Cracking the Sniper Case From Maryland, Alabama, Tacoma; How Did Authorities Do It?; How to Defend Someone the Whole Country Hates
Aired October 24, 2002 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE: On the left: James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right: Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE: cracking the sniper case. Tonight, we'll take you from Maryland to Alabama to Tacoma and ask how did authorities do it? Could they have done it faster?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're staying very optimistic, because obviously for our citizens here we want to solve this crime as well.
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ANNOUNCER: Looking ahead, how do you defend someone the whole country hates? We'll ask Timothy McVeigh's former lawyer.
Tonight on CROSSFIRE.
From the George Washington University: Paul Begala and Robert Novak.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.
This morning, the Washington area awoke from its collective nightmare. We're not quite back to business as usual by any means, but the burden of fear and anxiety that gripped so many people here for so long in the D.C. area has been lifted. Tonight, an ex-soldier and a teen are in jail. They've not been charge with anything specifically related to the sniper killings yet, but authorities say they are confident they've cracked the case.
We're expecting Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose to brief reporters shortly. And of course CNN will take that to you live.
Meanwhile, it has been a long, complicated and tragic story, with police chasing leads from Montgomery County, Maryland to Montgomery, Alabama, from Washington, D.C. to Washington State. But at least we can report tonight that the cops say they've got the bad guys.
To tell all of the dramatics part of this story, we are joined by some of the best in the business. Wolf Blitzer is at Montgomery County police headquarters. Our Justice Correspondent, Kelli Arena, is at our Washington bureau. James Hattori is in Tacoma, Washington, and Brian Cabell is in Montgomery, Alabama. Wolf, let's start with you.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The immediate news, the headline right now, Paul, is that CNN has now confirmed from a senior administration force that there has indeed been a ballistic match between the rifle, the high-powered semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle that was found in that Chevy Caprice where the two suspects were arrested early this morning, and the earlier shootings, the killing spree that's been going on in Washington over these past three weeks. The two suspects are being arraigned in Baltimore, have been arraigned in Baltimore. Let's go through both of them.
John Allen Muhammad, the 41-year-old U.S. Army veteran and expert marksman, he's been arraigned on firearms violation charges in connection with what he was previously doing in Washington State. Also in connection with the Bushmaster .223 caliber rifle that was found in that automobile with him earlier this morning. The second suspect, John Lee Malvo, 17 years old, arraigned as a material witness in connection with the entire sniper investigation.
We're standing by here in Montgomery County, Maryland. We expect the police chief, Charles Moose, to be emerging momentarily. Of course once he and his colleagues do come to those microphones, we'll bring that coverage to you live -- Paul.
ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: OK. Thanks, Wolf. We'll take that live obviously when Chief Moose briefs.
Throughout the day we've been picking up details about the two suspects and about the car they apparently used in the attacks. CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena joins us from our Washington bureau with more on how investigators broke the case -- Kelli.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Bob, I'm going to try to make this as easy as possible. A call comes in to the FBI tip line on Thursday, October 17, to Montgomery County police. A man says -- saying he's the sniper, boasts about killing before, tells investigators to look into an unsolved Montgomery shooting.
Now it's unclear to investigators at the time that the caller is talking about Montgomery, Alabama. Well, the next night, a clergyman calls investigators with information that he says he received on a telephone call also involving the Montgomery, Alabama shooting. Well part of the evidence gathered at that crime scene includes a gun magazine with a partial fingerprint. Now that fingerprint is run through databases and matches prints which the INS had on file for John Lee Malvo.
Now sources say there was also criminal information on Malvo, but it is sealed because he is a juvenile. Now there is information in INS files linking Malvo to John Allen Muhammad. The two are linked to Washington State, eventually to a vehicle, and that leads to the arrest. There you have it.
BEGALA: Kelli, remarkable reporting. Thank you very much for that.
You know it was just last night, justice this time last night, when we were on CROSSFIRE and we watched live as authorities searched the backyard of a home in Tacoma, Washington. Well, for the latest on the Washington State part of the Washington sniper story, we're joined by CNN's James Hattori -- James.
JAMES HATTORI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paul. One of the biggest questions still outstanding tonight is who are these two people. And, of course, as Kelli mentioned, Mr. Malvo is a minor and not much is known about him, except he came from Jamaica. He's 17 years old and attended high school for a bit up in Bellingham, Washington and has an association with Mr. Muhammad.
Now, Mr. Muhammad we know a lot more about, although in this particular neighborhood it's rather transient and a lot of neighbors did not have a lot of interaction with him. He had another home here in the Tacoma area. A long-time neighbor described him as a very likable guy and very good with kids and very encouraging, although she did notice that he did have a temper that he kept in check.
