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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Chante Mallard Found Guilty In Windshield Murder Case

Aired June 26, 2003 - 12:45   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There's a verdict, apparently, in the windshield trial in Fort Worth, Texas. You are looking at the judge, the attorneys. We're going to be watching to see what happens, right now. Let's listen to the judge.
The jury are seated. We will be hearing directly from the judge. Let's listen in to see if that happens. The judge about to gavel this preceding. And that was a very fast verdict, if in fact this is the verdict.

Let's watch.

JUDGE JAMES WILSON: Presiding jury, has the jury reached a verdict?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we have.

JUDGE WILSON: Would you please hand the verdict form to the bailiff.

And I'll ask the presiding jurors, is this the unanimous verdict of the entire jury?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, your honor.

JUDGE WILSON: All right. In cause number 0837152-D state of Texas versus Chante Shuan (ph) Mallard. Verdict form as to count one. We, the jury, find the defendant Chante Shuan (ph) Mallard guilty of the offense of murder as charged in count one of the indictment, signed by the presiding juror.

As to count 2, we, the jury, find the defendant Chante Shuan (ph) Mallard guilty of the offense of tampering with evidence as charged in count 2 of the indictment, signed by the presiding jury.

Does either side request a poll?

UNIDENTIEID MALE: Not from the state, your honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, your honor.

JUDGE WILSON: Ladies and gentlemen, you may be seated.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to accept your verdict and have it filed with the clerk of the court as the unanimous verdict of the entire jury. This concludes the first half of the trial, you all have been more than patient with us. It being almost noon, why don't we go on and take the noon break. If you go with the bailiffs, they'll take care of you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Well, there it is, guilty on two counts including murder. Chante Mallard guilty of murdering the homeless individual who was left dangling on her windshield for hours. Our Eddy Lavandera is covering the story for us outside the courtroom. Watching all of this.

Ed, it took, what, less than an hour or so for this jury to come up with this decision?

JUDGE WILSON: Stand adjourned for lunch until 2:00.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The jury will take a lunch break and they will come back and they will begin listening to testimony in the punishment phase of this trial.

And many of the legal observers, here in the Fort Worth area, have been speculating this is what the defense has been -- is going be focusing on as much as possible. They've never contested the series of events that led to the death of Greg Biggs in October of 2001, and we understand that there's a wide range of punishment that she could face now that she's been convicted, found guilty of murder.

There's a wide range of punishments. So there's still a big question as to, if she is sent to prison, for how long she'll be sent to prison. And that's the question the jury will have to face now.

BLITZER: Ed, if you take a look at how the jury behaved right now. About an hour. Was it less than an hour that they were considering this matter?

LAVANDERA: Yes, I think it was less than an hour. I think it was at 10:40 central time that this jury was dismissed from the courtroom and began deliberations and now as return I think we're sightly under an hour -- I can't recall, right off the top of my head, what time it is right now.

But, it was rather quick, and -- you know -- one of the things the defense attorneys had been trying to do, in their closing arguments, they argued that there was another option this jury could have gone with, failure to render aid, and the defense attorneys arguing that it wasn't the fact that Chante Mallard drove into Greg Biggs, it was the fact she didn't do anything about it. That they were hoping for the lesser charge, which obviously would have carried a much lesser sentence.

And they tried arguing one of the reasons you have to find guilty for murder, is you have to find that someone willfully did something to commit an act of danger to a human life. Saying that it wasn't the act but it was the failure to act that did this. But essentially this jury is saying -- essentially -- not to decide is to decide to fuel an old cliche there -- Wolf. BLITZER: Alright, at standby our legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is watching all of this together with us as well. He's here in New York.

Jeff, a speedy decision like this, murder, obviously does not bode well for this woman, Chante Mallard?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: In case to me, it doesn't seem like there was much to deliberate about. You know, once you have the people -- cooperating witnesses -- saying that they had tampered with the evidence together, that these people had pled guilty, that is a -- pretty much a -- pretty much a done deal.

These are what lawyers call bad facts and she got a bad verdict.

BLITZER: What about the argument, Jeffrey, that she was high, she was on ecstasy, she wasn't thinking straight, and as a result, she let this individual stay on that windshield for hours and basically bleed to death?

LAVANDERA: Well, you know, those arguments almost never cut much weight with jurors, because they are unsympathetic to drug use in general.

And drug use is not insanity, which is a separate category of finding someone not guilty. So the fact, that they are using drugs, you know, it can explain something, it can be -- it can negate the intense element of a crime. If you didn't intend something because you were so high on drugs. But those are arguments that juries have a hard time buying and clearly this one didn't.

