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Closing Arguments Underway In Jennifer Crumbley Trial; Majority Says Biden's Policies Worsened Economic Conditions; Biden Attends Dignified Transfer Of U.S. Troops Killed In Jordan; Blinken To Visit MidEast As Potential Hostage Deal Hangs In Balance. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Happening right now, closing arguments in the Jennifer Crumbley trial are underway. The defense is now presenting. Prosecutors ended by telling the jury that the mother of the Oxford High School shooter knew something bad was going to happen and had done the unthinkable. They painted Crumbley as a distracted parent who ignored her son and dismissed his pleas for help. She now faces four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

CNN's Jean Casarez is here.

So, Jean, the defense is now presenting their closing arguments. What are you listening?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me just give you a little bit from Shannon Smith, the defense attorney. She started out by saying real life is messy. It is complicated. And she said that Jennifer Crumbley took the stand and admitted her messy life. She talked about the nooks and the crannies of her life.

And then she went on to say, can a parent be responsible for everything out there that their child does. And she went on to say that this case is one of first of its kind and now she said, we're going to list for you the reasonable doubt. You just need one reasonable doubt. And starting with that they were so focused and determined to charge the parents in this case.

So this is - she's got a lot of energy. She's really going. But the prosecution, it was the elected county attorney, Karen McDonald, that testified. And at the end, she focused on all of the gross negligence that was found in this case, which would provide for a beyond the reasonable doubt conviction. Take a listen.


KAREN MCDONALD, OAKLAND COUNTY, MI PROSECUTOR: She could have stopped at home on the way back from the meeting. She goes right by her home to see where the gun was. She could have stopped on the way back to work. She could have searched the backpack. She could have asked her son where the gun was. She could have blocked the ammunition. She could have blocked the gun. She could have taken him home. She could have taken him to work. He could have gone with dad. He was door dashing. She could have told the school that they just gifted him a gun. She could have embraced her son. She could have said, can we talk to him for a minute out alone. She could have looked at him and said, I care about you. I love you. She could have at least acknowledged she was in the room. She could have told the school about her son being in crisis previously and asked him for help.


CASAREZ: And the prosecution should be having a rebuttal close after the defense. That's what normally happens because they do have the burden here. The defense just was focusing in on the fact that it was not foreseeable that he would go and commit a mass shooting, that he ruined his life and everyone else's life. And then the defense points to Jennifer Crumbley, she, if she had known about this, if it was foreseeable, she would not have allowed that to happen. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Jean Casarez, thank you so much.

Let's actually listen in now to defense attorney Shannon Smith and her closing arguments.

SHANNON SMITH, JENNIFER CRUMBLEY ATTORNEY: ... that you would read about in my text messages, which, by the way, I did not respond to, despite the fact that it's on our six-family - six-person group chat, was taken totally - would be taken out of context and make me look like I don't really care that my daughter is crazy.

I also got text one day, we have no food in our house. I am absolutely starving. You are the worst mother ever. And you know what I did? I ignored it. She was mad. We didn't have the right kind of chicken ramen when we have 80 - not 85 - I like the number 85. When we have four other flavors of ramen and there's about a hundred other things she can eat and I knew she's not going to starve to death. But taken out of context, it makes me look like a neglectful mother. But if you know all the circumstances and you know the relationship I have with my daughter, I knew it was an overdramatic, stupid point.


So when you see messages from Mrs. Crumbley's son saying, "Will you at least call back?" Those are so out of context. And when I'm driving home from court every day, I'm getting messages, will you at least call back, and I don't because I know what they want is for me to run through the McDonald's drive-thru and bring everyone a Coke. I do stop and get myself a Coke, but I am not getting a round of drinks every day for everyone and I've realized it's easier to not answer the phone.

SANCHEZ: We've been listening to Shannon Smith, the defense attorney for Jennifer Crumbley.

Let's discuss now with civil - with legal analyst and civil rights attorney, Areva Martin.

Areva, you've been listening to some of these closing arguments. What do you make of this?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I have to tell you, Boris, the style and mannerism of this defense attorney, I think may be off-putting. She uses a lot of sarcasm and I just think for a case of this nature, four kids are dead, seven individuals were injured in that school shooting. This is the most serious case anyone I think can be a part of and I just feel like her stature and her demeanor are not appropriate for this case.

And I don't like these references she's making about what happens when her kids text her about McDonald's. I guess she's trying to show that all parents don't automatically respond to their kids. But that's not the facts here. Those aren't the facts here.

We have a mother that showed up at a school, was presented with a drawing that was so disturbing: A mother who knew that her son had been gifted a gun; a mother who didn't know where the key to the case for that gun is; a mother who said her son had been depressed. And the fact that she did nothing, did not interact with her son, did not take him out of school, did not try to comfort him in that moment, those are the facts that these jurors are going to be looking at. And I just so far haven't heard anything in this defense closing that's going to counter what I think was a very powerful closing argument by the prosecution.

SANCHEZ: Stepping back, what about the defense only calling Jennifer Crumbley as a witness? That was it. They closed as soon as her testimony was done.

MARTIN: Yes, I was surprised by that. I was surprised by a couple of things today, Boris. One, I thought the cross-examination on the part of the prosecution would have been longer. I thought there were some missed opportunities there that the prosecution didn't take advantage of. I think he could have done a much more thorough job at bringing out some of these really glaring facts, these missteps on the part of this mother that point to gross negligence.

And I was surprised that there was no defense witnesses called. There were - I was expecting to see someone that maybe could speak on behalf of Jennifer and talk about this close relationship that she wants this juror - jury to believe she had with her son. So I was surprised we didn't at least see one witness, a family member or someone to talk about how much she loved her son and what a very involved parent she was.

SANCHEZ: I'm wondering what you make of her testimony from the perspective of credibility, because there were moments where she was contradicting previous credibility or rather previous testimony. And so jurors ultimately have to decide who is the more credible witness, some of those guidance counselors at the school or Ethan Crumbley's mother. What did you think of her performance as a witness?

MARTIN: Yes, again, didn't like her performance as a witness. Four kids are dead. I can't even imagine being on the witness stand weeping through the entire testimony. Not only are four innocent students dead, my son, her son is serving life in prison. So any parent that is so nurturing, so loving that she wants this jury to believe she is, I can't imagine how you get through that without being so emotional.

And there were, as you said, lots of times when she contradicted the testimony of other witnesses in this case. Now that happens all the time in trials and that's what juries have to do. They have to weigh credibility. They have to determine who is more credible. And they look at demeanor. Those - they look at how that testimony is delivered. They look at your involvement in the case and all of those things go into them determining who should they believe.

SANCHEZ: Areva Martin, always appreciate getting your perspective. Thanks so much.

MARTIN: Thanks, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course. We're going to keep monitoring the case and bring you the latest as we get it. Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Let's turn now to the race for the White House, a new CNN national poll out today showing former President Trump with a razor-thin margin over President Biden in a hypothetical rematch. Overall, 49 percent of registered voters saying they would back Trump if an election between the two were held today, 45 percent supporting Biden.


It was a different story yesterday when a national poll from Quinnipiac University found Biden beating his likely Republican opponent by six points. And the new CNN polling is also giving us a snapshot into how Americans are feeling about the country, 35 percent saying things are going well. And I know that number seems small, but it's actually an improvement from the 28 percent who felt positively about the U.S. last fall.

And then when it comes to the economy, Biden is facing an uphill battle with a majority of voters saying that Biden's economic policies have worsened economic conditions, but his numbers here, too, are a little better than they were last fall.

So let's discuss all of this further with Republican strategist Dave Wilson.

Dave, thanks for taking the time here. Let's start with the national polls, what you're reading into them, especially as we're kind of seeing this flip-flopping. One day Biden leading, the other day it's Trump, no clear leader. What do you think?

DAVE WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The best poll you could ever have is the one that happens actually on Election Day. And until that point, you've got a lot of sway that can go back and forth. It depends on what's happening with the economy, what's happening in the news, where Donald Trump is in court today and where Joe Biden might be as he's traveling around trying to win the votes that he needs on the Democratic side.

So there's a lot of back and forth that we're going to see. As we get closer, Brianna, to Election Day, it will become more and more clear how America's swing voters, and that's the ones that we really have to pay attention to, are going to be swaying their votes as we get closer to November.

KEILAR: Polls have Biden and Trump statistically tied here, but when you put Biden against Nikki Haley, she beats Biden. It's not a tie. What does that tell you about the dynamics that a Trump or a Biden might want to exploit going into a general, assuming that Trump is going to be the nominee?

WILSON: If that's the case, then Trump is going to have to find a way to bring a level of youth and vigor into what - as Nikki Haley said earlier this week, two 80-year-old white men who are sitting here running for president of the United States. I was in Washington yesterday meeting with congressional leaders and you begin to realize that there is a wave of new blood that's going to be coming in over the next four to eight years, because we are ending one generation of leadership on the national front and we've got another one coming in.

And that's what Nikki Haley is trying to say right now and that's probably the message that Donald Trump is going to have to bring, a level of vigor to the messaging, so that he can not only get past the personality of Donald Trump, but also get to the appeal to a new group of voters that he has not been speaking to yet.

KEILAR: Dave, why isn't the electability here playing more of a role in the thinking of Republican voters, when you square a Nikki Haley off against Joe Biden and she does much better, but then you look at this latest post-Monmouth University poll out of South Carolina, and you have Trump leading Haley by 36 percent.

WILSON: There's two factors, I think, that play into this, Brianna. The first one of those being the fact that Donald Trump brought new voters to the electorate back in 2016. You could identify by 2020, those folks who were Trump voters. They were the first-time voters in 2016's presidential preference primary. They're the ones who participated in 2016's presidential, 2020's presidential. And that is a group of voters that are engendered and endeared to the personality and the plurality of Donald Trump's persona.

When you take a look at what Nikki Haley is looking at or Joe Biden, for that matter, they're trying to appeal to a moderate - to a liberal group of voters, Nikki Haley, to a more moderate group of Republicans, Joe Biden trying to reach as broad of a swath as he possibly can.

But Trump had a very clear group of people who have said, as we have heard from different folks on the ground here in South Carolina, if it's not Trump on the ballot, I don't know if I'm going to be voting.

KEILAR: I just want to correct myself, I said there was a 36-point spread, it was 26 points. That's still huge. That's still a big problem for Nikki Haley in that post-Monmouth University poll.

Haley now, Dave, is saying that Trump is too old, that he's too confused, he's too chaotic, too tantrum-prone to be president and in a jab that is likely to especially infuriate him, she's warning that he doesn't even have the money to mount a proper White House run. Do you think that is going to change anything in South Carolina, though?

WILSON: I don't necessarily think it's going to change anything in South Carolina. And one of the factors that goes into that is the broad group of elected officials who are supporting Donald Trump. Keep in mind, Nikki Haley was governor of South Carolina seven years ago, and more than a million people have moved into the state since she was governor, when you take a look at it from that standpoint. And the fact that she was very, very much trying to bring reform, and in doing so, did not necessarily engender great relationships with the legislature.


A lot of those legislators don't have a short memory when it comes to that. They remember for a very long time how it was for them when they were in leadership in the legislature, and they're recognizing the fact that that's not necessarily what they want to see with Nikki Haley.

KEILAR: David, it's great to have you to take you through all of this. We really appreciate it.

WILSON: Thanks so much, Brianna. Have a great day.

KEILAR: And that all-important poll, I will say, Dave, is coming very soon, that election day in South Carolina, so we'll be looking for that.

WILSON: Yes, it is.

KEILAR: Boris? Oh, coming up, the U.S. vowing to retaliate after the drone attack that killed three American soldiers, but when and how, we're going to head live to the Pentagon next.

And we're learning more about this fiery plane crash in Florida that killed at least three people. Could audio from the moment of the crash help investigators figure out what happened?

We have these stories and much more coming up on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



KEILAR: Last hour, President Biden attended the dignified transfer of the remains of three American service members who were killed Sunday in a drone strike that was launched by an Iranian proxy group. And we now know, according to U.S. intelligence, that Iran's leaders were caught off guard by that attack. They're nervous about retaliation here.

As Biden is readying the U.S. response, Iran's president says this country will not start a war, but also will not be bullied.

We have CNN's Natasha Bertrand at the Pentagon for us.

Natasha, we've been hearing a lot from Iranian leadership here in the wake of this deadly drone strike. Tell us about that.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Brianna. So these Iran-backed militias, as well as Iranian leadership, they really seem to be preparing for the possibility that the U.S. takes some kind of very significant action in response to the killing of those three U.S. service members. We have seen some Iran-backed militias pull back, including Kataib Hezbollah, which released a statement just earlier this week saying that they are going to suspend their attacks on U.S. forces in the region.

And we have seen some actually say that they are going to continue to launch attacks on U.S. forces and that they will not be intimidated, including another Iran-backed militia based in Iraq. And so the reactions here have been kind of varying, but all seem to be preparing for the potential big strike, big series of strikes that the U.S. is going to carry out, it appears, in retaliation for the attack that killed those service members.

Iran's president, as you mentioned, he said that while the Iranians don't want a war, they also will not hesitate to respond if they are struck directly. However, we are told that it is very unlikely that the Biden administration is actually going to take that very dramatic step of actually striking inside Iran. As we reported earlier this week, it's possible that the U.S. strikes certain Iranian targets based in Iraq and Syria, but striking inside Iran is very unlikely, just given the fact that the President has said very clearly that he does not want a direct war with Iran, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Natasha, thank you so much for that report from the Pentagon. Boris?

SANCHEZ: As the region braces for America's retaliation for that drone attack, negotiators are right now working to finalize another pause in the Israel-Hamas fighting that would see the remaining hostages held in Gaza released. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who will return to the region on Sunday to advance those efforts. But in the meantime, the fighting is unrelenting, and Israel's defense minister has hinted at the next phase of their assault on Gaza.

Let's get the latest now from Tel Aviv with CNN's Nic Robertson.

Nic, what is the latest on the ground?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Yoav Gallant said that after they get done, the IDF finishes going after Hamas in Khan Younis, which is the big town in sort of southern central Gaza. It's the second city of Gaza, if you will. And there's been that heavy military operation on there, high civilian casualties. They've been taking out Hamas targets, collecting up Hamas weapons from weapons dumps that have been used there.

But the next step in the military operation is Rafah. That's always been on the table. And the U.N. is saying, look, it's a pressure cooker in Rafah right now. Half of the population in Gaza is in Rafah, which is right along the border with Egypt. They've got nowhere to go. There's about a quarter of a million people live there already. They probably have brick structures. There are about a million displaced people there. The majority of those will be in tents, plastic sheeting, that sort of thing.

If there's a big military operation and we understand that it's underneath Rafah, where the IDF suspects the high value, the leadership of Hamas is, where the hostages are most likely being held, the possibility, of high civilian casualties in that area is high at a time when there's a lot of scrutiny on Israel to diminish the civilian death toll.

But I think what we're looking at here, if you just look back a little bit, and you were just mentioning it there in the lead-in, saying that there was a possibility of a ceasefire to get more hostages released. Well, that doesn't seem to be happening because the latest from Hamas is they don't seem to want to do the deal on the terms that's been re- proposed to them at the moment.

Going back to November, when there was that humanitarian pause in the fighting for six days, that's what allowed about a hundred hostages to be released and there was an anticipation when the IDF got done in Khan Younis, you might get a similar sort of pause, which then could give breathing space to figure out, was the war going to go ahead into Rafah, would there be some kind of deal done that that wouldn't be necessary, that looks like it's not on the table anymore.


So the threat of a military force going into Rafah looks very real and that has everyone worried. Some of the people there say, look, we'll have one place to run, and that will be over the border into Egypt.

SANCHEZ: Nic Robertson, thank you so much for the update from Tel Aviv.

Coming up, they have fled the city. Where police believe four migrants accused of assaulting New York police officers are headed and how they were able to get away.