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Virginia Lawmaker Stabbed; George Zimmerman Charged With Assault

Aired November 19, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, George Zimmerman out of jail again. He's facing new assault charges involving his girlfriend and allegedly a shotgun. CNN's Nancy Grace is with us. She is outraged.

Plus a lawmaker stabbed in his own home, his son is dead. And police suspect it was an attempted murder-suicide. We're standing by for new details.

And how can anyone survive a monster like this? We have new video of a killer tornado and new stories of people who believe they were saved by social media.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First this hour, we're learning more about the horrific stabbing of a well-known politician, a state lawmaker who ran for governor of Virginia. Police suspect Creigh Deeds was attacked by his own 24- year-old son in an attempted murder-suicide reportedly just hours after the young man had a psychiatrist evaluation.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is in Charlottesville, Virginia, and he's got the very latest -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have now learned that Creigh Deeds has been upgraded to fair condition, and that there was an altercation with his son in that house.

And after he was stabbed multiple times, Creigh Deeds made it 75 yards down a hill to the main road where he was then picked up by his cousin.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Police found a chilling scene after an early morning 911 call.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Deputies arrived to find Senator Deeds stabbed multiple times about the head and upper torso. He was flown from the scene to the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville.

LAWRENCE: Police say Creigh Deeds was able to speak with them, but is now in critical condition. Inside the rural Virginia home, deputies found the senator's 24-year-old son, Gus, suffering from a gunshot wound. He died at the scene. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not seeking any suspect at the time.

LAWRENCE: Creigh Deeds is well known in Virginia politics. In his unsuccessful bid to be governor in 2009, he garnered a presidential endorsement.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I look at the way he conducts himself and his campaign, speaking truth to power, but always doing it in a way that reminds us that we have to bring people together instead of driving them apart.

LAWRENCE: Deeds was elected to the Virginia Statehouse in 1991, and in 2001, was elected to fill the state Senate seat of TV personality Katie Couric's late sister.

He wrote and helped pass Megan's Law in Virginia, which requires law enforcement officials to notify communities of registered sex offenders, and he sponsored the Amber Alert program in the state.


LAWRENCE: Now, "The Richmond Times-Dispatch" is reporting that Gus Deeds, his son, had an emergency mental health evaluation on Monday, but that he was released because there were no beds available.

The facility in question will not confirm that, but say under an emergency custody order no one could be held longer than six hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chris Lawrence reporting.

Just in, we have learned that George Zimmerman was served divorce papers in jail before he was released on bond just a little while ago. The lawyer for his estranged wife, Shellie Zimmerman, tells CNN it happened last night soon after Zimmerman was taken into custody on assault charges. He's accused of pointing a shotgun at his girlfriend, all this coming just months after Zimmerman's acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin.

CNN's Alina Machado is joining us from Sanford, Florida, right now with more.

What is the latest, Alina?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you mentioned, George Zimmerman is free tonight on bond. He spent one night in jail after this incident.

He left the correctional facility here in Seminole County, Florida, just a little while ago with his bail bondsman. He didn't answer any questions as he walked away. This release came just a few hours after he made his first court appearance, and the judge set his bond at $9,000.

Zimmerman was taken into custody yesterday afternoon following a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe. That domestic dispute allegedly turned violent and physical, and that's why Zimmerman is facing a felony count of aggravated assault as well as two misdemeanors.

In court today, prosecutors said that yesterday wasn't the first time his girlfriend feared for her life. Take a listen at what they said.


LYMARY MUNOZ, PROSECUTOR: The victim had indicated that there was a prior domestic violence incident that occurred approximately a week- and-a-half ago that involved a choking that she'd not reported to the police.

She was in fear for her safety on the day of this incident. She had indicated that they had been discussing breaking up. He's also mentioned suicide in the recent past due to those factors and the defendant indicating at the time he was threatening to commit suicide, he had nothing to lose.


MACHADO: Now, prosecutors also claimed Zimmerman is suicidal, a claim his attorneys say is simply false.

Now, as a condition of his release on bond, Zimmerman has been ordered not to have any contact with his girlfriend, and he's also been banned from having weapons or ammunition in his possession. He will be monitored electronically, and he is expected to be back in court in January -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Nancy Grace, the host of HLN's "NANCY GRACE," is joining us right now, as is Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst.

