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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Two Men Still Being Questioned in Sniper Probe

Aired October 21, 2002 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: An extraordinary day in the search for a sniper. Two men are in custody, but now there are questions about whether they are even connected to the sniper. We want to go to Daryn Kagan, who has been in Montgomery County, Maryland, oh, for about two weeks now to bring us up to date on the latest developments.
Daryn, what can you tell us?

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Carol.

Actually, the latest development has to do with the man who was shot on Saturday night. We have learned quite a bit about him today. One, that the bullet that he was shot with has been tested for ballistics and it is indeed a match. So he officially becomes the 12th victim of the sniper. That total would be nine killed, three wounded.

He continues to recover in a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, and just in the last hour, if our viewers are with us, you saw a live news conference here on CNN where doctors updated his condition. Still critical, but stable. Has a long road ahead of him. Still at least two to three surgeries. If he does well, he'll be in the hospital about two to three weeks. If he has a tougher road, he'll be there as long as a few months.

So that's part of the story in Richmond. The other part that we have watched unfold today, two people taken into custody. And one of those apprehensions was very visible at a gas station in Richmond. And that's where we find our Ed Lavandera, who's been covering this story since early this morning, can bring us up to date on that part of the story -- Ed, hello.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Daryn. About 8:30 this morning Eastern time what started -- the scene that played out here was shocking, stunning to many of the witnesses who saw it play out firsthand, if you look over behind me at the Exxon station where everything played out this morning, that telephone booth there that you can see just beyond the street there is where a white minivan pulled up to this morning and witnesses say when that truck -- when that minivan was there, a team of officers started swarming the area.

In fact, they started moving this -- a group of three officers started moving this way and then approached the minivan, yanking somebody out of the passenger's side, and putting them on the ground and arresting them. And that is the scene that played out here. Many of the witnesses said as soon as they saw the police cars and investigators roll up on the scene, which seemed to be in a matter of moments. Quite frankly, to many of the witnesses we spoke with, they say they knew exactly what was going on and the fear and the suspicion and partly the hope was that it might be in some way related to the sniper shootings and perhaps, of course, flashing before many of their eyes, for the possibility, the thought they might be witnessing the arrest of the sniper.

Whether or not that has happened doesn't appear to be the case at this point. But that is what exactly played out here in the last five and a half, six hours as people witnessed what happened here this morning -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right. We're going to learn some more about the people who were taken into custody from Kelli Arena in just a moment.

Carol is going have a chance to talk with Kelli. But first tell me more about the people in that neighborhood in Richmond. You talked to a number of people today who saw this setup. They were -- somebody definitely was waiting for somebody to walk into this trap.

LAVANDERA: Yeah. That's exactly the impression that many of these witnesses were -- walked away from this scene with. They said it was just amazing to see how quick and how swift the response was. And how it seemed like out of nowhere so many of these officers showed up. That is definitely what you hear over and over from many of these witnesses.

In fact, you might have seen it throughout the morning in the rolling coverage that we brought to you, the -- in fact, one gentleman who was at the -- a car dealership just next door had flashed some Polaroid photography, some pictures of what had happened.

And in those pictures you see the officers walking through the -- using the cars in that dealership as barricades, carrying rifles and making their way onto the Exxon property gas station. And I'm sure that gentleman is very happy that he had actually had a Polaroid camera just sitting around -- Daryn.

KAGAN: So Richmond, Virginia actually has kind of become the center of activity now, very close to the latest shooting which took place in Ashland, not that far away, on Saturday night.

You have this morning's activity and then you also have the victim who's recovering at a nearby hospital.

LAVANDERA: Yes. And that's exactly -- you know, the -- when the football games and high school football games are starting to get canceled in the Northern Virginia area, apparently a lot of the games were secretly brought down further south here where we are to avoid all of this. So what has played out here over the last few days has really been quite a shock, I think, to a lot of people, particularly in Ashland, where the Saturday night shooting took place.

A lot of people, even though this story has been prominently played out in newspapers and news media coverage for the last two weeks, that they thought, I think a lot of people felt that there was a certain amount of distance between here and Northern Virginia and the Washington D.C. area. But that has all pretty much gone away, I think, for many of the people who live in this area.

KAGAN: Understandable. Ed Lavandera in Richmond, Virginia. Thank you so much.

Carol, we'll toss it back to you in Atlanta.

COSTELLO: All right. Thank you very much, Daryn Kagan, reporting live from Montgomery County, Maryland.

Let's turn our attention once again to CNN's Kelli Arena. She is in Washington to talk about those two men who were picked up at that Exxon gas station. And I guess it was just about five miles from where a note was found at the Ponderosa restaurant where the latest shooting took place.

What information do you have that these men were connected at all to this note?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far none, Carol. We're told that the two individuals, one Mexican, one Guatemalan, are actually undocumented workers and as one source said, this is looking more and more like a case of two guys being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What brought investigators to that location in the first place was a phone call that had come in on the tip line that said if police look in the wooded area by the Ponderosa restaurant, they will find a note.

Police did in fact go, find a note. And that call was traced back to an address that was about five miles from the phone booth where the individual was apprehended this morning. So -- and we do know from several sources that federal and local law enforcement agents were positioned in various locations around that general area waiting, lying in wait for an individual to show up.

COSTELLO: So, Kelli, just to make sure we all understand, the phone number that police got and apparently traced, came through the tip line and not from the note?

ARENA: No, no, no. We're talking about two different things. I -- what we have confirmed is that a person made a call to the tip line and said, There's a note. Now, that seems to be a different phone number than the police were talking about in their press coverage, if they're related. We haven't determined that yet.

But we do know that the sequence of events, at least immediately following the shooting, was that a call comes in, it's a voice that's described as an accent, unidentified origin. They couldn't determine exactly where the person might have been from. Says, Look for the note. They looked for the note. Now, in this note, we are told -- which was handwritten and quite lengthy. We were told that there was a hint at a demand for money.

I have not been able to get the exact wording that would lead investigators to that conclusion. But I have been told by a variety of sources that that was the -- that was what was drawn from the note, that there was a suggestion of a hint of a demand for money.

COSTELLO: And if that's true, this would be completely different from the evidence they've gathered so far about the sniper or snipers?

ARENA: Well, the only evidence that they've gathered is that he's a pretty good shot from a distance you know, one shot and he hits his target. And there's only been one other communication that we know of, and that was the Tarot card that was found that said, "Dear policeman, I am God."

But beyond that, a lot of what we've heard has been pure speculation, Carol. I mean, there hasn't been any hard evidence about a suspect.

Now, granted, law enforcement authorities are working with profilers, as they often do. And sometimes profilers are very helpful and sometimes they're not. What has been the one consistent thing is that witnesses at several of these locations have said that they thought they saw a male. Several of those witnesses describe seeing a male with dark -- a darker complexion, olive complexion skin. Whether or not that individual that some people thought they saw had anything to do with the shootings, still unclear.

So there's no hard evidence that investigators have had up to this point that would give them any indication as to exactly who the shooter is.

COSTELLO: OK. Let me throw something else into the mix that might complicate things even more. "The Richmond Times," the local newspaper there in Virginia, is reporting that police have actually found more than one Tarot card. Have you heard anything like that from your sources?

ARENA: Actually, I've been waved off that by several of my sources. They said that simply not true, that there was only one other communication, one Tarot card, up until Saturday night when they found this letter.

Now, whether or not this letter is legitimate remains an open question. If it is legitimate, then obviously there are more leads to go on as the investigative process its way through. If it's not legitimate...

COSTELLO: OK, one more question -- one more question about this letter. When did the tip come in to police that there was a letter somewhere around the Ponderosa restaurant?

ARENA: All I was told, was after the shooting. I was not given an exact time frame, but it was not too long after the shooting.

I asked -- I asked several officials whether or not it was conceivable that someone could come and plant such a letter at a crime scene. I mean, one would suspect that the place was crawling with officers and investigators once that shooting took place, so how on Earth you get into that vicinity and plant something seems to be a difficult task. But I was told by several officials that it's not inconceivable but, again, no factual evidence at this point. I do not have a statement on the record saying that this letter is a hoax or it's legitimate or it was placed there before or after the crime scene. Just no affirmation at this point whatsoever.

COSTELLO: It's such a deepening mystery, isn't it? And it's so hard to figure it all out.

Going back to these two men who are now in custody, and I would guess police are still questioning them at this time.

ARENA: Yes.

COSTELLO: You have heard that these men probably have nothing whatsoever to do with this. They were just in the wrong place at the right time?

ARENA: Well, that's what one source said, you know, from his mouth to your ears.

But what I can tell you for sure is that several sources have said that there is no evidence that has emerged from search warrants and interrogation that links these individuals to any of the previous sniper attacks. That I can say with certainty. Whether they had anything to do with the letter is unclear at this time.

But the one source had said it's looking more and more like this is a case of these guys being in the wrong place at the wrong time seems to be a theory that's gaining, you know, some ground and momentum as we talk to different agencies.

As you know, there are quite a number of law enforcement agencies both on the state, local and federal level that are involved here.

COSTELLO: Understand. So another bit of false hope, we think -- at least right now. Kelli Arena, thank you so much for your fine work this afternoon.

ARENA: You're welcome, Carol.

COSTELLO: And we appreciate it.

ARENA: Coming up on TALKBACK LIVE, our experts weigh in on the latest news right after this and I want to hear from you. Call us or e-mail us at talkback@cnn.com.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Trying to communication with a killer.

CHARLES MOOSE, CHIEF, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: The message that needs to be delivered is that we are going to respond to a message that we have received.

The attempt to open a dialogue in the case of a sniper. What does it mean and will it go anywhere? More TALKBACK LIVE in just a moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Welcome back to TALKBACK LIVE.

We want to bring in our experts now, CNN security analyst J. Kelly McCann and former law enforcement agent Luke Palumbo. Welcome to you both, gentlemen.

Start with you, Kelly. Do you think in this case of this arrest of the two men at the Exxon gas station that police have made a colossal mistake?

J. KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: I think we have to be careful what we label as a mistake and what we label as action based on the information at hand. You know, there's a lot of frustration, there's a lot of tension. There's a lot of things going on.

This thing is not a case of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), where the most simplest answer just jumps out at you. This is anything but that. So, I know that in good faith everyone there is working as hard as they can. And I know that even you, Carol, when you were up here just recently, felt the tension.. So, I think I wouldn't use the mistake word.

COSTELLO: Yes, I would have to agree with you, because being in Montgomery County as I was all weekend long, you could feel the pressure that the police are under.

Tell me what it's like for a police officer to feel that kind of pressure.

MCCANN: Having not been a police officer, I think that's best gone to the other guest. I mean, I know about the functional areas of the tactical takedown.

COSTELLO: Well, let's ask Luke Palumbo then. How does an officer feel when placed under pressure like that?

LOU PALUMBO, FMR. LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENT: Well, it's kind of gut wrenching, to be very honest, especially when we're dealing with life or death issues and something as deranged as these acts are.

You know, you have this inner feeling that you want to give people answers and resolutions to problems. You want to return lives that are taken away. It's very frustrating.

COSTELLO: Well, let me talk to you a little bit about the police tactics in the case because it seems to me at first the police were giving the media a little information. And then the police turned around and they weren't giving the media any information and now we seem to have these cryptic messages coming from the Montgomery County Police Chief Moose.

What do you make of that?

PALUMBO: Well, quite frankly, I think what happened initially was they were a bit too forthcoming with information. And when they hit the release of the information on the Tarot card, they kind of crossed a bridge.

And at that point they realized that their -- they didn't want to get into a pattern of being indiscreet. So what they did was they completely reversed position and when to this what I call a policy of non-disclosure.

COSTELLO: A policy of non-disclosure which means?

PALUMBO: You basically don't volunteer any information, especially information that could harm the integrity of your investigation.

COSTELLO: The word of this note leaked out from a source. It did not come directly from the police officers who were making the statements to the media.

Was that a bad thing, do you think?

