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Burden of Proof

What Can Be Done About Violence in America's Schools?

Aired March 23, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: gunfire at school. For the second time in three weeks, a student opens fire on a San Diego area high school. Parents, teachers and the nation search for answers, but only find more questions.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think we really have to ask ourselves as a culture, are there things we can do to have an era of responsibility, like the president has called for. We have to ask students to be especially alert to problems among their fellow students, and school officials as well.



GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: We just have to be alert to the possibility of a child feeling alienated, distraught, or left out. For that child's sake and for all our children's' sake.



PAUL PFINGST, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Our investigation will focus on precisely the number of students who were placed at risk by the suspect, the precise motive and intent of the suspect at the time of the shooting, and after that, and a full assessment of the medical evidence, we will make charging decisions with respect to this case.


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

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

The community surrounding San Diego, California is scarred again by a school shooting. This one, the second in less than three weeks, hits Granite Hills High School, only 6 miles from the shooting at Santana high school. Four students, including the accused gunman, 18- year-old Jason Hoffman, and two teachers were wounded in the melee. None of the injuries is life-threatening. Hoffman, a senior at Granite Hills high school, could face charges ranging from attempted murder to assault and weapons charges. He will be tried as an adult.

Joining us today from San Francisco is criminal defense attorney John Burris. From Cleveland, Ohio, Kenneth Trump, the president and CEO of the National School Safety and Security Services. And here in Washington, Frannie Wellings (ph), Alan Lipman from the Georgetown University Center for the Study of Violence, and Dana Gray (ph).

And in the back: Katherine Dunagan (ph) and Stephanie Hepburn (ph). Also joining us from El Cajon, California is CNN national correspondent Frank Buckley.

Well, Frank, once again, a school shooting. Tell us the facts.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the facts are Jason Hoffman, the 18-year-old student, is in custody. He's also hospitalized.

As you said, three additional students were wounded, two teachers were wounded, all but one of them have been released from hospital, one student still in the hospital, but again he didn't suffer life- threatening injuries. And arraignment on the charges could come as early as next Tuesday but prosecutors are suggesting that might be postponed because of Hoffman's injuries. They may wait a few days beyond that.

COSSACK: Frank, what do we know about Hoffman?

BUCKLEY: Well, we are still trying to develop that picture, and that's what investigators are doing as well. We've heard different things from different students. One student saying today that he wasn't the friendliness, most outgoing person, another student told the "Associated Press" that recently Hoffman had learned that he didn't have enough credits to graduate from school, and he was angry and upset about that.

School district officials won't confirm that information. We are hoping to learn more at a news conference in a couple of hours.

COSSACK: Frank, what's the tenor of the school, if you will. How is the school taking this, the students, the community?

BUCKLEY: Well, the community is in shock. I was talking to a pastor today who is from Santee, which is the site of Santana high school where the shooting took place less than three weeks ago, where two students were killed. He likened it to participating in an athletic event, and you get knocked down, and just as you're beginning to get back up, you get knocked down again, and that feeling of beginning to make some progress, beginning to recover and being hurt once again -- the community was stunned by this.

It's bad enough that another school shooting would take place within less than three weeks since the last one, but to be so close, in the same school district, was very upsetting for local people. COSSACK: Frank, do we know what kind of weapons this young man brought to the school yesterday? What were they?

BUCKLEY: Last night, investigators told us that one was a Mosberg pump-action shotgun, and the other one was a .22-caliber handgun of some kind, and they were telling us that they believe both of these guns came from the boy's home.

COSSACK: All right. CNN's Frank Buckley.

Let me go now to Kenneth Trump in Cleveland. Kenneth, school security. What can we do? Is there anything that we can do that we are not doing now?

KENNETH TRUMP, SCHOOL SAFETY AND SECURITY: I think we have to take a balanced approach, and this has been made into a philosophical, political debate of more security, or more prevention. It should be more prevention and tighter security.

I you look -- yesterday, I hear people say time and time again, complaining about having the presence of an armed officer. It creates a prison-like environment in our schools -- that officer saved lives yesterday, that school resource officer. They prevent many incidents on a day-to-day basis, and when you have a crisis, they save lives.

