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Life and Death

Aired December 9, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: a case of life and death. Scott Peterson already stands convicted of killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. The jury that found him guilty of murder must now decide his fate. Should Peterson die for his crime?



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



Well, the appeals from family and friends on both sides are over. The jury in Scott Peterson's murder trial must now gather in the jury room again to decide if Peterson ought to spend his life in prison without parole or die by lethal injection.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: We are waiting for the judge in the case to deliver his final instructions to the jury. And when he does, we will take you to the courtroom in California live.

But, for now, let's begin, as we always do, with the best little political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

BEGALA: Well, that heroic soldier who grilled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on why the Bush administration is sending troops into battle without enough armor found an unlikely ally today.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I would want to ask the secretary of defense the same question.


BEGALA: Huh? Who is in charge here? I mean, who started this war? Who sent these men into combat without enough armor? Look, when 18 Marines -- or not Marines, soldiers, Army Rangers -- were killed in the war that he inherited in Somalia, President Clinton knew what to do. He fired his defense secretary for not sending in enough armored vehicles to protect those troops. Well, now our soldiers today say they don't have enough armor to fight Mr. Bush's war in Iraq. And what does he do? He throws up his hands.

Now, I have a different view. I think accountability should go all the way to the top, right up the chain of command to the guy calling the shots, all the way to Dick Cheney.


CARLSON: I think Bush's response is actually a pretty good one. It's a fair question. What do you want to say? It's a snafu. There's no excuse for it. They ought to fix it. But to call -- to use...


BEGALA: Why not fire Rumsfeld?

CARLSON: To use Somalia as an example is pretty brassy, I have to say. It shows a lot of chutzpah, considering one of the reasons we are in the war on terror in the first place is because America displayed appalling weakness in pulling out of Somalia after our men were murdered there. And Clinton did that.


BEGALA: These men are being sent into combat without the proper armor, and the president says, gee, don't ask me about it. I'm only the president. Go ask Rumsfeld. Bush should be ashamed of himself.


CARLSON: No. Whoever is responsible ought to be ashamed.

BEGALA: Bush is responsible!




CARLSON: Well, in the last several months, even the most committed, starry-eyed one-worlder has had to face the truth about the United Nations. Yes, it might have noble designs, but ultimately the U.N. is as cynical, as corrupt, as mismanaged as any of its creepiest member states.

Think Nigeria, but more fashionable. As scandal after scandal has come to light, the subversion of the oil-for-food program, apparent kickbacks taken by Kofi Annan's son, most Democrats have refrained from saying an ill word about the U.N. Why? Because, if you are liberal, the U.N. is good, period, no matter what the evidence.

Well, now a group of House Democrats has gone even further than that, writing a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, complaining that Republicans are being mean to Secretary-General and noted anti- American Kofi Annan. Criticizing Annan, they wrote, is -- quote -- "disgraceful." Why is it disgraceful for an American to criticize Kofi Annan? They don't say. They don't even need to, because, as every liberal knows, in an argument between the U.N. and anybody, the U.N. is always right.

BEGALA: First off, that's not true.

CARLSON: It's totally true.

BEGALA: I'm a liberal who has criticized the U.N. I think we should get to the bottom of the oil-for-food thing.


BEGALA: Let me finish my point.

Kofi Annan has asked Paul Volcker, a respected person, to look into this. Now, Volcker should have subpoena power. Annan has not given it to him. He should. But for Republicans who defend Halliburton to then attack the U.N. when Halliburton under Dick Cheney was part of the oil-for-food -- Dick Cheney was trading as part of that oil-for-food program. Why don't we find out what Halliburton was doing in that?



CARLSON: I would like to hear an honest criticism of the United Nations.


BEGALA: I just did. I think Volcker should have some better investigative power.

CARLSON: But to compare it to Halliburton, it's trivializing..


BEGALA: Halliburton is part of the story. They were part of the oil-for-food program trading with the enemy, Dick Cheney.

CARLSON: Halliburton is an oil company.


BEGALA: Well, a remarkable group of Americans are going to assemble tonight in Saint Louis, from beer magnate Auggie Busch to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to, well, yours truly. We will be there to raise a glass, probably not coffee, most likely Budweiser, in honor of retiring Congressman Dick Gephardt.

Well, for 28 years, Dick Gephardt served the people of Saint Louis in the House of Representatives. For nearly half that time, he led his party in the House. I know. I worked for Dick Gephardt in the Hill and then later President Clinton in the White House, and we had no stronger ally than Congressman Gephardt. Without Dick Gephardt, the Clinton economic plan would have died. By the way, he worked both sides of the aisle ably. President George W. Bush found Mr. Gephardt to be a reliable ally in the war on terror.

