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Burden of Proof

Edwin Edwards Case: Alleged Extortion Down in the Heart of Dixie

Aired May 5, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWIN EDWARDS, FMR. LOUISIANA GOVERNOR: I'm very pleased with everything and anxious to get it on.

EDDIE JORDAN, U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I'm eager to get it on, because I think that we have done everything that's absolutely necessary to prepare a good, sound, compelling case.

EDWARDS: I think the flaw in the case is they're not going to be able to show any kind of contact by me with any of the people responsible for making these decisions, which was improper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Alleged extortion down in the heart of Dixie, as the former governor of Louisiana is on trial on the Bayou. If convicted, the flamboyant Edwin Edwards could receive a 300-year prison sentence.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

For nearly three decades, Edwin Edwards, the son of a sharecropper, dominated Louisiana politics. But now, the 72-year-old Cajun, along with his son and five other people, is accused of corrupting the riverboat casino industry.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: The former governor is on trial for allegedly extorting almost $3 million from casino applicants. Yesterday, the trial of Edwin Edwards became almost as controversial as the defendant as a juror was dismissed after deliberations began. Throughout the case, Edwards has held his own court on the courthouse steps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: That not all is copacetic as they suggest, but I'm not going to comment any further, because I'm just barely staying inside the line. Today, I took care of some housekeeping and had my car fixed and went and cashed a check before they freeze my accounts. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from New Orleans are former federal prosecutor Julian Murray and former U.S. attorney John Volz. And here in Washington, Wayne Paugh (ph), criminal defense attorney Peter Krauthamer and Michael Mandelberg (ph).

COSSACK: And in the back, Anne-Marie Zandenbroeck (ph) and Brady Barto (ph). And also joining us from Dallas, Texas is CNN national correspondent Charles Zewe.

Well, Charles, they started off with 12 jurors, now there's 11. What's going on down there?

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they bounced one, Roger. Juror number 68, a white guy, 48 years old, from the Baton Rouge area, who had been on the jury all along, Judge Frank Polozola said inside the courtroom just a little while ago that, despite all the speculation, and what he called wild rumors that he kicked the guy off the panel because he wasn't following jury instructions, that he brought a dictionary and a thesaurus into the deliberating room, and that is not allowed. And he also said that he had gotten a tip from somebody who called him on the phone, and said something about juror number 68, which he would not elaborate on, but that eventually that led to throwing him off the jury.

Now, one of the defense attorneys told me that they thought that this guy was siding with them, and that they thought that he had taken a position that he wasn't going to vote guilty against Edwards or any others for any reason, and had stopped taking part in the deliberations, and that is what the many, many people reported, including CNN, that that is why the trial and deliberations were brought to a halt and why he was kicked off.

Now that brought an immediate appeal yesterday in court from the defense attorneys to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to try to force a mistrial to be declared in the case because of a hung jury, but the judge turned those motions down, and went ahead with the deliberations. As far as we know, those deliberations are continuing at this hour.

VAN SUSTEREN: Charles, take me back. This is Governor Edwin Edwards, who retired in '96, his trial began in January of this year. What is he on trial for? What's alleged to have happened?

ZEWE: The businesses of it, Greta, is, according to the government now, that during the last part of Edwards' terms, 1991 continuing through 1997, he left office in 1996, after his fourth term in office, that he, his son Stephen, and some of his cronies, a fellow named Andrew Martin, who is a wealthy tugboat operator from south Louisiana, and a long-time buddy and confidant of Edwards; along with businessman named Bobby Johnson, one of the gambling board members of Louisiana named Ecotry Fuller; state senator from Shreveport named Greg Tarver; and a cattleman from southwest Louisiana named Cecil Brown, again, all friends of Edwards. That they all engaged in a scheme to extorted millions of dollars from casino operators or people applying for licenses.

For instance, Edward DeBartolo Jr., who is the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, claimed that he felt forced to pay Edwards $400,000 in cash in order to smooth the way so there wouldn't be any problems in DeBartolo getting a casino license for the last riverboat license in Louisiana for Shreveport. Now DeBartolo ended up getting the license, but ended up not actually going through with the project after the scandal broke and the investigated started.

That's the kind of allegation that was made, that Edwards and his fellow co-defendants, including his son, engaged in extortion, conspiracy and mail fraud to shake down riverboat casino interests in Louisiana.

