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Suspect Charged in Girl`s Murder; Nancy Kerrigan`s Dad`s Death Ruled a Homicide; Judge Mathis Talks Tough; Kids Cyber-bullied to Death

Aired February 9, 2010 - 19:00:00   ET



JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, children under attack. Fast-breaking developments. A beautiful little girl found murdered on Christmas morning. Tonight, new charges for her alleged killer. Cops say Thomas Leggs abducted Sarah Foxwell from her own bedroom. Now he`s been charged with murder. This monster has already been convicted of two sex crimes. So why will this case be any different? And why wasn`t he behind bars in the first place?

And horrible abuse with the click of a mouse. Cyber-bullying spinning out of control. Hate-filled e-mails, texts and online messages, pushing some young children to suicide. Tonight, we`ll talk to the mother of a young girl who committed suicide after being bullying online.

ISSUES starts now.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: A shocking and unthinkable crime. A gorgeous 11- year-old girl snapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night and brutally murdered. Tonight, justice for Sarah Haley Foxwell.

A sex predator is charged with her murder. And now in a breaking development, the state says it plans on seeking the death penalty against her alleged killer. Her photo is haunting: big green eyes, a happy smile. The little girl nicknamed Haley-Bug, disappeared just days before Christmas. Thousands of volunteers searched for Sarah, hoping to find her somehow alive.

This is a sick, sick detail. She was last seen wearing fuzzy Christmas tree pajamas. Then a grisly discovery. Authorities found her burned body in a desolate field on Christmas day. Her mom broke down.


JENNIFER FOXWELL, MOTHER OF SARAH: I opened the front door and walked in, and I saw my father on his hands and knees. And I knew right then. He didn`t have to tell me. I knew. So I just fell down beside my father and just -- it was horrible.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Sarah`s 6-year-old sister witnessed the abduction. She described the intruder who snatched Sarah to police with painstaking detail, right down to the color of his shoes.

And then police got a real break. The little girl said, "Tommy took her." Tommy. Turns out Tommy Leggs, a registered sex offender in two states and the former boyfriend of the girl`s aunt, who Sarah and her siblings lived with.

Leggs was initially charged with kidnapping and burglary. Police needed time to gather evidence before charging him with murder. He has also been charged with first- and second-degree sex offenses. You get the idea. This is revolting.

I want to hear from you. Call me. Why does this keep happening? 1- 877-JVM-SAYS. That`s 1-877-586-7297. How can we stop it from happening again?

Straight out to my fantastic expert panel: Judge Greg Mathis, host of the wildly successful "Judge Mathis Show"; criminal defense attorney Stacey Honowitz. Always good to have you, Stacey. Psychiatrist Dr. Charles Sophy from "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew"; and investigative journalist Michelle Sigona of

But joining us by phone, we begin with WBOC reporter Elizabeth Harrington.

Elizabeth, what is the very latest?

ELIZABETH HARRINGTON, REPORTER, WBOC (via phone): Well, Jane, the very latest is again, there was a murder indictment yesterday. It was announced today along with sex offense charges against Thomas Leggs Jr.

And as you can imagine, this has certainly be a big relief to Jennifer Foxwell, the mother of Sarah, and her family and also this entire community. This is a case that has really shocked and saddened everyone in this area. And, in fact, one of Sarah`s sisters, whose birthday, 18th birthday was just yesterday, says this was the only thing she wanted for her birthday, to see the man who was accused of killing her sister, to see him charged with murder.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, Sarah and her siblings were sent to go live with their aunt sometime in 2008. They were removed from their mother`s home by the Department of Social Services. Let`s listen.


FOXWELL: I was going through a really rough patch in my life, and I chose to place my children with my family, because it was in their best interest, really, to be there. I couldn`t properly care for them at the time, and it was the best place for them to be. I knew they were loved. I knew they were taken care of. They had what they needed, wanted. And it really -- they were happy there.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Beautiful little girl. Really a gorgeous child.

Sarah`s aunt told police she dated 30-year-old Thomas Leggs for a short period about a month before Sarah was abducted.

It`s not clear, Stacey, if Sarah`s aunt knew her boyfriend had a criminal past, but should the Department of Social Services have done more digging, given that they took the children away from the mom, and she apparently agreed to it, and didn`t fight it, and gave the children to the aunt? Should they have then investigated and found out who is this aunt hanging out with?

