Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Soldiers Accused of Rape and Murder in Iraq; Inside America's Mega-Churches; Jury Selection Begins in Jessica Lunsford Trial

Aired July 10, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody.
Tonight, we go in depth, as we bring you the top stories of the day, starting with Iraq.

We are just hearing that a Web site associated with al Qaeda has posted pictures of what it claims are the mutilated bodies of two U.S. soldiers who were kidnapped and killed last month in Iraq. Privates Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker were kidnapped during a raid. Officials say they were tortured, mutilated and killed. The pictures are extremely gruesome. And there is no official U.S. confirmation of what the Web site is showing at this hour.

Meanwhile, the chaos in Iraq is only getting worse, and fears of a civil war are on the rise tonight. Here's what you need to know right now. A series of bombings around Iraq today killed at least eight people and wounded 113. It was just as bad over the weekend. Yesterday, in Baghdad, gunmen rampaged through a Sunni neighborhood, and revenge bombings targeted Shiite civilians. At least 19 people died; 59 were wounded.

Also, in Iraq, some U.S. soldiers have had their weapons taken away. They are under escort at their base. And some of them could face the death penalty.

They are accused of murder, rape, and conspiracy in the death of a little girl who may have been just 14 years old. She and her family were killed in March.

Our top story coverage continues with senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): In Baghdad, the very public naming of U.S. soldiers accused of murder and rape.


ROBERTSON: Private First Class Bryan Howard of Huffman, Texas, Sergeant Paul Cortez of Barstow, California, Specialist James Barker, and Private First Class Jesse Spielman of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, all from the 502 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, headquartered in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and all accused of conspiring with former Private 1st Class Steven Green in the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and the murder of her family, potentially the most damaging crime for American interests in Iraq since U.S. soldiers humiliated Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib jail three years ago.

CALDWELL: Conspiracy to commit rape and premeditated murder, conspiracy to obstruct justice, violation of a lawful general order, premeditated murder, rape, arson, house break-in, indecent acts, and obstruction of justice, all of which carry a maximum penalty of death, if found -- if found guilty in a court of law of all those offenses.

ROBERTSON: A fifth soldier, Anthony Yribe of Bellevue, Idaho, was charged with dereliction of duty for failure to report what happened. None of the five soldiers named in Baghdad has yet entered a plea.

In the U.S., Steven Green, who was honorably discharged from the 502nd for a personality disorder, has pleaded not guilty -- the U.S. military clearly trying to be very public and clear about what happened at this house near Mahmoudiya, half-an-hour's drive south of Baghdad.

Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has already called for an independent Iraqi investigation into what happened, and a review of the agreement that gives U.S. troops immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law.

And new details about the alleged rape victim, Abeer al-Janabi, could escalate the tension level even further between the Iraqi government and the U.S. military. In court papers, the FBI lists al- Janabi as 25 years old. In Iraq, the U.S. military puts her age as 20. Now Reuters News Agency has published pictures of al-Janabi's identity papers, showing she would have been 14 at the time of her rape and murder.

And the mayor of Mahmoudiya confirms her birthday as August 19, 1991, which means she would have been a girl, not a young woman, potentially adding to the case against the soldiers.

While one newspaper condemned the rape and killing, on the streets of Baghdad, the news seemed to be greeted with shrugs.

(on camera): That there has not been massive public outrage so far says a lot about insurgent propaganda. Over the past few years, they have been trying to heighten public anger against U.S. troops by claiming they regularly rape Iraqi women. So, to many, it seems the alleged rape of Abeer al-Janabi comes as no surprise.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.


ZAHN: And CNN has learned that a man believed to be one of the accused soldiers, Sergeant Paul Cortez, had posted a profile of himself on Under the heading "Who I Would Like to Meet" is this quote: "The president, so I can slap him for sending me to Iraq for the second time in two years" -- end quote. The profile was taken down shortly after the allegations against Sergeant Cortez were announced.

As disturbing as the Mahmoudiya incident appears, it isn't the only case of alleged atrocities or cover-ups by U.S. forces. Our top story coverage now moves on to Haditha, where some two dozen Iraqi civilians were killed last November.

At first, the U.S. Marines who were there said the civilians were killed during an insurgent ambush, but now some of those Marines are under investigation themselves, because witnesses say the Iraqis were actually victims of a U.S. shooting spree. And a just-completed investigation accuses the Marines' top brass of mishandling just about everything.

Here's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An administration investigation found a failure by Marine Corps officers to follow up conflicting reports on how 24 Iraqis died at Haditha last year, a defense official with direct knowledge of the findings tells CNN.

A separate criminal probe is still looking into the claims of villagers that the Marines went on a rampage, after a roadside bomb killed one of their own, and shot the civilians without justification.