Congressman Gephardt's support for working people, for the minimum wage, for health care and protecting labor and environmental rights and trade agreements led some of his critics to call him a class warrior. They're wrong. Dick Gephardt is instead a warrior with real class. He will be missed, a great congressman.

CARLSON: I really miss Dick Gephardt personally. I think he always seemed like a decent person. I want to thank him personally for help getting us into the war in Iraq. You didn't mention that. Without his support, I don't think -- and the support of the congressional leadership -- I don't think we would have invaded Iraq. I don't think the president would have had the political capital...


BEGALA: He made a mistake. He trusted George W. Bush. No one should ever do that again.



CARLSON: Actually, he had the same information when he made that decision.

BEGALA: He actually didn't have the same information at all.

CARLSON: Actually, he did.

BEGALA: No, he didn't.


BEGALA: Do you think congressmen get the same information as the president?


CARLSON: ... had moral qualms about Iraq, were quiet about it for political reasons. And I think they share some of the blame. And I think you ought to assign it to them.

BEGALA: No. Gephardt supported that war, but he trusted Bush and it was a mistake. He shouldn't have.

CARLSON: Please, blame it on Bush. (CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Well, it's almost too bad the presidential election is already over, because yesterday's "Washington Post" provided yet another reason to vote against John Kerry. It's too late. You have already done that, but, still, listen to this.

According to columnist Al Kamen, some low-level Kerry for president staffers still have not been paid a month after they lost their jobs, this despite a $15 million surplus in the campaign's treasuries. In other words, Kerry has the money. He just does not feel like giving it to the little people who used to work for him.

Wait a second, you say. Didn't John Kerry run as the candidate of the working class? Aren't Democrats supposed to be the party of the mistreated worker? Well, last night, we here at CROSSFIRE received an e-mail from an actual unpaid Kerry staffer, a loyal, but now unemployed Democrat who is still waiting for John Kerry to send $4,000. Now, $4,000 may not seem like very much to a guy with perfect hair and multiple weekend houses.

But, as the staffer put it -- quote -- "It's a really big deal for most the people who were out there busting their butts for very small paychecks."

And you know what, Paul? There is precedent for this. Clinton never paid some of his lawyers over $1 million.


BEGALA: Oh, that's not true.

CARLSON: Actually, it is true.

BEGALA: Clinton paid all his lawyers over time. The lawyers are fine.


CARLSON: Has he paid them off? Has he paid them off?


BEGALA: They're rich and getting richer.


CARLSON: Why hasn't John Kerry paid them all?

BEGALA: Don't attack Clinton about this.

CARLSON: It's true.


BEGALA: If what you are saying is true, shame on John Kerry. CARLSON: Well, it is true.

BEGALA: You make a good point. There should be -- I think there should be a public outcry for a man who finishes a campaign with $15 million in the bank and doesn't pay his staff.

CARLSON: Good for you.

BEGALA: I used to be a staffer in campaigns. Any politician who doesn't pay a staffer doesn't have my respect.


CARLSON: Because it's easy to love the people. It's very hard to treat individual people well, I notice, for liberals.

BEGALA: That's a very valid point.


CARLSON: Next on CROSSFIRE, Scott Peterson's fate is again about to be in the jury's hand. The judge in the case is about to give them their instructions to make this life or death. There's a camera in the courtroom. And when the jury is charged, we will go live to Redwood City, California, for live coverage.

We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Should Scott Peterson be killed for killing his wife and unborn son? A jury begins consideration of that question in just a few hours.

We will go live, though, to the courtroom when Judge Alfred Delucchi arrives to deliver his final instructions.

For now, to debate the issue, joining us in the CROSSFIRE, attorney Jack Burkman here in our Washington studios, and criminal defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who joins us from Detroit City.

BEGALA: Gentlemen, thank you very much.



CARLSON: Geoffrey Fieger, thanks a lot for joining us.

Just so we can understand where we are all coming from here, you are opposed to the death penalty and opposed in general to the machinery of death being administered by the state. How, then, did you work for Jack Kevorkian for so long, I'm just wondering?

GEOFFREY FIEGER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Because he didn't put people to death unwillingly or involuntarily. Jack Kevorkian is hardly an example of the death penalty.

The death penalty is institutionalized murder. And if we set -- if we want to establish a course of civilization by example, we will not use and put people to death as an example. We're uncivilized. You talked about a -- members of the U.N. who are not up to your standards. Well, I guarantee you that we are in very rarefied company, the United States, putting people to death. Very few civilized nations do it.

CARLSON: And just to make certain -- and just to make certain I have this clear, then, Geoffrey, you would support lethal injection for Scott Peterson if he administered it himself, but not if the state administers it?

