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ISSUES WITH JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL

American on Trial in Italy for Murder

Aired November 23, 2009 - 19:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, will an American beauty spend the rest of her life in an Italian prison? In Seattle, her desperate parents endure a nail-biting climax to an eight-month-long trial. The world knows her as Foxy Knoxy. Italian prosecutors paint a picture of a narcissistic, manipulative degenerate who played a deadly sex game on her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Her outraged parents call it complete fiction. You`ll hear Amanda Knox herself speak out.

And is this the face of a cold-blooded killer? A 16-year-old boy with a baby face allegedly fired half a dozen shots into a crowded Bronx street, injuring two people. Now an innocent 15-year-old girl, caught in the crossfire, lays in a near coma, fighting for her life, but the young alleged shooter, who is in a leadership academy, was handed the gun by four thugs. Is he to blame or is he just another young victim of a culture dripping in violence?

Plus, she`s a pop star princess who became a punching bag. Rihanna stood in the spotlight last night with a jaw-dropping controversial performance at the AMAs. Did her gun-toting backup singers show empowerment for women, or is all this gun imagery just adding to the problem? Is Rihanna fighting violence with symbols of violence?

ISSUES starts now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, a young Seattle woman jailed on murder charges in Italy faces the possibility she will never come home again. This weekend, prosecutors in the town of Perugia delivered their explosive closing arguments. The prosecutor wants a life sentence for 22-year-old American Amanda Knox, dubbed Foxy Knoxy by the European press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking Italian)

GRAPHIC: We ask for life sentence and daily isolation for nine months for Amanda Knox.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Prosecutors say Knox and her Italian boyfriend murdered Amanda`s 21-year-old British roommate, Meredith Kercher, during a drug-fueled sex game. Prosecutors claim Amanda`s boyfriend held Meredith by her shoulders while Amanda taunted her with a knife.

There is a third character in this picture, Rudy Guede. Italian police say Rudy tried to sexually assault Meredith. He has already been convicted. He is now appealing. Now, that could spell trouble for Amanda Knox. I will explain in a bit.

Meantime, prosecutors insist Amanda is the one who stabbed Meredith in the throat, delivering the deadly blow. Meredith`s body was found semi- naked in a pool of blood in the apartment the two women shared.

Amanda tried to defend herself in court this weekend, speaking out, which is allowed in the Italian system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANDA KNOX, ACCUSED OF MURDER: (speaking Italian)

GRAPHIC: Meredith was my friend and I didn`t hate her. The idea of revenge against a person who has always been good to me is absurd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: She`s been in jail so long, her Italian has gotten quite good, as you just heard there.

As for Amanda`s parents, they are outraged. They say this case is a complete fiction. They say they do not recognize the woman prosecutors describe. They`re portraying Amanda as murderous, manipulative, a liar who engaged in sexual torture. And the family detests the nickname Foxy Knoxy.

So where the heck did the cops cook up this twisted tale of sex games? Could it be true? And what is up with the Italian justice system? Oh, my gosh, why are they holding court on the weekends? Is Amanda`s trial taking place in cuckoo crazy court?

I want to know what you think. Give me a holler: 1-877-586-7297.

Straight out to my fantastic expert panel: Bradford Cohen, criminal defense attorney and president-elect of the Broward County Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. Well, congratulations, Brad. Way to go there.

Tom Ruskin, former NYPD investigator and president of CMT Protective and Investigative Group. Robi Ludwig, psychotherapist. We need you tonight, Robi. John Q. Kelly, criminal defense attorney, former prosecutor and a good friend of the Knox family. His insight is crucial.

And we begin with Travis Mayfield, reporter with Cuomo news radio.

Travis, you`ve been tracking this case. What is the very latest?

TRAVIS MAYFIELD, REPORTER, CUOMO NEWS RADIO: Jane, you called it explosive this weekend, and it absolutely was. From all the reports that we`re getting in that courtroom in Perugia, closing arguments this weekend delivered by the prosecutor.

The prosecution has been laying out their case for weeks, for months, basically, giving details, trying to be as intricate as they possibly could be, laying out how they believe that Amanda Knox killed her roommate, Meredith Kercher, along with her ex-boyfriend. And we`ve been hearing the bits and pieces and the evidence they say they have.

This weekend, they strung it all together and, really controversially, they actually showed animation of almost cartoon-like characters that represented Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox, they say committing the crime.

So this animation actually walked the jury through what the prosecution said their case was all along. This animation showed the crime being committed, showed Meredith and -- or excuse me, Amanda and her boyfriend coming back to the scene of the crime, cleaning it all up, staging it.

