Return to Transcripts main page


George Zimmerman Speaks To CNN; Prosecutors To Seek new Trial For Dunn; Backlash Over "Stand Your Ground" Law; Kickstarter Urges Users To Change Passwords After Cyber Attack Compromises Personal Data

Aired February 17, 2014 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The Dunn case stirred strong echoes of the Trayvon Martin case, the unarmed teenager who was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer. In fact, Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, shared this hug with the mother of Jordan Davis. Both of Trayvon Martin's parents have voiced their support and sympathy for Lucia McBath and her family.

This morning, we are hearing from George Zimmerman, the man acquitted in Trayvon Martin's death in the seventh month since the jury returned the not guilty verdict in the murder trial. The public has seen little of Zimmerman aside from his various scrapes with the law.

Now, two years after shooting the unarmed teenager, Zimmerman describes his life as a lightning rod for criticism and death threats. He sat down for an extensive one-on-one interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN's "NEW DAY."


CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY" (voice-over): It was a simple speeding ticket, but nothing is simple when George Zimmerman is involved. It would be the first in a string of run-ins with police that some saw coming.

(on camera): That expectation that it is just a matter of time. He will do it again. He will do it again. This is what he is about. What do you make of that kind of thought?


CUOMO (voice-over): Next, Zimmerman's wife called 911 saying he was threatening her and her father with a gun. There were no charges. Divorce is pending and then Zimmerman's girlfriend accusing him of threatening her with a shotgun, this time Zimmerman would call 911 to get his side of the story out.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: So why are you calling? What happened?

ZIMMERMAN: I just want everyone to know the truth.

CUOMO: His girlfriend would later drop the charges and lift the restraining order against him. During our interview, she and her young daughter wouldn't leave his side and neither will controversy thanks in part to his new hobby.

(on camera): I've read what you put out there about the paintings. This is therapy. This is helping me. You had to know they would cause attention when you put them out there, right?

ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: What did you want that attention to be about? Why are you putting the paintings out?

ZIMMERMAN: To be honest, I-was hoping to be able to provide a decent lifestyle for my family.

CUOMO (voice-over): Decent indeed. Zimmerman's first painting sold for more than $100,000. The next painting was priceless for a different reason.

(on camera): Angela Corey painting. Provocative, I have this much belief in the justice system. You knew that was going to be provocative.


CUOMO: Why do it?

ZIMMERMAN: It was a creative, tangible form to show my inner thoughts, inner feelings.

CUOMO: Negative towards Angela Corey?

ZIMMERMAN: Of course, I mean, it provided a tremendous release for me. So yes, it was worth it.

CUOMO (voice-over): And then, there was the fight. A move as confusing as it was disturbing. The man whose defense at trial was an inability to hold off a teenager was now a prize fighter willing to take on all comers for charity.

(on camera): The idea of you fighting, you know, it's just the image is bad, but let alone a black rapper. The racial overtones of it, you know, were so horrible. What were you thinking there?

ZIMMERMAN: When I signed on, it was never going to be a black rapper, white rapper, Asian, Hispanic rapper, anything like that. It was going to be an unknown person, a smaller event.

CUOMO: The whole theory of this case is that Trayvon wound up beating this guy down. He had marks on the back of his head. Now, he wants to fight. He is a fighter. You know, do you understand how that was a contradiction there?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes. Again, that fraction of people that said that are the small percentage that don't realize that a boxing match with a referee in controlled conditions are significantly different than being mounted, as the witness stated, ground impound. If I went out there and got beat up, the charity was still getting paid. I don't want to get beat up, but I saw it as an opportunity. I never expected it to turn out the way it did.

CUOMO (voice-over): George Zimmerman seems to feel that way about a lot of things, for example, becoming the face of white/black tensions in America.

ZIMMERMAN: I actually had two full Peruvians and one American raising me. Two-thirds of my upbringing was that Peruvian and black people in my family. It was very shocking to me that simply based off my last name, people would make that presumption.

CUOMO: Though he is at the center of a debate about self-defense laws, he has little to say about them.

(on camera): Because of what you have gone through, and what your case was about, do you have feelings about self-defense and where the line should be and what's right and what's wrong? Do you have thoughts about that?

ZIMMERMAN: I am not well versed enough to tell you. I feel until I sit down and study the constitution, probably ten years' worth of legal findings, I wouldn't be able to draw a solidified conclusion. I don't want to do what others have done to me and speak without examining information and facts. I do, however, support our second amendment right.

CUOMO (voice-over): You might think Zimmerman would be riveted to the Michael Dunn trial given its comparisons to the situation.

ZIMMERMAN: I should have prefaced this interview by letting you know I don't watch news anymore. I watch comedy shows, home improvement shows. I'm not well-enough informed to give you exacts.

CUOMO: How about advocating for the stand your ground laws that many identify with him?

(on camera): Are you comfortable being the face of stand your ground?

ZIMMERMAN: I'm not comfortable being the face of anything to be honest with you.

CUOMO (voice-over): It is what Zimmerman wants to be the face of going forward that may be the most confounding, justice?

(on camera): What do you want to do with your life?

ZIMMERMAN: Good. I would like to professionally continue my education and hopefully become an attorney. I think that's the best way to stop the miscarriage of justice that happened to me from happening to somebody else. I don't think it should happen to anyone ever again, not one person.

CUOMO: What was the miscarriage of justice?

ZIMMERMAN: The fact that two law enforcement entities stated that I had acted within the laws of our nation in self-defense.

CUOMO: You don't think it was about the law?

ZIMMERMAN: I know it wasn't, yes.

CUOMO: What does that make you?

ZIMMERMAN: A scapegoat.

CUOMO: A scapegoat for?

ZIMMERMAN: The government, the president, the attorney general.

CUOMO: They would be scapegoating you why? To show that they are taking a position on something that matters to a lot of people.

ZIMMERMAN: I don't know what they are thinking or why they are thinking it. All I know is that they are doing it. I don't know what agenda they have.

CUOMO (voice-over): The case is over, but the judgment continues. While George Zimmerman may have won his freedom, he will probably never truly free.

ZIMMERMAN: I have a lot of people saying that they guarantee that they are going to kill me and I'll never be a free man. I realize that they don't know me. I've learned that the majority of people when they sit down with me one-on-one or with my family and I, they get a completely different perspective on me.

CUOMO: When you are somewhere and people recognize who you are and they are looking at you, what do you do?


CUOMO: How often do they smile back?

ZIMMERMAN: Ninety nine percent of the time. The 1 percent that don't are the most vocal percent. Definitely the most threatening percent, because they are very vocal about their displeasure.

CUOMO: People are angry, George. They are angry. The case wound up being seen as a metaphor for miscarriage of justice, blacks not receiving the same justice that whites do, their lives not mattering as much. This case became a metaphor, an example for that. Your face became the face of, this is the guy that gets away with killing a black kid. What do you do with that?

ZIMMERMAN: Hope that I'm dispelling those, if it takes one person a day, at a time, to help them realize that that's not what this case was about. Then that's what I'll do.


COSTELLO: Let's bring in Chris Cuomo now from New York. Chris, some viewers are writing to me, tweeting me. Why did you choose to sit down and interview George Zimmerman? CUOMO: I think you have to look at the point of the interview, the idea that you should not give him a platform. He should not be interviewed. Carol, you tell me if you think I'm wrong. It is a no- brainer decision that George Zimmerman is newsworthy. He is at the center of a major criminal trial. The idea that you would avoid him because he is unpopular, because people don't like what he did, is not how journalism works. We all understand that, right?

