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Interview With Tom Sneddon, Ronald Zonen; Unwelcome Homecoming for Army Deserter

Aired June 15, 2005 - 07:31   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. We're waiting for that cold front to come rolling down the Hudson. Chad promised us, and we're holding it to him. So...
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, he said 20 degrees colder, which would bring it down to 75. I mean, it's not, like, a real cold front.

HEMMER: We are patient. It's 7:31 in New York. Good morning, everyone.

More fallout from the Jackson acquittal. On Tuesday, we talked to Tom Mesereau, the man credited with that court victory for Jackson.

O'BRIEN: Well, ahead this morning, the other side of the case, District Attorney Tom Sneddon is our guest. For the past 10 years, he's pursued Michael Jackson twice on allegations of child molestation. We'll talk to him.

First, though, a look at the morning's top stories with Carol Costello.

Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning to all of you.

"Now in the News."

California is bracing for possible aftershocks following a major earthquake last night. The 7.0 quake struck about 90 miles off the coast of northern California. A tsunami warning for coastal areas was issued shortly after the quake, but it was canceled about an hour later. No reports of damage or injuries.

A suicide bomber targets an Iraqi military base. Police say at least 23 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the blast, 30 others injured. It took place at a restaurant on the base located just northwest of Baquba.

And just a few hours ago, CNN learning that an Australian hostage has been released in Iraq. Douglas Wood, a civilian contractor, was kidnapped six weeks ago. Australia's prime minister was says Wood was recovered by Iraqi and U.S. military forces. Wood, who is a longtime California resident, is reportedly doing well. Three young men are still in custody in connection with the disappearance of an Alabama teenager. So far, no former charges have been filed against the suspects, seen here in a photo from an Aruban newspaper. A security guard once held in connection with the case claims one of the suspects confided in him when they were both in jail, saying that he lied to police about where Natalee Holloway was dropped off the night she disappeared. Authorities say an intensive search of an area near the Marriott Hotel Tuesday turned out to be fruitless.

A mudslide in New York will force thousands of drivers to find another way. Officials Tuesday closed a 16-mile stretch of Interstate 87, which runs between New York City and Montreal. Heavy rains soaked the area near Lake George, carrying mud and rocks onto the highway. Look at that. Officials say it could be at least a week, a week, Chad, before this road is reopened.


HEMMER: Jurors in the Michael Jackson case were all over the airwaves, first on Monday night and then on Tuesday, yesterday. But at least one juror says he believes Jackson has probably molested children, but all 12 say together that prosecutors did not prove their case.

From Santa Barbara County, District Attorney Tom Sneddon is with me today, so too is the Deputy D.A Ronald Zonen. And, gentlemen, good morning to you. And thank you for your time this morning.


RONALD ZONEN, DEPUTY D.A.: Good morning to you.

HEMMER: I'm curious to know about the reaction from the accuser and his family. We have not heard from them publicly yet. And, Mr. Sneddon, when was the last time you spoke to them since the verdict came down?

SNEDDON: I had a rather lengthy conversation with Gavin the day the verdict came down.

HEMMER: And what was his reaction? And perhaps, what kind of questions did he have for you about that verdict?

SNEDDON: He was very down. He was -- he just didn't understand why people didn't believe him. A little cynical about the system. And I just encouraged him and told him what a hero he was and how courageous he was to come forward, and that he did the right thing. And that it was time for him to move on with his life and never look back, because he did the right thing.


SNEDDON: And how much we believed in him and supported him.

HEMMER: Have you spoken to his mother? SNEDDON: No, I didn't. I haven't at this point.

HEMMER: Would you like to?

SNEDDON: Well, I'm sure I will. There was a lot going on. But I wanted to talk to Gavin, because Gavin was somebody that, you know, we were all very close to and admired. And he was on the phone, and he was upset. And I felt it was important that I talk to him.

HEMMER: Yes. That takes us into the next issue. In listening to the jurors this past week, so many of them apparently had an issue with the credibility of the mother. Listen to this woman, who is almost 80 who sat on that jury, and then we'll talk about that.


ELANOR COOK, JACKSON JUROR NO. 5: I disliked it intentionally when she snapped her fingers at us. That's when I thought, 'Don't snap your fingers at me, lady.'



HEMMER: And, gentlemen, we heard from so many others who said that the accuser's mother literally had eye contact with them the entire time when she was on the witness stand. To Ron Zonen, did you instruct her to address the jury in that manner?

