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Burden of Proof

Can School Violence Be Stopped?

Aired March 8, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, it's happened again: more guns in American schools, from California to Pennsylvania and Florida, and that's just this week. How will it be stopped?


LT. JERRY LEWIS, SAN DIEGO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT. HOMICIDE DETAIL: The father has verified that the weapon was in his gun cabinet in his residence, and that gun cabinet was secured by a lock and key.

KRISTIN ANTON, CHIEF DEPUTY DA, SAN DIEGO COUNTY: There's been a lot of talk about whether the father will face any type of charges. And in California, there are laws that allow for the prosecution of adults for the negligent storage of firearms.

ROD PAIGE, EDUCATION SECRETARY: I think it's time now to stop pointing fingers at each other, but to sit down together and join and see if we can determine what is causing some of the rage that our young people are evidencing.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

This week's headlines paint a grim reality for the nation's innocent generation. American students are under attack. Yesterday in Pennsylvania, a 14-year-old allegedly shot a classmate in the shoulder. The suspect was charged with attempted homicide, and that's not the only violent act in U.S. schools in the past few weeks.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: One child brought a sawed-off revolving to a middle school in Saint Petersburg, Florida. A Texas high school freshman was found carrying a hit list of fellow pupils he reportedly wanted to kill. And in Indianapolis, a 6-year-old brought a loaded gun to kindergarten.

Garnering much of the press this week has been a shooting near San Diego, California. Fifteen-year-old Charles Andrew Williams has been charged with two counts of murder, additional charges of assault and weapons charges. And on Wednesday his arraignment was postponed so his lawyers could fight a new California law requiring the case to be transferred to adult court.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Los Angeles is former L.A. County district attorney Gil Garcetti. Here in Washington, D.C. superior court judge Reggie Walton, Detective Tim Haynes of the Fairfax juvenile crimes unit, and former public defender Robert Wilkins.

COSSACK: And in the back, Angel Aguendo (ph), Lady Smith (ph) and Tanya Langseth (ph).

I want to go right to Gil Garcetti.

Gil, many years as the district attorney of Los Angeles County. Problem juvenile -- problems is something that's not new to you. Why are we seem to be seeing such an increase in these kinds of activities in schools?

GIL GARCETTI, FORMER LOS ANGELES COUNTY DA: Oh, I can't answer that question. I'm not sure anyone can answer that question, Roger. I mean, I was the prosecutor, yes. I'm the guy that takes the case or was taking the case after the fact. I think that prosecutors need to work with the community and public and look at what are some of the reasons, yes, but what are some of the warning signs? And do you have psychologists in school? Do you have psychologists in the juvenile justice system that can try and prevent some of these crimes, not just react after the fact.

And I know that Paul Pfingst, who's the district attorney in San Diego, he's looking beyond the simple prosecution of this case. He, I'm sure, is interested -- what can we do in the school systems to really act on their early warnings? Are there psychologists, are there others there that can help kids get through this without resorting to guns?

VAN SUSTEREN: Judge, we -- in the opening, we read lots of these offenses are happening all over the country. You've been a judge here in Washington, D.C., for an awful long time. Are we seeing more guns in school in this area? I mean, is this a sort of a nationwide problem or -- do we have that here?

JUDGE REGGIE WALTON, D.C. SUPERIOR COURT: I think it's a nationwide problem. I think with the proliferation of guns that unfortunately we have in our society to now -- in today's world, I think the reality is that with easy accessibility of guns, kids have a fascination about guns because of how we fantasize regarding guns. And as a result of that, kids are going to gain access to them and, unfortunately, sometimes use them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, as I recall, you and I -- I used to practice before you. I had the pleasure of practicing before you a number of times. The District of Columbia's always had a tough gun control law, yet, you know, we have an awful lot of guns just here. So is that -- I mean, is that an answer? WALTON: Well, I mean, we're -- we're surrounded by other jurisdictions where you don't have government, and therefore, as a result of that, obviously, you're still going to have easy accessibility to guns. I don't know if necessarily gun control alone is going to solve the problem. I think it goes a lot deeper than that.

COSSACK: You know, Judge, it seems to me that gun control is somewhat- is a bit of a red herring on this issue. There's plenty tough laws on the books right now about people who illegally use guns. But it's this notion that young children will actually use these guns...

VAN SUSTEREN: Or get them.

COSSACK: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: But just getting them.

COSSACK: But even -- but even accessibility -- I mean, in this case that we're talking about the young boy in Santee, that gun was locked up. I don't know what more the father could have done. I don't know the complete facts, but assuming that he made a reasonable good-faith effort, this kid went and got the gun and wanted to get the gun. That's the issue that I'm worried about, this notion of children who actually go out and do it.

WALTON: Well, I mean, we -- we've -- we live in a violent society, and the unfortunate reality is that many young -- young kids, especially boys, believe that the way you resolve disputes is through violence. That historically has been a problem, but we used to fight with our fists, and that was the way we resolved disputes previously. But I think because of the media, how we glamorize guns, what kids constantly are exposed to in reference to violence is a significant part of what's happening now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Robert, I -- since this started, what sort of has caught my interest is sort of the copycat nature of this. Do you think that that's sort of an element, almost as though that's sort of in vogue, if you're going to act out, you do it in a very bad way and you do it with guns in school. Do you think that there's some copycat aspect to this?

ROBERT WILKINS, FORMER D.C. PUBLIC DEFENDER: Well, I think, you know, you have to remember that you're dealing with kids. And kids imitate each other. Kids like to, you know, be with the in crowd. Kids also, you know, tease each other and -- and kids -- kids react differently to that. And so you're going to have situations where kids copy off of each other or kids think that, you know, "Hey, I've been teased, too. Maybe I'll show people that I'm not someone to be messed with."

And so, you know, it's really tragic, but -- but you know, I think that, really, it shows that we have to be better at intervening with our kids and parenting our children so that, you know, they will have some resort to some other types of outlets for their frustration. COSSACK: Tim, you're a juvenile officer. You're faced with young people and having to deal with them all the time. Are -- are kids less concerned about life and death? Do they have a notion about life and death? I mean, I sometimes have this sense that when some one of these kids goes and acts out that they really have no concept of what death really is, what they're really doing.

DET. TIM HAYNES, CITY OF FAIRFAX POLICE DEPT.: Well, they have a true concept of what death is, but a lot of it is not wanting to face up to their responsibility for whatever crime they committed. It's basically, I mean, some kids aren't afraid to die. I mean, they have -- some of them are very pressed. Some of them are very aggressive. And basically, it's -- you know, with so many different kids with so many different personalities, you can't really pinpoint where everything is coming from. But mainly, the bottom line is they -- they just don't want to accept the consequences for their actions.

VAN SUSTEREN: Judge, it just occurred to me and -- that this is -- that the ones we're reporting about are very sort of, quote, "suburban," these crimes. And I wonder if some of this has been happening in the inner city, you know, the dangers of the guns, and it just has been neglected over the years. Is this -- is that true? I mean, a lot of this seems, quote, "suburban" that's hit the news.

WALTON: I mean, sure. I -- when I served in juvenile court several years ago, I was seeing some of the same situations. You may not necessarily see them in the school, but you would see those same activities carrying -- carrying themselves out in the community. So it's not a new phenomenon in many of our communities.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is -- is the -- is the presentation on the news -- does it have a racial element? I mean, is it -- I mean, has this been happening in poorer neighborhoods, which have typically, unfortunately, been African-American communities, and all of a sudden, you know, now it's in the news because it's happening in different communities?

WALTON: Well, I think that's unfortunately true. I think when an inner-city African-American gets killed on the street, in today's world, you don't hear much about that. We tend to neglect reporting that. And eventually, it's going to have its impact in other communities, and that's what's -- that's what's taking place.

COSSACK: Gil, Proposition 21, passed by the voters of the state of California, which takes away discretion from judges and says acts like this, there's no question about it, they're going to be -- this 15-year-old kid is going to get tried as an adult. As a prosecutor, were you in favor of that law? You think it's a good law, now that you're not the DA? How do you feel about it?

GARCETTI: I was not in favor of that law, but Proposition 21, Roger, has really nothing to do with this case because even before Proposition 21 was passed, this man would have -- this young man, 15 years of age, would have been eligible to have been treated as an adult. A judge would have had to make the final decision, but the presumption would have been that he would have been treated as an adult.

And this is a little confusing for most citizens. What is the ramification -- what are the ramifications of a youngster being treated as an adult? Bottom line for the citizen is that that person, that youngster would be sentenced as an adult -- not the death penalty. A juvenile in California is not eligible for the death penalty. And if you're younger than 16, you're not eligible for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

VAN SUSTEREN: Except right here, he's going to get -- he's eligible for 500 years. I mean, we can say that he's not eligible, but I got to tell you, 500 years is right up there with life without parole.

GARCETTI: There's no question about that, Greta. But the problem -- the issue is that he will nevertheless be eligible for parole after a period of time. Depends on what the prosecution ultimately seeks and what the sentence is going to be, but he's probably facing at least 50 or 60 years to life, and that means he would be eligible after 80 percent of that low term has been served.

VAN SUSTEREN: Robert, what do you make of trying 15-year-olds as adults when a crime is so horrible as murder?

WILKINS: Well, I think that the problem with Proposition 21 and laws like it is that it's cookie-cutter justice. It's one size fits all, instead of looking at the individual. And instead of under the previous system, where a judge would look at the facts, look at this child and see whether he was amenable to rehabilitation, you basically throw all of that out the window and say we're going to determine the entire future of this child and define the rest of his life by this one act.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is he a child at 15?

WILKINS: Yes, he's a child at 15. I mean, you listen to the -- you know, his friends and family members describe him. He sounds just like, you know, in most ways, a normal 15-year-old kid. But yet, you know, I mean, obviously, what happened here is awful, and I feel for the victims. But you know, you still have to remember that he's a child and that, you know, you should -- the justice system should look at that.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. When we come back; How would a trial in juvenile court differ from adult court?

Don't go away.


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On what grounds has O.J. Simpson appealed a $33.5 million wrongful death judgment to the California supreme court?

Simpson claims he was denied his constitutional right to a fair trial.

Source: "Los Angeles Times."



ANTON: In this situation, it appears to us, based on the evidence that we know today, that the father kept his guns in a locked cabinet inside the home. Therefore, the sections governing the negligent storage of firearms wouldn't apply.


COSSACK: Once again school violence has forced its way into the national consciousness. The alleged shooter in Santee, California, just 15 years old. And a new state law is going to force his trial out of juvenile court and into an adult legal arena.

Tim, were -- were police officers on campus? Is this -- is this going to help at all? Is this something that we should be doing?

HAYNES: Yes. It does help. We have police officers in all of our secondary schools, at the high school and at the middle school level. And it's been very, very positive.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you uniformed or not?

HAYNES: No, I'm...

VAN SUSTEREN: In the schools.

HAYNES: I'm a civilian...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, not -- but I mean...

HAYNES: ... retired.

VAN SUSTEREN: When you have -- when you have -- when you have officers in schools, are they in uniform?

HAYNES: Yes, they are in uniform. They're uniformed officers.

COSSACK: And what do thy do? Do they mingle around, or do they just have regular posts? I mean, how -- how is just their -- their presence there, you think, in some ways determined -- deterring these events? HAYNES: Well, first of all, the school resource officers work hand in hand with the administrative staff, and they are a part of the school's administrative team. And they have an office in the school. They have a marked patrol vehicle. And they mingle in the hallways, teach classes, and they also provide security at all sporting events and other activities where a large number of people are going to attend.

VAN SUSTEREN: Judge, let's talk about rehabilitation. Young defendants have come before you. I've even heard you speak to them in court, and I've heard you tell them some terrifying things to scare the living daylights out of them to try to tell them not to commit more crime. Is rehabilitation in a juvenile court realistic?

WALTON: It's realistic, yes. I mean, there are a lot of kids who you can help. I have a young man who committed a very serious armed robbery with a gun a number of years ago when I was previously in juvenile court, and we got him into college after his adjudication of guilt. And he's now a first-year school teacher in the D.C. school system.

VAN SUSTEREN: What if it's murder, though? And what about the victims' families? I mean, that -- you know, armed robbery is one thing. It's a terrible crime. But what about murder?

WALTON: I mean, that's obviously problematic. I think we do, as a society, have to be concerned about the impact on victims and the families of victims. At the same time, in most situations, even in murder cases, we're probably not going to lock somebody up for the rest of their life. That occasionally does occur. So realistically, if somebody's going to come back into the community at some point, we have to try and rehabilitate them. Otherwise, when they come back, they're going to be worse than what they were when they went in.

COSSACK: Robert, in terms of what you said earlier, that this is cookie-cutter justice -- I mean, the notion here is that we're dealing with a young man that perhaps has committed two murders. I don't...

VAN SUSTEREN: And shot others.

COSSACK: Yeah, and shot others. I don't think this is such a difficult decisions. I suppose it gets more difficult when there's somewhat of a lesser crime that then dictates that the young man be held...

WILKINS: Well, I think the problem with these laws is that it -- there is no decision to make. I mean, what if you have somebody who's charged as an accessory because they drove him to school that day or they had some sort of minor role, but technically, they're also charged with murder because they're an accessory? Do they get tried in adult court, as well, at 14 or 15, and be subject to 500 years in prison because of this law? I mean, these laws -- you know, when you have difficult cases or other cases like that, that's the problem with these laws.

And even in this case, I mean, we don't know all of the facts yet, but again, you know, this kid might be someone who's amenable to rehabilitation and who might -- after being rehabilitated, might be able to help other kids going through this situation and prevent this from happening in the future.




COSSACK: I'm sorry. Go ahead, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gil, lots of factors we don't know, but you're a former prosecutor from California. Given what we do know, if this young man, young boy, whatever he is at this point, pleads guilty or is found guilty, what do you think is the range that a -- if you were the prosecutor, what would be the sort of the range, given what you know, that you would ask for in terms of incarceration?

GARCETTI: It's a minimum of 50 years to life because two people were killed. And so it's 25 years to life first-degree murder. He attempted to kill others, so you add that. So at minimum, you're talking 50 to life. But let me emphasize something, Greta. I think most of this discussion has missed the big point. We're talking again after the fact. The tragedy has occurred. This is not going to be the most difficult case to prosecute. He is going to be put away a long time. Why doesn't the justice system think about moving forward and trying to prevent some of these crimes?

VAN SUSTEREN: What about metal detectors in schools, which I think is...

GARCETTI: Metal detectors...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... deplorable but may be necessary.



GARCETTI: Greta, metal detectors is not the answer. There are other signs. There are signs of trouble, some emotional problems. Do the schools have counselors? Do they have psychologists? Can teachers take a student and say, "This kid had a problem"? Can we send that student there. Can we bring...

VAN SUSTEREN: But you know what? I'll tell you, Gil...

GARCETTI: ... the family in?

VAN SUSTEREN: ... that suggests that this is an intact family and that there are parents at home. But the truth is, is that there are a lot of different types of families in this country, and you know, lots of kids don't have that home and the opportunity to sort of give off those warning signs that you're talking about.

COSSACK: But there may be...

GARCETTI: No, I disagree with...

COSSACK: ... some that -- there may be some that do. Gil, I'm sorry. This is -- we're out of time.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you come back and disagree with me again, Gil!

GARCETTI: All right.


COSSACK: You know, my old boss from L.A. and my new boss from Washington right here. They get the last word.

That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": Is bipartisanship possible in Washington? You can send your e-mail messages or talk to Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Congressman J.C. Watts. Tune in at 3:00 PM Eastern time.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I think I work for Roger. I think he's my boss.

But watch me tonight on The Point. The family of the late NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt is facing off with a Florida newspaper over his autopsy photos. We'll look into privacy. Do you have the right or ability to control your information?

And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



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