Skip to main content
CNN.com /TRANSCRIPTS

CNN TV
EDITIONS





CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Panel Discusses Westerfield's Death Sentence; Detained Florida Med Students Speak Out

Aired September 16, 2002 - 21:00   ET

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


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: The jury says David Westerfield should be executed by lethal injection for the murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.
With us from San Diego, the key prosecutors in this shocking case, Jeff Dusek, George Clarke.

Also joining us in San Francisco, Mark Klaas. He lost his daughter, Polly, to a brutal crime. He's reached out to the van Dam family during this terrible case. In New York, renowned jury consultant, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius. She worked with the prosecution in the Westerfield case and with her Court TV anchor and former prosecutor, Nancy Grace and in Los Angeles with a different legal perspective, defense attorney Mark Geragos.

And then, an exclusive from the very center of that controversial terror scare in Florida, firsthand details from the three medical students who were detained for 17 hours while police questioned them and searched their cars for explosives and are they angry about what happened?

We'll also hear from Michael Prieto, attorney for the woman who made the 911 call that touched off the terror alarm. Would Eunice Stone make that call again?

It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We begin with the two prosecutors who successfully not only got a guilty verdict in the Westerfield case, but today, the verdict extended to death by execution. We would love to have had someone speak for the defense team, however, Defense Attorney Steven Feldman, who stopped briefly before the cameras outside the courthouse, announced that out of respect for the decision, he would not make any statements. Here's how the decision came down from the jury foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE WILLIAM MUDD: Forms are properly executed. Please recite the verdict for the record.

JURY FOREPERSON: The people of the State of California, plaintiff, versus David Allen Westerfield, defendant, case number FTD165805, the verdict, we, the jury, in the above-entitled cause determine that the penalty shall be death.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Jeff Dusek, what happened this morning where the jury came back and they were in a penalty phase and then said they didn't have a decision, or couldn't reach a decision -- suddenly a quick decision?

JEFF DUSEK, WESTERFIELD PROSECUTOR: It was an up and down day when we got down there in court. We showed up shortly after lunch fully expecting it to be a hung jury. As we were waiting in the hallway, we received word that they had given a second note, that they wanted to continue deliberations. And it seemed like within five or 10 minutes of receiving that second note, we got a third note that told us that they had reached a verdict. Then, we gathered for that.

KING: Woody Clarke, in a penalty phase, if it's a hung jury, doesn't that mean life imprisonment?

GEORGE "WOODY" CLARKE, WESTERFIELD PROSECUTOR: Actually, in California, Larry, if a jury is unable to reach a verdict during the penalty phase, then the case is set for retrial of the issue of penalty only. There can be decisions made in the interim period, such as if the jury was heavily leaning towards life imprisonment, for example. Sometime an elected district attorney may decide not to retry the penalty, but that option is available.

KING: Jeff, the decision to send someone to his death, as a prosecutor, must have been a difficult one to make. Why did you make it?

DUSEK: It is the toughest decision we have to make. We assume it with great reluctance. In this case, it was, in my mind, the only decision that we could seek in this case. There can be no other penalty for someone going into a family's home, taking a 7-year-old child out of that home and ultimately killing her. There's just no crime worse than that, in my mind.

KING: Woody, at any point in this did you entertain any doubts that he was, in fact, the correct suspect?

CLARKE: No, none at all, Larry. This is a case that fortunately through the heroic efforts of crime laboratory personnel working weekends and nights over a very short period of time, since this crime just occurred last February, all of the forensic tools that frankly, laboratories have available were used in this case, from DNA through fingerprints to fiber evidence. And I think that combination of forensic results that jurors now rightfully expect were available in this case and pointed in one direction only and that was to Mr. Westerfield.

KING: Jeff, during the penalty phase, did any of the testimony for the defense bring you doubt about whether he should die?

DUSEK: No, not at all. The -- we expected what the defense was going to produce. We knew a little bit about his background and his educational and employment background. And we certainly assumed that he had family and friends who would stick up for him. There was no doubt in my mind that the aggravating nature of this crime deserved the death penalty regardless of what he had done in the rest part of his life.

KING: The reason I've asked about being sure, Woody, is we know there have been many cases now in America where people put away, it looked open and shut and we have found through later DNA that they didn't do it. And it would be horrible if you found out they didn't do it after you've executed someone.

CLARKE: Well, that's absolutely true, Larry. Fortunately, these tools are tools that are now being used at the front side, at the beginning of criminal prosecutions. That gives us those additional layers of certainty that frankly weren't available in the 1980s, 1970s and older cases.

KING: Jeff, the judge could overrule a death penalty, could he not?

DUSEK: That's his option. Here in California, the judge will look at the ultimate verdict that was received today and make his own decision at our sentencing hearing November 22. He will look at all of the evidence and make a determination to whether or not he feels the death penalty is appropriate.

KING: Woody, is there any aspect of the expected appeal by the defense that concerns you?