And even more controversial than all of that, the prosecution wove into this animation these crime scene photographs, making it that much more real for the jury and the judges who were watching it.

But just getting this animation introduced into court, that was controversial in and of itself. In fact, the jury deliberated up to three times whether or not they were even going to watch this. And Amanda, we`re told, could not watch it as it was happening in the courtroom, looked away the entire time.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right.

MAYFIELD: And then when it was over, just spontaneously said, "This is fantasy."

John Q. Kelly...

JOHN Q. KELLY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: The prosecution in this case has faced a slew of charges. We`re going to get into it. That they are basically out to get this young woman and that a lot of what they`re saying to the jury is psychobabble and is stuff that they have absolutely no proof of.

I mean, where do they get the proof that there was a sex game? Because Amanda and Raffael, her ex-boyfriend, deny it. Rudy Guede, who is already convicted, he doesn`t say anything about a sex game. And those are the only people who were allegedly there, so how do prosecutors know that there was a sex game going on?

KELLY: It is pure fiction, Jane. You have a team of prosecutors over there that have tunnel vision. They have this obsessive, single-minded purpose of convicting Amanda at all costs. They jumped the gun. They knew in the days after the murder they had all kinds of physical evidence, forensic evidence, but they didn`t want to wait for the results of that. They looked at Amanda. She was right there. They didn`t like the way she was acting, and she was the fall person.

They grilled her for over 40 hours. The last 15 hours straight, and the last four and a half hours after she had asked for a lawyer, even. And the only thing she said was that she was given hypotheticals.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes.

KELLY: They knew that Meredith had Negroid hairs in her hands and they say what if a black man had been there? Who could that have been? What would you have done if you had been there?

"I would have covered my ears. I wouldn`t have wanted to hear the screams of horror."

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes.

KELLY: No confession, nothing.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me jump in, because in June, Amanda Knox testified that, actually, during her interrogation, she was bullied by a female police officer who physically whacked her on the head. Look at this carefully.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

A. KNOX: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: So she says she`s been intimidated.

Now, Knox said cops were questioning her for hours, and as you mentioned, John, asked her to imagine what might have happened so they`d have something to go on.

But what about the physical evidence? Let`s talk about the alleged murder weapon, a kitchen knife that belonged to Amanda`s boyfriend, Raffael. That was found at Raffael`s apartment after the murder. Now, remember, the murder took place at Amanda`s apartment. The knife had Amanda`s DNA on the handle, the victim`s DNA on the blade. Raffael`s DNA was also found on Meredith`s bra clasps.

John, is this -- is this hard evidence against them? Is this a smoking gun?

KELLY: No. It`s absurd. First of all, the DNA is cell DNA. It`s not blood DNA. There`s no blood DNA found on that knife anywhere. Amanda had used that knife, you know, a dozen times in Raffael`s kitchen, preparing meals and things like that.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, how do you get Meredith`s DNA, though?

KELLY: It`s cell DNA. It`s not blood DNA. They claim there are a couple cells there. They used it to test it. The density wasn`t even enough to make a consistent finding that was definitive, and they kept none for verification. They kept none for the defense to test.

So lo and behold, there`s one knife that they picked out of Raffael`s apartment, turns out to supposedly be the murder weapon. But the murder weapon, we know, is a three-and-a-half-inch blade, and this is a six-and-a- half-inch blade. There`s no correlation between the two.

They picked out this one knife. They put it in a shoe box, Jane, and sent it to Rome. There`s no chain of custody issues here, because they don`t keep track of it. They don`t require it. There are no evidentiary rules in Italy. This was so subject to contamination that it`s not even funny, and it`s not consistent with the wounds. It`s not consistent with the knife or weapon used.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, you know, that`s just...

KELLY: Absolutely meaningless.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: That is just one example of why a lot of people are saying this is a total kangaroo court. There are problems with the prosecutor. They go on vacation for weeks at a time in the middle of testimony. They have closing arguments on the weekend.

I mean, a lot of people are saying that -- what is up with the Italian criminal justice system. And I`ll throw it to criminal defense attorney Brad -- Bradford Cohen.

BRADFORD COHEN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. I mean, it really is shocking. When my clients come to me and complain that the U.S. system is broken, I always point to other countries, and Italy is one of them.

