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Laura Coates Live

Primary Season Takes A Back Seat To The Courts; Trump Is Seething Over Haley's Refusal To Drop Out; Jury Selected In Jennifer Crumbley Trial; Untested Method Of Execution Set To Be Used By Alabama; Laura Coates Interviews Ashley Flowers. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired January 24, 2024 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: It's a two-person race now or is it? Tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

All right, I admit that was a bit of a trick question. Nikki Haley does think it's a two-person race between Trump and herself.


NIKKI HALEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump got out there and just threw a temper tantrum. I know that's what he does when he is threatened, and he should feel threatened.


COATES: Trump and Biden think it's a two-person race between the two of them. But you know what the fact is? The primary season is taking a bit of a backseat to the, well, we'll call it the court season, because even though nine Republicans, yes, nine Republicans, have dropped out of the race, people forget about a third party, the real decider at times, the courts.

Now, it may all come down to Fani Willis, Alvin Bragg, Jack Smith, Letitia James, not to mention, of course, the D.C. Circuit Court. And perhaps the biggest decider of all, those nine who are still very much a part of the game, the Supreme Court.

So much for a two-person race. This is going to be a whole lot bigger than that.

Let's talk about now with CNN legal analyst and former deputy assistant attorney general, Elliot William, former HUD deputy chief of staff under President Trump, Shermichael Singleton, and former senior adviser for the Biden 2020 Campaign, Alencia Johnson. Glad to have all of you here.

You know, we talk about this being that two-person race and the third party or the no party, the no labels, but really when it comes down to it, Trump has used each different court appearance as a campaign stop. It has been advantageous for him in the polling. He is fundraised heavily off of all of it. When you look at that now candidate, that elephant in the room, Alencia, these courts, these trials, what do you see?

ALENCIA JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN 2020 CAMPAIGN: Well, look, I mean, you said it, it is this free press that Donald Trump likes. I think that's the only reason he likes to go testify, is because he knows he's going to get the media attention for it.

You know, I was talking to some folks earlier this week about how, for Democrats, even though that means a lot of the oxygen in the media will be sucked up by Trump in these cases, those are actually free campaign ads for us because not only are Democrats tired of the chaos in these court cases. So are independents, so are moderates, so are general election voters.

And so, it will benefit us in a weird way when I say not a lot of media attention on the candidate does actually benefit you because it is horrible press for Donald Trump with what's happening in the courts.

COATES: He thinks it is good press, though. They name the game of any time they're talking about you. It's a good thing because part of what his campaign has been about, he's gotten in trouble at times, is the political witch hunt, umbrella term, use to describe all these different actions. He is using it as a part of his campaign even to the point of gag orders conflicting with what he wants to do.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, it really does possibly benefit him politically to go out and say, because when a third of the nation or at least a third of registered voters, whatever it might be, actually believes that this is a witch hunt that is being orchestrated out of Washington and with tentacles across state courts in Georgia and New York and federal courts in Washington, D.C. all trying to take down the former president, when these cases ramp up, he gets a stronger argument that these people were coming after me.

Now, look, I know it's nonsense. I'm pretty confident you think it is nonsense, too, and sort of most sensible people in America do. However, something to contend with is the fact that there are a lot of people who actually believe the former president is being persecuted against.

COATES: You know, you think about this electability part of it. Nikki Haley tried to use this. Chris Christie tried to use it. You had Asa Hutchinson, even DeSantis at different times, all talking about electability.

That the baggage that is brought by what you describe as albatrosses, the legal cases, that these are things that are just so much for the average voter or a moderate or independent.

But the electability question did not really come into play for the primary as much. Why?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it doesn't come into the primary as much because most Republicans at the base level believe Donald Trump should be given a second opportunity. Whether they believe the election was stolen or even those who don't believe the election was stolen, when I travel the country, Laura, many will say, well, you know, if it were not for COVID, he probably would have won the election.


I think the economy --

COATES: I hear that a lot.

SINGLETON: I think the economy was greater. I like the way he handled immigration or litany of other issues. He should be given another opportunity.

