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CNN CROSSFIRE

Parents Relief, Political Repercussions of Smart Case

Aired March 13, 2003 - 19:00   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE.

On the left James Carville, and Paul Begala. On the right Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight.

A parents relief and the political repercussions of the Elizabeth Smart case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not something that can wait one more day! Lives are lost and the blood of those children is on someone's head.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it is better to do it right the first time.

ANNOUNCER: Putting it diplomatically, are we there yet?

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The end is coming in sight.

ANNOUNCER: But will the end include agreement at the U.N.?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The options remain go for a vote and see what members say or not go for a vote.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome back to yet another breaking news edition of CROSSFIRE. We're putting off our political alert for a moment for a police briefing on the Elizabeth Smart case. This was her first day home with her family in more than nine months ever since she was kidnapped from her room in the middle of the night on June 5, 2002. A couple of people are under arrest in connection with the case tonight. We may learn more about them at the evening's news conference.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: While we are waiting for the news conference, let's bring in Jeanne Meserve. She is in salt lake city.

Jeanne, what is the latest there?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paul, the latest is that the San Diego Sheriff's Department confirmed that they had Brian David Mitchell, the man picked up with Elizabeth Smart, in custody in San Diego last month. He was picked up after a burglary to church. They had him in custody February 12 though 18. He was released after he pleaded guilty to vandalism charges. They have matched the finger prints. They knew initially they had a man who bore a striking resemblance to Brian David Mitchell. They traded fingerprints today, and they tell us they do have a match.

What's interesting about this particularly is that the Smart family first put out the name Emmanuel to the police here and the description of this man who had done some work on their house way back on in the fall. And on February 3 they had a press conference on which they pushed his name and the sketch forward so the public would see them. But apparently, police in San Diego weren't aware of this. At that point, this individual, Emmanuel now identified as Mitchell had not been identified as a prime suspect in this case. There was no warrant for his arrest so he slipped through their fingers. One of those near misses.

There's have been a lot questions whether they gave enough emphasis to this lead that came from Mary Katherine, that's the younger sister of Elizabeth, who was in the room and saw the abductor. She's the one who said she thought Emmanuel might be guy. A lot of questions about whether police did enough about this. Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father was asked about it today and was pretty measured in his response. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED SMART, ELIZABETH'S FATHER: I believe that some mistakes have been made, but I know that they were trying. Our whole focus was on trying to bring Elizabeth back. And I think that it's just so important that we've got Elizabeth back, that's what counts. I hope that some people have learned some lessons. Heaven only knows every one of us learn lessons daily. I have learned plenty myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: While the investigation is moving forward, we know police have been looking up in the hills behind the Smart house where they believe Elizabeth was held for about 3 1/2 months. After her abduction, they found a site up there where they believe she was taken after she was taken from her home. But apart from the investigation, there's been a wonderful reunion today.

We have photographs that really tell the story. Elizabeth's grandmother described this as Thanksgiving in March for her family and you really see it in these photographs. People clearly enthralled to be back in each other's company. We are told that last night Elizabeth played the harp for the first time in nine months. She watched a video. She slept holding hands with here sister, Mary Katherine. Tonight they had a visit from cousins and they celebrated Elizabeth's birthday which past last November when Elizabeth was not with the family.

Back to you.

CARLSON: Jeanne, do we know anything more about the chief suspect with Brian Mitchell. What he was doing in San Diego whether he went to Florida or Atlanta, or some of these things we have been hearing in the last (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? What do we know about him.

MESERVE: We hope to learn more in the press conference that's going to start shortly from law enforcement. They've been quite quiet about it today. San Diego at this point, the only thing that's confirmed. But what's remarkable is how many people around town saw these people. Saw -- he was a very well known figure. He dressed in biblical era garb. He and the woman who's been identified as his wife were known as Mary and Joseph to some people because of the way they walked around town. The three of them were seen in stores.