So, I think we first have to change how we think about this, because we are one of the most hypocritical societies that there is on this Earth. We will go to a bank, we have armed officers, we have cameras, vaults, we don't complain about protecting our money. You can go to a fast food restaurant in this country, and you go through a limited number of open doors, somebody says: "Good morning, can help you?" faster than they do in many of your elementary schools. So we protect hamburger better than our kids.

Do we need some balanced, rational security measures? Do we need to stop apologizing for programs such as school security? Sure.

COSSACK: Ken, let me just interrupt you one second. If you carry out to the extent of what you are suggesting, where wouldn't you have armed guards?

TRUMP: Well, the reality is we have some basic security measures. I'm not saying arm -- every place has to be a prison, I'm saying go to your mall, you have some basic security measures. For years, we had 40 doors in one school, we left 40 doors open, so anybody can come in. So on that end, we do need to have some security measures.

The flip side of this, though, is we also have to look at the prevention that goes with that. Your prevention programs, mental health service needs to kids in this country -- kids are either untreated or they're medicated. This isn't generation X, it's generation RX in some cases. We prescribe, throw some drugs at the kids, send them out and say, have a good time, and we're still not dealing with the personal needs, we're not knowing our kids, we're not having relationship with kids at home or in schools and in broader society.

So, it is a balance between these two things, and we keep hearing this either or battle, and that's my point: we need more prevention efforts that are meaningful, and we need to have some basic security measures.

COSSACK: All right. Let's take a break. Up next, too many school shootings, but what are the causes of these shootings? Stay with us.


COSSACK: For the second time this month, the suburbs of San Diego, California heard the echoes of gun shots in their schools. Yesterday, Granite high senior Jason Hoffman allegedly opened fire on his campus, wounding five people.

Alan, at the end of the last segment we were listening to Kenneth, and Kenneth was saying, you know, we need security, but we also need treatment. He even made a suggestion that perhaps this is the RX generation, not just the X generation. Talk to us about causes. What's the other side? Besides security, which we hope prevents, how do we get even further into perhaps trying to figure out an answer?

ALAN LIPMAN, CAMPAIGN AGAINST YOUTH VIOLENCE: You know, I think Ken made a very important point when he talked about the need for increased security and prevention. But you know, security is going to do so little. We can put up guards, we can put up metal detectors, we can search for weapons, but we can't put metal detectors in these kids' minds.

What we need to do is really focus on putting warning detectors in parents' minds, a real understanding of the major causes of these episodes, and we understand what they are right now. You know, yesterday, Roger, I heard someone say after this event, and it was echoed in what Frank was saying at the top of this segment, that people here, right after Santee, they couldn't believe that it would happen there, they were shocked, they were stunned.

And of course, we can understand that. My god, it's a horrendous and a horrific event for any community. Parents and communities still do not actually realize that it can happen here, in our homes, with our kids. What we need to do: number one, early childhood detection and prevention of mental illness, antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder. The surgeon general's report just showed that if you have six of the risk factors for mental illness, you are 10 times more likely to be a violent child than if you have just one. Yet in our media, we continue to focus on single risk factors, just the media or just weapons.

There's no doubt that to stop these episodes, we need to focus on early childhood identification of mental illness, teaching families how to raise kids so that they can control their impulses, watching for the negative life events that have preceded every one of these episodes from Pearl through Columbine right up to Santee and the episode yesterday, and reasonable control of weapons. The NRA is fond of saying, guns don't kill people, people do -- that is a false dichotomy.

COSSACK: Well, let me just answer you, you know, whatever you want to say about the gun laws in this country, most of the times in these cases the guns have not been easily accessible to these young people.

LIPMAN: Not true, Roger.

COSSACK: They had to get through gun lockers or safes.

LIPMAN: Roger, Kip Kinkle in the Springfield, Oregon shooting, where he killed his parents, was given a gun by his parents for his birthday in order to mollify his increasing violence and conduct disorder.