CLARKE: I don't think so, Larry. This was a case tried on the evidence that pointed towards guilt and the evidence that -- in the defense's mind pointed toward the absence of guilt. But I think this was a case really that was based on facts as opposed to cases with complicated legal rulings. So while all death penalty cases, like most serious cases are appealed, I think we're pretty confident that the court in this case, the judge made rulings that were perfectly consistent with the law and facts in this case.

KING: Jeff, did you have some doubts, since they were out so long initially with the guilty verdict, and then out long with the penalty verdict, that you would get the death penalty?

DUSEK: We're always concerned. If they take longer than 10 minutes, I start to worry. Certainly, when they were out for as long as they were in the guilt phase, we had our concerns but speaking with the jurors, it sounds like they were just looking at all of the evidence and, in fact, they told us that they weren't even close to being hung in the guilt part.

Here in the penalty phase, we had some downtime here while one of our jurors was sick and really, they only had about three days of deliberation. And we were comfortable with the attention they were paying to this case.

KING: Woody, would you call the -- I know you've tried a lot of cases -- was this as hard a working jury as you've come across?

CLARKE: I think they were an extraordinarily hard working jury. We know from talking with them today that they were methodically reviewing all of the evidence at the guilt phase, during that portion of the case and that by going through the major areas of the evidence, literally discussing them piece by piece, I think their hard work was exemplary and I think it is really a credit to all of the jurors who sat in on this case, including the alternate jurors who didn't have the opportunity to take part in the deliberations.

KING: Thank you both very much. Jeff Dusek and Woody Clarke, successful prosecutors in both the guilt or innocence phase and in the penalty phase as well. The judge will be the final determiner and that is in November and our panel will assemble right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's meet our panel. In San Francisco, Mark Klaas. His 12-year-old daughter, Polly, abducted from her home, murdered in 1993. A paroled felon was later convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. He's founder of Klaas Kids Foundation, an advocate of child protection and crime victims and has been in contact with the Van Dam family throughout this trial. In New York is Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, chairman of Vincent and Dimitrius, one of world's top jury and trial consulting firms. She consulted for the prosecution in the Westerfield trial. Also, in New York is Nancy Grace, the anchor for "Trial Heat" on "COURT TV" and a former prosecutor. And in Los Angeles, Mark Geragos, one of the leading criminal defense attorneys.

Well, Mark Klaas, you were close to the Van Dams throughout this. What did you make of that verdict today?

MARK KLAAS, DAUGHTER POLLY MURDERED IN 1993: Well, I thought that they handed down the appropriate verdict. You know they certainly gave much more consideration to the life of David Westerfield than he ever gave to the life of Danielle Van Dam and I think that's probably what separates law-abiding citizens from the kind of heinous criminal that Westerfield is.

And as Mr. Clarke said, you know, in a situation like this, a crime this heinous, you have to go for the ultimate penalty in whatever state you're in regardless of what that penalty is. And I think the jury did the right thing.

KING: Jo-Ellan, you helped select this jury and he -- they -- both prosecutors said they were one of the hardest working juries. Did you expect that?

JO-ELLAN DIMITRIUS, JURY CONSULTANT: Oh, absolutely and looking at all of these individuals and what their backgrounds were, this was not a group that was going to take a look at this evidence and just go straight in for a verdict, very clearly because of any number of things -- their experiences, their occupations. It was very clear that they would be, in fact, methodical and analytical, which is one of the things, in fact, that we were looking for.

KING: Anything, Nancy, in this penalty phase surprise you, like this morning when they came back undecided and suddenly were decided?

NANCY GRACE, "COURT TV" ANCHOR: Yes that did surprise me. The length of their deliberations surprised me after the brutality of the crime. But you know what, Larry? Throughout it all, I kept having one recurring thought about this jury and it's an old nursery rhyme. What are little girls made of? Sugar, spice and everything nice. The nature of this victim, the youngest, the sweetest, the most innocent, the weakest type of victim in our society, a little girl. I think that reached this jury and there was no way, taking a look at this shot, any jury could turn away from this child.

KING: And Mark Geragos, were you surprised at all that he got the death penalty first time ever involved in anything like this that the court knew about.

MARK GERAGOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's interesting because you've got a situation -- and I'm not the first to say it tonight -- but if there's ever a crime that the death penalty is to be imposed for, this is probably it. I mean nobody is going to dispute that murder's the worst, murder of the child is the worst of the worst. So you have that on one side and the counter veiling force, I suppose is, is you have somebody who's got very little of any kind of a record and he's done some -- he's got some accomplishments in his background.

The fact of the matter is if they had come back hung, it wouldn't have surprised me, but at the same time, just the overwhelming nature of the victim here and the fact that she's so innocent and the fact that they did -- were able to show that to the jury and talk about that as an aggravating factor, I think, compels most jurors to want to give him death.

KING: In your opinion, was this a rock solid case?