VAN SUSTEREN: Julian Murray, before we get to sort of the legal issues, tell me, you live in New Orleans, is former Governor Edwards a well liked man in the community?

JULIAN MURRAY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: He is very well liked in the New Orleans area, it is very doubtful they could ever convict him here. He is probably a little bit less well liked in the Baton Rouge area, and that's where they have taken him to be tried this time. And a lot of people claim the government was forum shopping when they did that. It is a much more conservative community, and they believe they have a better chance of getting a conviction there. But he is popular all over the state.

COSSACK: Now, Julian, Edward DeBartolo, who we have heard referred to as a person who said that he felt compelled to give him $400,000. Mr. DeBartolo had a little deal with the government, himself, didn't he?

MURRAY: Yes, he did. He got -- a lot of people are skeptical because he sweetheart deal in order to turn state's evidence and testify for the defense. The $400,000 was certainly a lot of money for him and for the casino he was going to get, a lot of people say that really was pocket change, and it is questionable whether -- what relationship he had with Governor Edwards. A lot of people are skeptical whether or not he, in fact, was extorted, or whether he simply paid it to him voluntarily.

VAN SUSTEREN: John, I am intrigued by Julian's remark that he would have a hard time getting convicted in New Orleans and the case has been moved to Baton Rouge. Why was the government successful in moving it to Baton Rouge?

JOHN VOLZ, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, almost any of the federal jurisdictions in Louisiana would have had -- would have been a proper venue in this case because these acts took place all over the state. So if you had just one or several acts committed in the Eastern District or the Western District or the middle districts, where it is being tried, then they would have the jurisdiction. So, yes, there has been a claim that the government was forum shopping, and I don't know that that's so, but they certainly are in a better position in Baton Rouge than we were in some years ago in New Orleans. VAN SUSTEREN: What's the difference between New Orleans and Baton Rouge? I mean, why do you have that level of certainty, and Julian, that he couldn't get convicted in New Orleans, assuming that, you know, the evidence is sufficient. I don't know that it is.

VOLZ: Well, we certainly thought it was, and when we tried him the last time. But the problem is that he has a very strong, staunch following in the lower socioeconomic education strata of society. And they will not convict, in my opinion, they will not convict Edwin Edwards no matter what he does.

COSSACK: Why is that, John?

VOLZ: Well, he seems to have a mystique about him with these people that if you -- it is very, very difficult, extremely difficult, and I'm not predicting the outcome of this case, but it is extremely difficult to get 12 people where you don't have one or two people who really love him. Nobody is ambivalent in this state toward Edwin Edwards. They either think he's evil or they think he is good. And the ones who think he's good will go to bat for him, and will sit back and laugh at his jokes, and all the while knowing that he does things that are on the line, the legal line, and sometimes oversteps that line.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Up next, after three days of secret hearings, U.S. District Court Judge Frank Polozola sends a juror home. But if Edwards is convicted, could the ouster add fuel to an appeal? Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

A California Superior Court judge threw out six more convictions yesterday that prosecutors think were tainted by police misconduct.

More than 80 cases to date have been dismissed in conjunction with the LAPD corruption scandal and 30 officers have been relieved of duty.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the Worldwide Web. Just log on to CNN.com/Burden. We now provide a live video feed Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What is it you just said?

EDWARDS: I'm glad I'm not a 6-year-old child from Cuba.

QUESTION: What do you think about as you prepare for this, as the jury...?

EDWARDS: What's that?

QUESTION: What do you think about? What goes through your mind, if you can share that with us?

EDWARDS: No, I can't.

QUESTION: Just your personal feelings.

EDWARDS: I have to be very careful. And as soon as the verdict is in, of course, I will try to share more information with you, and I hope you'll understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSSACK: The flamboyant Edwin Edwards served as governor of Louisiana for four terms. Now he awaits a jury's verdict in a federal racketeering case. But today, that panel has one less member as juror number 68 was sent home.

Joining us now from New Orleans, or Baton Rouge is Rob Masson.

Rob, you have a little more information on that juror?

ROB MASSON, WVUE REPORTER: Yes, Judge Polozola has had his courtroom sealed off for much of the past three and a half days. We haven't known very much as to -- about his reasons for dismissing the juror. Today, he went on the record for about 20 minutes to explain a little bit about his thought process in releasing the juror. And we learned for the first time that they received a call on this juror back when they dismissed another juror about two weeks ago.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who received a call?