No evidentiary rules. The other lawyer is absolutely correct. The way they`re conducting this trial is quite shocking to anyone that doesn`t know how Italy conducts their trials, and this is how it`s done. Although the prosecutors in this case are so far off and so hunting, in my opinion, hunting the witch down here, that they think she did it. They`re off the board.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: The whole thing looks confusing. If you look at the videotape right there, everybody`s walking around, looks like a nightclub. Doesn`t look like a court of law.

COHEN: That`s how they do it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. More on the twists and turns in the Amanda Knox murder case in just a bit.

And we`re taking your phone calls on this. What do you think? You think she did it or not: 1-877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.

Then, coming up, a really terrible story of a 15-year-old girl caught in the crossfire. Prosecutors say the bullet was meant for somebody else: a 19-year-old gangster.

But here`s the -- look at that baby face. That`s the alleged gunman, the baby-faced shooter. That`s what they`re calling him. He`s a child. Is it his fault? We`re going to talk about that in a second.

But next, the final face-off as prosecutors wrap up their closing arguments in an attempt to lock up Amanda Knox for life. And her family says they`re not going down without a fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

A. KNOX: (speaking Italian)

GRAPHIC: And I don`t hate her. The idea of revenge against a person who has always been good to me is absurd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MELLAS, STEPDAUGHTER ON TRIAL FOR MURDER: It was an amazing tale. It was very detailed, but it was a bunch of little pieces of, you know, the investigation that were then kind of glued together with pure conjecture and fantasy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Amanda Knox`s stepdad in Italy for closing arguments, commenting on the substance of the prosecution`s case.

Meantime, Amanda`s father spoke out to "The Early Show" on CBS about the possibility of a conviction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CURT KNOX, DAUGHTER ON TRIAL FOR MURDER: I think you have to prepare yourself for all of the different aspects that could happen here, but you know, it`s very simple. It`s a very simple case when you look what`s taken place inside the court, and hopefully, we`ll see the right outcome and we`ll get to bring her home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Amanda`s parents remain hopeful. They say they`ve already bought a plane ticket for her home. But who knows if they`ll get to use it, with this crazy court system going on.

Phone lines lighting up.

Contessa, North Carolina, your question or thought, ma`am?

CALLER: Hi, Jane. How are you?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Good.

CALLER: Just wanted to let you know I love you and you`re a great role model for sobriety. Good job keeping your word.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Thank you. Thank you so much.

CALLER: My comment is, Jane, has anyone been watching how the other guy, the African-American guy, can`t remember his name, but how quickly and swiftly he was convicted, and then now, with the trial lingering on, he`s now automatically seeking some kind of appeal, when she`s either going to get convicted or not guilty? What do you think, Jane?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I have to say, I think there`s a lot of irregularities with how all this is being conducted.

For example, Robi Ludwig, psychotherapist, when I was hearing and reading what the lead prosecutor was saying about Amanda Knox, it sounds like psychobabble that you would have at a cocktail party. Oh, he`s calling her narcissistic and manipulative and saying, oh, she`s angry and she resents the -- she resented the prissy British student who thought she was sloppy and too easy with the boys.

I mean, this is cocktail party conversation. This is not what you use to convict a young woman.

ROBI LUDWIG, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: It`s true. And also, is he the shrink? You know, there`s a difference between a prosecutor and a trained psychologist who would test for these things. But even more than that, I think what we`re seeing is a little bit of xenophobia, which is a fear against a foreigner.

And I think that is an element and a component that is playing here at work. And when I hear everybody talk about this case, it`s almost like a soap opera. It seems like it is Italians` new live reality TV drama, and they`ve inserted a lot of fantasy to jazz it up, make it exciting, and perhaps they believe what they`re saying, but it doesn`t remotely sound like it`s connected to the truth.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It`s very, very scary. It certainly helps them when they have a very attractive defendant and the boyfriend, the co-defendant, is also good-looking. So that adds to the whole sort of salaciousness of it.

Now, prosecutors in the Amanda Knox murder trial say the young American exchange student should be locked up in Italy for the rest of her life. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking Italian)

GRAPHIC: The penalty is absolutely proportioned to the gravity of the committed crimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: That statement was made by one of the prosecutors. And so coming up, we`re going to talk about tonight`s big issue. Is Amanda being tried in crazy court?

Remember, this case has dragged on for two long years, as we`ve discussed, long vacations interrupting the trial. They go on vacation. Then they come back. How is the jury supposed to remember anything?