The voluminous report has been forwarded to the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, by his deputy lieutenant general, Peter Chiarelli, who, the official says, expressed frustration at the failure of leadership.

The report finds, specifically, the initial reporting of the incident was untimely, inaccurate, and incomplete, that officers throughout the 2nd Marine Division failed to sufficiently and adequately investigate those reports, and that they missed red flags, including the payment of $38,000 in compensation to families of the victims.

The attorney for one of the three Marine officers relieved of command back in April insists his client, Captain Luke McConnell, passed accurate and complete reports up the chain of command and had no reason to disbelieve Marines who said they used deadly force because they were under attack.

The attorney for one of the Marines at the scene, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, admits his client's initial report was incomplete, but insists he updated it later in the day, after more Iraqis were killed.

NEAL PUCKETT, ATTORNEY FOR STAFF SERGEANT FRANK WUTERICH: He was asked by whoever was on the other end of the radio, how many KIA? And he said, approximately 12 to 15. So, that's where the 15 number comes from that's been so widely reported.

MCINTYRE: And defense attorneys argue, an inaccurate press release attributing 15 civilian deaths to a roadside bomb was likely the result of an honest miscommunication.

GARY MYERS, ATTORNEY FOR HADITHA MARINE: So, yes, press releases go out. They're sometimes not completely right. Does that mean that there is some massive cover-up? Of course not.

MCINTYRE (on camera): But the press release was never corrected. And while the failure to follow up on obvious inconsistencies may not rise to the level of a criminal offense, defense officials say it does show a lack of leadership. And that could result in career-ending discipline for some of the Marine officers involved.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


ZAHN: And in the fog of war, you can't tell an insurgent from a civilian. Next, in our top story coverage, how do U.S. troops know when to shoot and when to wait? -- the answer ahead.

First, though, let's turn to our countdown of the top 10 most popular stories on -- busy day out there, 22 million of you logging on to our Web site today.

At number 10 -- comedian Kathy Griffin tells Larry King why she got divorced. She says her ex-husband took tens of thousands of dollars from her using her ATM cards. Find out more when she talks with Larry coming up at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Number nine -- in India, a failed launch for a rocket carrying a satellite that was supposed to transmit data and TV signals. Scientists say they're still not sure exactly what went wrong.

Numbers eight and seven coming up next -- also ahead, the start of a very important murder trial for a crime that shocked the nation.


ZAHN (voice-over): Our top story, "Outside the Law" -- she was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, buried alive. As her accused killer goes on trial, why won't the jury get to hear his confession?

And the top story in religion tonight -- is your church like this, hip-hopping? America's most influential churches, what are they doing right?

All that and more just ahead.



ZAHN: We are following several top stories tonight, including this one "Outside the Law." He has admitted to kidnapping, raping, and killing a little girl. So, why won't a jury hear his detailed confession? Find out just ahead.

First, more on the top story we're following out of Iraq tonight -- five American soldiers just charged in an alleged rape and murders in the town of Mahmoudiya. Four of the soldiers could face the death penalty if they end up being convicted.

This and other alleged atrocities that have come to light this year raise some serious questions about how American forces are trained to deal with civilians.

Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr got a close-up look at the strict new training Marines now have to go through before they ship out to Iraq.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eying a target, deciding whether to take the shot -- these Marines are in California preparing for their first tour in Iraq. The stress has never been higher. The headlines lately have not been good for the Marines.

(on camera): With allegations that Marines may have killed innocent Iraqi civilians in places like Haditha, the focus here is on training to make split-second decisions -- the bottom line, knowing when to shoot.

(voice-over): So, training, already tough, has just gotten tougher.

BRIGADIER GENERAL DOUGLAS STONE, COMMANDING GENERAL, MARINE AIR GROUND TASK FORCE TRAINING COMMAND: I think, in any one day here, an individual Marine will -- will have a month's worth of the kinds of activities they might have when they go in country.

STARR: That means a unit has to deal with possible simultaneous attacks from roadside bombs and snipers, while, at the same time, hunting for suspected insurgents.

Marines practice searching cars, using hand signals to community clearly with Iraqis. They also practice staying calm. There are too many incidents of Iraqis being shot at checkpoints because neither side could community, and troops panicked.

But there are no new instant answers about when pulling the trigger is the right thing to do, in a place where insurgents often hide among civilians. Commanders have scrutinized the recent killings of Iraqi civilians in great detail, trying to learn what might have gone wrong.

When Marines search a house or when they encounter a potential bomb, they're being told to rely on what are called their core values in those last seconds before they fire and perhaps kill someone. STONE: That, we have emphasized over and over again, the fundamental decision-making criteria for what is ethical -- ethical use of force, what is the appropriate and measured level of response in any given situation.

STARR: In plain English, the most important thing is making sure the target is a bad guy.