The Jonesboro, Arkansas shooting: those kids knocked a tiny little padlock, the kind that you would find on a school gym locker off of a shed. Roger -- great guy, but I beg to differ with you. There's simply no question, if you look at the research, that we don't have an epidemic of super predator kids, as Bill McCollum has been fond of saying, what we have is an epidemic of blindness in this society, blindness to the actual causes of suffering in our children and blindness to a pro-active stance, where we recognize, you know, I'm still a good parent, but dammit, my kids are actually suffering, and I can do something about and prevent these episodes and lock the guns away.

COSSACK: You know, I understand what you are saying, and I hear what you are saying, but the notion of being more reasonable parent -- look, I raised a teenager...

LIPMAN: Congratulation to you, my friend.

COSSACK: I'm not sure -- thank goodness we are through that now -- but I'm not sure that there was a time when I looked at him and thought, you know, this can't be normal, but in fact, it turns out that sort of is what kids are like at that...

LIPMAN: That's the problem. The key word in what you said, Roger, was "reasonable." We're not talking -- I understand the reasonableness standard. I went through first year of law school.

But we're not talking about reasonable. In fact, reasonableness, believe it or not, is the problem here. Do you know, after every one of these episodes, people call this -- you know the term they call it, senseless violence.

COSSACK: That's right.

LIPMAN: There's a very cruel truth and logic in what I'm about to say. These episodes have a sense, they are not senseless, they have the cruel logic of silent suffering. Reasonableness is, hey, this is just adolescence, my kid is suffering, this is what happens. I'll view it through the adult nostalgic lens of normal adolescent suffering. These kids are actually suffering.

COSSACK: Let me go back to Ken now. Ken, you've heard what Alan had to say. How does that fit in what you were suggesting -- in what you suggested earlier?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, I don't think we are saying opposite things, it's -- but I did a hear comment about we can put up security fences and all these things -- please note I'm not saying that that's a total solution, but you also have the management, your violence prevention curriculum, your conflict resolution peer mediation program yesterday in that high school meant nothing in the middle of the shooting, so we have to have those balanced out.

LIPMAN: Ken, that's absolutely right.

TRUMP: As far as the weapons piece of it goes, whether it's a knife or whether it's a gun, I always said don't put the metal detector on the schoolhouse door, put it on the door going out of the house, because that's where the weapons tend to come from. And not necessarily just on a high-profile shootings, but on a day-to-day basis.

So, I agree that the prevention...


TRUMP: I agree that the prevention is necessary, I agree that the intervention is necessary, and it's just what I said from the get- go, it's not an either/or, we need both. We need to be prepared to prevent and to reduce the risk of those incidents that we can, but we also have to be prepared to...


COSSACK: Ken, let me give Alan just a few seconds to respond.

LIPMAN: Ken, I agree, but what I'm suggesting is that there's an earlier, distant early warning system. Before the measure at the door and before the measure in the school, and that one, the most important one, is the one in the parent's mind, and that begins at birth. And it is not mystical. It can be done.

COSSACK: Let me take a break here. Up next, what lies ahead: now we are going to talk about the legal road for Jason Hoffman, and the alleged student gunman at Santana high school goes back to court. Stay with us.


COSSACK: Alleged Granite Hills high school shooter Jason Hoffman is 18 years old, and will be charged as an adult. But also being charged as an adult is 15-year-old Charles Andrew Williams, who is the alleged gunman at the Santana high school shooting, which also occurred this month.

John, let's talk a little bit about what's going to happen to Hoffman. As an adult, we don't yet whether or not there's going to be, if anyone is going to die from this shooting, so what kind of charges is he going to be charged with, what kind of sentence is he looking at, and what are the proceedings that are going to happen?

JOHN BURRIS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, he's certainly looking at attempted murder, number one, and certainly assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to commit a great bodily injury. Those are very severe offenses.

The attempted murder really is a life sentence, although it's like half of a life sentence. If you kill someone, it's first degree, it's 27 years to life, if it is attempted murder, then it's half that. It's, like, you know, nine, 10 years, 15 years to life for some offenses, so he's certainly is going to look at that.