A very different picture emerges from one of his ex-wives, his most recent ex-wife, Mildred, who filed a restraining order against him in March of 2000. And some of the things she told investigators, at that point, "John came to inform me he would not let me raise our children. His demeanor is such a threat to me. I do not want him around and I still am fearful of him," she said.
"He pushed me into the house and pushed me out of the way," she went on. And, finally, she said, "I'm afraid of John. He was a demolitions expert in the military. He is behaving very, very irrational. Whenever he does talk with me he always says that he's going to destroy my life and then I hang up the phone."
A lot of details on the background of these two subjects that investigators are going to be focusing on, if indeed they are the people responsible for the D.C. snipings. They are going to want to know why -- Paul.
BEGALA: Thank you for that -- Bob.
NOVAK: Another surprise detour in the case took investigators to Montgomery, Alabama, and to a crucial clue: a fingerprint from a September killing in a liquor store there matches one of the suspects picked up last night in Maryland. CNN's Brian Cabell is in Montgomery, Alabama, to fill us in -- Brian.
BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the big news today is in fact that fingerprint match. A match of John Malvo with a fingerprint found at a crime scene here in Montgomery, Alabama from a crime September 21; in fact, at this liquor store behind me. September 21st, two women closing up shop here Saturday evening, 7:30, they are approached in the dark from the back. They are shot, each of them.
One shot each. One falls dead, the other severely injured. But, today, we learn from D.C. sources that in fact a fingerprint has been found that is John Malvo's. We had a press conference here a little while ago. Local police are not confirming that. They say most of the news is coming out of D.C. But, again, we are hearing that definitely out of D.C.
The police chief here says is eager to tell a lot. He feels very good about this case. It looks like a solid case. But, he says, because of the status of the case in court right now he's not going to tell us an awful lot.
He has checked to see whether either of this gentleman has a residence around here, any family around here. So far, they are coming up with nothing. They are checking motels, hotels on that night so far -- nothing.
So his guess right now is that perhaps these gentlemen, if in fact they are tied to this shooting and this murder and this attempted robbery on September 21, perhaps they were simply passing through. But this case is wide open, but they are hoping to wrap up this case as you are wrapping up the sniper case.
NOVAK: Brian, did I hear the chief in Montgomery, Alabama, say that he couldn't talk because one of these alleged murderers is a minor? Is that right?
CABELL: That is in fact what you heard. That's what I heard as well. It seems as though he's clamping up. They were a little more forthcoming this morning, both of them.
But, now, given the status of the case, they say they don't want to say much. I think they are taking basically their orders from Washington, D.C.
NOVAK: What do you think he knows that he's not telling us?
CABELL: Pure speculation. They are telling us more about this phone call that came in, this initial phone call on the tip line, in which they say someone was boasting about having taken part in this crime and was taking part in the sniping incidents as well. So they are telling us a little bit, but it's really very difficult to speculate on what exactly they are keeping under their vest.
But they say they know some stuff. They feel good about the case, but they simply don't want to compromise it at this point.
BEGALA: Brian Cabell, in Montgomery, Alabama, thank you for that report.
CNN's Jason Carroll is at the courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland, where both suspects appeared in court today. Jason, what have you got first from the courthouse?
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just finished listening to the initial court appearance of John Muhammad. It ended just a few minutes ago. It only lasted for about 12, 13 minutes. During this initial court appearance, this is the time for a defendant to be advised of the charges that he or she is facing. Also to tell the defendant of his rights and to decide whether or not the defendant will be held or released.
When federal magistrate Judge Beth Gesner asked John Muhammad if he understood these charges, Muhammad simply replied, "Yes, ma'am." He was very soft spoken during the proceeding when he arrived for the proceeding. He was wearing the traditional prison green prison garbs, white sneakers.
He was escorted in handcuffs by an ATF agent. After that, he was informed of the charges that he is being held on. He's being held on a gun charge out of the state of Washington for possessing a gun described as a .223 caliber firearm, and also for harassing and stalking his wife and children. When the judge asked him if he understood the charge, he replied, once again very softly, "Yes, ma'am."
Also, earlier today, John Malvo, the 17-year-old, also went through a similar type of proceeding. But because he is a juvenile, that particular proceeding was closed doors, off limits to cameras, off limits to the public. But as for John Muhammad, his next court proceeding, next hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday right here. Back to you.
NOVAK: Jason Carroll, in Baltimore, thank you very much.
We're still awaiting a briefing, press briefing from Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose. And we'll bring that to you live of course.
Meanwhile, after three agonizing weeks, it was an alert driver and a tip-off from the suspects themselves that led to this morning's arrest. In a minute, we'll look back on the investigation, what worked, what could have worked even better.
And later, we'll look ahead to the trial. Can these suspects get a fair trial? Who cares? And what about the death penalty? We'll be back.
