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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Defense Attorney for John Allen Muhammad Holds Press Conference

Aired October 14, 2003 - 08:06   ET

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

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's turn now to a press conference. The defense attorneys for John Allen Muhammad holding a press conference in Virginia Beach.
Let's listen in.

PETER GREENSPUN, MUHAMMAD DEFENSE ATTORNEY: So you can try e- mailing us at the same Web site or Web address that you had previously, but in all likelihood there's not going to be any response to it.

What we would like to say is we want to thank the people of Virginia Beach for accepting the responsibility of this trial. The hospitality and the graciousness we have received from Sheriff Lanteigne and his staff, from the circuit court and those personnel, has been tremendous. As difficult as this task is, everyone has made it really easy for us, or as easy as it could be under the circumstances.

We look forward to getting started. Everyone has done a lot of work and preparation and so here we are and we're ready to go and we hope to have a good and fair trial with tremendous jurors from the City of Virginia Beach.

Thank you.

JONATHAN SHAPIRO: Thanks.

GREENSPUN: Nothing to say.

O'BRIEN: We've been listening to Peter Greenspun, who was standing with his co-counsel, Jonathan Shapiro. They, of course, are representing John Allen Muhammad in the sniper shooting trial, the first trial.

So the big question now, of course, how strong is the prosecution's case against John Muhammad?

Jeanine Pirro is the district attorney of Westchester County, New York.

She's also written a new book. It's called "To Punish and Protect."

And she joins us now.

We're going to talk about your book, but I also want to pick your brain about this trial and maybe some others, if we have time.

In the piece from Jeanne Meserve, we heard some people almost saying that this sounds like a slam dunk, there's so much circumstantial evidence.

You laugh at that. I guess as a prosecutor you never say slam dunk?

JEANINE PIRRO, AUTHOR, "TO PUNISH AND PROTECT": You never say slam dunk. But the bottom line is that there is a lot of evidence here. This is a very strong circumstantial case. You've got the sniper's nest in the Caprice. You've got the skull and crossbones on their GPS, apparently, on the site of every one of the shootings. There's DNA from a paper bag. There is tremendous circumstantial evidence.

O'BRIEN: Take the other side for me. What are the big obstacles?

PIRRO: That there's no eyewitness, that no one can actually put the gun in the hand of Malvo or prove that it was Muhammad that actually, you know, was the captain of this killing team.

But, you know, sometimes circumstantial evidence is stronger than eyewitness testimony. You know, you don't have to worry about failing eyesight or memories or bias. It's fact. It's what the jury can rely on to find a case of guilt.

O'BRIEN: As we've mentioned, jury selection begins today. As a prosecutor, if you were prosecuting this case, what would you look for in a juror? Who would you want?

PIRRO: Well, I would want people who could listen to the evidence, who would be fair, who can objectively sit there and say I haven't made up my mind. Look, there's no question everyone has heard about this case. You'd have to live on Mars to not hear about this case. But the issue is can you hold the prosecution to the test. And prosecutors across the country want to be held to the test in the burden of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

They would look for people who are fair, who are honest, who don't have a bias. You know, and there's now some talk about the insanity defense for Malvo. I mean you don't want a mental health professional who is looking to necessarily excuse the behavior, but rather to make you accountable for what you've done.

O'BRIEN: Let's look at a chunk from your book. You write about the insanity defense. You are not a fan of the insanity defense and I think that might be the understatement of our morning. You wrote this. "As long as we allow violent criminals to manipulate the system, take shelter in the insanity defense, they will find ways to avoid responsibility."

The attorneys, defense attorneys, are trying -- going to try to show insanity. And many have said they're basically going to aim to save these men's lives. Do you think that there is a chance that that could work?

PIRRO: Well, you never know. But I refer to it as the laws of madness in my book and I think that the insanity defense has absolutely no place in the criminal justice system. Our justice system should be about whether or not the criminal committed the crime, yes or no.

O'BRIEN: Never?

PIRRO: It's not about excusing them.

O'BRIEN: Earlier this morning we heard George Parnham talk about Andrea Yates. You don't think there's ever a case where someone's mental state may have comprised their ability to understand what they did?

PIRRO: What I'm saying and what I say in the book is that that's fine. If you want to believe that someone's mental state affected their ability to commit a crime, deal with that later. I think that the insanity defense contributes to the lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, the perception that people can get away with it. It's almost as though were more concerned about the defendant and what his state of mind was than the victim.

I mean in the Andrea Yates case, there are five children who are dead. In this case, there are how many, 10 dead individuals, 13, 14 people shot? It's about time we focused on the criminal and not -- on the victim and not made so much of the criminal and where did we go wrong and was he OK?

O'BRIEN: Do I have time to jump in with a question about Kobe Bryant?

PIRRO: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Because I know you were really angry when the prosecution in that case slipped with a name six times.

PIRRO: Slipped, yes.

O'BRIEN: Some say slipped, some say not possible to slip that many times.

PIRRO: Not possible for a component attorney to do that. And there was a message, a very subliminal message being sent to the victim here.

O'BRIEN: Which was?

PIRRO: Which is we know who you are, we're going to trash you, we're going to suggest that you've had sex with three different men on the three days prior to this rape. And already there have been individuals who are charged with trying to kill her. This is about trashing the victim.

That's what I talk about in the book. It's time that we paid attention to the victim and not trashed them.

O'BRIEN: In the book you have so many heartbreaking stories of a lot of people -- I mean, and a lot of your work, of course, was dealing with children who are abused and neglected. My question after reading it was how did you go back at the end of the day and sort of want to face a new day when there was so much heartbreak?

PIRRO: You know, there's so much inequity in the criminal justice system. Even the name gives the criminal top billing, the criminal justice system. It should be the victim justice system. And it's the victims' stories that have propelled me over the last 27 years. And I talk about some of the pain they go through for no reason.

You or I going through our day can be the victim of a crime like that. Every five seconds someone becomes the victim of a violent felon. And it's time that we healed victims, not just worried about the criminals and making sure that they get healed and rehabilitated, but taking -- making sure that victims are protected, that we don't trash them, that we heal them.

Because in the book I talk about victims that we lose, victims who become criminals, victims who never live a fulfilling life. It's a painful study.

O'BRIEN: The book is called "To Punish and Protect: One D.A.'s Fight Against the System That Coddles Criminals."

That kind of says it all.

Jeanine Pirro, nice to have you.

Thanks so much.

PIRRO: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

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