I think the more interesting question, though, is what is going to be his defense, and how do you go about that. First thing I would do is look at a psychological work-up for him to see if, in fact, there's any issues of mental --diminished capacity -- although diminished capacity is not a defense -- but some issues that are working there that one can use to somehow go against the specific intent that's required for an attempted murder, particularly if it's in the first degree, and I would be looking at those kinds of issues.

But he's certainly looking at a very long time in custody here, and his defense lawyer has his work cut out for him. And he really has to look to see at some way to mitigate the significance of these charges by showing that he ought not get the full punishment. Because in California, you have a range of punishment that you can have for each individual crime, but -- unless some mental illness, mental incapacity comes forward, he is going to have a very difficult time mitigating against the seriousness of these charges.

COSSACK: Right, because there doesn't seem to be, at least for now, any question about he was the one that actually did it, although the charges are right, we do refer to them as allegations now.

All right. Joining me by telephone is Ken Clayman, the public defender of Ventura county. Ken, we understand in the Andy Williams shooting case, which happened a few weeks ago in Santee high school, that the lawyers are going to file a demurrer Monday. What they're going to do is attack the constitutionality of Prop 21 in California, that is the proposition that said young people will be charged as adults. What does that mean, and what are their chances for success?

KEN CLAYMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, Roger, a demurrer is when the defense says that the pleading it's filed against the defendant, or in this case, the minor is defective. And they're going to say it's defective because they think that Prop 21 is unconstitutional, and want to raise that issue.

And prior to the passage of Prop 21, Roger, the district attorney had no ability to file a case of a 14 or 15-year-old, as is the case of this minor, directly in adult court. And Prop 21 gave the people that right, to file it directly. And I think that the challenge is going to be made to that ability of the D.A. to bypass the juvenile court and to bypass the judge, who normally would make the decision whether the person stays as a juvenile or goes to the adult court, and file it directly in the adult court.

And the challenge obviously, is going to go around that particular new right that the district attorney has.

COSSACK: Ken, how are they going to phrase this? Is it going to be a due process argument, that you are taking away his right to full and complete hearing by a court, by just automatically putting him into the adult court?

CLAYMAN: I think that's going to be an argument. Another argument is going to be the so-called single subject argument, Roger. This Proposition 21 contained, I believe, the defense will contend, the whole multitude of topics, so that no voter could have actually known what exactly was in the bill. And they wouldn't have known that they were voting for something, the argument will be, to put a 15- year-old like this minor in the adult court forever.

So, that's going to be a main argument. I think they are going to throw in a cruel and unusual punishment type of an argument, because here is a 15-year-old -- because of these charges can spend the rest of his life in prison, and I think those are going to be the basic arguments.

COSSACK: John Burris, you have represented juveniles in your long career. What do you do in a situation like this with a 15-year- old who is now going to get tried as an adult?

BURRIS: You know, this is a real potential tragedy. I'm not speaking about this individual kid, but I think what -- it sets up the possibility of the kind of case we have down in Florida, where this 12-year-old boy ultimately gets a life sentence. And that occurs when you bypass the juvenile justice system, and you do not allow the system to take a look at that individual kid to see what can happen.

So, we have the similar kinds of problems here. I think you obviously have -- even if it's in an adult court, you got to look at the psychological background of this particular kid. He's even younger, so he is much more susceptible to being immature and lacking the ability to reflect upon what is really taking place.

So, the horrible consequences could be that a kid could get a life sentence, obviously. He can't get the death penalty, but he can get a life sentence without the possibility of parole, and that seems to be a real harsh potential sentence to occur for a 15-year-old.

COSSACK: John, I've got to unfortunately cut you off, because we are out of time.

That's all the time we do have. Thanks to our guests, thank you for watching. Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": should there be armed guards in the schools?

Join Bobbie Battista for "Free-For-All Friday." Send your e- mails, your faxes, and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern for "TALKBACK LIVE."

And I'll be back Monday with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. Have a great weekend.



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