MASSON: They received a call at the office of Stephen Edwards where this -- and it was complaining about this particular juror, saying that he had a bias against Edwin Edwards. The judge says, at the time, they checked it out, found there was no basis to that, and that the reason that this juror was dismissed was because he failed to follow the judge's instructions, basically refused to deliberate. And the judge went to great pains to try and say that they never asked him any questions about which side he was leaning toward. However, many people on the defense team believe he was pro-defense just by watching the guy's body language in the jury box.

VAN SUSTEREN: Peter, if I were the defense attorney, I'd be figuratively, maybe, jumping up and down irate that a judge would dismiss a juror during deliberations over this issue. But the failure to deliberate -- is it a failure to deliberate if -- and we don't know exactly the facts, but if you walk into a jury room as a juror and if you're so convinced of one particular side that you can't be persuaded to look at more evidence, is that failure to deliberate?

PETER KRAUTHAMER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That's the question: I mean, what is failure to deliberate? It's semantics. I mean, I may have made up my mind and go in there and just engage and play the devil's advocate and have no good intentions of deliberating and just -- at least articulate certain words. Or I may say, I've made up my mind and there's nothing I want to say and there's nothing you can say to me. But I think as long as you remain in that room, you are deliberating, you are hearing things, things may have an impact on you. And to just pluck a juror out who says, I'm basically recusing myself from this deliberation and kick him off the jury is...

VAN SUSTEREN: Julian, is -- did this juror -- I mean, do we know for sure whether this juror was -- wanted to leave the jury room, whether the juror wanted to be removed? And do we know whether or not the lawyer moved for a mistrial?

MURRAY: Yes, we know both of those answers. According to the newspaper, the juror did ask to be dismissed because he felt that the other jurors were being antagonistic towards him because of his position; that is, refusing to have dialogue with them. And the attorneys did move for a mistrial.

I guess the basic question is: Does deliberate mean debate? Deliberate means to carefully consider, if you look at the dictionary, and there's no indication the man did not carefully consider the evidence. The fact that he won't debate and have dialogue with his fellow jurors is a different matter altogether.

COSSACK: Julian, does this make -- suppose there's a conviction in this case. And we don't know what's going to happens, but let's assume there is a conviction. Does this make this, in your opinion, make this conviction suspect? I mean, on appeal, what do you think would happen?

MURRAY: Well, certainly we don't know all of the facts, and that's part of the problem here because it's always held behind closed doors. But the likelihood of an appeal, and this being a strong issue, you couldn't conclude otherwise. Apparently the man did nothing wrong, but he simply took a firm position in the very beginning and I don't know -- you can't do that.

COSSACK: Well, wait. Let me just make a hypothetical: Suppose he walks in there and he says the following: I've heard this case, I've made up my mind, there's really no reason for me to discuss this with any of you. My vote is whatever my vote is and nothing you say is going to change it. What about that?

MURRAY: I think he's got a right to do that. I think it happens all the time. We're naive if we don't believe that jurors go in with their minds made up. Maybe all of them are not as candid when they say that, but you know, John and I have tried too many cases as prosecutors where the jury came back in 15 minutes after taking a restroom break and picking a juror. They obviously didn't discuss it and deliberate. They went in there with their with their minds made up. I don't know that that's a reason for dismissing a juror. In fact, I suggest it's not.

VAN SUSTEREN: Charles, I'd be -- as I've said, I'd be very distressed if I were the defense lawyer because it seems from afar without all the facts that the judge is almost directing a verdict of guilty if he takes the one favorable juror off the panel. What do we know about the judge?

ZEWE: Oh, Judge Frank Polozola has been on the bench in Baton Rouge I think for the better part of 30 years and he's handled several very big and tough cases in Louisiana. He has had a continuing supervision of the state's prison system, and that is probably the biggest single issue he's handled in his entire time on the bench. And he's handled that case in a very tough manner, dealing in a very stringent, very by-the-book manner with state prison officials and trying to reduce prison overcrowding and improve conditions. I think people who have practiced before him know Judge Polozola as one of those federal judges who is suey (ph) generous in terms of, you know, he's the god in his own court. And I don't think there are too many lawyers who have practiced before him that relish the thought of crossing him.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break.

Up next: Why did prosecutors have difficulty convicting Edwards in past cases? Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: According to the Department of Justice, how much money has the federal government spent so far on the Elian Gonzalez case?