Plus, in a very bizarre twist, a book comes into play. It`s called "The Monster of Florence." It recounts the horrific murders of seven couples killed while making love in the Tuscan hills in the `70s and the `80s. Amanda`s prosecutor is being investigated for allegedly abusing his power during the investigation of those grisly murders. So we`re going to get into that, because the author of that book says this prosecutor is completely and totally out to lunch. So in a moment, we will discuss that.

And when we come back, you will find out why the family says -- OK. Now, that`s interesting. My producer just said, "Keep talking, Jane." We`ve got an extra 30 seconds.

So John Q. Kelly, tell us in 30 seconds about this "Monster of Florence."

KELLY: About the -- this book of another series of murders that Magnini (ph), the chief prosecutor of Amanda Knox also just, you know, he pursued a satanic type theory. There were people who were arrested, spent years in jail, and were cleared even after they died.

This author was writing a book about it. He was even picked up, interrogated, you know, had the hell scared out of him, was chased out of the country or threatened with arrest by Magnini (ph). Let me point out one other thing, Jane. Keep talking.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hang in there. Yes, yes. Wait a second. We`re now going to the break.

When we come back, cops say this baby-faced teen fired half a dozen shots into a crowd in an attempt to kill for revenge. But he`s just a baby. We`ll examine.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The information that`s being reported out there is that there was Amanda`s bloody fingerprint in the bathroom. That is completely false. There is no evidence of Amanda there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: That was Amanda`s aunt, appearing on ISSUES almost a year ago. Amanda`s jury is not sequestered. Her family has a real concern that the jury is being tainted by massive negative publicity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

C. KNOX: That`s one of the differences between the systems is the jurors and the judges are not sequestered so you`re always very anxious about any statements and any misreporting that may have taken place over the last couple of years, having an impact on the decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Phone lines again lighting up.

Kenny, Pennsylvania, your question or thought, sir?

CALLER: Yes. I just would like to say that, just because over in Italy and the other European countries structure their court system different than ours, that doesn`t make it -- I don`t think we should condemn that.

I mean, look at -- look at our dysfunctional court system, where the judge is letting perverts and all these people off easy and that. And we got more prisoners than any country in the world. So I`m (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I`m not saying that. But just because they`re structured different, look at England`s parliament, how they holler out. We`re too quick to judge these people. I`m not sticking up for (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I hear you. I hear you.

Well, Tom Ruskin, let me ask you this. How did they come up with this sex game theory? I would assume that they would have to have some DNA from either Rudy, who`s already been convicted, or Raffael, who`s accused of murder, that they had sex with her. Do they have that?

TOM RUSKIN, FORMER NYPD INVESTIGATOR: It doesn`t appear that they have it. If they have it, it hasn`t come out and it hasn`t come out in the prosecution`s closing arguments this past weekend, as you said. There`s very little here.

I don`t believe that this case would have been brought forth in the United States, and if so, evidence that has been presented there would have been excluded here. I think that this is bordering on prosecutorial misconduct.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Bordering? I think it crossed the border. I mean...

RUSKIN: Way crosses the border.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I got to say that the author of that book, "The Monster of Florence," one of the authors said this, Robi Ludwig. Quote, "He," meaning the prosecutor, "decides right up front with almost no evidence, based on his gut feeling or intuition, that you`re guilty and then sets out to prove it."

Now, why don`t we psychoanalyze this prosecutor a little bit?

LUDWIG: Well, that sounds like narcissism to me, a little bit of grandiosity. I mean, who is he to decide what is and what isn`t? I mean, that sounds bizarre, and it does sound entitled and scary.

I mean, it is scary when someone is in a position of power and somehow misuses it in a very major way, where it affects the lives of other people. I mean, that is not what you`re supposed to do when you are a professional.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You know, I have to say, John, when I read that he came under fire for doing a similar thing while investigating serial killers, turning around and blaming the authors of the book on it, and one of them`s American, I`m starting to think this is -- this prosecutor just hated Americans.

KELLY: Jane, this is a prosecutor who, for over two years, had this fantasy of a drug-fueled sex game, sexual assault murder. And then after a year of presenting his evidence to prove this, all of a sudden stands up at the end of the prosecution case and claims that Amanda just didn`t like her. They argued, about the cleanliness of the kitchen and the bathroom. And she killed her just to teach her not to be a wimp. That there was...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`ve got to leave it right there. We`re going to stay on top of this.

Next, the baby-faced alleged killer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Is this the face of a cold-blooded killer? A 16-year-old boy with a baby face allegedly fired half a dozen shots into a crowded Bronx street, injuring two people. Now an innocent 15-year-old girl caught in the crossfire lays in a near coma fighting for her life but the young alleged shooter, who is in a leadership academy, was handed the gun by four thugs. Is he to blame or is he just another young victim of a culture dripping in violence?