GERAGOS: I don't know that I would call it rock solid. I think that there were significant issues from an evidentiary standpoint and I think there -- it was a give and take. I don't think it was open and shut. I think the hardest thing for the defense to get over in this case and the thing -- and the reason that he was convicted was because you had to argue too many coincidences. You had to say unlikely, plus unlikely, plus unlikely, plus unlikely equals likely.

KING: Like a duck, like a duck, like a duck, like a duck.

GERAGOS: It just -- it was just -- it's too much in a case like this.

GRACE: That is so not true. That is so not true. Mark, how can you say that? Her blood was on the floor of his RV, on his clothes, that pretty much sealed it.

GERAGOS: Well, the -- they had -- the defense had an explanation for that. But when you pile that explanation on with the other explanations, and for the fact that he's taking a sudden trip, unexpectedly, out to the dessert and when he all of a sudden is being very helpful, when he's doing the dry cleaning and other things. That's what I'm saying about it being unlikely plus unlikely plus unlikely.

All of those explanations, if you only had to make one, then a jury might say, "OK, we're going to give him the benefit of the doubt and find reasonable doubt," but not when you have just a series of coincidences.

KING: Mark Klaas, he's talked to the Van Dams. Have you talked to them today?

KLAAS: No, I've got a couple calls into them today. I wanted to see how they were doing and congratulate them. I did speak to Mrs. Van Dam yesterday and they're just weary. They just wanted this whole thing to be over. I can assure you, they won't be popping any champagne corks this evening because their ordeal is not over yet. But they're now in a place where they'll be able to make their case. And for the first time, as they make their victim impact statements prior to the sentencing, they'll have that gag order lifted and they'll be able to publicly talk about what this crime meant to them and how it's devastated their life. So I think they're looking forward to that, certainly.

KING: When the man who killed your daughter was convicted and sentenced, did that bring -- did that close it for you?

KLAAS: No, it doesn't close it. What these guys do is they dominate your life. Certainly, this guy's dominated their life for the better part of this year and he will continue to dominate their life until after he is sentenced. And then, they have the whole process of grieving for their daughter, trying to find joy in their lives and trying to get over the hump of just living a miserable existence. And I think that they'll be able to do that. I think they have a wonderful support group and a very strong family, but there's no closure. You know you got to put these guys behind you at some point. And that point is truly after the sentencing, after you've been able to publicly make your case before the judge and the jury.

KING: Jo-Ellan, is there a chance the judge could give him life? There's a chance, of course, but do you see it?

DIMITRIUS: I think it would be very unlikely that the judge would overturn the decision of a group of jurors who obviously have taken the time and the consideration to go through all the evidence. So I think it would be -- you know I give it 99 to one that he would do that.

KING: The victim impact statement, Nancy, what does that mean?

GRACE: Well, that's a chance for the victims, the family of Danielle Van Dam to speak to the judge, to tell their inner most thoughts and feelings, if they can manage to get through that, things that, in front of a jury, would have been inadmissible because of the rules of evidence.

But regarding this judge, Judge Mudd, Larry, about whether he will reverse his jury decision, you know, Larry, when you don't know a horse, look at his track record. This judge has been no-nonsense throughout this thing. And I just don't see any way he's going to throw the jury's decision into the can.

KING: What would be a reason to do that, Mark?

GERAGOS: The judge has the authority and in California...

KING: He would have to say why he did it.

GERAGOS: He'd have to give some kind of reason for it. I don't think, absent somebody -- and it's extremely rare in California. It's happened a couple of times that I'm aware of. It's usually when a judge has some doubt as to the evidence or the judge feels like there's been some kind of a prevailing force that that entered into deliberations that shouldn't have been.

KING: Can Mr. Westerfield speak at that hearing?

GERAGOS: Absolutely. In fact, I was thinking, Mark Klaas went through one of the most horrific experiences during the sentencing -- the worst.

KING: Oh, the worst.

GERAGOS: I mean because the defendant in that case, he made statements that are beneath contempt...

KING: About Mark.

GERAGOS: ... about Mark and it was awful. I mean I don't know how you get through something like that.

KING: We'll take a break and come back and start to include your phone calls. Here's a statement from one of the jurors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUROR: I tried to sort of fathom what exactly happened in terms of did he enter the house? Did he take her from there? But that -- yes, when it came down to it, we really just needed to place her in his environment and we didn't necessarily have to fill in all the gasp of the story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DIMITRIUS: ... oh, no, not at all because...

KING: No?

DIMITRIUS: ... very clearly, whatever the issue was that was hanging them up, they worked through very quickly. So I don't think that will even enter his mind in terms of any sort of reconsideration.

KING: Nancy, how can he express remorse if he said he didn't do it?

GRACE: Well, I don't think that he will. And I can guarantee you though, if I were placing money on it, Westerfield didn't take the stand in the guilt innocence phase, we didn't see him at the penalty phase, but now, Larry, he could not be subjected to cross examination. So I would predict he'd get in front of the judge and cry and carry on about his life. But don't worry; you won't hear him showing remorse for 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam.

KING: If he says he didn't do it, he can't show remorse, so what kind of appeal does he have?