A: $762,000

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN; Jury deliberations resume today in the racketeering case against flamboyant former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards. These aren't the first charges leveled against Edwards.

John, let me go to you. You were a U.S. attorney, prosecuted him twice before, you have said that it is the jury in New Orleans, let me be so presumptuous to say two things: one, either there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt or your lawyers simply didn't perform.

Why do you think, beyond the jury, could those be the two reasons you couldn't convict him?

VOLZ: No, I don't believe. The evidence was strong in that case. Anybody else would have been convicted probably within two or three hours, in the case, perhaps that's an exaggeration. But it certainly wouldn't have ended the way that it did, except for the kind of jurors that we had.

And it was an Edwards jury and, you know, in Louisiana, especially in New Orleans, nobody is ambivalent toward Edwards; they either love him or they think he is evil.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you get voir dire, you can look for jurors. I mean, I find it very hard to believe in the entire state of Louisiana, people come in and the fix is in one way or the other, when they are put in the box; that you can't find 12 people in the state of Louisiana who will simply look at the evidence and weigh it.

VOLZ: Well, we'll see. You know, he has come to be known as having a Teflon coating and we will find how strong that coating is when this case is over. But I'll say that his cases are bizarre, to say the least. This incident, in this particular case with dismissing a juror.

In the first case, there was an incident created when the jurors were being moved from one place to another by the marshal service, one of the jurors pointed his finger at the camera in downward motion like that, and that caused the furor of the day, and there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about getting him off the jury. He was allowed to remain on the jury, and we believe he's the one that hung the jury up in that case.

But the case, had anybody else been tried with the evidence that we had, while we did not have electronic surveillance as they have in this case, we had sufficient evidence of what he had done. In fact, by his own admission, what he had done on the witness stand, that he should have been convicted.

COSSACK: Peter, one of the things judges worry about is that when they get appeal they better have a record to support that appeal. Now we've heard recently that this judge has now made some statements about getting a phone call and the jury that he dismissed had brought in a dictionary, and had brought in a thesaurus. Is that the judge protecting himself?

VOLZ: I think what you're going to find when this is all said and done is that Judge Polozola dismissed this juror because he violated his oath. I think that's the only legal grounds the judge could use, is that he violated his oath as a juror.

And I think that I have to agree with Julian, that if a person walks in and says: My mind is made up, I have listened to everything, I've listened to everything and this is my vote and I'm not changing it. I don't think that's improper. I think that happens all the time.

COSSACK: Peter, I want to follow up on that. If that's true, and if John says that happens all the time, that makes this whole situation a little suspect and perhaps the judge has a little -- has a right to be concerned, right, Peter?

KRAUTHAMER: Yes, I think so. I think the latching onto this use of the dictionary and the thesaurus brings it to another realm and puts the judge on safer grounds on appeal. Jurors are not allowed to use extraneous or outside materials in their deliberations. If the juror has a question about a definition of a word, write a note to the judge, and let the lawyers discuss that the definitions should be. We don't know if it's a legal term or if it's a lay term that this man was looking up, and let the judge respond to that juror or to the jury as a whole and deal with it that way. VAN SUSTEREN: Julian, in the few seconds we have left, we have the court forum, we have the TV forum, what are the lawyers in Louisiana saying behind-the-scenes about this case?

MURRAY: Well, the -- I think most of them don't believe that it had anything to do with a thesaurus or the dictionary. That happened very early, the judge says that's not proper, they took it away, and they went forward with the deliberations.

Then you have two days of questioning jurors. They brought in the man's minister, his pastor and his assistant pastor and questioned them. I mean, this is bizarre, you just don't delve that deeply into jury deliberations and you certainly don't do it in secret, the way it has been done.

So naturally, people are going to question it. The judge says, well, speculation, it's hearsay, it's rumor. But that's what you generate when you do all of this in secret, it's just too important. I think they'd have been better to have sequestered the jury than to let the jury go and do all of this type of important things in secret.

COSSACK: Greta, I don't think we have heard the last of the evidence.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think so either.

COSSACK: But that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE," meet the women who have written the new handbooks on success in business life. And that's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I'd better read them.

But -- and Monday, Linda Tripp will be the topic...

COSSACK: You know the authors?

VAN SUSTEREN: No. Linda Tripp's our topic on Monday, a ruling is expected later today in her Maryland wiretapping case.

We'll see you on Monday.

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