LANCE CORPORAL THOMAS BULANDA, U.S. MARINE CORPS: One of the things that I learned personally is not to open fire, even though that may be your instinct.

STARR: So, in a place like Iraq, full of unseen threats, sometimes, the toughest thing may be deciding not to shoot.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Twentynine Palms, California.


ZAHN: And in spite of what you have just gotten a glimpse of, the Marines are again looking at their training process to see if they need to make even more improvements.

Today's top story "Outside the Law" is in a Florida courtroom. They're picking a jury for a confessed killer. But why won't those jurors ever hear his detailed confession? That's next.

And the top story in one of America's fastest growing cities is an unsolved mystery. Is more than one serial killer on the loose tonight?

Right now, number eight on our countdown -- a deadly overnight explosion in a resort community in Wisconsin. Police in Ellison Bay say two people were killed, seven injured, when a blast damaged three buildings. Investigators think a propane leak may have caused that explosion.

Number seven -- a co-pilot for Southwest Airlines was arrested at Salt Lake City Airport yesterday, just minutes before takeoff. The FBI says it took Carl Fulton into custody on suspicion of being intoxicated -- numbers six and five straight ahead.


ZAHN: The top story "Outside the Law" tonight: Jury selection has just started in a Florida courtroom in the murder trial of John Couey. He is the convicted sex offender accused of kidnapping, raping, and killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford last year.

After a desperate three-week search, the little girl was found buried near the mobile home where Couey was living. The story made national headlines and led to tougher laws on sex offenders. But, even before the trial began, the prosecution suffered a major setback.

Here's John Zarrella.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Hate is not a strong enough emotion for Mark Lunsford.

MARK LUNSFORD, FATHER OF JESSICA LUNSFORD: It's worse than that, but how do you describe that? What words do you use?

ZARRELLA: Lunsford's 9-year-old girl, Jessica, was murdered. Her body was found buried outside a mobile home in Inverness, Florida, about 100 yards from where she lived.

This man, a convicted sex offender, John Evander Couey, confessed to the killing. It seemed like an airtight case.


JOHN EVANDER COUEY, DEFENDANT: I went out there one night and dug a hole, and put her in it, buried her. (INAUDIBLE) I put her in a plastic bag, plastic baggies.

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: Was she dead already?

COUEY: No, she was still alive. I buried her alive.


ZARRELLA: Police found Jessica's body buried outside the mobile home where Couey was living. She was clutching a stuffed dolphin. Couey admitted to letting her bring it when he kidnapped her, and, in his taped confession, told police they would find her buried with it .


UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: Where's her dolphin at?

COUEY: In there, buried with her.

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: In the bag with her?

COUEY: Yes, sir. I let her keep it. She wanted to take it with her.


ZARRELLA: Couey's words are chilling. But they will not be heard in court by the jury. Just over a week ago, as Couey sat for a pretrial hearing in a Citrus County courtroom, the judge threw out the confession. Couey had asked for an attorney, but did not get one.

JUDGE RIC HOWARD, CITRUS COUNTY, FLORIDA, CIRCUIT COURT: This is a material and a profound violation of one of the most bedrock principles of criminal law.

ZARRELLA: Detectives from Citrus County had gone to interview Couey in Augusta, Georgia, where he was picked up. On tape, he is heard repeatedly to have an attorney present. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: John, would you take a lie-detector test for us?

COUEY: I guess. I want a lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: I'm just asking. I'm just asking. Would you? I'm not saying now. I'm just saying, would you?

COUEY: I said I would. I just want to talk to a lawyer. I want a lawyer here present.


COUEY: I want to talk to a lawyer. I mean, if people are trying to accuse something I didn't do. I didn't do it. I ain't, you know...


ZARRELLA: Jessica's father believes, even without the confession, Couey will be convicted.

LUNSFORD: I don't care. I'm confident in the system. I'm confident in -- in the prosecuting attorneys, in the state attorney's office. I'm -- I'm confident in all those people.

ZARRELLA: Citrus County's sheriff, whose detectives conducted the Couey interview, insists there is still more than enough evidence to convict John Evander Couey.

JEFFREY DAWSY, CITRUS COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF: Yes, we would have liked to have the confession go in. But, as I have told you guys privately and publicly, that was not what I would say the rock part of this case. It is the evidence we have collected.

ZARRELLA: So, what evidence do prosecutors have? Law enforcement sources tell us -- quote -- "There is more than enough blood and DNA evidence to convict him" -- end quote.

Reports from crime scene investigators describe the search of Couey's bedroom in the trailer. They found blood on the bed sheets and mattress, palm prints, possibly Jessica's, on the glass door of the entertainment center, an empty VHS movie sleeve, "Curly Top," a kid's movie starring Shirley Temple, a pair of Couey's jeans with possible blood on them.

Investigators also removed an entire west wall of the bedroom closet, looking for prints and evidence. Couey had said in his confession that he kept Jessica in the closet.



UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: Well -- well, we already showed up?

COUEY: It was like -- yes, it was like three days or something like that she stayed in the closet, where I was feeding her. You know, I wouldn't let her starve, gave her water and stuff like that."


ZARRELLA (on camera): While the trial is being held in Citrus County, the judge decides, due to pretrial publicity, to pick the jury from a nearby county. Once the jurors are selected, they will be bussed in and put up in hotel rooms.

(voice-over): The judge's action and the lost confession may actually help the state if Couey is convicted, says a former federal prosecutor.

KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Because this judge changed the venue, because this judge excluded the confession, he's not just assuring a fair trial for John Couey; he is eliminating huge potential delays through years and years of appellate processes that now are going to be avoided.

ZARRELLA: The trial is expected to last about two weeks. If convicted, prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.


ZAHN: Joining me now, CNN senior legal analyst, even though he looks very young, Jeffrey Toobin.


ZAHN: Young lad -- and two of our friends from Court TV, Lisa Bloom and Jami Floyd.


ZAHN: It's the top story trio.


ZAHN: Thank you for joining us tonight.

So, a lot of people were outraged by the judge's decision. Did he make the right choice?


ZAHN: Why?

TOOBIN: You know, everybody knows, since 1966, 40 years ago, that you have to give suspects Miranda warnings, and , if they ask for a lawyer, you have to stop questioning. That's what should have been done here. Fortunately, there's enough other evidence to convict this monster, but the judge did exactly the right thing.

ZAHN: So, the deal was...

TOOBIN: And it was courageous.

ZAHN: ... during the confession, they actually heard him repeating, what, six, seven, eight times, asking for counsel...

TOOBIN: "I want a lawyer. I want a lawyer."

ZAHN: ... in 46 seconds.

TOOBIN: It's on tape.

LISA BLOOM, COURT TV ANCHOR: Yes, but it was all in context of, we want to give you a polygraph. There's about 60 pages before that where he's freely talking with detectives.

And this is a guy with a long criminal history who's familiar with the rules of the game. He's Mirandized. He's talking. They ask him, do you want to take a polygraph? Then he says, well, I would need a lawyer for that, wouldn't I?

So, the argument the police had is, he was asking for a lawyer in the context of a polygraph. They then go on to say, but would you still talk to us without a lawyer? And he says yes, and he keeps talking for about another 20, 30 pages, ultimately confesses.

JAMI FLOYD, COURT TV ANCHOR: The judge -- the judge...

ZAHN: Doesn't this make it easy for the defense, though, on that particular point....

FLOYD: On that one issue.

ZAHN: ... very sloppy police work?

FLOYD: On that one issue. The minute somebody says lawyer, that's it. You get them a lawyer.

TOOBIN: End of story.

FLOYD: That's what the court has said.

TOOBIN: End of story.

FLOYD: End of story.

The cops gambled. It's not a mistake or sloppy. They gambled that a judge...

ZAHN: Not a mistake? Not sloppy?

FLOYD: The judge -- they -- this was a knowing choice. BLOOM: No, I don't think it's sloppy.

You know what? She was missing three weeks at that time, Paula.

FLOYD: They gambled.

BLOOM: They were looking for a little girl who they thought perhaps was still alive.

FLOYD: They gambled.

BLOOM: And they thought he knew where she was. They were trying to save a little girl's life. And even if this got kept out, ultimately, they were looking to...


FLOYD: They gambled that no judge in a notorious case would keep out a confession.


FLOYD: And most judges do not. Most judges...

TOOBIN: And...


FLOYD: ... don't have the courage to do it. And I say this judge should have gone farther. There's a lot of other evidence that evolved from that confession that should also have been kept out.


TOOBIN: Oh, I don't agree with that.

BLOOM: Like the body?

TOOBIN: I don't agree with that.

BLOOM: Like finding the body?

TOOBIN: I mean, I think -- I think he -- they -- they had two priorities here. One was to find this girl, and that was the absolute top priority.

The other was to try to convict this guy. They succeeded with part one. I mean, they got the information to resolve this tragic situation. The legal thing, unfortunately didn't work out for them, in terms of this confession. But they have all the evidence they need in this case. So, this will have the right result.


ZAHN: Do you really believe they have the evidence, Jami? FLOYD: There were four interrogations here, three of which were audiotaped. We're talking several different days of interrogation. Much of what he had to say is coming in. The judge only kept out the portion post-Miranda, or post when the Miranda...

TOOBIN: But that -- that's how the system should work. I mean, these cops were working hard.


FLOYD: That's exactly right. So, I'm agreeing. I'm agreeing, Jeffrey, that...