We talked to a store clerk today who said she saw them regularly. One of the things she noted was he seemed to have some control over the women, that the women walked behind them & that they kept their eyes downcast and they never spoke. She found that unusual, but she never recognized the younger woman as Elizabeth Smart. She said the pictures I'd seen was of a young kid. The young woman in the store was taller than I was. So, she said, I just never put two and two together.

Back to you.

BEGALA: Boy, that is a shame.

Jeanne, I want to come back to the point that you reported ago, that suspect was in custody but slipped through the crack. Do the Salt Lake Police give any reason as to why they didn't pay attention to little Mary Katherine's warnings that this was the guy?

MESERVE: They -- Chief Dinse addressed that somewhat yesterday in the press conference they had yesterday afternoon, saying they felt they had paid attention, they had what they had done. His big acknowledgement that Richard Ricci wasn't the guy. Richard Ricci, remember, was the guy who had been the handyman in the house. He was the guy picked up on unrelated charges. He died while he was in prison. He insisted to the time of his death that he had nothing to do with it, so did his wife and so did his family. Now, obviously, that is the case.

Chief Dinse pressed repeatedly, yesterday why they hadn't paid more attention to this Emmanuel lead. No definitive answers on that, on why they didn't press harder. Today people both in the police force and in the Smart family are really underlining the positive. They are saying we found her, this is miraculous. This is something we really didn't expect. And there's so much happiness over that they think there's a sort of reluctance to step out too hard and be too harsh in the criticism of the police force, at this point in time, at least. CARLSON: Jeanne, if you can stand by for a second. We're going to bring in Doug Wright, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Radio in Salt Lake City.

You heard Jeanne's report, it paints a devastating picture of a number of serious, apparent blunders made by the Salt Lake Police Department? Are people talking about this in Salt Lake City.

DOUG WRIGHT, KSL RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, they are. Even Salt Lake City's Major Rocky Anderson is asking tough questions today. Why more attention wasn't paid to what Mary Catherine had to say. And the Smart family has been upset that more emphasis hasn't been put on that. Many of the callers on talk radio in Salt Lake City were asking some of the same questions.

BEGALA: You probably have a better sense of the community feelings than any lawyer in town.

Is anybody starting to worry that this suspect cannot get a fair trial in Salt Lake City?

WRIGHT: You know, no. I haven't heard that as much as people being concerned that maybe justice won't be served because can he even stand trial? Does he have the mental capacity?

BEGALA: Sorry, I'm going to have to cut you off. We're going to take a live press conference in Salt Lake City. This is the police department.

(INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT)

BEGALA: You were saying people were worried they might try the insanity defense.

WRIGHT: It's been discussed and what is his mental capacity right now?

What is the stability?

When his own family, his own stepchildren are describing him as quote, unquote, "a whack job." Someone who communicates with god through LSD and the Steve Miller Bandits, its a little hard to kind of imagine how that would go over in a courtroom.

CARLSON: That's an excellent point.

Jeanne, have we heard today, not just about the Steve Miller band, but also about the widow of Richard Ricci, who is of course, the initial suspect who died in jail of a brain aneurysm. Has she said anything today?

BEGALA: I think we've lost Jeanne Meserve. I think she is ready for the press conference.

CARLSON: I think this could be the real press conference and we'll go to it. Here it is.

(INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT)

CARLSON: All right. About a 40-minute press conference from Salt Lake City, increasingly contentious by the end. It opened up with a timeline. The chief of police explained that Elizabeth Smart, in fact, spent up to a couple of months not far from her own home at a campsite. She then moved into Salt Lake City and from there to San Diego, where she spent several more months at a campsite, both of which are being probed by FBI and police now.

The chief of police then took a number of questions, pointed questions designed to make him explain why there wasn't greater coordination between his police department and other police departments, including San Diego, where of course the suspect, Brian Mitchell, was incarcerated for some time. Finally, the chief described the suspect as a "self-proclaimed polygamist".

In a moment, we'll be joined from Salt Lake City by one of Elizabeth Smart's uncles. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: As we just heard from Salt Lake City police, the drifter who allegedly kidnapped Elizabeth Smart was arrested in San Diego last month and held for six days.