Plus, she`s a pop star princess who became a punching bag. Rihanna stood in the spotlight last night with a jaw-dropping controversial performance at the AMAs. Did her gun-toting backup singers show empowerment for women or is all this gun imagery just adding to the problem? Is Rihanna fighting violence with symbols of violence?

Tonight, a 15-year-old girl fights for her life; a bullet wound in her brain. The alleged shooter: a baby-faced 16-year-old from the Bronx. How did this child, look at him, he`s a little boy, end up accused of attempted murder?

Look no further than his own family. Police say Carvette Gentles has been molded into a gangster by his own relatives. They`re members of a Bronx gang called Gorilla Stone Blood. What a name.

Their intended target was reportedly 19-year-old Tyrone Creighton (ph). Police say these gang-bangers shoved a gun in young Carvette`s hand and demanded the boy shoot Creighton. Carvette allegedly then fired off several shots, one bullet hits Creighton in the shoulder, another, however, lodged in Vada Vasquez`s brain as she was simply walking home from school, doesn`t know any of the participants.

The police commissioner says there`s no question as to why the older suspect shoved the gun into the hands of the 16-year-old boy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY -- NEW YORK POLICE DEPT: Carvette Gentles, you know, because he has no criminal record but there was -- they were acting in concert.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: The prosecutor says the boy admits he was the trigger man but the gun was literally shoved into this child`s hands. Can you really hold him accountable and lock up a 16-year-old boy?

He was born into a family of convicted criminals. Were the odds stacked against him at birth?

I want to welcome back defense attorney Bradford Cohen. Also joining me, we`re delighted to have Bryan Monroe visiting professor at Northwestern University`s Madill School of Journalism, as well as prosecutor Stacey Honowitz and Rich Shapiro, reporter for "The New York Daily News."

Rich, here`s the headline from your paper from last week. There it is. It says "Gunman with a Baby Face", and when you look at the video of this boy, he looks like a child; somebody who needs a babysitter if he`s left home alone. What is the very latest? Rich?

RICH SHAPIRO, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, the stray bullet victim, Vada Vasquez, she is still at Lincoln Hospital and she`s in critical but stable condition. I was told just a couple of hours ago that she is essentially out of her coma and she is recognizing family members. So that`s a very, very good sign for her and her family.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. Well, let`s pray that she survives. Three of the four suspects in the shooting are young Carvette`s own relatives.

Let`s take a look at this dysfunctional family tree. We`re talking about an 18-year-old Rohan Francis, Carvette`s uncle; 20-year-old Cleve Smith and 19-year-old Clivie Smith, who are brothers, they`re Carvette`s cousins.

Previously, Francis was charged with drug and weapon possession. The results of those cases are sealed because he was a juvie. Clivie Smith was charged with gun possession in 2007 but the case was dismissed. He`s still awaiting trial for assault and weapons possessions. Brother Cleve is awaiting trial for assault, resisting arrest and harassment. The judge released him on his own recognizance. Then there`s 23-year-old Dwayne Taylor, he pleaded guilty to a 3rd degree weapons charge and was sentenced to one year.

Because of their records, cops say each of these thugs was determined to let little Carvette take the fall.

I got to say a couple things. Bryan Monroe, one, there`s a lot of evidence that these older thugs shouldn`t have been out; one has 14 arrests, one has nine arrests, one has six arrests, one has five arrests. Carvette has no prior arrests and he was actually attending a leadership academy.

And yet, he`s there with his uncle and his cousins and they shove a gun in his hand. How is it possible that we could hold this child responsible? I don`t get it.

BRYAN MONROE, VISITING PROFESSOR, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, he is a sad product of those streets, and you know, his mother was talking, his mother was broken-hearted about her son being involved in this and said that up until about July, he was a good kid. He got caught up in this and she said the streets swallowed him up.

And you know, if these allegations are true and that he was the trigger man in this, there is a young lady, Vada Vazquez, who`s laying in the hospital just coming out of a coma, who will pay this price for the rest of her life if she makes it through. And we`re all praying for her.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But I got to tell you, Stacey Honowitz, the boy`s mother, Carvette`s mother, may be guilty of naivete because she is reportedly furious with relatives who influenced this boy. And friends say she thought the older cousins would have kept him in better hands.

What is she thinking when the older cousins have a rap sheet a mile long? Of course they`re not -- they`re gang-bangers.

