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Jury Deliberates in Alex Jones Case; Feds Charge Louisville Police Officers in Breonna Taylor Case; Brittney Griner Sentenced; Interview With Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 04, 2022 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. Victor is off today.

We're tracking major courtroom developments this hour. Four current and former Kentucky officers are facing federal charges for the death of Breonna Taylor.

Also, Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison.

But we begin with legal reckonings years in the making of two notorious school shootings. In Florida, jurors are determining if the shooter of the Parkland High School massacre should be put to death. Today, they visited the school, which has been preserved. There's a part of this school that's just been closed off and preserved ever since the gunman killed 14 students and three adults on Valentine's Day, 2018.

And, in Texas, we're on verdict watch. Jurors are now deliberating in the defamation trial against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. They're deciding how much money he should pay to the parents of a 6-year-old Sandy Hook victim for repeatedly pushing deranged conspiracies that the murder of 20 first graders and six adults did not happen.

The judge in the case denied Jones' request for a mistrial after it was revealed his lawyer accidentally sent two years of cell phone records and text messages to the parents' legal team. The parents' lawyer says multiple law enforcement groups are now seeking those texts, including the January 6 Committee.


MARK BANKSTON, ATTORNEY: Requests from various federal agencies and law enforcement to provide that.

Absent a ruling from you saying you cannot do that, Mr. Bankston, I intend to do so immediately following this hearing.

I believe that there's absolutely nothing, nothing that Mr. Reynal has done to fulfill his obligations to protect his client and prevent me from doing that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who are you turning it over to you? Are you allowed to say?

BANKSTON: Right now, I have been asked by the January 6 Committee.


CAMEROTA: OK, CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin is with us now.

So, Drew, explain how those mistakenly disclosed texts were sent and used against Jones in court.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, if we believe it at face value, they were -- it was a mistake by Jones' own attorneys, who inadvertently sent the files to Mark Bankston there. He is the attorney for the parents in this case.

And Bankston cleverly used it two ways, one, to show that Alex Jones was and is and has always been a liar, which is at the heart of this case, but also to reemphasize why we are here in this stage. Remember, there was no trial. Alex Jones was basically -- lost this case by default, after years of failing to disclose information to the plaintiffs.

So at this very moment in the trial, the last witness to take the stand., Alex Jones is there under cross-examination. Mark Bankston just hit him right between the eyes with this.


BANKSTON: Twelve days ago, your attorneys messed up, and they sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cell phone with every text message you have sent for the past two years.

And, as of two days ago, it fell free and clear into my possession. And that is how I know you lied to me when you said you have didn't have text messages about Sandy Hook. Did you know that?

ALEX JONES, HOST, "THE ALEX JONES SHOW": I told you the truth. This is your Perry Mason moment.


GRIFFIN: It certainly was very damning.

On the January 6 -- Alex Jones was called before the January 6 Committee. He says he pled the Fifth. Also, on these messages, we learned in court may be some intimate language between Alex Jones and his friend Roger Stone, who was also-called before the January 6 Committee and also pled the Fifth.

Easy to see why the January 6 Committee, Alisyn, would be so interested in what's on that text phone.

CAMEROTA: Intimate language. Intriguing.

Drew Griffin, thank you very much. Let's bring in Harry Litman, who helped lead the Justice Department as

deputy assistant attorney general. He also served as U.S. attorney. We also have CNN legal analyst Areva Martin. She's a civil rights attorney. And Elie Honig is our CNN senior legal analyst and a former federal and state prosecutor

Elie, let me start with you.

So Alex Jones' attorneys filed a mistrial -- or -- I'm sorry -- asked for, I guess, a mistrial because of these text messages. And the judge denied it.


So this happens sometimes, Alisyn. It's called inadvertent disclosure where an attorney for one party mistakenly sends information, texts, documents over to the other side. And what you normally do is say, whoops, you weren't supposed to see that. Perhaps they were privileged between attorney and client, perhaps between spouses, so I'd like them back.


