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Toxic Family Secrets: Five Men Accused of Raping Family Members; Undercover Investigation Reveals Cruelty at University Lab

Aired November 12, 2009 - 19:00:00   ET



JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, host (voice-over): Tonight, a gruesome discovery in Missouri. Five grown men accused of sexually abused, raping and sodomizing at least six young children from their own family. This is as sick as it gets. Allegations include rape, fake marriages and forced abortions. And that`s just the beginning of this unbelievably twisted story. Get this: three of the men arrested are lay ministers.

Now cops are searching the family`s property for possible bodies. They`re also searching for buried glass jars, which may contain handwritten letters from the children, detailing their family nightmare. How many more victims could be out there?

And justice for Anne Pressly. This beautiful TV anchorwoman was brutally raped and beaten to death while sleeping in her own bed, beaten so badly, nearly every bone in her face was completely shattered. Now her killer is headed to prison, but will he face the death penalty? This is the tragedy that first inspired ISSUES to focus our attention on the war on women. Tonight, we`ll talk to those closest to Anne about tonight`s big issue: what`s being done to change our blood-drenched culture?

Plus, blood-boiling new developments in the murder of Somer Thompson. The 7-year-old was abducted and killed while walking home from school. Now her mom says she`s getting hate mail. How is that possible? We`ll talk to her devastated mother`s attorney about the new twist in this investigation and how Somer`s mom believes she`s destined to become a crusader to stop violence against children.

ISSUES starts now.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, unspeakable horror as details of sickening sex crimes and toxic family secrets come spilling out. Take a look at these five men, three of them lay ministers at their local church, as you contemplate the evil acts they are accused of committing 15 years ago.

A Missouri grandfather named Burrell Mohler and five of his adult sons allegedly raped and sodomized children in their own family. Cops say a 26- year-old female victim has now come forward to say she and her five siblings were brutalized sexually as children in unimaginable ways.

For example, she says the kids were forced to participate in -- get this -- bestiality. According to a criminal complaint, the young woman said she became pregnant and was made to have an abortion at age 11 1/2. She also charged that had she and her siblings were forced to participate in fake wedding ceremonies with their adult relatives before sex.

Plus, in graphic detail, much too disturbing for television, she describes a rape that the uncle allegedly committed and his chilling words beforehand. Quote, "He told her that they would become one person."

Cops say the children were told to write down their bad memories, put them in a jar and bury them. So yesterday, investigators began digging up the ground at the Missouri farm in search of those jars and other possible victims of this allegedly sick family.


SHERIFF KERRICK ALUMBAUGH, LAFAYETTE COUNTY, MISSOURI: Well, there`s are Class A felony forcible rape of a child less than 12 years old, and we believe that there are other victims out there. And we believe that people in the public can give us more information on each and every one of these suspects.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Who could these other possible victims be? Are they even alive? Or are they buried underground in the earth? And how could this alleged vile activity be kept under wraps for so many years? Tonight`s big issue: toxic family secrets.

I know you at home have something to say about this. Give me a call: 1-877-586-7297.

Straight out to my fabulous panel: Stacy Honowitz, supervisor of the sex crimes unit in the Florida prosecutor`s office; Dr. Dale Archer, clinical psychologist. Boy, do we need you tonight, Doctor. We`re delighted to have Judge Alex Ferrer, host of the show "Judge Alex." And we`re also very pleased to have with us tonight Debra Burris, a former neighbor of the 77-year-old suspect. She has requested to appear in shadow tonight in order to maintain her privacy. We will talk with her in a moment.

But first, Bill Grady, reporter with News Radio 980 KNBZ, Kansas City, Missouri. Bill, what is the very latest?

BILL GRADY, REPORTER, NEWS RADIO 980 KNBZ (via phone): Well, the very latest, Jane, we just talked with some investigators here a short while ago. And what they tell us is that sometime this evening, an announcement will be made by the investigative agencies.

And they also prefaced it by saying that there won`t be any interviews granted this evening. It is just something we`re going to release in the form of an actual news release.

Now, we know that, you know, this property has been scoured all day long today. It`s over 55 acres. And so we don`t know the exactly what it`s going to be. Obviously, we`re going to be here till it`s made.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Very quickly, Bill, how did this all come to light, this 26-year-old woman who says she was brutalized by these men when she was a child? She has siblings. Did they all go at once to the cops or how did it -- how did it come out?

GRADY: Our understanding is that this case, the investigative arm of it started back several months ago and the 26-year-old lady was the first to come forward.