NOVAK: Until this morning, second-guessing the police had become almost as big an obsession as searching for the sniper. Will today's arrests prove once again that nothing succeeds like success, or will it actually provoke some soul searching about how law enforcement agencies work together and work with the media?
We're still waiting for a press briefing tonight from Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, and we'll bring that to you live when it happens.
Meanwhile, let's hear from our guests. Joining us from San Francisco is former New York City police commissioner Howard Safir. And CNN law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks joins us from the CNN center in Atlanta.
BEGALA: Gentlemen, thank you both very much for joining us tonight. We will, of course, break away. I may even have to interrupt you in the middle of an answer when Chief Moose begins. We're going to go to that live.
But let me begin with Commissioner Safir, and ask you the question, actually, that your fellow New Yorker, Don Imus, asked this morning on the radio. He said, "How could people this clever, to allude the cops for this long, be so dumb as to stay in the car that they knew the cops were looking for with the gun and sleeping at a rest stop a few miles from the shooting?" How does that compute?
HOWARD SAFIR, FMR. NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, I think it computes because you have a combination of arrogance and the reality that we're not dealing with master criminals. We're dealing with people who think they are smart, and they have that fatal flaw, is they don't know how dumb they are.
BEGALA: That's a very good point. But why were we told about the white van for so long, when apparently it was all along a dark colored Chevy Caprice? Do you have any idea, commissioner?
SAFIR: Well, I think that was reported from a number of areas. There are a lot of white vans in the vicinity. We don't even know at this point whether or not they had a white van or not. But, you know he police have to go with what witnesses report. And that's the report they had.
NOVAK: I want to ask Mike Brooks a little bit more about that. You know, we had the -- we even had the computerized picture of the white van. In fact, they even preempted a program I was on to show the picture of the white van. Wasn't that -- isn't that really egg on their face, Mike, to be frank?
MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I don't think so. I don't think so at all. At the time, just as Commissioner Safir said, that is what the witnesses were telling them. But I just wanted to point out the fact that we did hear about a Chevy Caprice one time, and I found out today that it may have been another scene. We heard about the Chevy Caprice initially and the shooting in Washington, D.C., just over the line from Montgomery County, where they said it was an older model, maybe dark colored Chevy Caprice.
NOVAK: Mike, let me interrupt you there because on this network, two Sundays ago on "LATE EDITION" Wolf Blitzer was questioning Chief Moose. And let's listen to the interchange between Wolf Blitzer and Chief Moose.
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BLITZER: As you know, some of your colleagues in the District of Columbia Police force, Chief Ramsey, have suggested that there may be a Chevy Caprice that was seen, a burgundy color, older model that was seen leaving the scene of the shooting in northwest Washington. What can you tell us, if anything, about that?
CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, that is also a lookout that's been put out there. And I think there has been more law enforcement focus on that, not a big push for public feedback about that. (END VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: That was on October 13, Mike. Now, I have a lot of trouble understanding what Chief Moose is saying most of the time. Can you explain to me what his answer to that question was?
BROOKS: I didn't really quite understand either. He said it was a focus toward law enforcement. Well, those are the people you want focusing on a lookout. They gave a lookout over the police radios for a Chevy Caprice. And I was hearing from a law enforcement source the night of the shooting at the Home Depot -- in fact they asked me not to put it out there -- that there had been a Chevy Caprice, older model Chevy Caprice they thought was either brown or burgundy in color driving erratically in the area of the Home Depot. They asked me not to put that out, so, again, that was information we didn't put out there.
But you know it was information I thought that -- and I said all along -- it was one of the few things I was right about -- is that they were focusing too much on this white panel truck. Every time there was a shooting, people would turn around and look for a white truck or a white van. And I think people got tunnel vision and didn't really look and take the scenes in the way they should have.
NOVAK: Why didn't they ask people to look out for this Caprice? Why didn't they put a picture up? Do you understand why they ignored that?
BROOKS: No, I really don't understand why they did.
BEGALA: Let me ask Commissioner Safir about the tip that apparently broke the case. Kelli Arena walked us through it a little while ago, and it all started with a tip from the alleged killer himself bragging about a killing in Montgomery, Alabama. Is that very common for murderers to sort of give the tips that give themselves away?
SAFIR: Well, it's not common, but it's not unusual in these kind of cases. I mean, we have people who are motivated by -- who knows what kind of psychopath behavior or political behavior, but, again, it comes back to arrogance. The belief that they are smarter than law enforcement, that they can move about with impunity and that they aren't going to get caught.
One of the things that seems pretty clear to me that these individuals believed that they were so smart and so good at what they thought was their craft that they were never going to be apprehended.
BEGALA: And it wasn't it pretty darn good police work too? There are a whole lot of us in the media that have been second- guessing Chief Moose and the rest of the team. But to track back from a cryptic reference from Montgomery, when the killings were in Montgomery County anyway, back to a killing at a liquor store in Alabama and then tracked a credit card all the way back (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That's a hell of a piece of police work, isn't it commissioner? SAFIR: It was great police work. It shows that 20 agencies can get together, work very closely together, good competent people. And instead of second-guessing this task force, we should be saluting them.
BEGALA: I agree with you on that, commissioner. We're going to hold you for just a minute, though, and Mike as well. We're going to take a quick break. And we're still waiting for Chief Moose to brief us on the investigation. Of course we will bring that to you live.
But just ahead, we're going to ask our guests if investigators perhaps kept too many facts secret for too long or if perhaps there was media overkill.
And, later, where should the trial be held, and should authorities seek the death penalty? Stay with us.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
We are still awaiting Montgomery Police Chief Charles Moose to begin his briefing. And of course when that happens we'll go live to that briefing.
Meanwhile, despite an impressive police presence on D.C. area highways last night, it was actually an alert truck driver in the middle of the night who spotted the suspects' car and called 911. We're talking about the sniper investigation with former New York City police commissioner, Howard Safir. He's in San Francisco. And our CNN law enforcement analyst, Mike Brooks, who is in Atlanta. Gentlemen, thanks for staying with us.
NOVAK: Commissioner Safir, granted this was a great piece of police work. But we're in the business of being critics. So I'm going to ask you a critical question.
I thought that Chief Moose was doing an impression of Janet Reno half the time. I don't know nothing, and if I knew something I wouldn't tell you. And since the -- it was information put out to the public which finally cracked the case, can't we critique that perhaps the law enforcement officials were a little too secretive on this in going after the public on this case?
SAFIR: Well, you know, when you have a complex case like this, you have to balance what you can put out publicly and what's going to hurt the investigation. There is a lot going on behind the scenes that we don't know about, that was critical, I believe, in leading to the arrest of these two perpetrators. And when you are the public face, as Chief Moose is, you have to be very careful in what you put out that you're not going to put out information that is going to prevent you from what eventually happened, which is the apprehension.
So, could he have put out a little more or a little less? Perhaps so. I think he did just perfect. BEGALA: Mike, let me ask you about one of the many, many bizarre twists in this story. This one a mechanical one. There was a report that we learned today that the Chevy Caprice had a hole drilled in the trunk where the alleged shooters did their alleged shooting. We have to be careful, nobody has been charged with these crimes yet.
You know, I own weapons. I go hunting. I have a high-powered weapon. I don't understand how mechanically you actually can shoot a rifle out of the trunk even with a hole drilled. How did you sight the target? I mean, how did that work? Do you have any idea?
BROOKS: Well, from what we hear the hole was almost like a shooting port and, as I'm calling it, their little war wagon, if you will. And it's not -- they had a little stabilizing device, a little bi-pod (ph) that clips on to the end of the weapon. Apparently, they found that also in the car.
The shooter looked out through the hole and took aim and took their shot. And it was also from inside the trunk it would muffle the sound. So maybe that's why many times some of the witnesses said they didn't really -- they heard a shot, but it didn't sound that loud. So it's just a little shooting port. A very, very simple thing that they did was just cut a little hole in the trunk area and used that to take their shot from.
NOVAK: Commissioner Safir, immediately some of the gun control advocates said, boy if we only had a ballistic fingerprint system we would have cracked this case easier. Of course, it's not fingerprinting, as you well know, but it's a ballistic identification system where you have all guns, the millions and millions of guns in this country would all have an identification. Do you believe as a policeman, former policeman, that this case could have been solved more quickly with that kind of an identification system?
SAFIR: I certainly believe that if we had some form of gun registration and weapon registration and ballistic identification it certainly would have helped. You know one of the things I've been fighting for, for my entire career, is not to restrict the use of weapons to sportsman but to make them responsible. The same way they'd be responsible for driving a car.
Your responsible for a 300,000 pound weapon that you drive; you certainly should be responsible for a gun that you own. And I think one of the things we should be doing is we should require gun owners to come in once a year and produce their weapons, because most of the guns that are used in crimes are usually purchased legally and then diverted to criminals.
BEGALA: Commissioner, I'm sorry to cut you off, but we warned you about this. Police Chief Charles Moose in Montgomery County is going to give us a press briefing. We're going to take that live right now.
That is apparently, commissioner, a false alarm. I apologize for interrupting you with that. We saw some activity there. This is an important moment and an important briefing from a cop who had been maligned for quite a while.
Let me ask you, though, having been the commissioner of NYPD, one of the toughest jobs in the country, how hard is it to conduct an investigation in the public eye the way Chief Moose has been doing?
SAFIR: Well, it is difficult. And, of course, we had a lot of experience in New York in doing it. I think we have to understand that Montgomery County is not a big police force. Chief Moose has not been chief for very long. I think he did a very commendable job.
NOVAK: Mike, I want to ask you the same question that I asked the commissioner about this ballistic identification. There's a lot of critics, National Rifle Association, and other people, who really believe that this would be an awful expensive, a lot of red tape. And they would not probably have found out this weapon that was used in these murders. Do you agree with that?
BROOKS: I agree with that, Bob. They probably would not have found -- you figure the catch up that they'd try to play with probably on the street somewhere between 200 and 250 million guns in the United States. That's a lot of catch up to play and a lot of fingerprinting to do to play catch up to put that in a database. It would be impossible.
Two states have take that up now and they are making it a requirement for anyone who purchases a gun, that their shell casing and a sample of the round is entered into this database. But to play catch up with that many weapons on the streets in the United States, both handguns and rifles, would be almost impossible to do.
NOVAK: Let me ask you, Mike, another question. And that was that in the last hours before these people were arrested, Chief Moose was saying things to the public that were -- that the killer had told him to say. I could not figure out what the purpose of that was. Can you explain that to me?
BROOKS: I think he was just trying to get some additional information out on the street. Things came together. Last night things started off out in the search out in Tacoma, started just prior to that with a tip about the information in Tacoma. And the case just took off at rocket speed. Law enforcement, I think, did a heck of a job keeping up with this. They used the media to try to get that information out there about the tag number. And they wound up using the radio broadcast to get it to that truck driver that saw it in the rest stop.
I think he was just trying to get some additional information out there since he knew that the two perpetrators that they were looking for were -- could be somewhere out there on the road. And he was concerned about that.
BEGALA: We are also joined now by Don Clark, a veteran FBI agent from Houston, Texas.
Don, it's good to see you again. And let me ask you, a moment ago Mike was telling us about the lengths that the alleged killers went to to carry out their crimes. We knew already that these were cold blooded killers, but apparently there was a hole cut in the trunk of their car that they used as their little porthole as Mike described it, to shoot.
Can you imagine in your vast law enforcement experience, any kind of motive that would lead people to go these kinds of extraordinary ends to assassinate strangers at random.
CLARK: You know, I absolutely can't. And certainly, like everybody else, my mind has been going 100 miles an hour just trying to figure out, just trying to make some logic and put some logic to their activities.
I mean, certainly there's no logic to sniping and killing innocent people, but when you go from spree killing, what appeared to be spree killing to serial killing and then you start to ask for money for a ransom of some sort, I mean it just doesn't mesh. It does not mesh at all. IN all of my years, I've never seen that combination. There may be some other law enforcement people out there who have, but I've not seen that combination, so you wonder what is the motive.
But keep in mind, as this investigation continues to unfold, and we've got to be reminded that the investigation is not over because of the arrest. This will continue on and then there may be some, something that's determined as to what may have driven these people to this point.
We heard early on -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
NOVAK: Mr. Clark, these were people who were living in a homeless shelter in the state of Washington not long ago. But do you think -- do you see any possibility that this is part of a large plot, some kind of an organization, a terrorist organization whether it's part of Al Qaida or just a home grown organization.
Do you see any possibility of that now?
CLARK: Well, you know, there's always a possibility, but I've weighed in early on in this activity that's been going on in saying that from my studies of international terrorism, and I think that's what we're primarily looking at, in the history of terrorist activities, nothing here except the fact that they absolutely terrorized an area, in fact a nation, because there were people all about.
That seems to be the only consistent fact in what terrorists actually do.
I see nothing here that terrorists have done in the past that would lead us to believe that there may be some connection to really organize terrorist activities.
BEGALA: Commissioner Safir, let me ask you to look at the human side of the cops who were on this guys, these people's tail and who finally made the arrests this morning very early. These are cops who have been working presumably around the clock. A lot of stress. They're watching their neighbors being gunned down, others are second guessing and criticizing them. How did they not -- I can't think of a nicer way to put this -- just beat the hell out of these guys when they got them? How did they arrive at the court house unscathed? It's a lot of training, I guess.
SAFIR: It's a lot of training. You're dealing with professionals. The tactical team that was sent up there to arrest them, this is what they train on every day. And you know, one of the things that I always used to tell my police officers in New York, that the mark of a professional is when everybody around you is loosing their head, you keep yours. And that's exactly what these good police officer did.
BEGALA: They did. And I never did say this on the air, but I grew up not even in Houston, in a rough part of Texas, and I would not have been surprised if you know, maybe they needed a little help with some crutches getting to the judge's stand today for arraignment. And yet, they walked in unscathed. It is a great tribute to them, isn't it.
SAFIR: It is.
NOVAK: Mike Brooks -- go ahead, commissioner.
SAFIR: Well, I think not only is it a tribute to them, but it shows the kind of professionalism that you have in law enforcement these days. And the team that was sent up there was combined of a lot of different agencies.
NOVAK: Mike Brooks, as you studied this situation for the last couple of weeks, did you have an image of in your mind forming of who this killer might be? And did it in any way resemble the reality of Mr. Muhammad?
BROOKS: Bob, I thought about this, and have gone back over and listened to some of the outtakes from other -- some other of the talking heads and the supposed experts. And you know, some of them said, "It's white kids between 18 and 20."
I really never formed an opinion. This was a case like I've never seen before. Earlier on I said, "There's a possibility that it could be someone with military training, with law enforcement training," because some of the first shots were taken from a long distance away. But then as we looked at some of the other cases, they started to get -- the distances were not that far away. And I said, "Well, maybe it's someone who didn't have that much training."
We look at John Muhammad now. He had qualified as an expert marksman in the Army. Not that big of a deal. He did not go through sniper training. He did not go through any special forces, any ranger training.
He was a combat support technician. He just went through the basic, basic training at every military person goes through at book camp.
Then you've got a 17-year old. I find the relationship between the 17-year old and a 41-year old a little odd myself. Initially, there were saying he was the stepfather. We heard early last night that he was basically a play father. He's not even the legal guardian of the 17-year old juvenile.
I just find it extremely odd.
BEGALA: Don Clark, we're almost out of time, but I want to ask you this one final matter. The media reported the names of these two men and their car, described the license plate. In three hours, a member of the general public had spotted them and reported them in.
Isn't this a case where the media and the public actually did help law enforcement enormously?
CLARK: You know, I'm a big proponent of the media and law enforcement working together in any of these situations that it's going to protect our citizens out there. And this is a good thing.
I see absolutely no reason that when law enforcement is engaged in an investigation of this type, and of types where you have abductions of kids and kidnappings and murders, that you're trying to identify someone, that there cannot be some information that's identified to put out there so that you can be helped.
It takes three components to really solve a crime in today's world. It certainly has the law enforcement element, the media and the citizens. And you get those three working together, you end up with the results that we saw here just a few hours ago, early this morning.
BEGALA: Don Clark, nicely put. Veteran former FBI agent, I want to thank you for joining us, as well as commissioner Howard Safir, veteran New York PD Commissioner and Mike Brooks, our CNN law enforcement analyst. Thank you both, all three, very much.
Now as you can see from this video, we are still waiting for that briefing in Montgomery County. We of course will bring it to you live.
But next, we're going to go from talking about the heroes in law enforcement to the villains, the people who have the very tough job of protecting the legal rights of the accused.
Attorney Stephen Jones, who defended Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, will step into the CROSSFIRE next.
Stay with us.
NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're still waiting for Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose to brief. We'll bring it to you live when it happens. Meanwhile, prosecutors will meet tomorrow to decide what charges to bring against John Muhammad and John Malvo. Here to talk about the legal options in the case, our former state and federal prosecutor, Cynthia Alskne and in Oklahoma City, defense attorney Stephen Jones. He represented Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh.
BEGALA: Mr. Jones, let me begin with you sir.
If you had the unenviable task of representing Mr. Muhammad, what would you be doing right now?
STEPHEN JONES, FRM. MCVEIGH ATTORNEY: The first think I'd be doing is going back and reading everything that was in the newspaper, get all of the clips on television, as much information in the public record as possible.
BEGALA: Would you be telling him to cooperate and to answer questions? Presumably, he's being questioned right now by law enforcement. Would you tell him to cooperate?
JONES: I would not advice him to cooperate. I would tell him that faced the death penalty and a very hostile public media and a very hostile and angry and American public. And the best thing for him to do would be to be quiet.
NOVAK: Do you agree with that Ms. Alksne?
CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FRM. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Sure, absolutely. The question is, what happens to the 17-year old. What's his lawyer going to say to him? Maybe he should be singing like a canary against the older man, hoping that he can avoid the death penalty. That's the person who may be able to make a deal.
No one is going to make a deal with the older man, no one.
NOVAK: Isn't it ludicrous to think of a 17-year old as juvenile?
ALKSNE: It's ludicrous after he's -- if he has been involved in the murder of 10 people, perhaps somebody else in Alabama and perhaps yet another one in Maryland that we haven't tied in.
And let's not forget, we're only two days into this investigation. There's a lot of distance between Washington state, Washington, D.C. and Montgomery, Alabama. There may be other killings along the way that we haven't solved yet.
BEGALA: Mr. Jones, let you in on this question of the juvenile. How does hie fit into this, and is he likely to cut a deal, cop a plea and turn against Mr. Muhammad?
JONES: Well, certainly his lawyer would encourage that. But I'll tell you, if you're 17 years old and that's a year short of joining the Army and voting, and you've got over 10 people dead, and you're involved in it, your room to make a deal is pretty limited. And it may be that they don't need his cooperation.
ALKSNE: Let's hope not.
