Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tries to recruit anti-vaccine police officers to his state. New controversy emerges regarding Oklahoma`s death row. Are Democrats nearing an infrastructure deal?
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.
Hi, Ari. happy Monday.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Happy Monday. Thank you, Nicolle.
Welcome to THE BEAT, everyone. I am Ari Melber.
We`re tracking outrage, as a Republican governor is literally trying to recruit anti-vax police officers into his state. We`re going to get into that.
Also later tonight, we have an important legal special report. It`s about justice, it`s about reasonable doubt and new controversy on Oklahoma`s death row. It is the kind of story that tests what kind of nation we want to be. So I do invite you to stay with us, hang with me this hour, because that report, which is vital, comes later on in this edition of THE BEAT.
Our top story right now picks up on the continuing probe into the insurrection. Congress held Steve Bannon in contempt. That was a big escalation which tees up a battle over possible jail time.
Now we have the combination of new independent reporting and congressional fact-finding about how coordinated this plot was, which goes to how high the culpability is. The committee`s operating theory increasingly looks at this more like a top-down operation than many originally thought in January, a coordinated, planned assault, with one D.C. hotel forming the headquarters for what would become a day of felonies at the Capitol.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": How premeditated was this attack?
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Well, there`s no question, clearly, the direction of the committee is to look at that premeditation to make sure that we identify it.
Donald Trump invited individuals to come to Washington on January 6. He said all hell would break loose.
Steve Bannon was in the war room, and he was in the Willard Hotel doing a lot of things. So that`s why we subpoenaed him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: He was in that hotel doing a lot of things and it was a literal command center, "The Washington Post" reports, where the posh Willard Hotel, a block from the White House, hosted activities ranging from legal, like publicizing alleged evidence of voter fraud, to much dodgier activities, like trying to overthrow lawful election results, urging members of state legislators to basically cancel what their own voters did.
That was the request from Republicans. And it also included actions that would later overlap with the illegal, like helping the January 6 event, which turned into the criminal insurrection we all witnessed.
The hotel perhaps an unlikely war room for those people waging war on democracy, like Bannon, indicted, pardoned, and now battling his contempt case, or Giuliani, now under investigation, and convicted felon Bernie Kerik, indicted and convicted, and lawyers willing to walk at least up to the legal line, like a conservative lawyer who you see in the lower right corner who gave bad and incorrect legal advice trying to provide cover for Vice President Pence to toss the election.
He wrote a faulty memo and calls the hotel also their war room.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JOHN EASTMAN, ATTORNEY: We had a war room at the Willard, the Willard Hotel, kind of coordinating all the communications.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: The venue may have been unusual, exclusive, and, by the way, pricey. The hotel rooms alone costs over 55 grand paid for by the Trump campaign.
The Willard is certainly an odd place to try to start some sort of illegal revolution. But the evidence increasingly points there. And that would be bad for some of these Republican elites, as it would suggest this insurrection may have been more organized from the top, that it wasn`t some spontaneous riot that could just be pinned on the randos who showed up in D.C.
To paraphrase Shawn Carter, the election was the show and Giuliani`s legal circus was, I guess, the after-party. And when both of those two efforts failed to make Trump a winner, because he was the loser of the race, well, the party in this case, the Republican Party, it got sloppier.
So, yes, after the show is the after-party. Then, after the party, it`s the hotel lobby, in this case, the Willard Hotel lobby, where a bunch of thirsty, wannabe political gangsters talked trash they could not really back up, with some of their associates now headed to jail.
I`m joined by Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general from the Obama administration, and Margaret Carlson from The Daily Beast for analysis on this story.
Neal, your thoughts about how, as mentioned, the after-party got out of hand, or was it always planned to be out of hand?
NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so we will have to know, and maybe we will have to find out.
And I do think the reporting today, there`s two strands of it. One is "The Washington Post" that you were talking about it. The other is this "Rolling Stone" story. And I think all of it`s interesting, but we don`t know exactly where it`s going to lead. It`s kind of like "X-Files."
Like, I want to believe a lot of what`s in this reporting. And there`s a lot of detail in here that I think corresponds with our existing understanding and fills in the gaps. But there are some things that really need to be sourced better, like this whole claim in the "Rolling Stone" article that -- basically that Representative Gosar was handing out -- was promising a blanket pardon.