FIEGER: Sure. If Scott Peterson wanted to execute himself, I wouldn't stop him. He faces -- even if he doesn't get the death penalty, Tucker, he faces life in prison in San Quentin, a horrible existence.

Frankly, if somebody really wanted to punish Scott Peterson, I think they would let him off lightly by giving him a lethal injection. I would rather see him put in a cage for the rest of his life and suffer for what he did to his wife and his unborn child.

BEGALA: Jack, this is now no longer -- and -- I'm sorry -- first, thank you for coming and making the time.

BURKMAN: Thanks for having me, Paul.

BEGALA: This is a difficult topic.

It's not an abstraction. And it's not just a public policy debate, as we so often have in Washington. This is a real man. And he's got a real mom and a real dad. And I want you, being the ace lawyer that you are -- I'll give you about 30 seconds -- make the case to these 12 jurors why they should take a man who they have been looking at for months and kill him.

BURKMAN: It's a brutal, savage murder. It was planned. He had a plan. He had tides. He looked up tides on the computer. It was planned down to the tee. He then executed his plan. He probably dismembered the body. We don't know exactly what he did. We know that it was brutal.

Look, Paul, the only reason they don't want to kill this guy, he doesn't look like a murderer. The one smart thing Geragos did in this case, right away, he came in with a beard in a jumpsuit. They put him in blue-on-blue Armani suits. He looks like you. He looks like he works for CNN. That is the only smart thing Geragos did in this case. It probably will save his life.

To your point, though, and I think it's a good one, if Peterson were smart, he would want to go to death row. And, believe me, I think he's guilty as sin. He should get the death penalty. But he should want to be on death row, because those guys will rape him. They will torture him in jail. He can sit in isolation. In California, he could sit for 30 years on death row. He will probably never be executed.


CARLSON: Can I just interject and just say, he looks like a Fox guy.



FIEGER: No, but wait a second.

You guys make -- you guys make a good point. The way the death sentence is carried out in this country, we execute people based on the way they look, not based on the quality of their actions. So you're absolutely right.



BURKMAN: I was arguing the case to the jury.

FIEGER: That's why black people get executed more than whites. That's why poor people get executed more than rich people.


BURKMAN: That's absurd, because poor people and black people commit more crimes. You're using disproportionate statistics.


BURKMAN: That's an argument aimed -- that's an argument aimed at somebody with an 11th grade education.

Listen to me, Geoff.


BURKMAN: Here's the argument. If you want to find -- if you guys you want to find out how this is absurd, the issue in this case is, is there an aggravating or egregious circumstance? Isn't it absurd that we make decisions on the death penalty like this? Shouldn't all murderers get the death penalty?

BEGALA: But that's not what the law says.


BURKMAN: But all murderers should get the death penalty.

BEGALA: I want to try the case, rather than rewrite the California criminal code. It does require an aggravating circumstance. This is a terrible crime.

BURKMAN: You've got one. You've got one. You've got several.

BEGALA: Well, tell me what it is.

BURKMAN: Well, you've got -- it was planned methodically.

BEGALA: Every first-degree murder is planned.

BURKMAN: Well, not necessarily. Some are spontaneous. Some are different variants of crimes of passion.


FIEGER: You are just talking about esoteric -- you are simply talking about esoteric justifications for institutionalized murder.

BURKMAN: It's not esoteric.


FIEGER: And if it's wrong, it's wrong, period.

CARLSON: Geoffrey Fieger, let me ask you a question. I see a contradiction in the argument such as it is that you seem to be making. You're claiming that the death penalty is barbaric. It's just simply too cruel. And, in the same sentence...


FIEGER: No, I didn't say it's too cruel. I said it's barbaric. I said, if you want to set an example, you don't commit murder.

CARLSON: It's barbaric. It's barbaric.

I think that's exactly the point I was making, that you were saying it's barbaric. And yet, in the same sentence, you said it would be even crueler, it would meaner, it would be less humane, even, to lock the guy away for the rest of his life, and so we ought to do that.

FIEGER: That's right.

CARLSON: Why not choose the more humane of the two options, which, by your definition, is capital punishment? FIEGER: Because I believe that that sets us on a wrong course. If it's wrong, it's wrong. It's not abstractly wrong. It's actually wrong.


CARLSON: How is it right to lock the guy up in a cage for the rest of his life?


CARLSON: How is it right to lock him up for the rest of his life like an animal, ensuring he will probably go insane? That's -- by your own definition, that's meaner than the death penalty itself. Why is that right, then? Why not let him go?

FIEGER: First of all, it's cheaper.

