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Burden of Proof

Murder Trial of Former Pro Football Player Rae Carruth Gets Under Way

Aired October 27, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

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

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, the murder trial of former pro football player Rae Carruth. Will the jury believe testimony from a co-defendant who has confessed to pulling the trigger? Plus, the Carruth defense turns to a jury consultant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANITA BLOWERS, UNCC CRIMINAL JUSTICE DEPT.: It's not as important to just know the gender, the sex, the race, the occupation, but to really get a sense of the person's personality, who's going to emerge as the leaders, who's going to be the followers. That can be important in terms of the jury deliberation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ever since last Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving last year, it has been all over the news, so it would be very hard to find anybody that hasn't heard anything about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Greta is off today.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, three jurors have been seated in the case against Rae Carruth. The former Carolina Panthers wide receiver is accused of masterminding the killing of his pregnant girlfriend last November.

Now, three other defendants were also charged in the murder of Cherica Adams. The jurors will have to avoid hearing about the trial on television, the radio, newspaper, or the Internet. They've also been instructed to walk away from any conversations if Rae Carruth's name is mentioned.

And joining us today from Charlotte is James Gronquist, defense attorney for co-defendant Stanley Abraham Jr. And also in Charlotte, Eric Frazier, legal affairs reporter for the "Charlotte Observer." And from Miami, Florida, we're joined by jury consultant Carolyn Robbins. Here in Washington, Hillary Walters; former federal prosecutor Billy Martin; and John Olson. In the back, Caroline Spongberg (ph) and Kevin Gully (ph). Eric, I want to go right to you. You've been in the courtroom this week. Tell us what's going on.

ERIC FRAZIER, LEGAL AFFAIRS REPORTER, "CHARLOTTE OBSERVER": Well, basically, they've seated, as you said, three jurors so far out of a pool of 50 prospective jurors. And this morning they're completing the questioning of the last of that 50. They've got nine that they're questioning this morning, and they have a pool of about 25 I think who are in reserve for when they either seat or dismiss these folks from the nine who are remaining from the original 50.

COSSACK: Eric, it's taken a week to select three jurors, or at least get three jurors seated so far. What kind of questions are the prosecution asking as opposed to the defense? Do they differ in their approach?

FRAZIER: Well, yes. The prosecution is specifically asking questions related to the death penalty, and whether or not the jurors or prospective jurors will be able to follow the laws of the state, and basically whether or not they can do what's necessary to carry out the death penalty: will they be too squeamish to actually follow through and carry it out? The defense has been asking more open-ended questions and trying to do more -- I guess trying to get a sense of who these prospective jurors are as people, their backgrounds, their religious beliefs, the way that they approach decision-making processes. They're trying to get a feel for them as people and how they'll -- what they will bring to the jury deliberations when that time comes.

COSSACK: Eric, how has each side addressed the issue of Carruth being a well-known football player that plays in Carolina, and also the issue of the fact that his relationship with the victim and the fact there was a child that was born and they weren't married? Is either side talking about that with the jury?

FRAZIER: Well, they are. The defense lawyer, the defense lawyers, David Rudolf and the Chris Dialfo (ph), have been asking how they feel about out-of-wedlock pregnancies and will they be able to set aside any feelings they have upon that subject, or if they have relatives or friends who have been through that kind of experience, and how they feel about that. The prosecution hasn't really been dealing that particularly with that issue, but they have been asking people about whether or not they have heard about the case through the media, can they -- do they realize that the things that they've seen in the media don't constitute evidence, and will they will be able to put aside what they've seen or heard or read and look at the case objectively when the time comes?

COSSACK: Just one question: We understand that there's a jury consultant that's assisting the defense in picking a jury. Is she seated right in the courtroom alongside the defense table?

FRAZIER: She's seated directly behind the defense attorney David Rudolf and he does spend a good deal of time speaking with her. Basically, she's right at his -- behind his shoulder.

COSSACK: And the jury can see her -- see them talking.

FRAZIER: Yes.

COSSACK: And does the jury know who she is?

FRAZIER: I believe they do, because at the beginning of the jury selection process he introduced the whole defense team, including Rae Carruth and his private investigators -- the whole defense team was introduced to the jury.

COSSACK: All right, let's go to Carolyn Robbins in Miami.

Carolyn, you are a person that helps select jurors -- help s lawyers select jurors. What about this notion of being seated right in the courtroom, of discussing with the attorney in front of the jury -- presumably, you're talking about them.

What kind of impact do you think that has on the jury?

CAROLYN ROBBINS, JURY CONSULTANT: Well, it's a very good question. Obviously, what you want to do at the beginning of a trial is put their fears aside and any paranoia or uncomfortableness they might have with that by actually introducing who the jury consultant is, so there's no -- it doesn't look hidden or, somehow -- that you're not being open with them.

But the jurors do understand from the start that they are going to be scrutinized, that they're asked quite a few questions; and, understanding that this is part of the process of selecting a fair jury usually puts aside any uncomfortableness they might have with that.

COSSACK: Jim, you are representing a co-defendant who's been severed out of this trial but, presumably, will go to trial a little later down the road. Are you going to school on this jury at all?

JAMES GRONQUIST, ATTORNEY FOR STANLEY ABRAHAM JR.: Yes, we're watching what's being done in the courtroom as much as we can. There are, of course, two attorneys for each of the co-defendants and we're trying to take turns being over there because we, of course, have other cases to handle at the same time, too. But we're doing our best to see how this jury selection is going and what kind of people they're looking for.

COSSACK: What are you trying to see? What are you trying to learn from what's going on, particularly from the defense side?

GRONQUIST: Well, always in capital case, or death penalty case, you're looking for people -- you've got a tough choice to make because you're talking to people who are going to be what we call a "death qualified" jury by the time they are selected. That means they are willing to use the death penalty, which also means that they are pro- prosecution or pro-conviction before you even start, because that's what the statistical data shows -- that jurors who support the death penalty are more likely to convict in the first place. So what you're trying to do is still pick a jury that will be, at least, able and willing to listen to your case because, first of all, the issue has to be -- they're bifurcated trials, you have to determine the guilt or innocence of the person first, and then whether they are going to exact the ultimate punishment or not. And, of course, you're trying to find jurors that will be willing to listen to both of those issues and to separate them in a way which will enable them to be fair and reasonable on both of those issues.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break.

Up next, how will the Carruth defense build its case and how can it rebut the testimony of co-defendants who may take the witness stand and testify against Carruth?

Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

An Indiana newspaper is suing Indiana University in an attempt to force the school to release records related to the firing of coach Bob Knight. The paper alleges that the University violated the state's open records policy. The University claims that they have complied with the law in the September 10 firing of Knight.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers. You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide 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. And 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.

Rae Carruth is on trial in Charlotte, North Carolina for allegedly arranging the killing of his pregnant girlfriend. Now, there are three other co-defendants in this case who will be tried separately. But first, they may take the witness stand and testify against the former pro football player.

Before we get into the cold defendant issue, Billy, I want to talk to you a little bit. You in your career have represented famous sports figures. I know of the top of my head you represented Reddick Bole (ph), I think, in Charlotte.

BILLY MARTIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTORS: That's correct.

Talk to me about Charlotte juries, talk to me about what you were particularly interested in having a high-profile defendant, and what people think and problems that you may have. I mean, are they mad? Do jurors come in and say, this guy has too much money, he's going to pay a price? I mean, what are you worried about?

MARTIN: Roger, in many way, Charlotte has grown as an emerging financial capital. And we view it now as a big city, but it's still a small town. When we went down to Charlotte to represent Reddick, and a sentencing in federal court, the news of the day was not the trial or the sentence, the news of the day was that my co-counsel was Johnnie Cochran, Johnnie Cochran was in town. So while it may be a big city, it also tends to focalize its emphasis on a lot of small issues.

Here, they've covered this city. It's not New York, it's not Washington, it's not Atlanta. Most of the people in the Charlotte area know what's going on with this trial. It's going to be difficult to find somebody who hasn't heard about it, and they don't tolerate a lot of violent crime in Charlotte. They have tough juries down there.

