Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Prosecutors Cross-Examine Michigan School Shooter's Mom; Soon: Biden Attends Dignified Transfer For Soldiers Killed In Jordan; House Judiciary Cmte Subpoenas Fulton Co. DA Fani Willis. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 11:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, happening now, the prosecution is cross examining Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of the Oxford, Michigan school killer. We have heard rapid fire questions from the prosecutor trying to break down Crumbley's previous testimony.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, the prosecutor started with questions about time spent on her work, on her life, on her family dynamic, and also pressing her on new details about time she spent in an extramarital affair. The prosecutors also pressed her on the disturbing drawings from her son, drawings that tipped off school administrators hours before the shooting happened.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: This is the meat of their case. Crumbley answered, often in one word replies, and acknowledged that her son was acting how she described as depressed in the months ahead of that deadly shooting. I'm Sara Sidner with Kate Bolduan and John Berman, and this is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

We want to bring in CNN's Jean Casarez and criminal defense attorney Mark O'Mara. We are watching really the crux of the prosecution's case here in this cross examination. Jean, bring us up to speed as to what we've been listening to and how important this testimony is right now.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, the prosecution is really jumping around, and they're doing that intentionally because they want to break her and they're really focusing in on 2021. So all the testimony she had about soccer practice and bowling and we went on vacations, they want to disregard. They want to hone in on that time right before the shooting because they want to show not only child neglect, but this gross, gross negligence that she didn't care about her son at all going through text messages, and you only three times was love ever mentioned. And one time it was about something actually that didn't have any significance to Ethan. And so they're really focusing in on that.

But one thing, they're going to try to show that she's a liar. And those four phones, when they were in the industrial building, that were the tracking phones that they had gotten because their own cell phones were taken away. What we've heard is that they were turned off. But she testified yesterday they had their alarm set for 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning because they were going to go turn themselves in. And he made her admit, I believe, just minutes ago, that the cell phones were turned off. But she testified the alarm was set for 6:00 a.m., so trying to catch her in lies that she's not being honest in the stand.

BERMAN: Mark O'Mara, what is the bar that the prosecution feels like it needs to get over here to prove guilt of involuntary manslaughter, which is a novel prosecution theory here when dealing with the parent of a mass killer, what's the bar they need to reach, and how do you think they're going about it in this cross examination right now?

MARK O'MARA, FORMER PROSECUTOR: So, one, it's very novel. And two, the bar that they need to reach, not legally. Legally, I'll tell you what it is. They have to show that she was acting in a grossly negligent way. Negligence is where you don't pay attention to what's going on. Gross negligence is where it's put in your face, and you are almost willfully blind to what's going on. So much so that that jury is going to sit back and go, we will not give you a pass on this. But that's the legal side of it. The moral side of it, the way they really want to play to this jury is they have to continue to chip away at her. So this jury just doesn't like her. It's not in the jury instructions, if you don't like her, convict her. But the harsh reality is this is a mom who was supposed to be taking care of her son. There's moms and fathers on that panel.


And if this prosecution does the job that they're trying to do right now, through cross examination, to make this jury dislike her, and they'll do that by these many lies, these deceptions, these untruths, then that's going to help them get to the point where they're not going to like her enough to say, we're not giving you a break on the parenting that you should have been doing.

BOLDUAN: Both of you, if you could please stick with us, we're going to jump back in, get back into the courtroom testimony happening right now. Control room tells me, are asking questions now about a fight that Jennifer Crumbley has had with her son previously.



KEAST: There's nothing stopping you on November the 30th, 2021, from taking him home?

CRUMBLEY: Correct.

KEAST: Nothing stopping him. You know, actually, I want to go back to what you just said. You took his gun away.

CRUMBLEY: We took the shooting range away.

KEAST: You said you took his gun away.

CRUMBLEY: No, I said we took the shooting range away. KEAST: Your son could have been with you those three, four, five times a week when you were at the bar?

CRUMBLEY: He could have, yes.

KEAST: Your son could have been with you on those times when you were with either Mr. Milash (ph) or somebody else?


KEAST: In the weeknights, he could have been with you after school and after work?

CRUMBLEY: I wasn't with Mr. Milash (ph) at those times.

KEAST: OK. The other individuals then?

CRUMBLEY: I wasn't with them either at those times.

KEAST: According to --

CRUMBLEY: I might have messaged people at those times, but I was not with anybody at those times.

KEAST: He could have been with you on the Halloween party?

CRUMBLEY: He did not want to go. It was a bunch of little kids.

KEAST: And on November the 30th of 2021, at 12:51 p.m., you could have been with him?

CRUMBLEY: I could address.

KEAST: And you didn't?


KEAST: Nothing further.


SHANNON SMITH, JENNIFER CRUMBLEY'S ATTORNEY: Thank you. Mrs. Crumbley, I just have two areas of questions for you. Mr. Keast played some recordings. Who were you on the phone with in those recordings?

CRUMBLEY: With my dad.

SMITH: OK, so you asked a couple of questions about calories, and then what was the other one?

CRUMBLEY: I guess the child tax credit.

SMITH: OK. How often did you speak with your dad?

CRUMBLEY: During the summer, it was every day they went back to work. It was just on the weekends. They're both teachers. SMITH: And how many hours a day did you spend -- do you spend with other people?

CRUMBLEY: Sometimes it's none. Sometimes when they walk by my cell, I'll talk to them, but I'm locked down 23 hours a day. I get one hour out by myself. I talk to my clergy lady weekly, so I see her. Sometimes I talk to the church priest, or I'll talk to my attorney, but that's about the most human contact I get.

SMITH: So I guess one of my questions is, when you do talk to people, you talk about, are there more conversations than just those?

CRUMBLEY: Right. There are.

SMITH: OK. And then that night on December 3rd, going into the 4th, after -- there was one phone being used, is that right?

CRUMBLEY: Correct.

SMITH: Whose phone was being used?

CRUMBLEY: It was my burner phone.

SMITH: Who was using the phone?

CRUMBLEY: My husband was using the phone.

SMITH: OK. Were you also using it?

CRUMBLEY: No, I was using my other phone, so he started using my burner phone. I used the one with our regular phone number to do anything on.

SMITH: OK, so these messages are from the burner phone?

CRUMBLEY: Correct.

BOLDUAN: All right, now we're listening to redirect, that is Jennifer Crumbley's defense attorney right there. Let me bring back in Jean Casarez and Mark O'Mara. Jean, from the layman's perspective, it seems like a relatively short cross examination from the prosecutors. What do you think?

CASAREZ: Very short. I'm surprised. It was very short. You know you always have to think about the jury out there. Jury members are inches away from Jennifer Crumbley. I've been in that courtroom, and they are right to her left. There are 12 of them that will be deciding the fate. And as you look at this, and you look at all the jumping around, all the different things and points were made, but are jurors who are parents, and many of them are parents, saying, OK in text, how many times did I tell my child that I loved him in the text? Are they relating their own life, and what's the impact of that?


BOLDUAN: Sorry, we're just getting some information from the control room. Jean, I'm told from the control room that the jury is now being excused. They're going to be in recess for 10 minutes, is what I'm being told. Let's continue, though. Mark, what do you think of this short cross?

O'MARA: I'm very surprised. I, you know, I would have spent a lot more time as the prosecutor. This was the prosecution team's opportunity to make sure that jury does not like her because of the deceit, because of the lack of parenting, because of everything that she didn't do that they want to say she should have done. It almost seemed like he just stopped without having another question.

And look, just tactically, you always had on a crescendo. The idea of you could have been with him this day just didn't really fall very well in the jury. You really want to hit that last thing, you know, that recency and primacy that we talk about, that jurors carry. And quite honestly, I thought it fell flat. Generally speaking, the prosecution done a good job, but this was their opportunity to really sink home the fact that this lady is such a bad parent, not only bad parenting, but so bad that she should be held criminally responsible. And I think they missed opportunities.

SIDNER: Mark and Jean, there's often sort of a gut punch at the end where the prosecutor wants to leave something with the jury. That didn't really happen in this cross. It just sort of ended. So it's been interesting to watch this. But there was so much information that came out, the affair and what was happening and how she was texting back and forth with the person that she's having affair with, that other people were involved, that her son was texting while she was with the person she's having an affair with. All of these things a jury is listening to, the burner phones and the money that was in, $6,000 in her purse when she found out she was going to be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Jury is listening to every single detail of this and it is surprising for a lot of people who don't live their lives this way. We are going to get back to this. We have now know there's a 10-minute break for the jury. We will be back when they come back and you will see it all happen live.



SIDNER: All right, we are standing by right now to see President Biden in Delaware this morning. He is going to Dover Air Force Base where he and the military will honor those three American service members who were killed in a drone strike in Jordan. In his most solemn of duties, Biden will attend the dignified transfer of Sergeant Kennedy Sanders, Sergeant Breonna Moffett and Sergeant William Jerome Rivers. CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House. Arlette, before the dignified transfer, where the president will privately meet with the grieving families, I understand. What more are you learning?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He will, Sara. And there certainly will be an emotional moment for the families of those three service members who were killed in that attack in Jordan. But really for President Biden, this is the most somber and solemn of duties he has as commander-in-chief, as he will be on hand for the dignified transfer of their remains. Now President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are making their way to Dover, Delaware right now and he will spend, according to his schedule, a little over an hour with the families of those three service members Sergeant William Rivers, as well as two army specialists, Kennedy Sanders and Breonna Moffett. Both were posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeants. That is something that President Biden himself shared with the family of Kennedy Sanders.

In a phone call he made on Tuesday, the president spoke by phone with each of the families of the fallen soldiers, and the White House says that in those conversations, he gauged whether they would want him to be on hand for the dignified transfer, and each of the families said that they would like him to be there. This will be the second time President Biden, in his role as commander in chief, has attended a dignified transfer. You'll remember back in 2021, he was on hand at Dover Air Force Base when those -- the remains of the 13 servicemen and women who were killed in a terrorist attack outside of the gates of the Kabul airport in Afghanistan when they returned during their dignified transfer.

That was a moment that was filled with a lot of raw emotion and anger from some of the families who met with President Biden. There were some who weren't even sure if they wanted to meet with the president at that time because they were so frustrated over how that Afghanistan withdrawal had unfolded. But President Biden today will have some time to meet one-on-one with the families, really giving him a chance to hear the stories about their loved ones, hear their concerns.

Of course, President Biden has often used these moments to talk about his own experience with grief, talking about the death of his young baby daughter and wife in a car accident, and then also the death of his son, Beau Biden, who had served in Iraq and later had brain cancer, which he ultimately succumbed to when he was back in the United States. So this is also an opportunity for the President to play that role of comforter-in-chief, a role that he has played all too often. But he will have that personal time with these families ahead of the dignified transfer as they are there to mourn the loss of their loved ones.

SIDNER: Yes, and I know that you brought us last hour that conversation he had on the phone with Sanders family, and it was gripping and touching to listen to the President and the family talk about grief and how he got through it, trying to give them some advice. It was really touching. Thank you so much, Arlette Saenz. Appreciate it. John?

BERMAN: All right, new this morning, Fulton County DA Fani Willis, the woman spearheading the Georgia election subversion case against Donald Trump, has been subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee. Republican lawmakers are demanding documents related to her use of federal funds. This comes as Willis also must testify or must respond today to allegations that she had an inappropriate relationship with the lead prosecutor in the Georgia election case. CNN national security reporter Zach Cohen is with us with the latest on all of this. Zach?


ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, John. The subpoena from chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jim Jordan is demanding documents related to how Willis's office used federal funds, federal grant money. And it's part of a broader investigation into Willis and into her office that Jim Jordan initiated as the investigation into Donald Trump and his 14 co-defendants in Georgia was really ramping up. And, you know, there's an undeniable political element to all this, right?

Jim Jordan is a very close ally to former President Donald Trump. He has used his chairmanship in part as chairman of House Judiciary Committee to pursue investigations that are politically advantageous to Donald Trump. And it is the latest example, as you mentioned, it comes as Fani Willis is facing this deadline in the criminal case to respond to allegations that she had this improper romantic relationship with her top prosecutor and financially benefited from that relationship.

So really, you know, another drop in the bucket, this ramping up of pressure on Fani Willis. And you're seeing it from all ends of the spectrum, from Congress to state level lawmakers in Georgia, to even the President's public comments himself or the former president's comments himself.

BERMAN: Zach Cohen, keep us posted. Thank you very much. Kate?

BOLDUAN: A blockbuster of a jobs report out this morning, blowing through expectations in this January report, what that means for you at home. And at the very same time, there is new polling out this morning showing Americans might be feeling better about the economy. You've got much more ahead.



BERMAN: So a stunning jobs report to kick off the year. The U.S. economy added 353,000 jobs in January. That is double what economists had expected. The unemployment rate has now been below 4 percent for two full years. The last time the unemployment rate was this low for this long, Richard Nixon was in the White House. So these continue to be relentlessly good economic numbers being produced by this economy. On top of really strong GDP inflation that is at least stable. It all is beginning to add up. And there is new CNN polling which shows that Americans are beginning to feel this at least a little bit. I want to show you this. In the new CNN poll we asked, things are going well in the country today, if people agree with that statement.

Now, it doesn't look like a good number. Only 35 percent say things are going well and that is still low, but it's a lot higher than it's been for most of the last two years. You can see at different points it's been as low as 21 percent. This matches a high over the last two years and it's felt by members of all political persuasions. Democrats, 62 percent, say things are going well. That's a jump from the fall. Independents, 32 percent, say things are going well. Again, that number is not high. It's quite low. But it is a jump from the fall, and Republicans, only 14 percent say things are going well, but that number double what it was in the fall.

As for the credit that President Biden is or is not getting about this, how is President Biden handling the economy? Thirty-seven percent approve. Again, that's a low number, but you can see it is higher than it was in November. And his disapproval number on that is going down as well. The policies, how have President Biden's policies affected U.S. economic conditions? Again, the number is in a vacuum, not good for the President. Fifty-five percent say those conditions, he has worsened conditions with his policies, but those numbers better for him than they were in August. Improved conditions, just 26 percent say he has, but again, better than they were in August.

Now, when you look at this in a totality, how has your financial situation changed in the last year? And this is a question we keep asking. Why? Because as we keep saying, in some ways, there are economic numbers here that are better than they've been in generations. The unemployment rate below 4 percent this long hasn't happened since Richard Nixon was president. So we asked, how has your financial situation changed in the last year? Only 20 percent say they are better off, 42 percent say they were worse off. This number has to be of concern to the White House, even though that situation is improving.

You can see almost half of people said they were worse off over the last year in 2022. That number creeping up right now. We'll see if these numbers that keep on coming back. Again, very good numbers on unemployment, GDP, job growth, if those continue to improve the sentiment that the American people have on this. Sara?


SIDNER: All good points, John. The economy is growing strong. We are seeing those numbers, and that should be good news for Joe Biden as a campaign for the presidency is now in full swing.