BEGALA: Well, then, let me ask you then about the death penalty. This week the Supreme Court ruled that you can in fact in America execute someone for a crime they committed when they were a minor. So there is no refuge for him in the law just because he's 17 years old. He can't hide from the death penalty on that account, can he?
JONES: That's absolutely true. And the history of that in the United States is that the death penalty always has significantly more public support when there has been some type of mass murder such as in Oklahoma City or the World Trade Center or here in this most recent incident.
And these types of crimes and the involvements of young people associated with them, at least by the allegations, significantly undermines the movement to abolish the death penalty. And I don't think there's much question as Mr. Dewey (ph) said in 1840, "The Supreme Court reads the election returns." And if they hadn't made that decision before today, I think we'd still have the same decision next week.
NOVAK: Ms. Alksne, I am loath to tell -- to go on this program and say unlike some of my colleagues, how the American people feel about anything. But I will break that rule and say, "I think they want these people executed."
Now we have most of the murders in Maryland, where for reasons that I don't quite understand, there is a moratorium on the death penalty. But some of the murders were in Virginia, where they execute them left and right. How do you get this trial in Virginia instead of Maryland?
ALKSNE: Well, you don't need to. The first thing that you do, you have to make it a smart legal analysis on how's the best way to go about this. And the first thing is in Maryland they can try five of the murders together because of the continuing nature and the spree nature. That's a good solid way to begin a prosecution. And maybe the other murders can come in as other crimes evidence.
So that's the first thing that ought to happen is that Maryland ought to try these murders.
And the death penalty, if they're found guilty, ought to be given to the older man. And the younger one is not eligible for the death penalty in Maryland...
NOVAK: But there's a moratorium.
ALKSNE: Yes, but the moratorium will come and go. The governor said when he imposed the moratorium, the governor said he was waiting fore a study which is due out any day now. And then he was going to make a decision on how best.
Moratorium does not mean, and I think people understand this, moratorium does not mean we're never going to have the death penalty. We're changing the rules. It means we're going to look at it, make sure it's applied fairly. And it can change -- it's going to change, I would expect.
NOVAK: There could even be a Republican governor in Maryland next year.
ALKSNE: There could be.
NOVAK: A lot of miracles happen, you know.
BEGALA: Let's not get into that.
ALKSNE: But I mean, the important...
BEGALA: That's a nightmare, not a miracle.
ALKSNE: ... no but the point is that it can be done in Maryland and then the case goes to Virginia where it has to be tried, not once but twice in order to get the death penalty, because you have to go -- he has to have the prior murder.
So Virginia, it will still be there, when Maryland finishes.
BEGALA: Well, Mr. Jones, what is the best likely defense strategy to try avoid the death penalty in this. Do you try to forum shop? Or do you just stand your ground and offer a defense and try to avoid it at trial?
JONES: Well, if I were a defense attorney I wouldn't want to be in Virginia. I would want to be in Montgomery County, Maryland, even though that's where many of the crimes were committed that are charged against them. Montgomery County is not a county favorable to the death penalty. And it only takes on juror, just one, to hold out against the death penalty in most states.
I'm not particularly familiar with Maryland, but that's the rule in most states. And it becomes life.
BEGALA: Well, Mr. Jones, if there is nothing -- Cynthia Oxney (ph) talked a moment ago about subsequent prosecutions -- there's nothing if in fact there's evidence to charge these men with murders in Virginia after Maryland and potentially even in Alabama, where believe me, they have electric bench, not just electric chair.
There's nothing that stops you even if you get that one magic juror in Maryland. There's nothing that stops from seeing a death penalty carried out in other jurisdictions is there?
JONES: Well, that's true. But you take them one at a time. Terry Nichols faced the death penalty. He avoided the death penalty in federal court. And that's the death of 168 people, including 19 children under the age of six, and in Oklahoma, he's been back five years to face state prosecution here, and there hasn't even been a preliminary hearing. So a good criminal defense lawyer will know how to run the clock out.
NOVAK: If you don't mind, I'd like to ask both Ms. Alksne and Mr. Jones this question. I've heard a lot from talking heads today about a fair trial -- some lawyers have been on. First, you Ms. Alksne, what is a fair trial on somebody where they have ballistic evidence, where they have the fingerprints. If we have all of these things, what is a fair trial? What does it constitute?
ALKSNE: It constitutes a prosecution that is done under the laws of the country that if there is evidence that for some reason helps the defense that the prosecutor if fair and decent and turns it over. And the prosecutor in this case, has a good reputation for that. It's a trial where the jurors don't make up their mind until after they've heard all of the evidence. And it's a -- there is nothing wrong with a hard hitting trial, but it doesn't -- anybody can get a fair trial if you go slowly and pick a fair jury.
NOVAK: DO you agree with that, Mr. Jones?