PALUMBO: I think only from the standpoint that it may have demonstrated an inability to control evidence retrieved at a crime scene. You have to realize this: hat Tarot card is, to my understanding, came into the possession of a law enforcement agency.

And from there, regardless if it went through a second or third party to the press, it was still mishandled and the local agency -- and I think they've acknowledged that, and they've responded by tightening up everything.

COSTELLO: Right. They're not really saying much about this handwritten note. We know -- we know from sources about it. But it doesn't seem like it's connected to the sniper or snipers. And what I mean by that is we only have this Tarot card that we know came from the sniper and the police have confirmed that.

So what do you make of this note, Kelly?

MCCANN: Well, Lou had brought this up previously. You know, it goes to opportunity. There's two really critical pieces about that note, three now that we think we know that these men may not be involved. One is, Did they leave it or didn't they. The second is, the time it was left and third is the place that was left. And then the third is the place that it was left. Was it left inside the crime scene?

You know, the on-scene commander would have been careful to not allow anyone that was not a police officer inside the confines of that area they depicted. If it was outside that area, then maybe, you know, that contamination can be attributed to the area being too small.

But these are very, very fluid kinds of situations. The officer that showed up -- initially showed up within two and a half minutes, initial responder time of two and a half minutes, which is phenomenal. If you think about it, to be opportunistic enough to be, by chance, co-located with a -- in a murder and then quickly write a note, kind of discern what the officers would think would be the likely area the shooter might be, place that note, not be seen by this man's wife, who might confuse them as a shooter.

I mean, it just -- I guess the contamination is possible. But I don't know that it's very probable -- Lou.

COSTELLO: Well, I did have a thought about that. The tipster. We don't know where this phone number came in that the police traced that led them to the Exxon gas station this morning, but it doesn't seem like a person or persons who has gotten away with murdering 10 people with no one seeing them, no one seeing a weapon, no one seeing the get-away car would be that careless.

MCCANN: That's a little bit easier to describe, though, Carol.

The human condition at the point of impact when there is a murder or when violence is used. There are a couple of things. No. 1, a rifle report is omni directional, so people don't have the tendency to immediately identify where the shot came from.

Secondly, you get fearful and people seek cover, taking their eyes away from any of those areas. A rifle report ends within five milliseconds seconds and then goes to reverberation and echo, really camouflaging the location.

So, truthfully, you are exactly right. Nobody yet has seen a man standing in, near, shooting from, or getting in and driving away in a white vehicle. The only thing that we know factually is that white vehicles were present when shootings took place.

COSTELLO: Understand.

We want to go to an audience member now. Trey (ph), from Virginia, what do you have to say?

TREY: I would just like to say that I -- I'm beginning to think that the note that they found seems to be kind of sketchy, because it seems to me that the sniper has all of these attacks planned out, it seems like, beforehand, because he seems to be firing the shots from a distance and seems to be getting away without anyone seeing him. Why would someone that's going to do something like this, why would they leave such a piece of evidence behind in the woods that would lead police to find that and would allow then to trace all the evidence about them?

COSTELLO: And then -- And then -- And then call them and tip them off. And I guess that's what I was getting at, Kelly? Why would this seemingly clever criminal do this? MCCANN: Well, Lou can speak to this as well, but let me just say that Casey Jordan, CNN's criminologist, has said that may be within the typology. In other words, he may want to talk or communicate and physical evidence, the ink that was taken from the Tarot card.

The best thing about fact and physical evidence is it's unequivocal. It just is. So -- Lou.

PALUMBO: Well, I want to go back to what you brought up initially in the Wolf Blitzer interview. The difficulty I have with this is the window of opportunity there was to introduce this letter or correspondence.

And one of the things we have to do is we have to identify if in fact this is from the shooter or was this introduced by a third party who was totally disconnected from these shootings?

COSTELLO: And of course that question has not been answered as of yet.

You pause there gentlemen and stick around because we have to take a break. Coming up ahead on TALKBACK LIVE, Tarot cards, phone numbers and cryptic statements of Chief Moose. How do you communicate with a sniper? A professor of forensic psychology and a former FBI agency weigh in on that when TALKBACK LIVE continues.

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