BLITZER:: And clearly, they all seem to agree on the facts, as you say, that if she would have brought Gregory Biggs to a hospital right away, he might be alive right now. That's such a powerful argument against her, presumably why this was such a slam dunk case against her as well?

LAVANDERA: And just the facts are awful. Just the whole idea of leaving someone to die in general is awful, but then when you think about the surreal picture of this poor guy stuck in the windshield, it's a particularly awful way to die.

And she is actually making the facts even worse for her, she is -- and nurse technician, I believe, someone who herself might have been able to help, much less call for help. The fact she did none of it just makes this such an awful case. And although the verdict was fast, I can't imagine anyone was much surprised by it.

BLITZER: I'm going to replay, Jeffrey, the verdict that we just heard from the judge in just a second.

But the fact that everyone made such a big deal out of the fact that Gregory Biggs was a homeless man with clear mental problems, was that a factor as far as the law is concerned?

LAVANDERA: Well certainly as a legal matter it's irrelevant. You're not allowed to murder people -- anybody -- no matter what they do or don't do for a living, just to state obvious, you know. There is a history, unfortunately of lawyers sometimes saying that someone is a bad character, a victim is a bad character, a victim asked for it, a victim deserved it. None of those are precisely recognized by the law, but jurors can react emotionally.

But again the facts of this case were so terrible that I don't think it mattered much to the jury what this poor fellow -- what his life was like. No one obviously deserves to die this way, and to the extent the jury was appealing to some sort of hostility to homeless people, it obviously failed.

BLITZER: Alright, let's listen to the judge as he announced the jurors' decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE WILSON: We, the jury, find the defendant Chante Shuan (ph) Mallard guilty of the offense of murder as charged in count 1 of the indictment, signed by the presiding juror.

As to count 2, we, the jury, find the defendant Chante Shuan (ph) Mallard guilty of the offense of tampering with evidence as charged in count 2 of the indictment, signed by the presiding juror. -- presiding juror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: There he is. I don't know if Ed Lavandera is still with us. If he is, I'm trying to -- Ed, give us a little flavor what you're seeing what you are hearing outside the courthouse?

LAVANDERA: Well, there's a lot of -- obviously a lot of activity moving around in the courthouse. There's a lot of people around this building and in the downtown area here, finding out about this verdict, of course a lot of people paying very close attention to.

I want to go back, Wolf, to what you were talking about the fact that Greg Biggs is a homeless man and how that played out in this trial. It was very interesting. The last witness that the prosecution called to the stand, you might remember, was Greg Biggs's 20-year-old son. And whether or not people -- how people's preconceived notions of what a homeless person is or might be or how they might act, you know, is a very sympathetic portrait that the prosecution painted of this man, his 20-year-old son described as how Greg Biggs only spent the last two years of his life as a homeless person essentially because he tried to help -- his parents were divorced years ago -- his father was trying to help a girlfriend of his out with financial trouble and because of that came into financial troubles of his own. He lost his car, business and eventually his home. And that's what drove him to be homeless for the last two years.

But though all of that maintaining contact with his son, and his son described him as a loving person. Someone who should have had a lot friend's and was considered very friendly, but didn't have a lot of friend. So that was a very sympathetic portrait. BLITZER: She faces a maximum life in prison sentence, not the death penalty, is that right?

LAVANDERA: That is right. In Texas, you have to have -- I believe that the way the law works for a capital murder trial -- in this case it would never have applied because of the circumstances in this case. But life in prison, if that is indeed what she gets, means that she would be sent to prison at least 40 years before she would be eligible for parole.

But there's also a wide window there. She could go into prison for anywhere from 5 to 99 years. And that will be up to this jury to decide.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, one of the most shocking parts of this case. This 27-year-old woman, Chante Mallard, is a former nurse's aide, in other words, she worked in health care, she worked in medicine, yet she allowed this individual to die, to bleed to death, parked inside her garage. I assume that was so powerful against her, among the jurors?

LAVANDERA: The story of this case to have worse facts for the defense. I mean, you know, out of all things, out of all occupations for Chante Mallard to have, the fact that she, at least, used to be in the kind of work where she could have helped Mr. Biggs, I mean it is -- it's just awful, and you know, talking about the emotional content of this.

It matters particularly in Texas because Texas is one of the relatively few states where the jury has almost all the discretion in sentencing. So the fact that we all recoil so emotionally to the facts of this case, you can be sure that the jury does, too. Obviously, their verdict being so quick is evidence of that. So the fact that these -- that these circumstances of this case are so gruesome and terrible, it's certainly not going to bode well for sentencing because the regular folks on the jury have most of the control over that.

BLITZER: We'll be standing by for that to see what happens in the next part of this trial.

The sentencing.

Jeffrey Toobin, thanks as usual. Ed Lavandera, covering this trial for us in Texas as well.

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