GRACE: Larry, it could still be sorry. I watched him during the trial every day over at "COURT TV." And when they had those shots of her little body, which was thrown to the side of the road, nude, decayed, he never even blinked an eye. No, he'll show no remorse. He could at least be sorry she's dead, Larry.

KING: Mark, how does he handle this? Let's say...

GERAGOS: I don't think if he...

KING: ... he says, on a feel, he didn't do it.

GERAGOS: Well, that's been his -- it's what's called a reasonable doubt defense. It wasn't him. It wasn't that he was saying I was mentally ill or something else. My guess is Nancy wants to bet that he's going to get up there and talk. My bet is that he's not going say anything. He's going to have his lawyers do the talking. There is as much of a shot -- I think Jo-Ellan predicted 99 to one. I'd make it more about a 1,000 to one against this judge throwing out this verdict.

KING: So it don't matter if he spoke or not?

GERAGOS: Because it doesn't matter -- one would -- he's going to just take it up on appeal. He gets an automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court and he's not going to do anything that -- he's not going to embrace his guilt at this point.

KING: Longview, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Hi.

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: I've got a question. I'm wondering why that he's going to be sentenced for execution when the State of California hasn't killed anybody probably in more than 20 years. He's going to live his life in prison.

KING: Mark Klaas, is that true?

KLAAS: Yes, absolutely. In fact, since 1977, only 10 individuals have been executed in California, it may be 11. But there are over 600 men waiting on death row right now, so we have to be very clear of what's going on here. This guy is never going to be executed, but he will lead a miserable life and society has handed down the sentence that he deserves. In fact, if they had done anything less, Larry, I think it would have diminished the life of Danielle Van Dam.

KING: Why so few executions, Mark?

GERAGOS: Because of the appellate process.

KING: But other states -- Texas has it and they execute one a week.

GERAGOS: They've got a more liberal, if you will, ability to kind of run people through. Here in California, there's the defense lawyers or the defense bar, if you will, has taken kind of a stand that they're just not going to take a lot of these cases. They're not going to take them on the appellate. There aren't enough appellate lawyers to handle it. There's a backlog in terms of the number of lawyers who will do it or even willing to handle these cases.

KING: Although, Jo-Ellan, we shouldn't be quick to kill, should we? I mean he's not running away.

DIMITRIUS: Oh, no. And I don't think these jurors were quick at all to make that decision, three days plus in coming to that conclusion. You know it's one thing in theory to talk about whether or not we believe in the death penalty, but when these jurors knew that they'd have to look across that room and look into Mr. Westerfield's eyes and say, "Yes," you know, they look their time and they did what they needed to do.

KING: Clovis, California, hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Hi, go ahead.

CALLER: I want to know who the holdout was. I think it was the first juror not the second one.

KING: Do we know? Nancy Grace, you watched this trial all the time. Do we know what juror was holding out?

GRACE: No, we don't, but we do know that this trial was so stressful on one juror -- and this is the word, Larry, this juror hasn't come out and said this -- that it ended up putting one juror in the hospital because of the stress. It would be my guess, if they were that stressed out over this deliberation, that that would be the holdout.

GERAGOS: It was interesting, if it was because I think that juror was the one that Mr. Dusek, the prosecutor, asked the judge not to excuse and to let that juror stay on because of what he -- what Mr. Dusek said was an incredible determination and amount of effort that juror had put into that case.

KING: You handled capital cases. There's got to be a lot of stress on a jury to...

GERAGOS: It's an incredible amount of stress. Any time you have not just capital cases but any kind of serious case, especially now in California where there are so many cases that have what are called a life top, where the decision means the person is facing life in the -- in prison, it's extremely, extremely stressful. I mean I had a jury that came back today hung eight to four and could not reach a decision. We talked to the jurors afterwards and they were emotionally rung out. I mean they really were.

KING: Eight to four for conviction?

GERAGOS: Eight to four for conviction, yes.

KING: We'll come right back with more of our panel and more of your phone calls, then, our three medical students and then, the lawyer for the lady who made the charges. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUROR FOREPERSON: We, the jury in the above-entitled cause, determine that the penalty shall be death, dated September 16, 2002, signed Juror Number 10, Foreperson.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury was this and is this your verdict as read?

JURY: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's take another call.

Riverside, California, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Hi Nancy Grace. I just first off want to say that we absolutely love you.

Can you hear me Larry?

GRACE: Thank you.

KING: Yes, go ahead.

CALLER: My first question is: What is the purpose in polling the jury? And can they change their mind once they have given their verdict?

My second question is, when and will David Westerfield speak, and will he plead for mercy?

KING: Well, we've already discussed that, and there's a mixture of opinion. He can't plead for mercy, since he says he didn't do it. But what about polling, Nancy?

GRACE: Well, that's a scary thing. And the reason they poll the jurors is usually at the loser's request -- whoever loses wants the jury polled because if one juror cracks during that polling process, the verdict is no good because it's got to be a unanimous verdict.

