Return to Transcripts main page


Texas District Attorney found Dead; Aurora Shooter will Face Death Penalty; The Allure of the Jodi Arias Case

Aired April 1, 2013 - 11:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Really cute kids. (INAUDIBLE) will take on the Twins in Minnesota. Prince will be playing first base.

Thank you for joining us today. CNN NEWSROOM continues right now.


I'm Ashleigh Banfield and hello, everyone.

Danger comes with the territory but that does not come close to explaining an apparent vendetta on prosecutors in Kaufman County, Texas, just east of Dallas.

It was two months ago that we brought you this shocking story of the assistant D.A. there, Mark Hasse gunned down in cold blood in the courthouse parking lot.

At the time, this was Hasse's boss, the D.A., and how he reacted to it.


MIKE MCLELLAND, KAUFMAN COUNTY, TEXAS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I hope that the people that did this are watching because we're very confident that we're going to find you, we're going to pull you out of whatever hole you are in and we are going to bring you back and let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.


BANFIELD: And that was what Mike McLelland said back then, but today Texas law men, the FBI and many others are now also searching for his killer or killers

Yes, of the man you just heard from, Mike McLelland. And not only Mike McLelland, but his wife Cynthia, as well.

They were both found dead in their home in nearby Forney, Texas, on Saturday evening.

For the moment the Kaufman County sheriff won't say that those killings are connected, but other officials will.

And some are seeking a potential link with last month's killing of the Colorado prison chief who was shot dead at his own front door.

The main suspect there was killed in a Texas shootout.

I'm going to stop here and bring in a former prosecutor who knows a thing or two about how dangerous it could be to prosecute bad guys.

Nancy Grace joins me now by telephone. And, Nancy, as many years as a prosecutor, I know you must know it is not an easy job that prosecutors do, but do you see any potential coincidence or do you think this is becoming a targeted pattern?

NANCY GRACE, HOST, HLN'S "NANCY GRACE" (via telephone): Well, thank you for having me. Good morning.

I have always said, my entire legal career, there is no coincidence in criminal law. Now, interesting the Colorado prison chief was also killed. That gun has absolutely been linked up to a gun used in a Texas shootout.

So the possibility that the Texas murders are linked to Colorado murders is very high.

I do think there was absolutely a link in all three Texas killings, and by all three I'm referring to Mike McLelland, the actual elected district attorney, his wife, Cynthia, both found dead in their home, and Mark Hasse. He was an assistant district attorney.

Now, interesting also, there have been many comments that Hasse never prosecuted Aryan Nation who have come under suspicion as a gang, but see, very often gang members are prosecuted alone, like one gang member for murder, one for armed robbery.

That can infuriate an entire gang, so I would not rule out gang activity.

The more likely scenario is that it is a single person acting alone.

BANFIELD: So the Harris County officials are now putting out the alert and protecting their own, Harris County being down in the Houston area.

And I'm sure you will remember there were federal charges brought up against Aryan Brotherhood members in Houston last fall.

So, you know, my concern is, like you said, they can be prosecuted individually. Can they also become members of the gang once they end up in prison, so it's a little harder to track?

GRACE (via telephone): Absolutely. It's some people think it's harder to try, but if you go behind bars you can find easily out who has become members of the gang. Specifically, Aryan Brotherhood has never been really secretive.

They're very flagrant. They make no secret of their activities. Danger to prosecutors has always reared its ugly head. I recall prosecuting for a decade in inner city America. I had my tires slit on my car when I would get out of the courthouse and trudge to the parking deck. All my tires would be slit. My car windows would be bashed in.

There was a time during a particularly vicious homicide trial that I had my back door of my home kicked in. The alarm went off while I was in court.

I had to move out of my home during several high-profile prosecutions. Sometimes I would be in hotels. Sometimes I would stay with friends during those prosecutions.

Very often, I would get even -- this is kind of silly, but I would get faxes of death threats from the jail or letters from the jail. Those did not really concern me since the people were behind bars. It would be more concerning when they were out from behind bars.

BANFIELD: Or their friends who are out.

But you were not working in a small community. There was presumably some kind of budget to at least help you in protection, and then you look at Kaufman County, this pretty small, comparatively.

First of all, what kind of protection was there for you and your colleagues prosecuting? And then compare that to what there might be for people in places like Kaufman County.

GRACE (via telephone): Most of the time, I would travel with my investigator who stayed with me during every case. I was with him for about 10 years, and he would stay with me, get me to where I was going and back if I wasn't driving myself.

