Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Trayvon Martin's Killing, a Racist Issue?; Romney's Advisor's Wrong Choice of Words; A Standoff in France Still Ongoing; Major Development in Trayvon Martin Case; Neighbor Calls Zimmerman "Admirable"; Florida's Stand Your Ground Law;
Aired March 21, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much. Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight with breaking news. A major new development in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a gated community in Florida. It's unfolding tonight as people here in New York put on hoodies like the one Trayvon was wearing and marched through the streets of Manhattan. They want to know why a teenager armed with nothing deadlier than Skittles, iced tea and a cell phone is dead.
But George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer, who admittedly pursued, apparently confronted and fatally shot Trayvon, is a free man. Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, are at the rally tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRACY MARTIN, FATHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: Trayvon was your typical teenager. Trayvon did the typical teenager things. Trayvon was not -- and I repeat -- was not a bad person.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know that.
MARTIN: George Zimmerman took Trayvon's life for nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing.
MARTIN: George Zimmerman took Trayvon's life profiling him. My son did not deserve to die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We're going to -- I interviewed the parents earlier today. We'll play part of that interview tonight. Now in a moment a Florida legislator who co-sponsored the law, who defends it but doubts George Zimmerman's claim he fired in self-defense. Also something that may factor into a federal civil rights allegations that George Zimmerman uttered a racial slur while on the phone with 911. Now we've enhanced the audio. You can decide for yourself though. We're going to play for you uncensored in a moment.
But first, the breaking news which happened just moments ago in Sanford, Florida, where David Mattingly joins us now live. David, Sanford city commissioner has passed a no confidence motion in the local police chief. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean anything?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this was a no confidence vote. They voted 3-2 in no confidence in the city's police chief, Bill Lee. This is really a non-binding vote but it demonstrates to the police chief that he no longer has the support of the city commission here. And what it is saying is that they're now going to be looking into more details. They're not going to make a decision right away. It doesn't mean that the chief is fired. But they are going to be looking into -- deeply into his handling of this killing of Trayvon Martin.
And the chief has only been in office less than a year now. He does not have the support right now of the current mayor of the city, Jeff Triplett. I watched the mayor earlier today as he was sitting side by side with leaders of the NAACP as people who live here were coming forward telling stories about how for years that they have had problems with the police force here.
He said at that time that there's going to be a lot of work to do to correct some of these problems and tonight might have been the first step that he was talking about -- Anderson.
COOPER: David, let me ask you about the investigation. Because are the local police there, and they've been criticized by the family of Trayvon Martin, obviously the attorney for that family, but are the local police there still investigating this or because the FBI and Justice Department are investigating, because there's going to be a grand jury, have they taken over the investigation? Do we know?
MATTINGLY: The investigation itself is relatively over in terms of what the police are doing. But it's still open in case something else comes up or someone else comes forward to give them more information. They are still leaving it open in that respect. But they have turned everything over that they have for the state's attorney. That state's attorney is looking at it and they're going to be calling a grand jury in April to look over the evidence they have to decide if they're going to come out with any charges with anyone involved in this case.
COOPER: All right, David Mattingly, I appreciate the breaking news update. Thank you.
Pressure has been building obviously on the local police there for days. The questions, as David mentioned, center on how fully did police in Sanford, Florida, investigate George Zimmerman and his claim of self-defense in accordance with Florida's deadly force law or did they just take his word on it? His family says the cops are covering up, the family --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN: They're actually trying to sweep our son's death under the rug. Trayvon was a person. You know, he wasn't just a statistic. He was loved by his family. He was loved by his friends. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: They, the family, the protesters tonight, the NAACP and others believe the police took George Zimmerman's claim at face value and left it at that. Now recall that Sanford police chief Bill Lee said before Florida and the Justice Department launched their own investigations, quote, "We don't have anything to dispute his claim of self-defense."
Why wasn't Zimmerman tested for drugs or alcohol whereas the dead teenager, Trayvon Martin, was tested. What if anything did police know about George Zimmerman's long record of phoning in nuisances and suspicious people, or his arrest in 2005 for scuffling with an undercover police officer? He entered a pretrial diversion program allowing him to keep his record clean and that might have been missed.
So what about Zimmerman's call to 911? Now critics say his own words should have been evidence enough to form probable cause that he was pursuing Trayvon Martin and not acting in self-defense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Are you following him?
GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH MAN: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: OK, we don't need you to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The final question centers on another phone call, one that was taking place literally at the same time between Trayvon and his girlfriend. What if anything did police know about that? Did they even check Trayvon's phone records or contact his girlfriend? The Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump says they haven't spoke with her and ABC is reporting that she gave Crumb a sworn affidavit.
She says this about her final conversation with Trayvon. And I quote, "He said this man was watching him so he put his hoodie on, said he lost the man." She went on to say, quote, "I asked Trayvon to run and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run." She said the man caught up to Trayvon. Quote, "Trayvon said, what are you following me for? And the man said, what are you doing here? Next thing I hear somebody pushing and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell."
Now what if anything did police know about that account which would, in addition to the 911 call, seemed to cast some doubt on George Zimmerman's claim of self-defense. Now that's just one of the many questions these marchers tonight have that Trayvon Martin's family certainly have and have had for weeks. As you saw a moment ago Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, are here in New York tonight. I spoke with them on my daytime syndicated program "Anderson" which the interview is going air on -- tomorrow. Also two neighbors who were at the scene when Trayvon Martin was shot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The eyewitnesses have said they believe -- that some of them believe it was your son calling out for help. No one saw him directly doing it or saw -- could say 100 percent for sure. You've heard the 911 call where you hear somebody calling out help. Do you believe that is your son's voice?
SYBRINA FULTON, MOTHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: Yes, I do. I believe that's Trayvon Martin. That's my baby's voice. Every mother knows their child. And that's his voice.
COOPER: And the fact that -- if that's true and he called out for help, what does that tell you?
MARTIN: He was afraid for his life. He saw his death coming. He saw his death coming. The screams got more franticer and at that -- at that second that we heard the shot, screams just completely stopped. He saw his death. He was pleading for his life.
COOPER: So you're saying if it was Zimmerman who was screaming for help that might have continued after the shot. But the fact that after the shot there was no more screaming for help.
MARTIN: No more screaming whatsoever. It went completely silent.
COOPER: Whether you both went outside, you saw George Zimmerman in -- where and where was Trayvon Martin?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was out the door first. When I came out the door, I saw him basically straddling him. He had, you know, feet on either side of his body. And his hands at the time I didn't know was on his back. And --
COOPER: Trayvon was face down?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trayvon was face down. Once he got off the body, we could see that his face was down in the grass. So at the time that he was holding his back, I didn't know if he was trying to help him, hold the wound or -- he was -- someone had asked him several times, three times, what's going on? Is everything OK? And each time he looked back but he didn't say anything until the third time he just said, just call the police.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We're going to have that complete interview in my daytime show tomorrow.
Last week George Zimmerman's father told the "Orlando Sentinel" the family is receiving death threats. He calls claims that his son pursued Trayvon Martin, quote, "lies." In the meantime, a long time friend, Frank Taaffe, is defending the George Zimmerman that he says he knows. I spoke to him late yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So Mr. Taaffe, you know George Zimmerman. What is he like?
FRANK TAAFFE, FRIEND OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: George Zimmerman was a very congenial, amiable, admirable person. He was very, very kind to everyone in our community. And I really appreciated and so did the rest of our residence in our neighborhood that he stepped up and took over the position as neighborhood watch captain to insure the safety of all the residence in our community.
COOPER: You say he actually stopped a potential burglary at your house a couple of weeks ago before the shooting?
TAAFFE: That is correct.
COOPER: And were you surprised that he was carrying a gun? Were you aware he would carry a gun?
TAAFFE: I was extremely shocked to the fact that he was carrying a gun, yes.
COOPER: What shocked you? How did it shock you?
TAAFFE: The lethal weapon. It wasn't George. As I said, he was a very congenial, amiable man. The use of a lethal weapon, a deadly lethal weapon as a .9 millimeter that he used was very shocking to me. It just didn't fit the -- it didn't fit the person.
COOPER: Had there been burglaries in your neighborhood? Is -- what's the neighborhood like?
TAAFFE: I have lived at Twin Lakes since 2006, July, 2006. In the last 15 months, Anderson, we have experienced eight burglaries, one which was perpetrated during the daylight hours. Most, the majority of the perpetrators are young black males.
COOPER: And when -- I mean when you reflect on what's happened and what we know about and obviously a lot isn't known, what do you think?
TAAFFE: This is a perfect storm. You had a neighborhood that was experiencing extremely high tension, anxiety, and with the burglaries, everybody was at -- pardon my phrase, we were at DEFCON 5.
COOPER: I guess, you know, a lot of people believe race played a factor in this. From what you know about George Zimmerman, do you believe race played a factor?