What was your reaction, Nancy, when you heard he is going to be out for $9,000 bond?

NANCY GRACE, HOST, "NANCY GRACE": You know, my honest reaction, it was, well, he's done it again. George Zimmerman has gotten his hands on a gun again. From my understanding, it's Kel-Tec, the same kind of gun he used to gun down Trayvon Martin. This time, it's a long gun or shotgun. That was my first thought. He's done it again.

BLITZER: What was your first thought, Jeffrey?


And I have to say that my first thought was O.J. Simpson, because, remember, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the murder case, the double murder, but then was prosecuted in a case that was frankly very marginal and there was an element of payback I thought in that case. And I immediately thought, is it going to happen to George Zimmerman?

BLITZER: The amazing thing is -- and a lot of immediately people made that comparison, Nancy, to O.J. Simpson, acquitted on murder, but then finds himself in a heap of trouble on other charges in Vegas. He's now in jail. You see that similarity in this particular case? GRACE: Yes, I do. What's interesting is it was decades later when O.J. Simpson, Orenthal James Simpson, finally had to pay the piper.

This time, it hasn't even been a year. I mean, you would think, right, Wolf, that he would have learned from what happened with Trayvon Martin. But if you look at his history, which a lot of people don't want to look at, there was a brush with the law when he had a fight, had a simple battery with a police officer. Then there was the other girlfriend, the fiancee, that made a domestic call.

Then there was Shellie, his wife, who claimed he was threatening her. That was just in September. I mean, this goes on and on and on. All I know is this, Wolf, five 911 calls about George Zimmerman. I have never had a 911 call on me. Have you? I know Toobin hasn't. But what about you, Wolf? Is this a coincidence, to get five 911 calls on one person?

BLITZER: But can any of that, Jeffrey, be admitted as evidence? Assuming they go forward in this current case, with these two misdemeanor charges, one felony charge, can any of those previous incidents be admitted as evidence since as far as we know he doesn't have any criminal record?

TOOBIN: If he goes to trial in front of a jury, none of that is admissible.

However, prosecutors are human beings, and they will make up their mind about how to charge this case and whether to charge this case based on their knowledge of all the facts. And so, you know, as a technical legal matter, it's not admissible. But when prosecutors are deciding, do we want to lock this guy up, do we want to keep him off the streets for as long as we can, you bet they're going to consider his history.

BLITZER: And they will also take a look at the woman, the ex- girlfriend Samantha Scheibe, Nancy. What do we know about this woman?

GRACE: Well, I know that they were sharing an apartment. I know, a lot of other things about her that, in my mind, are irrelevant.

I am having Zimmerman's spokesperson on later this evening who actually posted the bond for him, Frank Taaffe. He claims all of this is because of George Zimmerman bad choice in women. I disagree with that, OK?

And I agree with Toobin. The not guilty verdict will never be brought in as a similar transaction to show modus operandi, course of conduct. But some of the other incidents may be brought in. The prior domestics on Zimmerman, they don't have to be a conviction to be brought in as a similar bad act.

BLITZER: You want to react to that, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: Well, that's true.

And all of that leads to, I think, a very important point we need to make here is, we don't know exactly what happened yesterday between these two people. There are two 911 calls that describe very different set of events. Obviously, they have very different versions of what happened. Police have to do a real investigation here. They have to look. Are there witnesses? Is there anyone who saw anything? Did they see anything?


GRACE: He had the gun, Jeff, and he barricades himself in the house when he's got the gun? Hello? A grown man barricades himself in the house with a shotgun, pushes the girlfriend out and he calls 911? No. Uh-uh.

TOOBIN: Well, I would like to know where the gun was. All this stuff has to be collected very meticulously.

Was the gun in a cover? Was the gun locked up? I don't know. But all of that will lead to how this case and whether this case is prosecuted. So it's going to take some time. It's at least until January until there's another court appearance, so I do think the facts are going to be, obviously, the most important thing here.

BLITZER: In the meantime, he will be out on bail, as they say, until the next court appearance in January.

GRACE: God help us.

BLITZER: What did you say, Nancy?

GRACE: I say, God help us. George Zimmerman is out on bond again.

BLITZER: Next time, you will have to tell us how you really feel, Nancy.

Thanks so much, Nancy Grace, as usual, Jeffrey Toobin, as usual. Thanks to both of you.

And we just received a statement from the family of Trayvon Martin about George Zimmerman and what's going on right now. This is a statement from the attorney Benjamin Crump. I will read it to you.

"We, like many others, are watching these latest proceedings against the man who killed our son with a keen interest. However, we're more focused on the Trayvon Martin Foundation and defining his legacy" -- that statement from the attorney for Trayvon Martin's family.

Still ahead, heart-pounding new video of a monster twister ripping a home apart. We will show you how social media helped save lives in the Midwest disaster area.

And if you have stories to share, tweet us. And use #SitRoom.

And the president shared this woman's story with the world. CNN has learned she is now disappointed and embarrassed. You're about to find out why.


BLITZER: CNN has uncovered another embarrassing angle to the Obamacare Web site fiasco. A woman cited by the president as a health care reform success story now says she can't afford the insurance.

Joe Johns is here. He's got the details -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is really just quite a story. It was supposed to be a big Obamacare success story, but it turned out to be exactly the opposite.


JOHNS (voice-over): In the Rose Garden in October, President Obama told a powerful story about how the Affordable Care Act had changed one woman's life.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: I recently received a letter from a woman named Jessica Sanford in Washington State.

JOHNS: The president quoted extensively from the letter.

OBAMA: "Now finally we get to have coverage because of the ACA for $169 per month. I was crying the other day when I signed up, so much stress lifted."

JOHNS: But Jessica Sanford says it all went downhill from there. The state exchange had miscalculated her tax credits. And then there were more letters from the state exchange. She had started out with a plan for less than $200 a month and ended up with a plan she doesn't think she can afford.

JESSIE SANFORD, WASHINGTON STATE RESIDENT: I got a letter telling me that they had made another mistake and that I wasn't going to be getting any tax credit at all. And so when I went online to look at the plan I had bought, it went up to $390. It was a huge disappointment, and especially since I had -- you know, my story had been shared by the president.

JOHNS: And Sanford isn't the only person in the state with miscalculated tax credits. It's actually more like 8,000 people. The exchange apologized, saying: "We understand that this correct determination may have a large impact on some of our customers. The exchange would like to sincerely apologize to Jessica Sanford and all those affected in Washington State affected by this error."

All the White House could offer was an apology also.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're certainly as sorry as we can be that Jessica is one of the folks that's been affected by this, if that's the case, as reported.


JOHNS: Jessica Sanford now says she will pay the penalty for not having health insurance, which is 1 percent of her income or about $490 a year.

BLITZER: Joe Johns reporting that story, thank you.

Just ahead, that gripping new video we're getting of a home being ripped apart by a twister. Some survivors tell us they wouldn't have escaped this monster alive without social media.


BLITZER: The monster EF-4 twister was coming right at him, but an Illinois man named Chris Lancaster (ph) kept his camera rolling.

He recorded this gripping video of the storm slamming into his home. The house was demolished. But he escaped. So did his family. They rode out the storm in the basement.

We're hearing all sorts of tornado survival stories, including from people who say their lives were saved by social media.

Let's go to Brookport, Illinois, right now. CNN's Brian Todd is on the scene with more on this part of the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from blast messages like this one on smartphones to postings on Twitter and Facebook, people in the paths of these storms can now get earlier warnings, can get real-time locations of the storms and can get out of the way, as one resident from this neighborhood behind me did on Sunday.


TODD (voice-over): Donnie Hogue was out shopping with his wife Sunday afternoon when his phone started beeping.

DONNIE HOGUE, SURVIVOR: As I looked down, it showed tornado warnings and started telling what area. And we knew we was right in that area.

TODD: Donnie and his wife, Tanya (ph), raced back to their home in Brookport, Illinois, made sure their daughter and grandchildren who lived next door got into a safe area of their house, then took cover in their own.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Me and my husband ran in here in the bathroom. We got down and stayed like this.

TODD: Everyone in the family survived the tornado.

(on camera): How do you think that warning worked for you?

HOGUE: Yes, I think it probably saved our lives.

TODD: Hogue's warnings came from apps for two TV stations that were on his phone, but they originated here, the National Weather Service's Warning and Forecast Office in nearby Paducah, Kentucky.

Chris Noles is a forecaster and social media coordinator here. When he saw the tornadoes bearing down on Paducah and Brookport on his radar:

CHRIS NOLES, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: From that point, I turned around and I discussed with the communicator that the storm could reach Interstate 24.

TODD (on camera): She's sitting here.

NOLES: She's sitting here. Reach Interstate 24 and eventually the Brookport area between 2:15 and 2:20 p.m.

TODD: And then what does she do?

NOLES: She jumped in on Twitter and she put out a tweet talking about damage was report in (INAUDIBLE) which is very close to office here.

TODD (voice-over): On Twitter, Facebook and in a chat room, the National Weather Service sent warnings received by thousands of people. Media outlets picked up on those and blasted out warnings to thousands more.

Noles believes they gave local residents several minutes of lead time ahead of the storms. These tornadoes offer clear evidence social media is saving lives during disasters and helping to salvage them afterward. In tornado-ravaged Illinois, good samaritans are posting pictures on Facebook of cherished belongings of others that they have found, items sometimes carried incredible distances.

The Doolan family's home in Washington was obliterated by a tornado. This 40th anniversary photo of Beth and Dennis Doolan was blown out of the house, picked up about 80 miles away and posted on Facebook. Their daughter is grateful.

LISA HOFFMAN, DAUGHTER OF TORNADO VICTIM: Your life is devastated. And just to have something that's yours back, it's just a testament to humanity and how great people really are and care for people they don't know.


TODD: And the person who found that photo was Brenda Strange, who lives near Morris, Illinois. After she found it and posted it on Facebook, she corresponded with the Doolan family on Facebook, and Brenda just put that picture in the mail back to the Doolan family. The Doolans' daughter says she wants to meet Brenda and thank her in person -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us -- Brian, thanks very much.

This news just coming into CNN. We're learning that the embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's television show up in Canada has just been canceled just one day after it debuted. Ford and his brother hosted what was called "Ford Nation" on Canada's Sun News Network.

Meantime, apologies have become almost routine for Ford these days, who's had to say he's sorry for everything from smoking crack cocaine, to drinking too much, to using profanity. This time, it's a city council member who has a fat lip all because of him.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has more.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine what it's like to get hit by a Ford -- not this kind of Ford. This kind. If you want to know what it's like to get run over by Mayor Rob Ford, ask the lady in green.

PAM MCCONNELL, TORONTO CITY COUNCILLOR: It sounded like a crazy train bowled me over. His adrenaline had overcome his thought process. All I can remember is my eyes locking with his and realizing he really wasn't seeing me.

MOOS: Toronto City councillor Pam McConnell just happened to be in the way when he bolted to rescue his brother from what the mayor thought was a fight with hecklers in the public gallery. There had been a lot of taunting back and forth.

When Rob Ford knocked her down, Councillor McConnell got a bruise on the side of her face and a swollen lip.

MCCONNELL: Don't make me smile.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": It's like Canada's Running of the Bulls or something.

MOOS: Jimmy Kimmel was exactly right.

MCCONNELL: Like a bull, seeing red, he just charged.

MOOS: Lately, it seems Mayor Ford is always charging, practically running to avoid reporters while the press swarms, a lethal combo. The mayor takes it in the face. Photographers get shoved around.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Get off my property!


MOOS: At least Councillor McConnell was left with an apology.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Apology to Councillor McConnell.

ROB FORD, MAYOR OF TORONTO, CANADA: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. It was a complete accident. I do sincerely apologize to you, Councillor McConnell.

MOOS: First, he ran her down. Later, he hugged her.

MCCONNELL: I felt like I was somehow in a Fellini film or something.

MOOS: She says he needs medical help. On BuzzFeed, they looped the mayor's latest collision to Miley Cyrus.


MOOS (on camera): Maybe Ford ought to try riding the brakes for a change...

(voice-over): ... instead of always breaking the speed limit.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Later tonight, this important programming note: Please be sure to tune in for my special documentary on the man who made CNN, created CNN back in 1980, Ted Turner. "Ted Turner: The Maverick Man" airs tonight, 10:00 Eastern only here on CNN. By the way, Ted turns 75 today.

Happy birthday, Ted Turner.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.