In a smaller jurisdiction, you can have police protection, but that's not going to protect you. Who would think that someone would come into the home of the elected district attorney and open fire?

And in Atlanta, in inner city Atlanta, the elected D.A. I served under, Lewis Slaton (ph), he did not have police protection outside of his house and he was the D.A. for 37 years.

We routinely would get threats, very -- normally, they would not be serious or we wouldn't take them that way.

But there is always the threat of danger when you prosecute. It's something that you live with and you do your job, knowing.

And even now that I have been out from prosecuting for many years, I very often run into people or I pass them and I think, wow, I know him. Is he somebody I put behind bars?

BANFIELD: Wow. Listen, I'm sure that you heard Mike McLelland in January with his very strident language, saying, we will find you. We will get you.

And then ultimately a man who was known to have carried a gun just walking the dogs is gunned down in his own home alongside his wife.

What is the chill effect here, Nancy, on people like you and others, prosecutors who do this for a living who now know this is two in two- and-a-half months?

Certainly in this county, but other counties, too, how is this going to affect the people who try to put bad guys away?

GRACE (via telephone): Well, you know, the murder and retaliation against prosecutors is nothing new, and when you take the job, especially if you are one of the litigators -- if you're sitting in a library writing appeals, or you're working on child support for deadbeat dads, or you're drawing up accusations or indictments, there's much less of a threat.

But if you are front and center in the courtroom trying cases, putting the bad guys in jail, you're signing up for it. You know there's that possibility. It's rare, but it does happen.

BANFIELD: Nancy, what does it -- how does it change the dynamic if they do catch someone and if they go for a criminal prosecution, first-degree murder, say in a state like Texas?

Is that officially capital punishment? Is that a capital offense right there because it's a government official?

GRACE (via telephone): It absolutely will be a death penalty case. It absolutely will be.

And not only for the person that pulls the trigger. Look for prosecutions in anyone that harbored the killer, that helped the killer, that knew about the killings. They'll be in line for prosecution, too, not for the death penalty, most like, but this killer will be caught. He's already left trails.

BANFIELD: Death penalty, you can get the death penalty for conspiracy, so I don't want to put the cart before the horse here, but if this is something that has been hatched out of, say, a prison gang, and someone on the outside joined that conspiracy, there are a lot of people who could face the death penalty in a conspiracy.

GRACE (via telephone): You're absolutely correct. It is harder to get a death penalty verdict from a jury unless you absolutely pull the trigger, but they will be facing the penalty.

And there's no place in the United States that is more likely to give you the death penalty than Texas.

BANFIELD: When you have a case like we saw in January where Mark Hasse was gunned down and it seemed like without a trace -- there was so little to go on there except someone with a hood -- then you have a case like this where there's an intruder, they know what kind of weapon was used on this D.A. and his wife, there are more forensics perhaps because there is this intruder.

Will this make it an easier case to solve or just an easier case to prosecute if they can find the person?

GRACE (via telephone): Both. It will make both easier to solve it and to prosecute it.

See, that's a mistake that criminals make. They commit one crime. They get away with it, then another, then another, then another.

If you can link the crimes, it's like the old mathematics equation. If A is B and B is C ,then A is C. If he killed the first victim then you can then extrapolate, get similarities and prosecute for all three.

The more crimes he commits, and he will commit more ...

BANFIELD: If it's a he.

GRACE (via telephone) ... whether it's a murderer or robbery -- he will be caught. And because he is leaving a trail, all three killings can be linked back to him.

BANFIELD: But what if it isn't just a him or just a her and it is a group and there are many and it gets a little tougher to trace?

GRACE (via telephone): I hope it's a group because when there's a group, always, universally, somebody will blab.

If they're acting alone, it's going to be much more difficult.

BANFIELD: And then don't you also, the minute you get one, you offer the best deals to the first people to the table so that you can ultimately get to the henchmen?

GRACE (via telephone): Oh, hell no. I wouldn't offer a thing.


GRACE (via telephone): I'd prosecute every single one to the fullest extent of the law. That is the death penalty. For gunning down a lawman and his wife? A deal? Over my cold, dead body.

BANFIELD: Nancy, what if you want to get them all instead of just one?

GRACE (via telephone): This is my saying and this is what I stuck with all of the years I prosecuted. Sometimes you have to go to hell to get the witness to put the devil in jail. If you have to cut a deal, you have to if there's no way out.

But I would try everything I could to put them all away, either life in prison or the death penalty, for gunning down a lawman and his innocent wife.

BANFIELD: Nancy Grace, it's good to see you.

And you were the first person I thought of when I heard this news over the weekend, how distressing this is and the fact that you knew the people in the Atlanta courthouse who were killed because you used to prosecute there.

So hopefully you and I will join each other again on another segment, Nancy, where we're talking about the guys they found and instead of the guys they're looking for.

GRACE (via telephone): God willing.

BANFIELD: Nancy Grace, thank you, ma'am.

GRACE (via telephone): Thanks, friend.

BANFIELD: So the Texas governor, by the way, Rick Perry, in this case, is also expected to talk about the attacks a little bit later on in this hour.

So we're going to bring you those statements from the governor just as soon as we can.

In the meantime, I also after the break want to get you out to Colorado because the young man who is suspected in the theater shootings in Aurora has been at the center of a lot of conversation over the death penalty and whether his lawyers are offering to give him up on a plea bargain and what the prosecutors think about all that.

That's coming up in just a moment.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BANFIELD: And this breaking news coming to us out of Colorado. The suspect in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting in which 12 people were killed, more than 50 people injured -- at the center of your screen -- is going to face the death penalty. This is just coming out of the courtroom in Colorado. James Holmes had been at the center of a lot of conversation last week over whether a deal had been offered from his defense attorneys to plead guilty and spend the rest of his life in prison or whether the prosecutors would balk at that and say we're going to go to trial no matter what and seek the death penalty, offer be damned.

So there you have it today, out of that hearing, the breaking news that they will seek the death penalty against him, that there will be a trial. They will not take a plea bargain. An official plea bargain hadn't been registered, but there had been conversation about it, something much to the dismay of the prosecutors who felt this was a publicity stunt, that this could taint any kind of jury pool in that community.

But there you have it -- breaking news out of Colorado. That man will face the death penalty at trial for all of those killings and attempted killings as well.

In the meantime, we are also following the Jodi Arias case. That murder trial gets back underway tomorrow. And for some of you who are addicted to this case, tomorrow is not soon enough.

She's a 32-year-old woman in glasses but she has captivated huge audiences across the nation, even though that's about the only picture you get. People are willing to drop just about everything to follow every minute detail of this case. Just for the chance to see her in person, they'll drive across the country. What is it about the aura of Arias?

CNN's Ted Rowlands explains.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trelynda Kerr, a direct mail production manager in Washington, D.C., is hooked on the Jodi Arias trial.

TRELYNDA KERR, ARIAS TRIAL WATCHER: I'm addicted. I get home and I immediately turn my TV on. I turn my computer on.

ROWLANDS: Thousands of people around the country are watching the trial. Some are showing up at the courthouse in Phoenix, like Kimberly McDonald who says she passed on a trip to Hawaii to see Jodi Arias in person.

KIMBERLY MCDONALD (ph): I asked if we could instead take a road trip and come down here and see if we could go into the courtroom.

ROWLANDS: Marilyn Landis from Akron, Ohio, dragged her husband to the courthouse from his baseball spring training trip.

MARILYN LANDIS, TRIAL WATCHER: I watch it every day starting at 5:00 all night long.

ROWLANDS: Why do they watch?

KERR: I think it's just the manner of death; it's the whole toxic relationship between the two. It's the Mormon faith.

ROWLANDS: And, of course, there is the graphic testimony.

ATTORNEY: He is somebody that you could not stay away from sexually, right?


ROWLANDS: Nude photos. Even phone sex.

LANDIS: No one would believe that they would record all these tapes, sexually, and the pictures.

KERR: It is graphic and quite frankly I tweeted about that. I said I needed to take a shower after I heard some of it.

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HLN HOST: You've got some new information just in. What have you got? ROWLANDS: Ratings are way up for CNN's sister network, HLN, which is not only carrying the trial gavel to gavel but providing near-constant analysis, going so far as building this replica of the bathroom where Travis Alexander was killed.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It's sex. It is the attractiveness of the defendant. It's the salaciousness of the testimony. This case has it all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Orenthal James Simpson not guilty of the crime of murder.

ROWLANDS: This, of course, isn't the first trial to draw high ratings. There were three O.J. Simpson trials, Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, and most recently Casey Anthony.

LANDIS: This is a real good one. Casey Anthony did not have this.

ROWLANDS: Casey Anthony did have a dramatic ending, being found not guilty, which sent some trial watchers into hysterics. The verdict in this case is expected at some point later this month. When it does come, thousands -- make that hundreds of thousands of people, like Trelynda Kerr, will be tuning in to find out what happens.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Phoenix.


BANFIELD: And up next, we are closing in on the closing arguments in the Jodi Arias trial. Yes, it is actually coming to an end at some point soon. Could this actually make or break the case despite everything we have heard until now? Could it all come down to the closings? Our legal panel's going to weigh in.


BANFIELD: Sometimes trials are won or lost in closing arguments. And that may be the case with Jodi Arias. Her trial could end later this month. And while we are wrapped up day to day in all of the testimony, the nitty-gritty details, the lawyers on both sides are likely crafting what some of their last words to the jury are going to be.

If closing arguments are anything like what her cross-examination was like, you know it is going to be good.


VOICE OF JUAN MARTINEZ, PROSECUTOR: Ma'am, were you crying when you were shooting him?

ARIAS: I don't remember.

MARTINEZ: Were you crying when you were stabbing him?

ARIAS: I don't remember.

MARTINEZ: How about when you cut his throat? Were you crying then?

ARIAS: I don't know.


BANFIELD: Well, you don't get to put the witness back up on the stand during your closings. Instead, it's all you, lawyers -- just you and your words, and words matter.

"In Session" correspondent Beth Karas is outside the courthouse in Phoenix, and also joining me is Ryan Smith, host of HLN's "EVENING EXPRESS". Beth, let me begin with you. Look, you've been a prosecutor. How important are the closings?

BETH KARAS, IN SESSION CORRESPONDENT: Well, opening statements and closing arguments clearly are important but they're not evidence. Really what's important is what happens on the witness stand, what comes from the mouths of those witnesses, and the evidence items that are introduced.

However, the argument will put together -- whatever side is arguing -- their view of the evidence. And if it resonates with jurors, if Juan Martinez gets up there and says here's the evidence of premeditation, boom, boom, boom, boom, and if it resonates with jurors, they'll go with it. They'll be looking for arguments to kind of push them one way or the other, because already they are leaning one way or the other. It's human nature during the course of a trial to kind of take sides.

BANFIELD: And, Ryan, look, if you're dealing with a trial that is, say, a couple of weeks versus a trial that's a couple of months as Jodi Arias's trial is, aren't you dealing with a lot of fatigue, a lot of information, and a lot of stuff that could be forgotten? I don't remember what I had breakfast. Don't you need to remind them everything? You need to remind them of every moment that was critical.

RYAN SMITH, HLN HOST, "EVENING EXPRESS": Yes, but that's the key right there. You're right. They have to really bring home these closing arguments, but you mention remind them of everything. They can't remind them of everything because there's so much information here. But they have to find a way to hammer home their main points.

So the key thing is going to be, for example, Juan Martinez had Jodi Arias on the stand, you know, she was on the stand for 18 days. How do you narrow down her testimony to the most important details and then bring home that theme of why she is guilty of premeditated murder? So the key here is going to be not to bore the jurors with days and days of closing arguments, but to hammer home the primary points and really bring home the argument on each side.

BANFIELD: I call that the KISS principle -- Keep It Simple, Stupid.

SMITH: You got it.

BANFIELD: Just get to the point. Beth, you know, I remember when we worked on Court TV together and my partner was Jack Ford, he often said there was this great debate among litigators that if either the opening statements that win or lose you the case, or the closing statements that win or lose you the case, notwithstanding the critical stuff in between, but that you have to be really good at what you do.

Does that mean you have to be very dramatic or flamboyant or just calculating as an attorney?

KARAS: I don't know that you need to be dramatic and flamboyant, but it's very boring to sit there and read a prepared statement, for example. So you need to know your material; you need to make eye contact with the jury, maybe occasionally referring to notes, and just speak with passion, speak from your heart. If you believe what you're saying, you will convey that to jurors.

Studies have shown that about 85 percent of jurors are -- kind of have their minds made up after opening statements, not that they can't be swayed to the other side, they can be, but the longer the case, I think the more important the closing arguments are.

BANFIELD: And there's something to be said about the last word. It's just human nature -- the last word, and I'm going to take the last word to say thank you both, Beth and Ryan. I'm going to have you back in a moment but appreciate your commentary there.

And there is a lot to talk about on whether, by the way, a woman should lean in or lean out these days. A woman by the name of Susan Patton is leading the discussion this week in a whole different direction. Her remarks are creating a viral firestorm. You will find out what she said in just a moment.