BLOOM: And, by the way, Paula, he's got...

TOOBIN: OK. All right.


FLOYD: They have something to work with.

BLOOM: He's got two other confessions to corrections officers, where he says: I didn't mean to kill her.

Those are coming in. The jury's going to hear that.

ZAHN: All right.

Now that we got you three really cranked up...


ZAHN: ... we're going to have you stand by.

TOOBIN: All right.

ZAHN: Can you wait for just about 33 seconds?

We're going to take a short break here -- Jeff Toobin, Lisa Bloom, Jami Floyd.

Moving along now, what are other states doing to keep sex offenders away from children? Georgia has an idea that is so controversial, it affects every school bus stop. Our coverage of today's top story "Outside the Law" continues in about a minute.

And a little bit later on, the top story in religion tonight -- what are the most influential churches in the country doing that your church isn't, bringing about five million worshipers a week?

First, number six on our countdown -- the U.N. Security Council delays voting on a resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea for its missile tests. Council members agreed to put off a vote, to give China more time to negotiate directly with North Korea. Number 5 -- everyone's asking, why the -- oh, who is going to ever forget this?

You all watched, didn't you? It was just -- why would this guy do this?


ZAHN: Why would he, a celebrated player, headbutt an Italian player at yesterday's World Cup final? He was thrown out of the game. Italy, of course, went on to its fourth World Cup. This was going to be the last guy's game anyway. What was he thinking?

Stay with us. Number four is next.


ZAHN: Continuing our coverage of tonight's top story, "Outside the Law," jury selection starts in John Couey's trial. He is charged with killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford last year. It was a shocking crime that led to a nationwide toughening of laws against sex criminals, because Couey was a sex offender and lived across the street from the victim.

So just this month in Virginia, a law went into effect, requiring colleges to cross-check the names of incoming freshmen against sex offender lists. In Georgia, a new law would bar sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of places like schools, parks, churches and school bus stops. That law is being challenged because it could leave 11,000 offenders with no place to go, and some people fear they'll all end up in one neighborhood.

Laws also went into effect this month in four states -- Georgia, Kansas, Indiana and Virginia -- to use global positioning devices to track sex offenders.

Back with me now, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and from Court TV, Lisa Bloom and Jami Floyd. No shortage of brains and beauty in that (inaudible), huh, Court TV.

So let's talk about this. The bottom line is that most people don't want convicted sex offenders, even though they've paid their time and done all that, in their backyard. So how troublesome are these laws to you?

TOOBIN: Well, I think that some of them are ridiculous political stunts. I think the 500 feet -- within a certain number of feet of a school bus stop is ridiculous.

ZAHN: Why?

TOOBIN: If these people are so dangerous, they shouldn't be let out of prison. But if they are let out of prison, you have to let them live, and school bus stops are everywhere. So you can't create a system where they're out of prison, but incapable of living in civilized society. FLOYD: You've got 150,000 school buses and thousands of sex offenders. They'll be immobilized. It's not practical, even if you want to get past the political and the constitutional. It's not practical.

BLOOM: So what? Let them be immobilized. I don't want them around my children.


BLOOM: Let me say this. We don't want them around children. And if they can't be...

FLOYD: Where do you want them? Where do you want them?

BLOOM: If they can't be next to a school bus stop, that is fine, I think, with most people. We know they're going to offend and reoffend. It's going to escalate, just like it did with Couey.

FLOYD: Then what we need to do...

BLOOM: Couey started out masturbating by a 5-year-old girl. Now, he's escalated to raping and murdering, allegedly...

FLOYD: Then what we need to do...

BLOOM: ... Jessica Lunsford. We should lock them up for life. And since we're not going to do that, we need to keep them away from kids.

FLOYD: We need to be honest, Paula. We need to be honest. People who feel this strongly need to be honest and say once you're a sex offender, no matter what level of sex offense, you're in prison for life. Until we're willing to say that, then we don't have an honest, constitutional debate.

ZAHN: (inaudible) because we know that in 13 percent of the case, there are repeat offenders, and that's what people are worried about.

TOOBIN: Right. But Couey lived next door. It wasn't a school bus stop. So you can't...


TOOBIN: ... he shouldn't have been out. He shouldn't have been out.

BLOOM: He was supposed to have been living four miles away. He didn't register. You're not going to register (inaudible)...

TOOBIN: The politicians create laws with, you know, great fanfare, but they never create the enforcement mechanisms to make it work, to spend the money to give the police the resources to enforce the law. BLOOM: Well, you know, I disagree with that too, because they could have had Couey weeks earlier. They talked to him initially, they had to release him because they didn't have anything on him. If they had him on one of these violations, namely living across the street from a little girl, living too close to the school bus stop, they could have incarcerated him earlier. they could have nailed him earlier.