And after the polling went down -- to the caller -- you're absolutely correct, one of the jurors did break down in tears and they had to take a quick recess. When you have to speak out individually in the courtroom and say, yes, it's my verdict to send him to death, that's very stressful.

KING: Did you ever have someone say no?

GERAGOS: I've had jurors who have gone out, said that -- I've asked that they be polled, and I've had one and two say no, and then they send them back in.

KING: Gadsden, Alabama, hello.

CALLER: Hi Larry...

KING: Hi.

CALLER: ... and all of the panel. I respect everyone on the panel. My question is for Nancy.

Nancy, I love you, and I hang with you every day. I love your show. First off, how long will D.W. have to stay on death row? And second off, I have a comment. I felt it inappropriate, the humor that was in the courtroom.

GRACE: Well, yes. He could be there for, as you heard Marc Klaas say earlier, there are people that have been there 15, 16 years and their cases have gone nowhere. So, you know, it's a crapshoot how long he'll wait to get the death penalty.

And as far as the humor, I just want to say one thing. When you're -- I know it sounds bad in the courtroom, but I think Mark Geragos will back me up on this -- when you deal with death and child molestation and you look at these victims' dead bodies day in, day out and you deal with the family, every once in awhile, you know, somebody lightens the mood in there.

And I think that's what Judge Mudd was doing.

GERAGOS: I'll tell you, if you didn't in one of these cases, you would go crazy.

GRACE: It will break your heart.

GERAGOS: As a trial lawyer, as a trial judge, when you're in there -- I used to say, every single one of these trials, I feel like I've lost eight months of my life or a year of my life in terms of the stress. And I'm sure Nancy felt the same way. KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) call, there was a lot of humor in concentration camps. It's a release of some kind.

GRACE: You know, Larry, sometimes I would leave the courtroom after a case like this and just cry the whole way home in my car, and then maybe joke about something that happened in the courtroom. It's just, your emotions are so on edge.

KING: Chesapeake, Virginia, hello...

KLAAS: Larry?

KING: I'm sorry, go ahead, Marc.

KLAAS: Even from my side of it, one has to find humor sometimes because the stress is so overwhelming, and sometimes the pain is so overwhelming that just a little bit of laughter is the only escape that really exists.

KING: Chesapeake, Virginia, hello.

CALLER: Good evening. Mark Geragos, now that the sentence has been handed down, and it's death, won't Mr. Westerfield's quality and duration of life be better and longer?

GERAGOS: Yes, because it's a death penalty. That's an argument that, I think, speaks volumes as to having a death penalty or not.

KING: You mean he has it better than being life? Why?

GERAGOS: Absolutely. He's got a better situation in a death penalty -- once he's been given death than if he's got life without.

KING: Why?

GERAGOS: Life without, they usually will put you -- I mean, in some cases, into a general population. You're in usually the most horrid conditions, either Pelican Bay her in California or some other godforsaken place, whereas -- and you usually will have a roommate or roommates. And you know where that leads you.

If you're on death row, generally you're sequestered. You're there and you're given all kinds of privileges depending on how long it is before somebody gets assigned to you, in terms of your appellate advocate, you may end up getting additional privileges.

So in a lot of ways -- that's why you so often see here in California guys who get convicted firing their lawyers at the penalty phase and challenging the jury to give them death.

KING: Thank you all very much. We'll be seeing -- quickly, Marc; quick.

KLAAS: Well, I interviewed a death penalty client once called Joseph Paul Franklin who was a serial killer -- a racist serial killer who was initially convicted of killing two black guys in Salt Lake City, put in a general population, black gangs almost killed him. He then copped to all the crimes he had committed so he could get on death row and extend his life.

It's a sad irony of the death penalty.

KING: Mark Klaas, Jo Ellan Dimitrius, Nancy Grace and Mark Geragos, thank you so much.

When we come back are three young medical students detained by authorities in Florida after a woman in Georgia reported she overheard them mocking 9/11.

They're with us exclusively next. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE Ayman Gheith, Kambiz Butt and Omar Choudhary. All three are medical students who were detained by authorities in Florida over the weekend. We all know about that, the scene that occurred.

The CEO of the Miami hospital where the students were supposed to continue their medical training said today the hospital feels it's not a good time to start them in rotation at Larkin Hospital. Each had completed two years -- this incident occurred late last week, by the way, not over the weekend.

Ayman -- you're all Muslims, you're all United States citizens, you're going to, what, third year of medical school. What happened?

AYMAN GHEITH, DETAINED 17 HOURS, DENIES TERROR TALK: Yes.

KING: What happened?

GHEITH: Well, we were driving down from Chicago. We had stopped at a couple restaurants and stuff on the way, got something to eat. And as far as I understand it, at the Shoney's in question here, somebody had called in and said that we were saying something, you know, like making fun of something.

KING: The woman, Eunice Stone, did you remember her? Did you see her?