And I think the response here from the plaintiffs was, yes, but we were entitled to these documents in the first place. These are not privileged. These are not attorney-client communications. These are the kinds of documents that we requested and were entitled to. So now we have them, and now we're going to use them.

And it looks like the judge sided with the plaintiffs here.

CAMEROTA: Harry, I'm surprised to hear Elie say that this happens from time to time.

I thought that this was gross negligence, I mean, sending to the victims' attorney the texts of Alex Jones. I didn't know if it was -- that they're sabotaging their own client or what that is. How do you explain it?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, it's stunning. It does happen sometimes. But it's always followed with this privilege motion, as Elie says, and then they're returned.

In this case, for some reason, adding insult to injury, the plaintiffs didn't make that motion. They just sat silent and, moreover, let him be bludgeoned in this Perry Mason moment that you have described going forward.

So it's both astonishing and very rare. I have received things like this sometimes, but you always give them back because there's always the claim of privilege. Here, they just didn't make it. Alex Jones is now looking in quick succession at a gargantuan verdict in this trial, the immediate turning over to the January 6 Committee, unless the judge stops him, of these e-mails and a very possible perjury prosecution in either Texas or by the DOJ.

And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

CAMEROTA: Well, Areva, a perjury prosecution would make sense. He's a pathological liar. He claimed that the sickening mass shooting at Sandy Hook was staged.

I mean, obviously, there's no amount of money that can ever make up for the trauma that he has inflicted on these parents. And he's still lying. So listen to the times that Alex Jones was caught lying in this courtroom.


BANKSTON: You say, Mr. Jones, that you're taking these court proceedings seriously, you're approaching them in good faith.

But the truth of the matter is, you have been broadcasting repeatedly a picture of our judge on fire, haven't you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection. Compound, Your Honor.


BANKSTON: The person the left of this image is our judge, correct?


BANKSTON: The person on the right is another judge you don't like, right?




CAMEROTA: It's just bizarro world, Areva.

So how does all that impact the jury?


Elie and Harry said this happens occasionally. And I agree with them. It does happen occasionally. But what typically also happens is more competent lawyering on the side of the person that mistakenly provides these documents. It does not appear that Alex Jones was prepared at all.

He continued to lie, even though his attorneys knew that the plaintiffs' attorney had access to these text messages and e-mails. So he sat there and said he didn't make fun of the court proceedings. Yet they know -- the attorneys presumably knew that he had because it's in those text messages.

I don't know what to make of this, other than Alex Jones, like so many of the folks who are in Donald Trump's orbit, believe that they are above the law, and that they can walk into a courtroom and do things that other individuals who are brought into court aren't allowed to do.

They wouldn't turn over documents, even though this court made repeated orders for him to do so. This is why he's facing these default judgments. And now, as Harry said, this is just a matter of how much money these plaintiffs and other plaintiffs who have gotten default judgments are going to get as a result of the heinous conduct of Alex Jones.

CAMEROTA: So, Elie, as we have been discussing, the January 6 Committee wants to see these texts. What are they looking for?

HONIG: Well, I think they want to see any communications between Alex Jones and anyone around Donald Trump. We have had reporting that there was communications between Alex Jones and Roger Stone.

I mean, imagine what is in those?

CAMEROTA: Excuse me, intimate language between those two.

HONIG: Yes, I'm not quite sure what that means.


HONIG: But who knows. I'm sure January 6 Committee members will find out.

But Alex Jones is one of the -- was one of the biggest and continues to be one of the biggest purveyors of the lie that underlies all of this, the lie of election fraud. He aggressively pushed it, actually similar to the way he pushed the lie about Sandy Hook. This is what he does. This is his M.O.

And I think what the committee wants to see is, was there any coordination, any connection between those lies coming from Alex Jones and for people in the White House around Donald Trump?

CAMEROTA: Harry, very quickly, he's claiming bankruptcy. Alex Jones is claiming bankruptcy, though he's made hundreds of millions of dollars peddling his garbage.

So how will that work? I mean, will the victims ever get the $150 million, if that's the judgment against him?

LITMAN: They will get everything he has. He is claiming it. He's lying again. And, by the way, that's another possible prosecution against him for bankruptcy fraud.

And if the DOJ gets into the act, this is a really unusual clear-cut case of perjury and potentially bankruptcy fraud. And that's just the third sledgehammer that's about to come down on his head.

CAMEROTA: OK, Elie, Areva, Harry, stay with us.

As we have said, we have a lot of courtroom stuff happening.

We also have a quick programming note for you. Join Drew Griffin for his CNN special report, "Megaphone For Conspiracy," in which he delves into who Alex Jones is with the people who know him well. That's tomorrow night at 11:00 p.m.


OK, now to Florida and the impending sentence for the Parkland mass murderer. Jurors visited Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a day after hearing from the loved ones of those who were killed, including the parents of student Gina Montalto.


TONY MONTALTO, FATHER OF PARKLAND SHOOTING VICTIM: I realized I'm wearing the same clothes that I took Gina to our last father-daughter dance together.

Life without Gina is nearly unbearable. The pain I feel every day since she was murdered is unimaginable.

JENNIFER MONTALTO, MOTHER OF PARKLAND SHOOTING VICTIM: I told my father I couldn't imagine my life without her.

And now at a time in our lives when we should be focused on our children, I find myself questioning how we will be able to make it to the next day.


CAMEROTA: CNN's Carlos Suarez joins us now from Miami.

So, Carlos, this portion of the school has been preserved for all of this time for this trial specifically. So the jurors got to go inside today and basically see it from exactly what it looked like in the moments after this massacre.

So what do we know about it?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Alisyn.

The jury spent 90 minutes inside of the building where that shooting happened. Going into the visit, prosecutors said that they wanted every single member of that jury to get a close look at where the 17 victims died, as well as the other areas where the teachers and the students hid.

Now, the jury has already seen pieces of surveillance video as well as graphic photos of the day of that shooting. And, as you mentioned, this building has remained largely intact in anticipation of this trial. A group of reporters, they were also given access to the building after the jury left earlier this afternoon.

And according to their notes, they described the bloodstained walls, as well as teddy bears that were left throughout the hallway, as well as one of the stairwells there. Remember that the shooting happened on Valentine's Day. Nikolas Cruz, he was in court this morning. And he was asked whether or not he wanted to take this trip to the school. He said no, but the judge made sure to point out that he was quite clear in that he didn't want to go.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it your decision that you do not want to attend?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And have you had enough time to think about that decision?

CRUZ: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And do you have any uncertainty about your decision?

CRUZ: No, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has anyone threatened or coerced you into making that decision?

CRUZ: No, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you making the decision of your own free will?

CRUZ: Yes, ma'am.


SUAREZ: All right, so there was no visible reaction to the jury as they left the school this afternoon. And when they got back to the courthouse here in Fort Lauderdale, we're told they also did not have much of a reaction.

Today's testimony is wrapping up with three more family members taking to the stands, talking about their loved ones -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Carlos Suarez, thank you very much for all that.

We're back with Areva, Elie, and Harry.

Areva, it is incredible to just think that this part of the building has been sealed off and preserved. And also I was so interested in the instructions that the jurors got. So they were told they can go in, but they can move at their own pace through the hallways. They needed to avoid touching anything. And there would be nothing in there explained to them.

So it would just be basically their own impressions when they saw broken glass or blood or teddy bears, as Carlos was just saying. I mean, I have to believe that this would make them more inclined for the death penalty. Is that true?

MARTIN: Well, clearly, Alisyn, that is the purpose of this visit.

The prosecutors wanted these jurors to see this preserved building and to see the bloodstains, to see the teddy bears, to see the broken windows as a part of proving the aggravating factors necessary under Florida Capitol punishment laws.

They wanted to establish that this shooter engaged in cruel and calculated and heinous conduct and that his conduct rises to the level that would make him a candidate for the death penalty under Florida law. There is the possibility though, Alisyn, that this might backfire.

We should expect to hear on appeal, at least, if the death penalty is what the judge -- is the sentence returned by this jury, some kind of claim that this was prejudicial, that this kind of cumulative evidence, because we know that there's already been videotape presented to this jury, we know there have been impact statements.

So we will have to see what impact visiting this school will have on the jurors and, again, if this issue comes up on appeal.

CAMEROTA: Elie, what do you think?

The defense -- does it make sense for the defense attorney to agree to a visit like this that would be so, I can imagine, emotional and traumatic?

HONIG: Yes, I think the effect of this visit is it will make everything that much more visceral to actually walk through the halls. Imagine that, as opposed to hearing about it, seeing exhibits up on the big screen.


To me, that's going to make a big impact on the jury. And, Alisyn, this is a death phase. The jury is deciding whether to recommend a sentence of death or less.

CAMEROTA: Because he's pleaded guilty.

HONIG: He's already been convicted, yes.

And these are excruciating, because now is when you get to hear from, as we just saw in those clips, the victims, the parents. Now, that would not come into a trial, but it does come into the penalty phase. And so you hear from the parents. It's an important moment of clarity and hopefully of some release for the parents.

And I think going to the school is similar. It's visceral. But that's what goes into this part of the proceedings.

CAMEROTA: Harry, I have to assume that during the jury discovery process or the voir dire that they asked all the jurors, are you willing to find for the death penalty? Would you be willing to do that?

And so what do you think's going to happen here? Can you imagine him not getting the death penalty after this level of massacre?

LITMAN: Can I imagine it? Yes. I mean, there are jurors who with very, very guilty defendants vote for mercy, but it doesn't look so likely here.

And as both my colleagues have said, this is so vivid. Ostensibly, by the way, it's just to give them a kind of context to understand. And I agree it might be an issue on appeal because understand what? Not the facts, but the victim impact, but necessarily it brings it home.

Can you imagine the blood on the walls, the valentines? You -- it's almost impossible to keep your composure. So this is a big event that certainly makes death much more likely, it seems to me.

CAMEROTA: OK, everyone, stand by. Obviously, we're waiting for various decisions, and we will come back to you.

Meanwhile, a Russian judge sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years in jail today. What can the U.S. do now to get her home?

And the Justice Department announcing charges against four Kentucky police officers connected to the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. How her family is reacting.



REID: A Russian court sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years behind bars today after finding her guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The overall sentence of Griner, Brittney, to imprisonment for a term of nine years, with a fine of one million rubles, to be served in a penal colony of the general regime.


CAMEROTA: CNN's Kylie Atwood joins us now from the State Department.

So, Kylie, Griner's defense team says that they're planning to appeal. But how often does that work in Russia?


We aren't actually expecting that that is going to be a successful effort. But, Alisyn, it's noteworthy that they have 10 days to put that appeal -- excuse me -- forward.

And then according to lawyers who are familiar with the Russian judicial system, that process, working that appeal through the judicial system in Russia is likely to take six months to a year. And, significantly, she won't have to go to that penal colony until after that appeal process has been concluded.

So that is significant. Now, of course, this is a severe sentence that the judge delivered today. And we're seeing a very swift response from the Biden administration. Listen to what the top U.S. diplomat who attended this hearing today in Russia said outside that courtroom.


ELIZABETH ROOD, DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION, U.S. EMBASSY IN MOSCOW: This is a miscarriage of justice. The U.S. Department of State has determined that Ms. Griner is wrongfully detained. Nothing in today's decision changes that determination.

We will remain in frequent contact with Ms. Griner and with her legal team.


ATWOOD: Now, we also heard from President Biden in a statement calling this sentence unacceptable, also talking about the efforts under way, working tirelessly to try and bring Brittney Griner home with all tools available to the U.S. government.

But, of course, the question now is what will happen to these ongoing efforts, the United States trying to secure a prisoner swap to get Brittney Griner home, putting that proposal on the table back in June, and not getting a significant response from the Russians.

So how will those efforts go forward? That is really what we are watching for here now -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kylie Atwood, thank you very much.

Joining us now is Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who has been pushing for Griner's return.

So, Congresswoman, a nine-year sentence in Russia, clearly, that's a devastating outcome for all of Britain Griner's loved ones. Is this what you were expecting?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Well, may I repeat -- and thank you for having me -- it's a very sad day, a very emotional day for all of us here in Houston and for her family, most of all, for her wife.

We know that no one goes into a court in Russia and comes out innocent. I think the American people need to understand, however our system of justice is -- and it is the best in the world, with all the trials and tribulations that we have -- we must recognize there is no justice.

So we thought that, however, there might be a bright light, because the defense team did put on what we call exculpatory evidence that indicated that all that she did was a mistake. She is a hero in Russia, if you will, playing basketball. And we just thought there might be a glimmer of hope.

But, obviously, when the prosecutors asked for nine-and-a-half years, and she got nine years, we knew that this was going to be the regular playbook. And here's where we are. It's the regular playbook. It's Vladimir Putin. It's his decision alone.


And if I have to ask for mercy for Brittney and Paul, I will do so. But what I believe now is that we have to ramp it up. There's nothing that we should not do, short of impacting the national security of this nation.

We cannot continue this saga or this masquerade, because that's what it is.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about that, what the next steps might be, because the Biden administration, as you know, says they have already offered up a prisoner swap to in order to give the convicted arms dealer Victor Blackwell in exchange for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

Then they say that Russia came back demanding the release of a convicted murderer in Germany as well. Should the Biden administration reconsider that deal?

JACKSON LEE: Well, first of all -- and thank you.

First of all, I do want to say that I know that the lawyers are working diligently, and they will play into the appeal system, which of course, she has pleaded guilty, as, I should say, counseled to do. That might have eased the penalty or the attitudes of the Russians.

But we know what their playbook is. They want to hold her out as a pawn, a hostage, a political ploy. I would simply say, here's where we are. That is a sovereign nation, Germany, certainly an ally of ours, a friend of ours, and that person is held in Germany.

I don't think that we should hold back in any conversations with Germany, but I'm going to be respectful of their legal system. We have got, I'm going to say -- these are my words -- that we have got more cards in the deck. And we need to pile the deck up.

And whatever cards we have, we need to use it and be focused and pointed. And so, if we have got one, then we need to find those individuals who are convicted and are convicted through our justice system rightly, and be able to say that they have done what they needed to do, we have done what we needed to do, and that these individuals can go.

This arms dealer has been here for most of his sentence. He is old. His tactics are old. There's not much value we're going to get out of this individual. So I don't think we should be concerned, the American people should be concerned that we're violating our integrity, and that we will look in a way of weakness. We will look weak when we can't get our citizens back home. That's what we should understand. And so I'm hoping that the administration will be forceful, will be creative. And I hope that Mr. Putin -- and the only way that we get a response from him, if he shows mercy, because we have been talking to him and talking to him and talking, and, when I say that, to those appropriately so.

And we have gotten no response. Now there's a conviction. Russia can say they convicted a world-renowned basketball player, an Olympian. And that's what they want to see. Now let's get about the business of getting her home.

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman, while I have you, I also am wondering your thoughts on Breonna Taylor and that case today.

JACKSON LEE: I am so -- Alisyn, so grateful to her mother, because she never gave up, to her lawyers, and to all of us who persisted that this was an injustice.

There is now a process toward justice with the indictment of these officers. We could not imagine how they could be penalized for shooting a neighbor, through a neighbor's apartment, and not be penalized for shooting an innocent woman with all the future in her life and an opportunity to be a first responder, and there were no charges.

I am grateful. And now justice should prevail as it goes forward.

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, thank you for your time.

JACKSON LEE: Thank you for having me.

CAMEROTA: A source tells CNN that the Biden administration plans to declare the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency.

What that will mean for all of us -- next.