COSTELLO: Absolutely. I'm into full transparency. I was into what he had to say. It appears to me from the allegations of domestic violence and some of the traffic trouble he has gotten into. His life is clearly unsettled. Some might say it is a mess.

CUOMO: Yes. I think it is a safe assumption. I don't know that he would disagree. I think he feels like he has somewhat of a nonlife right now. The question becomes not whether or not a journalist interviews George Zimmerman. There is no real question there. It is what do you do with the interview? My feeling is this.

This man has been given a lot of power by people especially his detractors strangely enough. That he is a calculating guy that worked the system and knew he could get away with this. I believe he is something decidedly less than that. He is a very good example of what we have to be careful about in society.

A guy that is relatively unsophisticated that made a series of bad choices and then found himself killing somebody else and the law, because of the way it is designed, wound up allowing him to get away with it. It caused huge problems that we are seeing in the cry of having him not get more attention. We have to pay attention to him and to the situation surrounding him.

So we can use it as an example for change. Now that said, Carol, I must say I don't know if in any state, they would have convicted George Zimmerman because of how acute the circumstances were of the violent conflict that he wound up in with Trayvon Martin, no matter how many bad decisions by George Zimmerman led him to that point even where you have a responsibility to retreat, like in New York State and many states under self-defense laws.

I still think it would have been a very difficult prosecution for him. Again, the point is now larger. You interview him because he is relevant. He is newsworthy. He just is. What you do with him and the questions that arise out of it, I think those are important choices. It is a very important discussion.

COSTELLO: He is relevant in light of the Dunn case and the stand your ground case, which I'm going to talk about right now. Thank you very much, Chris Cuomo. The Dunn verdict --

CUOMO: If you had the chance to interview Michael Dunn, I'm sure you would take it, right?

COSTELLO: Absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you, Chris Cuomo. The Dunn verdict has created another stand your ground backlash. The hashtag #dangerousblackkids, the hash tag materialized on Twitter along with pictures. This one says, my son is clearly planning a robbery and shows a young boy drinking a root beer float and the picture of a baby with this underneath. He is getting aggressive, his temper is flaring and, my God, I feel fear.

Extreme to some, but if you are the parent of a young African-American kid not extreme. With me now to talk about Florida's stand your ground law, Florida State Representative Matt Gates, a supporter of stand your ground and Ahmad Abuznaid, co-founders of Dream Defenders, a group opposed to stand your ground. Welcome, gentlemen.

Ahmad, I want to start with you. The fact that this jury could not agree to convict Mr. Dunn on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Jordan Davis, how does that affect Floridians, especially in the black community?

AHMAD ABUZNAID, LEGAL AND POLICY DIRECTOR, THE DREAM DEFENDERS: I don't think it had anything to do with the state of Florida whether it was first-degree or second-degree. We are grieving. We are upset. We feel like that the justice system has let us down, because it was unable to prove that an unarmed and unhostile young black male was not a threat to an aggressive, violent individual such as Michael Dunn.

COSTELLO: Representative Gaetz, did Florida's stand your ground law work in the Dunn case?

MICHAEL GAETZ, FLORIDA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I don't think anybody is going to nominate Michael Dunn or George Zimmerman for person of the year. Overall, the stand your ground law has worked for the state of Florida. If you look for the five years preceding stand your ground's passage, the murder rate was on the rise in Florida every year.

Since we passed stand your ground, the murder rate has declined every year. I think the charge is inaccurate that stand your ground is disproportionately had a negative impact on African-Americans. In fact, African-Americans have asserted the stand your ground defense more than any other racial or ethnic group and by volume. African- Americans have been more successful at asserting the stand your ground defense than any other group.

I am of the belief that if someone is attacked they shouldn't have the duty to retreat. That's a view held by most Floridians. In fact, when the proposal was made in Florida to repeal the stand your ground, even most Democrats on the committee I chair voted against the proposal to repeal stand your ground.

So there seems to be pretty wide consensus that the law is good, though we have a system that can generate results that make folks uncomfortable.