TOOBIN: But you can't -- many of these offenders are not suspects -- are not -- these laws apply to people who do not -- are not violent sex offenders, so there are way too many people.

FLOYD: I have to correct. Law enforcement does not like this law. They don't like these laws. In Georgia, across the state, sheriffs are saying it drives these offenders underground. We cannot monitor them because they disappear into the woodwork. It's not helpful to law enforcement...

BLOOM: That is why we need electronic monitoring.

FLOYD: It is not helpful to enact a law without legitimate and practical tools to...


ZAHN: ... so critical of these laws that you think are being put in place, for most probably for political posturing, where is the balance that you can strike here? What would be a legitimate way to clamp down and in some way restrict where these people are living?

TOOBIN: I think long sentences are the way to go. I mean, these crimes are so horrific, and sex offenders are unique in that there's tremendous recidivism.


TOOBIN: I don't, but if they are let out, they have to be let out of prison. I mean, they can't still be in prison while out on the street. So keep them in prison if they're still dangerous. But if they're out, they're out.

BLOOM: What about electronic monitoring?

FLOYD: The constitutional rights of sex offenders is going to be thorny, because no one likes what we think of as the worst, the Couey, the Joseph Smiths. But think about this woman in Georgia, who had sexual relations concentually when she was 17 with her 16-year-old boyfriend. She's now being forced to move five, six, seven times in the state of Georgia, because of the legislation that existed before.

The broad brush is not constitutionally appropriate, and it is not -- it's reactive. Let's get in front of the problem. What causes this problem? Why do we have this -- I mean, it's a reactionary and political response.

ZAHN: (inaudible), Jeffrey? TOOBIN: Well, I just think, getting to the root of the problem, I mean, people don't know what makes people do this kind of evil, so I don't think we can solve the causes. I think you've just got to keep people locked up.

FLOYD: You're not going to solve it in court.

ZAHN: All right, you three.

BLOOM: The Jessica Lunsford law is the right idea -- 25 to life for the first offense.

ZAHN: Our top story trio here tonight, dishing it out. Jeffrey Toobin, Jami Floyd, Lisa Bloom, you guys have long duty tomorrow. Court TV will have full coverage, live coverage of the Couey trial as soon as opening statements begin. Thank you, all three, for joining us tonight.

Another top story in law and order is in Arizona. Is more than one serial killer roaming around Phoenix?

Also ahead, the top story in religion, churches that attract millions every week. What are they doing right? And what are they doing wrong? Do you think it's too watered down? You can make your judgment, coming up.

First, number four in our countdown. In Missouri, a church outing ends in tragedy when five young people drown in the Merrimack River. St. Louis County policy say four boys and one girl were swept away by the current. Their ages range from 10 to 17.

Number three on our list right after this.


ZAHN: Welcome back. Here's some of the top stories across the country at this hour. Here in New York City the week began with a frightening bang when a multi-million dollar town house at an exclusive neighborhood exploded during the morning rush hour. Gas caused the blast which demolished the building. It may have been a suicide attempt, 15 people, including ten firefighters, were hurt.

The top story in Washington, a federal judge has ruled that the first ever raid by the FBI on a Congressman's office was legal. The judge dismissed arguments that the raid at Louisiana Democratic William Jefferson's Capitol Hill sweet violated constitutional protection against intimidation of elected officials. Jefferson is being investigated on bribery charges.

The top story in Phoenix, Arizona tonight, police are investigating a baffling series of terrifying shootings this summer. People gunned down on the street apparently randomly. That's enough to remind anyone of the sniper killings that terrorized the Washington, D.C. area just about four years ago. But this series of shootings is just one string of attacks Phoenix police are trying to solve. Kareen Wynter has the latest tonight from Phoenix. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This Arizona community is shaken, nerves on edge. Some people afraid to leave their home ever since the latest wave of shootings began in May, always coming in the quiet of the night and early morning. Police believe the 13 random shootings are the work of the same criminal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Terrorism at its finest.

WYNTER: Preying on Phoenix residents, out walking or riding their bikes. This victim who didn't want to be identified was shot earlier this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My biggest fear is him coming back out to finish the job.

WYNTER: Few know these streets better than veteran Phoenix police officer Luz Fernandez.

OFFICER LUZ FERNANDEZ, PHOENIX POLICE DEPT.: For me it's more of an urgency and then maybe anger that this is actually going on.

WYNTER: This is her home turf, central Phoenix, and she's very aware that this is the third time in little more than a year that people here have been terrorized. Separate from the random shooting, a serial killer dubbed the baseline rapist is believed to have murdered five people since last August.

FERNANDEZ: Right behind this building is where one of our victims was found.