COSSACK: Carolyn, how do you -- when you're helping a lawyer pick a jury, how do you approach the issue of the fact there may be a co-defendant? In fact, in this case we know of at least one who is going to testify against Carruth. What do you do in terms of helping the defense prepare for that kind of event?

ROBBINS: Well, what we normally do is preparation. We do focus groups and mock trials before any type of case to better understand issues like that, as well as a lot of other ones. And what you do is do a mini-trial in front of people who are similar in nature and demographics to the jury panel. Of course, you don't know who the real jury panel is going to be, but a similar demographic to the area where the case is going to be tried you run this mock trial in front of them and present these issues, and then you have them deliberate and you watch and you see how they're dealing with these issues and you ask them specifically.

In this case, it's an interesting dilemma they have because the original statement, if I understand the evidence correctly, leans towards the defense, and then the statements that came later seem to lean towards the prosecution. So there's certainly going to have to be some sort of exploration of how these jurors are going to trust, if they are, any of these witnesses, and if that helps or hurts. And we would explore that.

COSSACK: Jim, help me out on this case. Apparently there's a co-defendant in this case named Watkins who is going to testify on behalf of the prosecution. Now, as I understand it, initially he said that Carruth was the instigator and that he acted, at least -- I'll leave your client out for a moment -- he acted at least because Carruth paid him to pull the trigger and to murder the victim in this case. Then apparently Rudolf, who is Carruth's attorney, David Rudolf, filed a motion saying Watkins has made a statement completely opposite that, now saying that he did this all on his own. Are those the facts?

GRONQUIST: Basically, yes, what you said. The information, I believe, came from one of the other co-defendants as to what each person had done in participation in this matter. And then just a short time ago, I think a few days before the trial was to start some time last week, there surfaced a separate statement that Mr. Watkins allegedly said, which is entirely different than what the other statements that had been made public by Mr. Kennedy. COSSACK: Well, isn't it -- aren't those statements -- I mean, one is inculpating. One says his initial statement was, you know, Carruth was the one that made me or got me to do this, or paid me to do this, and the second statement that we allegedly here about, or we've heard about, but it was allegedly made, is, you know, I did this all on my own. And one, I suppose, also exculpates or takes your client off the hook if he's saying, look, I did this all on my own. Now Watkins allegedly is saying, I lost my temper at her. That would seem to take your client off the hook, too.

GRONQUIST: That would seem to do that. The question is whether Mr. Watkins actually made that second statement or not. And I would suspect that that's going to be a large part of what comes out at the trial in the evidence, is to look at whether he actually made that second statement or not.

COSSACK: Well, isn't the evidence, as I understand it, from Mr. Rudolf's motion -- and Mr. Rudolf, again, I want to say, is Mr. Carruth's lawyer -- that a prison -- a sergeant in the prison took the statement from Mr. Watkins, that Mr. Watkins gave him the statement and this sergeant made notes of what Watkins said, the second statement being that Carruth had very little -- had nothing to do with it, and neither did your client. Why will there be an argument about that?

GRONQUIST: Well, because the question is whether Mr. Watkins did indeed tell the sergeant that statement or give that statement to the sergeant.

COSSACK: Well then is the suggestion that the prosecution would be alleging that the sergeant from the prison didn't tell the truth, isn't telling the truth?

GRONQUIST: I think you could infer that very clearly in this instance, that they're going to be attacking that statement.

COSSACK: Attacking the police -- the sergeant in the prison is a police officer, a member of the police, in a way. They're going to be saying that their own member of their own police department or their own prison guard is lying? What would be the reason?

GRONQUIST: Well, this is not a member of their police department. We have a sheriff's department which is entirely separate from our police department, and they run the jails and provide security for the courthouse. So she -- he -- that individual is not a member of the police department, and it is not, therefore, an investigator or has nothing to do with the district attorney or prosecutor's office. So they're not -- they are attacking, if they would do that, the credibility of a law enforcement officer.

COSSACK: A law enforcement officer. And what would -- do they have any reason about why he would lie?

GRONQUIST: Well, I think that's what they would be looking into at this point because, again, this statement surfaced relatively recently. So they would be looking into that to see if that's a possibility.

