget the civil aspect of this, as well. There are victims who can sue for wrongful deaths and all sorts of civil charges, as well.

BANFIELD: Just because you escape as a criminal, does not make sure you escape civil prosecution.

CHARLES: No, not at all.

BANFIELD: And that standard is a much, much lower standard.

Hold those thoughts if you would for a moment, Midwin and Joey. Thank you for that.

I do have a couple of other things I want you to weigh in later on if you will because, just ahead, another -- look, I think we can all kind of think this one through on how unbelievably ridiculous it is.

Tweeting insults about your peers and bosses, big man, right, because you're all anonymous? Yeah, not this guy, not anymore.

That's a national security official, and you know what? You're fired. Wait until you hear what he said about the people he worked with inside the White House.

Plus under fire, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, one-on-one exclusive with our Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and guess what? Big question, number one, what's up with the ObamaCare rollout debacle?

It's coming up, next.


BANFIELD: First came the ugly battle by some Republicans to overturn ObamaCare, and then the bruising fight over raising the debt ceiling, and now, the last thing the Obama administration needs, a rogue tweeter, believe it or not.

White House national security official Jofi Joseph fired last week because he posted hundreds of snarky tweets, critical of his bosses and government policies and bosses' friends and officials and just about anybody, because it went on for years.

Jim Acosta is at the White House with the very latest on this. Jim, honesty, when I read these tweets, I thought I was reading the tweets a of a 15-year-old mean girl. They are outlandish.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It sounds like something out of that movie, "Mean Girls" or "Heathers," you know, that sort of stereotype of mean, high school behavior.

And honestly, sometimes Washington can behave like high school, and this is an example of that.

One thing we should point out, White House officials say that Jofi Joseph, the National Security Council Director of Nonproliferation, a pretty interesting title there, important title, he was fired immediately once his identity was revealed as the mystery man behind this Twitter handle, "natsecwonk," which, by the way, if you go on Twitter, isn't there anymore.

And just to give you a sample of the mean spiritedness that was being vented on Twitter under this handle, there was one about Ambassador Samantha Power. He took a tweet from Samantha Power and then modified it and tweeted it out himself.

Ambassador Power's original tweet was about how she was wrapping up a busy day at the United Nations General Assembly, and talking about the president's speech there. And "natsecwonk," Jofi Joseph, tweeted, tweets like this are why so many soured on you.

And really that's sort of scratching the surface. That's the tip of the iceberg. There are many other mean-spirited ones about Sarah Palin, and Valerie Jarrett and many other officials in the administration and outside the administration.

But Jofi Joseph, once he was busted, apparently released an apology statement to Politico, and I'll read that to you. It says, "It has been a privilege to serve in this administration. I deeply regret violating the trust and confidence placed in me.

"What started out as an intended parody account of D.C. culture developed over time into a series of inappropriate and mean-spirited comments.

"I bear complete responsibility for this affair, and I sincerely apologize to everyone I insulted."

But, Ashleigh, he says it was a parody of account of D.C. culture. This is what people don't like about D.C. culture, quite frankly, that it can be sort of mean-spirited and cut throat.

So it's strange that he would apologize in that fashion since he was sort of contributing to it.

But --

BANFIELD: Yeah, Jim, can I just interrupt you for one second? Because while he gives you that statement, I want people to know exactly what he did say.

"I'm a fan of Obama, but his continuing reliance and dependence upon a vacuous cipher like Valerie Jarrett concerns me." That's just one.

The other one you alluded to. "So when will someone do us a favor of getting rid of Sarah Palin and the rest of her white trash family. What utter useless garbage."

And, "Was Huma Abedin wearing beer goggles the night she met Anthony Weiner?"

You are absolutely on the money that this is what people despise about the culture in Washington, D.C.

I have to wrap it there, but Jim Acosta, thank you for that.

ACOSTA: A learning lesson for all of us, yes, Ashleigh, that's right. Thank you.

BANFIELD: Right. Because everybody is so tough when they're actually anonymous. I hear you, Twitter thugs. Thank you Jim Acosta.

As the White House is dealing with that tweet flack, there is no letup in the tidal waves of complaints about major problems plaguing the Obamacare website. Now at the center of the fire storm, Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. There are demands that are growing for her to step down, and they are growing louder by the day.

We now know that the website actually crashed during a test run, and no matter that, the president was not informed about that crash. Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talked about that in an exclusive interview with Secretary Sebelius, and he also asked her pointedly if she has plans to resign.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: According to congressional investigators, just days before the launch, about two thirds of insurers had some concerns, specific concerns, that the website would not be ready. Just days before the launch, a test was conducted and the website crashed with just a few hundred users at that time. How was a decision made to still go forward?

SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: There are people in this country who have waited decades for affordable health coverage for themselves and their family. I see them all over the country. You probably saw them on your recent bus tour. People who are so eager for this to happen. And what's clear is we have a product. The product really works. We have created a market where there wasn't a market. People have competitive private plans at affordable prices. They have the advantage if they don't have an employer paying a share of their coverage, they are going to have tax help paying a share of their coverage.

GUPTA: The president said he was angry about this. Do you know when he first knew there was a problem?

SEBELIUS: I think it became clear fairly early on, the first couple of days --

GUPTA: Not before that, though? Not before October 1st there was no concern at the White House or HHS?

SEBELIUS: I think that we talked about having testing going forward and if we had and ideal situation and could have built a product in a five-year period of time, we probably would have taken five years.

GUPTA: How many people have signed up?

SEBELIUS: We'll be doing what we've done with every other program, Medicare part D, we've done it with C.H.I.P. We will give monthly enrollment figures. We've said that since the beginning, but what we can tell you is that we have 500,000 plus accounts right now with people who have established that are in the process of shopping for affordable coverage.

GUPTA: It seems like an important thing to know, I imagine, especially given all the problems with the site. I mean, how well is it working? Can you say right now how well is working? We know there's problems, but what can you say about it?

SEBELIUS: Well I think what we can tell you is that thousands of people have signed up. We know that people are getting through every day. It is not where we need it to be. It isn't as smooth as we wanted it to be for the volume of people who want this product.

GUPTA: There's a lot of frustration, obviously in the country. And no one probably knows this better than you and the president. Did you ever talk about resigning to the president?

SEBELIUS: What I talked about is doing the job that came here to do. This is the most important work I've ever done in my life, delivering on an historic act and making sure we have health security for the millions of Americans. This law was passed three and a half years ago. I've been working day in and day out to implement this law.

GUPTA: Again, there is a lot of frustrations. If this persists or even at this point now, would you consider resigning over this?

SEBELIUS: I think my job is to get this fully implemented and to get the website working right. And that's really what I'm focused on. That's -- I work at the pleasure of the president. He is singularly focused on making sure we deliver on this promise. That's what I'm committed to doing.


BANFIELD: And our thanks to you, Dr. Sanjay Gupta for that interview.

We've learned that Secretary Sebelius is set to join President Obama in a meeting with insurance company officials, executives in fact, at the White House this afternoon. And then next week she has plans to head to Capitol Hill to testify about Obamacare and the website problems. As I mentioned, the Republican chorus for her to step down, despite what she said, that chorus is unabated, getting louder. In fact moments ago the House leader, John Boehner, gave his weekly news conference and he referenced those problems on the website. Take a listen to what he said.


JOHN BOEHNER, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: When you look at the problems with Obamacare, all the focus here lately has been on the website. Clearly there's problems with the website. But I'm going to argue that the problems go further than that. How about the report over the last couple of days of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are finding out that they're going to lose their coverage because the plans they have today don't qualify under Obamacare.


BANFIELD: Well that is just the beginning of it. Dana Bash joins us live on Capitol Hill. She had about an hour off after the big fiasco last week. She's back with us. Dana, that's not the only critique that came out of the news conference today, was it?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is wasn't. And what was fascinating was the theme of what you just heard John Boehner say. It reflects what we understand he said privately to Republicans this morning. This comes by way of our Diedre Walsh, our congressional producer, who was told that he really made the point to rank and file Republicans in the House that the website is going to be fixed at some point. And that they as Republicans really need to focus on the big picture, which is why you heard the speaker say what he said.

And also you heard some of the other Republican leaders talk about things like the tax, they call it a tax or the fee as it's technically called, that people will have to pay if they don't get insurance by the end of 2014. It could be as much as 1 percent of a family's income. Republicans are saying that should be delayed because how can they be expected to pay this if they can't actually get on a website to sign up?

Also you're going to see more and more Republicans use the power that they have in the majority of the House for oversight. They are going to start having a slew of hearings beginning tomorrow. That is something they can do on a whole host of issues in and around the issue of Obamacare. And you might ask, what about Democrats? They did have a meeting with some HHS officials this morning. We're waiting for Nancy Pelosi to have a press conference. At this point they're, as you can imagine, just saying let's focus on the website, and everything will fall into place, the hope, after that. Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: And we're coming up on the election years. So I hear we're going to have a lot more of this kind of conversation. Dana Bash, thank you.

Six and a half years in prison. That is the ultimate sentence that a judge decided to hand down just minutes ago to the 22-year-old man who you may recognize because he's the one who admitted in that Youtube video that he killed a man while he was driving drunk. More than 2 million people have Watched Matthew Cordle's online confession. His lawyers also showed it in court today. He had faced a maximum of 8 1/2 years behind bars.

Still to come, we're going to take you live to Utah where a doctor is on trial for drugging and drowning his beauty queen wife, and his daughters, who are in the court room, are planning to testify against him. That could happen at any time.

Also, later. A known sex offender from Canada arrested in a similar incident in the United States. What he faces now and why he won't be extradited to the place he came from.


BANFIELD: In Provo, Utah, the murder trial of Dr. Martin MacNeill is happening right now. He is that doctor accused of drugging and drowning his wife in their bathtub back in 2007. It's day four of the testimony against him. And the courtroom I think needless to say, it's been absolutely riveting, some of the details that have been coming out about this case. Our Jean Casarez has been live in Provo, Utah where some of his own daughters have been standing by. ready to testify against their dad. Jean, one of the details that came out yesterday, he was sporting a brand new wedding ring within days of the death of his wife, and that he didn't even use up all of his bereavement leave, and decided to go back to work. Is that significant, or has even more significant material come out since then?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that's very significant. The brand new wedding ring he wore beginning on the day of and at his wife's funeral. Ashleigh, I want to tell you, on the stand right now is the emergency room physician who on April 11 received Michele due to a cardiac arrest situation. He just testified that there was a conversation with Dr. Martin MacNeill at the hospital as he was trying to work on Michele. He said, it was something I have never experience in all of my years of medicine. Dr. MacNeill offered me $10,000 if I would continue to work on Michele and not give up.

That was just testified to minutes ago. Other, I think, important testimony this morning, was that when she arrived at the hospital at 12:25, he believed she was dead. This emergency room physician said we worked on her and we believe a 50-year-old healthy woman would be able to resuscitate with cardiac activity, she was not. But you can see in the beginning this was a cardiac death that resulted, prosecutors say, erroneously and saying this is was a natural death.

BANFIELD: So this is a doctor telling an E.R. doctor I'll give you $10,000 not to give up the resuscitation? That sounds crazy.

CASAREZ: It does. And that is part of the timeline here, because Dr. MacNeill went to the hospital. But the question is, on April 11th, the morning she was found in the tub, what is the prosecution's theory going to be. Here are the facts. The facts are that Alexis spoke with her mother that morning, she seemed fine and was optimistic. Dr. Martin MacNeill made his last phone call at work at 9:30. He then went to the safety fair at 11:00. When did he have time to kill his wife? Prosecutors said yesterday out of the presence of the jury their theory on when he killed his wife. Listen to this.


JARED PERKINS, PROSECUTOR: The theory of our case is that he was able to leave work, go home, kill Michele, and return to work in time to receive that award. And that part of his being so adamant about being in the photo is his intention to establish the alibi. There's a picture of me here at work. And we think that part of our theory and part of our argument is intended to show that that -- that insistence that he made on being in the photograph was actually part of the plan that he developed to obstruct the investigation and to establish that he has a false alibi.


CASAREZ: : Ashleigh, the question remains, the doctor was at the safety fair receiving an award before his wife was found unresponsive. And if prosecutors believe that he drowned her as well as applied her with drugs, when would he have time to do that? Because he wasn't at the house.

BANFIELD: It's a fascinating series of events. And all within a very short amount of driving distance, too. Jean Casarez, live for us in Provo. Thank you.