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Supreme Court Finds DOMA Unconstitutional; Aaron Hernandez Arrested, Fired by Patriots; Obama Responds to SCOTUS Decision on DOMA, Prop 8; Key Witnesses in George Zimmerman Case.

Aired June 26, 2013 - 11:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So as we've been reporting this hour, it is a watershed moment in history today. The Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, at least the most significant part of it that's been so embattled, paving the way for same-sex marriages. Also in California, that whole Prop 8 out the window. That was the ban. Practically speaking, though, this is pretty confusing stuff, and it's been in the courts for a long time. And so, a lot of people out there aren't exactly sure just where do we stand as a nation when it comes to gay marriage.

Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, joins me live from the place it's all happening, SCOTUS, better known as the Supreme Court of the United States.

Jeff Toobin, I'm going to ask you do a difficult thing, in television speak, but basically break this down, the practical, the legal, the financial benefits now for same-sex couples after the decisions today.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Ashleigh, federal law gives all sorts of benefits to married people. You get to file a joint tax return. You get Social Security survivor's benefits. Those are probably two of the best known. What today's decision said was gay people who are married in the states where it's legal -- in those 12 states and the District of Columbia -- they get those federal benefits, too. The federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, which said that the federal government will not recognize any same-sex marriages, that law is out the window. That law's declared unconstitutional, as demeaning the rights of gay people. That was one decision today.

The other decision is related to Proposition 8 in California. And that one is legally a little more complex, but the bottom line seems -- seems -- pretty simple, which is that the appeal of the Proposition 8 case was improperly brought. So the district court ruling is intact. Proposition 8 is gone in California, and same-sex marriages should resume in California, basically immediately.

BANFIELD: And so, that's California. But we only have, I think, at last count -- and I could be off by one or two -- about 12 states now --

TOOBIN: It's 12, yeah. BANFIELD: -- that recognize gay marriage in this state of the union here. Does what happened with Prop 8 and the striking down of the ban against, you know, gay marriage, does that have any implications for other states? Meaning, is there some sort of precedent that can be used to try to ensure that gay marriage has a greater swath across the country?

TOOBIN: As a technical legal matter, no. Gay marriage was unlawful in Alabama and Texas and Mississippi and those 38 other states yesterday. It's unlawful today. However, if you read Justice Kennedy's opinion in the Defense of Marriage Act case, the case brought by Edith Windsor of New York State, the language in his opinion very much opens the door for a challenge to the bans in those 38 states. There is lots of language in there that suggests that those states no longer have the right to ban same-sex marriage. You can be sure those cases will be filed immediately. But as of today, there is certainly no change in those other 38 states. It's still unlawful for gay people to get married in those states.

BANFIELD: And just very quickly, if you could, if the striking down of the key provision of DOMA means that you cannot treat a married gay couple differently financially, when it comes to federal issues -- and I'm filing my federal taxes and I live in Mississippi -- then why can Mississippi then discriminate against me financially, and is that the next challenge?

TOOBIN: That's what's -- that's what's lined up -- that's what's lined up for the next -- the next series of challenges. Because certainly, the implication, not explicit, but the implication of Justice Kennedy's opinion is that when the government, any government is dolling out benefits, to put gay people in one category and straight people in another, that's unconstitutional. That's the implication of what he is saying. That's why you heard the supporters of same-sex marriage saying, within five years, it will be the law of all 50 states that gay people have the right to get married. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. That's not what the court said today. What the court said today simply was that the federal government cannot discriminate against the gay people in the states where it's already legal.

BANFIELD: I think Ted Olson and David Boies have some work ahead of them still. They're not finished today.


BANFIELD: So, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you. You've been doing excellent work out there, very accurate and well-assessed.

Other news we've been following, the breaking story about the NFL's Aaron Hernandez, currently under arrest, cuffed, taken out of his house by plains-clothes, headed to court. Our legal experts look at his case and what the young man could be facing, other than being fired from his football team.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: An incredible fall in the public eye, from a tight end with one of the NFL's premier teams, to virtual rock bottom. Because it doesn't get worse than this, folks, being led out of your home -- that's Aaron Hernandez, a football star -- in cuffs with plainclothes. Not only that, he gets into a cruiser, and he gets out of a football team, because the New England Patriots fired him. His arrest comes under -- all during a big murder investigation. A friend of his, Odin Lloyd, his body was discovered by a teenage jogger last week near Hernandez's home. That's not far from Boston.

And Odin Lloyd's sister said the two were friends. Her reaction to Hernandez's arrest, "God is great. It's the best news I've had sense my brother was killed."

Hernandez is in the process, we think at this point, of being arraigned. It's going to happen at any moment, if not already. And when we learn of those charges, we're going to get them to you and let you know what they are.

Back with our expert take on this, our legal analyst, Paul Callan, and defense attorney, Danny Cevallos.

So, let me ask you, Paul.

You are called to be Aaron Hernandez's defense attorney, and you are in this situation right now. What do you know and what are you doing at this moment?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first, it's likely that the defense attorney already knows what the charges are. He's got good relations with the police and the prosecutor, and he would have been told that. I mean, I just saw, believe it or not, the Massachusetts state police announced that they were not going to announce the charges via Twitter, just to show you how times have changed. Only in open court will the charges be announced.

And you're starting to look at bail. You're starting to look at, you know, how am I going to get him out. Can I get him out? If it's a murder charge, he won't get bail. If it's something less, he will.

BANFIELD: Listen, Danny Cevallos, I always think that right away. It doesn't get more serious than murder, and, you know, the possibility for flight is so high when you're facing that kind -- if that is, in fact, what he's going to be facing. But then you have a Phil Spector, who spends years and years out on bail. So who gets bail and who doesn't, especially when you're big and famous and recognizable?

DANNY CEVALLOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, remember, bail is not designed as a punishment. Bail is designed, number one, to protect the community. And number two, to ensure that somebody shows up for trial. So in a case -- if this is a murder charge, which we don't -- (AUDIO PROBLEM) -- this could well be an obstruction of justice charge. Just assuming the argument, it's a murder charge, yes, it's a serious crime, and a prosecutor would ask him to be remanded or no bail, or very, very high bail. But the factors in his favor, he is a member of the community. He's not a flight risk. He's highly recognizable. And he's somebody that could post a high bail. So remember, bail not a punishment. A defense attorney will approach it from, he's got strong ties to the community, and he would try to convince a judge or a magistrate that the public at large will not be in danger if you allow this man to either make bail or be released pending any trial.


CALLAN: -- reality, though.

BANFIELD: Real quickly.

CALLAN: No bail will be set by a local judge at the arraignment. Maybe down the road. But I think today it will be so high or remanded -- if it's a murder charge.

BANFIELD: I was going to say --


BANFIELD: At this point, we don't know if it's obstruction or murder. Hopefully, we'll know shortly, hopefully, if they allow us to know the information, considering the warrants impounded.

Paul, Danny, stand by if you will.

We have just received a statement from President Obama on the historic same-sex rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States. We're going to bring that statement to you right after this break.


BANFIELD: So obviously, as you've been watching the breaking news for most of the day, it was after 10:00 eastern, and the United States Supreme Court handed down two watershed decisions regarding gay marriage. One on the Defense of Marriage Act, striking down the key proponents that effectively did not give equal status or equal protection to gay couples seeking the same kinds of benefits as straight couples right across the country. And then, not only that, but the Proposition 8 ban in California on same-sex marriage, also struck down by the Supreme Court. Essentially saying, you shouldn't have brought it here in the first place, because the complainant really doesn't have standing here. So it can be the law of the land in California, as well.

And the president, who has been en route to Africa for a significant trip has already been responding to this.

I want to jump in with our Jessica Yellin, White House correspondent, who is traveling with the president. She joins me live from Dakar, Senegal.

The reaction from the president, he tweeted it, and he's saying lengthier than the quick tweet. Tell me what's being said, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ashleigh. President Obama is hailing this as a major victory, not just for gay Americans and gay rights activists, but for equality nationwide. In a statement, he says he applauds the Supreme Court's decision. He said the Defense of Marriage Act specifically was, quote, "discrimination enshrined in law." And he recognizes the court for ending that discrimination.

I want to call your attention to an interesting paragraph in his statement that leads to a lot of what we're going to be focusing on in the days to come. He says, quote, "We welcome today's decision. And I've directed the attorney general to work with other members of my cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly."

And what he's talking about there, Ashleigh, is the fact that there are 38 states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. And while -- and now, there is a big question about how federal benefits will be treated in those states. That question is up to the president, and his administration has to answer that question, what happens to gay couples in those 38 states -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: All right. Jessica Yellin live with the president.

And I have a feeling we may actually hear from the president, maybe not just that statement, given the significance of what's happened today, back here stateside.

Jessica Yellin live. Thank you.

As we've been reporting on the Supreme Court's decision to do away with DOMA and Prop 8 this hour, I want to give you reaction, as Jessica brings us the reaction from the president, the Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa has issued a statement. Let me read it to you live, if I can. "Today, we have taken a meant to step on the path to full equality for all Californians and all Americans. By striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court has affirmed a basic American truth, bigotry and bias have no place in our laws. And with the court's decision on Prop 8 California is poised to become the 13th state in America with full marriage equality."

So there you have it.

You know what? By the way, people wondering how quickly, it could be days, it could be weeks. But it will be fairly approximate, given the fact this is the final word on this case in California.

A lot to talk about in a new big breaking case we've been following, and that is in the George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial, which is playing out live in a Sanford, Florida, courtroom. More witness testimony. It comes at us so quickly. So many issues and pieces of evidence, and all of it critical to the puzzle, the puzzle that his lawyers will find reasonable doubt in.

More coming up in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: It's day three of George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial. If you cover court, you might feel like it's the second week. There's been so much material that's gone through. More witnesses testifying today. Key stuff too. What they saw and what they heard. Sometimes we call them "ear witness." One of the people who could hear a lot and see somewhat, lived right near where the killing happened. He name is Jane Surdyka. She lives at the Town Lakes -- or the Twin Lakes townhome complex. Have a listen to what she said.


BERNIE DE LA RIONDA, PROSECUTOR: The yells for help that you heard, could you identify whether it was the louder voice or the higher pitched one?

JANE SURDYKA, WITNESS: On my opinion, I truly believe, especially the second yell for help that it was like a yelp, it was excruciating. I felt it was the boy's voice.


BANFIELD: That's pretty critical.

We talked a lot about that, about analyzing whether a witness can assess whether there's a boy and a boy's voice before she even knows who those characters are that she is seeing in the shadows, because as it turns out, they were both fairly large people -- 190 pounds, I believe was George Zimmerman, at about 5'9", actually about 180 pounds or so, and then closer to six feet, Trayvon Martin and also closer to around 190, 200 pounds. That's an issue.

What about just the optics in the courtroom? Back with me again, CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, and defense attorney, Danny Cevallos.

Paul, let me start with you.

The evidence was really uncomfortable. Stuff we can't even show on television. It was too much for the parents of Trayvon Martin. It was too much for the parents of Trayvon Martin. It's not that this doesn't happen a lot, but were there optics involved here? Is it lost on the jury that parents have to get up and walk out when it gets this uncomfortable?

CALLAN: That looks to me like it was an orchestrated scene. Usually, you sit down and say, we're going to be doing autopsies. It's really hard. Maybe you'd be better off not being in court. The jury understands why they're not there. But to wait and then have them leave the courtroom in the middle of the testimony, it smacks a little bit of an orchestrated scene. Sometimes the jury will react badly to that. But on the other hand, they will cut a lot of slack to parents who lost a kid. So it's hard to say how the jury will feel.

BANFIELD: Oh, yeah.

Here is the other thing, Danny Cevallos. You might think you have the Constitution to deal with this. You want to be there for your dead child, and then it happens. There's nothing like evidence when you don't expect it to seem the way it does in a courtroom.

CEVALLOS: That's true. In this case, people need to understand the jury watches everything, the lawyers, they watch the defendant. You have to explain to your client to behave correctly. No shaking your head. No harrumphing. So you have to believe it may seem like a little thing, but it's a massive event in a courtroom when parents get up and walk out. The jury knows who they are. The jury knows what they are there for. That's clearly a message.

Was it intentional? Probably not. But in this case, those kinds of courtroom optics, as you call them, can be very compelling. However, I think a jury will forgive parents. This is the most painful thing they could go through.

BANFIELD: We should remember that George Zimmerman's parents aren't in the courtroom because they're going to testify and they are barred from being in there until the testimony is completed so it doesn't shade or change or affect their testimony in any way.

Paul Callan and Danny Cevallos, thank you both. We appreciate your analysis today, from the Supreme Court all the way to the Zimmerman case.

I want to remind our viewers that you can watch live coverage on the Zimmerman case. The trial is on our sister network, HLN, gavel to gavel. You won't miss a thing there.

In the meantime, thank you for watching what's been a very busy legal day. What a day for a legal news program.

News continues after a short break. Stay tuned for Suzanne Malveaux and Michael Holmes.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: The Supreme Court issues a landmark ruling. Same-sex marriage supporters across the country now celebrating.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Aaron Hernandez handcuffed, taken into cuffs and let go by the New England Patriots, all in the last few hours.

MALVEAUX: And a crucial day in the George Zimmerman trial. Emotional testimony from his neighbor. And a key decision from the judge on whether the jury can hear Zimmerman's previous 911 calls.

HOLMES: And Paula Deen apologizes in a national TV interview. She says, quote, "I'm what I is, and I'm not changing," unquote. Meanwhile, her empire takes another hit from another big sponsor.