TAAFFE: Absolutely not.
COOPER: Why do you feel so strongly about that?
TAAFFE: George is not a racist. He was just performing his duties as watch captain, whether it be African-American, Latino, Asian or white. He would have done the same thing. He would approach that person and just ask them what is your business here? And if he just answered him in an appropriate manner, you know, I'm just here visiting, my mother's house is around the corner, and be up front and truthful, there wouldn't have been any problem.
COOPER: Well, Mr. Taaffe, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you for being with us.
TAAFFE: Thank you, Anderson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We're trying to get as many different perspectives of people in that community to you tonight.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google Plus, follow me on Twitter, @Andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting tonight.
Much more ahead on the killing of Trayvon Martin. New details. Did George Zimmerman use a racial slur when he called 911? We're going to play you the tape uncensored. You can decide for yourself. He says something under his breath. A lot of people believe it is a racial slur. We're going to play it for you. You can determine.
What's important about that, the reason we're doing that is because if it was a racial slur, that might allow the federal government to bring charges based on what was in George Zimmerman's head based on him saying a racial slur. So it can -- it has a very important legal role and could really influence what role the federal government has moving forward in this. So that's why we're going to play it for you.
We're going to look at what role Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law also played in the shooting death of a young husband and father, another case that's raised a lot of questions. We'll be right back.
COOPER: We continue our "Keeping Them Honest" reporting on the Trayvon Martin killing. The question of Florida's first in the nation deadly force law which takes away a duty for someone in jeopardy to retreat if possible and replaces it with a legal permission to stand your ground and use deadly force.
Now nationwide 21 states now have "Stand Your Ground" laws. Since passing of the law, violent crime in Florida has dropped but to be fair, it's also fallen nationwide. More significantly, justifiable homicides as in the kind that George Zimmerman is claiming and the Martin family is disputing, those have spiked in Florida. They more than doubled since the "Stand Your Ground" law passed in 2005.
Randi Kaye has another story tonight of a life cut short and a case still under way. Watch.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When David James, an Iraq war veteran, escaped combat in the Middle East unscathed, his wife Kanina breathed a sigh of relief.
KANINA JAMES, HUSBAND KILLED: I would worry about him. But I thought he would be safe here.
KAYE: She was wrong. And now wants to know why Trevor Dooley, a 71- year-old retired bus driver, shot her husband in broad daylight right in front of their 8-year-old daughter. Dooley says it was self- defense. Kanina James calls it murder.
JAMES: What person brings a gun to a park when there's children? I mean, he killed my husband. He could have just talked to him.
KAYE: Whether or not Trevor Dooley fired in self-defense is at the heart of this case. Also central to the story is Dooley's defense, Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows a person to stand their ground and use deadly force if they fear someone could seriously harm them.
(On camera): Here's what witnesses say happened on that September Sunday in 2010. Forty-one-year-old David James was playing basketball with his daughter here when witnesses say Dooley who lived right across the street started yelling at a teenager who was skateboarding to get off the court. That's when witnesses say James intervened.
(Voice-over): James yelled back to Dooley asking him to show where any signs said no skateboarding. Dooley then crossed the street to the park to confront James. A tennis player at the park, Michael Witt, testified things turned ugly when Dooley reached for his waistband. Witt says James then lunged at Dooley. The two men struggled on the ground before James was shot once through the heart. On the 911 call, Witt is heard trying to help.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, can you hear me? Sir, can you hear me? Sir, can you hear me? He's shot in the chest, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: And he's not breathing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not breathing.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Dooley, what do you want to say about what happened?
TREVOR DOOLEY, SHOOTING SUSPECT: No comment.
KAYE: Dooley tells a different story that contradicts the witnesses. He says when he took the gun out of his right front pocket James saw it and knocked him to the ground. At a hearing to get the charges dismissed, Dooley testified, quote, "He was choking me to death."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You agree you do not want to go to prison for killing David James, correct?
DOOLEY: I don't think I should.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no?
KAYE (on camera): Dooley's lawyer told us his client turned to walk away towards home and that James was the aggressor. He said Dooley did pull a gun but didn't use it until he felt his life was threatened. He says the charges against his client should be dropped given the "Stand Your Ground" law.
(Voice-over): Kanina James says her husband of 13 years had never been aggressive. That he was a gentle family man. She believes he was trying to protect himself and their daughter Danielle after he saw Dooley pull a gun.
JAMES: He loved Danielle so much. That breaks my heart that Trevor Dooley took my daughter's best friend away from her. She'll never have her daddy.
KAYE: Danielle's testimony about how and why the situation turned violent is key in a case that hinges on self-defense. Danielle now 10 recalled how her father asked Dooley where the signs were that said no skateboarding on the court.
DANIELLE JAMES, FATHER KILLED: My dad got on top of him so he could keep him down so he could get the answer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where were your dad's hands?
D. JAMES: On his arms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the man's arms?
D. JAMES: Yes.
KAYE: The little girl then recalled her father's last moments.
D. JAMES: I think the guy pulled out the gun then.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you hear anything?
D. JAMES: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you hear?
D. JAMES: Like when it shot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You heard a gunshot?
D. JAMES: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did your dad say anything then?
D. JAMES: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did he say?
D. JAMES: Call the ambulance. I've been shot.
KAYE: When Kanina James got there, her husband was already dead. And her daughter was crying, asking, why isn't anyone helping my daddy?
Randi Kaye, CNN, Valrico, Florida.
COOPER: So the "Stand Your Ground" law may be at the heart of this case moving forward.
Let's take a closer look now at the controversial law. A short time ago I talked with Florida state legislator, a man named Dennis Baxley, who is a co-sponsor of "Stand Your Ground." Also our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
COOPER: Representative Baxley, I know you don't want to get ahead of the grand jury. And I totally understand the reasoning behind that. From what you know about the killing of Trayvon Martin, do you believe that the man who fired the gun, George Zimmerman, should be protected by this "Stand Your Ground" law, a law that you are one of the co- sponsors of?
DENNIS BAXLEY, FLORIDA STATE HOUSE: Well, the Castle Doctrine, this bill, also referred to the "Stand Your Ground," has always has been about protecting people from violent attack. And there's nothing in this statute that provides for a person to be able to pursue and confront other people. So I think any individual is on very thin ice when they get outside the realm of that protection.
COOPER: Jeff, you wrote a column today, essentially saying that the folks behind this law have a lot to answer for.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Representative Baxley, let me -- let me ask you this question. I mean wouldn't Florida be a safer place under the old law which said, if you're carrying a gun in your pocket and you are in a public street and you get involved in a confrontation, you have a duty to step back and let the police handle it instead of firing your gun yourself? Wouldn't Florida be safer with the duty to retreat?
BAXLEY: Well, in fact, Florida's not unique. This very statute went to 26 more states after it left here. So we're really in line with about half the country or more, more than half the country. And, in fact, the difficulty with the duty to retreat is it's really a Monday morning quarterback armchair situation where you're saying a person could have done something different.
When you're in that moment and you're under attack, you have to make a decision. Do you want to be the victim or do you want them to be the victim that's the perpetrator of this action against you? So I'm going to stand on the -- I'm going to stand on the side of law-abiding citizens and say, you have the right to defend yourself from harm.
COOPER: Were you surprised to hear somebody in a neighborhood watch was carrying a weapon? Was carrying a gun? BAXLEY: I was. Because from what I've heard about the crime watch programs, typically that's not part of the scenario because of what could happen. So there is a lot of questions to be answered in that regard. And there may need to be some legislation in that regard. But I would really hate to dilute the protection that we provided law- abiding citizens to act in the interest of their families and themselves.
COOPER: So you don't believe that "Stand Your Ground" needs to be rewritten in any way?
BAXLEY: No, I don't. I think there may be other legislation. But I would hate to diminish the fact that we have truly developed a policy that allows people to prevent bad things from happening to them and their families. And it's been successful.
COOPER: Jeff Toobin, from your perspective, what do you -- what raises questions to you about this?
TOOBIN: What raises questions is that it essentially gives private citizens the license to say, hey, I feel threatened so I'm going to fire my gun. I think that is why we have a trained police force. That is not why -- that is not a safe situation, whether it's -- in this case --
BAXLEY: Well, here's the flaw --
BAXLEY: Here's the flaw with your analysis. You know, one of my five children is a deputy sheriff and he says, dad, you need to be prepared. You need to carry a fire arm in your vehicle because usually when we get there, it's all over. We can't be everywhere that these things happen. And people are looking for -- we have a very high --
TOOBIN: Representative Baxley, with all due respect to your son, isn't it true that most Florida law enforcement oppose this law?
BAXLEY: No, not at all. I can tell you, I've had a lot of feedback from law enforcement officers telling me that --
TOOBIN: No, I know you've had feedback afterwards --
TOOBIN: But before the legislature, Florida law enforcement opposed changing the duty to retreat because they think they're trained to use weapons and it's not a good idea to give private citizens a license to shoot when they feel threatened.
BAXLEY: That's not the opinion on the street where this happens. They understand --
TOOBIN: I know it's the opinion on one street in Orlando these days.
BAXLEY: You can be the victim of violence and you have to be prepared to take care of yourself and your family. And you need to empower law abiding citizens to be able to do that. That doesn't mean we don't have great empathy. I'll tell you right now, you know, I've spent 40 years in funeral service taking care of families and friends who have gone through just such tragedies. And my heart goes out to them. And I offer the Martin my sincere sympathy and condolence.
At the same time, we want to make sure we continue to protect other families who are the subject of an invasion and attack. And they should be empowered to stop bad things from happening. They have. They did. And for that reason I think the statute has been a success.
COOPER: Representative Baxley, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you. And Jeff Toobin, as well, thanks.
BAXLEY: Thank you. I appreciate your call.
COOPER: Well, still ahead tonight, did George Zimmerman use a racial slur moments before killing Trayvon Martin on that 911 tape? We tried to clean up the background noise as much as possible on the recording. We're going to play it for you ahead without beeping out anything so you can decide for yourself.
This is really crucial moving forward to whether or not the federal government gets involved in what they might charge George Zimmerman with if they choose to. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Up ahead, the breaking news. The city of Sanford passing a no confidence vote in police chief Bill Lee this evening in the wake of Trayvon Martin killing. Up close tonight, what George Zimmerman said or did not said in the 911 called that he made moments before he shot Trayvon Martin. Did he use a racist slur?
There is a debate raging over two debate that's Zimmerman in the call or may have used. Some hear an ugly racial insult and an expletive. Others hear nothing of the sort.
Now, according to ABC news, the Sanford police department admitted that investigators missed a possible racist remark in the call. When CNN asked Sanford police department about the department about that ABC report, here is what Sergeant David Morgenstern told us. Quote, "I said we didn't hear it. However, I'm not sure what was said. So I never said we missed a racist remark." He went on to say, quote, "I'm not sure what was said. I heard something but, again, not clear as to what was said. I did not hear it until it was pointed out to me."
Now, before we tell what you the alleged slur are. We're going to let you listen for yourself with fresh ears and make up your own mind what you hear. For that, we enlisted the help of one of CNN's top audio engineers. We need warn to some of you the language you're going to hear is offensive. But we're going to play it for you without bleeping anything because it's evidence and if we bleep it, you'll have a harder time hearing what some believe is a racial slur.
Here is Gary Tuchman.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is room 31 at CNN center in Atlanta. This is one of the most sophisticated audio edit suites in the broadcast news business. And right here is Rick Sierra. He is our audio design specialist. He's one of the best audio experts in the business.
Rick, if can you, I have not listened to this portion of 911 tape at all. I just want to hear it raw right now, if you could play maybe 10 seconds before. Let's listen.
911 DISPATCHER: Which entrance is he headed for?
GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, SUSPECT IN TRAYVON MARTIN'S KILLING: The back entrance.
TUCHMAN: You may not have heard the moment in question. Because it was so quick.
How long does that portion last that everyone is talking about?
RICK SIERRA, CNN AUDIO DESIGN SPECIALIST: A second 18 frames.
TUCHMAN: Second 18 frame is about 1.6 seconds.
TUCHMAN: So, let's listen to it like ten times in a row if we can.
TUCHMAN: What we're listening for, is the racial slur coons. It follows the f word. Some people say they hear it, others say they don't. It certainly a lot clearer when we listen to it that way.
TUCHMAN: Is there anything else we can do to that audio to make it even clearer?
SIERRA: Well, I already did a little bit of boosting, the 2.2 kilohertz and at 4.6 kilohertz that, is boosting the high end of the voice.
TUCHMAN: What Rick has done is lowered the bass.
So why is it that you want to get rid of the low end of the audio, the bass audio?
SIERRA: To minimize the noise.
TUCHMAN: TO minimize the noise. So that takes away the noise. And allows us to hear the voice more clearly?
SIERRA: That's correct. I'll boost it up a little bit more there. And we give it a shot here.
TUCHMAN: That does sound a little clearer to me. It sounds like this allegation could be accurate. But I wouldn't swear to it in court. That's what it sounded like to me.
SIERRA: Very difficult to really pinpoint what he is saying.
TUCHMAN: Rick, can we play just that second word where we think the second word is and hear? And hear, if the sound any different.
TUCHMAN: It certainly sounds like that word to me but you just can't be sure. That sounds even more like the word than using it with the f word before that.
SIERRA: That's correct.
TUCHMAN: Only George Zimmerman knows if he used the slur. But he's not talking. So the phone call like so much of this case remains a mystery.
Gary Tuchman, Atlanta.
COOPER: It's fascinating to hear isolated like that. Let us know what you think on twitter @andersoncopper right now.
Let's talk about why this is so important, whether or not he used that slur. Senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is joining us on the phone right now.
Jeff, legally, why does this matter?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): It's extremely, extremely significant because the federal government is not allowed to prosecute just your ordinary every day murder. Two people fighting on the street is not a federal crime.
However, if one person shoots another based on racial hostility, racial animist that does become a federal crime. And if very shortly before the murder Zimmerman used this racial epithet to refer to the person he ultimately shot, that very much puts it within the FBI and the justice department ambit of a case that they could prosecute.
COOPER: We know the 911 tape. They already said used the word a- holes and then said they always get away. We don't know exactly what we mean by they in reference to Trayvon Martin.
The other thing I want to ask you about which we're getting a lot of response to on twitter, we had a person that used to be on a neighborhood watch and knew George Zimmerman who is defending him though he was surprised he accused of carrying a gun who said had Trayvon Martin simply answered George Zimmerman's question about what are you doing here, none of this would have happened.
A lot of response on twitter is why should anybody have to ask -- answer a question if some guy, you know, has no real authority to ask that question? Is there any responsibility that somebody has to answer a question from some neighborhood watch guy?
TOOBIN: Well, in the United States of America, you don't even have to answer a police officer under the fifth amendment. You have the right to remain silent as everybody knows. But you certainly don't have any obligation to answer some guy who is calling himself a neighborhood watch officer and most importantly if you refuse to answer or even if you answer inappropriately, we don't have the death penalty for failing to answer.
So, the idea that Trayvon's inappropriate answer is somehow justification for George Zimmerman to shoot him dead on the street is completely preposterous.
COOPER: Jeff Toobin, appreciate you calling in. Appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Again, let us know what you think on twitter. We're having this conversation right now in real time @andersoncooper.
In other news tonight, it should have been a great day for Mitt Romney fresh out the big win in Illinois. But then one of his senior advisors started talking about etch-sketches. How much did the remarks do? Raw politics is next.
COOPER: In raw politics, after decisive win in Illinois, Military Mitt Romney picked up an important endorsement from Jeb Bush, a good day. That is until his senior campaign advisor was asked whether Romney's conservative positions this primary season could cause him modern votes in November. Here is the answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC FEHRNSTROM, SENIOR ROMNEY STRATEGIST: Well, I think he hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an etch a sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now everything changed like an etch a sketch. Romney's rivals long accused him, obviously, of changing stripes to win votes. They jumped on those remarks. Here is Newt Gingrich campaigning in Louisiana.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have to stand for something positive and you have to stand -- pardon me, let me borrow this for a second. You have to stand for something that lasts longer than this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Rick Santorum also showed in Louisiana with an etch in sketch in hand.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're not looking for someone who is the etch a sketch candidate. You're looking for someone who writes what at the believe in stone and stays true to what they say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: As for the aide, Fehrnstrom seemed to back pedal in this statement saying quote, "I was talking about the race as we move from the primary to the general election, the campaign changes. It's a different race with different candidates and a focus on different issues."
Meantime, his boss seemed to say something very different.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The issues I'm running on will be exactly the same. I'm running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I'll be running as a conservative Republican nominee, at that point hopefully, nominee as president. The policies and positions are the same.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Joining me now, Kevin Madden, Republican strategist and adviser of the Romney campaign, also Santorum's spokeswoman, Alice Stewart.
So Kevin, my producer currently has about 68 e-mails in her inbox with etch a sketch somewhere in the subject line. Is it fair to say that this has gone so much pick up because it feeds into an existing narrative and criticism about governor Romney that he'll change his positioned to get elected?
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look. I think on a day like this in the campaign, Anderson, you have to ask yourself what matters to voters? And I don't think something like this matters to voters. I mean, we're in a demised news cycle where often time gaffes like this will get some attention.
But, the person who filled up their car today with $4 gas, and the person worried about losing a job or can't find a job, they're holy unconcerned with this type of discussion and debate that we have in -- about the internal dynamics of what staffers say on campaigns. I think that was born-out by the fact that the governor has spent his entire campaign, particularly in place like Illinois that was so important, focused on the economy, focused on the big issues, focused about on the issue that he is going to use to beat Barack Obama in a general election.
