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Burden of Proof

Jury Deliberates Fate of Hip-Hop Mogul Sean 'Puffy' Combs Facing Gun, Bribery Charges

Aired March 15, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET



JOHNNIE COCHRAN, ATTORNEY FOR SEAN "PUFFY" COMBS: I think it's been a learning process for him. As Benny (ph) said, he's a very strong young man, very intelligent, very faith-based. And I think that this has been a learning experience for him.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: In a high-profile trial in Manhattan, hip-hop mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs faces gun charges and bribery, which could land him in prison. Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: The jury deliberates.

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

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger's here, but he's got audio problems, so we're going to start without him.

At this hour, a New York jury is deliberating the fate of one of hip-hop music's biggest stars. Sean Combs, known as Puffy and Puff Daddy in music circles, faces charges of gun possession and bribery from a shooting incident in New York in December of 1999. Although Combs is the most well-known of the defendants, two others face charges from the incident. One of those defendants is accused of attempted murder. If convicted on all charges, Puffy Combs could be facing up to 15 years in prison.

Such a development could be a shocking blow to a generation of music lovers who have propelled the 31-year-old Combs into a mega-star of the hip-hip music industry.



SEAN "PUFFY" COMBS: I went to a club in New York. And under no circumstances whatsoever did I have anything to do with a shooting. I do not own a gun, nor did I possess a gun that night.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAN SUSTEREN (voice-over): Before his arrest on gun charges nearly 15 months ago, the name Sean "Puffy" Combs was recognizable only in music and fashion circles. Also known as Puff Daddy, the hip- hop mogul produced multi-platinum albums and has received dozens of R&B and rap awards from around the world.

RUSSELL SIMMONS, CEO, RUSH COMMUNICATIONS: He's a person who raised himself up from the ghetto and created a brand and a business. And he's an inspiration to the community.

VAN SUSTEREN: But the name Puffy leaped from the entertainment section of the newspaper and onto the crime blotter when he was arrested following a shooting at a Times Square nightclub in December, 1999.

ROBERT MORGENTHAU, NEW YORK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY (January 13, 2000): Sean Combs, also known as Puff Daddy, and Anthony Jones, also known as Wolf, have been indicted today on weapons charges stemming from an incident on the evening of -- an early morning hour, December 27th, 1999.

COCHRAN: Mr. Combs intends to plead not guilty to the charges filed against him.

Came in a limousine to that particular club. He was just there to enjoy himself. He wasn't armed. He never pulled a gun on anyone.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yesterday, after a lengthy trial, the case against Sean Combs was sent to the jury, and a judge's gag order was lifted.

BENJAMIN BRAFMAN, ATTORNEY FOR SEAN "PUFFY" COMBS: This is the first gun possession case in the history of America that lasted six or seven weeks and had 60 witnesses. I think that was just a statement made to impress but without real substance to it. He doesn't believe it. Nobody else does.

COCHRAN: Nobody wants to go through a process like this, but I think it's made him even stronger. He understands better now. I think that's appropriate, and we do expect that he'll be acquitted.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from our New York bureau, former Kings County assistant district attorney Jonathan Nelson. Here in Washington, Neil Glancy (ph), criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Billy Martin, and Joanna Star (ph). In the back, Michelle Bakowski (ph) and Bridget Carper (ph). Also joining us from New York is "People" magazine reporter Bob Meadows.

And of course, Roger Cossack joins me to my left, but he can't hear anything yet.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Can I yell through your microphone?

VAN SUSTEREN: You can yell through my microphone. Roger may be joining us at some point, I hope, instead of just sitting here. But anyway, let's go to New York.

Bob, you've been sitting in and watching the trial. Tell me what it's been like inside that courtroom.

BOB MEADOWS, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: It's pretty much been pretty sedate, as far as inside the courtroom. You have Puffy's relatives, Sean's relatives, and Wolf's relatives all in there. You have blocks of media. The last couple days, when they began closing arguments for the defense and the president, were extremely packed. People waited four, five hours to get in, and many of them could not. But pretty much, Judge Solomon has kept everything under control. People have praised him, actually, outside for being very fair and keeping everything in order.

VAN SUSTEREN: Give me an idea of what the prosecution's case is against Puffy Combs.

MEADOWS: Prosecutor Bogdanos said that all he needed was one witness, and that was Natania Reuben, the woman who got shot in the face back on December 27, 1999. She was the one who said that she saw Puffy pull a gun. She saw him fire a gun. She also saw Jamal Barrow, known as Shyne. She saw him fire, as well. But Bogdanos also says that Julius Jones, who was shot in the shoulder, also saw Puffy show a gun and say Shyne shoot, as well. So those are pretty much his two main witnesses that he's calling, as well as all the police officers and other ballistic evidence, things like that.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, Miss Rubin, who is probably the strongest evidence that I understand against Puffy, the one who was shot in the face -- does she -- when she was cross-examined by the defense, did they claim that she was biased in any way or would have any reason to testify against Puffy Combs?

MEADOWS: Oh, absolutely. She has a $150 million lawsuit against him, and they claim that she told people that if she gets Puffy put away for this, she's going to be one rich woman. So that is the bias that they say she has.

VAN SUSTEREN: How'd she respond on cross-examination? Did she handle it well?

MEADOWS: Absolutely. She stuck completely to her story. She said that has nothing to do with it. Puffy -- well, she didn't say "Puffy shot me" at this point, but that's what the doctor who treated her that night says that she said, that Puffy shot her. But she definitely said no, when Puffy and Shyne pulled guns. She kept saying that over and over.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, did Puffy testify?

MEADOWS: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: How'd he do for himself?

MEADOWS: I'm not really sure. The news accounts said that he was -- he handled himself well. Other people said that he was defensive. A lot of people said that he came off as too angelic. He didn't make himself seem real. After listening to witness after witness after witness say that Puffy and this other gentleman, Matthew Allen, known as Scar, had an -- had an argument where they were pushing, screaming, cursing, yelling at each other, it did not -- it didn't come off as realistic for Puffy to say that he didn't say anything to this young man, he didn't say anything at all, that he didn't even know that this man was talking to.

And also, after listening to the account of what happened in the Navigator, when they were fleeing the club, Puffy said he didn't saw a word the entire trip. It was about a two-and-a-half, three-minute trip. He says he didn't say a word the entire time. That really didn't come off as realistic.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what about the dynamics between Puffy and the prosecutor who cross-examined him? What were they like?

MEADOWS: It was contentious, as should be expected. Matthew Bogdanos has portrayed Puffy this entire time as someone who's a criminal, someone who's not telling the truth, someone who's bribing people. So it was no surprise at all that Puffy was a bit on the defensive when he spoke with Bogdanos.

Puffy was extremely -- he was cordial. He was somewhat polite. He was soft-spoken. But he also had a few barbs in there every once in a while directed at Bogdanos.

VAN SUSTEREN: And so was the prosecutor sort of able to get under his skin, you know, in an effective way in front of the jury, do you think?

MEADOWS: I'm not sure. I think that really -- we'll see, honestly. There were accounts in the newspaper today here in New York of a juror who had been on the case but she was dismissed because she was an alternate. And she said that she didn't exactly find all of Puffy's testimony believable, but she said that he did well enough, and she found the prosecution's witnesses to be shady.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, what does Puffy Combs mean to the music industry? And to young people.

MEADOWS: Well, to the people who've been at the courthouse, he means a ton. I mean, back on Valentine's Day, there were young girls outside the courtroom -- I mean young girls, not teenagers -- with roses, waiting for him. And they handed them to him as he came into the courthouse. He's obviously a huge mogul in the industry. He's well-known probably more as a producer than he is as a rapper, which he also does. But he's more known as a producer whose produced big names, such as Biggie Smalls. He has the new group called Dream that's out now. So he's still -- he's still definitely a force in the industry.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, we're going to take a break. Roger, quit hogging the show.


VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, you're using up all our time with all your questions.