STACEY HONOWITZ, FLORIDA PROSECUTOR`S OFFICE: Well, first of all, Jane, I just want to clear something up. I`m not a criminal defense attorney. I supervise the sex crimes unit in the state attorney`s office.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: My -- my apologies.

HONOWITZ: I`m a prosecutor.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, you are.

HONOWITZ: And I prosecute these cases. And the bottom line is, absolutely social services, when children are placed or taken out of a home, have to a thorough investigation, a home study into where the kids are being placed.

Now, I don`t know if this mother -- the mother says she voluntarily gave up these children, and I don`t know if the sister at the time was aware. Hopefully -- I hate to say that she wasn`t aware that this man was a sex offender and allowed these kids to come in the house.

But certainly, when social services, like I said, does do a placement, it is their obligation and their duty to check and make sure that the household these children are going to is safe.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, and by the way, you`re not only the supervisor of the sex crimes unit in the Florida prosecutor`s office; you are the author of a fabulous new book called "My Privates are Private," which helps parents and children prevent child sex abuse. And congrats on writing that.

My big issue tonight: the enemy within. We found Thomas Leggs on the Delaware sex offender registry. He is there for the rape of a teenager. He is marked as a high risk. So what the hell was he doing hanging around with a woman who was a legal guardian of six children?

This isn`t the first time we`ve seen this. Here`s another tragedy to tell you about. You remember this one. Little Nevaeh Buchanan was snatched from a parking lot of her apartment complex and murdered. Her case remains unsolved, but investigators looked at two registered sex offenders who had befriended and were hanging out with her mom.

Dr. Charles Sophy, do these predators seek out women who have kids and romance them in order to get close to the kids?

DR. CHARLES SOPHY, PSYCHIATRIST: They definitely do. However, you have to remember, these women have to be aware of the fact that they`re dating these kinds of men. They need to know who these men are.

When Children Social Services, which is what I run here in Los Angeles, when we place a child with a relative, we do criminal background checks on anybody who is in that home. But if this guy was not in that home, then he`s not going to be checked.

Women need to be coming forward if they`re going to watch these cases.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But why not? Why not -- why not do a little background work? I mean, do you know how many millions of dollars it`s going to cost taxpayers to prosecute these this guy? Why not do a little background -- why not give Child Protective Services a little more money, maybe a private investigator to do a little background check when they plop six kids into a home and find out who the heck is the new guardian`s -- dating?

SOPHY: Well, sometimes they don`t say they`re dating. If we don`t know we`re dating or they don`t come forward with that information, because they may know that criminal`s background history. They don`t want to be forthcoming. They left them in the house with -- oftentimes we don`t even know it.

But the criminal background check is an absolute must. It has to be done.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: P.J., Massachusetts, your question or thought?

CALLER: Bless you, Jane, for all that you do. I have never been one to believe in the death penalty, but in today`s society, I think it`s disgusting that we have to pay for these sex offenders, and they get an education. And I think we should either castrate them or put them to death. Because they`ll never recover.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You make a very good point. It`s a harsh point, but it`s a good point.

Judge Greg Mathis, you founded the Peer Initiative. You did time as a teenager and turned your life around to become a lawyer and a judge and a TV star. But we have talked many times about the fact that our criminal justice system is all screwed up. We`re locking up kids who are not violent criminals, turning them into violent criminals.

Turning (ph), basically, the incarceration of a huge portion of our population into an industry, a growth industry. And yet the very few people that we absolutely should not ever let out of prison, ever, meaning convicted sex offenders, those people somehow end up roaming the streets, able to prey on young girls.

JUDGE GREG MATHIS, "JUDGE MATHIS SHOW": Absolutely. One of the things I believe is that sexual predators of pedophiles is really an extreme sickness. And that being the case, we have to prevent ourselves from being victims of that sickness.

So I think they should obtain lifetime probation. Therefore, the probation officer checks on where they`re at, who they`re living with. They inform those persons who are -- they are -- who they are around as a term of their probation forever. That`s what I believe should happen.

HONOWITZ: They don`t. They don`t do it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I agree with you.

More on this completely horrifying murder of this precious child in just a moment.

And we`re taking your calls. What can be done to prevent this from happening again? Why did it happen when this guy was on sex offender registries in two states? 1-877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.

