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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Interview With Ron Kuby

Aired October 20, 2003 - 13:20   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We now want to bring in someone else for additional perspective on this development, criminal defense attorney Ronald Kuby. He represented, as you know, the Long Island Railroad Gunman who insisted on defending himself.
So, Ron, listening to this, hearing these developments. First, let's get your reaction to John Muhammad. Is he make a mistake here?

RON KUBY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He's only making a big mistake if you assume that what he's intending to do is try to secure an acquittal. Let's face it, this is the first of many trials John Muhammad faces in many jurisdictions, all of which carry the death penalty. And certainly from a standpoint of the trying to beat the rap, he's making a mistake.

But guys like, John Muhammad -- and fortunately there aren't many them -- play on a much larger stage. We've seen from the alleged grandiosity of his behavior, leaving the statement "I am God," the tarot card, all those things -- that this is precisely the type of stage that would be very appealing to somebody like John Muhammad.

PHILLIPS: Now, do you see any similarities here? I mean you were a legal adviser to Colin Ferguson. We talked about that, he was convicted of shooting and killing passengers on the Long Island commuter train. We are bringing up some video now and we can't forget those pictures.

It got pretty. Crazy for you I bet it was pretty excruciating. Do you think John Muhammad is smart enough to do this? Is he sane enough to do this?

KUBY: It's not a question of being smart enough or sane enough. He was decreed to be competent which basically means that if you know the difference between a judge and a grapefruit you can stand trial and you can represent yourself.

It was excruciating to be there as a lawyer sitting next to Colin Ferguson. He started out as my client and quickly became my colleague. But this is a right every defendant has under the Sixth Amendment. It guarantees the assistance of counsel but the right to defend as a personal right and frequently has been invoked and historically.

Particularly in political trials where defendants seek to make political points against the government from the time of the trial of Jesus on the one hand all of the way to Zacarias Moussaoui on the other. PHILLIPS: So, what's your ethical obligation here? Do you have to become a legal adviser? How deeply involved did you get in your case? And then for John Muhammad I guess his level adviser that will step in now. Does he have to help him?

KUBY: Well these are lawyers who were appointed by the court in the first place to represent John Muhammad and they're under orders to serve as stand by counsel in case John Muhammad decides he can't go forward, they can then pick up the rest of the trial. And to serve as advisers to him in case he needs advice as to points of law.

And that's something that you have to do. I never looked forward to being the Dr. Jack Kevorkian of law, giving my client assistance down the course of action that would result in his imprisonment or death, but fundamentally that's the defendant's choice to make.

PHILLIPS: Ron Kuby, I hope you'll stick around and follow this with us. We always appreciate your insight.

KUBY: Sure.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Ron.

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