Now, I will say this: I think Donald Trump is poised to win back Georgia. Michigan, I believe, is in play. I think Arizona is in play. Nevada is in play. Just Republican voters alone will not allow the former president to win back those states.

So clearly, there's a litany of independents, maybe 15%, that are saying, you know what, I'm willing to vote for him again. When you look at the margins that he lost those states, less than 20,000 votes, less than 12,000 votes, there is certainly a pathway for him to regain those electoral counts.

COATES: You're nodding. You agree with that?

JOHNSON: Well, it's interesting because I feel like some of those independents are -- they are saying that, right? But they're also getting tired of this.

I think with Nikki Haley, and I'm sure we're going talk about New Hampshire, some of what she was bringing to the forefront in the conversation is where do those people go, who are tired of the chaos, and whether or not they support Donald Trump as a policy leader. It feels weird to say that but --


-- whether or not they support him, people are exhausted from the chaos. They want this chaos out of our politics. And even, I would say a lot of these Republicans who are publicly backing him, you know, quietly, are frustrated with all of this --

SINGLETON: That's true.

JOHNSON: But they are being held into power over, unfortunately, democracy. But they are going to continue to support him. But it will be interesting what those independents do once they actually go in the ballot box versus answering the question on the phone or in your focus groups or my focus groups, right? What are they going to do when they get into the ballot box in November?

COATES: It's true when you look at the, you know, how people respond to these polls. It's one thing. But I'm picking up on the word "they" here a lot because we all know about the illusion of the monolith, that there is a "they." We hear how Donald Trump will say, well, they say, they're saying. We all go, who's the they, sir? Who do you mean? Be very specific.

But I do mean this: here, when it comes to New Hampshire or Iowa or South Carolina or any of the states, the "they," the independent voters, the voters who are going to support or not support him, you know, there's not always the through line, Elliot, between all of them. There is this notion of, well, how do you want to be represented? How does the world see us? But also, how do they view the court system in due process, right?

WILLIAMS: Right. And, you know, I think another factor in all of this is that we all know the former president quite well. He was president for four years, was a magnate for decades before that. But the 2024 avatar that is Donald Trump hasn't really been tested yet. He hasn't debated another candidate. He has not debated Joe Biden. He has not debated Nikki Haley or anyone else.

And this question of, you know, is he going to appeal to independence in some way? We don't know because no one is actually -- you know, it's still a fantasy and an idea based on what we knew from 2020 and 2016 and so on. But it's an entirely different world now. I'm genuinely curious as to where, if in fact he turns out to be the nominee, which it appears that he might be, where this goes six or eight months from now.

COATES: Well, you know, Gary Tuchman was in New Hampshire, actually South Carolina, was he not talking to people? Listen to what the voters -- was it in New Hampshire? It was New Hampshire. Listen to what they had to say.


UNKNOWN: I do feel as though he is still fit to be president of the United States.

MATTHEW PRATT, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I would say yes because I don't think there's any legitimate things that they're charging him for.

HANK BOUCHER, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: If he's convicted of a crime, I don't think he should be the president.


COATES: First of all, love the New Hampshire accent --


I thought it was from Massachusetts so it makes me feel like home for a second. But when I hear that and think about just how they're viewing it, we're not hearing a lot about policy, we're hearing a lot about, should he be on or off a ballot or should they be prosecuting him? This is what really seems to be the big question, not only for loyalty tests of who might be a running mate, but also how voters are seeing him. JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, you're making a great point. There is no policy position that a lot of these voters are talking about.

COATES: Right.

JOHNSON: And they feel as though there's someone -- quote, unquote -- "standing up for the little guy" when Donald Trump could be the furthest away from someone standing up for little people, right?

But the reality is here, I think voters get their information in soundbites. We know that. I'm a communications person that has worked on several campaigns, right? They get their information in these short soundbites and they're believing this -- what is being repeated all over Fox News, what's being repeated from Truth Social, what's being repeated, unfortunately, from the House with these speakers, the multiple that the Republican Party has had.

And so, it is going to be interesting as the Biden campaign continues to try to drive a policy-focused campaign. This week, they spent a lot of time, and rightfully so, on abortion access. And on the other side, you have them talking about all these court cases and oh, they're all against us when the reality is we know that the republican policies actually don't benefit a lot of their base. And so, it's very interesting to see how this plays out.


WILLIAMS: It's a really convenient narrative that people will believe that you are being persecuted against or that the state is coming after you and simply saying, look, the Justice Department is pulling the strings on all these things happening.

Never mind that number one, some of them are civil suits based on his private personal conduct, some of them are state cases, some of them are federal cases. They have nothing to do with each other. These prosecutors have not coordinated their cases or anything like that, but it gets in people's heads and they believe it and it works and it sticks.

SINGLETON: But most people don't trust the justice system. Most people just have a negative view and perspective of the justice system. And here is Donald Trump who for all the intensive purposes is sort of the speaker, the microphone, if you will, for these individuals who do feel -- who do feel that their voices have been unheard for a very long time, not just by Democrats, but also by the republican establishment, Laura.

So, when you don't hear them bringing up policy positions, it's because it's not about the policies. It's about seeking, I guess, representation, if you will, in a way that they haven't had in a long time.

WILLIAMS: That's a little bit of a newer invention, though, this idea that Republicans have somehow lost faith in prosecutors and prosecution and police and crime and so on. We were both prosecutors.

JOHNSON: Well, maybe we're the party of law and order.

WILLIAMS: That's what I'm saying. George W. Bush, you know, it was all about law and order for generations.

SINGLETON: If you were to sort of segment the Republican Party, I think there is a difference from the regular base voter versus someone like myself, and I think you have to delineate between the two.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, but I would say for generations, this notion of law and order like -- again, and I go back to my time as a prosecutor, who I worked with, the cops, they were Republicans, and they believed in this notion that --

JOHNSON: Due process, all of that.

WILLIAMS: Due process and cops --

SINGLETON: But that's no longer --

WILLIAMS: Crime is bad. Cops are good. Prosecutors are good.

JOHNSON: Uh-hmm.

WILLIAMS: The thugs and gangbangers are bad. Somehow, this is all switched --

JOHNSON: The street thug and gangbanger.

SINGLETON: But that's no longer the position of the Republican Party. This is not the Republican Party from 10 years ago for better or for worse.

WILLIAMS: It's Donald Trump's Republican Party, yeah. And this notion of who you trust, it's not law enforcement anymore. I think that's a new -- I think it's fair to say it is relatively new.

SINGLETON: I think law enforcement support is still there. I think that's still there. But I would say quickly, despite all of these issues with Donald Trump, the fact that nationally, he's still ahead four or five percentage points from the president, that should say something.

COATES: It says a lot.

SINGLETON: There's clearly something going on in Biden world that is not working or resonating with the average American voter.

COATES: Well, assuming that Iowa and New Hampshire are the average American voters, that is true. Did you two coordinate this outfit, by the way?


COATES: Like it's the inverse of not only the position you're talking about, the inverse -- you both look clean. Alencia, of course, you look great. I'm just saying, these two, what's happening right there? We'll leave them hanging. I mean --


JOHNSON: Debate.

COATES: We all are friends after our discussions. Elliot, we have to tap it up, thank you. Shermichael and Alencia stick around. Sources telling CNN that Donald Trump was seething behind closed doors over Nikki Haley's refusal to drop out. And now, he is threatening her supporters with MAGA banishment. God, what's that? We'll talk about it next.



COATES: Nikki Haley is vowing to stay in the primary race after Trump's New Hampshire victory. And let's just say the former president is none too pleased, saying on True Social tonight that anyone who donates to Haley will be -- quote -- "permanently barred from the MAGA camp." He's talking about anyone donating from this point forward, of course.

So, with her home state of South Carolina set to hold its primary next month, can she cut into the former president's momentum?

Joining me now, a man who has the ear of the South Carolinians, Monty Jett, the host of "Rewind" on 107.9, on the "Monty Jett Show." I'm so glad that you're here. Monty, thank you for joining us. From one radio host to another as well. Listen, you have the pulse of the people. You hear him calling you names --

MONTY JETT, HOST, THE MONTY JETT SHOW: Well, I talk to a lot of people, Laura. It is so good to talk to you tonight. I know you do a morning radio show. I do, too. It's up late for me, but you're used to this.

But, you know, it's interesting, Trump's position on this, because I thought that if Nikki could get within 10 percentage points in New Hampshire, that's probably a good move for her. She was about at that point and her backers are not backing away at this point.

And so, Nikki is a fighter. She is just an amazing lady in South Carolina. She has not lost an election. She was -- all pundits said she didn't stand a chance in the gubernatorial race, and she won by almost a landslide. So, you can't count her out.

Your earlier host, a guest on your show, was talking about what people say in a poll and what they actually do. Well, I think that certainly happened in South Carolina because the polling showed that she did not have a chance to win the gubernatorial race and, of course, won it.

She is quite a fighter. She pulled the Confederate flag down. Many governors tried to do that after the Emanuel African Methodist black -- anti-black massacre happened in 2015. She got a lot of statue from that. The PGA tournament, the Heritage lost their sponsorship in South Carolina, and people went to Nikki Haley and said, hey, the state needs to step up and fund this PGA event. It gives so much money back to charities and back to the state. It's a no brainer. She says, no, we're not going to spend tax dollars. She went out and got the RBC and Boeing to sponsor it, and then we have this wonderful golf tournament.

So, she's a fighter. So, we'll see what happens with these polls and these percentages.

COATES: Well, she says she is fighting and fighting quite hard.


And there was a moment, though, from one South Carolinian to another, I'm thinking about Senator Tim Scott, when the former president, Donald Trump, in his victory speech turned back towards Tim Scott, saying -- well, listen to what he had to say.


TRUMP: Did you ever think that she actually appointed you, Tim?


And think of it, appointed, and you're the senator of this state. And she endorsed me. You must really hate her.


No, it's a shame. It's a shame. Uh-oh.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Uh-oh.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): I just love you.


COATES: Hmm. There is that moment there. I wonder what you made of that exchange there. Obviously, he meant that Scott had endorsed Trump in spite of that appointment by Nikki Haley.

JETT: Yeah.

COATES: But what are most South Carolina voters thinking about when you see something like that between the senator and, of course, the former governor?

JETT: Well, you know, I talked to several people today about that, and I talked to some very heavy Republican-leaning voters.

COATES: Uh-hmm.

JETT: And while -- some of them in the Trump field. but they're disgusted with Tim Scott, that he would turn so much against Nikki Haley. She did appoint him. There's no way he would be in the Senate. He would not get elected in Charleston had he not been appointed, and then he, you know, had some power at that point. And so, I think that might backfire on Tim Scott.

COATES: You know, the idea of the polls versus what you're hearing day to day is really interesting to me because as we talk about -- I mean, polls can be wrong, polls can be over inclusive, that margin of error is always a thing. And then the honesty, that's sort of the honor system of responding to a poll, always is a hang up when I look at them.

But when you're hearing people day to day about the fact that the race is still going on, that all eyes will turn towards South Carolina, it's not just counting her out or not, it's really that the race is still very much alive for South Carolina voters. Is that right?

JETT: Well, I think so. I think it will depend on Nikki Haley's advertising. It started today. I heard $4 million she was spending, which doesn't seem like a lot.

But I did see a few of her messages and it's basically the same message she was running in New Hampshire. These two old guys are just too old, the Democrat and Trump, and we need younger blood here. She will be alive for two terms. These other two guys more than likely will not.

So, let's see if her message holds in South Carolina. I think she's probably going to have to tweak it a little bit, though, if she wants to cut into Trump's stranglehold with his supporters.

COATES: Well, Monty Jett, your voice, I love a good radio voice. I got to tell you, the fire behind you, I'm lulled into this conversation.

JETT: Thanks to the radio, Laura.

COATES: Thank you. So nice to talk to you. Always great to hear your voice and your perspective. We'll continue to follow what's happening on the ground. Thank you.

Back with me, Shermichael Singleton and Alencia Johnson. I'm sorry I don't have a fireplace for you now.


SINGLETON: That would be nice, Laura.

COATES: I don't know, could we work out something? Leave you a little graphic?

JOHNSON: It was really cozy.

COATES: It was cozy, right?


COATES: But, you know, it reminded me when people are thinking about the polls in particular. You kind of get lulled into a maybe false sense of security either way. Either you think you're so far ahead, maybe lower voter turnout as a result, or you think you're lagging behind and so you have to ratchet it up. South Carolina is going to be very important.

But you had a reaction to when you saw Senator Tim Scott behind Donald Trump yesterday. What was behind your -- well, the look I'm seeing right now on your face, Alencia?

JOHNSON: I mean, just the pivot and the butt kissing, we're still on television, right, that was happening there and like this cognitive dissonance that is happening of who Donald Trump is and how Tim Scott became kind of a darling of the Republican Party around the time when Governor Haley did as well, to which Monty alluded to, during this time of racial unrest. There's always been racial unrest in this country.

But I would think during like the Obama years and the Republican Party was having this reckoning, we are also inclusive as well. Let us show you that we are supportive of people of color. These two came up in South Carolina together.

And now, Tim Scott, who a lot of people, a lot of Republicans believe was a very sensible senator, is over here groveling at Donald Trump, auditioning to be his, you know, his running mate.

And so, it's really interesting to see how the tables turn, particularly from a Black man. We don't have a lot of time to talk about this, but for me, just to see that position of a Black man turning to someone like Donald Trump, who has shown us who he is, particularly around race, it's very disheartening. It's very -- you know, it's a little -- it bothers me, especially as someone who is a daughter of a Black man from the deep south.

COATES: If only we had a Black man at the panel to talk to.


JOHNSON: I know.

SINGLETON: There's only one.



COATES: I just -- what is your thoughts, Shermichael? I know you're not -- I know you're not the Black man of the world.

SINGLETON: No, no, I know.

COATES: I get the model. I'm just -- I'm being time-cheap.

SINGLETON: I mean, look, I second everything you stated. But, look, I think in terms of politics, Donald Trump has a significant lead in South Carolina. He has been endorsed by the very popular governor, Governor McMaster. Both U.S. senators, Scott and the other, endorsed him. They're very popular.

Members of Congress, a part of the South Carolina republican delegation, have endorsed him. Several pastors of mega churches with a significant amount of influence in the evangelical community in South Carolina are supporting him. I've been in that state with Newt Gingrich. I was in that state with Dr. Carson. I know the state very, very well.

If I'm advising Nikki Haley, I think her future is very, very bright. Very bright, Laura. My concern would be, do we go to South Carolina and lose by 40 points? You sort of become a nuisance candidate in the eyes of many Republican voters.

What does that look like if I'm trying to create a path over the next several four years to position her in the best way to run again in 2028? And my worry is that you risk whatever those odds may be.

And so, I'm not certain this is a calculation she should take. I think she should look at the numbers and perhaps get out of this thing, and then start planning for the next four years.

COATES: We're a month away. Go ahead.

JOHNSON: Well, I was going to say, it's interesting, though, as I look at Nikki Haley as a woman candidate, for you to acknowledge that Republicans would see this as a weakness. On the other side, people who believe in women ascending to higher offices would see that as a strength, that she has stayed in and tried to take down Donald Trump, right? She persevered.

And so, it's interesting how the base of the Republican Party thinks as well versus the Democratic Party, versus independents, who would see a woman standing up to this big -- let's say beast of Donald Trump --

SINGLETON: Quickly, I'll just add --

JOHNSON: -- and how that would resonate.

SINGLETON: Not to interrupt, but I would just add quickly, I think getting over the Trump mountain, it was just too steep a hurdle for any of the candidates.

JOHNSON: Totally.

SINGLETON: And the Republican voters, they want to give this guy another opportunity. I think, as a party, we have to go through this, Laura, in order to move on. It is what it is.

COATES: Hmm. I hate that phrase, Shermichael. You don't have to tell me.

SINGLETON: I'm sorry.


I'm sorry.

COATES: I hear you, but I'm like, it is what it is. I'm biting on your meat. Hmm. I'm biting my tongue. Shermichael, Alencia, thank you. I don't want to have blood come out. I'm just messing with you.


But I do hate that phrase. Next, jury selection in a case that could have huge implications in school shootings. Is the mother of Michigan shooter Ethan Crumbley also guilty? We'll talk about it next.



COATES: A jury selected today in the Michigan trial of Jennifer Crumbley. Remember, she is the mother of the Oxford high school shooter, Ethan Crumbley. She's facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with her son's murder of four students back in November of 2021. It was the worst school shooting in Michigan's history.

Ethan's father, James Crumbley, is set to go to trial on March 5th on the same charges. They are being tried separately in this matter. Ethan has already been sentenced to life without parole.

Prosecutors accused James and Jennifer Crumbley of disregarding their son's mental health and buying him a gun. His mother even allegedly taking him to a shooting range.

Now, on the day of the attack, his parents allegedly refused a counselor's request that he be taken home after a teacher found him with a violent drawing of a shooting.

Joining me now, jury consultant Richard Gabriel. He is the president of Decision Analysis. I've been eager to talk to you today, Richard, because whenever there is a big jury selection moment, my mind as a trial attorney and prosecutor goes to, who am I arguing my case in front of? Who is it that's going to decide ultimately?

You got 12 jurors. There are five alternates that have been chosen for the jury today. I think it's 10 women, seven men. Several parents are among them, gun owners. What are your thoughts on this makeup of this jury?

RICHARD GABRIEL, JURY CONSULTANT: Well, what's interesting, Laura, is that you have this division of men and women. You've got 11 parents. You've got half the jury that are gun owners or raised with guns.

But that only tells part of the story. It's really the attitude of those gun owners and those people that even aren't gun owners towards the responsibilities of people who own guns. What is the nature of the relationship between the parents? What are the rules regarding guns?

And that's where the jury selection becomes really interesting. Several of the people there were asked about whether they've taken gun safety classes. And the truth is that jurors will apply their personal experience to create their own rules, then apply that to the evidence of the case, and then obviously filter that through the interpretation of the law.

What's most interesting to me on this case is, as you well know from having tried cases, is that jury selection is really about choosing those two or three people that are going to be your opinion leaders.

There's a doctor there who has seen gunshot victims and has actually known two suicide victims. There are two engineers, one whose husband is a lawyer. And all those people are the strength of the jury. That's who I think either side is looking for to leave the charge for them. So, it's a very interesting panel.

COATES: It really is. The opinion leader is the one who is going to be able to in some ways lean on or influence and remind people about what is expected of them as jurors and the evidence and maybe taking away those biases one might come with.


This is also the first trial of a parent of a mass school shooter in this country, involuntary manslaughter. I mean, it can be difficult for some jurors perhaps to find her responsible when she didn't actually pull the trigger. That's going to be the real issue for the prosecution here. So, talk to me about having parents on this jury.


COATES: And more importantly, at times when somebody is a gun owner and you say has put their own personal experience into it, they may think of themselves as the model citizen or the model parent --


COATES: -- and use that against her.

GABRIEL: Yeah, I think that's really true. There was a lot of discussion in the jury selection process about parental responsibility here, and it has to do with what are the rules. And I think that's where each side is going to be looking to a certain type of juror, certain personality. There are some parents who are like, no, I make the rules in this case, in my house, I make sure that my kids follow them, and I'm tracking my son.

Another issue has to do with how well, what was her knowledge of her son's mental state and whether there was foreseeability in terms of his ability to actually do this kind of act. So, the parental responsibility is how well does a juror know their own kids, how well do they apply rules to their kids, and how much in control of their child's behavior and how well do they monitor their child's behavior. So, a lot of that is going to be the personal application of these jurors themselves.

COATES: That's such an important point, and how people will see the evidence with their own personal lens and what would they do if they were in that situation. That's the gift and the curse of a jury of one's peers. Richard Gabriel, thank you so much.


COATES: Really important. We'll lean on your insight throughout the trial. Thank you.

GABRIEL: Thank you.

COATES: There are major ethical questions over the planned execution of an Alabama man. The question for many tonight is why he is being put to death by an untested method that some say could lead to excessive pain or even torture.



COATES: The state of Alabama tried to kill Kenneth Smith once. They failed. And now, they are trying again in furtherance of executing their death penalty sentence. This time, the state is going to try a new and untested method, attempting to put him to death using nitrogen gas.

Now, experts are very concerned because Alabama is not actually providing many details about what their plan would entail, and those same experts are saying that this execution could lead to excessive pain or even torture.

Smith's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to stay tomorrow's execution. That request was declined this afternoon.

I want to bring in CNN's Isabel Rosales, who is in Alabama. Isabel, thank you so much for joining us. I mean, you spoke with Kenneth Smith's spiritual advisor today, and I understand that he is also concerned. What did he say?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, that is Reverend Jeff Hood. And listen, he is worried that this thing could be botched. He is also worried about his own personal safety. He's going to be in that execution chamber. And he's got five children.

His concern is that this nitrogen gas could leak outside of the mask that's going to be placed over the face of Kenneth Smith. He's concerned about the execution team that's also going to be inside of that of that chamber.

He, in fact, was forced to sign a waiver with the Department of Corrections indicating that he acknowledged that he could be at risk, be in harm's way, by agreeing to enter into that chamber during Kenneth Smith's last moments.

He toured the actual execution chamber this morning as part of the orientation. And after what he saw, he told me that he feels that the state of Alabama is unprepared for this never before seen, never before done nitrogen gas execution. He had safety questions, he told me, that they either could not or would not answer. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JEFF HOOD, SPIRITUAL ADVISER TO KENNETH SMITH: It's lunacy. I mean, it's absolute lunacy. I mean, for months, we have been asking the Alabama Department of Corrections for more information. Is this going to be safe? What's going to happen? Today, I go into the chamber to orient myself with the warden and one of the captains of the execution squad. And as I ask questions, he's consistently saying either "we don't know" or "we can't tell you."


ROSALES: And Reverend Hood is scheduled to go into that execution chamber with Smith sometime after the 7 p.m. Eastern hour tomorrow. Now, Smith originally had asked for this execution via nitrogen gas, but then, he reversed course, Laura, after getting a hold of the state's proposal on how they would carry out that execution. Concerns, according to court documents, that he would go through excessive pain specifically dealing with that mask.

The big concern here is that he might vomit inside of that mask and choke, experiencing the pain of choking through his own vomit. Hood told me that he has this history of consistently vomiting due to PTSD and migraine. So, this is a very, very big concern for his legal team.


In fact, Hood tells me that the state will not allow Smith to eat past 10 a.m. tomorrow out of concerns that he might vomit. We've reached out to the state for a comment on that. Laura?

COATES: Isabel Rosales, thank you so much. We'll be right back.


COATES: All right, tonight, we are going behind the scenes. Stories about true crime murders, well, they are everywhere. Take a look at the most popular podcasts or the most-watched Netflix documentaries. You're going to notice a bit of a pattern.


So many are about what? You guessed it, true crime. And my next guest hosts a wildly popular podcast. "Crime Junkie" consistently tops the podcast charts and was named top show of 2023 on Apple podcasts for a second year.

The creator and the host of the show, Ashley Flowers, joins me now. Ashley, I'm so happy to see you again. How are you doing?


COATES: I'm good. I'm still fascinated by true crime. I mean, the prosecutor in me, of course. But I know so many people who are drawn in. They become armchair detectives. They're everywhere. And true crime stories, frankly, they've always been a source of fascination, but they've really exploded in popularity recently. What do you think is drawing so many people in?

FLOWERS: You know, I mean, I think it's a fascination that we've, as a society, all had for a very long time. I think it's becoming a little more mainstream, a little more normal to talk about.

And I know personally for me -- I mean, I think I'm drawn to it out of a sense of self-preservation of what can I learn, how can I take away something from these stories. And as a creator, I'm constantly thinking about, you know, what guidance, what information can we give to people to educate them, to protect them.

COATES: I think that's such an important point because so many people are listening, not only out of curiosity and complete intrigue and, oh, wait, I've heard a little bit about this, but thinking, how can I never allow this to happen or let this happen to anything or anyone?

And there are studies, by the way, that do show that the true crime audience is mostly female, 58% compared to 42% men. Why do you think that is?

FLOWERS: I think that, again, a lot of it comes from, you know, statistically, women are more likely to become victims. Again, if you're looking at that self-preservation angle, I think that we're drawn to that. I also think the stats are a little bit off because even from our fan base, you know, the stats will tell us that it is women listening. But I find almost all the time that their male partners are often listening with them.

COATES: Oh, I mean, I watch the "Housewives" and my husband doesn't watch the "Housewives." He goes to every single character. He's sitting next to me, and I watch everything.

FLOWERS: Exactly, exactly.

COATES: Yeah. You're talking my language, Ashley. We see you, men. But talk us about some of the most -- the top stories you've covered on your podcast that really got the most traction because a lot of them have done so well in terms of the audience and the listenership. But what are the big ones that you have been seeing?

FLOWERS: Well, you know, we actually did one recently, and I gauge it by the kind of feedback that we're getting and what's sparking conversation. We recently did an episode on sextortion. We had a young woman here in Indianapolis where I'm located reached out to us about her own case and how she was sextorted for a number of years. And we -- after doing that episode, we told her story.

We also told the story of a young man named Walker Montgomery who, unfortunately, took his own life because of the sextortion he faced in just a matter of like hours.

And the amount of responses we got from that episode of people saying that they had experienced something similar or even people saying that they thought they had been a victim of this same man who perpetrated against Asia Anderson, and they were now going to contact the FBI.

So, it's those that like -- it's that one that would really like -- I feel like we hit something, like that was happening, that was relevant. We hit it right on the pulse.

COATES: I mean, Asia, that particular story, here's a bit of a clip from "Crime Junkies" that goes into that very interesting and compelling story. Listen to this.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): According to the FBI, sextortion is on the rise, specifically, financial sextortion. In fact, federal agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children issued a public safety alert about it just 18 days after Walker took his own life, because last year, more than 3,000 minors were victimized, mostly boys between the ages of 14 and 17, and more than a dozen victims died by suicide as a result. And while young people are more at risk, plenty of adults get caught up in this trap, too.


COATES: Why I think this is so important is although people have a fascination -- I mean, I mentioned reality television as an escapism factor. The reality, though, and what your podcasts bring out is the tragic realities and the details that are so important. It's not something that is entertainment. It is informational and people are latching on with both hands for that reason.

I mean, as you mentioned in the show, virtually anyone with internet access is vulnerable. That widens the people.

FLOWERS: Yeah. You know, everyone is worried about their kids going out of the home but like the outside has been brought in, like they have the entire world in the palm of their hands.


And what I was most happy to hear as a result of that episode were the conversations being had at home. I mean, our listenership, there are kids in middle school who are listening to our show, and then there are parents and grandparents, and it sparks a conversation that people don't even know that they need to be having. It often feels very far away. But if by having those conversations, we can save just one kid or prevent just one instance of this. I mean, it is worth all the work that went into it.

COATES: Absolutely. So true. And I'm so glad that you're here. You know, what I love, I've always loved about you, I've known you for a little bit now, what I've loved about you is that your curiosity has propelled you. And you are like so many of us, regular people with a curious disposition who are just trying to tell the stories that matter to people, and I really applaud you in that.

Thank you so much, Ashley Flowers. Be sure to check out her podcast. It's called "Crime Junkie." And hey, thank you all for watching. I'll be live on Instagram at theLauraCoates in just a couple of minutes. Be sure to tune in and join the conversation. Tell me what you were thinking about while you were watching the show because our coverage continues.