Plus, a family ripped apart, major developments in the death of Nancy Kerrigan`s father. His death has now been ruled a homicide. So what will that mean for Nancy`s brother? Is he in huge trouble?

First, a beautiful little girl snatched from her bed, killed, murdered. More on the Sarah Foxwell murder right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a 14-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. This really hits home and hits me deeply. And I promise you, we will do everything in our power to see this man never, ever sees the day of light again.




FOXWELL: I just know that Sarah`s strength is with me, and she`s guiding me through, I think.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: That was Sarah Haley Foxwell`s heartbroken mother. Sarah`s charred remains found in an empty field on Christmas day after a frantic three-day search.

Now her alleged kidnapper, sex offender Thomas Leggs, has been charged with her murder, and prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.

Phone lines lighting up. Layla, Florida, your question or thought, ma`am.

CALLER: Yes, Jane. Thank you so much. We love you for what you`re doing for all the abused women and children in this country.

Here is my issue. Are these women so desperate for a man...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh, you`re so right.

CALLER: That they`ll go with anybody. And what is wrong with DCS? What is their problem? How dare they place this beautiful child -- forgive me, I have children -- in a home -- she`s the aunt. She`s dating this sex offender. What is going on in our country?

Remember, I am from Florida: Haleigh Cummings, Casey Anthony.

Thank you, Jane. You are wonderful.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, thank you for your call, Layla. And you raised some really, really important issues.

Michelle Sigona, everybody`s wondering, why didn`t this aunt check the sex offender-registries in Maryland and Delaware and see that this guy she was dating was on them? But do people actually do that? Do women, when they start dating someone when they have children, actually check sex offender registries? Do we need to change the system to make it easier for them to check?

MICHELLE SIGONA, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: And you know what, Jane? You bring up such a great point, because anyone can log onto Family Watchdog to check with sex offenders in their area. They can go to the various public databases within their state to check to see the person that they`re dating or the person that they`ve become friends with to see what kind of criminal background they have.

You can Google people, folks. A lot of things out there. The Internet is a great resource to find out who you`re getting involved with. I spoke with Sheriff Lewis from the Conaco (ph) County Sheriff`s Office earlier today, and he says he doesn`t know for sure if Amy knew for certain or not that Thomas Leggs was, in fact, a sex offender in Maryland also in Delaware.

And also, Thomas Leggs appeared in court yesterday for another offense out of Ocean City, Maryland, just before Sarah, back in September 11, 2009. Allegedly, he was seen standing at the edge of a woman`s bed, masturbating naked. And so he was arrested and taken in.

Yesterday he did request to have a jury trial for that, so that`s been moved to a later date, as well. But he says there`s an obvious escalation in violence from Thomas Leggs.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: So this guy has a rap sheet, Judge Mathis, a mile long. He was convicted of raping a victim who was between the ages of 16 and 17. He has several assault convictions. He`s awaiting trial on burglary and the destruction of property.

And then you just heard, he`s accused of breaking into a woman`s house at 4 in the morning and masturbating near her bed.

So where are the powers that be, watching this guy? Where are the authorities to keep an eye on this guy? You know, if I let my dog off the leash in the park, I`ve got a cop on me in two seconds flat, OK? But this -- this nut job, this wing-nut is out there, and everybody knows he`s got a rap sheet a mile long. And where are they? Why aren`t they tailing this guy? Why aren`t they checking up on him?

MATHIS: And that`s what I was saying. If -- once they`re released from prison, if they are to ever be released, then they should have to check in with probation every couple weeks for the rest of their lives. This is a sickness that must be stopped and must be monitored regularly.

And thirdly, if he`s had that many convictions, I think we need a three strikes law for child predators. We have three strike laws for violent criminals. They stay in jail the rest of their lives. We need that for sexual predators, as well.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Stacey Honowitz, you`re the prosecutor. I think we`ve got to clear our prisons of the nonviolent offenders to make room for these people, the predators. We are locking people up for nonviolent drug offenses. They`re filling up the prisons. We`re creating hardened criminals. Prisons are criminal factories.

And yet, the people that we really need to have locked up, they`re not there. They`re on the streets. What`s going on? There`s something fundamentally wrong with our criminal justice system.

HONOWITZ: Well, I agree with you. You`ve been making this argument for a really long time that it`s time to ship out the easy ones and keep the hard ones in line. And people are trying to make a difference. I mean, laws are becoming more stringent and the sex crimes registry was the first thing that was implemented to try to keep track of these people.

But I`ll tell you something. The registry only tells you where they live. People have to remember that pedophiles and predators are master manipulators. They are not going to register. They are not going to always tell you where they are. They`re going to move about and not check in.

People have take it upon themselves. I hate to say this, because I know you feel like women shouldn`t be victimized anymore, but just like we see in all these cases, they have to be on top of things. They have to look into someone`s background. They have to see if there is something...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Stacey, I`m not a private investigator. OK? And every so often I have to go on and try to find background on somebody. And it`s not easy. You know, it`s just like every time you call a government agency, do they ever pick up the phone? No, of course not.

HONOWITZ: But Jane, this is the easiest thing...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`ve been on the sex offender registries. Half the time they`re using their initial birth name that doesn`t match the name. I mean, it`s -- it`s not that easy. It`s easy for you because you`re a prosecutor, but it`s not that easy for the average aunt out there with six kids running around.

They`ve got to make all this easier. They`ve got to use the Internet. The government uses to use the Internet, make it transparent. Anybody with a criminal record, you put in their name, it should pop up. You shouldn`t have to pay $85 to some service to get somebody`s criminal background, you know? And that`s...

HONOWITZ: I do -- I do agree with you. And things also have to change, too. People who have criminal backgrounds quite often get their records sealed or expunged. And sometimes, we don`t know what`s going on in their backgrounds.

So you are right: people do have to have access, and there has to be an easy way to gain information. Because you do shows every single night on little girls that are taken out of their homes that are killed and molested by sexual predators. So something has to change.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Got to leave it right there. Thank you, fantastic panel. It does have to change.

Advice from a heartbroken mom. Her daughter committed suicide after being harassed online. What you can do to protect your children from online threats next.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: A devastating family tragedy. Jaw-dropping new details about the death of Olympic champion Nancy Kerrigan`s father. The skating legend`s dad died after a violent argument with his own son.

Tonight, the medical examiners ruled Dan Kerrigan`s death a homicide. Will Nancy`s brother be charged with murder? Seventy-year-old Dan died of a heart attack after his son, Mark, choked him, damaging his wind pipe. All because Mark supposedly wanted to use the telephone.

Now, Mark`s ex-wife said this is not the first time Mark has gotten into a violent rage. Listen to this from CBS.


JANET KERRIGAN, EX-WIFE OF MARK KERRIGAN: He strangled me in the bedroom. The rage was beyond controllable.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: The coroner says Dan`s neck injury combined with his pre-existing heart disease caused his death.

Now, the heartbroken Kerrigan family refuses to believe it was murder, saying, quote, "We believe this finding to be premature and inaccurate. The Kerrigan family does not blame anyone for the unfortunate death of Dan Kerrigan, who had a preexisting heart condition," end quote.

Officials are still trying to decide if new charges will be brought against 45-year-old Mark Kerrigan. So far, he`s been charged with assault, and he will undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Straight out to my guests, Laura Crimaldi. Give us some insight into where the Kerrigan family is coming from. Because I also understand that they didn`t bail him out, so they`re leaving him there behind bars. So it`s kind of a mixed message in a sense.

LAURA CRIMALDI, REPORTER, "THE BOSTON HERALD": Well, I spoke with Brenda Kerrigan the morning after her husband died. And she insisted that her husband Daniel died of a massive heart attack. So the statement that they put out today is very consistent with what they`ve said all along.

He was held on bail after his arraignment several weeks ago and then was transferred to a state hospital in Massachusetts to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

And he was discussed at the funeral for Dan Kerrigan. The family friend who eulogized Mr. Kerrigan asked mourners if they could find it in their hearts to say a prayer for Mark.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hmm. Fascinating. It`s just a terrible position for Nancy Kerrigan and her family to be in. When officers arrived at the scene, they found Dan unconscious in the kitchen. His son Mark -- you`re looking at him there -- insisted Dad was faking it.

Cops say Mark Kerrigan was belligerent and combative. His ex-wife claims he definitely had family issues and drinking problems. Listen to this from CBS.


KERRIGAN: He would say, "It`s always Nancy. Nancy, Nancy." That`s what he would say. The focus was always on her, and that`s when he felt very insecure. He would drink.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Cops say he was out of control. They had to pepper spray him. He seems incredibly troubled, as well, as well as, according to his ex, suffering from a case of jealousy of his famous sister.

CRIMALDI: Well, he certainly had very loving parents. He was recently released from jail late last year. His parents brought them back into his home where he was living when this all took place. And I think that everything that was said at the funeral indicated a great love that they had for them and their father.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, it`s a tragedy. You have to feel for Nancy Kerrigan. She`s been haunted by a tragedy that seems to come out of the blue, left and right, and has managed to maintain a very graceful public image.

Thank you, Laura Crimaldi, for joining us.

Next, a vicious online trick drives a teen to take her own life. Her mother speaks to us.


JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HLN HOST: Horrifying abuse: with a click of a mouse, cyber-bullying spinning out of control; hate-filled e-mails, texts and online messages pushing some young children to suicide. Tonight, we`ll talk to the mother of a young girl who committed suicide after being bullied online.

Our nation is in crisis. Children are in danger. There`s an epidemic of kids falling prey to violent sex offenders and young people resorting to unimaginable violence as a solution to their little problems. Teen girls beating each other up after accusations of trash talking. A feud that started on MySpace and ended up -- hey, look at that -- fisticuffs. Look at that.

Adults allegedly on the sidelines as two other teens go to blows while a minor does the camera work. This video ended up on YouTube.

The grisly -- and I mean grisly -- killing of a high school junior in Chicago caught on tape; the young victim just passing by a community center when he was pummeled with a two by four by an out-of-control mob of young people.

What the heck is going on? Who better to weigh in than the one and only Judge Greg Mathis? He is the host of the wildly successful syndicated judge show named after him. But few people realize that Judge Mathis was once a convicted criminal who did hard time. Now Judge Mathis is determined to break the cycle to keep other young men out of prison.


JUDGE GREG MATHIS, HOST, "JUDGE MATHIS SHOW": When I came off the street, when I came out of jail, got my GED, went to college, et cetera, I used that same courage when the roadblocks came in my way. I didn`t punk out, go back to the hood.

Ok, I`m strong in the hood. I`ve got courage, I`m going to be strong out here.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Judge Mathis here for an ISSUES exclusive to talk about his Peer Prison initiative; that stands for Prisoner Empowerment, Education and Respect.

Judge Mathis, you are an inspiration to me. You went from prison to an equivalency diploma, to a bachelor`s degree to a law degree and finally a seat on the bench, not to mention your own TV show. Wow.

But what was the lowest low that you ever went through? Why were you in jail and how did you turn it around?

MATHIS: Well, at age 17, I was tried as an adult for carrying a gun and marijuana on me. And I spent nine months in jail awaiting the sentence and the trial. I pled guilty to a lesser charge and the judge gave me a second chance after having served nine months.

My mother came to visit me there and told me how I had humiliated here all these years and she was sick with cancer at time. And that encouraged me to change my life.

So that was the life I led but thank God I was able to overcome it. And now I try and use myself as an example to so many others to let them know they can overcome it as well.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: God bless you for that.

This past December, Judge Mathis spoke to a group of inmates in Wayne County, Michigan. Listen to what he told the prisoners about what turned his life around.


MATHIS: My mother came. She would never come -- I had been in juvenile several times. This time I was tried as an adult at age 17 -- tried and convicted as an adult. While I was in jail, she came and visited and told me how she had just been diagnosed with cancer, they only gave her 6 to 12 months to live.

Reminded me how -- and this is what you are doing, too -- how I had embarrassed her all of my life. How I had embarrassed her in the neighborhood, in the schools, in church. She said, "You`ve embarrassed me and now I`m going to die."


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Judge Mathis, here`s what I see. I see a lot of these kids are fast-tracked into the criminal justice system. They go to bad schools. They`re marginally educated, functionally illiterate in some cases. Of course they can`t get a good job.

They end up doing something wrong and then once they are in the prison system, they have a scarlet letter and they can really never get out of it, never get a good job. And meanwhile, we`re turning them into hardened criminals because that`s what these prisons are, criminal factories. I think that the whole system needs to be completely revamped top to bottom. What do you say?

MATHIS: You hit it right on the head. You know, 80 percent of those in prison have no GED, no high school diploma.

And then we see the revolving door. There`s nearly 70 percent recidivism rate. Those who go to prison come out and within 18 months, 70 percent of them are back in prison because they`re not rehabilitated or trained.

And so when they come out, as you say, they have no skill, they have no real opportunity. So they go right back into the life of crime. It costs tax payers more. And we are more at jeopardy.

You know, I propose that we invest more on the up front in education, and on the backside in rehabilitation than we do just on punishment. Because if we require as the judges required I did before I come off probation, I have to have a GED and be in either a skilled trade programs or in college.

If we required that of every prisoner before he is released, have some type of skill trade or have some type of education that allow you to be work ready, then I think we can go a long way. Otherwise, we are hurting our state budgets. As you see they cut education, and they increased incarceration budgets.

Right now, the Obama administration just proposed an increase of $500 million in the prison budget. And we see state by state the education budget is being reduced as a result of the financial crisis but we don`t see the prison budgets being reduced.

We need to invest more in education over incarceration --

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me tell you something Judge Mathis. I have come to the conclusion that the prison industrial complex is a big money-making machine.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`ve talked to people who are visiting relatives and friends. And they say every time they make a phone call, somebody gets the money. Every time they send a gift, somebody gets a cut. This is a self- perpetuating institution that wants to grow larger. It has taken on a life of its own.

You are absolutely right. What the heck are we doing, pouring all the money into the prison system, when we could be taking that money and preventing criminals by establishing things like better charter schools and vocational education which has gone totally out the window in this country.

In Europe, people have an opportunity to become excellent carpenters, excellent electricians, excellent massage therapists. Not everybody in the world has to be a doctor and a lawyer. Not everybody is as smart as you and able to make the change. We have to be giving some of these kids some other options.

MATHIS: Yes. You mentioned the privatization or you mentioned the money-making in the prison system. They`re now privatizing prisons where many of them are paying prisoners $1 a day to make (INAUDIBLE) that are sold on the open market. They`re throwing unionized families out of work on the inside for slave labor -- from the outside they`re throwing unionized families out of work for slave labor on the inside, making money off those they fail to educate properly.

You have guns going in, education going out, jobs going out. Death going in to the inner cities of America and we need to change the paradigm.

And it`s more cost efficient. Jane, those nine months I spent in jail, I`m told it cost $50,000 taxpayer money. Six months later, when I was admitted to a major university under an affirmative action program, I had no -- my mother had passed. I had no father my life. I had to rely on taxpayer grants and loans to go through college.

Well, it cost $6,000 per year. Four years $24,000 for a degree -- $24,000 for four-year degree` half of the amount it cost to house me in prison for nine months. Nine months, $50,000 in jail. Four years, $24,000 for a degree. I think it`s more cost efficient.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You and I are on the same page. Everything needs to change; the educational system, the criminal justice system. We`ve got to put our money into prevention as opposed to just punishment.

These are kids, a lot of them haven`t done anything violent, but they become violent once they go into jail.

Judge, I want to work with you on this. America needs to change the entire thing. It really has to change. Thank you so much for joining us - - because lives are at stake. People who are afraid about being victims of crime, think about this, because we are creating criminals with this prison system that we have. And I hope that the politicians are listening.

A heart broken mom offers advice. Her daughter committed suicide after being harassed online. What can you do to protect your child from threats on the computer? Next.


TINA MEIER, DAUGHTER COMMITTED SUICIDE: Megan`s death is not going to be in vain. I have decided that either I can do two things. I can one, I can be sad every single day of my life, which regardless I`m going to miss her and I can sit in the house and do nothing. Or I can take the positives and try to make the changes and that`s what we`re going to do.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: The vicious bullying that used to be contained in the classrooms and playgrounds is now online and it is out of control. That became painfully clear when 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide. This beautiful young girl was distraught after a boy she met online called her a liar, a fat whore and even worse.

The most shocking part of the story that boy was really the mom of Megan`s classmate. Forty-eight-year-old Laurie Drew initially admitted that she has created a fake MySpace profile of a boy named Josh. She and her daughter took the trick even further, convincing Megan that this fictitious boy liked her.

After a few weeks Josh started insulting Megan online telling her he hated her. It pushed Megan to the edge.

Every parent needs to learn from this tragedy. Any child can be targeted.

Meanwhile, a 15-year-old high school student commits suicide after an onslaught of cyber-bullying by fellow students. Phoebe Prince reportedly had an argument with other girls over who she was dating. We`ll have more on her very tragic story coming up.

I want to welcome back my fantastic panel, also joining me on the phone Tina Meier, Megan`s mom. Tina, we have so much compassion for what you have gone through with this horrific tragedy. What do you want people out there, parents who are watching tonight to learn from your tragic experience?

MEIER (via telephone): I think the number one thing I want parents to understand is it can happen to any child anywhere, anytime. Even if they have a child that does not show any signs of depression or does not have ADD or ADHD, any child that is getting cyber-bullied and they repeated, constant text messages, constant rumors being spread about them absolutely can be overwhelmed in a moment`s time.

And a lot of parents think that their kids are fine, they can handle it. You really, absolutely must have an open communication with you`re child and know what they`re doing, know what`s on their cell phone, know what`s on the Internet. Know who their friends on the Internet and I think absolutely stay in touch with the child because they are growing up so fast on the Internet today that we can`t keep up with it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, I have to mention in this case which is a very complex case, because there was the mother involved, there was her child and I believe there was a third individual involved.

Now, I understand last summer, a federal judge threw out Drew -- Laurie Drew`s conviction -- the mother`s conviction on charges of computer fraud for her role in creating the false account.

MEIER: Right.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What do you make of that -- Tina?

MEIER: Well, I think it`s absolutely disappointing. Because, you know, he certainly stated that -- he threw it out because he felt that anybody who gets on a social networking site and clicks the terms of service button, many people don`t put correct information down, putting their name down, they`ve put a different age down and he felt that it was unconstitutional to charge Laurie Drew -- he would have to charge everybody out there who put false information down.

I think that was a clear mistake on his part. Because cyber-bullying and putting down the wrong age or putting down a different name is completely different and I think he missed the mark there.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. Well -- and this brings me to my big ISSUE. We`re talking about viral vengeance. Megan`s story is just heart- wrenching. It`s frustrating, it`s all too common.

As we mentioned Laurie Drew, the mom of Megan`s tormenter was tried in a federal court for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. She was convicted but her conviction was overturned on appeal.

And we have a parent here who is essentially accused of joining in a sick conspiracy with her daughter and yet the law doesn`t seem to have caught up with this case. So essentially the mother that we just heard from here live who is joining us of this daughter who committed suicide doesn`t feel she`s gotten justice, Greg Mathis.

JUDGE GREG MATHIS, HOST, "JUDGE MATHIS": Yes, well let me say that I see where there could possibly have been a charge of involuntary manslaughter that could have been successful. And that that describes an action that is taken which is known to have been risky and she knew she was being risky by disguising who she was. And it led to the death of another.

Her risky and negligent actions, she had a duty. And she veered away from that duty. And that is negligence. That negligence led to the death of this girl. And so I would have suggested this involuntary manslaughter.

But let me advise, mom, to also sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress. That`s a civil suit and the burden is much less than a criminal suit, which requires beyond a reasonable doubt.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And I just want to say, Laurie Drew, the mother of Megan`s tormentor, she`s invited on the show if she wants to tell her side of the story, or her attorneys. We have to be fair here and we want to hear all sides. But we are giving the facts of this case. Tina Meier, have you sued or are you considering a lawsuit?

MEIER: No, we have not. And at this time, we have gone through so much, it has been three and a half years and it has been a complete up and down struggle to get through this.

You know, what I finally decided was at the trial no matter what the outcome was, that if there was not going to be justice set that way, then I would use the foundation to go out and spread the awareness and education and move on forward in a positive note instead of going backwards. That --

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You know I have to applaud you for that. I really have to applaud you for that, because we have to start coming up with solutions and prevention.

The whole theme of tonight`s show is that we`re covering these horrific stories and we need to learn from them. And prevent them from happening again.

MEIER: Right.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And I really applaud you for having that attitude.

Now, I want to move on to another similar tragedy. This is a story of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince from South Hadley, Massachusetts. And maybe it`s Hadley, I don`t know -- this story has been described as a real life "Mean Girls". Cops say she was the victim of an onslaught of cyber-bullying by a group of girls who used Facebook and text messages to torment her.

They apparently had an argument over a dating situation. The cops won`t give details. The girls allegedly confronted Phoebe in person. Tragically, Phoebe, who had come from Ireland to experience America and was just enraptured with America became so despondent, she hanged herself two days before her winter cotillion.

And it gets even worst even after her death the so-called "Mean Girls" reportedly left insulting messages on a Facebook page created in her memory. Two students were suspended. More face possible discipline.

Thomas Krever (ph), executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute home of the Harvey Mill School, we were talking earlier about how do we stop this hostility?

You know, they say high school is the cruelest time of life because you`re entering puberty, you`re emotional, you`re feeling self conscious, you`re feeling vulnerable and insecure and then you have these mean girls or mean kids who are -- seem to exist in every school. And yet, we do not teach kids with -- let`s say group therapy that`s available in your school.

How do you get in touch with their feelings because underneath the hostility of a bullier is usually depression and an anger. They`re sick too.

THOMAS KREVER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HETRICK MARTIN INSTITUTE: That`s right. That`s absolutely right. And there`s nowhere for them to go with it. And so if there`s no positive outlet where young people can emote and under supervision responsibly with adults, they`re going to vent, as we see, they`re going to vent somewhere and often it`s negatively with drastic repercussions.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: With group therapy they get to sit around and talk about their feelings. Why is that such a radical, crazy idea? Why is everybody so afraid of having kids, just like adults do in recovery programs, just like adults do in group therapy, sit around and talk about their feelings? Because if they could talk about their feelings they might not hit somebody over the head with a two by four.

We`ll have more in just a moment.



MEIER: As a mom, absolutely I think she needs to be punished for the charges. And if, you know, jail time, I absolutely that`s what I would like. I would like the maximum three years.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: That was Tina Meier talking about throwing the book at her daughter`s tormentor.

We have to raise the question about the culture. Does Hollywood, for example, glorify teenage bitchiness? That`s really what it is.

Check out the movie "Mean Girls". Here is a clip from Paramount Pictures posted on YouTube.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, I remember this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I haven`t looked at that in forever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Check it out, Katie. It`s our burn book. We cut out girls` pictures from the yearbook and then we wrote comments.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) is a gross little biatch.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amber is a (INAUDIBLE), she made out with a hot dog.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tina Meier, your daughter committed suicide after being cyber-bullied. Do you think the culture -- the Hollywood culture encourages the sense of there`s the tiny elite that get to terrorize everybody else?

MEIER: I don`t necessarily know if it`s Hollywood. Certainly I mean TV today, kids see so many more things than they ever used to, but it is -- honestly the girls are the most vicious. From going to schools across the United States, speaking to other students in middle school and high school, it is honestly, it`s the girls that are extremely vicious.

They want to get back at another girl, they will exclude them, they will start rumors, they will do whatever it is. If it`s over a boy, many times they will make sure that they make the other girl`s life miserable, in any way, whether it`s texting, whether it`s spreading rumors through the Facebook, whatever it may be, that`s what they`re set for.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. And this is -- sometimes, Parry Aftab, this goes tragic in another direction. I`ve talked to experts who say the gun is the great equalizer. That a lot of the school shootings you have, kids had been tormented and they`re tormented and tormented and one day they wake up and they get daddy`s gun. They come in and say, "I`m not going to be tormented anymore." So this is a very sick situation.

Do you think the schools are doing all they can to get a handle on this, since basically the reason why they know each other, the commonality, is the school?

PARRY AFTAB, INTERNET PRIVACY & SECURITY LAWYER: Well, there are two problems. A, the U.S. Constitution which prohibits schools from dealing with what happens off school premises after hours and the schools just don`t know what to do.

So Wired Safety next month will be issuing $1 million free tool kit called the Stop Cyber Bullying School Kit for schools. Everything they need from start to finish, K through 12, parents, law enforcement, everything they need to deal with it and it`s totally free. We`ve been working on it for two years.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Judge Mathis, what do you think about group therapy in the schools? I know when I was in school I would have had loved to have a safe place to sit down and talk about my feelings, talk about what was going on.

MATHIS: I think that`s absolutely necessary. I think you need the conflict resolution, which could be done in that setting. We need anger management. And, you know, the approach we see in schools now is a zero tolerance. So a person gets into a fight, the kids are kicked out, yet they go to another school and they get worse and worse.

They never get the treatment or the therapy that we`re talking about now. They never get to the root of the problem. They never find out how to resolve conflicts peacefully so we need that in the schools. I think you`re right on target, Jane.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`ve got to change how we deal with things. Go from punishment to prevention to save lives.

Thank you, fantastic panel. You`re watching ISSUES on HLN.

UM1: Thank you.