COSTELLO: Representative Gaetz, you know, in light of these two teenagers that are dead, right, under Florida's self-defense laws, a jury must decide whether a person reasonably believes his life is in danger. Reasonable may mean overreaction in some people's minds. Do you think this is why the jury could not decide to convict or acquit Dunn on that first-degree murder charge? Is it the way the law is written?

GAETZ: Well, I disagree with the premise of the question. Being reasonable and overreacting are two different things. We learn in law school that the reasonable standard is an objective standard. Now, I'll certainly concede that we have the worst justice system.

COSTELLO: Some might look at Dunn's testimony and say, my gosh, he overreacted. Other people might say he acted reasonably. It is difficult to determine. It obviously was for this jury.

GAETZ: Well, I will concede that we have the worst justice system on the planet earth except every other justice system ever created. We tilt every advantage toward the accused and, yes, because we have a system where juries not robots make the decisions, sometimes a member or a couple of members of a jury will make a decision that others don't agree with. I didn't agree with the decision in the Casey Anthony case. But that doesn't mean we go and repeal our homicide statutes. If we went and repealed statutes in criminal law every time we disagreed with an outcome, there would be no law left.

COSTELLO: Well, I just want to posture this. This law is so confusing in some people's minds. The mothers and fathers have lost children. It is affecting families on the other side of the coin. Listen to Jordan Davis's mother. Let's listen.


LUCIA MCBATH, JORDAN DAVIS' MOM: We are so very happy to have just a little bit of closure. It is sad for Mr. Dunn, that he will live the rest of his life in that sense of torment. I will pray for him. I've asked my family to pray for him.


COSTELLO: So, that, first of all, was a really gracious thing for Jordan Davis' mother to say, correct. But these -- I don't know. It affects so many people's lives that the law isn't exactly clear, doesn't it?

ABUZNAID: Yes, absolutely. I think what stand your ground did was it obviously removed the duty to safely retreat from our society. So now where pass a conflict can erupt between two individuals, be it popcorn in a movie theater or loud music at a gas station. Rather than a responsible Florida citizen taking a second to retreat, if possible and safely go home and make sure that multiple people are going home alive today, we encourage them to react aggressively and violently.

That's what stand your ground does. We had self-defense laws prior to 2005. Prior to stand your ground, you were able to defend yourself. That's what self-defense is. Stand your ground has changed that.

COSTELLO: Representative Gaetz, in your mind, let's go back to that movie theater incident. Curtis Reeves, the man charged who shot and killed Chad Oulson over texting in that movie theater. Was he justified in using Florida self defense laws? GAETZ: Well, you know, the good thing about the justice system is that we don't let politicians make those decisions. We let the people that are the judges and juries make those decision. Now I am of the view that it is a good thing that Michael Dunn in particular is going to spend the rest of his life in prison.

To me that's a good outcome that he won't be out among the rest of us. There isn't this lack of clarity that you keep describing. Stand your ground is pretty simple. It says, if you have a right to be where you are and you are not break the law --

COSTELLO: These are three sensational cases. You don't think there is a problem with the law.

GAETZ: I don't. I think the law is good as it is. You know, just because you have three outcomes that you don't like, you don't indict the law. If on average you look at the benefit the law has had. In my state, we are having fewer murders because we have a robust self- defense system. I think that that's probably a positive thing. Had I been on the Dunn jury with the evidence I saw, I probably would have voted to convict but, again, we have a jerseys stem where individuals bring their viewpoints.

COSTELLO: You would have voted to convict Michael Dunn of first- degree murder in the death of Jordan Davis?

GAETZ: Yes. Just like I would have voted to convict Casey Anthony, but that doesn't mean because there was a result I didn't agree with, that we throw out the entire criminal justice system.

COSTELLO: You don't think the jury, in part, couldn't come to a conclusion on that charge had anything to do with Florida's stand your ground law?

GAETZ: Well, stand your ground in the Dunn case was not an asserted defense. Just like it wasn't an asserted defense in the Zimmerman case. Now, I don't take the position that that doesn't mean that our stand your ground law didn't have some affect. I don't think the lack of clarity as a result of stand your ground. I think it is the facts that arose in those cases that the jury wasn't able to reach a verdict on beyond a reasonable doubt.

Again, we tilt every advantage to the accused. One of those is that all jurors have to agree if someone is to be convicted. Here, they didn't, on that charge. Again, Michael Dunn is going to spend the rest of his life in jail.

COSTELLO: But not at this point for killing Jordan Davis. We could go on and talk about it.

GAETZ: For his conduct that evening.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much. I have to end it there. Representative Matt Gaetz and Ahmad Abuznaid, thank you for joining me.

Still to come in the newsroom, cyberstalkers have struck again, this time against the popular crowd funding site, "Kickstarter." Up next, how do you know if you've been hit and what can you do to protect yourself?


COSTELLO: Another hit by cyberhackers, the popular crowd-funding site "Kick Starter" is urging users to change their passwords after a compromise of their information including mailing addresses and phone numbers. Kick Starter have been used for starter projects. It is unclear how many accounts were compromised. Let's bring in the host of "Tech Bytes," Brett Larson. He is in New York. Good morning, Bret.

BRETT LARSON, HOST, "TECH BYTES": Good morning, Carol. Good to be here. I wish I was here for better reasons.

COSTELLO: I know, yet another hack attack.

LARSON: Yes, these are becoming increasingly popular. We saw it with Target. We saw it with Neiman Marcus and now "Kickstarter." This is a social crowd funding site, not necessarily a retailer. We don't know if they were going after credit card information. Kickstarter has stepped forward to say, not only that they had been hacked, as you mentioned, but that no one's credit card information had been compromised.

I did read that there were two actual unauthorized uses of credit cards related to Kickstarter users. Not sure if it is in connection with this hack but it is there.

COSTELLO: It is just interesting. Unlike Target and Neiman Marcus, Kickstarter was born on the internet. You would think they would be better able to protect consumers.

LARSON: Exactly. They have always been an online company and not a brick-and-mortar turned-on line. Hackers will try anything and everything to get at people's information. They often look for these back doors that are left open in software. It could be some very random stuff that they either weren't aware it was open or they just, it was left open for a different reason and they didn't realize that it would compromise people's information and leave them open to hacking.

COSTELLO: So this makes me think of Twitter and Facebook. What protections they have in place?

LARSON: Hopefully, very good protections. Facebook in the last couple of weeks in light of the Olympics, there was a lot of hacktivism. Facebook said there were some hack attempts but they weren't successful. They were able to withstand them. Twitter, we haven't seen it yet. So far, everything has been OK. As you just saw there, passwords, passwords, passwords. You shouldn't use the same password for everything. All it takes is a hacker to get one password to access pretty much everything. If it is the same, it will make it easy to get your information.

COSTELLO: All right, good advice, as usual. Brett Larson, thanks so much for joining us.

LARSON: Thanks, Carol.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a brutally cold winter. The cost of propane sky rockets as people nationwide try to stay warm. Up next, what a group of lawmakers is urging the White House to do about it.


COSTELLO: A group of Vermont lawmakers wants the White House to step in and curb the export of propane to bring down skyrocketing prices. Nationwide, prices are up about 60 percent from a year ago. Senator Bernie Sanders is an independent and one of the lawmakers calling for urgent and decisive action. Welcome, sir.


COSTELLO: What are your constituents telling you about the cost of propane?

SANDERS: They are angry and frightened. Costs are skyrocketing. It is a cold winter and people need more fuel. In my state at least, many of the people who use propane are low income people. Twenty five percent of the people who get fuel assistance from the federal government use propane.