Second of all, there's no chance for discrimination in terms of the meting out of punishment. We're not more likely to execute men than women or blacks than whites or poor than rich. And it's a much more equitable punishment, if we are going to punish murder, which we should.

BURKMAN: Your argument is right on the money. The left has argued -- the left has made the argument for years that the reason we should not have the death penalty is because the life in prison is really worse.

FIEGER: The left?

BURKMAN: Now, when they're confronted -- and your question exposes it. As soon as they are confronted with the real circumstance, they switch their position. They argue in a circle and they're reduced to saying, well, it's somehow more humane.

BEGALA: Let me -- let's not argue the policy. Let's argue the case. I really want to try to keep you focused on a man.


BEGALA: A dirtbag, but a human being who is sitting a few feet away from these 12 jurors who are going to have to decide whether to kill them.


BEGALA: Not just yap about it on cable television, like we're doing. And they just also saw a woman, Jackie Peterson, Scott's mom. They send him to death, Scott Peterson, a jury sends Scott Peterson to death, they will have inflicted the same tragedy, trauma and suffering on this very innocent mom that Laci Peterson's mom, Mrs. Rocha, is going through. Is that right? Is that fair?

BURKMAN: Sure, it is. You have to do it as a deterrent. If you don't do this... (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It did not deter Scott Peterson. The death penalty was on the laws when he went out and killed his wife.

BURKMAN: Properly done, the death penalty is a powerful deterrent. And that's the...


BEGALA: Why did it not deter Scott Peterson? Why did it not deter Scott Peterson from savagely murdering his wife and baby?


BURKMAN: Here's the reason people don't think -- well, this is one case. You have to look at the broad spectrum of society. If the reason the death penalty is not the deterrent it could be, it's because, A, it's not visible when it's done, and, B, it's not painful. It's just...

BEGALA: So you would put it on CNN?

BURKMAN: No. I think it should be visible.

BEGALA: Again, that's a Fox show, I think.



BURKMAN: Well, the Fox -- the level of visibility could be debated. But, yes, there's nothing inhumane about visibility for the death penalty.

BEGALA: Really?

BURKMAN: And this is a -- nothing in the least.

BEGALA: So we behead them in a stadium.


BEGALA: In Kabul, the Taliban used to do that. The stadium is free. We now control it.


BEGALA: Why don't we drag him over to Afghanistan and lop his head off, just like the Taliban?

BURKMAN: You raise two extreme positions.

BEGALA: It's visible.

BURKMAN: But there is a position between that and what we do now, which is an injection and they fall asleep peacefully. There is a middle ground we should try.

CARLSON: I think they also die, actually, too.

But, anyway, Geoffrey Fieger, what would be an appropriate punishment? The two that you have suggested that we're debating, life imprisonment and execution, we both agree are very cruel, almost by definition. So what's a noncruel way to punish Scott Peterson or something like him?

FIEGER: There isn't. There isn't. I think those are two choices. I don't think execution is necessarily a reasonable choice, because it puts us in a league with murderers. And I think, if we want to rise above that, we don't choose that choice.

But the only other -- I think a reasonable alternative is life in prison without parole. I don't think there's any legitimate argument against that. I don't think there's any chance for rehabilitation, nor should there be.

CARLSON: Well, then, Geoffrey Fieger, then I wonder if you think -- and I actually take your argument seriously. And I'm not sure I'm super for the death penalty myself. But your glib equating -- the equation you draw between the death penalty and murder just doesn't hold up.

FIEGER: Sure it does.

CARLSON: Is all state-sanctioned killing the same as murder? Is killing someone in wartime or in the war on terror, is that murder? Explain the distinction, because I actually don't understand it.

FIEGER: Well, because, first of all, you can fight for legitimate reasons and you can fight for illegitimate reasons. So some war and some war crimes may be murder. Some may not be.

But to sanction institutionally the punishment of the crime of murder by killing that person, in terms of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, is a rather barbaric principle. First of all, it does not deter anything. It works for them, but other than that...


BEGALA: I understand.

But I want to come back to the case. And I will ask actually a tactical question of you, Jack.


BEGALA: As an attorney, it seems to me, the defense attorneys, well, they made a mistake. They put on in the penalty phase some of Scott's friends and I think his brothers, who testified about how much he loved fishing. Well, given that the jury found that he murdered his wife and tossed her off a fishing boat, don't you think that was kind of a mistake?


BURKMAN: Geragos made nothing but a -- Geragos -- it was a terrible mistake. He made a series of mistakes.


BEGALA: I'm sorry to interrupt, Jack, but, as we promised, we would go to live when the judge arrives.

Judge Alfred Delucchi has now arrived in the courtroom. Let's go to Redwood City, California, where the judge is about to deliver final instructions to the jury in the Scott Peterson case.



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