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Murder Suspect Found Dead; Cleveland FaceBook Murder News Conference. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired April 18, 2017 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: With this breaking news and the press conference starting any minute. I'm going to hand this off to John King, who will continue our special coverage right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.
And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS.
As Kate mentioned, we continue our breaking news coverage now on the end, apparently, of a three-day manhunt for the murderer who killed a man and then posted it on FaceBook. Pennsylvania State Police now say that man, the suspect, Steve Stephens, who had sent Ohio and Pennsylvania law enforcement into a multi-state manhunt, Pennsylvania State Police say he is dead. We're waiting for confirmation in Cleveland.
You see the room there on the right-hand of your screen. This killer found in Erie County, Pennsylvania, this morning. That press conference on the right of your screen due to begin any moment out of Cleveland, where that murder, of course, took place on Easter Sunday. We'll take you there live any second.
Our law enforcement analyst Art Roderick is with us.
Art, you've been following this case from the beginning. As we wait now for the confirmation in Cleveland, the Pennsylvania State Police saying they have -- they had a brief pursuit and that the suspect then killed himself. Explain to us what you believe would be happening right now on that very important crime scenes, because Mr. Stephens said he had killed others. There's no proof of that but he said he had killed others.
ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, and I think, you're right, there is no proof of it, so is this bravado on Stephens' part? I mean now that it looks like we'll get confirmation that it is probably him, I can't imagine knowing how great of an organization is the state police are in Pennsylvania that they would go ahead and put this out without themselves being pretty sure that it is Stephens. So what they'll be doing now, taking DNA, taking fingerprints, taking photographs, and getting them back to Cleveland for the 100 percent confirmation. And I'm pretty sure that's what we're going to hear in this particular press conference. The interesting thing now is, we've got a lot of time here to go back
and figure out what he's been doing over the past three days since he killed Mr. Godwin, but also, is there any truth to the fact that he says he's committed maybe up to a dozen previous homicides? And I think that's going to be the -- what they're concentrating their efforts on now.
KING: Art, stand by. I want to go to Sara Ganim, who has been on the scene in Cleveland throughout this three-day manhunt. She's standing by as we wait for the news conference here.
And, Sara, this word comes from the Pennsylvania State Police. Have we heard anything directly from the Cleveland authorities yet or just they're saving whatever they have to say until they come out into that room?
SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not officially, John. We're waiting for a press conference. It's going to start here in a few minutes.
I was able to talk to one of the detectives, though, who's involved in -- been involved in this manhunt the past three days and he did tell me, he said, they've seen the report. They are working to verify it. But he said, quote, "you know, I want to see the body myself." But we are, you know, reading this tweet from the Pennsylvania State Police. They are saying Steve Stephens was spotted this morning by the Pennsylvania State Police members in Erie County. After a brief pursuit, Stephens shot and killed himself.
Now, remember, Erie, which is only 92 miles east of Cleveland, just a straight shot on I-90, has been mentioned since the early hours of this investigation. Police there saying that they had detected a ping from the suspect's cell phone early after the shooting here in Cleveland. And then they later walked that back, but that has been a continuous thread, something that Erie County has popped up before early in this investigation.
You'll remember that Steve Stephens himself had talked on FaceBook about being suicidal and telling his mother in the days before the shooting that he had, you know, been suicidal. She even told CNN that he had come to her and said this is the last day that you will see me alive. So the possibility that this would end this way has been something that people have been talking about from the beginning.
Now, of course, we're just waiting for that verification here from authorities in Cleveland.
KING: And, Sara, during this manhunt, any other evidence in the -- 74- year-old Robert Godwin was the victim, of course. The suspect is Mr. Stephens, who's now believed to be dead. But he did also brag about other killings. Did the Cleveland Police -- have they -- obviously the focus has been on the manhunt, but do they have any reason to believe that is true or do they believe that is just the rantings of somebody who, as you know, was perhaps on the verge of committing suicide? GANIM: They've been careful about that. You know, there's been no
evidence at this point of any other victims other than 74-year-old Robert Godwin. Police addressed that this morning, in fact, saying that, you know, fortunately no other bodies had been found, although he did -- sorry, we're in a crowded news conference room here -- but they -- you know, he did talk about that. That was a high priority of them early in the investigation to figure out whether or not that was true.
At this point, no other victims have been identified. And we do know that abandoned buildings were checked. That was something that the police were doing here in Cleveland. Even this morning they were checking every single abandoned building in this city, not just looking for Stephens, but also any possible additional victims that there might have been. And at this point, as far as we know, thankfully, none other have been found other than, of course, unfortunately, 74-year-old great grandfather Robert Godwin, Sr.
KING: Sara, stand by for me.
I want to read the tweet from the Pennsylvania State Police. "Steve Stephens was spotted this morning by PSP members in Erie County. After a brief pursuit, Stephens shot and killed himself.
Art Roderick, I believe you're still with us. Just take us to the crime scene now. Obviously, in Cleveland, they want verification that it is -- this is Steve Stephens. In terms of the police on the scene trying to, a, preserve evidence and, b, see if there are any other leads either to the details of the Godwin slaying or, again, evidence of whether he's telling the truth or fabricating when he talks of other murders, what's happening at the site of that car right now?
RODERICK: Well, right now that, obviously, is a major crime scene and they're looking at the vehicle, is this the same vehicle that they put the BOLO, the be on the lookout for. If that's the case, then there will be a ton of evidence inside that vehicle that they'll be going through.
I think the key part now is, has he committed other suicides -- or has he committed other homicides? And the fact that he's killed himself, you know, this could be the end of just, you know, unfortunately, the killing of Mr. Godwin and then he went ahead and you -- I mean just based on the totality of circumstances here and him posting this on FaceBook, it just seemed to me from the very beginning that this was going to be -- end in a suicide scenario.
So now we have the state police -- obviously we -- early on, too, we had some cell phone traffic possibly coming from Erie County. So I know that that particular area was on alert. And through the good work of the Pennsylvania State Police they were able to identify him, get into some sort of a pursuit, and then he ended up, you know, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. So right now they're combing over that vehicle, trying to find if there's any evidence of other homicides that he might have committed and, you know, that's a major crime scene for them right now.
KING: And, Art, you know the mood in recent days, just because of the horrific way this played out --
KING: Posting a video of it on social media. In terms of the police trying to, a, get the suspect after three very tense days, but then, b, put out the public word that somebody, whether it's one killing or whether it's more, who would murder somebody to begin with and then post a video like this, in terms of trying to reassure the public, this is the suspect, we got him, how important is that at this moment?
RODERICK: That is key because, I mean, he has threatened to kill other individuals. And the way he went about selecting Mr. Godwin just as an individual walking down the street in the wrong place at the wrong time was key to capturing him as quick as we could so that he wouldn't commit another murder. I mean this was so far off the scale of looking at of -- there was absolutely no connection between Mr. Stephens and Mr. Godwin and he just picked him out of the -- as a poor individual walking down the street. So that means he was open to committing other homicides as he threatened to. So it was key to get him as quick as we could.
And I think the lead going to Erie, Pennsylvania, obviously that's where he was hiding out, about 90 miles from where he committed the crime. So, you know, it's going to be real important for the Pennsylvania State Police to pour over that vehicle, find out what else is in the car, and, of course, if there's any evidence of other crimes that he might have committed.
KING: I hope Sara Ganim is still with us back in Cleveland.
Sara, are you still with us?
GANIM: I am, John, yes.
KING: To the point Art is talking about, unfortunately, sadly, violent crime is a fact of life in just about every community, especially in big cities. But you mentioned how crowded that news conference is there because of the details of this, because of the use of social media. What has been the mood among the police and in Cleveland in the past few days as this manhunt has played out?
GANIM: I've gotten a sense of a bit of a frustration in the last couple of hours to be honest with you, before we learned of this news. They really -- you know, there was emotion from the mayor at the press conference this morning and a little bit of emotion yesterday from the police chief. They really wanted to get this guy off the streets as quickly as possible for the sake of the family first and foremost, but also the community here in Cleveland. You know, this was, as you said, a random act of violence and that was scary to many people.
Now, across the country, that was scary. This was a crime that was viewed by people around the world via social media. And, in fact, people who watched that -- and I -- I watched that video. It was absolutely gut-wrenching. It was horrific. It was 30 seconds and it was terrible. And, you know, people around the world saw that and began calling in to the Cleveland Police Department to report that crime. And you heard similar just, you know, absolute gut-wrenching reactions from the people who found the victim, Robert Godwin, here in the Cleveland area. Neighbors who heard the gunshot ring out and tried to help him. You heard on the -- the anguish on the 911 tapes.
[12:10:26] So there has definitely been a sense of urgency in this community, especially to make sure there were -- there would no -- be no more additional victims. And that's something that's been reiterated at the press conferences here every few hours as they've been holding them. There's also been a plea to people who had contact with him because we do know that he made contact with several people, including detectives in the hours after the murder happened. But that contact seized the same day. So that would have been Easter Sunday was the last time that he had contact with anyone. We do know that there were some friends and family that were able to reach him. And like I said, police as well were able to reach him. Police said this morning it was clear he had deep, deep issues, but were, you know, pleading with him to turn himself in, to contact the police, and to have anyone who has talked to him contact the police. They wanted to get this man off the streets as quickly as possible. And they've been conveying that to us very urgently, John.
KING: Sara Ganim in a crowded room in Cleveland, Ohio, waiting for a police news conference on what they believe to be a positive development, even though a sad development in the death of the suspect. If you're just joining us, a three-day manhunt for Steve Stephens, the so-called FaceBook killer, you're seeing him on the right of your screen there, has apparently ended in Erie County, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania State Police saying after a brief pursuit Steve Stephens killed himself, shot himself in his car. The Pennsylvania governor tweeting out just moments ago, quote, "thank you to the brave @pennsylvaniastatepolicetroopers for their vigilance in pursuing FaceBook killer. Thankful no one in Pennsylvania was hurt."
Again, we are waiting now for a news conference in Cleveland, Ohio. The Pennsylvania State Police have sent information to Cleveland. It was in Cleveland on Easter Sunday that 74-year-old Robert Godwin was killed. Video of that killing then posted on FaceBook. Steve Stephens, as you see on the right of your screen, has been the suspect throughout this.
As we await confirmation from the Cleveland Police, our law enforcement analyst Art Roderick is with us.
And, Art, just go back to the beginning on Easter Sunday. Something like this happens and they assumed right away the suspect had fled the area. As Sara was just noting, 90 to 100 miles up the road, one highway shot from Cleveland to Erie, Pennsylvania. So I assume that would have been sort of the first avenue of escape you would think about anyway, right?
RODERICK: No, exactly. I mean you have to look at the time the crime was committed, how much time did he have to get to wherever he was going to hide out at? It's going to be interesting to find out, why did he go to Erie? Does he have family there? Did he have associates there? Or did he stake this area out prior to committing the crime as a good place to hide out?
So there's a lot of pieces that have got to fit in here. And they have time now. I think that's the key part. They have time to figure out exactly what caused him to do this. We know that there was suicide involved from previous social media contact with his mother. I just find it interesting that we haven't heard a lot from family and friends and associates and co-workers as to what was going on, like, the day before he decided to commit this crime. Was there anything that somebody would have observed that said, hey, there's something wrong here with this individual? He's not acting himself. So I think all of this will come out over the next couple of days.
KING: And, Art, help our viewers understand in the sense of your experience in law enforcement. We've heard from Sara and others that they had some idea perhaps where the suspect was going, although they pulled some of that information back. This often happens in an investigation. But pings from his cell phone, contacts he had had during his flight, and then the idea that the video of this was posted on social media, help with context of how technology, sometimes for the better, you can track a cell phone --
KING: And sometimes for the worse, people post this horrific video publicly on social media, how does that change the character of investigations?
RODERICK: Well, I mean, in this particular case without him posting the video on FaceBook, I think a lot of people, unfortunately, would have thought, oh, it's just another homicide in the city. But because it's been posted on FaceBook and the narrative that this particular individual gave during the homicide that he committed raised this to a whole nother level. And, obviously, with him talking about committing previous homicides and going to commit some more homicides, this raised this. I mean this was the number one case for the past three days throughout this country and possibly internationally since he was fairly close to the Canadian border. He could have gone across the border if need be.
So, I mean, I know the law enforcements community was even tracking leads as far as away as Texas. So although initially we looked at Cleveland and Pennsylvania within the first 24 hours, as usually happens, we start spreading out five states the next day and then really any time after that he could have been anywhere in the country or in Canada.
[12:15:22] KING: I'm going to ask Art Roderick to stand by. Sara Ganim is standing by in Cleveland as well.
That picture you see on the right of your screen, most of your screen, a press conference we're expecting any moment now from police in Cleveland, Ohio. The suspect, the so-called FaceBook murderer, apparently found dead in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania State Police say Steve Stephens killed himself after a brief chase. We'll be back with more developments after a quick break.
KING: Breaking news. Want to take you straight to Cleveland, Ohio. Police believe the alleged FaceBook murder suspect, after a brief chase in Pennsylvania, shot and killed himself. That's what the Pennsylvania State Police say. A briefing right now from authorities in Cleveland, Ohio, where the killing of 74-year-old Robert Godwin took place on Easter Sunday.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And good afternoon. We're giving another (INAUDIBLE) relative to the Steve Stephens, the FaceBook shooter, case this afternoon. Please bear in mind that this investigation is in the very early stages and though we will take questions, there's still some information to be gathered.
Speaking this afternoon will be Mayor Frank Jackson, Chief Calvin Williams, Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland Office of the FBI Steve Anthony, and Pete Elliott, U.S. Marshal.
MAYOR FRANK JACKSON, CLEVELAND: Well, we have closure in regards to the search for Steve Stephens. The chief and other law enforcement will give you the details of that.
I want to, again, give our condolence to the family, the Godwin family, and all of its members and really again thank them for the way in which they've handled this very tragic situation, not only for them personally, but for the community at large.
I also want to thank the community. There was a lot of support from the community, not only in terms of the family, but in terms of the law enforcement effort and the kind of information and tips that we were given.
And I want to thank our partners, the federal, state, county, local, and other state law enforcement agencies that helped in this regard.
[12:20:03] Also -- and, finally, I want to emphasize the fact that this particular incident received a lot of attention, and rightfully so, because it was a loss of innocence. An innocent victim. We, however, have many, many homicides, not only in Cleveland, but throughout this nation. And, ultimately, I believe one of the things this has taught us, that we cannot resolve this underlying issues of violence, particularly gun violence, if we do not function and operate and have the same compassion and commitment that we've shown here as a community.
And, finally, I want to thank you, as the media. You were very helpful to us in keeping things straight, keeping the facts straight, reporting the stories in a way that really helped us to be able to do our job.
CHIEF CALVIN WILLIAMS, CLEVELAND POLICE: Thanks, mayor.
I want to officially announce that the search for Steve Stephens has ended. At approximately a little bit after 11:00 today, Pennsylvania State Police officers received a tip that the vehicle that we were looking for, the white Ford Fusion, was in a McDonald's parking lot near Erie, P.A. Those officers responded. The vehicle fled from that area. There was a short pursuit in which the vehicle was stopped. As the officers approached that vehicle, Steve Stephens took his own life.
We are grateful to the people that gave this tip to the Pennsylvania State Police. We are grateful that this has ended. We would prefer that it had not ended this way, because there are a lot of questions I'm sure that not only the family, but the city in general, would have had for Steve as to why this transpired.
Again, our condolences are still with the family of Mr. Godwin and you've all heard them on the news lately. They were forgiving -- excuse me, they were forgiving of Steve for committing this atrocious act. And then we need to follow their lead. As the mayor stated, there are other victims in this city and around this country and we continue to work hard to bring closure to those families also.
There are a lot of things about this that we don't know. A lot of circumstances that we're still gathering as Detective Choffs (ph) said -- Sergeant Choffs, I'm sorry, stated. We're in the early stages of this. It's been probably less than an hour since this transpired. So as we get that information, we'll get it out. But I know that my partners here, Steve and Pete, would like to come up and say a couple words.
STEPHEN ANTHONY, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: Just real quick, as we discussed, the goal from 2:00 Easter Day was to make sure that no one else was a victim of violence by Mr. Stephens. Even though investigation is continuing, we believe that to be the case. That was the number one goal.
Obviously the other goal was to bring Mr. Stephens in safely. And, unfortunately, he chose that not to be the case.
So, again, we thank the public. As we said from day one, less than 45 hours ago, the public would be key to bringing the tip that was needed to resolve this situation. That's exactly what happened. And kudos to the Pennsylvania State Police for doing an outstanding job in addressing the tip and bringing this to a conclusion.
With that, Pete.
PETE ELLIOTT, U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE: Thank you, sir.
Just real quick, I want to thank all the men and women standing up here for their dedication. But I also want to thank all the deputy U.S. Marshals, the FBI agents, the Cleveland Police officers, all the officers who have been up all night for the last couple nights working on this case, pursuing every single lead. So I want to thank them for their dedication and their service.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before we take questions, just really quick, no information regarding law enforcement tactics is going to be discussed. So we'll open it up now for questions.
QUESTION: Chief, can you talk to us a little bit more about that pursuit, how exactly it unfolded. I know you weren't there, but --
WILLIAMS: Again, we're -- we're --
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) phone call to law enforcement?
WILLIAMS: Yes, we're trying to get that information from the Pennsylvania State Police officers. We initially got the information it was a short pursuit in which the vehicle was stopped. As the officers approached the vehicle, Steve took his own life.
QUESTION: Did you suspect he was already there when you had that ping that you talked about yesterday?
WILLIAMS: We -- we searched that area prior. We searched that area initially on Sunday when we got that ping up in that area of Erie, P.A. We were in the process today of going back and doing a more thorough search of that area, both ground and area assets, when this transpired.
[12:25:15] QUESTION: You said previously -- I know the U.S. Marshals had said either Stephens had killed himself or he was being helped by someone. Do you guys believe that he was being harbored by anyone throughout this 48-hour period?
WILLIAMS: Again, we don't know. I mean, you know, anybody that's been, you know, that way east in the Erie, P.A., area knows there are a lot of places to hide. There are -- it's -- there are a lot of remote areas. There are a lot of woods, farms and barns and things like that. So until we actually can get our investigators up there to confer with the state police officers and really look in the vehicle itself and maybe track back hopefully some people that may have seen him along the way today, we won't actually know where he was and what he was doing.
QUESTION: Did he shoot himself in the head?
WILLIAMS: I don't know. We don't know that today.
QUESTION: Did he die on the scene?
WILLIAMS: Yes, he did.
QUESTION: You had talked this morning about important (INAUDIBLE) to notify. You didn't know where he could be in the U.S.? Did that (INAUDIBLE)? Did you have a better idea? How did you narrow it down?
WILLIAMS: I can't comment on that. QUESTION: If you had narrowed it down, is there a reason why you
wouldn't want that information out there to everyone?
WILLIAMS: Well, we put out the information first of all locally here. We put out the information then statewide. And then we came back and we expanded that search. So as we got information through leads, through our investigators that have been working day and night on this, then we expanded that search area.
QUESTION: Chief, is there any information prior to Erie where he was?
WILLIAMS: Not that we have right now.
QUESTION: Does he have any ties there that you know of?
WILLIAMS: Not that we know of right now. But, again, we're taking a slow, cautious approach with this right now. We're making sure that we go back and retrace as much as possible. There may be connections that we don't know about. And if people in that area have maybe seen him and not put two and two together over the last couple of days, we're still encouraging them to call the FBI tip line.
QUESTION: So this was a private citizen who called like 911?
WILLIAMS: Again, I don't know. When we get that information, we'll get it out to you guys.
QUESTION: Did you -- was there a higher level of alert in Erie because of that ping?
WILLIAMS: I don't -- I wouldn't say a higher level of alert, but we did have people actually on the ground in that area on several occasions looking at not only the surrounding area, but that immediate area for the ping.
QUESTION: Have you had a police -- a Cleveland Police presence in Erie since Sunday?
WILLIAMS: No, not a Cleveland Police presence, but our federal partners were engaged in that area.
QUESTION: Chief, had he done anything to alter his appearance, for instance, shaving his hair (ph) --
WILLIAMS: Again, I don't know. You know, this happened, again, less than an hour ago. So our investigators are on their way now. We have several -- our federal partners are already there conversing with the state police in Pennsylvania. And as soon as we get all those details, we'll definitely push that back out.
QUESTION: Have you spoken with the family yet?
WILLIAMS: We've spoken with all the families involved. All the people that are really involved in this case. They've been notified. And we ask that you guys give them a little space in this because, for them, it's not over. So we ask that you give them some space. QUESTION: Are you guys disappointed that it ended this way? I know you
touched on it a little bit. But how disappointed are you?
WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, this started with one tragedy and ended, you know, with another person taking their own life. And, you know, loss of life is a loss of life. We would like to have brought Steve in peacefully and really talked to him to find out exactly why this happened because there may be other people out there that are in similar situations that we can help by finding out why he did what he did and what kind of drove him to this.
And we talked about this a little bit a couple days ago. You know, if there are people out there that are in a -- what we call sometimes a dark place or they think they need help, they need to reach out and call. They can call the division of police and we can forward things to our Adams Board or our mental health community here in northeast Ohio. But if you're feeling, you know, not quite right and if there are things going on in your life that you need assistance with, you need to reach out and call somebody. And we'll get you that help.
QUESTION: The Pennsylvania Police said it was a brief pursuit. Do you know what the definition of brief is (INAUDIBLE)?
QUESTION: A lot (ph)?
WILLIAMS: I don't have the exact measurements, but that's the same information we got. It was a short pursuit.
QUESTION: With lights and the whole nine yards?
WILLIAMS: That's -- yes, that's the way they're equipped.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about the minutes before that? Was he eating at that McDonald's or --
[12:30:05] WILLIAMS: No, we don't have that information. Again, as soon as we get the real finite details of this, we'll get it out to everybody.