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Burden of Proof

The Case Against the Alleged Santana High School Shooter

Aired March 6, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET

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

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Tragedy strikes another community, as a California high school turns into a war zone of wounded and dead victims.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We have a story breaking in California: another reported school shooting. This ones appears to be serious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 9:20, we received a call of an assault on the school grounds. At this point in time, there are 15 people that have been injured, and the suspect is in custody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard gunfire and then I heard people screaming. And everybody was running in, like, a big crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sheriff's deputies are at the school on the scene. And they're still evacuating students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were walking to class and then heard the people started running towards the entrance of the school, running across the street. And then we heard gunshots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw the whole thing happen. When we heard the shots, I thought it was fake. It was quite a scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Complete chaos. Everyone scrambled. It was amazing to see how everyone just bolted towards anything they could get to to hide and cover.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... that there are two fatalities. One died at the scene and one at Grossmont Hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know why he did it. Because, like, he always gets bullied around. And he said he was going to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just hurts because I could have maybe done something about it. We can't believe that it happened.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When America teaches our children right from wrong and the values that respect life in our country, our country will be better off.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

An adult told the teenage suspect -- quote -- "I don't want another Columbine." But like the Littleton, Colorado school, Santana High has become a poster school for campus violence; 15-year-old freshman Charles Andrew Williams is in custody. He's accused of a shooting spree which killed two students and injured 13 other people.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Williams is under a 24-hour watch in the county juvenile facility. He has been charged as an adult with murder, assault and weapons possession. Williams is scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow. San Diego sheriff's deputies interviewed more than 100 victims and witnesses, after interviewing the suspect. They searched his home and left the residence with, among other evidence, seven long-barreled guns.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Santee, California is Santana High School sophomore Erik Wallingford, a friend of 17-year- old Randy Gordon, who was killed in Monday's attack. Also in Santee: Lieutenant Ron Vanraaphorst of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

COSSACK: From San Diego, we're joined by San Diego Country district attorney Paul Pfingst. And in Atlanta, we're joined by criminal defense attorney Don Samuel, who represented a teenaged suspect in a shooting at an Atlanta area high school.

VAN SUSTEREN: And here in Washington: Daniel Greenspan (ph), Josh Beer (ph) and Brooksley Bishop. In the back row: Katherine Dunagan (ph) and Emily Leonard (ph).

Also joining us from Santee, California is CNN correspondent Casey Wian.

Casey, let me go first to you. Can you describe the scene around the high school today? What is going on there?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, students have been coming to the high school all morning. Some have been laying flowers on the nameplate of the high school. You may be able to see it behind me.

They're in a grieving process. Counselors are available at the high school. And some of the students are going in and talking to counselors. They are also available at some of the local churches. And many of the students we've spoken to say they are going to take advantage of those services. It is definitely still a grieving process right now.

At the same time, sheriff's investigators are on campus looking for more evidence. And we are told one of the things that they've been doing this morning is counting bullet holes.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what have they come up with, if you know, Casey? I know that investigations are oftentimes kept under wraps. But do we know what it is they have collected from the school so far? WIAN: I do not know what they have collected from the school so far. We may get more information. There is a news conference scheduled for less than a half-hour from now. Maybe there will be more information forthcoming then. But, right now, there has not been any information released to us as to what kinds of physical evidence or other evidence they may have collected at the school.

COSSACK: Casey, when do you think that this investigation will come to an end? I mean, it's pretty clear what happened. What are they looking for now, besides bullet holes?

I think I have lost Casey.

(CROSSTALK)

COSSACK: Let's go to Erik Wallingford.

Erik, you know Andy Williams. Tell us a little bit about him.

Greta, I think -- we're not doing a good job here today.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's try one more.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's go to Don Samuel in Atlanta.

Don, let's back up for a second while we reconnect with our people out in California. This young boy obviously charged with very serious crimes. Where does a lawyer begin to represent a young boy? What do you do?

DONALD SAMUEL, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTY.: Well, the first thing you have to do, really, is to evaluate his competence to proceed at all at this stage.

If he's competent to proceed, if he understands the nature of the legal proceedings, then you have to start deciding what kind of defense is going to be mounted. Generally, in a case like this, of course what you are looking at is some kind of psychological defense. You have to evaluate his mental health and whether he understood the consequences and the nature of his actions.

VAN SUSTEREN: Don, how do you persuade a 14 or 15 -- I guess he's 15 years old. How do you persuade him that he should have confidence in you as a lawyer? I mean, you are a complete stranger. Obviously he knows that he has -- at least there have been reports that he was seen shooting two people dead. And so it certainly doesn't look particularly good for him in that regard. What does a lawyer actually do when you sit down with him?

SAMUEL: Well, the initial interview involves your own assessment of his competence. A psychologist, a psychiatrist who evaluates him uses a battery of tests to determine whether he understands the nature of the proceedings. Again, competence deals not so much with his understanding right from wrong; it is his ability to understand the court proceedings, whether he can even be tried at this point.

Then you move into the second phase, which is, conceivably, an insanity defense or some kind of mental health defense, which could mitigate punishment.

COSSACK: Let's try now and see if Paul Pfingst, the district attorney from San Diego County can join us.

Paul, can you hear us?

PAUL PFINGST, SAN DIEGO CO. DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I can hear you guys.

COSSACK: Great. Paul, tell us what your office is doing in conjunction with the investigation that is going on.

PFINGST: Well, we have a pretty unified law enforcement system out here. So the sheriff's department and my department have been working together side by side with not only taking a suspect into custody, but trying to do all the witness interviews and to accumulate the evidence from the crime scene and other evidence from other scenes and try and get that together, because we only have a 48-hour window before an arraignment in a juvenile case in California.

For an adult, it is 72 hours. And you know what a difference that extra day makes. It's often very critical. So we have to be ready to go in court tomorrow morning for an arraignment in adult court.

VAN SUSTEREN: Paul, I don't know California law. Maybe you can help me out.

PFINGST: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: But besides the young man who is charged with these two murders and other companion charges, under California law, can anyone else be charged -- for instance, being reckless with a gun or giving access to a 15-year-old with a gun?

PFINGST: Well, there are number of questions there -- reckless with a gun, yes. But that's traditional notions of recklessness leading to homicide -- not involved here. Our investigation is not focused in that area.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why not? Shouldn't it -- I mean, isn't that one area? I mean, don't you want to know where he got the guns and...

PFINGST: Oh, yes. And that's where we are going. First of all: Where did the gun come from? How did it get into everybody's possession? And how did end up at the school?

Our evidence indicates that the gun was actually kept in a safe and that the gun was taken from the safe by the shooter. So under those circumstances, you can appreciate the difficulty of trying to bring a criminal prosecution to bear under those circumstances.

(CROSSTALK)

PFINGST: But, Greta, let me say this. The investigation is still ongoing. Right now our -- we've been dealing with yesterday and today. It's only been 24 hours. And we've been dealing with victims.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I don't want to belabor a particular point, but let me just say hypothetically. And obviously I concede this is an ongoing investigation and I don't know the intimate facts of it. But the idea of having a gun in a safe -- and then, I suspect, someone supplied the young boy or the 15-year-old with the combination to the safe -- does that make -- could that hypothetically make a difference?

PFINGST: You know, we are getting into lawyer hypotheticals for law schools. The answer is hypothetically yes. In the world of California law, with the court precedence here, most probably no.

COSSACK: Paul, what about Proposition 21? And what effect does that have on this young man?

PFINGST: Last year, the voters in the state of California voted on an initiative. And for those of your viewers who are not familiar with California, we have statewide initiatives. It's a pure democratic process.

There was a juvenile justice initiative on the ballot last year having to do with this issue of trying juveniles as adults. And the voters overwhelmingly passed what we call Proposition 21, which says that if you are 14 or 15 years old and you commit one of a very small number of crimes -- murder and murder with special circumstances being among them -- you go directly to adult court.

You don't stop at juvenile court. And so we are taking this case to adult court not as a matter of discretion, but as a matter of mandate. My belief is the juvenile court has no jurisdiction in this case because of the proposition.

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

When we come back, let's try this time and talk to someone who knew the suspect in this case. And perhaps we can get some insight on why this horrible event occurred.

Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

On this day in 1951, the trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, accused of selling nuclear secrets to Russia, began in a New York federal court. The Rosenbergs were convicted and eventually sentenced to death. They were executed in June, 1953.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSSACK: Fifteen-year-old suspect Charles Andrew Williams is being housed in a San Diego County juvenile facility, but his case won't be heard by a juvenile court. Under California's Proposition 21, which is also known as the Gang Violence and Juvenile Prevention Act, as we've indicated, suspects 14 years and older can be tried as adults in murder cases life these, where special circumstances are alleged.

I want to go to Erik.

Erik, you knew one of the young men that -- one of the victims in this case. What happened, as far as you know?

ERIK WALLINGFORD, SOPHOMORE, SANTANA HIGH SCHOOL: All I know -- I saw him about 10 minutes before it happened. He was a friend of mine named Randy Gordon. When I went to my math class, I just heard, like, someone -- everyone was looking in one direction. I said, oh, it is a fight. I was like, I've seen fights before.

Then I said, wait, someone fired a gun. Someone killed themselves. And then they said, no, we heard someone fire a lot.

And we locked the doors, we got off -- we got away from the windows, we waited for about 20 minutes, and the police opened the door and said, OK, everybody get out.

COSSACK: Erik...

VAN SUSTEREN: Erik, let me ask you: Is the young boy that you knew -- did he know the kid who's been taken into custody? Do you think this was random, or do you think he was targeted by this young boy that was...

WALLINGFORD: I think it...

VAN SUSTEREN: Go ahead.

WALLINGFORD: I'm sorry, I think it was -- it was random. He was shooting, it didn't even look like -- it looked like he was just shooting a gun for the fun of it. I mean, it wasn't like he was trying to hit anybody in particular. I know he was targeting one person, but he ducked out of the way, and then the -- the shooter just said -- just kind of changed his mind and start shooting anywhere else.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you know why he was targeting that one person? Do you know what's behind that?

WALLINGFORD: I know him, actually. He's sort of a friend of mine. He's always been kind of rough around the edges, and he doesn't treat his friends with the most respect. And I guess that just kind of set -- set this kid off.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you know that he was -- that he was targeted? What makes you say that rather than that there was -- why do you think he was the target? WALLINGFORD: He -- he was a weirder person. He probably -- I don't know him as well as I used to. He might have been just bad mouthing the kid, just being kind of rude, because he said, they were saying, he might have been picked on.

COSSACK: Was there any plan in place in your school for something for the children or the students to do if something like this occurred?

WALLINGFORD: There -- apparently, there was. I -- we never knew about it, or I never knew about it. We kept hearing that the plan was in place, and it's really just like a fire drill: We just run across this street here into the apartments over there, then head over into the shopping center. That's where we gathered, and that's where they took names.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's go to Lieutenant Ron Vanraaphorst, who's at the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Lieutenant, can you tell me what...

LT. RON VANRAAPHORST, SAN DIEGO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: Good morning.

VAN SUSTEREN: Good morning.

Lieutenant, can you tell me what your department is now doing to investigate this case?

VANRAAPHORST: Right now, we still have an open crime case, if you will. We have an active crime scene here at the school. However, our investigators should be wrapping up their investigation as it pertains to the school around 12:00 today.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you excluded the possibility that there was more than one person involved in this?

VANRAAPHORST: Yes, we have.

COSSACK: Lieutenant, do you have any idea what the motive for this is?

VANRAAPHORST: No, we don't. We're still very early in the investigation, and with an incident such as this we may never know what the motive is.

COSSACK: Have you have spoken to Andy Williams?

VANRAAPHORST: I have not personally. I know our investigators from Sheriff's Homicide have spoken with him, and certainly they will continue to do so as the investigation unfolds.

COSSACK: Is he cooperating with them?

VANRAAPHORST: Yes, he was actually cooperative from the very beginning, even at the point where he was taken into custody. He was taken into custody without incident.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's his demeanor? I mean, he's 15 years old. Is he -- is he apologetic, is he crying, is he bold, is he quiet -- what's his demeanor?

VANRAAPHORST: There's not a lot of information we can reveal about his specifics. However, we keep going back to the fact that he is generally cooperative -- that's the information that homicide has given to us -- and that's the one underlying issue that we look at. He's generally cooperative.

COSSACK: Lieutenant, does he know, as your investigators indicated -- does he know what he did?

VANRAAPHORST: That I can't really speak on; again, that's part of the investigation, and I would have to go back to his overall general cooperative state.

VAN SUSTEREN: So I would say, did he know what he did, I mean...

COSSACK: Does he know what he did?

VAN SUSTEREN: No, no, no, I mean, there's so many witnesses to this, and of course he still has to face a trial and all the -- but anyway.

We take a quick break.

As in the aftermath of Paducah and Columbine, community leaders are asking why?

We'll ask our guests that question when we come back.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Why was an 8-year-old Philadelphia boy taken into custody by police Monday?

A: For taking a gun to school and allegedly threatening a third- grade classmate. Under Pennsylvania law, the boy will not face criminal charges.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Today, Americans awoke to another morning after as another community picks up the pieces of yet another school shooting. Two students were killed at Santana High School outside San Diego; 13 others were injured.

Don, let me ask you an unpopular question in the wake of a horrible tragedy yesterday. But let's focus on this young man or young boy who's in custody. What do you make of this proposition in California which automatically puts a 15-year-old in adult court? SAMUEL: It doesn't sound like something I would really be in favor of. In Georgia, there is -- the DA has the option to bring a murder case in adult court rather than juvenile court. But any time you have any kind of mandatory proceeding like that and you deprive the court of the ability to make a case-by-case decision, I think you deprive the judiciary of the ability to really make a fair decision.

VAN SUSTEREN: But, Don, in light of the growing trend -- and we see younger people committing more what typically were adult crimes, I mean, these horrible murders -- even if this were a decision made by someone, isn't it likely that a 15-year-old is going to be waved into adult court anyway? And what do you sort of make of the fact that it used to be 18 and now 15-year-olds are in adult court?

SAMUEL: I think it's a pretty sad commentary. I just -- I'm not sure that the criminal justice system really is the solution to these problems. You know, in T.J. Solomon's case, the case here in Atlanta, the judge said, well, I'm going to sentence him to 40 years and maybe this will send a message. But I certainly doubt that the young man in San Diego, you know, heard that message or that it has any kind of deterrent effect. So it's more of a social and a medical problem than it is a criminal justice problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: But if a 15-year-old goes into school with a loaded gun, and even two days before is making a pronouncement to others he's going in there to kill, I mean, what's the community to do?

SAMUEL: I don't know. I don't know the answer to that, Greta. I wish I had an answer to that. But I'm not sure that automatically sending him to adult court and automatically giving him a life sentence is the proper response.

COSSACK: Paul, what do we do? You're the San Diego district attorney for that whole county and, you know, this lies -- comes right become on your prosecutorial shoulders. How do we prevent this?

PFINGST: Well, I'm not sure that anybody knows how to prevent this because there'd be a Noble Prize in someone who could know how to prevent murder.

What do we do with this case? We are all, in San Diego and around the country, troubled about what happens when a youngster, someone 15, 16 years old, does an act of shooting or a rampage of one type or another. How do we handle it? Nobody is insensitive to the issue of age and nobody is insensitive to the fact that young people can make mistakes in their life.

At some point, however, something goes beyond a mistake. It's not a mistake anymore, it's not a judgment issue anymore, it -- there are acts of such violence and such catastrophe.

I had an occasion yesterday to speak with the mother of one of the dead boys. That's a remarkably terrible thing to have to do. She was looking at me and the sheriff and asking, why, why, why, why? She kept saying, why my son? Why my son? The answer is there is no answer.

VAN SUSTEREN: Paul?

PFINGST: So our choices are limited. Do we say we'll release the kid back into the community, somebody who does a shooting? Of course not. Does somebody have to go to jail for this to protect our society? Of course he does. What is the proper length of time? Well, that's what we have a democracy about and that's why we vote on these things and have representatives decide them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Paul, let me ask you a question about that.

PFINGST: Obviously I'm -- you know, the kid is entitled to a trial. And Roger always teases me on the side about presumption of innocence, but the writing seems pretty much on the wall. There were eyewitnesses to this and he was picked up.

But assuming that he does get convicted of this crime, which looks quite likely, at least from what we're hearing, as a 15-year- old, does he -- if he's convicted in adult court, does he go to an adult facility in the state of California? Is he going to be rubbing shoulders with 25-, 30-, 35-year-old people who have been convicted of murders? What do you do about those?

PFINGST: No, you don't -- 15-year-olds, 14-year-olds, 16-year- olds don't go to the big house. I mean, that's not the way it works. We have a California Youth Authority; 14-, 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds go to the Youth Authority.

Between the ages of 18 and 21, the Youth Authority system can decide whether the person goes to an adult facility or not. But juveniles don't go to an adult facility in California until at least their 18th birthday, and sometimes not until their 21st birthday.

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

Today on CNN's "TALKBACK LIVE," when is the right time to speak up? Send your e-mail about the California school shooting to Bobbie Battista and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

VAN SUSTEREN: And tonight on "THE POINT," presidents and vice presidents and their health. We'll talk with veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas for a look at Dick Cheney and past leaders: Stress on the job and public reaction. Join me at 8:30 Eastern.

And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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