ZONEN: No, not at all. She was not somebody who was easily instructed. This is a person who's had a rather difficult life. And she's a victim of many, many years of domestic violence, and came to this courtroom certainly with a great deal of difficulty in her lifetime. I didn't give her instruction on what to do. We talked about her testimony previously before the grand jury. But for the most part she was testifying to events that she recalled to the best of her knowledge.

And she behaved as she behaves. This is her. She does snap her fingers when she talks to you. She has unusual behavioral patterns. I was hopeful that the jury would be able to understand that she is who she is and simply accept her testimony accordingly.

HEMMER: Well, your answer gives a pretty good indication that she might have been somewhat of a difficult client. Was she?

ZONEN: Well, she's not a client. She's a witness of ours. And certainly there were difficulties with her, and she was cooperative in many other ways. She's an unusual person. She comes into the courtroom with many life experiences that are quite different from most of the other people who were on the jury, and frankly most of us as well. I think she did the best that she could under the circumstances.

HEMMER: Do you think you had any choice but to put her on the stand? Or do you take a pass and let Thomas Mesereau get his shot first?

ZONEN: No. She had information that nobody else had. It was appropriate to put her on the witness stand and have her testify to it. The defense would have put her on the witness stand otherwise, if we had not. She was certainly under subpoena by the defense, as well as by prosecution, but there was no alternative under the circumstances.

HEMMER: Some have suggested -- and listening to Mr. Zonen's answer, too, about the accuser's mother -- that this was the right charge, the right crime, but the wrong family. Mr. Sneddon, would you agree with that?

SNEDDON: Bill, you've been a prosecutor. I mean, you know that we don't take our victims -- we don't go out and say, OK, why don't you come on and be a victim this week. We take people that we get when they walk through door. And you have to do what you have to do with what's given to you.

And, frankly, I find it very difficult to visit the sins of a mother on a young boy who is 13 years old when somebody does something like he described in the courtroom. I mean, you would think that people would be discerning enough to allow his credibility to be judged individually, and let her credibility be judged on her basis and be discerning enough to realize there doesn't necessarily have to be a connection between the two.

HEMMER: Thank you for your time this morning. Tom Sneddon, Ron Zonen, from Santa Barbara.

SNEDDON: You're welcome.

HEMMER: Thank you, gentlemen.

ZONEN: Thank you.

HEMMER: Soledad.

O'BRIEN: A little history now. In 1965, Charles Robert Jenkins deserted the U.S. Army to avoid combat during the Vietnam War. Well, now fast-forward four decades later. He has returned to the U.S. for the first time, but his homecoming not being met with many cheers.

Tom Foreman has his story.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time in 40 years, Charles Robert Jenkins is back in the country he abandoned, flying in with his Japanese family to visit his aging mother.

CHARLES ROBERT JENKINS, VIETNAM ERA DESERTER: After 40 years, I am very happy to go visit my mother and my family in America. But only one week. I am going back to Santa (ph), Japan, to live with my dear wife and her family. FOREMAN: Jenkins said little on arrival, but in the rural community where he grew up veterans are saying plenty.

RICHARD KOHL, FORMER MARINE: He let down his family, he let down his friends, he let down his buddies.

BILL TERRY, NAVY VETERAN: It's appalling. It's unthinkable.

FOREMAN (on camera): Some people would portray Jenkins as a tragic character. But what do you see him as?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see him as a traitor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where I came from, you don't come back home as a coward. You go somewhere and hang your head in shame.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Vietnam was raging in 1965 when Jenkins was 24, an Army sergeant and afraid of being sent to war. So, while stationed in South Korea, he defected to the north, where he says he was held and forced to become part of the anti-American propaganda machine, teaching English and explaining American ways to the enemy.

But in his hometown, that explanation falls flat. Great soldiers are revered here. Jenkins' picture is a fading embarrassment in a local museum. And even old friends like Michael Cooke go know he's not welcome.

MICHAEL COOKE, FRIEND: There's not going to be any parades for Robert coming home. He's not going to be honored as a hero.

FOREMAN: People here know Jenkins turned himself in when North Korea released him last year, and that he was subsequently dishonorably discharged from the Army and spent a month in jail. Many say he owes his mother a visit.

JUNIOR BAIRD, FORMER MARINE: He tortured his mother for 40 years. He can't make up for that.

FOREMAN: But once that is done, they want Charles Robert Jenkins to do as he has promised -- to once again say goodbye to America. And get out.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Rich Square, North Carolina.


O'BRIEN: Jenkins and his family plan to return to Japan next Wednesday -- Bill.

HEMMER: Not much of a homecoming, huh?

In a moment here, settling up a multibillion-dollar suit involving Enron coming off the table. We're back to "Minding Your Business" on that story in a moment here.

O'BRIEN: And it is back to the beginning for "Batman." The film opens today. Reviews from the "90-Second Pop" panel ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

A big investment bank pays a big settlement, and further fallout from the Enron scandal. With the story of that and also a look at the market this morning, Gerri Willis in for Andy Serwer. She's "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Good morning.


And we mean big, $2.2 billion here that is going to be paid to the shareholders that were hurt so badly, people who worked for Enron in Enron's debacle. And this is another victory for Enron shareholders. Of course, we don't know when the money will flow through to them. The lawyers, of course, get paid first.

But essentially, JP Morgan was accused in a class-action lawsuit of helping Enron report misleading financial results, which is what really brought the company down. It's the second bank in a week to settle in this case. Citi has also settled as well -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So, the shareholders, do you think, will get the bulk of the money, or no?

WILLIS: Well, we'll have to wait and see. You know, the lawyers have to take their share, naturally, first. So, I'm sure we'll continue reporting on it. It's a sad story.

O'BRIEN: You know, it really is. It really is a pathetically sad story.

Let's talk a bit about the markets and what lies ahead this morning. What do you think?

WILLIS: It could be a good day. Inflation is going to be the big story yet again today. Yesterday we saw that inflation for producers down, down dramatically. Today we'll see the numbers for consumers as well. And that will be a very big story. But we are expecting a better day on the markets, so that's good news.

O'BRIEN: We'll see. All right Gerri, thanks -- Bill.

HEMMER: Soledad, eBay is shutting down auctions for one of the summer's hottest concert tickets, free raffle tickets for the Live 8 show in London. They were being sold for up to two grand a pair. Organizer Bob Geldof criticized eBay for allowing people to profit from concerts aimed at creating awareness about poverty and AIDS in Africa.

Have a listen here.


BOB GELDOF, ORGANIZER, LIVE 8: You know, I'm glad to see that a lot of people have engaged in a sort of benign cyber-terrorism by posting ridiculous bids on and blocking their system. I would take it further. I mean, if there's any, you know, hackers and stuff out there, I'd love them to get into eBay and take the system down.


HEMMER: EBay had initially refused to take action, saying there was no illegal activity taking place.

In a moment here, Phil and Kobe back together after a very nasty break up. Can Phil Jackson now coach the star player he once called "uncoachable?" The poppers take on that and more. Back in a moment on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: We've been rocking out a lot lately on "90-Second Pop." And I have to say, (INAUDIBLE) I wouldn't mind (INAUDIBLE). Just kidding. I love that. U2 is great, of course.

Welcome back. It's time for "90-Second Pop." With us this morning, B.J. Sigesmund from "Us Weekly." Karyn Bryant from "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT." Andy Borowitz from

Let's get right to it. "Batman." OK> With all due respect, hated the first one, loathed the second one. Horrible, bad, how is this one?

B.J. SIGESMUND, STAFF EDITOR, "US WEEKLY": This has nothing to do with the first four "Batmans." You'll be very happy to know, and it has none of the campy ironic tone that ruined the series, most people think. This is a much darker "Batman." It's a psychological study of this man dealing with the grief of losing his parents as a young boy.

Christian Bale is who is...

SIGESMUND: Christian Bale...

O'BRIEN: And that was an interesting choice.

SIGESMUND: He's excellent. He is great in this movie. He really looks the part. He's buff. He fills up the suit really well. Yet, he's also, you know, full of melancholy and anguish over losing his parents. It's terrific. I think it's going to make a lot of money this weekend. It's opening on 4,000 screens today. The only weak link, I'm sorry to say, Katie Holmes. She's...


ANDY BOROWITZ, BOROWITZREPORT.COM: Now that surprised me, because I heard Tom Cruise thinks she's great.

KARYN BRYANT, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT": She's great, right.

BOROWITZ: So that really surprises me.

O'BRIEN: How is she the weak link? Because the role is bad?

SIGESMUND: You know what she plays? An assistant D.A. She is supposed to be tough talking. Yet every time she opens her mouth, all I hear is this little girl who was on "Dawson's Creek." I just think she was miscast in the movie.

BRYANT: And the thing with this movie, too...

O'BRIEN: Maybe that's what Tom likes about her.

BRYANT: ... is that people should know is it's not necessarily as action-packed as some of the other superhero movies. It is a little bit more brooding and stuff.

SIGESMUND: Absolutely.

BRYANT: But I'm a Christian bale fan. I think he's going to be hot.

O'BRIEN: I think it's a great choice. I may go see this one.

SIGESMUND: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: And, again, I hated the other ones. Hated.

Let's talk about Phil Jackson. Speaking of sequels or prequels. Phil Jackson is back. This is a guy who left the Lakers under, I think you would call them, really bad circumstances.

BOROWITZ: Circumstances. Yes. Well, he gave his press conference yesterday and he said, this is a story of reconciliation and redemption. I think it's a story of $7 million to $10 million a year.

O'BRIEN: Exactly, exactly. Then there is that.

BOROWITZ: Reconcile that. That's pretty good.

BRYANT: But, you know, in Los Angeles, I mean, you can talk trash about somebody, and then three weeks later you really need them for your next project.

BOROWITZ: Is that how it works?

O'BRIEN: Sorry, I didn't realize we had the same agent.

BRYANT: Exactly.

SIGESMUND: Phil actually invited Kobe Bryant out for a face-to- face meeting, and Kobe turned him down and said, you know, I don't want to meet him. I don't want to be responsible if this thing doesn't work out. I don't want the blame put on me. BOROWITZ: Well, Phil I guess had been quoted as saying that Kobe was uncoachable.

BRYANT: Right.

BOROWITZ: Amazingly, for $10 million, he's coachable. That's the great thing. That's a great thing.

O'BRIEN: And, of course, Phil was the one who was a big fan of Shaq's.


O'BRIEN: And he really dissed the Lakers, Kobe specifically, and the owner of the Lakers in his book that he...


O'BRIEN: I mean, how...

BRYANT: Even though he's dating the owner's daughter.

O'BRIEN: How do you make good on that?

SIGESMUND: It's like going back to...

O'BRIEN: Then there's that.

BRYANT: And then there's that.

SIGESMUND: It's like going back to a lousy marriage, you know, just because there was...

O'BRIEN: Hi, did you miss the $7 million to $10 million?

BOROWITZ: Well, the fact is there are only -- you know, there are only so many big market jobs in the NBA. This is one of them.

O'BRIEN: Do you think he can make them win? I mean, that's why he's back.

BOROWITZ: Yes. I mean, I think that's the goal. That's the goal. Who knows? Who knows? You know, there are only so many jobs and so many people to fill those jobs. It's just musical chairs.

O'BRIEN: Yes, definitely.

Sean Penn, he is in Iran this week.

BRYANT: He is.

O'BRIEN: And he is a journalist...

BRYANT: He is.

O'BRIEN: ... representing the "San Francisco Chronicle." BRYANT: He is great friends with Phil Bronstein, and apparently this is his second assignment before he had been to Iraq. And, you know, he's over there with his little notepad, and he has got an interpreter. And he is trying to go over there and cover their upcoming presidential elections.

O'BRIEN: He looks like an actor playing a journalist in a movie in Iran. I'm sorry. I'm sure he -- I think he's very thoughtful, and I think he's well-read. I don't always agree with him, but I think he's well-read into a lot of issues. But in those shots, it almost looks like they are filming.

BRYANT: Well, supposedly, they are. He is being well-received by the locals.

O'BRIEN: But for a movie.

BRYANT: Because they are fans.

BOROWITZ: Everywhere he goes, the Iranians are chanting specoli (ph). They are so stoked.

SIGESMUND: Do you know what's ironic?


SIGESMUND: He will stop and he will talk to Iranian men and women on the street, but he will not talk to other journalists.

BRYANT: Right.

SIGESMUND: I think that's great that he will not grant interviews to other journalists about his being a journalist there.

BRYANT: He's just trying to sell stories.

O'BRIEN: Didn't he say about that that there would be a time and a place for that? Like, in fact, that that's why he was here to talk to regular people and not journalists.

BRYANT: Right. And then he's going to file his story, and then he'll talk about it.

O'BRIEN: And then he'd talk to...

BRYANT: So....

SIGESMUND: He'll go on TV.

BOROWITZ: He's very professional.

O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly. He'll be very professional. Well, it's just the weirder and weirder and weirder. You guys, as always, I thank you very much. Oh, we should mention Karyn, of course, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT" weeknights on Headline Prime. Country music superstar and the yummy Dwight Yoakum pays a visit tonight. That's at 7:00 Eastern on Headline News -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Soledad.

In a moment here, our special series "Just for Dads" continues today. The wife gets pregnant. The husband gains weight too. A look at sympathy weight gain and some of the reasons behind it. Back in a moment here, top of the hour.


O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, the latest on the death of that 4-year-old boy at Disneyworld. We have expert advice on knowing what theme park rides are safe for your kids. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


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