GHEITH: When I saw her after everything was said and done, and I saw, like, the TV and I saw her, I recognized her, yes.

But when -- at the end, because the only time we ever found out -- while all this was happening we were in the car.

I found out about an hour before we were let go what the situation was, what was going on.

KING: You didn't know anything?

GHEITH: No, no, I mean...

KING: Kambiz, did you remember the woman?

KAMBIZ BUTT, DETAINED 17 HOURS, DENIES TERROR TALK: Only after watching her on TV.

KING: All right. And did you sit near her in the restaurant? How do you remember here? Where was she?

BUTT: She was right across from us on the other booth on the other side.

KING: Do you remember her from dining there? Did you talk about her while you were eating there? Did she come up in conversation?

BUTT: Not at all.

GHEITH: Not at all.

KING: What do you remember about her, Omar?

OMAR CHOUDHARY, DETAINED 17 HOURS, DENIES TERROR TALK: When I saw her after we were released, I saw her on TV, I remember where she was sitting, just in the next booth. But I didn't really remember anything about what she said, actually.

GHEITH: Well, the thing is, there was many people on the -- it wasn't just them. The booth right behind us had people, the booth behind her.

KING: It was crowded?

GHEITH: Yes. There was plenty of people there.

KING: Let's hear on tape, when she first made this report via radio, what Eunice had to say.

Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

EUNICE STONE, WFLZ RADIO INTERVIEW: They said they had attended a party in Chicago the night before and that they needed to quit stopping because they were five hours late.

And then I just naturally, my curiosity, I just kept listening. And something else was said. They were kind of huddled together there over the booth, talking. And then one guy said, do you think that will bring it down?

And I looked at my son, and we were just looking at each other.

And he said, well, if that don't bring it down, I have contacts, I'll get enough to bring it down.

And to me, that meant they were planning to blow up something.

(END AUDIO CLIP) KING: Did she invent all that, Kambiz?

BUTT: She sure did.

KING: Nothing? No joking, no kidding about blowing up something?

BUTT: Well...

KING: Go ahead.

BUTT: As far as the whole comment about bringing it down, maybe it was in reference to Omar bringing a car down from Kansas City.

CHOUDHARY: I was the only one of us three who didn't buy a car before the semester started in Miami. So my plan was that once we got to Miami I would buy a car before classes started. And I said that in case I don't find one in Miami, I can have one shipped down from Kansas city.

KING: Any mention of 9/11, Ayman?

GHEITH: Never.

KING: Never mentioned it?

GHEITH: Never, never. Not once.

I mean, not September, not nine, not 11, not 13, nothing. We never, ever said that.

KING: Anything about bombs?

GHEITH: Never.

KING: Anything about 9/13 being worse than 9/11?

GHEITH: Larry, we were driving down. We had our -- we were very excited because we had just finished the book portion of medical school. This is going to be our first time in a hospital.

And we were very -- I mean, we wanted to get everything out of the way; you know, get all matters squared away. We had to find apartments. We had to find a car for Omar. I had to find a day care center for my sister's son who is coming down, which is, you know, why we were behind schedule, actually, so...

KING: So to you it's impossible that she misunderstood what you were saying, other than for the bringing the car down?

GHEITH: Well, I mean, to me, I think as soon as we walked into the restaurant, unfortunately -- I just want -- can I make one quick thing?

I first want to say that we heard that she's in the hospital, and we feel very bad. I hope she feels OK. KING: She had chest pains.

(CROSSTALK)

GHEITH: And a speedy recovery, hopefully.

I have no animosity towards this woman, you know. I just pray that God opens her eyes.

But what had happened was that as soon as we walked into this restaurant, we were suspects, OK?

KING: By whom?

GHEITH: Obviously by this woman. I mean...

KING: But you didn't know that then?

GHEITH: No, no, no, I didn't. This is what I'm assuming.

KING: This is after the fact?

GHEITH: Yes, after...

KING: When you were sitting there, did you feel uncomfortable?

BUTT: Not at all.

GHEITH: Well, I mean, we're accustomed to the level of comfort that we feel when we enter a restaurant. It becomes common practice now. As soon as you walk in, everybody will look.

KING: Since 9/11, you are profiled.

GHEITH: Right.

CHOUDHARY: Since 9/11, we walk into anywhere and, you know, things stop...

KING: Do you expect that?

CHOUDHARY: ... everybody turns and looks.

We've come to live with it. We've come to accept it because it's so common. It happens everywhere.

GHEITH: We do little things like, for instance, we'll raise our voice in a conversation just to show people around us that we can speak English you know, because most people, off the bat, right away, they assume that you can't speak English.

KING: How do you feel about the hospital now declining to give you your time in preparation for -- to continue with your schooling?

BUTT: It's very hard to swallow because we're coming down to pursue our medical education, and then because of a comment made by one woman our whole life is being affected.

And it's very saddening and it's very frustrating because we want to pursue our medical careers, and yet because of one comment, we can't.

KING: Is the hospital right or wrong?