Also it was revealed that Elizabeth Smart's abductors held her captive in the mountains behind her house for three months. At the time, she even heard would-be rescuers calling her name.

Joining us now from Salt Lake City is Elizabeth's uncle, David Smart. David, you heard the press conference and you've talked to police. They say hindsight is 20-20. What do you think? Do you give them a pass or do you think major blunders were made?

DAVID SMART, ELIZABETH SMART'S UNCLE: You know I really think with the type of information that has been shared with us through different branches of law enforcement, it's been incredible. And that type of relationship should be maintained on all levels.

I just have to say, you know, I know I'm not perfect. I make mistakes, and I'm sure other family members have made mistakes as well. And the key thing is, is we have Elizabeth back right now. And I'm sure...

BEGALA: David, I'd have to say that's remarkably gracious of you. I saw your brother Tom at the press conference as well. Look, the real heroes here are, frankly, not the cops, and they're not the media, or even those wonderful citizens who spotted. I think it's you and your family. You warned the cops, your little niece Mary Katherine identified the kidnapper.

The police didn't seem to want to listen. Then the ex-wife came to you. You brought that to the cops, they still didn't want to listen. You guys kept the heat on the cops until they finally did their jobs, so good for you. Don't you feel vindicated? SMART: I wouldn't say vindicated. But I'll tell you, we are just so excited to have her back. And one other thing. In this type of abduction, from what I'm understanding also, the amount of manpower that continued on Elizabeth's case was extraordinary, and that was extra resources.

They had to pull off other things within the city. And so I'm happy that they maintained -- well, kept a lot of manpower comparatively speaking. And so, you know, I'm just glad she's back.

BEGALA: Boy, I cannot possibly imagine. Believe me, we have a large audience here, and they've all been cheering for you as well. I'm wondering if your family has had any contact with Angela Ricci, the widow of the man that was wrongly accused, that your family offered a $10,000 reward for information to clear him.

I've never heard of a victim's family trying so hard to clear a suspect before. Have you been in contact with Mrs. Ricci?

SMART: I personally have not been in contact with Mrs. Ricci. But we'd just like to say, Angela, you're a trooper. And we appreciate your patience in all of this. And with that reward, we just felt so strongly that there was someone out there that could forward with some information that would be able to clear him.

And hearing other information that was coming out as well. I mean we already knew about Brian David Mitchell's information, and we just knew, you know, it would be so nice to be able to get him cleared and just sail on and get moving and concentrating on Richard. As Chief Dinse stated, they had 50 percent of their resources concentrating on Richard Ricci, and those were resources that we sure would have liked to have seen concentrated on Emmanuel.

But again, it's hindsight. And we do have Elizabeth back.

BEGALA: And speaking of Elizabeth, David, have you seen her? And how is she doing?

SMART: I saw Elizabeth last night and just walked up and wrapped my arms around her and gave her a great big hug. This afternoon I went up to the house with my family, with my kids, and really we were a little bit nervous about taking all of our kids up there and overwhelming her. But she was just like, bring them. I want to see my cousins and give them a hug.

And sure enough, when we went up there, she was actually having her haircut, styled, and she was just in great spirits. And just a great big huge smile that just told us all that she was very happy to be home and she didn't have to say anything. The big smile on her face showed it.

She did make comments about some of her cousins, how tall they had gotten or big they'd gotten. And they also just said, you know, everyone looks like they've gone through a growth spurt. And so a few other things just to throw out. As we were all kind of in a circle just staring at her and just with big smiles and talking to her, you could tell that she was kind of like, everyone's staring at me. And I just made a comment. I just said, "You have no idea how great it is to see your live face in front of us instead of a picture and how grateful we are to have you back."

BEGALA: David Smart, the uncle of Elizabeth Smart. I think I speak for everybody in our audience when I salute your courage, your faith, your perseverance. God bless you. Thank you for talking with us tonight.

SMART: Thank you.

BEGALA: For Tucker Carlson, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

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