Now, also I`ve got to tell you, Jane, that Sheriff Alumbaugh has made it very clear that he is quite sure there are a number of victims out there, and likely they could be in various parts of the country.

Now, a couple of minutes ago we spoke with an FBI agent here in town who said that, as of now, the FBI has not been called into the case. But we also did discern the information that a computer was seized from the farm property, and it`s going to be sent for computer forensics.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But just yes or no, did the siblings of this 26-year- old woman also come forward and say, "Yes, they did it to me, too"?

GRADY: That`s information that I don`t have. And that`s something that I know the sheriff has been very careful about releasing, because he`s very concerned about protecting the identities of these people, as you can well imagine. It would be pretty easy to connect the dots and figure out who the people were, and in sex crimes, everyone wants to be a little -- a little careful about that.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight`s big issue: toxic family secrets. How could this vile alleged secret remain under wraps while it was happening for more than 15 years until now?

Among other horrific crimes alleged in their complaint, cops say the Mohler family committed, quote, "sexual intercourse with a child less than 12 years old by forcible compulsion," as well as, quote, "the use of a child in a sexual performance."

Three of the Mohler men are lay ministers at the Community of Christ Church. The church says they`ve now suspended their licenses.

But boy, you have to wonder, Debra Burris -- you`re a neighbor of the 77-year-old grandfather, Burrell Mohler Sr. -- how this could have been going on, these allegations, without anybody knowing it. You`re the neighbor. Did you know that this 77-year-old man had these four sons?

DEBRA BURRIS, NEIGHBOR: No, I didn`t, Jane. I never knew he had any sons.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, you`re his neighbor for how many years?

BURRIS: I think he`s lived there probably 15 or 16 years.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And so did you ever talk to this guy? How could you not know that he had four sons?

BURRIS: Well, I actually -- I don`t live next door to him. I live across the street up one house. But my grandchildren`s bus stop was in front of his house, and we spoke almost daily when the kids were living with us, going to school. They no longer live with us.

But he was just a private person. We would see him out in the yard. And we would speak. His name was...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Did he seem like a creep to you?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Did he seem like a nut ball?

BURRIS: not at all.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: A chock-full-of-nuts crazy person?

BURRIS: No, he seemed like a normal grandfatherly type. We -- he used to walk his little dog up and down the street. He would be in his little Bermuda shorts with white knee socks. He just looked like a little grandfather.


BURRIS: He was soft spoken. He was friendly. He was helpful.


Look at these people. I mean, look at these men. These are grown men, Judge Alex Ferrer. It`s horrifying for me to look at the faces of these bearded men and to imagine what is being alleged, that had these big, gigantic, heavy, bearded men were sexually torturing, allegedly, young children, girls.

And you know, one of the allegations, and it`s almost nauseating for me to say it, I just -- honestly can`t even get it out, is that one of these children says they were forced to have sex with a dog. OK, so that`s -- OK, we`ve put it out there. It`s that bad. What do you make of it?

JUDGE ALEX FERRER, HOST, "JUDGE ALEX": Obviously, it`s horrible, horrible facts, and if they are guilty of those, they`re definitely going to get what`s coming to them. Because, you know, in Missouri, there`s talk about possibly there being bodies buried in the field of children that were actually killed. I certainly hope that`s not true. The children who lived through this have enough scars on their own.

But if it`s murder, obviously, they`re going to look at the death penalty, because Missouri does have the death penalty. And even if it`s not, those crimes carry punishment of up to life in prison. Under the circumstances, I can`t imagine a judge giving them less than life in prison.

However, their bond is 30,000 to $75,000. How these guys were given such a low bond -- I can`t imagine a greater flight risk than facing these charges and given a 30,000 to $75,000 bond. You know, I can imagine them taking off and never being found again. That bond should have been ten times that.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I 100 percent agree with you, Judge.

Here`s more of what the sheriff said during yesterday`s news conference. Listen to this.


ALUMBAUGH: The children were told at a very young age that if they had bad things happen to them or bad memories, to write them down and to put them in a jar and to bury them, and those bad memories would go away.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Stacy Honowitz, you`re the sex crimes prosecutor. Does that ring a bell, that kind of behavior?

HONOWITZ: Well, sure, Jane. And I think we`re talking about, you`re asking the other guests, you know, did you suspect anything? You know, pedophilia, child rape, these guys could never be pinpointed. That`s why it`s so interesting when people try to profile them. Because the first thing you always hear is "That didn`t look like the type of person and we didn`t know it was going on." Look what happened with Phillip Garrido, you know...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: He looks kind of like Phillip Garrido, this 77-year- old dad.