JONES: Basically, I do. Yes, I think the judge and we saw that in the Oklahoma City bombing case, the judge really controls ultimately whether it's fair trial or not assuming that the prosecutor does his job. If you take it slowly, take one step at a time, you don't get rushed, you follow the rules, you're going to get a fair trial.
BEGALA: Mr. Jones, if you hold that thought just a second, we're going to take a quick break. And Cynthia, stay with us as well. We are still waiting for Chief Moose to begin his briefing. We'll bring that to you live as soon as it happens.
Next though, we will have more with our guests. And we're going to ask Mr. Jones what it is like to defend one of America's most notorious murderers.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. As you can see, we are waiting for Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose to brief the press.
Meanwhile, we're talking about the sniper case with two great lawyers. Former state and federal prosecutor Cynthia Alksne and defense attorney Stephen Jones who is in Oklahoma City.
Mr. Jones, of course, defended the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh.
NOVAK: Mr. Jones, as couple of weeks ago, we had flown in Ted Williams who is a former cop, and presently a defense lawyer. We asked him if he could defend whoever was the killer in this -- the sniper shootings. And he said, he couldn't, he couldn't bring himself to.
How did you bring yourself to defend Timothy McVeigh?
JONES: I was drafted.
NOVAK: Was it tough?
JONES: It was tough. But you know, nobody forced me to go to law school. I voluntary entered and when I raised my hand and took the oath as a lawyer, I knew that someday that time might come. And it did.
NOVAK: Do you think it's going to be very tough on any lawyer to try to present a case for these people if these indeed are the sniper killers?
JONES: Of course it's tough, but let me tell you something. If I can do that for Tim McVeigh at the age 55 and effectively leave my law practice for 2.5 years in a state like Oklahoma and I live in a small town of 50,000 people. And he was convicted of killing 168 people in this state and I can come back to that same community, go to church with those people, live with them, send my children to school, and they honor me by choosing me to be their lawyer, no lawyer has a reason to turn down such a challenge.
BEGALA: Well, Cynthia, let me ask you about the broad-mindedness of people here in our national capital region, not so much toward lawyers, but towards these defendants.
You talked before and I hope you're right, that any good jury is going to be just perfectly fair. But there's a lot of case law that suggests with media saturation coverage particularly in a region, the way we've had it here -- it's been nationwide, but it's been non-stop in Washington -- it may be impossible to get these guys a fair trial in Washington.
Are we going to see a change in venue? Stephen Jones had his case removed to Denver. Are we going to see that here?
ALKSNE: We might have it changed from a different county in Maryland.
You know this case not only had a saturation of the media, but also a level of fear that I've never really experienced before not only as a lawyer, but as a mother. And that will affect jurors.
I think that something a fair prosecutor would look at that defense attorneys and fair judges and they will talk about it and there will be hearings on the topic, and some of it will involve statistical analysis on whether or not jurors can be fair.
But remember, this isn't going to happen tomorrow. There's not going to be a trial any time soon. It's down the road. And maybe as we go down the road, people will be more able to be sure that they're going to be able to look at it fairly. And we'll have to wait and make that determination then.
BEGALA: And if it's a state trial, it has to be within the confines of the state of Maryland, right, which has been -- there's not a spot in Maryland I suspect that hasn't gotten non-stop coverage of this since the first tragic day these shootings began.
ALKSNE: Well, there's not a spot in the United States of America.
BEGALA: That's right.
ALKSNE: I mean, that's the point. You have to make sure that you're not just wasting the county taxpayer's money to move the trial if it's going to be the same everywhere.
So it will be -- it's not a flit (ph) process, and I think they'll take it seriously.
BEGALA: Mr. Jones?
JONES: I was just going to say, remember that Terry Nichols was acquitted of murder in a case that had the same type of non-stop publicity. John Connally (ph) was acquitted in one of the Watergate trials. One of the Watergate defendants were acquitted.
So, you can have...
NOVAK: He didn't kill anybody though, did he?
JONES: ... controversial cases and still be acquitted.
ALKSNE: Well, sure, O.J. was acquitted.
BEGALA: He certainly was.
Let me ask you about another controversial defense tactic...
NOVAK: Well, just one second. I want to do double take, Mr. Jones. Surely, if you got fingerprints and the gun and the car, how you can have -- how can this guy be acquitted?
I mean, I don't understand it. I have a vivid imagination, but it's not that vivid.
JONES: I assure you it can be done, Bob. There is no case that can't be won, and there's no case that can't be lost. It's a mistake to ever think that it's over until the fat lawyer sings. You'd be surprise what juries do.
ALKSNE: I would agree with that. But you have to agree with it or otherwise you look like a fool. But I'll tell you what, it's probably not going to happen.
BEGALA: Cynthia, Chief Moose is beginning his briefing right now. Let's go to Montgomery police headquarters to Chief Charles Moose.
(INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS)
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