STACY HONOWITZ, FLORIDA PROSECUTOR: Well, you know, of course now that her child is in trouble, it`s very easy to say that. "I thought that they would be a good influence on him".

But you know, we discussed on your show so many times, so many of these young defendants committing violent, horrific acts, and I`m sure his attorney will plead duress at some point, when he goes to trial, that he was forced into doing this, but certainly, 16 years old and he`s responsible for his own actions. We do have to remember the girl that`s fighting for her life right now.

So is he too young to be doing this, is he too young to be prosecuted? I don`t care if he has a baby face or looks like he`s 96 years old; he needs to take responsibility for the actions that he committed.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I got to say with all due respect, Stacey Honowitz, I cannot agree with you.

This is a gang, okay, it`s called Gorilla Stone Blood, and three of his older relatives are allegedly members of this gang that`s affiliated with the Bloods and known to terrorize local residents and merchants. And they take him there and they put the gun in his hand. Now...

BRADFORD COHEN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Jane, I agree with you. I agree with you on this.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Go ahead.

COHEN: It`s almost like "Lord of the Flies" where you have three older boys, they`re pressing him, they`re telling him what to do, allegedly. They`re giving him the gun, handing it to him. What is he to do?

I`m not saying that what was done by any stretch of the imagination was correct, but you have to look at the influence that was there on this child. You have to look at what happened. His upbringing; that he`s socializing with these other kids that are 18 and 20 that are allegedly in gangs...

HONOWITZ: That`s exactly right Brad. He chose to socialize with these other kids.

COHEN: Come on, Stacey. You don`t know what it`s like in the Bronx.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wait a second. Guys, hold on. I want to go back to Rich Shapiro because this young boy had a problem with his mother`s new husband, and his dad is in Jamaica. So he went and stayed with the cousins because he was having problems at home. Is that correct?

SHAPIRO: That`s right. Apparently he did not get along with his stepfather. They got into numerous fights over the past few months. And he ended up essentially moving out of his home, we`re told; moving in with these cousins of his. And it was those very cousins, in addition to his uncle, who were with him this time one week ago, who ended up giving him a gun and he then fired those shots down a busy street.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Bryan Monroe, here`s my big issue. Should his mom be prosecuted? This suspect is a baby. How can he be expected to make the right choices?

Anybody stuck in this situation, born into a family of gang- bangers and then basically goes to live with the gang-bangers, of course, this is going to happen. This is like being born into the Mafia or something.

MONROE: Well, I think it`s as important to note that he didn`t have a strong father in his life. He didn`t have a strong male presence, you know. He got in arguments with the stepfather, moved out, went to live with these cousins. But it illustrates the bigger problem and that is that if you`re young, male, particularly, living in America, and especially 10 to 24, you are more likely to die on the streets of America than if you were in Baghdad, in the army or in the service.

It`s sad. It is absolutely sad.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We got to do something about this. That child, I have to maintain, is as much a victim. His life is going to be destroyed if he ends up doing all that time in prison.

I mean, that`s another tragedy of mind-boggling proportions and our thoughts go out to those who were shot by him and this young woman who is fighting her way out of a coma.

Thank you panel.

A well-known sports reporter is the victim of an alleged peeping pervert. We`re going to have the very latest on the Erin Andrews case. You won`t believe this twist.

Also, Rihanna back and she`s brought an army of big guns with her, literally. Was her American Music Awards performance a shot of girl power or is she part of the problem?

Are you as outraged over this as I am? Give me a call after you look at the video. 1-877-586-7297.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I want to thank all of you who sent in your wonderful stories about overcoming addiction. We have read thousands of your entries and picked 16 weekly winners who all got an autographed copy of my new book "I Want".

And tonight, I`m excited to announce our first grand prize winner. Congratulations, Lisa from Atlanta, Georgia. Take a look at her here. This is Lisa in the `80s. She`s really parting it up.

Not long after this party pic was taken, Lisa went into work with booze on her breath -- and guess what -- her boss called her on it. It was then that she realized she had a problem and she found the strength to quit.

Now 23 years later, look, that`s what sobriety looks like. She is still drug and alcohol-free and looking fabulous, I might say. Lisa used what she learned on her path to create a program called Teens Talk Truth to help kids stay sober and healthy, too.

Lisa has won an all expenses paid trip to New York City to meet me right here on the set of ISSUES. You can see all of our weekly winners at cnn.com/jane.

And if you`re struggling with addiction or know somebody who is, you can also check out my new book "I Want" on cnn.com/jane. It could help you.