COSSACK: You know, are you sure you didn't do this on purpose?

VAN SUSTEREN: I love this! Roger can't hear a thing. I get the whole show to myself.

We're going to take a break.

COSSACK: It's like watching a silent movie.


VAN SUSTEREN: A look at the closing arguments in the case against Sean "Puffy" Combs when we come back. And how did the hip-hop king do? We'll ask two who listened to his testimony.

Don't go away.


Lawyers for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh have asked a judge to approve a request that his body not be autopsied after execution. McVeigh, scheduled to be executed on May 16, claims religious, ethical and philosophical objections to an autopsy. The judge has set a hearing for Monday.



VAN SUSTEREN: This morning in New York, Sean "Puffy" Combs and two co-defendants returned to a Manhattan courthouse. At this moment, a jury is deliberating their fate.

My first question goes to Roger. Can you finally hear?

COSSACK: I think I finally can.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you're going to finally join us and help?

COSSACK: I'm back in!

VAN SUSTEREN: Take it away!

COSSACK: All right, Jonathan, let's talk about what it's going to be like to try and get a conviction in this case. Obviously, you don't have a great deal of physical evidence, if any, so it now gets down to who do you believe. How's that work, and does that help the prosecution or the defense?

JONATHAN NELSON, FORMER ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, there is some physical evidence with respect to Mr. Barrows. Obviously, the gun was recovered from him, and there was some ballistics evidence, which it's my understand that linked the bullets to the gun. With respect to Mr. Combs, however, you're right, there's not physical evidence except for the gun, which wasn't recovered on him.

When it comes down to credibility of the witnesses, the prosecution has a tough road ahead of it, you know, primarily, as Bob had mentioned, because of those civil actions against Mr. Combs. There's just huge incentive for the witnesses to lie.

However, taken together with a presumption, a statutory presumption of possession of the gun in the car, the prosecution might be able to sustain that burden of proof and achieve a conviction in this case.

VAN SUSTEREN: Billy, you've been on both sides of the aisle. You've been a prosecutor, now a defense attorney. This case comes to you. Which would you prefer in terms of prosecute or defense -- defend this one?

BILLY MARTIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think I'd rather defend this one. I think there is so much ammunition to go after -- no pun intended, but so much ammunition to go after these witnesses. They are looking to be paid and to be paid large sums of money in those civil lawsuits. I think it was brought out on cross- examination.

I think the fact that Sean "Puffy" Combs is such a big target -- there is no physical evidence linking him to any of the guns or the shooting. But the testimony of the young lady who was shot could be devastating, but I think that the fact that she has this multi- million-dollar lawsuit is going to hurt her. I think that this being in Manhattan, being a New York jury, is going to cause big city (INAUDIBLE) to come out, and it's going to help Sean "Puffy" Combs.

COSSACK: What about the driver, Jonathan? Reading his testimony, he seemed like he was a match for cross-examination, and he seemed actually to hold pretty firm in what he had to say, and what he had to say was not so great for Combs and the others.

NELSON: Well, you also have to remember that he was arrested for possession of the same gun that the other three individuals in the car were arrested for and could have easily been standing trial with Mr. Combs in court for the past couple weeks. That alone, and the deal with the prosecution to testify against Mr. Combs, is enough to discredit his testimony. And on top of that, he's got his multi- million-dollar lawsuit against Mr. Combs. And the success of that lawsuit is premised upon Mr. Combs's possession of the gun.

COSSACK: But didn't they -- didn't the driver claim that Mr. Combs tried to bribe him and that there -- and that he called him several times? And in fact, then they checked the records of -- if I'm not mistaken, they checked the records of Combs, and they found there was several cell phone calls made to the driver. Now, they don't know what was said during that time, of course, but at least there was some kind of evidence to back up that what he was saying was true. At least, there were phone calls after the event from Combs to the driver. NELSON: That's the type of evidence that I think is the most compelling, the evidence that can't be refuted. Phone calls were made. Now, all Mr. Combs could do, at that point, was explain why phone calls were made and offer an innocent excuse, not indicative of his guilt. But you're right. I think those records of the phone calls are very damaging to Mr. Combs.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, let me go back to you. Closing arguments -- what -- can you tell me a little bit, prosecution versus defense? How long were they, and did the jury seem interested?

MEADOWS: The jury seem interested to begin the morning. By the end of the day, both the defense and prosecution took all day. The prosecution -- the defense took all day Monday. The prosecution took all day Tuesday. The defense of Shyne began. He started off the day, and his lawyer broke down each charge and explained why Shyne was not guilty. The next day, Bogdanos began with Shyne. He broke down each charge and said why Shyne was guilty. Both of them were extremely effective.

The jury was wide awake, very attentive. By the end of the day each time, however, in Monday's defense -- and it was Puffy's defense, and then the next day Bogdanos also ended with Puffy -- the jury was beginning to wane out a little bit. On Tuesday, the judge asked them if they were ready to go, and they all said, "Yes, we're ready to go home." And that was about an hour before Bogdanos finished. So things have -- they've gone back and forth, and it just remains to be seen which one they found more believable.

COSSACK: Bob, who is the star of this show? Is it Puffy Combs, or was it Johnnie Cochran? Who is the -- who did the jury follow in this case?

MEADOWS: They didn't follow Johnnie Cochran because Johnnie didn't really do that much. He obviously is the big-name attorney, or bigger than Ben Brafman, at least. But Brafman was the lead attorney in this case. He did the opening. He did the close. He did almost everything in between. Puffy was Puffy. He was the star outside the courthouse, definitely. He was also the star inside the courthouse because Bogdanos spent most of his time trying to discredit him.

VAN SUSTEREN: Billy, what do you do when you're giving a closing argument, defense or prosecution, and it seems that the jury is bored?

MARTIN: You have to do something to excite them. You have to do something to get their attention.


MARTIN: Like...

VAN SUSTEREN: The Macarena?


MARTIN: No, I think what you do is you -- is you come up with some word. And here I understand that Brafman was able to make jokes, and the jury was following him. Somebody like Brafman, who's well- known in New York, he was able to have the -- get the judge's attention and to have them laughing. You have to find some way to personalize it and get them to follow you.

COSSACK: Let me just ask one more question, Bob. Did Johnnie have any rhymes for this one?

MEADOWS: No, he didn't. Ben Brafman did. Michael Bockner (ph) did. But Johnnie did not. If you'd like to hear them, I do remember them. Ben Brafman said, "If it doesn't make sense, you have to find for the defense." And then Michael Bockner said, "If there's no gun in the bar, there's no gun in the car." That's referring to Wolf. Neither of them really went over that well, I don't think.


COSSACK: No ice cream, no cake, it's time to take a break.


COSSACK: Up next: money, fame and access to the best legal representation in the world. Do celebrities receive a form of Hollywood justice?

Stay with us.


Q: What did a Michigan judge do after he discovered he didn't have enough people to fill a jury pool?

A: Circuit Judge Patrick R. Joslyn sent a bailiff and another court officer to a cafe across the street to recruit potential panelists.



COSSACK: We're back, and we're talking, of course, about the trial of Sean "Puffy" Combs.

There's been a development in the case. Let's go to CNN reporter Michael Okwu.

Michael, what's going on?

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the jury yesterday wanted some read-backs. They wanted to look at some photographs that indicated specifically where all of the three victims who were shot in this case were standing, as well as the shooter. This morning they've also asked for some of the shells that were recovered from that location. So it looks like -- I mean, if you were to sort of read the tea leaves or try to speculate a little bit, it looks like they're still sticking to the testimony of -- regarding Jamal Barrow, who was actually accused of actually shooting at people in the club. It looks like they haven't really gotten to talking much about Sean "Puffy" Combs.

VAN SUSTEREN: Unless, of course, they -- unless, of course, they started with him first, which we don't know.

OKWU: Exactly.

VAN SUSTEREN: Billy, you know, people think rich people buy justice. You've defended some high-profile people. Do rich people get the same justice as non-rich people, and do they get better justice or worse justice, or who can tell?

MARTIN: They get the same justice. What you get, Greta, is that money does buy good lawyers, and good lawyers do good jobs. But there are lawyers out here in the public defenders service and lawyers who, as you know, in our court system, who do good jobs without making all the money that the other lawyers do. But some of the lawyers who make a lot of money do good jobs. They get the attention of the court readily. Brafman, in this case, is getting the attention of the court. He probably has the walk of that court, although he's respectful of the judge. Big lawyers who do good jobs are respected by the court, and it comes across in the courtroom.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what about the issue of when a prosecutor's making a decision on a close case, whether to charge or not -- and there are a lot of close cases -- do you think, since you've been a prosecutor, that if you are a, quote, "celebrity," the chances are you're going to get a little bump over into the charging area or bump out of the charging area? Or neither.

MARTIN: I think, as a prosecutor, I would have thought that you got bumped out. As a defense attorney, I think you get bumped in.


VAN SUSTEREN: (INAUDIBLE) There's probably nothing truer ever said!

MARTIN: But I think it does weigh in, and I think now, in the -- in the '90s and new millennium, I think in the year 2000, the prosecutors are bumping celebrities in and juries are deciding against them. Juries are rejecting their theories.

COSSACK: Michael, you were able to see the trial on a regular basis. Tell us about -- about Puffy's attorneys, Ben and -- Ben Brafman and Johnnie Cochran. How did they play in front of the jury? Now, we know that Johnnie didn't do much. I mean, how -- did it -- did it look funny, him just sitting there every day?

OKWU: Well, I don't need to tell you what -- what kind of presence and what kind of an imposing figure that Johnnie Cochran is. He sits in in the court. Many times he puts his arms around his client, Sean "Puffy" Combs.

Several of the jurors have already said in -- you know, you get a jury list, and they tell you -- they give you descriptions of who the jurors are. And they sometimes use quotations that the -- that the jurors delivered in front of -- in front of the lawyers in -- before the proceedings actually started. And many of the jurors actually said that they thought that Johnnie Cochran was an excellent lawyer.

So it's very clear that he's being used, on some level, maybe as a public relations -- in a public relations way. Ben Brafman is incredibly articulate...

I'm sorry?

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm sorry. I think there's an audio problem. Let me ask you a quick question on Johnnie Cochran. Every time I've ever seen Johnnie Cochran, he's got people looking for autographs. Has he got that here at this courthouse?

OKWU: I'm sorry. I didn't hear you very well, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Every time I see Johnnie Cochran in public, the public are looking for autographs. Have you seen that? Has he gotten a crowd himself?

OKWU: Is he -- I'm sorry, Greta. I'm no hearing you very well.

COSSACK: You know, we're having a bad day with the sound. I think the tin can and the wire...

VAN SUSTEREN: I think he's got your audio problem.

COSSACK: ... has broken down.

COSSACK: Let's go over back to Billy Martin.

Billy, again, we want to -- we're talking about celebrity clients...


COSSACK: ... and we're talking about what happens with celebrity clients. Do you ever plan things to take advantage of a situation? For example, you're famous case was when you walked out of the grand jury with Monica Lewinsky's mother. It was all over the pictures -- all over the newspaper. I think it might have even been in "Time" magazine...

VAN SUSTEREN: And then we couldn't get him here to talk about it, but we tried.

COSSACK: We couldn't get him here. Did you orchestrate that?

MARTIN: Didn't orchestrate it, but you learn to take advantage of that moment. You understand that in addition to the -- in addition to the jury poll, in addition to the jury vote, you want that vote of the public opinion. And you know to time -- know how to time getting public opinion. And that public opinion sometimes spills over. Even though the judge says, "Don't watch TV, don't read the newspapers," they do get glimpses of it, and you want good glimpses of that.

COSSACK: All right.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

COSSACK: And join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We hope to have the sound fixed by that time. We'll see you then.

VAN SUSTEREN: Glad to see you working finally.




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