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Teen Charged with Killing Spree Plot Was Directionless, Father Says

Aired July 8, 2003 - 19:11   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: Moving on, there are new questions tonight about a story we've been following closely. There's three teenagers arrested and charged with plotting to go on a killing spree in New Jersey.
CNN's Deborah Feyerick talked to the father of the alleged ring leader -- and we say alleged ring leader -- Matthew Lovett, about what he saw happening to his son in the days before he was arrested.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With graduation looming and no clear idea of his future, Matthew Lovett began to change, becoming more withdrawn, says his Dad, Ron.

RON LOVETT, FATHER OF MATTHEW LOVETT: He would have to go out into the world that he had isolated himself from. So this was probably something that was grating on his mind, like "what do I do now?"

FEYERICK: His father says Matthew talked about possibly going to college, joining the Army, or getting a job while he figured out what to do with his life.

But first, there was something he really wanted.

LOVETT: He said, "The first thing I want to do is learn to drive a car," which I was supposed to teach him this month.

FEYERICK: Classmates say Lovett was unpopular and ridiculed for wearing shabby clothes. He was also teased because his brother had a cleft palate. As a result, his dad says, Matthew spent lots of time by himself.

CHRIS BROWN, CLASSMATE: He always seemed like a loner to me. You knew he was different, but not this different.

FEYERICK: Lovett was a shy teenager, voted most bashful in his high school yearbook. As a senior, he did well at Collingswood High, getting As in electronics, sociology, graphic design and art.

(on camera) There's some talk some of the images he drew were violent, but the images he gave you were far from that.

LOVETT: He drew reams of beautiful women's faces and animals and things. He probably drew running the whole gamut of what there is to draw.

FEYERICK (voice-over): When he was 9, Matthew Lovett's mom died of cancer. His dad said his son always carried that sadness.

LOVETT: I know there are mental problems there. There's got to be some turmoil in there for him just to have done this. It was a very childish, foolish act, but I don't think it was the terror criminal type thing that the whole nation is making it out to be.

FEYERICK: Ron Lovett hasn't spoken directly to his son since the incident. He's scheduled to see him Sunday.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Oakland, New Jersey.


COOPER: Well, some of the people who knew Matthew Lovett say he was fascinated with the fantasy world of the "Matrix" movies. He often dressed in black, like Keanu Reeves' character, and even referred to himself as Neo, the fictional character's name.

Take a look at this excerpt from a letter that Matthew Lovett allegedly wrote, a letter found in his apartment. Quote, "'I thought you'd like to know that I am a warrior. I am fighting for mankind's freedom, freedom from this society,' said the letter, which was signed, 'sincerely, me, Matthew, the one, the Neo, the anti-Christ, etc. etc. etc."

The phrase, the one, the Neo, refers to Keanu Reeves' character. It's too soon to know what Matthew Lovett's defense will be. But a number of accused killers have blamed their actions in part on the "Matrix" series of movies.

CNN's legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin knows all about the "Matrix" defense, as it's being called, and is here to talk about it.

I mean, it sounds crazy on the face of it, this whole "Matrix" thing.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And you know, it sounds crazy on the face of it and it's crazy when you look into it even more deeply. It's just not a defense. It's not something you can raise and have a jury say, "Oh, OK, see you. Go have a nice day."

COOPER: But there are some people who have talked about "The Matrix" and sort of said, I mean, largely, when they're pleading insanity, but they've sort of used that as part of their defense.

TOOBIN: Right. I think you need to draw a distinction here. There is an insanity defense, and one way you can be insane is to think you are part of a movie or be overly influenced by a movie.

But most of the people talking about the "Matrix" defense are not pleading insanity. Insanity is a very specific, very narrow, rarely successful defense. And one way you can be sufficiently crazy to be insane is to be overly affected by movies. But the idea that you saw something in a movie and you wanted to imitate it, but you were sort of otherwise more or less rational, that simply is not a defense.

COOPER: I want to show you on the screen some of the people who have been accused of crimes and in some case pleaded out with this so- called "Matrix" defense.

On the screen, we have a person named Josh Cook, accused of killing his parents, on February 17, 2003. Apparently was believed to be obsessed with the "Matrix".

Tonda Lynn Ansley, found not guilty by reason of insanity. There it goes with insanity.

TOOBIN: That was successful.

COOPER: Also Vadim Mieseges -- I'm not sure how to pronounce that -- accused of killing in April of 2000. Judge accepted an insanity plea. Again, the "Matrix."

Even Lee Malvo, interestingly enough, wrote about "The Matrix," or mentioned it in some writings from prison.

TOOBIN: You remember a few years ago, there was a similar furor about the movie "Natural Born Killers."

COOPER: Right. The Oliver Stone film.

TOOBIN: The Oliver Stone film where it supposedly caused people to kill. But if "Natural Born Killers" really caused people to kill, it would still be causing people to kill. Insane.

COOPER: The DVD release would be...

TOOBIN: What happens is people who have mental problems or are crazy or evil or have real issues, they fixate on whatever is in front of them on the public eye.

The "Matrix" is obviously a big movie now. A lot of people going to see it. It is surreal and kind of interesting. But there's nothing about a movie that's ever been proved to cause anyone to do anything.

COOPER: Right.

Very briefly, I want to talk about Kobe Bryant.

It's pretty remarkable, I mean, we heard this press conference yesterday, the district attorney coming out, saying they really are not going to file charges at this point. They're still looking into it. Yet this man was arrested.

I mean, how surprised were you by this?

TOOBIN: It's not the way this should be done. When you have a situation where a defendant is not fleeing and obviously, Kobe Bryant's not going to go anywhere, usually what happens is the police and the prosecutor work together and say, "Do we have enough to make a case here?"

Here, the police immediately filed charges. But no case can proceed unless the D.A. signs off and says, you know, "we're going to prosecute this case."

So, you know, the D.A. is now in the uncomfortable position of either looking like he's, you know, either coddling a celebrity, rejecting the police, or agreeing with some sort of rush to judgment that the police engaged in.

This is not an auspicious beginning to this investigation. It may not matter if the case is very strong, but certainly it's not the way it's done.

COOPER: At this point, if charges are not filed, then the police look very bad because they dragged this man's name through the mud.

TOOBIN: Exactly. It's not the way it should be done.

COOPER: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much.


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