GHEITH: The hospital -- it's a tough thing to say, right or wrong. What I say is, I understand their decision. I mean, if I had family in this hospital -- they're looking out for the best interests of their patients.

KING: Do they think patients would be scared of the three of you working in the hospital?

GHEITH: Well, I don't think it's an issue of them being scared. I think what it is is that the hospital has been getting threats.

I think it's wrong that policy is delegated based on threatening...

KING: But you understand them?

GHEITH: But I do -- in this situation, I do understand them.

KING: Omar, do you?

CHOUDHARY: I understand their position, their decision, that they can't take us right now.

But at the same time, they've shown us their support. They've told us -- and also school. We've gotten a lot of support from faculty, friends, even the...

KING: Are you going to go to another medical school?

CHOUDHARY: No.

GHEITH: No.

BUTT: No.

KING: You're going to just wait until you...

GHEITH: We are in good standing with the school. We're registered.

KING: Let me get a break -- I want to hear one more portion of the tape by Mrs. Stone.

Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

STONE: We were seated directly across. There's only like a piece of latticework between the booths. And we were seated right next to three men that appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent.

And at first, you know, I just went ahead with my breakfast. But then they were sitting there and they were laughing and they were talking about -- they were laughing about Americans mourning September the 11th. And I have very good hearing. And then they were saying, if they mourn September 11, what will they think about September the 13th?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: And of course you're denying ever saying anything...

GHEITH: Well, the thing that hurts me the most, after we were let go, OK, after everything was said and done they put us in the cars and then we got a chance to say what the media -- what hurt me the most was that the argument was whether they said it as a hoax, or whether they said it meaningfully. Where nobody considered, even, that we didn't even say it.

I mean, it wasn't -- throughout the media, throughout -- everybody. It was a given thing that we had already said it.

KING: Why did you jump the toll booth?

BUTT: Actually, that's the funny thing is I didn't. I slowed into the toll booth. Omar actually had to take out a dollar. I had 50 cents on me. The toll was $1.50. Got the money, we gave it to the lady. I noticed that she was very nervous when I was giving her the money. She looked like -- I mean, it was -- she just didn't look right.

And then I also noticed there was a squad car at the toll booth almost waiting for somebody. So I guess it was me.

KING: Is that the one that stopped you?

BUTT: Yes, that first car.

KING: We're going to take a break, come back, talk to Ms. Stone's lawyer and then return with our gentlemen. They'll remain with us.

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STONE: First off, I would like to say that I didn't do any of this for any kind of publicity. I did it as an American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Joining us for some moments from Atlanta is Michael Prieto, the attorney for Eunice Stone.

How is she doing? I know she went to the hospital today, Michael.

MICHAEL PRIETO, ATTORNEY FOR EUNICE STONE: Well, she's doing much better right now, Larry. She has been released from Emory Medical Center and she is home resting under doctor's care, still.

KING: What was it?

PRIETO: Well, actually it was stress-related. We thought, at the beginning of the day -- or last night, actually, that she was suffering some severe chest pains. And so she sought treatment at Emory Medical Center. And the doctors ran a battery of diagnostic tests, and they have determined that it was stress-induced.

KING: What do you make of what our young boys have said? The young medical students here who apparently are going to have to go to another hospital now in the same tract as the one in Miami, but just not in that city?

PRIETO: Well unfortunately, Larry, I think that they have failed to do the most important thing, and that is take responsibility for their actions.

Ms. Stone had absolutely no reason whatsoever to fabricate any story or to think ill of them in any manner whatsoever.

Unfortunately, the one thing that they didn't realize is that Ms. Stone actually has a multicultural family. She has members of her family who are Middle Eastern. She has actually hosted exchange students who are Middle Eastern.

She has absolutely no reason whatsoever to fabricate a story about them based solely upon their appearance.

KING: But if they're saying they didn't say those things, could she have misread, from another booth, what they were saying? Could she have read it wrong?

PRIETO: Well Larry, I don't know if you've ever been to a Shoney's restaurant, but they were back to back, and she was seated the next booth over. There was a small glass between them, and she could hear distinct aspects of their conversation.

Now, there are certain things that she wasn't sure of. But the laughing about September 11 and the mention of September 13, there was no mistake whatsoever. She heard those.

I mean, you have to consider the fact that we, as a country, on that day, were at a Code Orange alert. And so it's -- homeland security is something that, after 9/11, everyone should be taking very seriously. She did take that seriously.

Whether these medical students were stating this to have fun with the crowd, or because people were staring at them, or for whatever reason, she did take it serious, and she did the appropriate thing. She did exactly what we would ask all of our citizens to do. And to date she's been penalized for it. KING: So you're not saying, Michael, that you think these three are terrorists, but you think they may have acted in a way as to give her the presumption that something was fishy?

PRIETO: Absolutely. I don't have any reason to believe that they are, in fact, terrorists.

However, I do believe that they said exactly what Ms. Stone said that they did, and I believe that at this point they're just trying to cover their own actions, and they're failing to take responsibility for what they did.