We don`t know what the motivations are of that source and the like when they said that kind of thing. So, we need to find all that out.
But, yes, I agree with you, Ari. The general point is, every single piece of reporting confirms more and more. Lots of people were involved in this. The list grows every time we talk -- when we look at House Republicans, and it`s kind of like trying to plan a wedding. Like if we invite Representative Gosar, then we will have to invite Lauren Boebert.
And then, of course, Marjorie Taylor Greene is going to come and crash no matter what.
MELBER: Yes, a wedding or, since we do culture around here, if we`re "Game of Thrones," it might be a Red Wedding, because, by the end of this thing, democracy was bloodied.
I appreciate your precision. You mentioned some of the other reporting, and everyone has the Internet. So people may know there`s some other interesting reporting out there. I did not quote "Rolling Stone" in our top story lead tonight, because -- I will be transparent with viewers -- it has some interesting points that NBC News has not confirmed as of this hour.
So we`re not necessarily airing the innards of that, although it`s a free society, and people can read it, and also make up their own minds. And you mentioned sort of where those lines are.
But to build on the point you`re making, Neal, how important is it to investigators in the DOJ criminal context or the congressional context, which may make policy out of this, much the way the 9/11 Commission made policy, Neal, how important is it to them to figure out whether this was planning for a P.R. exercise, for example, lawyers making unreasonable or even bad faith arguments for P.R., or whether they were planning a physical assault on the Capitol?
No, obviously, that`s incredibly important. And investigators, both in Congress and at the Justice Department, have to get to the bottom of it. I mean, the claim right now by the author of that preposterous memo, John Eastman, is that he didn`t mean it when he wrote it. He`s like trying to justify what he did, even though, of course, at the time, he didn`t disavow it. And, instead, he tried to sell it like hotcakes to everyone who would listen.
And he can`t even remember who he -- who asked him to write it. I mean, this is one of the few situations in which it`d be actually more believable, John Eastman would be more believable if he just kind of blamed it on his evil twin or something like that. I mean, he is making no sense, just like his memo made no sense.
MELBER: Yes, I mean, you could use the lawyer example or, for Margaret, the writer example. If you have an assignment from six months ago from a client or an editor, and it becomes the biggest story of the year, decade or beyond, saying that you don`t remember from six months ago is just a lie, unless you have lost your mind, which is a different type of problem.
Margaret, your view on all the above?
MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: I have both problems.
The -- it was only a draft as part of Eastman`s explanation, and I don`t know an editor who really swallows that one. Well, now we know why, for instance, the latest to say, let`s sweep this under the rug was Condoleezza Rice. She said, let -- she cried on January 6, but let`s move on. She just wants to move on. They all want to move on.
They don`t want to step back. They don`t want to look at it, and they have done a pretty good job. And they could delay more. I mean, this is good reporting. But you have Steve Bannon just beginning his journey through the contempt procedure.
Remember, Don McGahn didn`t testify for -- until the Trump administration was over. And I think that`s what Republicans are going for. Let`s keep this going.
But now we have Bob Costa and Bob Woodward and others telling us -- I mean, one of the surprises, because didn`t we know there was planning? They had T-shirts. Ever since the T-shirts saying "MAGA Civil War 2020," I thought, some planning went into this.
Even if you -- your eyes would tell you that, but there they were, that they were working on it. They had to have been working on it, and that their backup plan after that Justice Department meeting didn`t get Jeff Rosen removed, so that Trump could have the Justice Department saying they thought there was fraud, the backup plan was violence. That`s the backup plan.
CARLSON: I mean, can you imagine sitting around in a room, like -- and saying, OK, well, if Pence doesn`t come through -- and Pence is saying it was just another January day now -- if Pence doesn`t come through, well, we have this backup plan because we have all these people coming to Washington.
The other surprise is that $55,000 bill goes -- is the Willard Hotel and not the Trump Hotel. Trump was so crazed by this time. Here`s a guy who wanted the G7 at the Doral. He didn`t want to have his war room. He was so possessed and obsessed. He didn`t have the war room at the Trump Hotel.
MELBER: Yes. It`s a very interesting point to those who are connoisseurs of Donald Trump`s self-dealing, which knows almost no bounds.
You`re saying, what, that might be a bound. And that`s interesting to look at as well. I`m sure the committee will look at the sort of the chain of how things were planned and booked and whether that itself was a kind of admission of a certain potential culpability.
Margaret, you also mentioned how some Republicans are still running from this. They both don`t want to alienate what is a larger, growing, insurrection-adjacent part of their base, if you want to call it that, and yet I guess you could call this a sliver of not bad news.
I`m not going to call it good news. But the not bad news, Margaret, is a lot of Americans still don`t like insurrections against the government. It is not still broadly popular. And that may be why even a conservative like Senator Blunt sort of went running to word salad when this came up. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: Was Election Day an insurrection?
SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): You know, I think the election was what it was. There`s a process you go through that determines whether or not the early reports were the right reports. And we went through that process.
And I`m of the view that the best thing that President Trump could do to help us win majorities in 2022 is talk about the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Margaret, you`re our political expert in Washington. Explain to us what it means when someone says it was what it was, if they haven`t said what it was, because that raises the question, what was it?
CARLSON: Well, they haven`t said what is. Yes, they haven`t said what is. And they don`t want to say what it was.
And all them have that locution of the -- that really comes down to let bygones be bygones. Why are we examining this? It`s just a Democratic plot to embarrass us.
But, of course, you have to -- I mean, look at what we`re finding out now, because the war room, if you put that in front of people, you say, people don`t like insurrection, Ari, but a third of the party doesn`t mind it, and 60 percent of Republicans think Trump won.
CARLSON: So they don`t quite hate it.
I think -- but the level of planning behind it could move some. I mean, there must be some point in which people move. But Senator Roy Blunt is retiring.
CARLSON: And he still can`t admit that it was wrong. Can you imagine? I think he`s probably tired of it.
MELBER: That`s a great point.
CARLSON: But -- so, imagine that people that are still left, how badly they want to find a rug and get the broom and sweep as fast as they can.
Margaret and Neal, both with perspective, thank you for kicking us off tonight.
Coming up, we have The Boss with Barack Obama, not on the program. I wish. But we`re going to tell you what they`re talking about and why and how the former president took a swing at some Republicans.
Later, the story I mentioned. It`s important. You have this Republican governor trying to incentivize anti-vaxxers to come join his police force. We will explain why that matters and what people are doing to stop it.
And then, as I mentioned, a special report on a death row case igniting new debates over justice, innocence and racism in America. A life-and-death decision is on the line. That`s tonight on THE BEAT as well.
Stay with us.
MELBER: Turning to a story about safety.
The Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has been undercutting establish safety rules in his state for some time. He`s attacked vaccines and CDC safety measures. And he`s had these political clashes over all of these chosen fights. He even demanded a special legislative session to try to block federally approved vaccine requirements.
The news tonight? Well, now he says he wants to make Florida a kind of a haven for public sector workers who are anti-vaxxers, specifically police. Now, this goes beyond stupidity or political posturing. I want to be very clear about what we know. As policy, what he`s doing is specifically very anti-police, and will encourage policies and conduct that makes it more likely police will get hurt or die in the line of duty.
And here`s why. We know the facts. Across the whole country, COVID is now the leading cause of death among police, surpassing gunfire. It`s a sobering reminder of the many different dangers that police and other public safety workers face.
Police are, of course, in a job where they never had the option of just working from home for a while. Like doctors and nurses, police face higher COVID risk just by going to work and going to their jobs.
And yet this governor, DeSantis, is pushing in the opposite direction. And he`s not just talking. He`s trying to use taxpayer dollars for it. He says now that he would add a $5,000 bonus for any unvaccinated police officers who stay unvaccinated and moved to Florida.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We`re actually actively working to recruit out- of-state law enforcement, because we do have needs in our police and our sheriff`s departments.
So, NYPD, Minneapolis, Seattle, if you`re not being treated well, we will treat you better here. You can fill important needs for us, and we will compensate you as a result.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Define treat you better if a policy and an encouragement with the money behind it creates a situation where you are more likely to get hurt and die.
Florida has lost 58,000 residents to COVID. And it`s lagged behind other states that have not adopted DeSantis policies. Big picture, the U.S. military requires many types of vaccinations, including COVID. And police forces, understandably, have many rules for officers to follow.
This is not, to put it lightly, the perfect profession for a person who wants to buck government rules in general or discipline or order or sort of doesn`t like being micromanaged. Well-run police forces with good records still have a ton of rules of things you have to follow when you`re an officer, for many reasons, including the fact that you are a government employee given this great authority to stop, to search, to use force justified, to use lethal force justified.
So with all that in mind, well, there`s a different way you can look at it. I just said it all quite seriously. But, well, the same point was made by the comedian on HBO John Oliver, doing it in his own way just last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN OLIVER, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER": The constant refrain we hear from cops every time they kill an unarmed black person is, they should have complied with commands.
But that only seems to work one way, because when officers are asked to follow simple rules or face consequences, a not-insignificant amount of them flip their (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
If an officer wants to quit over this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) let them.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OLIVER: Let the individuals who clearly don`t care about public safety stop being in charge public safety.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s one take we.
Will be joined by professor Christina Greer with no bleeps when we`re back in 60 seconds.
MELBER: We`re joined by Fordham Professor Christina Greer discussing this debate over some police who don`t want to follow the rules of vaccination.
John Oliver there had his take. The Florida governor trying to lean into it. What do you think is important about this admittedly odd story?
CHRISTINA GREER, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Well, Ari, the first thing I thought about was all the police officers who actually are vaccinated who are trying to protect themselves, their families and the public, and the colleagues that they have to work with on a daily basis who refuse to follow various mandates and are seeing this as a breach of their freedom.
Here in New York City, there have been lots of complaints of police officers who don`t wear masks. And many civilians are wondering whether or not they`re vaccinated and whether or not they`re really protecting the public when they`re out on the subways or out on the streets.
And so I really think about workplace harassment, honestly, for a lot of police officers who are trying to do the right thing for their communities and, obviously, for the people that they`re sworn to protect and serve.
And John Oliver made sort of the larger point that is more like a little bit about the personality or the mood, but I understand what he`s getting at. And with all segments -- we can talk about doctors, police lawyers. I`m not talking about all officers. As you draw our attention to, many are vaccinated.
Many want to protect and serve. Most don`t ever use their weapons in the line of duty. So, as a legal reporter here, I take all that seriously. As for, though, the subset that we`re talking about, it would seem that many of them need, according to John Oliver, the same speech that they seem to give out, which is, you don`t like the rules, you don`t get to override them. That`s what rule of law means.
And if the police can`t go along with that, at least some of them, as mentioned, then where are we?
And if you don`t want to follow the rules, then you can leave. But that also means I don`t think that you should get your pension. I don`t think that we should be paying you to not work. You should not be on unpaid leave.
And I think what Governor DeSantis is doing is trying to straddle this line of trying to make sure he keeps the Trump supporters happy, because just in the off-chance that Donald Trump does not run in 2024, Governor DeSantis would like to be the heir apparent to carry that mantle of exclusionary politics, of reactionary politics, of lies and deception to many people who are willing to follow him to the edges of the Earth, sadly.
And in a state like Florida, as you said, Ari, in the last segment, when we look at over 50,000 civilians who have died in the state of Florida alone who have ignored the facts and the reality of what is actually happening, the fact that Ron DeSantis, as the governor, the executive of the state of Florida is sort of championing this messaging is -- if it`s not criminal in a court of law, it`s the type of irresponsibility that we can`t even put words to.
MELBER: Yes. No, it`s irresponsible for the reasons mentioned. In New York, since the mandate hit, over 68 percent of officers are vaccinated. It`s one of the largest police forces in the country.
The notion, though, that the alternative rule-breaking behavior is now a point of officer recruitment is extreme, to say the least.
Professor Greer, always good to see you.
GREER: Always great to see you, Ari.
MELBER: Appreciate it.
Up ahead: There is talk of a billionaire tax and Democrats saying they have the breakthrough everyone`s been waiting for. We will put that to the test.
Also, Obama with The Boss hammering Republicans. We have that for you tonight.
And then later, as mentioned, something so important that I`m inviting you to stay with us, our special report on the resumption of the death penalty in Oklahoma, and what it means for America.
That`s later tonight.
MELBER: President Biden wants to win, and soon. He has been out there trying to do everything to push those last few Senate holdouts that we hear so much about to get his agenda passed.
We have more on the timeline in a moment. But, as for how it`s playing, well, sometimes, the punchlines can be instructive. This was the "Saturday Night Live" treatment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Look, I could really use your advice. I`m trying to pass this infrastructure bill, but it`s being held up by these two senators.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Joe Manchin.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Screw Joe Manchin!
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Even worse than him, Senator Kyrsten Sinema.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Wait, Senator Sinema? That sounds like a "Star Wars" character.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who hates the attention, says she is opposed to raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for President Biden`s agenda, finally someone speaking up for billionaires.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Because it`s so hard to hear them from space.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It is hard to hear them from space, unless we cover it.
You and I, we probably keep track all this stuff closely. But other people are busy living their lives and they don`t, but they get their cues from a lot of places, whether that`s Facebook memes and jokes or "Saturday Night Live."
And "Saturday Night Live" is giving us a little snapshot of how it`s playing, even if it`s not all 100 percent fact-checked, that there is a perception growing the Democrats need to get serious and get it done.
This weekend, the president met with one of those holdouts we just heard about, Senator Manchin, in a very special place, his own Delaware home, kind of a sign of really having it out at the end of the ninth inning, or 10th, depending on how you count it, of this process.
Now, on several issues including family leave and Medicare, there is the sign that they want to hammer it out and get it done. Manchin is agreeing to pay for this bill with a new billionaire tax. And late today, here starting a new week on a Monday, signs that Senator Sinema may also get on board. They need the 50 for everything.
Speaker Pelosi says they`re close to getting the Senate agreement they need. The president`s on the road and he is touting progress. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These bills are not about left vs. right, or moderate vs. progressive or anything that pits an American, one American against another. These bills are about competitiveness vs. complacency.
They`re about expanding opportunity, not opportunity denied.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s the argument the speaker now targeting a Wednesday vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and some Democrats saying they could do this week or next.
But what is Joe Manchin thinking?
Well, let`s join someone -- let`s be joined by someone who Joe Manchin says knows nothing about him, nothing of my work, for those who get the reference, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" David Corn.
How are you, sir?
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to be with you tonight, Ari.
MELBER: Great to have you.
That`s only a joke for political nerds like us who know that you were tracking the Manchin beat and getting reactions from him. Today, we are on the Biden beat. Is "SNL" making a fair point or being cheap? Will it matter if they actually pass this by the end of the year? What do you see happening?
CORN: Well, Biden`s in a hard spot.
We saw a few weeks ago, when moderate Democrats in the House wanted to rush ahead with a vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, progressives said, no, we have this larger agenda. They put a halt to it to give time for this other bill to pass through. And, actually, they had Biden`s back, because this was what Biden wanted to do.
But now he`s coming down to the wire. And you got these two holdouts senators, Manchin and Sinema, who are -- have their heels dug in, and for some reason, Manchin doesn`t want to pay for community college, he doesn`t want to expand Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing. He has a problem, which I don`t think has been fully explained, at least not publicly, about having paid leave for the workers of West Virginia.
And he also won`t budge, at least publicly, off the $1.5 trillion figure he`s come up with. So the Democrats and Biden are really getting to the position where, if they don`t bend, they will break, another movie reference there.
MELBER: Well, David -- David, if it bends, it`s funny, but if it breaks, it`s not funny.
And if it bends, well, then they will have something for Terry McAuliffe and the rest of the party to run on. And if it breaks, they`re in a world of hurt. And I think -- I have said this before.
I think understanding Manchin`s position, which, as a conservative, he says he doesn`t like the entitlement mentality, I mean, I understand it. I think it`s wrong. I think it`s not good for all the people of West Virginia, a place that I go to several times a year, and I love it out there.
But Sinema, I still don`t understand what her gaming here is in terms of positioning and policies and what she wants. She won`t go for a -- for raising the corporate and income taxes on the very, very, very well-to-do, but now she is finally seemingly working with Elizabeth Warren, coming around to a billionaires tax, which would only be on...
CORN: I have to look at a piece of paper here and make sure I get this right -- 0.00002 percent of the population. Those are the 700 billionaires, the billionaires we have.
MELBER: David -- David, I didn`t -- David..
MELBER: David, I didn`t -- David, I keep saying your name to say something.
MELBER: We`re on a slight tape delay.
David, I didn`t get into this job to do math. Are you telling me we have to do math now to calculate how few billionaires that would affect? Because that argument is vital the Democrats, right? They have to be able to prove that you can fund this without everyone else`s taxes going up?
I mean, some Democrats have wanted a billionaire tax for a long time. And I think Manchin has agreed now that he will go for that as a way to fund some of this. But this is in lieu of just taxing corporations more and doing sort of -- addressing the Trump tax cuts that were very well -- good for the well-to-do.
So, Kyrsten Sinema seems, if this is true, to want to tax the super-duper wealthy people, but not anybody short of that, which I don`t quite understand that the policy sense beyond that or the political sense, but that`s kind of where we are.
Biden and the Democrats have to cater to these two senators. And I think, at the end of day, they will probably get a lot, and they will weaken the bill and weaken the tax code and all that. But this is the price of doing business here.
MELBER: And you reference that, and there`s a larger policy debate to be had. But it`s certainly true that the portrait of American wealth has drastically changed from even 50 years ago. Largely, the marginal tax rates have not.
So the notion that you need to separate between the 1, the 0.1, and, as you reminded us very elegantly, the point 0.001, may be a real thing, because - - if that`s where the wealth is.
Because of this other justice story, I`m going to leave it here, David. Thank you, as always. Good to see you.
MELBER: Thank you.
Up ahead, we turn to the story that I told you about at the top of the hour. There`s a man on death row. And he`s facing a life-or-death hearing tomorrow. And we have new evidence that we`re going to show you about racism and reasonable doubt.
Here on THE BEAT, we do think that some of the most important stories in the country may be stories you haven`t heard about yet, and should.
Our special report on Oklahoma resuming its executions is that kind of story. It`s next.
MELBER: Here is a headline you won`t see in most democracies. But it is in the news tonight, as a very red state, Oklahoma, is moving forward with resuming executions.
Indeed, today, a federal judge cleared the way for those executions of death row inmates to resume. It`s a controversial capital punishment system we have in the United States, specifically, quite cruel in Oklahoma, where you see that lethal injections resume, which are said to burn men alive.
Now, Oklahoma is actually one of 27 states in America which still use the death penalty. It did pause the practice for six years after major problems and blatant errors were exposed.
There are many issues here with law and policy and fact-finding. But since the death penalty is ultimately about the government taking a life, we begin this report tonight with one of the lives in question.
This is Julius Jones. He was once attending University of Oklahoma on an academic scholarship. He was once a 19-year-old who seemed to be on a decent path. At 19, he had no convictions at the time for any violence. He seemed to be putting some of his past convictions for petty theft behind him.
Then he was arrested, tried before a nearly all-white jury; 11 out of 12 jurors were white. And he was convicted. And our special report right now has many details about the story and why it matters.
Oklahoma is set to execute Jones within three weeks. But the first and most significant legal fact is that Jones did not face a fair jury of his peers, as the law requires. This is not in doubt. Jones faced a jury that had members out to convict him no matter what. And that`s according to them, according to members of the jury.
It had a jury who talked about lynching him and who called him the N-word in front of other jurors. Here is how a member of this majority-white Oklahoma jury later after the conviction recounted what a jury said.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JUROR: One of the jurors said, well, they should just take this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out back, shoot him, and bury him under the jail.
It didn`t matter what happened. This was a black man that was on trial for murder.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: They wanted him taken out back and shot.
And you hear the quote there. It didn`t matter what happened in the case, in the underlying allegations of murder. They wanted him shot.
There`s no clearer admission of a juror betraying their oath to find the impartial facts of what happened than saying that to another juror before they go to deliberate and decide guilt.
Now, according to that jury, we can also tell you what they found. The teenage Jones was convicted of murdering a 45-year-old father and businessman, Paul Howell, shooting him as he drove into a family driveway. It was a gruesome crime. His sister and two daughters were in the car when he was killed.
A 911 call captures his own father -- that would be the grandfather in the family -- recounting the first moments of this terrible emergency after his granddaughters ran into the house.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
911 DISPATCHER: Nine-one-one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My son`s been shot out in the front yard. He`s got no pulse.
911 DISPATCHER: Where was he shot at?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know. I was in bed. The kids came running in. He`s laying out in the driveway.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: Fast-forward 22 years. Jones is not 19 anymore. He`s 41 years old. He is set to die at 41 years old. Oklahoma has scheduled this now delayed execution for November 18, in under three weeks.
Under the law, executions are only supposed to occur when the justice system has proven guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the convicted has been afforded their constitutional rights, exhausting their appeals.
Now, Jones` original trial may not have afforded him those rights for several reasons. His own court-appointed lawyer later admitted it was a deficient defense. And his advocates say there is reasonable doubt about whether it was Jones who killed the person I just showed you, Mr. Paul Howell.
Jones` family insists he`s not a murderer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTOINETTE JONES, SISTER OF JULIUS JONES: When they say what time the man actually got shot, I was like, well, that takes my brother out of it, because I know for a fact my brother was at home.
MADELINE JONES, MOTHER OF JULIUS JONES: I want to be absolutely clear. My son Julius is not guilty of Mr. Howell`s murder.
We watched Julius` entire future disappear in an Oklahoma courtroom, when the verdict of guilty was read.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My brother`s innocent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: At the time of the killing, Jones and his family insist that he has an alibi, that he was with them at home eating dinner and playing board games.
Now, that would be key evidence for a jury. When other witnesses testified was strong alibi, a jury either believes them and thinks, well, police got the wrong guy, or the jury doesn`t believe them, and thinks that those other people are essentially in on a murder conspiracy.
As you can imagine, it is a crime to then lie in court or to the police about where a murder suspect was. But here`s the thing in this case. The jury never heard that alibi at all. The jury never heard any witnesses offer any evidence on behalf of Jones, because, in a kind of legal surrender, Jones` lawyers didn`t call any witnesses.
That`s part of why his lead attorney now says that the legal representation, the defense they gave, was deficient, as I mentioned. That lawyer had no capital murder trial experience at the time.
In the case, this prosecutor was bringing so many capital cases that there weren`t actually enough defense attorneys to address the demand, those with any experience, so a lot wrong there in the system procedurally.
Now, the key testimony the jurors did here was from the prosecution`s kind of star witness and informant, who actually was going to face death throw himself, but got off in a plea deal based on giving authorities what they wanted in this case.
That informant, Chris Jordan, was also a former friend of Jones, who went on to serve 15 years. He`s now out of prison. It is possible that Jordan had true information to deal and he dealt it. Many leads come from people who are also involved in some other crime.
It`s also possible that his former friend, Jordan, had a motive to pin the crime on Jones. Indeed -- and this is really interesting, although also all quite serious, but, interestingly, more than one person says Jordan was the actual killer.
Jones alleges that he`s on death row. And a former inmate who did time with the other guy, Jordan, says something that you would want to know if you were a court reviewing this. He says Jordan actually admitted the murder, admitted doing it, and was remorseful about aspects of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RODERICK WESLEY, INMATE OF CHRIS JORDAN: He was, at the time, being sort of remorseful, but it was one of them cases where I`m sorry, but I`m not going to jump out there and just throw myself to the wolves.
I just remember us having a conversation that he admitted that he`s the one basically that got the murder charge, did the killing, and it wasn`t this guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: This is information that has to be dealt with. It has to be sifted for its accuracy, but it certainly goes to potential reasonable doubt.
Now, other evidence links back to Jones. Police found the murder weapon and a red bandana tied to the killing in his home. Jones` DNA was found on the bandana. Now, Jones` defense then turns that back to Jordan, alleging he planted those items there, and notes that the bandana has the DNA profiles of other people as well.
Now, there was an adult eyewitness to the crime. Paul Howell`s sister was the only adult witness. And she`s convinced that Jones is the true killer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just want to shout it at the rooftops and say, he`s guilty, he`s guilty. There is no doubt that Julius Jones is guilty. After 22 years, we just need some kind of closure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s the victim`s family view there represented by one person. And that family has every right to justice and closure.
They believe Jones did it. And any full accounting includes their view, and their loss can never be made whole.
The legal question, though, is different. It is whether Jones` trial was constitutional and proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And it`s notable, as there`s been a rethinking of some of the ways justice works in America, that the prosecutor who handled all this has actually seen in totally separate cases a super high rate of overturned convictions, about a third, and that, before this jury, we had the extra issues before you even think about this particular jury.
Now, I began this report for you tonight with a quote from one of the actual jurors, which is very important, because it speaks to whether a jury fairly found facts or not.
Now, here`s more of what she told ABC -- this was long after the trial and conviction was over -- in 2017 about how the jurors were racist and how a juror had made up their mind before deliberations even began.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JUROR: I was a juror on the case.
This thing has weighed on me for a long time. This was well before deliberations. And one of the jurors said, well, they should just take this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out back, shoot him, and bury him under the jail.
It didn`t matter what happened. This was a black man that was on trial for murder. He did it.
It didn`t sit right with me. And I went to the judge with that the next day.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: The judge knew about it in real time.
You can think about both the racism and the assertion of something other than truth, which is what would get a juror kicked off a jury. "It didn`t matter what happened." I`m quoting. "It was a black man on trial for murder." I`m quoting.
So, for that juror, well, their mind was made up, which taints the whole thing. It makes a strong case legally to say that racial discrimination by the jury taints the case.
But we are a nation of laws, and the Supreme Court did not see it that way, or even review it. When this evidence, which came later than the original trial, did become public and formed the ground of a new appeal, the Supreme Court decided not to review the racist juror claim in 2019.
Most of what I have said here tonight is about this case, but this case is a story that reflects something that is actually a larger problem in America, by which I mean this case is not an aberration. It is not unique. It is not only about Oklahoma, although there`s evidence that Oklahoma`s bad, really bad on these issues.
Black Americans make up 13 percent of the American population, but 41 percent of the inmates on death row right now. Those convicted of killing white victims nationally are executed not at double or triple the rate or quadruple or five times the rate. They`re executed at 17 times the rate of those convicted of killing other black Americans.
When we talk about what lives matter, these national facts give you a portrait of how the justice system continues to work and grind on.
I`m not here to tell you what to think about the death penalty. Some people support it. Some people oppose it. Some people support or oppose it in certain situations. But I`m here to tell you the fact is, there is no uniform death penalty in America. That`s not the debate.
There is a certain type of death penalty, and it is used largely against poor people and minorities. And it is used with the most force and intensity based on the racial makeup of the given allegation of a crime, the statistic I just gave you. The lives are weighted differently.
Very few people in public life would ever claim that is fair or write a policy that way. But that is the policy. That is the death penalty in America today.
And, as for Oklahoma, well, they support their death penalty down there, but even they had to stop it for years. It`s only resuming now, as I mentioned, because it`s sort of notorious for these problems, notorious for botching executions, as well as the other inequities I mentioned.
This is something that has been going back years. Our colleague Rachel Maddow has covered this for years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": The way we carry out the death penalty, it has been a mess for a long time now. They had just called off an execution at the very last minute because, surprise, turns out they had the wrong drug.
In January, we now know they actually went ahead and used the wrong drug to kill someone else. Turns out Oklahoma is just blindly injecting people with whatever drug is at hand, without noticing the label.
What about the execution before that, the gruesomely botched lethal injection last year, when the man in Oklahoma writhed and gasped for 43 minutes?
In Oklahoma, it`s almost unbelievable what a mess it is right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We`re not showing the footage or indicia of what those botched executions looked like on the news. But, as I mentioned in the beginning, experts called it burning people alive. It has been likened to state- sanctioned torture.
It is tough. And it is not allowed under the law, although it happens under the law, like so many aspects of the American death penalty.
As for this particular case, there`s this Justice For Julius movement that has grown, with a lot of different people who`ve looked hard at the case and come out for it, activists, prominent, Americans advocating for a closer look or a change or release.
There have been protests across Oklahoma, where this is, of course, local news, and many pushing to try to get him off death row. Mr. Jones` life is on the line. This is what he says:
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JULIUS JONES, DEATH ROW INMATE: I would have never thought I was going to prison, let alone to death row. I have been here longer than I was ever even alive free.
I hope people would take a moment and realize, no matter what color somebody`s skin is, we are all human beings. I want this to end for my family. Even with so many people caring, I`m still in prison.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: This is news tonight because, tomorrow, a parole board will hold what could be the last clemency hearing here.
If the board denies clemency, Jones would be on track to be executed in three weeks, unless there was legal intervention from the high courts. Or it could send the case to the governor for consideration, and then the Oklahoma governor could use authority to change the sentence to life in prison.
There is much wrong with the death penalty in America. It is something that grinds on as part of our rule of law. It is part of the system that we live under, whether we stop to think about it or not. And at a time where people are saying they are thinking and listening and looking, it merits all of our attention, not just those directly impacted.
The legal question here is whether this was a fair, constitutional trial, absent racism and discrimination, and whether the evidence supports going forward with this execution beyond a reasonable doubt.
MELBER: Thanks for joining me on THE BEAT.
I turn now to my friend Joy Reid on "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID."