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Should Young Killers Be Executed?

Aired August 15, 2001 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Texas stops the execution of a man who committed murder when he was 17. Was Napoleon Beazley too young to face the death penalty? Did he get a harsher sentence because his victim was related to a federal judge?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, in Detroit, criminal defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger, and in New York, former prosecutor Nancy Grace.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Napoleon Beazley was within four hours of his death earlier today, but he's still alive tonight thanks to a Texas court which delayed his execution pending review of allegations he didn't get a fair trial. Beazley's case has received global attention for three reasons: because he was only 17 when he shot and killed a man during a carjacking. Should we be executing teenaged criminals? Because the man he killed was the father of a federal judge, did he get a stiffer sentence? And because the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked on his case 3-to-3, should a tie vote send him to his death?

With today's stay those questions are still out there -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Mr. Fieger, since there is no doubt of the guilt of the defendant, of the guilty man in a crime, a brutal crime, committed during the course of a robbery, is the only reason not to execute him is because he was a few months shy of 18 years old and happened to be a black man?

GEOFFREY FIEGER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yeah. Because the issue is more important than the individual.

A society that turns against itself -- and by that I mean a society that has decided very recently to brutalize children because the issue is so important -- is an interesting society, and I think we have to start looking inward at ourselves. We've never done this before, Mr. Novak.

PRESS: Nancy Grace, let me ask you, Napoleon Beazley at 17 was not old enough to serve on a jury, not old enough to go in a bar and buy a drink, not old enough to vote. But was he old enough for us to kill him? NANCY GRACE, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, those are laws instituted by our government to protect minors from others. It's a different story when someone like Napoleon Beazley plans for weeks to kill someone, packs a weapon that night, lays in wait, then guns a man down in cold blood, tries to kill his wife, and then -- hold this image -- stands in the victim's pool of blood while going through his pockets. I say yes, he's old enough to face the death penalty.

NOVAK: Geoffrey Fieger, Nancy Grace gave a pretty good description of that murder...

FIEGER: For a prosecutor.

NOVAK: ... but also a good description was given by the prosecutor, Jack Skeen, and I'd like you to listen to Mr. Skeen as he described this terrible crime.


JACK SKEEN, SMITH COUNTY, TEXAS PROSECUTOR: It was a very horrific, premeditated, calculated, cold-blooded execution. He came back around as Mr. Luttig was on the ground and just walked up to him at point-blank range and shot him in the head. And that was the fatal shot.


NOVAK: Now we do have the death penalty in the state of Texas under law, whether you like it or not, Mr. Fieger. And so if you're going to have a death penalty, I can't think of a crime that would more closely qualify for capital murder than the crime as described by the prosecutor. Can you?

FIEGER: The only problem you have there -- well, you may be right. But the problem you have there is there's an equal -- unequal apportionment of justice in Texas. As you know, Bob, there was a crime equally egregious where three young white men killed a 63-year- old African-American. None of them were sentenced to death, and all of them will live to get out of prison.

So when you have an unequal apportionment of justice and it is much more likely that an African-American who kills a white will get the death sentence than vice versa, you've got to ask some questions, especially when we've decided to enforce it against children and not adults.

NOVAK: Isn't it disingenuous, Mr. Fieger, to make that argument? When you're against any kind of application of the death penalty, to go into another case, and an unequal application of the law, you'd be against it even if the law was to be applicable. So we have in the case of Napoleon Beazley -- he shows up, he's selling drugs, he's got a sawed-off shotgun, he's got a gun. He's robbing -- robbing a rich man for the sake of getting a Mercedes. He was ready for action that night, wasn't he?

FIEGER: Actually, Bob, that's not true. As a Democratic candidate for governor in 1998 here in Michigan, I supported the death penalty, but only if it could be shown to me that the death penalty would be equally enforced against whites and women as it is against men and African-Americans. And I would draw the bright line against anyone below the age of 18. I would draw that because we as a society lose more than we gain by executing children.

PRESS: Nancy, you said earlier that is a young man who had planned for weeks to go out and kill this man. Maybe not everybody watching knows anything about Napoleon Beazley. He wasn't a seasoned criminal. I'm not saying he didn't commit the crime and I'm not condoning the crime. But he was a man who had -- was the president of his senior class. He had no criminal record...

GRACE: None.

PRESS: This was his first --- first offense. He had just recently joined the Marines. And as he described it, unlike what you said, he went out with two guys to steal the car, and here's what Napoleon Beazley says happened. Please listen.


NAPOLEON BEAZLEY, MURDERER: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) jack a car. That whole incident got out of hand.


PRESS: Not really clear what he said, was it? Wasn't premeditated as far as the murder goes.

GRACE: They just intended to jack a car.

PRESS: They intended to -- now, how -- you tell me, as a former prosecutor. How can that be first-degree murder, premeditated murder when they went out to do something else and it got out of hand and this is what happened?

GRACE: Well, No. 1, you're presupposing that he's telling the truth now all these many years later. What do you expect him to say? Yes, I planned the whole thing, put me to death?

But at trial, there was a very different story. And remember, this is not just a decision of the state, the prosecutors. A jury heard this case...

FIEGER: An all-white jury.

GRACE: A jury has heard this case, and it has gone through layer and layer of appellate review, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. But let me clarify a few of the facts that you left out to the viewers.

One, that very evening, they had tried to carjack another Mercedes and failed. Two, for two weeks...

PRESS: Wait, wait, wait. That makes it all the more unlikely that he had planned to kill that man, doesn't it?

GRACE: It makes it all the more likely since he was packing a gun and had said: I guess I'll have to kill the driver tonight, I wonder how it would feel to kill somebody -- before he shot. It seems to me the facts are actually stacking up against you.

PRESS: But doesn't it -- doesn't it bother you as an American that if this crime had happened -- if he had committed this crime in Russia, if he had committed this crime in Yemen or in Indonesia or even in the Congo, all countries that we wouldn't call necessarily civilized that have the death penalty, they do not execute anyone for a crime committed when they were 17? Doesn't that bother you as an American?

GRACE: Well, let me ask you a question. Does it bother you that you are basically stating that India, Pakistan, China, the Bahamas, Thailand are uncivilized, since they do allow the death penalty in these situations?

And let me remind you this is the will...

PRESS: If they do, yes, they are uncivilized. Yes.

GRACE: This is the will of other Americans: 39 states have agreed...

PRESS: So what?

FIEGER: Thirty-eight.

GRACE: Thirty-nine states have agreed that people 18 and under can face the death penalty. Now, you're against the majority of people.

PRESS: Hey, you bet. That' not the only case.

NOVAK: Mr. Fieger -- Mr. Fieger, do you want to get in?

FIEGER: Sure. I think that there's also a specter here of the judge, Judge Luttig. I guarantee you both, all of you, that if the judge had stood up at any point during the penalty phase of this trial and said...

GRACE: He wasn't a judge then.

FIEGER: ... look -- look -- I don't care who he was then.

GRACE: Very convenient for you now. He wasn't a judge then.

FIEGER: If he said it then -- let me finish my -- let me finish my point. If he said it now, I don't think that this young man should be executed, guess what? He wouldn't be executed.

GRACE: Well, maybe that's not what he things, Geoff. You're not a crime victim.

FIEGER: Well, he -- that's right.

NOVAK: Mr. Fieger, I -- you know, you're a lawyer, of course, a distinguished lawyer, and Mr. Press is not. And Mr. Press seems to think a murder to be a capital murder, it has to be premeditated. One of the most heinous crimes under the law, is it not, is when you kill somebody in the commission of a crime?

FIEGER: That's correct. He's guilty of felony murder, and because of that, he can be put to death under those circumstances.

GRACE: No. This was premeditated, because, you know, Geoff, I promise you, if somebody shot you in the head, walked around, and made your wife crawl up under the car to protect herself, and comes around and shoots you dead in the head again, Geoff, don't worry -- I don't care how you feel about the death penalty -- I'll prosecute him myself.

FIEGER: You may prosecute him and you may like it. But the problem is, is that very few people get any relief seeing the murderers of their family members executed. They still have that loss. And society has a much greater loss.

GRACE: Well, you know, Geoff, if you're not a crime victim...

NOVAK: I think -- I think you'll...

GRACE: ... like I've been, then you don't know what you're talking about. Sorry.

NOVAK: I think you'll find that the victims, he relatives of Mr. Luttig very much want this execution to take place. But...

FIEGER: I believe you. I agree with you.

NOVAK: I'm amused, Mr. Fieger, when you keep calling this robust young man a child, and I would like to...

FIEGER: Well, if we wait long enough, we can put any child to death at any point because he'll be an adult by the time we put him to death.

NOVAK: He was only a few weeks from his 18th birthday.

FIEGER: I understand.

NOVAK: And I want you to -- I want you to hear what Mr. Skeen says about that, the prosecutor.



SKEEN: He was some three or four months from his 18th birthday, and certainly under all the evidence and facts that we had in this case, it was clear that his planned, premeditated with aforethought execution of Mr. Luttig was certainly not the acts of some child or minor, but rather an adult individual who knew exactly what they were doing.


FIEGER: Well, unfortunately...

NOVAK: How can you call him a child?

FIEGER: Well, the few months wouldn't allow him, for instance, to buy alcohol. The few months won't allow him -- we can't just overlook it and allow him to vote. Why do we enforce it so strictly in relatively insignificant matters as voting and drinking, but are willing to look askance at a few months, just to execute him.

GRACE: Because this is a murder. There is a big difference in having a cigarette and gunning down a man and a woman in the driveway.

FIEGER: And Nancy, what you don't understand is because we're not simply now talking about what he did, but we're talking about what society is going to do to him.

GRACE: We're talking about what a jury decided.

FIEGER: No, we are talking about ourselves as a society. We are talking about ourselves as a society.

NOVAK: Before we break, a quick question, Nancy. The other issue that has come up is the question whether or not Napoleon Beazley reached a -- had a fair trial. As you know, he wasn't alone. There were two brothers with him, the Colman brothers. The Colman brothers made a deal, testified against Napoleon, pinned it on him. And then they later said they lied in their testimony; they said whatever the FBI told them to say to make it look as bad as possible. So would you really send a guy to the death penalty based...

GRACE: No, no, I would not.

NOVAK: ...based on lies, based on false testimony?

GRACE: No, I would not. Number one, the wife in this case, Mrs. Luttig -- and let me remind you their son was not judge at the time this jury made their decision, not even close to it, so that did not come into play -- was an eyewitness. She knows what she saw. Other people had heard him stating he wanted to take a Mercedes, he thought he would have to kill the driver, and he wondered what it felt to kill somebody. So between an eyewitness and those statements, the other two can recant all they want. That means nothing to me.

NOVAK: We'll have to take a break, and when we come back, we'll find out whether -- we'll investigate Bill Press's theory that the death sentence derived not from the identity of the gunman but on the identity of the victim. But before we do that, let's listen to a prison spokesman on how Napoleon Beazley reacted to the good news for him a few hours ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LARRY TODD, TEXAS PRISON SPOKESMAN: The inmate at first showed no emotion. He sat on bunk and stopped writing. We asked him if he was OK, or Chaplain Brazile (ph) asked him if he was OK. He said, "Yes, I'm fine. I just have to comprehend this. Give me a second."



NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The life of convicted carjacking killer Napoleon Beazley hangs in the balance. His execution, scheduled for tonight in Texas, was stayed by a state appeals court with only three and a half hours to spare. The famous defense lawyer Geoffrey Fieger opposes the execution of child criminals as brutal and uncivilized. Nancy Grace, a former prosecutor and now a Court TV anchor, says Beazley was no child, but a 17-year- old killer. Bill Press.

PRESS: Nancy Grace, Geoffrey Fieger mentioned in the first block there was something else going on in this trial, and that is the man who was killed has a son who is now a federal judge. And certainly at that time, even if he was not on the court -- I believe he was -- even if he was not, he was clerking for Supreme Court justices, he had a lot of friends in the court, and I'd like you to hear what Keith Hampton from the Texas Defense Lawyers Association had to say what impact that had on this case. Please listen.


KEITH HAMPTON, TEXAS DEFENSE LAWYERS' ASSOCIATION: In Beazley's case, it appears that in -- as in so many other capital cases -- that the death penalty was sought in his case because of the status of the victim, rather than the circumstances of the offense.


PRESS: So Beazley's problem is he shot the wrong man, isn't that it, Nancy?

GRACE: No, no. The person with the problem in this is Mr. Luttig, who is dead in his grave, and his wife who lay there beside him as her husband died on their driveway. Cold blood. He was not -- his son was not a judge at the time of this killing. He went on to be a judge, however. It's not -- the problem is not who he killed. The problem is the manner -- the cold-blooded manner in which he hunted down a human, like he was on a hunting trip -- his prey for that evening and killed him, and tried to kill his wife in cold blood. That's the problem.

FIEGER: You are not really answering the question,though, Nancy.

PRESS: No, you're not. I'm coming back to that, Geoffrey. Thank you.

GRACE: Who the victim was means nothing. PRESS: I am coming back to that, Geoffrey. Thank you. And Nancy, we've heard the description of the crime, which nobody is disputing. But I want to come back to the fact -- the influence that this man's son, who is now a federal judge, had over this case. It is reported that during the trial there were even -- the prosecution asked for delays so that this guy's son back in Virginia could review questions that they were going to ask, could review questions they were going to present to jury, and during the voir dire process. I mean, how can you say that's a fair trial when somebody in Virginia is pulling the strings? Nobody else would have that kind of access to a court.

GRACE: I don't know that someone in Virginia was pulling the strings. Very often prosecutors defer to the victims family. It may be unusual...

FIEGER: Not for questions.

GRACE: It may be unusual, in your opinion. However, I don't think that that affected the outcome of the trial. And another thing, if anything, the fact that his son went on to be a judge only helped him. Because you want to tell me that Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Souter would not have agreed with the death penalty? They recused themselves because of the son's identity. Otherwise this matter would be over tonight!

NOVAK: Mr. Fieger, I have been fascinated by your theories for many years. I've followed you very closely and it is a thrill to be with you tonight.

PRESS: Watch out! I can't tell if he's being disingenuous or not.

NOVAK: No, I'm not.

PRESS: But yes, you can.

NOVAK: I really believe you have really surpassed yourself tonight. Because as I understand what you're saying, is that somehow or another because this -- the victim, innocent victim, didn't know this young killer, was rich, white, a businessman with influential connections, and that the killer was an African-American -- that somehow or another because justice has not been applied evenly in every case in the state of Texas, his life should not be forfeit. Is that your legal theory.

FIEGER: Welcome to America and the death penalty. Please. The identity of a victim is well-known to be one of the determinative factors of whether you get the death penalty or not. If the victim is white, and alleged perpetrator is black, the death penalty is much more probable. If the victim is black, and the perpetrator is black, that death penalty is not as probable. If the victim is a woman and the perpetrator is a man, the man is much more likely to get the death penalty than vice versa. So the identity of the victim is a well- known phenomena. And the identity of the jurors: If the jury is white and the alleged perpetrator is black, you are much more likely to get the death penalty.

So welcome to the unequal administration of the death penalty in Texas.

NOVAK: Mr. Fieger, with...

GRACE: He's right. He's absolutely right on that.

NOVAK: Mr. Fieger, with all due respect...

FIEGER: Listen to her. I'm right.

NOVAK: Mr. Fieger, with...

GRACE: He was right on the stats.

NOVAK: Mr. Fieger, with all due respect, do you -- you know, when you ran for governor of Michigan one thing you didn't get much of was votes.

FIEGER: Oh, I'm sorry. I got a million-250,000.


NOVAK: Well, the other guy got a lot more.

FIEGER: I got -- let me just say I got 500,000 more votes than Jesse Ventura.


NOVAK: That's right. In a much -- in a much bigger state.

GRACE: Way to go, Geoff.

NOVAK: But do you think it's possible, do you understand how repellent these theories are, that you look at everything through a racial prism, that you say that this brutal killing, it's OK because he was a black man and the victim was white? Do you know how repellent that is to American voters?

FIEGER: I didn't say how -- that it was acceptable. I think it is reprehensible. I think it is repellent the idea of the crime. But the idea that we were somehow a better for society by executing the alleged perpetrator, I don't think we are. I think, inevitably -- and the rest of the world, I think, is a little ahead of us on this, looks askance at us and says, we are backward, we are not as civilized as we make ourselves out to be. Now maybe I'm wrong, but maybe I'm right.

PRESS: Nancy Grace, for your sake and ours and the sake of our viewers, this one point -- thanks to our crack research staff -- I want to clarify for sure that this man, the victim's son was appointed a judge, a federal judge in 1991. He had been a judge for three years, Nancy, when this crime was committed, which I thought was the case.

Now, I want to go back to what you said about the Supreme -- about the Supreme Court, because the fact is, as you pointed out, three justices declined to take a stand in this case because they knew the son. That left six of them, and they split 3-to-3. Now, you know, 3-to-3, you can't win a ball game on a tie score, but you're saying we can send a guy to the -- to the death penalty on a tie? That's fair?

PRESS: Bill, what I'm saying -- what I'm saying is that a jury convicted him, and he has gone through layer upon layer of criminal review. In fact, the court that granted his stay has already ruled on this case, once and has determined the conviction to stand.

Earlier, I was discussing the fact that he did not go on to be a U.S. Court of Appeals judge until after this conviction. He may have been a state court judge before this.

But what concerns me here is that we are focusing on the fact that his father was related to a judge in some way. But you know what, as a crime victim and as a prosecutor, I don't think that who the victim is matters. It matters as to the cold-blooded nature of this crime.

FIEGER: You know, Bill, interestingly enough, the United States Supreme Court dividing 3-3 can grant leave to appeal, but can't stay the execution. And now it very well may grant leave to appeal and take the issue up again, whether minors, children should be executed.

NOVAK: Why do you say that, Mr. Fieger?

FIEGER: Because...

NOVAK: Why do you say it might? You don't have any idea whether it will or not.

FIEGER: Well, all I can tell you is they did divide 3-3 and they can grant leave at 3-3. They cannot grant a stay at 3-3.

PRESS: But Nancy, sticking to the court, you know, Sandra Day O'Connor recently unusual -- very unusual for her, because she's always supported the death penalty -- gave a speech in which she said, maybe it's time to reconsider the death penalty. Doesn't all the questions we asked tonight about Napoleon Beazley prove that Sandra Day O'Connor was absolutely right?


GRACE: No. In my mind, maybe you need to be in the shoes of a victim and the victim's family and the prosecutor. Maybe you need to tromp through a few murder scenes like Geoff has, like I have, and maybe you would view things a little bit differently instead of simply reporting on the facts.

When you're there, when you're in that courtroom, when you have dealt with victims or have been a victim, it's a lot different ball game.

FIEGER: We're talking about executing children, and there are a number of people, including the citizens of my state, who don't agree with executing children.

PRESS: Geoffrey, we are -- sorry, we are out of time. Thank you very much, both of you, for joining us again on this very difficult subject. Geoffrey Fieger, Nancy Grace...

FIEGER: Thanks, Bill.

PRESS: ... thanks for being with us.

GRACE: Thank you.

PRESS: Bob Novak and I, we'll be back with our closing comments, coming up.


NOVAK: Bill, Sandra Day O'Connor's alleged conversion on capital punishment was not enough on this case to change, stop her from voting against a stay of execution...

PRESS: True.

NOVAK: ... in the case of Napoleon Beazley, and most Americans, unlike liberals like yourself, really think that if anybody deserves execution, it's somebody who committed a heinous, grievous crime like this.

PRESS: Well, Bob, call me old-fashioned or something, but you know, I just think we are a big enough nation and we should be a civilized-enough people that we don't kill our kids. We don't execute our kids. I don't think we should execute -- first of all, I'm against the death penalty totally. But I think we can make an exception, even in the death penalty, for kids and for the mentally retarded. Unfortunately, Texas is driving the country.

NOVAK: You tell that to Mr. Luttig's children and his family...

PRESS: I'll tell it to them.

NOVAK: ... what a nice...

PRESS: Bring them in here. I'll tell it to them.

NOVAK: ... what a nice...

PRESS: I'm not ashamed of it. I'll tell them. I'll tell them right now.


NOVAK: Yeah.

PRESS: I'm against the death penalty. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

PRESS: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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