HONOWITZ: But you can`t look at them and say, "They look creepy. They must be doing it." I mean, pedophilia is secretive. It`s toxic, like you said. It`s secrets among families.

And thankfully, these siblings, if in fact it is siblings, came forward all these years later to talk about what was going on, and hopefully, if in fact, it`s true, they will be convicted and punished for these horrific crimes.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, we will ask again, why it took so long for this to come out. These crimes allegedly stopped 15 years ago.

More on this unthinkable alleged crime spree in just a bit. A very sick family, it`s being alleged. We`re taking your calls on this and toxic family secrets: 1-877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.

Plus, the brutal -- and I mean brutal -- murder of Anne Pressly sparked our coverage of the war on women. Now her killer is headed to jail. But what`s being done to make sure this doesn`t happen again?

But first, five men suspected of doing unthinkable things to young children, their own flesh and blood. So horrific, we can`t even talk about them on TV. Cops now searching for bodies on their property. Neighbors said, "We had no idea."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`ve lived in this neighborhood for years, and he`s been a neighbor for years, and who would ever suspect that? You know? It`s just -- it`s amazing.




ALUMBAUGH: I believe that there is, and I think every investigator here, after seeing the facts, believes that there`s more victims.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you believe there`s more people from a professional`s point of view?

ALUMBAUGH: All training I`ve had, that pedophiles don`t stop with one. They keep going on.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Authorities tonight reaching out to the public, asking anybody with information that could lead to more arrests or more victims. The tip line number is going to be on your screen throughout this segment. Phone lines lighting up on this horror.

Becky, Illinois, your question or thought.

CALLER: Well, I have the question of the -- you know, I wasn`t sure what the bestiality was. But you did answer that. Thank you very much for that.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, it was unfortunately with a dog, allegedly, which is, you know, beyond comprehension. But what are your other thoughts, Becky?

CALLER: Well, I just kind of wanted to share with you, I did have a situation or you know, a sexual abuse type thing going on when I was a child. And I just think that a lot of times people don`t want to believe that that happened. You know, I know when I told my mother or when my sister told my mother, she didn`t believe us. And...


CALLER: Yes. I think it`s just that it`s, you know, that horrible of a thing that people don`t want to believe it. You know what I mean?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: First of all, Becky, thank you for having the courage to speak about that. And, you know, they say you`re only as sick as your secrets. And I think it`s very courageous and healthy of to you speak up and -- and talk about your past without any shame, because it`s certainly not your fault.

Bill Grady, you`re the reporter. I`m not understanding elements of this. There`s four adult men and then the grandfather, 77 years old. Where are the women? Where are the mothers? Where are the females in this picture?

GRADY: And again, Jane, this is one of these situations that the -- the sheriff and all the investigative agencies, including the western Missouri major case squad, rural case squad, have all been very, very good about trying to keep this information under wraps with regard to these people that are giving the statements and making the probable cause statements.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But wasn`t it -- wasn`t there, I read something about the grandmother died, and then the children were going to sleep with the grandfather, and that`s when it started?

GRADY: That`s one of the allegations and one of the probable cause statements. I don`t know if you have copies of them you, but they do get to be very detailed about what happened, what was said. You know, a timeline, and it`s-- it is disturbing, to say the very least.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, the horrific crimes took place 15 years ago. Listen to this.


ALUMBAUGH: Well, time factor always complicates a case, but when memories of this come out from the victims, as you talk about it, as you investigate it, more comes out. We`re still trying to pursue on with these victims to get more information and with suspects to get more information.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Dr. Dale Archer, psychiatrist, a victim who came forward, came forward on behalf of herself and five siblings. She`s now 26. Will investigators have a problem with, oh, arguments of this is false memory, repressed memory issues?

DR. DALE ARCHER, CLINICAL PSYCHIATRIST: No, I really don`t think so, because it`s not only her but, apparently, the rest of them have all stepped forward, as well.

And I think that an issue here that needs to be addressed is that it is very, very hard for a woman to come forward because of what the caller indicated. They often aren`t believed. And then they have to not only face the shame of being abused, but also they somehow feel guilty and responsible, because no one believes them, and they`re left to suffer in silence.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Judge Alex Ferrer...

HONOWITZ: So many times they`re threatened about, you know, pedophilia, it`s such a sickness. And so many times the perpetrator will tell the person, no one`s going to believe you if you tell your mother, if you tell your grandmother or somebody else in the family. And if you do choose to tell somebody, I will kill you. I will hurt you. And I will hurt other members.

