Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Misty Marris is Interviewed about the Crumbley Verdict; Video of Shooting of California Teen; Evelyn Farkas is Interviewed about Russian Elections; Polls on Marijuana Reform; Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) is Interviewed about Biden's Campaign. Aired 8:30-9:00a ET

Aired March 15, 2024 - 08:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: An unprecedented moment of accountability. A Michigan, jury convicting both of the parents of the boy who committed the worst school shooting in the state's history. Jurors found James and Jennifer Crumbley directly responsible for the crimes of their son when he killed four students at Oxford High School back in 2021. His parents faced identical charges of involuntary manslaughter and faced identical verdicts. James Crumbley convicted just last night.

Here's the Oakland County prosecutor who led the case.


KAREN MCDONALD, OAKLAND COUNTY PROSECUTOR: These parents could have prevented this tragedy that was foreseeable. With just the smallest of efforts they could have prevented this shooting and saved these kids' lives and protected the hundreds of kids in the school that day and all of the members of the Oxford community that it devastated.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now is defense attorney Misty Marris for much more on this.

Misty, what did you think of this verdict?

MISTY MARRIS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I wasn't surprised by the verdict at all. There's a set of facts that's undisputed in this case that came out in Jennifer Crumbley's trial that was also center in James Crumbley's trial. And no matter what you think about anything else, that meeting at the school where a drawing is shown and the drawing includes a picture of a gun and it says, the thoughts won't stop, that alone, I think, was enough to overcome some of the defense arguments about whether or not this was foreseeable. And look, there were very, very good arguments from that perspective, especially since the school did not say that Ethan had to be removed. They let him go back to class. However, it was the parents who knew that there was a gun in the home. So they had all the facts and they failed to act. And I truly think that that particular interaction is the reason why we saw convictions in both of these cases. [08:35:05]

BOLDUAN: So, adding it all together, the conviction of both parents now one month apart, I've seen some analysis kind of broadly that this case and the verdicts as prosecutor -- as prosecutors really finding a successful playbook to hold parents responsible for enabling deadly violence, meaning this could be used elsewhere. I've also seen people describe this as unique, though, given the evidence of how the parents allegedly acted. How broad or limited do you think the impact of these verdicts will be?

MARRIS: So both -- I think both analysis -- both are true. And let me explain what that means.

So, yes, this opens up a legal theory that prosecutors can now use to hold parents accountable for the actions of their kids. That being said, it's going to be a fact specific case. It's not going to be every case. It's going to be cases where facts show that there was a foreseeable risk. So, yes, it will not be, you know, anything and everything out there. There's not going to be a wave of prosecutions relating to children's actions and parents' accountability. However, it is going to be certain factual scenarios that are now going to be - there's going to be a legal theory to prosecute. And I think a lot of those are going to relate to the maintenance and safety protocols with storing guns when there's children in the home.

This case was unique in the sense that this particular state at the time did not have storage laws. It didn't require a gun owner to lock up the gun and have it in a safe and have a code on that safe or even keep a trigger lock on the gun. All arguments that were raised by the defense.

But this case even overcame that hurdle to say, if there's a foreseeable risk, there's a child in the home, there's a gun that's accessible, you can be held accountable. So, it's a broad ruling, but it will be a narrow set of cases that fit the factual circumstances.

BOLDUAN: The parents -- the parents were -- are speaking out after this verdict. We heard from the district - we've heard from the lead prosecutor there. And the parents of the children who were killed in the school shooting, they have suggested that they want to go after the school now as well, saying that they need to start focusing on the school and the school's failures.

What do you think that looks like?

MARRIS: So, there's a whole host of civil lawsuits that are pending relating to the school and their failures in this case. And the failures were significant. And that came out on the stand in the criminal trial. In fact, it was essential to the defense of both Jennifer and James Crumbley. That's that this meeting -- this meeting that is held both parents criminally accountable. The school also failed to take significant action. They didn't search Ethan's backpack. They didn't escalate this. They didn't take him out of the classroom. They -- what it came out was, they didn't demand that Ethan was taken home. They suggested that that was an option. So, all of that together creates a liability problem for the school.

With that said, and this is where these civil litigations are coming, there are rules relating to immunity when it comes to entities like government entities like public schools. And so there's the legal hurdles to overcome. Gross negligence has to be shown. But this could certainly open up the door, the facts here, especially now what's under oath could certainly lead to some civil accountability for the school.

BOLDUAN: Sentencing for the Crumbley's, April 9th. We will watch that and continue to follow it.

It's great to see you, Misty. Thank you.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Why did you shoot my baby? That's what a California family is asking after deputy's shot and killed Ryan Gainer, a 15-year-old boy with autism. Gainer's family called 911 last week saying they needed help because Ryan was having mental health issues and beginning to assault relatives. Deputy's say when they arrived he was holding a gardening tool and threatened them, and that is when they opened fire. Ryan's family says they expected deputies to help, not kill the teenager.

CNN's Camila Bernal has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, get back. Get back or you're going to get shot.

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Seven seconds. That's how long authorities say they had before shooting a teenager with autism. Deputies were called to 15-year-old Ryan Gainer's home in Apple Valley, California, on March 9th.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's assault and battery.

BERNAL (voice over): When the deputies arrived, Ryan had what authorities described as a five-foot-long garden tool with a sharp bladed end. And as seen on bodycam video, which was blurred by the sheriff's department, he appears to be chasing the deputy.

SHERIFF SHANNON DICUS, SAN BERNADINO COUNTY: We pay law enforcement officers to stop threats and to stop violence.


The deputy hadn't even made it into that house to be able to investigate the claims that were made of assault, was somebody injured.

BERNAL (voice over): But the family attorney, DeWitt Lacy, says it's about the initial approach. DEWITT M. LACY, FAMILY ATTORNEY: In California, it gives direction that when you're encountering somebody with mental disabilities and/or impairments in the field, that you shouldn't present as a threat, that you don't come up and show that you want to arrest somebody or present with guns or sirens and flashing noises, things that could upset and frustrate somebody who's experiencing some type of mental health issue.

BERNAL (voice over): This was not the first time deputies were called to the home. In five previous encounters with police this year, deputies had been able to help.

DICUS: What we need to really look at is, even if we had the best of health care, the best psychologists in that immediate interaction and that seven seconds, there are no magic words.

BERNAL (voice over): Lacy says the family believed calling authorities was their only available option.

LACY: They thought of police as a resource that had been helpful in the past. They believed, because of their past experiences, that calling them on this occasion may result in the same type of helpfulness.

BERNAL (voice over): But in this last encounter, Ryan was shot three times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, why would you do that? Why did you shoot my baby?

BERNAL (voice over): And despite aid from deputies, he later died at the hospital.

While the family does admit to difficult times with Ryan, he's described as a gift, a blessing, and a source of pride.

RYAN GAINER: Peace out, everybody.

BERNAL (voice over): The family is now asking for accountability.

LACY: Maybe the officers aren't the people that we should be calling, or maybe there are other folks that we should be calling, but as of right now, they are the people that are charged with this responsibility and we've got to hold them accountable for it.


SIDNER: You heard the attorney talking about holding them accountable. What does that look like to the family at this point?

BERNAL (on camera): That's the one thing I asked the attorney, Sara, and what he said is that he doesn't necessarily need these deputies to be fired, but he did say, you know, maybe they're reassigned because, in his view, these deputies did not respond correctly when it came to dealing with someone with autism. And in California, they are all trained to deal with people with mental illnesses. The sheriff's department did confirm that these two or the officers that responded were trained when it comes to dealing with someone with autism. The question here is whether or not these officers knew that this teenager was autistic and also did they know or had they been to this home before? Those are things that the sheriff's department has not answered yet. And, of course, we're still pressing them for clarity.


SIDNER: Camila Bernal, a hard story all the way around. Thank you so much for bringing that to us. Appreciate it.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, happening now, voting is underway across Russia in an election where President Vladimir Putin's victory is hardly a question. This morning, the European Council president mocked the elections fairness, preemptively congratulating Putin on his, quote, "landslide victory."

With me now is Evelyn Farkas, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia and Ukraine.

And I have to say, the tone of that tweet from the European Council president was just deeply mocking. And it's in that tone that I asked you, you know, how are you celebrating the Russian election today?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA AND UKRAINE: Well, I think it's actually a sad day, John. The election will be over on Sunday. For the first time they're actually having three days of elections. I think it's actually so that they can exercise more control over them. But I'm glad that the Europeans finally are admitting publicly that Putin is, frankly, an illegitimate, you know, democrat, only in quotation marks.

BERMAN: What does Vladimir Putin fear this morning? I ask that because it does seem that a lot has gone his way and he has exercise a great deal of power over the last several months with near impunity.

FARKAS: Yes, I mean he's afraid of losing control over the system. I think we have to remember that last summer was when the mercenary leader of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, marched on Moscow. And that was really a wake-up call for Vladimir Putin. All of a sudden he was not in control. And ever since then he's been clamping down even more on demonstrators. We know that he killed Alexei Navalny, whether he intended it on the day that he died four weeks ago or not. You know, he's been systematically eliminating the real liberal opposition. He also eliminated two people who were originally government sanctioned opposition to him in the elections. He eliminated them because they adopted anti-war platforms. He's worried about his legitimacy.

So, it doesn't matter in Russia, you know, exactly how many votes you get. Everybody knows that it's not really free and fair. But if he gets below a certain threshold, or if too many people come out to protests, and there is one protest possibility on Sunday because Navalny told the Russians to go to the polls at noon, if - if Russians all over Russia go to the polls at noon, that will be kind of a finger in the face of Vladimir Putin and evidence that he's not that popular after all.


And that hits it his legitimacy. He wants to be viewed as legitimate by you, by the international community, and by the Russian people.

BERMAN: It - is he winning? I'm not asking you about the election exactly. I'm asking you about his greater ambitions.

FARKAS: That is always a hard question to answer in a system like this where it's really under control, it's basically an authoritarian system. I would argue he isn't because Russia has lost more people than they lost in a longer war in Afghanistan. So they've lost hundreds of thousands of Russian men. About, I think, close to a million Russians fled because they didn't want to be, you know, thrown into the war in Ukraine.

The war is unpopular. We know because one of these opposition politicians who was disqualified later got over 100,000 signatures, essentially protest votes, because that was his platform. The Russian government, though, is clamping down even more on internet. That's the one place where Russians have been able to get information from the outside world that's obviously not controlled by the Russian government, but they're clamping down. And, you know, Putin, after this election, will be expected to clamp down more. Everyone's been saying it's becoming more and more like the Soviet Union, less and less free.

BERMAN: Evelyn, quickly, there was a sobering report in "The Washington Post" quoting U.S. officials on background about what would happen if Ukraine does not get this new aid package that's being discussed in Washington. There was one blind quote was, "it could lead to a potential collapse." How dire do you think the situation might be?

FARKAS: I mean, John, the Ukrainians will fight, of course, to the last man, woman and child, but it could be dire. And let's not forget that if Vladimir Putin wins in Ukraine, meaning his military is not defeated, his foreign policy is not defeated, he's going to turn and challenge NATO allies, which means we will have to come to their assistance because if we don't he's coming for us next, meaning he wants to destroy our democracy.

So, there is a lot at stake here for the United States and for the American people. We don't want boots on the ground fighting against Russia in Europe. So, let's defeat Russia, help Ukraine defeat Russia in Ukraine today.

BERMAN: Evelyn Farkas, always great speaking to you. Thank you so much.


SIDNER: It was like a bomb went off. That's what an Ohio sheriff just told John Berman about the deadly tornadoes that swept across three states. We're live on the ground to show you the aftermath and the search for survivors.

And we are keeping a very close eye on Georgia this morning where a judge is set to rule today, any moment, on whether Fulton County DA Fani Willis will be taken off Donald Trump's election subversion case.



BERMAN: All right, later today, Vice President Kamala Harris is set to join rapper Fat Joe and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear in a roundtable discussion on cannabis policy. In his State of the Union Address, President Biden said his cabinet will, quote, "review the federal classification of marijuana," potentially expunging thousands of convictions for possession.

CNN's senior data reporter Harry Enten is here right now.

I have to say, when it comes to marijuana, opinions have changed more than on almost any subject in polling. Let's first talk about the issue of pardons for possession.


BERMAN: How do people feel about that?

ENTEN: Yes, I would not have expected this when I was a kid.

All right, pardon those convicted on federal charges of marijuana possession, 69 percent, 69 percent favor, compared to just 23 percent opposed. And, John, I was going through the cross tabs. A majority of Democrats, not surprisingly. A majority of independents. And even a majority of Republicans are in favor of pardoning those who are convicted for federal charges of marijuana possession.

BERMAN: Again, and the real thing is here is how much opinions have changed, right?

ENTEN: Oh, my goodness, gracious. Look at this. Use of marijuana should be legal. You go back to 1969, it was just 12 percent. Just 12 percent. It will still just 23 percent in 1999. Not that -- not that much different when I was a kid. Or 34 percent in 2013, again when I was a kid. But today, as I stand here as a grown man, 70 percent of Americans believe that marijuana use should be legal, an all-time high.

BERMAN: I have to say, it's doubled. From 2013 to 2023, to see that number double is really just astounding.

What about usage?

ENTEN: Yes, perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising that usage has also gone up. So, currently we have 17 percent who say they currently smoke marijuana. That is actually up -- that's more than double where we were at 7 percent back in 2013. They didn't even bother asking the question 25 have years ago. But have ever smoked it. Again, look at the climb here, 50 percent now say - admit that they've at least one used marijuana. And again, compare that to where we were in the late '60s, it was just 4 percent. You talked about that trend upward. Unbelievable, John.

BERMAN: That's interesting. This is a big trend upward, but it's still not as much as people's views on legalizing it. More people want to legalize it than admit to having ever used it, which is interesting to me.

What about alcohol versus marijuana?

ENTEN: Yes, very quickly. Alcohol versus marijuana. What is more dangerous? One of the reasons its changed. Look at this, today, 54 percent of Americans say alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, compared to just 7 percent. It was a near even split about 50 years ago. Massive changes on this. This is an issue that has just massively changed.


BERMAN: All right, Harry Enten, thank you very much. Some pretty clear data, telling a very interesting story there. Appreciate it.

ENTEN: Thank you, John.


BOLDUAN: So, in the weeks since President Biden's State of the Union Address, his campaign has been barnstorming battleground states, Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and, yesterday, Michigan, with more, of course, next week. In Michigan, Biden made his second campaign visit there to the state just this year.

Specifically, Joe Biden was in Saginaw, Michigan. This is the only Michigan county to have voted for the winning presidential candidate in the last four elections. So, is Biden doing enough to win voters, including the uncommitted Democratic protest voters from the primary?

Joining me right now is Democratic congressman from Michigan, Dan Kildee. His district includes Saginaw County.

It's good to see you, Congressman. Thank you so much for coming in.

You campaigned with Biden when he was in the district yesterday. I want to reiterate kind of the fun fact about Saginaw County. It is a county in Michigan that has voted for the - the winning presidential candidate in the last four elections. With that in mind, what work do you all still have to do here?

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Well, thank you, first off, for having me on.

I think the most important work, and I talked with the president about this, is that we have to continue to lay out how effective our economic policies have been. Of course, we know that a lot of people don't necessarily feel that. But as we explain to them that the new manufacturing jobs that we're seeing, for example, in Saginaw County are not some sort of accident or good luck. It's the result of Biden economic policies that are reinvesting in manufacturing. We have to do that over and over again. That message will make a difference. Most people decide the election or how they're going to vote in an election based on how it affects the conversations they have at their own kitchen table. And that's what the president and I did yesterday with those folks in Saginaw and I -- and we talked about repeatedly doing that over and over again. This will not be his last visit to our area.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about another issue that Michigan voters care deeply about. You also said during the primary that when it comes to Israel's war against Hamas, that you think there is a stark distinction between Biden's approach and Trump's, and that -- the way you put it is that reality will sink in with voters and that they'll move to Biden in the end. Are you seeing that movement since we now have the general election set?

KILDEE: I think we have an opportunity to bring those -- those very important voices back to the Democratic ticket. And I will say very important voices because those protest voters, they hold the view that I happen to share. I disagree with Israel's prosecution of this war. I've shared that directly with the president.

But in many ways what we need to do is say that quiet part out loud, as Senator Schumer did yesterday in a very important speech. And that is to hold Israel accountable, not only for the way they defend themselves, which obviously they have the right to do, but the effect that that has on the people in Gaza, on the Palestinians. Every human life is precious. And we have to make that point over and over again. And I believe, at the end of the day, there is a clear distinction between the way President Biden approaches these issues and what we've seen with former President Trump.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you so much for jumping on. I really appreciate it.

I have to jump over to some breaking news, but thank you so much for your time this morning, as always.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BOLDUAN: All right, so I'm just getting handed -- we do have some breaking news. A ruling has been issued by the judge in Georgia on whether or not to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from overseeing Donald Trump's election subversion case there in Georgia.

So, here's what's happening right now. We know a ruling has been issued. Our teams are going through that decision right now in order to make sure we read the full ruling, have a full understanding of what is in this ruling before we bring you all of the details.

In the meantime, as we're waiting for our teams, and our teams are going to be bringing us these details, Elie Honig is standing - standing here with me. Elie, thank you so much for jumping - jumping down here.


BOLDUAN: We're going to wait to get the exact details of what we hear from Judge Scott McAfee, but this has been the moment that has been longtime coming, longtime anticipated, and very much waiting for, for everyone on every side of this case.


BOLDUAN: What is at stake here?

HONIG: So, let's set the stakes. If Fani Willis is disqualified then her entire office would be removed from this case. The case would go into a sort of holding pattern where it might languish indefinitely. If she is not disqualified, then the case can carry on. Now, there's still questions about when it would be tried. The DA is asking for an August trial date. I don't think that's realistic. But really whether this case stays on track or not -



HONIG: Will be determined by the decision which we're going through right now as to whether the DA has been disqualified.

BOLDUAN: Elie, stick with me. The control room tells me that Paula Reid - let's get over to