WYNTER: And there was another wave of shootings that began months even before that in May 2005. Four people were killed back then. There's no real evidence that the three separate waves of shooting incidents are related, even though none has been fatal, this latest round of shootings, 13 in three months has detectives baffled and desperate for answers.

(on camera): The last two happened just over the past weekend. Suspects who may have been traveling in a car shot a woman in the head as she was walking on the street. Less than a half-hour later a man was shot in the back.

Officer, these are cold blooded criminals, people terrorizing the community. How badly do you want to catch them?

FERNANDEZ: Very. Very badly.

WYNTER: Kareen Wynter, CNN, Arizona.


ZAHN: The police in Phoenix say they have stepped up patrols all over the city, but they say the big break in any of these cases could very well come from a vigilant public. Now, let's move on to the stop stories affecting your money. Let's take a quick "Biz Break."


ZAHN: Here's our crude awakenings, a daily look at the pump prices all over the country. The state's with today's highest gas prices are in red, the lowest in green. The average today for unleaded regular back up to $2.96. And our graph shows the trend over the last month or so. It keeps on going up there.

Top story in religion tonight is the new list of the most influential churches in the country. So what's so special about them? How do they get to be so big and so powerful? Some answers coming up next.

At the top of the hour on LARRY KING LIVE, comic Kathy Griffin dishes the dirt on herself, her ex and Hollywood's A list.

Number three on our countdown, Russia says its most wanted man, a Chechen war lord who claimed responsibility for several deadly terror attacks has been killed. He said he was behind the 2004 Beshlan school takeover which killed 331 people, most of them children.

Number two on our list is just ahead.


ZAHN: Rising to the top story in religion tonight, there is a new list out of the most influential churches in the country, and there's nothing dark nor dusty in these new cathedrals. Young worshipers are joining by the thousands. They are bound by faith and clearly not by tradition. Here's faith and values correspondent Delia Gallagher.


DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: It's got hip hop and the ultimate hip pastor.

PASTOR ERWIN MCMANUS, MOSAIC CHURCH: Just start talking to God. Be weird, be crazy, you don't have to talk to him out loud.

GALLAGHER: Welcome to Mosaic Church, meet Erwin McManus, a Salvadorean immigrant, whose Los Angeles based congregation is diverse and growing. In running shoes, jeans, and a sports jersey, his approach is casual. His message simple, sports is a metaphor for life and godliness.

MCMANUS: Paul says you need to run the race as if you're going to win the prize.

GALLAGHER: No solemn hymns here. Instead Mosaic uses rock and roll, DVDs, books, and a state-of-the-art website to reach his audience. Unlike the evangelical giants of the past century this new bride of pastor speaks in a language most traditionalists wouldn't understand. Here he talks about St. Paul.

MCMANUS: I'm going Paul, what are you smoking. I mean Paul man, you're writing a chick flick.

GALLAGHER: His followers get it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pastor Erwin is extremely personable and he keeps it real.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like he can just relate to anyone.

GALLAGHER: He brings in about 3,000 people every Sunday, and he doesn't even have a church building. Mosaic rents auditoriums for services and has no pulpit, but is one of the most influential churches in the United States, so says the Church Report, a Christian Web site that pulled 2,000 Christian pastors.

(on camera): The report says that tens of thousands of Americans flock to these churches in the past year and that number is growing. The sign that they're finding something there that they're not getting from traditional denominations.

(voice-over): No. 1 on the link, the enormous Willow Creek community church in Illinois. Nearly 20,000 come to services on weekends. Pastor Bill Hybels says Willow Creek is open to everyone.

BILL HYBELS, PASTOR: It doesn't matter what background you came out of, even if you have no spiritual background whatsoever.

GALLAGHER: Some say this feel good approach is not what true Christianity is all about.

DAVID WELLS, GORDON-CONWELL THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: What is being advocated is more of spirituality, which is in opposition to or at least doesn't require religion. That is to say doctrine to be believed, ethics to be followed, and a corporate involvement that would be expected.

GALLAGHER: Pastor McManus says a person can be good and still question traditional beliefs, that religion is more about questions than answers.


ZAHN: And joining me now Delia Gallagher, Jason Christy, the publisher of "Church Report" magazine, which did the study on the most influential churches, and Joseph Bottum, the editor of "First Things," a journal if religious, cultural and public life. Good to have all three of you with us tonight.

So what's bringing these people to these churches, Delia?

GALLAGHER: Well I think certainly the charisma of the pastor. I mean these are people that are coming no longer to a church building, but they are coming to follow a person and a person who is giving them some sort of message that they want to hear. The interesting thing, Paula, when I was doing this story is over and over I heard both from the pastors and from the people who were coming, relevance. The pastor wants of to give something of relevance. He wants to make the gospel relevant to the people who are coming. And the people were receiving that. They were saying, "I wanted to hear something that had to do with my life, had a message for my life."