COSSACK: All right.

GRONQUIST: You know, is the person really -- is the person connected to any of the defendants, co-defendants in this matter, or has an interest of any other kind.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break.

When we come back, the Carruth defense team went all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court to try to keep cameras out of the courtroom. But late yesterday, the high court rejected that plea. Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Why is the San Francisco home which O.J. Simpson bought for his mother being placed on the auction block?

A: To pay a judgment he owes to the guardianship of his two children. The estimated value of the home is $300,000.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Lawyers for former pro football player Rae Carruth sought to keep cameras out of the courtroom during his murder trial. Yesterday, the North Carolina supreme court rejected their appeal. The court gave no reason for not interfering in the matter.

All right, Billy, let's talk about, again, high-profile cases, camera in the courtroom, obviously the defense wanted them out.

Why? and do you agree?

MARTIN: In this case, I think it can be devastating to any defense that's presented for the remaining co-defendants. These co- defendants have yet to have their day in court. And people in the area, the jury pool for the potential trial of their cases is going to hear every word that implicates them with no defense. I think in this case, because there are a remaining two defendants to go on trial for this case, it's going to be devastating for them to get a fair trial.

COSSACK: Carolyn, what about having a camera in the courtroom? Does it affect in any way how you pick a jury?

ROBBINS: Well, in general, I am always in favor of cameras in the courtroom. It is an open system. It's a public system. The camera is just a piece of technology that's come along recently that opens up the system for people to see what's going on more so than just the limitation of the seats in the courtroom, which used to be the problem.

I have always felt strongly that what really keeps the system intact is the judge, the judge not letting this become a circus. As far as the jurors are concerned, they are in a public forum, and whether there is a camera there or not, they are still going to have to behave in the same manner. Whether there's a camera in the courtroom or not, if a judge keeps the courtroom in control, I think things go well. And if the judge can't handle it, in some of the high-profile cases that we've seen in the past, it can become a nightmare.

COSSACK: Jim, your client has yet to go on trial. We don't even know if your client will testify in the Rae Carruth case. I'm sure are you not going to tell us, at least as we sit here right now.

But, how do you feel about having the case -- you were one of those people who wanted the camera out of the courtroom, isn't that right?

GRONQUIST: Yes, because our client will, in all likelihood, be the third person tried in this. So, there will be two trials previous to his trial. And that means, as was indicated earlier, that the problem for us is his Sixth Amendment rights of due process are going to be eviscerated in this process if everybody in the country knows about the case without him having a chance to defend himself, there will be misinformation, potential evidence that could be kept out his trial that will come in Mr. Carruth's trial and Mr. Kennedy's trials. And I don't know that anyone is interested in having cameras in the courtroom on either of the other two individuals' trials, but nevertheless the damage will have been done. And it's something that we will not be able to undo at that point.

COSSACK: Jim, you and the other defense lawyers, am I right in suggesting that the prosecution also didn't want cameras in the courtroom?

GRONQUIST: That's correct. All the parties, including the prosecutors, indicated -- in fact, we had a hearing on this, a rather lengthy hearing on it -- and indicated we did not want the cameras in the courtroom for various reasons. Each one had their own reasons.

COSSACK: Apparently, then, it was the judge's decision alone to allow cameras in the courtroom.

Is the law -- I guess it is in North Carolina -- that even though the parties decide unanimously they don't want cameras in the courtroom, including the defendants, that the judge can overrule that?

GRONQUIST: Yes, the judge has absolute discretion. It's rule 15 of our rules of procedure for courts that the judge has absolute discretion in determining what will happen vis a vis cameras in the courtroom. And he exercised that discretion in this instance and we feel that was an abuse of discretion based on what can be problematic for our client.

COSSACK: I can only tell you before we leave that this is a very rare thing as far as I'm concerned because usually when the prosecution and the defense all agree that they don't want a camera in the courtroom, there is no camera. But that isn't what happened here.

I'm afraid that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE," the politics of drugs. The election brings propositions to legalize marijuana in Alaska, and keep drug users in California out of prison.

Tune in and weigh in with your opinion today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time. And we'll be back Monday with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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