And congratulations to everybody who sent in their stories; you`re all winners because you`re all sober. That`s what counts.

All right.

Rihanna shocks at the American Music Awards. You will not believe what her backup dancer were armed with, but first, tonight`s "Top of the Block."

A gorgeous ESPN anchor violated. Erin Andrews thought she was in the privacy of her hotel room. She had no idea some sicko was secretly videotaping her naked through the peephole.

Erin told Oprah she was horrified when she saw herself on the Internet. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN ANDREWS, ESPN ANCHOR: I kept screaming I`m done, my career is over, I`m done. And get it off, get it off the Internet, get it off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Today, the peeping tom accused of violating Erin pleaded not guilty. Michael David Barrett, free on $100,000 bond. Take a look at him there. Get in that car before anybody takes a photograph of you, the way you took allegedly a photograph of somebody else. No, not even.

Barrett allegedly shot multiple secret videos of Erin in hotels in three different states. He allegedly posted the footage of her naked on the Web after unsuccessfully trying to sell it to the tabloids.

Investigators say Barrett specifically requested to check into rooms next to the ESPN star and apparently, they let him do it. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

And that is tonight`s "Top of the Block."

Well, the princess of pop is back. Rihanna wowed at the American music awards. Her first awards show performance since she was brutally beaten by Chris Brown.

But Rihanna`s daring outfit wasn`t the only thing raising eyebrows. She was flanked by gun-toting, pistol-packing female backup dancer. Take a look at this clip from ABC`s American Music Awards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(RIHANNA PERFORMING AT THE AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Ok. What are they wearing on their heads also? Like some kind of boxes there.

The entire performance had a firearm theme. Even Rihanna was packing heat from her rifle-esque microphone stand to this pistol bracelet she was sporting. It`s right there in the circle. See it there?

Is she trying to send some kind of message of female empowerment?

Last year, Rihanna went from pop star who had everything to the poster child for domestic violence. This was the face of a victim, but after months of silence, Rihanna opened up on ABC`s "20/20". She insists she`s not the victim anymore.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RIHANNA, SINGER: I`ll say that to any young girl who`s going through domestic violence. Don`t react off of love. "F" love.

Come out of the situation and look at it third person, and for what it really is, and then make your decision, because love is so blind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Don`t give up on true love, Rihanna. The "Los Angeles Times" reviews Rihanna`s new album, aptly named "Rated R." They say there are images of violence all over the place. We`re talking guns, grenades, girl gangs, crashing cars, smashed bodies. Is Rihanna trying to symbolize that she`s fighting back, or is she glamorizing guns and violence? What`s the right way to do this?

Straight out to my fabulous expert panel: also joining me tonight, senior editor of "In Touch Weekly" Kim Serafin. Kim, is violence a theme in Rihanna`s performances, in her album, in her music? Tell us about it.

KIM SERAFIN, SENIOR EDITOR, IN TOUCH WEEKLY: You know, look, you look at that performance from last night`s AMas and you see someone that has grown. I think if she had gotten out there and sang "Umbrella" or sang some catchy pop tune with some vapid lyrics, people would have been criticizing her. They would have been saying, "Did she not learn anything from this experience, did she not grow over the past nine months?"

I think what you saw is that she took what had happened to her. She even said that she worked with her collaborators on writing a lot of the songs, put in the album everything that she wanted to say over the past eight months, and put it out there.

This is definitely a more adult Rihanna; a harder-edged Rihanna. But this is the new Rihanna. I think it is definitely empowering.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I don`t know if I agree with you. I think there may be a problem with this machismo on the part of Rihanna. She`s sort of playing the part of a female warrior.

But in my opinion, women have to stop adopting male values like machismo and gun violence and start adding female values into the equation, like nurturing and compassion and yes, real love.

This isn`t the first time Rihanna has used guns to send a message. Just weeks after she was attacked by then boyfriend Chris Brown, Rihanna got -- take a look at this, a gun tattoo. Her tattoo artist appropriately named Bang-bang, tells "Us" magazine the ink symbolizes power and protection but Robi Ludwig.

First of all, she could have a gun fetish but I also feel she could be part of the problem by emphasizing weapons of violence. I`m all for female empowerment but is this the way to go?

ROBI LUDWIG, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: You know it sounds like an over- compensation. If you actually feel like a strong woman, you don`t need to carry around lots of guns to say, "I`m a strong and empowered woman."

But it also seems like she wants to protect herself...

HONOWITZ: Hello, I lost my feed...

LUDWIG: And she`s sending the message...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hold on. Somebody`s saying and jumping in. Who`s jumping in? Oh, ok. Keep going. You know I`m just hearing voices in my ear. Sometimes that happens.

LUDWIG: Yes.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`m going to go see you for some therapy, Robi Ludwig, psychotherapist. Keep going.

LUWIG: That happens when I talk to people all the time.

But I was just going to say that you know I think she`s sending the message, "Don`t mess with me. I`m a stronger woman than you think I am." And I think she`s trying to send a very different image than the image that was really splattered across the tabloids and television about a year ago, where we saw her all beaten up and looking vulnerable.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I understand that. And I applaud empowerment. I`m just concerned about the guns. Guns kill. Guns maim. That`s what they do. More reaction in a moment.

What do you think?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS BROWN, POP STAR: As many of you know, I grew up in a home where there was domestic violence. And I saw firsthand what uncontrolled rage could do. And I saw it and I`m continuing to seek help to ensure that what occurred in February can never happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: That was pop star Chris Brown publicly apologizing to Rihanna through YouTube. Now she`s sending her own message. "Don`t mess with me."

Her performance last night, the backup singers with big guns. My big issue tonight, is Rihanna glamorizing violence? Even though she is the victim here. By using this gun imagery, is she feeling -- is she feeding into the vicious cycle, violence spawning more violence?

Bryan Monroe.

MONROE: You know, it`s interesting that she used those images of, what, shotguns behind her with the choreographers. I think she`s working through something on the stage of the American Music Awards last night.

But you know, she`s young and I remember -- a lot of us were young. We made bad decisions. She was a victim of a violent crime. But in this situation it should have taken some adult supervision, quite frankly, to stop that performance and the use of those weapons.

You know, we talked in the earlier segment how weapons and guns in our culture are really killing children.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes.

MONROE: And its images like that.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes.

MONROE: Its images like that that help perpetuate...

HONOWITZ: Everyone, she`s a role model...

MONROE: ... the acceptance of guns in our culture. I just think it`s gone too far. It really has.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Absolutely. Stacey Honowitz, I couldn`t agree with Bryan more. This is the kind of image they want...

HONOWITZ: I can`t believe...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Go ahead.

HONOWITZ: Yes, I mean I`m sorry. And I screamed before because I thought you were talking to me and I couldn`t hear. So I apologize.

Jane, listen, I can`t believe that the first guest -- I respect her and I appreciate it. But I can`t believe you`d make a comment to say that people would have thought she was a wimp if she came out and she just sang a lullaby instead of coming out and talking about domestic violence.

She is a role model for young girls. I have young girls that come in my office every day that follow Rihanna and Britney Spears and they follow their actions and they watch what they do. This was the worst kind of message you could send across.

She`s trying to make it seem like this is the way of fighting back. And we all know this is not the way in which you fight back.

She was in "Glamour" magazine...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right.

HONOWITZ: ... as one of the people of the year for saying she came out of domestic violence, continued to speak about it. Don`t show guns as a way of getting your message across.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right, Kim, your response.

SERAFIN: Can I just, yes, yes. I just want to interrupt. I did not say that people would have said she was a wimp. I said that we would have been talking about her no matter what.

This is her first big performance since the Grammy performance that she missed. So people would have analyzed whatever she would had done up there.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right.

SERAFIN: And she`d gotten up there and sang a love song and people would have said she`s still in love with Chris. She got up there and saying I have pop song with vapid lyrics people would have said she hasn`t learned anything...

HONOWITZ: But she didn`t have to hold a gun. She didn`t have to hold a gun.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right.

HONOWITZ: She did not have to sing a love song but she didn`t have to hold a gun.

SERAFIN: I absolutely agree. I absolutely agree.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`m going to have to hold the gavel so we could get a caller in.

Jane, Ohio, your question or thought, ma`am.

JANE, OHIO: My comment is the thing about this is, is I think they`re reading a little too much into this. She has a new single called "Russian Roulette" that`s being played on the radio. I think this is more of a promo than a -- let`s say than a comeback to Chris Brown.

If she has a song that`s about playing Russian Roulette and her boyfriend`s telling her calm down, it`s ok, take a deep breath. And she`s talking about...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right, I think the caller makes a good point. But nevertheless, I was sad also to hear that Rihanna said, you know, bleep love. Don`t bleep love. Women need to bring more love into the situation and let`s get rid of the violence.

Thank you, fabulous panel. You are watching ISSUES on HLN.

END