I think they would be better served to say, look, we said that because people were staring at us, or because we felt uncomfortable, and we did it for shock value. But at least take responsibility instead of accusing her of being a bigot.

KING: Thank you, Michael. Michael Prieto, we'll being more from you in subsequent days.

How about that, Ayman?

GHEITH: Well, I mean...

KING: She didn't invent it. You guys may have been kidding around for whatever reason, and now it looks funny, so you're in denial and it's he said/she said.

GHEITH: Well, the thing is, if you knew us like -- I'll tell you: Every one of my friends, you'd be surprised how many -- and I want to thank a lot of people, actually, for their support. This has been a trying time for us.

KING: You completely deny what she said?

GHEITH: Well, you know what? Every single one of my friends, or anybody that I was ever acquainted with, when they called me, the first thing they said, unanimously, out of their mouth is, we knew for a fact you never said that because you're not that -- that's not the way you are.

KING: But as it turns out, according to Michael, she's not a bigot either.

GHEITH: Well sir, she also said that she heard us speaking in Arabic and in English. And she said that, I have very good hearing.

Now, there's a problem with that, because I'm the only one that speaks Arabic.

(CROSSTALK)

BUTT: We don't even understand or speak Arabic.

GHEITH: So how does that work into how well she heard?

KING: So then, all right, he's reading into you that you're not fessing up now because it looks bad for you.

What are you, Omar, reading into her?

CHOUDHARY: I think that I don't know what to say. She said that she heard these things, and we just know that we didn't say them. There's no way.

And then the other thing, like Ayman was saying about us speaking Arabic, we were -- we don't speak Arabic.

KING: So while you were kept on the road here, and you're not being told why you're being kept, what did they say to you? What did law enforcement say to you?

BUTT: While I was in the back of the squad car I kept asking the deputy sheriff: Why am I being detained? Over and over again, I would keep asking him.

And he would basically just say that, I don't have the authority to tell you, the situation you're in right now is higher than him.

But, you know, other than that...

KING: Did you know they were going through your car and everything?

GHEITH: Well, actually, they never -- I said, please don't search my car. And the reason is because it took my mom a long time to pack everything just right. And I have a lot of stuff that are of value to me. My medical equipment was in my car. My books were in my car. All of my clothing...

KING: Did they restore it?

GHEITH: Well, everything was placed back into the car.

To tell the truth, under their circumstances, if I were to place myself in one of these police officer's shoes and I heard that somebody's coming down with a bomb or something like that, even if I was off duty, I would volunteer to go out on the streets to protect my country.

BUTT: Yes, we don't want to bad-mouth the police. They treated us very professionally.

CHOUDHARY: Under the circumstances.

KING: Were they kind to you, Omar?

CHOUDHARY: They were fair in their treatment with us. They didn't treat us badly.

KING: What did you think of 9/11?

GHEITH: What did I think? Honestly, I think it's the biggest tragedy. You can ask me how many Muslims died in 9/11, and I'll tell you I don't know. But I know that about 2,900 human beings died.

We value human life. And this is why we chose to become doctors: to protect and preserve humanity, as Muslims.

KING: So you are Americans, and felt American that day?

GHEITH: Yes, of course. We still feel...

CHOUDHARY: As every day. Like every day.

GHEITH: You know, the funniest thing is I -- one of these guys asked me, and I told him, you know what, not only did I mourn 9/11, I have friends that were directly affected by 9/11. This is why it hurts so much to hear on the media and on other outlets that we said these kind of hurtful things. I have friends that had family members that were in the building.

BUTT: As a matter of fact, there was a student's father that was in our class that was in the building at the time of the attack.

(CROSSTALK)

GHEITH: At our school we organized a vigil for them.

KING: Are you planning any lawsuits at all?

BUTT: Absolutely not.

GHEITH: Absolutely not.

CHOUDHARY: Absolutely not. No, we're not planning any lawsuits.

GHEITH: We're here to make it clear to the public that we want our dignity back. That's all we're asking.

KING: And you expect to go to another medical school?

GHEITH: No.

BUTT: Not another medical school.

CHOUDHARY: We'll stay at our medical school now, but we're just working with faculty who are supporting us.

KING: So it may not be in Miami?

GHEITH: We don't know where it will be.

CHOUDHARY: We don't know where it will be, but they are working on a schedule for us.

KING: Are you guys going to be specialists?

GHEITH: Yes.

KING: What? GHEITH: I -- honestly, I want to be in emergency care medicine.

BUTT: Cardiology.

CHOUDHARY: Something like radiation oncology maybe.

KING: Thank you all very much. Ayman Gheith, Kambiz Butt and Omar Choudhary. And the attorney with us as well, Michael Prieto.

We'll come back and tell you about tomorrow night right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: How time flies. Prince Harry is 18. Can you believe it? And we'll talk about it tomorrow night when we gather our panel on the royals.

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



Florida Med Students Speak Out>


 
 
 
 


 Search   

Back to the top