ZAHN: But at the core, Jason, what is the real difference here? Because any of us that are drawn to churches in particular are drawn in by a passionate minister who speaks to us. Isn't that what brings us there every Sunday?

JASON CHRISTY, PUBLISHER, CHURCH REPORT: Well I think the key here is community. What we're really talking here is the phenomenon with the megachurch. And so many of these churches are gargantuan in size and the question becomes how did they get that way? And the answer is simple. They're drawing large sections of the community for lots of reasons: singles programs, senior programs, day care, high school, athletic programs, anything to reach out to the community because in a lot of senses in the society that we live in today, the more places that offer similar things under the same roof tends to draw a bigger crowd.

ZAHN: So that's pretty smart marketing, if you want to look at it that way. They're giving everybody what they want, a little bit of marketing.

CHRISTY: It is good marketing, but it's good theology as well.

ZAHN: Now let's talk about whether or not this is good theology. You've got Joseph laughing down there at the end of the sofa. He almost fell off. We know that a lot of critics of these mega churches call this God light. They say it's sugar, it's -- that they're not dealing with controversial issues. It's all about feeling good.

JOSEPH BOTTUM, EDITOR, FIRST THINGS: As a religious phenomenon, these churches are actually unexceptionable. There's not a hint of racism about them, there's not a hint of antisemitism, they're not heretical, they're Orthodox in an elusive sense. It's skim milk that they're giving people theologically, but it's still milk. And that's all to the good.

Now, as a social phenomenon here in America it seems to me there's something much more fascinating going on. The old mainline Protestant churches that had been a mainstay of the American whole public experiment for 200 years have simply collapsed in the last 40 years.

And they opened up a hole into which have been drawn two groups that used to be on the outside, the Catholics and the Evangelicals, and the Evangelicals have entered mainstream American life, mainstream American communities by building these megachurches. And essentially by breaking away from the old property assistant denominations that used to be the mainstream in America.

ZAHN: But in the end, Delia, does skim milk keep five million parishioners?

GALLAGHER: It keeps them very happy.

ZAHN: But will it forever? If you buy into the motion that it's skim milk or that this is Christianity light?

BOTTUM: It can't keeps them happy forever because each pastor has to build his own congregation. There's a real problem with succession in every one of these.

CHRISTY: That's a very hot topic in this market with succession, it's a key issue.

ZAHN: Right, so you get a popular guy, with 10 years of following, and he leaves, where are those people going to go?

CHRISTY: Succession becomes a major issue.

ZAHN: Right, how do you view this phenomenon?

CHRISTY: Well I think the issue is this. You've got the success of these major huge churches. You've also as was said, the denominational churches are suffering. There's political strife, infighting, bickering, any number of issues in the mainline churches.

GALLAGHER: And nobody's going?

CHRISTY: Nobody's going, and nobody knows what the mainline church is about. Are the Presbyterians -- what are they voting this week? Last week they couldn't decide on the trinity. You don't know. So it's easy. You go to the big church, you go to the community church, you go to the church that offers a buffet of services for the family and it's a winner.

ZAHN: And Joseph, your feeling is, as long as you get them in the door and they have some sort of exposure to spirituality, this is a good thing. It might not be exactly what you want them to get.

BOTTUM: When you have a non-sacramental church, Catholics and Orthodox go to church because they think they're in the presence of Jesus Christ in the host. But the rest of the people, the Protestant go to church to hear sermons. And this is where Protestantism in America has ended up, in the megachurch and the whole multimedia experience.

ZAHN: You certainly heard some powerful sermons, didn't you?

GALLAGHER: But I think we should be fair to those churches and say that you know, all jokes aside, Christianity light and so on, they are still talking about the gospel, and at the end of the day that has to be part of the point and the mission of Christianity, to talk about the gospel and bring it to the people.

BOTTUM: Skim milk is still milk.

ZAHN: All right, you got it. It's all good for you is the bottom line from our trio here. Delia Gallagher, we'll look for more of your reporting on "AMERICAN MORNING," and thanks to Jason Christy and Joseph Bottum as well.

We're just minutes away from the top of the hour, "LARRY KING LIVE." Tonight's guest is comic Kathy Griffin, there she is. And we hear no one or nothing is going to be off limits.

Before that, No. 2 on our CNN countdown. We mentioned a little bit earlier on, the apparent gas explosion that brought down a four- story building in New York City, which may have been a failed suicide attempt. Fire officials say 15 people were hurt. And the top story, CBS says it will air the last episode of "As the World Turns" tape with Emmy-winning actor Benjamin Hendrickson, who took his own life last week. He'd been on the show for 20 years. His last performance will air this Wednesday. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: That's it for all of us here tonight, thanks for joining us. We'll see you tomorrow night, have a good one.


© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines