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Laura Coates Live

Historic Warning Sent To Parents In America; Arizona Is 1864 Again On Abortion; Retired Military Leaders Warn About Trump's Immunity Claim; U.S. Prisoner Executed Despite Clemency Appeals; CNN's Alisyn Camerota Joins Laura Coates. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired April 09, 2024 - 23:00   ET



LAURIE SEGALL, CEO, MOSTLY HUMAN MEDIA: But these conversations need to happen because not only are we creating a new generation of victims, but this type of technology, when misused, is creating a new generation of abusers.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's a new form of a talk that you might have to have with both your sons and your daughters. Hopefully, the laws will catch up soon because it's here now, it's not in the future.


PHILLIP: Laurie Segall, thank you very much. Looking forward to seeing the results of this investigation.

SEGALL: Thanks.

PHILLIP: And thank you so much for watching "NewsNight." "Laura Coates Live" starts right now.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Raw emotion in the Michigan courtroom sends a historic message to parents in America: You can be held accountable for your child's actions.

Plus, a law that was passed during the Civil War now bans nearly all abortions in Arizona, and one Republican is calling it an asinine ruling.

And a warning from retired military leaders about Donald Trump's claims of presidential immunity going all the way to the Supreme Court. Tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

So, what happened in the Michigan courtroom today has never happened before in this country. The first parents to be held criminally responsible for a mass school shooting carried out by their son, well, they have now been sentenced.

James and Jennifer Crumbley, whose son shot four fellow students to death in 2021, were each sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison, weeks after being convicted of their own cases separately of manslaughter. Remember, they were accused of purchasing the gun, failing to secure it, and ignoring signs of mental health issues in their son.

Both apologizing today. And Jennifer Crumbley backtracked on her previous statement that she wouldn't have done anything differently. Now, she says she was misunderstood.


JENNIFER CRUMBLEY, MOTHER OF OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTER: This was not something I foresaw. With the benefit of hindsight and information I have now, my answer would be drastically different.

JAMES CRUMBLEY, FATHER OF OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTER: As a parent, our biggest fear is losing our child or our children. And to lose a child is unimaginable. My -- my heart is really broken for everybody involved.


COATES: So, yes, what happened in the Michigan courtroom was about the law It was also about four teenagers who died in their school, where they were supposed to be safe: Hana St. Juliana, 14 years old; Tate Myre, 16; Justin Shilling, 17; and Madison Baldwin, also just 17 years old. They died when their lives had hardly begun, when they had so much to look forward to in life.

And what happened today in that courtroom, it was about them. It was also about their families and their communities and their victim- impact statements.

You know, that phrase has always bothered me. It just sounds so routine, so legal, clinical. It doesn't begin to express the emotion behind those statements made by those impacted by what has happened. The anguish of mothers and fathers and siblings whose lives are changed forever on the day the people they loved were killed.

Listen to Nicole Beausoleil, who is the mother of Madisyn Baldwin, fighting back tears while speaking directly to Jennifer Crumbley.


NICOLE BEAUSOLEIL, MOTHER OF MADISYN BALDWIN: While your son was hearing voices and asking for help, I was helping Madisyn pick out her senior classes. While you were purchasing a gun for your son and leaving it unlocked, I was helping her finish her college essays. When you knew the gun was missing, you called the police, knowing it was your son who took it, I was having family call every hospital, describing what she looked like.

When you texted, Ethan, don't do it, I was texting Madisyn, I love you, please call mom. When you found out about the lives your son took that day, I was still waiting for my daughter in a parking lot. While you were hiding, I was planning her funeral. And while you were running away from your son and your responsibilities, I was forced to do the worst possible thing a parent could do, I was forced to say goodbye to my Madisyn.


COATES: Oh, you don't have to be a mother or a father to hear that emotion, to feel the anguish in her voice, to empathize with what she must have been enduring and so many others. She lost her child at the hands of a schoolmate.


What happened in that Michigan courtroom today, it was about those families and those teenagers. And it was also about something else. Accountability. James and Jennifer Crumbley are going into prison. Their son is already behind bars.

Now, if you're a parent, you may be held accountable for the actions of your child. If you're a gunmaker, you may be held accountable. If you're a social media company, you may be held accountable because Congress seems unable to offer anything other than, well, thoughts and prayers.

Now, I want to bring in Mary Mueller. Her son, Elijah, suffered a gunshot wound to the face at the Oxford High School shooting. He survived. Also with me is Sarah Rogerson. She is Elijah's aunt and a community gun violence prevention advocate. Ladies, thank you both for joining me tonight.

I mean, it's unimaginable every time you even reflect on what has happened there and other places as well. Mary, let me begin with you and your son, Elijah, suffering from that gunshot wound during that mass shooting back in November of 2021. Thank God, he survived, but how is he doing today?

MARY MUELLER, MOTHER OF OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR ELIJAH MUELLER: Well, it depends on the day. Um, he has PTSD and anxiety, understandably. And he's back in the building at the high school. He goes there every day. Um, I don't know how he does it, but he does. And he's doing really well in all of his classes, and he's in the early college program. But it's a day-to-day struggle.

COATES: I mean, I can't, as you say that, the idea of returning to where that was, the strength that he must be demonstrating, is unimaginable.

Mary, you were over in that court today or you heard about it. Ten to 15 years for both the parents of the Oxford school shooters who -- shooter who did this. What is your reaction to that sentence?

MUELLER: It brings some closure and validation for the things that we've been saying. With the parents, it has always not been about what they did do, but what they didn't do and what they didn't pay attention to, and what they didn't act on and what they didn't listen to. So, it's actually comforting to know that the court system sees that and sees that -- that we need accountability for it.

But it's also a little empty. It doesn't solve any of the problems that we face as a nation regarding community gun violence at all. There's no prevention in it. It's on the other side of it. I'd rather focus on the prevention so that no other community has to deal with this.

COATES: I want to talk about that very point. And -- and Sarah, let me bring you into this as well because after her sentencing, Jennifer Crumbley made this statement, a kind of warning to others. Listen to this.


CRUMBLEY: This could be any parents here in my -- up here in my shoes, even could be your child, could be your grandchild, your niece, your nephew, your brother, your sister. Your child can make a fatal decision, not just with the gun, but a knife, a vehicle, intentionally or unintentionally. If there's anything the general public can take away from this is that this could happen to you, too.


COATES: Sarah, when you hear that statement and the work you've been doing about trying to advocate for changes to prevent this, what is your reaction?

SARAH ROGERSON, AUNT OF OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR ELIJAH MUELLER: Well, in this particular case, it's frustrating to hear that from this particular parent because it's not intended to rally the community, it's intended to diffuse responsibility.

But if we take it in a different context and really sort of take it in a more productive direction, my hope is that in addition to a deterrent effect, this -- these prosecutions and these sentences which are unique and hopefully will deter or make parents think, who own guns, think twice about their security measures.

I also hope it's an incentive, a community incentive for an all- community approach to the reduction of community gun violence, including peer to peer safe storage, education, parent to parent, and investments, real investments in social emotional learning and gun violence prevention, which is vastly underfunded in terms of research into what works and what doesn't work, and then things that we know work like threat assessment teams and making sure that those are operating properly in every county, in every district, all over the country.

COATES: You and Mary also say that there are some proposals to the points you're just raising that have been made in the wake of shootings. Don't really solve the problem. You address metal detectors, bulletproof glass, clear backpacks. Are they just not enough and why?


ROGERSON: Yeah, I mean, not only not enough, but in some cases harmful, um, to other kids. So, these are all policing or hardening measures. They've been called in other -- in other conversations around this issue. And really what we know works is supportive action for our kids. It's the same cost or a similar cost. You know, these security companies prey on fear and say, this is the answer, when studies are showing that it's really investments, again, in socioemotional learning and threat assessment teams that are going to make the bigger impact in terms of reduction of community gun violence and prevention of mass shootings.

COATES: Mary, I'd love for you to weigh in as well, in what you think would be the next steps to try to stop this from happening.

MUELLER: Well, I come from the perspective of the school system, I'm a teacher and have been for 20 years, and I see the need for building strong relationships with kids and their families, not only within the school, but the community at large.

Um, we don't necessarily -- I know this is a societal issue, we don't necessarily talk to our neighbors, and I know that sounds simplistic, but the more connections we have, uh, the more we can look out for each other.

COATES: Well, I tell you, the world is truly connected to your families and just seeing what has happened here and -- and just hoping that it does not happen again, but our eyes are towards your communities and thinking of constructive ways.

Mary, before you go, I'd love to ask you, um, if you had a chance to speak directly to Jennifer Crumbley or her husband, a mother to mother, parent to parent, what would you say?

MUELLER: I'm -- I might talk to her about the difference between, um, having feeling regretful and feeling remorseful. I'm not sure that Jennifer and James Crumbley really understand the impact, uh, of their negligence. Uh, and it would -- I would come and sit down as a mother to a mother, um, and not accusatory, but maybe explain this is what is happening, and I'm not sure you get it.

COATES: Thank you both. Mary Mueller, Sarah Rogerson, thank you. We certainly hope that Elijah continues to thrive.

MUELLER: Thank you.

ROGERSON: Thank you.

COATES: Now, I want to turn to the state of Arizona traveling back in time. We're talking way back in time, not -- not even this century or the last century, more like all the way to the year 1864. What was going on then? Well, for one thing, a civil war was raging. On top of that, it was a time when women in this country had no right to vote. It's also when a law forbade abortion except to save a mother's life in Arizona. By the way, that was long before Arizona was even a state.

Well, that law is now set to go back into effect. The Arizona -- Arizona Supreme Court ruling today that the 1864 law, which sat dormant for decades, can be enforced. Why? Well, because Roe v. Wade had been overturned.

Joining me now is CNN political commentator and national coalitions director for the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign, Ashley Allison, and former national Republican senatorial committee aide, Liam Donovan. Thank you both so much for being here.

I mean, you see the rewind of that clock. I see your eyes right now, Ashley, who cannot hide her expressions on her face in this moment nor should you have to. What is your reaction to the fact that this is happening right now?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not surprised. We've known that the attack on bodily autonomy has been at risk for some time. And when the fall of Roe happened in 2022, we knew that there would only be a matter of time.

When I say we, people who've worked in reproductive justice, social justice work. We've been warning that this was only a matter of time, that we were going to rewind the clocks back to go to these -- this -- this time in our history when, you know, women didn't have the right to vote. To your point, we were fighting a Civil War so that folks could be free.

And the reason why we are here is because in 2016, when Donald Trump was running to be president, he said he was going to appoint Supreme Court justices that wanted to overturn Roe. And so, they did. And just recently, he says he wants to take it back to the states. That's his position on abortion. Well, this is what happens when you take it back to the states. You get a law that was founded in 1864.

My thing -- a final thing I'll just say on this is that so often, when we talked about Donald Trump's campaign slogan of make America great again, people often thought it was just about race. Well, this is now an attack on women. And so, in 1864, women didn't have their full rights, Black people didn't have their full rights, and so many others didn't have.


This is the country that people who identify with MAGA Republicans want. And the question is, I'm not surprised it happened, the question is, what will we do as voters to put a stop to it?

COATES: Liam, I mean, it's there -- there's, obviously, a lot of fallout from this. There had been fallout even from bans that had six- week or even 12-week proposed or 15-week proposed going back at the clock. Republicans are well aware. This is a major issue on the campaign trail that spans party lines. How will this impact the elections?

LIAM DONOVAN, FORMER NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE AIDE: So, I think anything that raises the salience of abortion in the next 209 days, if we're counting out, that's how far it is.

COATES: We're all counting 209. Yes, we are.

DONOVAN: If you're with the Trump campaign, you're feeling pretty good. Generally, you've led this race for the last about six months. Uh, he's polling better than he has ever polled in the previous two races. He's leading in six of the seven battleground states, actually all seven, if you look at the full ballot. So, you're playing prevent defense. You're -- you want the election to happen tomorrow.

If you look at the issue matrix that out it's out there, we're mostly thinking about cost of living, we're talking about immigration, things like that. So, as these things pop, things related to immigration -- excuse me, related to abortion, we had the Alabama case, we have this case, there's a Florida ballot measure that will be going on --


DONOVAN: -- the more we're talking about this, every day that we have this in the news, that is not what they want to be talking about.


DONOVAN: That is a day lost. And it's a break that the Biden campaign needs. They need to keep getting these things. And it's a reminder that whatever the polls say, and as steady as they've been, six months is a long time and they can change on a dime in terms of what voters are thinking about when they walk into the voting booth.

COATES: I want you both to listen to some of the responses from the ruling today. There's fallout. Listen.


SEN. MARK KELLY (D-AR): This is a disaster for women in Arizona. Arizona women deserve the right to make their own decision about abortion. There will be women in Arizona that could die because of this room -- ruling by the Supreme Court.

ATTORNEY GENERAL KRIS MAYES (D-AZ): I'm not going to enforce an unconstitutional abortion ban until the people of Arizona have a right to have the ability to get to that ballot initiative.


COATES: This will be on the ballot come November. But even -- even a Republican Senate candidate, Kari Lake, we all remember her, of course, is disavowing this ruling. Listen to what she said. She said, "I oppose today's ruling, and I'm calling on the Democratic governor, Katie Hobbs, and the State Legislature to come up with an immediate commonsense solution that Arizonians can support."

But just two years ago, she actually praised this same law. What's the turnaround for the reasons Liam talked about and knowing it's a problem?

ALLISON: Well, Kari Lake is inconsistent writ large. And so, I'm not going to hold her to a standard that she just will never be able to meet, and that's to tell the truth. But I think she is -- she has seen the backlash. We saw Kansas. We aren't just talking about democratic States. I think that people think about this as a political issue.

This is a person issue. We're talking about the people in this country, the women that live in Kansas, which is traditionally a red state, my home state of Ohio, where they just had a ballot initiative, in Kentucky, another red skate, a democratic governor, but in 2023, they voted because he ran a campaign forced on -- centered on abortion. And then in the midterms, the red wave that never happened is because of this issue.

So, Kari Lake, she lost in 2022 also because she didn't believe the election results were real and a lot of other issues that she was problematic about. But she knows, she's on the ballot again, she's not extremely popular in her state, and that if she were to take her actual stance and what she actually believed, she would lose again. Now, she probably still will lose, but she certainly will lose if she sides with where she fundamentally believes, where the law should be in 1864.

So, I guess I say to the people of Arizona and in every state, stop letting these politicians play games with your life. They have told you where they stand on these issues. Donald Trump has, Ron DeSantis has, Nikki Haley has, and now Kari Lake has. And hold them to account, and the best way to do it is with your vote.

COATES: Liam, I want to get your reaction as well because you mentioned that every day, they're not talking about what are more perhaps winning issues for Republicans, immigration, the economy and beyond, our days that are better for the Biden-Harris ticket.

But Harris is the one I'm focusing on right now. She has been propelled to the forefront on these issues and reproductive rights, on really a tour of the nation on these very issues. There had been, you know, insults that were lauded or, you know, lobbed at her as a vote for Biden was a vote for her. Now, this issue, a winning one for Democrats, frankly, does that change things?

DONOVAN: It's interesting. I think they've been looking for a way to use her in her best, highest and best use, and this certainly fits that. I mean, she is certainly more equipped to go out on the trail and hit these key states than President Biden is

So, I think this is actually a really nice role for her, but it does play into some of the messages that Republicans are going to have, which is just from an actuarial standpoint, when you make this, you know, with -- frankly, with both these men, the vice presidential pick is going to have a salience and a resonance that is more than we've ever seen before because you have to think about this when you're -- when you're talking about 78, 81 year old.


I mean, these are people that are going to be, four years from now, at advanced age. And so, I think the prominence of Vice President Harris is going to be something that is potentially good for Democrats, but also something that Republicans are really going to want to lean into.

COATES: And really quick, do you think that this is going to change in some respects? The fact that -- that Trump was crowing about overturning Roe v. Wade, but then wanted the issue to go to the states, he could lose some pro or anti-abortion voters, period.

DONOVAN: You know, I'm -- I'm a little bit skeptical of that. I think he recognized that when he came out yesterday and said what he did. I mean, there was a -- there was -- there was even talk that this was his soldier moment, that he came out and elicited reactions from the Susan B. Anthony List and the groups. Him being seen as at odds with the far-right is not a bad thing for him. They thought they would buy that -- they would buy them more than a day when -- before they had to deal with a new fire to put out.

But I think actually in some ways, that's what gave Kari Lake and people like her a cue that actually President Trump has your back. He's sorts of given the permission structure for you to come out and probably say what voters want to hear, whether or not that's something that's believable based on your previous response.

ALLISON: My only issue is you can say what voters want to hear, but what are you actually going to do?


ALLISON: And that is overturn Roe and take us back to 1864.

COATES: Well, full stop. There it is. Liam Donovan, Ashley Allison, thank you both so much.

Ahead, a big warning to the Supreme Court about Trump's immunity claims. But guess what? It's not coming from Jack Smith. It's also not coming from Trump. The group of retired leaders who were saying immunity could undermine the military, next.




COATES: All right, this is the big question the Supreme court is going to have to answer. I'm talking about Donald Trump's claim of presidential immunity. Now, we've heard from historians, we've heard from a lot of lawyers, we've heard an appeals court judge ask even this hypothetical question.


FLORENCE PAN, JUDGE OF THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COUMBIA CIRCUIT (voice-over): Could a president order SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival?


COATES: Well, now we're hearing from the military. In fact, 19 retired military leaders filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing against Trump's immunity claims. They include retired generals and admirals and service secretaries who served under Republican and Democratic presidents. And, as you know, Trump is charged in that federal election subversion case, which is on hold while the Supreme Court weighs his immunity claims. The Supreme Court justices can consider this brief now when they hear the arguments on immunity. When? On April 25th. It says that granting presidential immunity would threaten the military's role in society.

And actually, here's a quote from that amicus brief. Quote -- "We risk jeopardizing America's standing as a guardian of democracy in the world and further feeding the spread of authoritarianism, thereby threatening the national security of the United States and democracies around the world."

Here with me now, one of the signatories to the brief, former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. Secretary James, thank you for being here this evening. It is so important to read this amicus brief in particular given the -- the audience, of course, the Supreme court, and the writers themselves.

Let me begin here, Secretary James. Um, hypothetically, if Trump were granted immunity, that doesn't mean that the military is immune, right? So, play this out. What would the military do if they were asked to carry out something unlawful by an immune president?

DEBORAH LEE JAMES, FORMER SECRETARY, U.S. AIR FORCE: Well, first of all, Laura, thank you for allowing me to come on the program. My -- my colleagues and I filed this amicus brief just because we wanted to emphasize with the Supreme Court, this is such a broad issue. There are many -- there are many implications across the board, but let's not forget the important national security and military principles that are at stake here.

There are certain principles that I'd like to just, if I may, briefly describe. First of all, civilian control of the military. It is embedded in our Constitution. The military acts not by itself, but under civilian control.

Principle number two, that's important here, is the military must follow the president's lawful orders regardless of party. They are nonpartisan. They are supposed to be above politics, not follow a Republican president because they like Republicans or a Democrat because they like Democrats, but follow the president, all lawful orders.

Now, here comes the answer to your specific question. Principle number three, the military is charged with disobeying an unlawful order, such as the instance you cited earlier, such as ordering troops within the United States to block the transfer of -- peaceful transfer of power after an election, such as killing innocent civilians in warfare, the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam era.

So, failure to disobey such an order could lead the military member themselves to be prosecuted. So, the military would be in a state of confusion. Number one, if many, many unlawful orders were being issued, what to do, and this kind of confusion is likely to lead to disarray. [23:30:00]

COATES: I mean, the notion we hear about the commander-in-chief, and there is this, as you're describing it, this false perception, that whatever is ordered by the commander-in-chief must be obeyed, but there are the guardrails that are in play.

But on a case by case basis, you don't want the confusion among the military as to whether they're trying to decide which is lawful and which is not, which leads me to a big question I've been wondering about.

I spoke to a voter a few weeks ago on this program who wanted to know where former presidents, former commanders-in-chief stood on this issue. You and your colleagues, at least 19 retired military leaders, have weighed in on this amicus brief. Do you think that former presidents need to speak out in a formal fashion?

LEE JAMES: I would hope that they would. I would hope that they would. And the principle that in this country, no one is above the law, has been a bedrock principle. And frankly, I never thought we would be worried about the president believing that he or she might be above the law a few years ago. I wouldn't have even worried about this. But it is -- it is a major issue today, and I would hope that former presidents would weigh in.

COATES: You were very clear about the military only following the orders of commanders-in-chief that are lawful, but also not wanting to weigh into politics. We know that the body of these cases that are being brought against a former president, there is a lot of rhetoric surrounding them, that people believe in some areas of the country and in political areas that it's partisan, that it's all partisan politics.

Were you concerned about speaking up with your colleagues about this very issue for the fear of the perception that what you're doing would be viewed as political?

LEE JAMES: Well, sometimes, you have to take a risk, Laura. And if you look at the 19 of us who signed on to this amicus brief and who have similar views, we, uh -- some of us have served in republican administrations, some of us have served in democratic administrations. The retired four-star generals and admirals typically have served both Republican presidents and Democratic presidents.

And I personally have no idea. No one has any idea how they may or may not have voted. So, we are a bipartisan nonpartisan group, but we are like-minded and we all have had major years of service to our military and are very worried about the impact that this would have.

COATES: Really important to hear that perspective. You know, President Biden was actually asked about the biggest threat to democracy in a new interview. I want you to listen to what he had to say.


UNKNOWN: What, in your view, constitutes the primary threat to freedom and democracy at home?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Donald Trump. Seriously, Donald Trump talks -- uses phrases like you're going to eviscerate the Constitution. He's going to be a dictator on day one.


COATES: Do you agree that he would be the biggest threat?

LEE JAMES: I don't know that I agree that he's a bigger threat than China or Russia, but certainly, it is a threat when we start to say that someone, someone with such enormous power as the president of the United States, is above the law. Again, I come back to the principle. No one is supposed to be above the law.

COATES: Secretary Deborah Lee James, thank you so much.

LEE JAMES: Thank you.

COATES: Well, more than 70 correctional officers urged for clemency. The state of Missouri tonight executed Brian Dorsey for the murders of his cousin and her husband. His last words, next.




COATES: Well, tonight, the state of Missouri executed Brian Dorsey by lethal injection. Officials say there were no complications. He was sentenced to the death for the murder of his cousin, Sarah Bonnie and her husband, Benjamin, in 2006.

They'd offered him a safe place to stay after a confrontation with a drug dealer in his apartment. But that night, he shot Sarah and Benjamin in their bedroom, leaving their four-year-old daughter unharmed.

In his last statement, Dorsey wrote, "To all of the family and loved ones I share with Sarah, and to all of the surviving family and loved ones of Ben, I am totally, deeply, overwhelmingly sorry. Words cannot hold the just weight of my guilt and shame. I still love you."

Multiple people came out in support of him in his final days. Seventy- two prison workers from the very institution he lived in were against his execution, also a former Missouri Supreme Court justice, several Missouri State representatives, even five jurors from the penalty phase of his trial.

And they're not alone. Members of the family are split. Some were in favor of Dorsey's execution. Others were against it, including my next guest.

I want to bring in Jenni Gerhauser. She is a cousin of both Brian Dorsey and Sarah Bonnie. Jenni, thank you so much for joining me this evening. I can't imagine what you or your family has been going through since at least 2006, let alone now. I understand you spent the evening with your family. How is everyone coping tonight?

JENNI GERHAUSER, COUSIN OF BRIAN DORSEY AND SARAH BONNIE: Um, it -- it has been a really long, terrible, unnecessary day, Laura. It really has.


Um, it -- it has been -- it has been hard to come to terms with it. For one thing, you know, usually, when you lose a family member, you're there. You know, you -- you see them, either some kind of closure. You know, we got a phone call, you know, to let us know he was gone. So, there's definitely a very surreal feeling to it. I don't know that it has quite sunk in. But I say it again, it's -- it's so upsetting because it was so unnecessary.

COATES: The word "unnecessary" intrigues me. What aspect? Is it the -- the underlying crime itself or the execution or the delay? What?

GERHAUSER: The execution was absolutely unnecessary. You know, Brian was convicted of a terrible crime. We have never denied that. But Brian is not the worst of the worst. And a single terrible night in his life didn't justify killing him.

COATES: I mentioned that there is a divide in your family. Some family members have described this very day of execution as a -- quote -- "light at the end of the tunnel." Has speaking out for Brian alienated you from them?

GERHAUSER: Absolutely. Absolutely. We've spent most of the last 17 years kind of walking on eggshells around each other. Um, but we were able to remain civil. We would have the rare occasion, we would still get together. But I did a -- an interview with a lovely lady at the Kansas City Star. And when it was published in January, things turned on a dime.

You know, my husband was in the hospital at the time, and I go from one day getting well wishes from these family members to getting hateful texts and messages the next day, being blocked from Facebook. So yeah, I've -- I've lost half of my family.

COATES: Because you spoke out against him being executed.

GERHAUSER: Correct. Correct. I have never said what happened was okay. I have never said, you know, he should be released. I simply said he should not be executed. And I've been vilified for it.

COATES: What do you have to say to those members of your family tonight?

GERHAUSER: I have nothing to say. I'm done, Laura. I'm done. There's nothing left to say.

COATES: The tragedy in so many ways of that statement really continues, and I think people don't realize the impact of, um, what happens when all of this has unfolded. I mean, you put out a statement. I -- I just want to read a part of it tonight, Jenni.

You say, "The death penalty isn't punishment for the convicted. This evening, Brian will be set free. His punishment will end, and for all of us only guilty of loving him, our will begin."

Prior to your cousin having been sentence to the death penalty, did you have different views about the death penalty and have they changed now?

GERHAUSER: I absolutely had conflicted views before this happened because I've always kind of wondered, you know, is it our place, you know, to take a life, you know. But then there are some truly terrible people out there. I just wasn't sure. But after enduring this experience the last 17 years, it's not a black and white issue. There is so much to it. There are so many details that you don't hear about these cases. You know, there are a lot of mistruths that are -- that are put out in these cases. And it's -- it's just not fair to take these lives if you don't know the full truth.

Um, we read a vigil today and there was a man with the Missourians -- Missourians against the death penalty who had a sign that just really resonated with me. It says, why do we kill people who kill people to prove that you shouldn't kill people? And that just -- that really resonated with me. I'm like, exactly, that is the point. Why are we doing this? We're no better than the initial crime.

COATES: It's a very poignant thought that I -- that runs through my mind for a variety of reasons as well. Jeni, I mean, what I -- what I was really struck by in the case of Brian, um, the crimes are what they are and the lives have been taken, and he hasn't denied that. And leaving behind a four--year-old child, I can't imagine what her life has been like as a result.

But the support for him and his rehabilitation was really unprecedented. I mean, there were correctional officers and representatives and even jurors and a judge.


What do you want people to know about the Brian that you knew?

GERHAUSER: Uh, the Brian that I knew was a special soul. There was no denying it. Brian was somebody that everybody loved. Everybody wanted to be around him. Um, it's terrifying to me to think that drugs can change you so much. Can just leave you so utterly out of control that you could possibly hurt somebody that you care so much for.

You know, when the 72 correctional officers sent that letter to the governor, I felt so validated, because for years, I've been telling you, this is so out of character. I cannot reconcile this crime with the one convicted for it. It makes no sense to me at all.

And when these officers came forward and said the same thing, saying that, you know, he's -- he's a decent person who did a terrible thing, I felt so validated, Laura, so validated. COATES: Hmm. Well, Jenni, I certainly -- I'm just so sorry for the loss, for your family more broadly, and the potential loss of family, when you think about all that has unfolded since that fateful day. Jenni, thank you for sharing a very personal story with the world. It's really important to hear. Thank you.

GERHAUSER: Thank you, Laura, for your attention to this matter.

COATES: Up next, a story of, well, inspiration from one of CNN's own. Alisyn Camerota is here to talk about her new memoir and some of the dark secrets she learned about her own family.




COATES: Well, you've all seen Alisyn Camerota on CNN, but maybe you don't know how she got here. I'm talking about before Fox News, before "America's Most Wanted."


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: There are a lot of unanswered questions yet about why you killed Mike. What's your answer?


COATES: She's got great hair all the time, doesn't she? Alisyn's journey to the anchor chair traces back to a challenging turbulent upbringing, which she actually writes about in her new memoir. It's called "Combat Love." She is here with me now to talk about it.

My friend, welcome. You know, this book, I feel like I know you, we're friends, but yet I read this book, and I'm thinking, I don't know if I knew her the way that she describes herself. And it was so wonderful, it was raw, it was poignant, it was deep as well. I have to know from you. I mean, why did you want to write it?

CAMEROTA: Well, it is a raw and very personal memoir, and I just felt that at some point, it's time to kind of peel back the mask and show everybody, who has been watching for all of these decades, that we all have struggles. Everybody has a story of survival of some kind, and that that can be a bridge between people.

And in these times, I think it's important to have a bridge between us and the viewers, between us -- you know, just together. And so, I thought that maybe, if people heard about how much I struggled to become a TV reporter and an anchor and my dream, that maybe it would be inspirational.

You know, I -- I -- there were times I was broke, there were times I didn't have a place to live, there were times that I suffered with deep despair and depression, and yet, I did achieve my dream, and I hope that people -- that gives people hope. COATES: You've often followed a headline. You've covered a headline. You've done a lot of crime reporting as well. Again, we showed "America's Most Wanted." I had no idea that you had a personal connection to the experience that you tell, about your father having been arrested and what that felt like for you as a child and how you've grappled with it.

CAMEROTA: When I was 10, my father was arrested. This is my father in better days. He was a quite elegant man and an incredibly intellectual man, very appealing to people. But he had demons, and he was arrested, um, for -- I mean, I -- I -- I hesitate to tell people because I want them to read it and I don't want it to be a spoiler alert, but he --

COATES: Don't spoil it.

CAMEROTA: All right. Well, he was arrested, and it was my first lesson in how behind every juicy headline, there is a real family's struggle, and it's personal for people. So, no matter how salacious, you know, on this side, we think we're getting a big get, and we think we're telling a great story, but it's really a family's pain that you're telling.

And I've never forgotten that since I was 10 years old. And I do hope that that's part of why I approach this job with some humanity because I remember that it's not just a great get, it is a family's pain.

COATES: I mean, you do have an empathetic approach that is sincere. I just didn't realize it came from a deep personal connection, and that is something that could make the book all the more scary to write. And yet you do it in such a way that you create an open book and you allow people to read it and to learn more about you. That can be hard, to let go of that. I don't want to call it a facade, but that distance.

And actually, to that end, I -- we solicited an open letter from a reader because I was curious to see what people thought about the book.


COATES: And this is kind of an afterword of sorts, if you will. I'm going to read a portion for you. It says -- quote -- "Thank you for accompanying me as I began the path less traveled to pursue my freedom. Thank you for inviting me to be your historian as you explored our past. Although our paths diverged, perhaps because they diverged, we are now on the same road. I have loved you every day of your life. And I am happy to be alive."


That was written by your mom.

CAMEROTA: That is so incredibly beautiful. That is so beautiful. Look at my beautiful mom. I mean, I am so honored that she would write that to you. And I'm so honored that she did participate in this, ultimately. She didn't want me to do it originally, and then she participated in it. And it has a happy ending. You know, there are parts in the book that are hard and that are painful to read about and certainly to write about, but I'm happy that at the end, we had a reconciliation and that my parents lived long enough for me to have closure with them, which I know not everybody gets. And so, I'm very grateful for that, particularly to my mom.

COATES: Well, it's a happy ending because it's kind of a beginning of sorts. Now, we can begin to learn more about you. And by the way, you've been through some stuff, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I've lived a life.


COATES: Who knew about the punk rock series and like you a little bit of a -- like a roadie. There's a lot in this book. I loved it, and I love that you shared it with everybody. It's called "Combat Love." Alisyn, thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: So great to see you, Laura. Thanks so much.

COATES: Be sure to check it out. And thank you all for watching. Our coverage continues.