And that`s why it`s so important for educators, for parents to talk to their children and to tell them that, if you are being abused, you must come forward without the fear of the threats, or else something like this is going to take place.


HONOWITZ: Someone`s going to live with these horrific crimes for years and years before they come forward.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Judge Alex Ferrer, given that so much time has passed, is that why they`re frantically searching for those bottles, because if they could do a time test on those bottles and confirm that they were put in the ground many years ago, then that would be a confirmation that whatever happened, happened those many years ago?

FERRER: Well, I mean, that will certainly be additional evidence. It`s not necessary. I mean, all crimes don`t require some additional physical evidence to support them.

And for example, you can have sexual battery. That`s not usually a crime that`s committed in front of a stadium of people. So you often have the word of the victim against the defendant.

In this case, you`ve got a lot of apparent either victims or witnesses. The -- the jars is just that much more of a nail in the coffin of these guys. If those are found, it`s going to really corroborate their story.

But we`re not dealing with kids, 10-year-olds, 8-year-olds who are making allegations. Sometimes you get into the problem that -- have they been pushed by the mother or another relative to make these false allegations? These are adults.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We have to leave it right there. Those photos are making me nauseous, just thinking about this.

Thank you, fantastic panel.

Moving on, PETA, at it again, exposes the alleged brutal treatment of lab animals on a college campus. How is this happening in university science labs?

Also beaten and raped to death inside her bedroom. The murder of Anne Pressly sparked our war-on-women coverage. Now the man who killed this beautiful TV anchor headed to prison.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today was justice for Anne, and it`s taken a year to get to it, and nobody`s more grateful than the parents and all of us as friends.



VELEZ-MITCHELL: In the "Spotlight" tonight, another blockbuster undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The PETA operation was conducted at two University of Utah biomedical research labs and ended just last month. During the eight-month covert investigation, PETA says it collected hundreds of hours of video, allegedly capturing miserable conditions and neglect of animals, including monkeys kept constantly thirsty so they would cooperate during experiments just to get a few drops of water. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Water. Depriving water, you`re always going to be motivated to the water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow. That seems kind of sad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s the extreme. It is sad. I don`t like it. And it messes with your ethics and your morals, kind of, in your head, because you`re just like, "You know what? I don`t agree with this."


VELEZ-MITCHELL: We reached out to the University of Utah for comment, have not heard back.

Joining me now Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA.

Ingrid, what did your investigator say she witnessed?

INGRID NEWKIRK, PRESIDENT, PETA: She witnessed so many things, Jane. But these animals just whirling in their cages out of sheer frustration in their tiny boxes, left for days without veterinary care.

A rabbit sitting in the hall for four days with people going past this poor animal and not a drop of water, not a drop of food. Nobody noticed.

We even have little kittens who have chemicals injected into their brains when their mother gave birth to them. This is not something useful.

And of course, monkeys kept in isolation with holes drilled in their heads.

This is the 21st century. And this university needs to be brought to task. It`s a closed shop. And the public isn`t going to buy that anymore. They need to be opened up.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: In response, University of Utah officials released annual inspection reports that say the labs passed USDA inspections. The university insists its labs are in full compliance with government guidelines.

But PETA argues the troubled USDA has nowhere near enough inspectors to do anything more than a cursory check.

Meantime, the University of Utah has reportedly admitted to buying dogs and cats from animal shelters to use in research. Ingrid, tell us about PETA`s charge that these homeless pets -- we`re talking about they were once somebody`s pets -- were used in cruel and invasive experiments.

NEWKIRK: Yes, well at the University of Utah, of course, they can get animals from many of the shelters.

Imagine you go on holiday. You go on vacation, and your dog or your cat gets out of the house, gets to the pound. And when you come back from holiday, that animal has been experimented upon, has had some horrible, invasive surgery.

This has to stop. This is a betrayal of the public trust. It`s a betrayal of the animals. You know, they`re in bad enough shape when they`re lost or they`re unwanted. They don`t need to be cut open in the lab.

There`s a wonderful dog called Remington who ended up in this lab, and a cage card at the pound said, "Can sit, is good with other dogs. A wonderful loving animal." And, of course, they cut him up at the University of Utah.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh, my gosh. So this dog was somebody`s pet and ended up being used in research. That`s what your undercover investigation found out?

NEWKIRK: Yes, it is.

And as for the inspections, of course, they may be inspected once a year. It`s a cursory inspection. It`s usually announced. And then what happens for the 364 other days, no inspector ever sees.

And the public has a right to know. We have a right to protect these dogs and cats. and all the government inspections need to be shaken up.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Thank you so much, Ingrid Newkirk. We must keep an eye on this situation in the labs.

Anne Pressly, a beautiful journalist killed, next.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Justice for Anne Pressly. This beautiful TV anchorwoman was brutally raped and beaten to death while sleeping in her own bed; beaten so badly, nearly every bone in her face was completely shattered. Now her killer is headed to jail but will he face the death penalty. Tonight we`ll talk to those closest to Anne.

Plus, blood boiling new developments in the murder of Somer Thompson. The 7-year-old was abducted and killed while walking home from school. Now her mom says she`s getting hate mail. How is that possible? We`ll talk to her devastated mother`s attorney about the new twist in this investigation and how Somer`s mom believes she`s destined to become a crusader to stop violence against children.

The savage rape and brutal murder of anchorwoman of Anne Pressly is the tragic case that first got our show issues talking about the war on women. Tonight, justice for Anne, Curtis Lavelle Vance found guilty of her murder. Right now as we speak, a jury is deciding whether or not to give him the death penalty.

Prosecutors showed the jury two photos, Anne`s head shot and then a horrifying image of Anne after the beating. The jury agreed the DNA evidence proved Vance was the killer. That he left Anne barely alive.

Her mom found her unconscious, hardly breathing. Anne`s devastated mother spoke to ABC`s "Good Morning America". Listen.


PATTY CANNADY, ANNE PRESSLY`S MOTHER: He came into her bedroom and I found Anne right here and I just could not take in what I was seeing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was pretty bad, was it?

CANNADY: It was very bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And were you able to speak to her?

CANNADY: I said, "Anne, Anne, Anne. Ma`s here. What`s happened?" I said, "Anne who, did this to you?"


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Anne never recovered to answer. She died five days later. A medical expert testified her face was shattered, quote, "like an egg". A nurse testified she had never seen anyone so badly wounded who was still alive.

Vance admitted he battered Anne with a piece of wood he found in her yard. Anne`s mother says she ripped up her family photos because she has no one to give them to now. What a heartbreaking and completely senseless crime.

I know you at home have something to say. Give me a call; 1-877- 586-7297.

Straight out to my expert panel: also joining us, former FBI special agent in charge, Don Clark; and with us on the phone, Melissa Dunbar Gates, Anne`s best friend.

Melissa, thank you so much. I know this has to be unimaginably difficult for you. What is your reaction and the reaction of Anne`s family to this verdict of guilty?

MELISSA DUNBAR GATES, ANNE PRESSLY`S BEST FRIEND (via telephone): It was an absolute huge sigh of relief. I guess I didn`t realize until the verdict came how it feels like I haven`t breathed in a year. And when this verdict came, I felt like I could finally breathe -- it was just a huge relief of tension.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: A lot of people who have never experienced crime don`t really understand why a verdict is a relief and a consolation and brings closure, but when you are a victim of crime, it all makes sense. And when you`re the friend of a victim of crime, it all makes sense. It puts the pieces together, does it not, Melissa?

DUNBAR-GATES: Yes, absolutely. And what happened to Anne was so horrific and so violent, that this man needed to be stopped. And because she fought back and punched him and got his DNA on her left hand, he was caught, arrested, convicted. And now we`re hoping for the maximum penalty tonight.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, they are debating whether or not to give him the death penalty as we speak. Now, the defendant has spoken out on his own behalf. He voices his anger over the conviction.

Listen to this.


CURTIS LAVELLE VANCE, CONVICTED OF ANNE`S PRESSLY`S MURDER: It`s a corrupted system. That`s what it is. You already know.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Corrupted system? Our affiliate KARK is reporting that in the death penalty portion of the trial, going on right now as we speak, the killer`s mother begged for her son`s life. She took the stand and wept trying to shift the blame to herself. She admits she was a crack head and that she abused her son. She said she slammed his head into a brick wall when he was 7 years old.

Melissa, does this in any way sway you?

DUNBAR-GATES: No, it`s sad the way he was raised. It`s sad that his mom said she was addicted to drugs and abused alcohol and saying she abused her kids. That is sad. But Curtis Vance made decisions. He chose to not finish high school. He chose to not get a job. And he chose to murder my friend.

No, nothing that is sad in his childhood makes any of this ok.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: My big issue tonight, no safe zone for women. It seems when there`s a brutal crime against a woman, women are lectured on protecting themselves.

Remember Imette St. Guillen; she was tortured, raped and strangled? She was last seen leaving a Manhattan bar. Women were told after that case don`t drink alcohol and walk home alone. Remember Meredith Emerson; she was murdered while hiking with her on Georgia`s Blood Mountain? Women were warned after that, "You can`t hike alone." But Anne Pressly was in her own home and she was still brutally attacked.

This why I talk about the psychological burqa American women are forced to wear. We are condemned to living in fear because there is no safe zone for women when they can be attacked even in their own home.

You know, we put down our noses at these cultures where women are forced to wear burqas. It is awful. I`ve actually put one on once and I thought I was going to die.

But we have a psychological burqa because there is no place for us to feel safe when a woman is in home, in her home by herself and she is attacked.

So, let me ask this question, Don Clark. Why are we always talking about modifying the behavior of women? Why don`t we talk about modifying the behavior of violent criminals?

DON CLARK, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Jane, I couldn`t agree with you more. And whatever that person just said about corrupt system. Corrupt system or not has nothing to do with that type of behavior that causes people to attack and murder somebody in the ways that these things take place and abuse these women.

Here`s the other thing too is that we also should be proud and happy and try to continue people to enhance the law enforcement capabilities. I mean, with DNA, with scientific efforts, with technology and all of these things. It is enabling the law enforcement community to reach out beyond their borders and take and try to help solve some of these crimes.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You raised DNA. DNA evidence linked Vance to another attack, the rape of a teacher 100 miles away. Kristen Edwards was brutalized in her home in April of 2008.

Here she is on ABC`s 20/20.


KRISTEN EDWARDS, ATTACKED BY CURTIS VANCE: Knowing that the person who attacked me was capable of so much more than did he to me as horrible as what happened to me was that it could have been so much worse.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, here`s the tragedy of this. If they had found the DNA, if they had link this had man to the DNA sooner in that initial rape, this guy might have been behind bars and unable to attack Anne Pressly, Judge Ferrer. That`s why I think the system has to give higher priority to rape cases.

JUDGE ALEX FERRER, HOST OF "JUDGE ALEX": Well, I mean, the reality is that there is such a backlog on DNA that you know, they can barely get the DNA done on murder cases so that they can get it ready for trial. I agree with you. It would be great to have the resources because DNA is the future. It`s the present and future. It is what`s going to convict all these people.

But this guy getting on television and saying it`s a corrupt system, unfortunately the jurors don`t get to see that because that totally plays against the whole picture the defense is making is about oh, poor guy, he was slammed against the wall when he was a child. He`s really the product of that. No, you see him. What he is, is a vicious animal. He raped another woman, he raped and murdered this one.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I don`t want to call him an animal. Animals are not responsible for any of this. As an animal protectionist, I don`t like to associate, demonize animals because of the behavior of human beings. It`s a phrase I hate. I hate that phrase.

FERRER: I`m not talking about a household pet, I`m talking about a vicious animal.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I hate that phrase. I`m just saying Judge, it`s just my thing, ok?

Diane, Minnesota, your question or thought.

DIANE, MINNESOTA (via telephone): Jane, I just wanted to thank you for often addressing the war that -- the attack that`s just being waged on women. I just wonder as a society and community, when do we take a stand and when do we say enough is enough and how do we begin to fight back?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Stacey Honowitz, that`s an excellent point, Diane.

STACEY HONOWITZ, FLORIDA PROSECUTOR: I think that`s a great question. I think you`ve been trying to address that for months now.

Unfortunately, you know, we do all these cases, we sit here and we talk about that you can`t be safe anywhere. And Jane, although you say we try to modify the behavior of women, there is one thing you have to remember. You still do have to try to protect yourself.

I`m not saying you shouldn`t be safe in your own home. You still do have to take precautions because you see what goes on. I think there needs to be longer sentences when we have battery or violent attacks on women. I think women have to know that they have to come to court if something happens to them and not be fearful so that these guys go away.

The reason why they are one of the aggravating factors in seeking the death penalty in this case is the fact that he had that prior vicious attack on the other woman. Hopefully they`ll be able to get it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Thank you fantastic panel.

Up next, the Steve Phillips love saga starts a new chapter. His ex- lover speaking out; she`s saying she`s the victim.

Plus disturbing new developments in the search for Somer Thompson`s killer; we`re going to talk to her mom`s lawyer. The heartbroken woman vows to dedicate her life so this never happens again. And we`re taking your calls, 1-877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.


DIENA THOMPSON, MOTHER OF SOMER THOMPSON: I never thought in my -- in all of my life that I would ever have to -- to do this, be -- even know anybody. I don`t want to see another parent feel empty. I will not sleep until this person is found.



VELEZ-MITCHELL: And let`s meet today`s winner, Joe from Virginia runs a hardwood floor sanding company and at 64, he still does most of that back-breaking work himself. His wife is disabled and he knows, he says he`s got to stay sober to provide for her. He`s going to celebrate 31 years sober tomorrow. Way to go, Joe.

Joe says when he was young, not only did he get a coup DUIs but get this is, got stopped for riding his horse drunk through town. Joe, for sharing your great story -- colorful story of recovery, you`re going to be getting an autographed copy of my new book "I Want" plus a chance to win a trip right here in New York City to visit me on the set of ISSUES.

I don`t know if you can bring your horse, but we`d love to have you.

If you are struggling with addiction or you know somebody who is struggling, check out my new book "I Want" at It just might be able to help.

A little girl kidnapped and murdered on her way home from school: we`re going to talk to her mom`s attorney in a moment.

But first "Top of the Block" tonight: well, add a new chapter to the Steve Phillips sexual affair. The former ESPN sports analyst was fired after he`s caught having an affair with a 22-year-old co-worker. This whole affair really blew up when Brooke Hundley drove to Phillips` house to give his wife a letter giving all the sexual details of their relationship spelled out.

Hundley has been described as obsessed, crazy, jilted but now she`s giving her side of the story, telling ABC`s "Good Morning America" she never stalked Phillips and instead claims, "Hey, I`m the victim here."


BROOKE HUNDLEY, HAD AN AFFAIR WITH STEVE PHILLIPS: I was in a situation where I felt like if I didn`t do what was asked of me, then everything I had worked for, for the past six years, everything I had done to establish myself as a successful media professional could be gone like that.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hundley went on to say Phillips needs to grow up. He is in sex rehab. So, she has to, too, as well. I mean come on, let`s face it, people, she had sex with a married man and she knew it.

This story is such a mess all the way around. They can both claim to be victims but Phillips` wife and kids are the only real victims here. They did absolutely nothing to deserve this spotlight. That is tonight`s "Top of the Block".

Turning now to a mother`s gut-wrenching hunt for her daughter`s killer: Somer Thompson was murdered three weeks ago, her small body dumped in a Georgia landfill. The killer snatched Somer near Jacksonville, Florida as she walked home from school. Tragically her twin brother and sister had been walking with her but Somer ran ahead of them.

Now her devastated mom is not only grieving for Somer but trying to reassure her other kids that it`s not their fault. Of course, it`s not.

Here she is on NBC`s "Today Show".


THOMPSON: Because I don`t know the right words to say. So we pretty much let the counselors handle that. We do talk some, but I never want them to feel any guilt because this is not their fault.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, Diena is on a crusade to keep her daughter`s name in the headlines. She is completely focused on finding her daughter`s killer. She had this message for him.


THOMPSON: I want you to know that I will not sleep until this person is found. I hope they get you. And I hope they make you pay. For a long, long time.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I think we can all agree with that. I want to hear your theories on this case. Give me a call 1-877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.

Back to my fantastic panel: also joining me Diena Thompson`s attorney, Michael Freed.

Michael, thank you so much for joining us. I know that you`re helping this family that is suffering so much and helping to find the killer, as well. What`s the latest on the investigation?

I mean, we`ve been hearing about those construction workers who were at the abandoned house where Somer was last seen. What do you know?

MICHAEL FREED, ATTORNEY FOR DIENA THOMPSON: We know they`re making progress. For obvious reasons, there`s not a lot of detail that`s being offered and that`s painful for Diena and her family but we respect that the Clay County Sheriff`s Office is doing a great job than they need to keep that information close to the vest.

We do know that they`re looking at scientific evidence at this point and sending various information to the labs. And they have not identified, as we understand it, any suspects or even people of interest, but we know that there`s people that they`re looking at and there`s evidence they`re looking at to try to tie some of those people to this horrible crime.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I know this is something you don`t want to focus on, neither do we. We just want to sort of put it to rest once and for all. Unbelievably Diena says she`s been getting hate mail from people who blame her for letting her daughter walk alone. What nonsense.

On the NBC`s "Today Show", she recounted some of these nasty messages.


THOMPSON: Basically I should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for child abuse for letting my children walk. However, in my school district, if you live further or closer than two miles to the school, you have to walk. I live 0.9 miles from the school.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Michael, what is wrong with people? And how is this compounding the suffering that your client is experiencing?

FREED: Yes, well, I mean it, pales in comparison of course to the outpouring of support and love and you know, just support in every way imaginable that`s been there. With that, comes some crazy people and you know, it`s not so different from your last story. There`s just this penchant in the community and in America to occasionally blame the victims.

This is a good family. Diena is a great mother and she`s a single mother whose children walked home from school like a lot of children did, and that certainly doesn`t excuse this horrible crime and doesn`t make Diena in any way responsible.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And she was with an older sibling. How are the siblings coping?

FREED: They`re doing well. Diena`s and her family are doing what they can to make things as normal as they can be. Obviously dealing with not just the loss, but of course, the media and the investigation and the opportunities to be a voice for causes for children; that`s a lot of new stuff for someone that was an anonymous, simple person up until this time.

And so trying to keep things normal and level for the kids is number one priority for Diena and for her parents, who are very helpful and very involved in their life.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I have to say, she has handled this unimaginable situation with utmost courage, utmost grace, everything from the moment -- I mean you cannot even imagine anybody dealing with this. And yet she`s managed to stay strong and speak out and do everything she can to find her daughter`s killer.

Thank you, Michael Freed. We`re going to stay on top of this one. Not letting it go.

FREED: Thank you.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`re going to have more on a mother`s search for a killer right after the break.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... watching this broadcast right now and I don`t want to tell that suspect what we`re doing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I will tell him this, we`re going to come to get him. And we`re going to find who did this and we`re going to bring that person to justice.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let`s pray that he is right. An all out hunt for the killer of little Somer, who was doing nothing except walking home from school when her life was taken from her and her family`s life shattered.

Phone lines lighting up. Mary Jane, New Hampshire your question or thought, ma`am?

MARY JANE, NEW HAMPSHIRE (via telephone): Yes. I was wondering if they`re checking all possibilities, like are they looking into -- besides looking for sex offenders. Are they looking for like somebody that she knew that`s close or a neighbor or anybody in the area that lives around the area?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Stacey Honowitz, it would seem that it`s just like searching for a needle in the hay stack, the possibilities. Where do you begin?

HONOWITZ: Well, listen, I`m not privy to anything that`s going on in the investigation but I can tell you in a missing child case, or, for that matter any crime, they are taking any lead that they have and going on it. And it means talking to neighbors, talking to friends, talking to the construction workers, anybody that might have any pertinent information.

It is like a needle in a haystack, but very often, you find that little chip and you`re able to go on. So hopefully, as this caller asked they are investigating every possible person, any possible contact that this child might have had with anybody out there.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now we`re also wondering if Somer`s murderer had killed before. John Walsh, the host of "America`s Most Wanted" thinks there could be a link to a string of kidnappings years ago. Jacksonville, the site of those cold cases Walsh referred to, is about seven miles from Orange Park, where Somer was kidnapped. Police say they`ve interviewed nearly 100 sex offenders in the area but have no leads.

Judge Ferrer, what do you think of the theory that the murder maybe somebody who killed years ago and is starting back up again?

FERRER: I think it`s a very solid theory and I respect John Walsh to no end. I think he`s absolutely right. People don`t usually step up to you plate in their major leagues for their first kidnapping/murder of a child. They usually build from other events and they usually get away with it and then it emboldens them and then they go out and try it again.

There`s also the strength and the possibility, that it`s a -- somebody who knew the child because it`d make it a lot easier to get the child into the car in that way but I am sure the police are all over both of those.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You know I have to say every time I cover a case like this and we always talk about, well, there`s not enough money for funding on a prevention side. It just blows my mind. I mean Stacey Honowitz, if we had more cameras, we would solve half of these cases right off the bat because we could say, ok, a vehicle was in that area at that time and we know how many vehicles left that area.

And I think the time has come to really just saturate the country with cameras because we would solve half of these crimes.

HONOWITZ: Well, you make a fabulous argument. We argued this a couple of weeks ago with the issue that happened at the school dance when the girl was gang raped and these girls had lobbied the school to have cameras there so we could see what was going on. And until you do these types of shows like you`re doing every single night and get these cases on the news, because we just cover a couple of main -- big media cases.

There are cases every single day. Missing children where they`re looking for people. And you`re right, if we the funding, if we had the equipment, then certainly cameras being out there would lead the investigators without it being a needle a haystack. They`d have a place to start. So putting money into prevention is really imperative at this point.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Got to leave it right there. Let`s put some money into the prevention as opposed to after the fact.

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