And because of that, he was awarded with the 12 point victory in Illinois. And I think going forward, that's exactly what the campaign does, focuses on the economy. Focuses on the governor's issue and his vision.
COOPER: Alice, obviously your campaign is having fun with this. They showed up at a Romney campaign with free etch sketches. The fact is -- I mean your boss suffered a pretty big loss last night in Illinois. You'd much rather spend the day talking about etch sketches than delegate counts. Is it fair to be harping on this?
ALICE STEWART, RICK SANTORUM'S SPOKESWOMAN: It is, Anderson. And with all due respect to Kevin, this does matter to voters. Because there has been the perception for quite some time as what will Mitt Romney do as things progress? He talks a good conservative game. But, you look at his record. He's been very liberal on many of the key issues that voters are concerned with. Being a Romney care which was supposed the prototype for Obama care. He was pro abortion. He was for cap and trade. He was for many issues that don't tow the conservative line.
And what basically we heard from the Romney camp this morning, it confirmed all the speculation that if he wins the nomination in the primary, he's going to abandon his conservative principles and create a candidate that he'll need for the general. This is what the voters will see if he gets the nomination, a blank slate. We're going to go back to the middle.
COOPER: Your candidate has a problem with anybody who is not a very conservative voter or evangelical voter or a rural voter. I mean, your candidate is having real problems in the suburbs among women, among essential voters who are going to be in the general election. Why should anyone believe he has a path to a nomination?
STEWART: Well, evidently, Mitt Romney has a problem with that. The voters have a problem with that.
COOPER: He has more delegates and he has more popular votes than your candidate.
STEWART: Certainly. He's also outspending us 21-1? Chicago.
STEWART: But he's not energizing the base. He's not energizing conservatives around him. And what we do need, we need a man-to-man debate. We need the two of them to go at it face-to-face on the issues. And when it comes to core values, a conservative values, they need to be etched in stone. They don't need to be on an etch and sketch. And people realize that Rick Santorum is true to his conservative convictions, has been in the past and that's the best way to judge him in the future.
COOPER: Kevin. Is it fair for the Santorum campaign and the Gingrich to continue harping on the huge financial advantage and huge money difference that governor Romney has?
MADDEN: Well, you know, I think all those type of issues are fair. Again, does it matter to voters? No. I think the answer to that clearly is no. I mean look, on campaigns, you need resources. You need organization. And you need a message. We happen to have all three. And the other campaigns are quite deficient in all three. So that's how you win campaigns.
I think governor Romney is winning on the strength of his message. And what happens is a lot of the resources that we use, we use to get out the message what he would do on the big issues, the economy, how he would turn that around, what he would do to drive down deficits and create jobs. That's why he's winning.
COOPER: Kevin Madden. Alice Stewart. Appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
MADDEN: Thank you.
STEWART: Thank you.
COOPER: Up nest, the latest on the day-long standoff in Toulouse, France where the suspect and seven murders, seven murders including four in a Jewish school Monday is holed up. We learned a lot about his background. We will tell you about it ahead.
COOPER: A "360" world view, hundreds of police in France surrounding an apartment where a suspected serial killer describe as an al Qaeda trained has been held up for hours. Now, a short time ago, there were explosions outside at apartment.
France's interior minister's office says the explosions were a way to try to pressure the 23-year-old suspect to surrender. CNN affiliate France two aired this amateur video saying this is the suspect, Mohammed Merah. He is one in connection with seven murder in the past ten days.
Dan Rivers is live in Toulouse, France with the latest on the standoff.
Dan, there have been explosions in the last couple of hours. What's going on now?
DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a couple more just in the last minute or so, Anderson. At the end of this street, we're being told consistently by the interior ministry that the opposition has not started yet. But we certainly had start heard what sounded like gun shots and then what sounded like a grenade in the last minute or so.
So we will keep an eye on what is going on here. But we're now almost 21, 22 hours into this siege. And this suspected terrorist is hold up inside, refusing to come out or dialogue with negotiators instead is broken down.
COOPER: Have -- we just got new video of the suspect. How much do we know about this guy?
RIVERS: Well, Mohammed Merah was known to French intelligence, the 23-year-old who is thought to have been terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, traveled to Pakistan. It's thought that he may have also been arrested and detained in Afghanistan. Some reports suggesting he was deported back to France by the U.S. Certainly we're being told that he was under surveillance for some time here in France. And there will be really probing questions when all this is over about how and why French intelligence apparently let him slip through their fingers.
Just two weeks ago, Anderson, he was before a court here in Toulouse, a motoring offensive. He then seemed to disappear from the net. They didn't know where he was. And then suddenly we have these killings, seven people over the last week or so including three children shot at point blank range.
COOPER: It's unbelievable. Dan Rivers, appreciate it tonight.
Still ahead, ridiculist. But let's check in with Isha with the 360 news and business bulletin -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the United Nations security council called on the Assad government today to end the bloodshed in Syria. But it's falling on deaf ears. Syria's forces shelled neighborhoods in the embattled city of Homs. As wit has been said, at least 79 people were killed across Syria today.
A 306 follow, 19-year-old Darrell Deadman of Mississippi was sentenced today to life in prison for the murder of a black man last year. James Craig, Anderson, was set upon by a group of young white men, beaten and then run over by a truck driven by Deadman.
Starbucks and green mountain coffee have recent agreement to sell single serving coffee packs made by Starbucks in green mountain's newest coffee machine which is called the view. Investors love the deal and pushed the shares of green mountain up 12 percent.
And Anderson, take a look at this. Talk about taking the plunge. A young Canadian woman who is confined to a wheelchair took a dive on a bungee cord as you see there while strapped into her chair. She won a contest sponsored by a group that helps disabled people participate in extreme sports.
COOPER: I freeze every time I see that. Isha, thanks.
Coming up. Do you think getting a jury duty summons is kind of a pain? At least you're not getting one in third grade.
The ridiculist is next.
COOPER: Time now for the ridiculist.
And tonight, someone really messed up this time. Because in Massachusetts, a 9-year-old has called for jury duty. That's right, 9-years-old. His name is Jacob. He's in the third grade. He likes to ride his bike and he has been summoned to appear in the local district court on April 18th for jury selection. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACOB, 9-YEARS-OLD: I got jury duty. I said what's jury duty? Summon for jury service. If you're picked, then you go up to the judge and you say if their guilty or not guilty. If I was 18 or over, probably I'd have to go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Jacob's grandmother says his birth year was incorrect listed as 1982 instead of 2002. So, not only has Jacob been summoned for jury duty, in the eyes of local jury's prudence, he is also turning 30 this year which is a lot to handle when you're 9-years-old. Jacob's dad seems to be taking it all in stride.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE, JACOB'S FATHER: I think he'd do well. I think he's impartial. He'd be able to be objective, you know, as long as there is no jury tampering, someone offered him an X box game, he would do as they asked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The jury commissioner is not sure exactly what went wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It could have been a data entry error at the town. It could have been on the census form that parents fill out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Or it could just be that they really, really want to get this kid on a jury. Because this actually isn't the first time he's been summoned. That's right, it happened once before when Jacob was 2- years-old.
Now, look, I don't want to be hyperbolic. But I'm not just quite convinced that the Massachusetts' jury summoning process is completely airtight.
Because a couple of years ago, this cat also got called for jury duty. His name is a Sal, Sal Esposito. Sal Esposito, feline juror tonight on "claw and order."
So, obviously, the ideas of cats being jurors, I mean, it is absurd. They really should only the alternate. Do not expect them to take diligent notes. But 9-year-old boys, why not? With all apologies to William Golding, it may be kind of interesting to see a justice system made up entirely of third grade boys.
For one thing, this court is in recess would take on an entirely different meaning. And let's face it. Trials can be so darn serious, might be nice, stress reliever for everyone with the entire jury box erupts in giggles every time the judge says civic duty.
The good thing about getting a jury summons when you are nine is that, you don't have to go at the great lengths that some adults have to, to get out of it. The finest example of course being Liz Lemon on "30 rock."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIZ LEMON, ACTRESS, 30 ROCK: I don't think it's fair for me to be on a jury because I can read thoughts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: All right. That may seem extreme. Check this out, a few years ago a man in Montana filed a notarized affidavit requesting to be excused from jury duty that said, in part, and I quote, "apparently you morons didn't understand me the first time. I would rather count the wrinkles on my dog's (beep) than sit on a jury."
Wow. Quite a visual, isn't it? The point is, the next time your grumbled about getting a jury summons, remember in the criminal justice system, the people represented by two separate unequal groups, the juries which is most likely full of kids and cats and the ridiculous.
That does it for us. We'll see you one hour from now at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.