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Judge Steps Down From Casey Anthony Murder Trial

Aired April 19, 2010 - 19:00:00   ET


JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST: Tonight, mystery mounts in the desperate search for little Haleigh Cummings. Cops have now told Haleigh`s father to begin making funeral arrangements. What did police find in that river? New reports say they`re doing tests on cinderblocks and rope. If they still don`t have a body, do they have a case?

Plus, a 15-year-old girl fights for her life. Josie Ratley was brutally beating, her head, her face viciously stomped on, all allegedly because of a text message. Tonight, we`ll talk live to the 15-year-old suspects attorney about explosive developments in the case and go inside Josie`s painful road to recovery.

ISSUES starts now.

But first tonight, breaking news, a monumental bombshell in the Casey Anthony murder trial. The judge has just -- just -- disqualified himself from the case. ISSUES was the first to bring you the news Friday night that Casey`s defense had filed a motion late Friday afternoon asking Judge Stan Strickland to step down. They claimed he`s friendly with a blogger who has, quote, "relentless pro-prosecution bias."

he defense is referring to this man, Dave Knechel, aka "Marinade Dave." And here he is at one of Casey`s hearings. Knechel says Judge Stan Strickland complimented him on his blog and also called him on the phone to wish him well when he was sick. Knechel insists his blog is totally fair and impartial. He called the defense motion, quote, "a dirty stall tactic, filthy is more like it." He said the move, quote, "smacks of desperation," end quote.

Then in a stunning move, just a couple of hours ago, the judge grants the defense motion and steps down. His order was dripping with anger and sarcasm. He wrote, quote, "At its core, defense counsel`s motion accuses me of being a self-aggrandizing media hound. Indeed, the irony is rich. Motion granted."

Casey is charged with murdering her daughter, Caylee, way back in October of 2008. Even before this, the trial wasn`t slated to start until the spring of next year. Now what`s going to happen? Is this throwing the entire case into total chaos?

Straight out to my fantastic expert panel, HLN law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks, criminal defense attorney Jayne Weintraub, criminal defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh, and we begin with Beth Karas, correspondent for "In Session," our sister network, truTV. Beth, what can you tell us about the new judge, Belvin Perry?

BETH KARAS, CORRESPONDENT, "IN SESSION" ON TRUTV: Well, Belvin Perry would have received this judge -- this trial if Judge Standing Strickland didn`t hold onto it. It was decided that Strickland, when he was moving into the civil decision, would hold onto it because he had started with the case. He didn`t ask for it, he was told to stick with it. It would have gone to Belvin Perry months ago when Strickland moved out of the criminal division.

Belvin Perry`s been around for a long time. I covered a case where he was the judge in the 1990s, a death penalty case. He`s a no-nonsense judge. He wants the lawyers who appear before him to be prompt and to be prepared.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Do you think he`s going to be tougher than Strickland?

KARAS: Yes. I think he`ll be tougher than Strickland. Although he`s -- both are equally knowledgeable about the law, it`s just that Strickland lets the lawyers make their arguments. He`s extremely patient. And lawyers who have appeared before him, including Brad Conway, who represents George and Cindy Anthony, have told me this, that it`s been Conway`s experience in front of Belvin Perry that Strickland is perhaps a little more patient. Perry is, Be prompt, be prepared. And I don`t think he`s going to stand for lot of, like, argument.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I guess everybody`s trying to figure out, Mark Eiglarsh, is this a brilliant move on the part of the defense, or will it boomerang and bite them, to put it bluntly? What now? What is going to happen now? It was going to be a year before we got to this case anyway. Doesn`t this put us back at square one?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: To a certain degree.

EIGLARSH: The next judge...


EIGLARSH: ... will step in. And I think this was completely ill- advised. This judge, Judge Strickland, gave the defense wide latitude to do what they needed to do in court. I think it was transparent, what the defense did, and that`s why there was the sarcasm in the order. Legally, the judge had to do it. By agreeing to this motion, he`s not saying that anything the defense is saying is truthful. What he`s saying under the law here in Florida is that it`s legally sufficient, that you have met the requirements under the law, and thus I have to recuse myself.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Mark Eiglarsh...

EIGLARSH: If he`d stayed on the case...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: ... are you telling me...

EIGLARSH: ... he would be absolutely removed.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: ... Mark Eiglarsh...

EIGLARSH: Yes, Jane.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: ... that this new judge can -- with the complicated case that we`ve been talking about for almost two years...


VELEZ-MITCHELL: ... with so many characters that...


VELEZ-MITCHELL: ... you need a playbook, you`re telling me that this new judge is just going to pick up where this judge left off, no problem. We`re going to move on. We`re still going to go to trial in May of 2011?

EIGLARSH: The answer is...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Give me a break!

EIGLARSH: Half of that is yes, half of it is no. This will not go to trial in May. News flash, everybody. It`s not going to trial. But it wasn`t going to go to trial even if it was Judge Strickland, for many reason.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: No, in May of 2011. OK...

EIGLARSH: It`s not going in 2011. I`m telling you, it`s not going to go in 2011.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, what I`m saying is, it`s still -- now it`s even worse. I mean, Mike Brooks, do you get my point?

MIKE BROOKS, FORMER D.C. POLICE, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Absolutely, and I -- you know, but I agree with Mark, you know? Mark and I have been working on this case for a long time. And I agree, this judge is just -- I think he`s going to just pick up the pace. And again, it could have backfired on the defense team because, as Beth said, this guy -- and I`ve talked to people down in Florida today -- this guy is no nonsense.

So no, you know what? It wasn`t going to go in May 2011, to begin with, Jane. You know, that was the schedule Judge Strickland wanted to have, but I don`t think it was going to happen then, either, because there`s a lot of things that -- and a lot of motions that keep getting filed. It wasn`t going to go then, either.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All I`m saying is, it`s going to be even more delayed.

BROOKS: Maybe a little bit.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. OK. Charlotte, Florida, thank you. Your question or thought, ma`am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Jane. I don`t really have a question. I`m here in Orlando. I know Judge Strickland. I know the other judge who`s just been appointed. Judge Strickland was incredibly fair. I believe that the defense has shot themselves in the foot and they are going to pay for it.

Casey -- they were searching for Caylee a mile from my house, so I have seen almost everything go on in this case from the very beginning. I`m sorry Judge Strickland is off the case because he strikes me as an extremely fair, patient judge. And I do believe, as you all have stated, that Judge Perry is going to be tougher. And perhaps they have really, really messed themselves up by doing this. I don`t think Jose Baez and his team has a lot of experience, even though they put Cheney Mason (ph) on board, and Mrs. Baden...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I think you`re making some important points. In his order, the judge, Strickland, was extremely sarcastic in describing his brief interaction with this blogger in court. Quote, "Comments to the blogger journalist delivered secretly" -- I think that was sarcastically -- - "in open court with open mikes in front of rolling TV cameras and with all counsel present was indeed a compliment."

He basically is saying, Jayne Weintraub, that he made this sort of offhand comment to this blogger in open court. It was not a big deal. It happened a long time ago. Everybody saw it. Everybody knew it. And then suddenly, on Friday, the defense decides to make an issue out of it. How do you respond?

JAYNE WEINTRAUB, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, first of all, I think that Jose Baez had to file the motion to recuse because it isn`t whether or not these things happen, it`s whether or not there was an appearance of impropriety, whether or not Casey Anthony, the accused, perceives that she can get a fair trial.

And no reasonable person would think that they could get a fair trial when the judge has filed a bar complaint against their lawyer, which was found to be unfounded. Number two, when he went and talked about -- according to the affidavit, when he talked about setting the trial after he`s reelected. So we`re having outside influences appear or come into play where it has no business. So Casey Anthony obviously was in fear she wouldn`t get a fair trial.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, what about the opinion of a lot of people who are in the know that this could be the worst decision because now a stricter judge is going to take his place and could be offering less leniency and compassion to the defendant?

WEINTRAUB: It couldn`t have been any different than it is. I mean, that`s the way our justice system works.

EIGLARSH: I disagree!

WEINTRAUB: And the bottom line is...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: OK, one at a time.

WEINTRAUB: ... he had no choice because had he not filed the motion to disqualify, down the road, if things do not go well, he might be accused of not providing adequate representation in filing a well-founded motion.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Mark Eiglarsh, your response?

EIGLARSH: Way too risky. They spun the wheel of justice, hoping to get Judge Liberal, who somehow is OK with women that don`t report their child missing? They made a bad move. And in trial, he`s going to hold Jose Baez very tight. And the defense is not going to have the liberal go of the courtroom like they had during all the motions...


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Everybody! OK, stay right where you are. More on today`s shocking news as the judge in the Casey Anthony case steps down. How is this going to affect the case? We`re taking you calls on this, 1- 877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.

Plus, a 15-year-old girl fighting for her life all because of an alleged text message. Now her alleged attacker is being charged as an adult. Tonight, we will talk to this young man`s attorney.

But first, breaking news. The judge in the Casey Anthony case has removed himself from the case, washing his hands of it. Is this trial ever going to get started?


CASEY ANTHONY, CAYLEE`S MOTHER: Will someone let me -- come on!

CINDY ANTHONY, CASEY`S MOTHER: Casey, hold on, sweetheart. Settle down, baby.

CASEY ANTHONY: Nobody`s letting me speak. You want me to talk, then...

CINDY ANTHONY: All right, I`ll listen.

CASEY ANTHONY: ... give me three seconds to say something.

CINDY ANTHONY: Go, sweetheart.

CASEY ANTHONY: I`m not in control over any of this!




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I can tell you just for a certainty that everything you`ve told me so far has been a lie.

CASEY ANTHONY: Not everything that I told you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Pretty much everything that you`ve told me.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: A shocking development in the Casey Anthony murder trial. The judge has granted a defense request and taken himself off of the case. This is a stunning development. Will this move backfire on Casey`s lawyers and perhaps on Casey herself?

Phone lines lighting up. Tom, Ohio, your questions or thoughts, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma`am. Jane, I`d like to know, as the judge steps down, why can`t the Florida supreme court step aside and take these high-profile lawyers -- take them off the case and give her a court- appointed attorney?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why should the state of attorney pay for her high- profile lawyers...

WEINTRAUB: ... the 6th amendment to the United States Constitution...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Talk one at a time. OK. Mark Eiglarsh, your response to that?

EIGLARSH: She`s entitled to have whatever lawyer she wants. The state is paying for the costs -- the depositions, the investigators, the experts. That`s in the Constitution, as well, and she has that right.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But I don`t really understand one thing, and this is the caller`s point. She`s indigent. She`s just been declared indigent.

EIGLARSH: At this point.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And she was indigent, I think, when she started because she didn`t have a job. That was one of the first things we learned about her is that she lied to cops and said she worked at Universal Studios...


VELEZ-MITCHELL: ... and she didn`t. So if she was indigent, broke, at the start of this case, why didn`t she get a public defender at that time.

EIGLARSH: I`ll tell you why. I`ll tell you why. She didn`t need one. She never requested one. Others, obviously, helped to pay for her defense attorneys. When it came time for costs, she herself is indigent. And they made an inquiry. She doesn`t have the ability to pay for costs. Obviously, nobody`s ponying up the dollars, and thus the state has to pay for it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We have seen judges in high-profile cases become sideshows before. Who could forget Judge Lance Ito from the O.J. Simpson trial? In fact, here`s a clip from the "Tonight" show on NBC.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Direct from the O.J. trial, the Dancing Itos, with special guest Marcia Clark, ladies and gentlemen!


VELEZ-MITCHELL: And then there was Judge Larry Seidlin, who has been a frequent guest here on ISSUES. He decided the custody battle over Anna Nicole Smith`s body. He became well known for his emotional outbursts or moments, I should say, like this. Watch.


JUDGE LARRY SEIDLIN, BROWARD COUNTY FAMILY COURT: And I`m not going to talk about this case ever again, and I hope to God you guys give the kid the right shot!


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Beth Karas, there were tears on the bench there. Obviously -- you have covered so many trials, Beth -- the personality of the judge has an impact on the case in many, many ways. Tell us how this new judge might impact the case.

KARAS: Well, you know, I don`t think that the trial is going to be delayed. This judge has 13 months to learn the case. He has a lot of work ahead of him, but I do think that the trial, if the lawyers will be prepared for May 2011, will go as scheduled. This judge is going to be...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: From your mouth to God`s ear.

KARAS: Pardon me?

BROOKS: And Jane...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: From your mouth to God`s ear.

KARAS: Yes. Sure.

BROOKS: And Jane, if I were Judge Strickland I would say, Hey, good riddance. I don`t need this. Go back to civil court now and live the good life.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. I mean, the motion that he wrote saying, I`m off the case, is one of the most sarcastic motions I`ve seen from any judge on a bench ever.

WEINTRAUB: Which was the problem.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh, excuse me?

WEINTRAUB: Jane, that is exactly what the problem is. The perception is that there was prejudice or bias against the lawyers or the party. That`s precisely why the motion was written. And the four-page order by the judge -- all I can say is, you know, the order should have been ruling on the law and not attacking the lawyers. The order has to only rule whether or not it was legally sufficient, not explain his actions. The judge isn`t on trial. The lawyers are advocates. They`re allowed to advocate for their clients zealously. A judge is not...


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I think the point was that the blogger -- the judge was saying that he had basically a meaningless little interchange with the blogger, that it wasn`t some kind of deep relationship where he was supporting him, and that the guy got sick and called and said, I hope you feel better.

Here`s more of blogger Dave Knechel`s scathing response to the defense motion. Quote, "If this is the best the defense can muster, God save Casey. It`s tantamount to handing her a ticket to hell." Knechel says he fears being remembered as the defense`s scapegoat.

Mark, what do you make of his response to this whole fiasco?

EIGLARSH: Well, it`s what most people are thinking. It`s transparent. The defense wanted somebody different and they put Casey`s life on the line by spinning the wheel. Now they have someone more conservative, a judge who will say, Hey, Baez, no more playing for the cameras. No more this, no more that. And I think it`s going to hurt him when it comes time for trial.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Beth Karas, getting back to my question to you, a judge`s personality does influence, particularly jury selection.

KARAS: That`s right. Well, you know, that`s a long way down the road, but between now and then, there will be a lot of depositions to take, there`ll more motions filed before this judge. And he may -- he may be a little tougher on the lawyers on both sides than the current judge. Judge Strickland lets them talk, lets them make their arguments and then rule. Belvin Perry may have a very different temperament in the courtroom. It`s been a long time since I saw him in a courtroom, but I do know that he`s very tough.

BROOKS: And he could also set a stricter guidelines on the dates of these depositions than Judge Strickland set. So again, just like Mark said, could come back to bite them.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hang on. Fantastic panel, stay right where you are. We have more.

Caylee Anthony`s body found in 2008. Now almost a year-and-a-half later, we are no closer to justice. Is this case ever going to get started?

Plus questions remain, mystery mounts in the search for Haleigh Cummings. What did cops find in the river? Why are they telling Ron to prepare for little Haleigh`s funeral?



JUDGE STAN STRICKLAND: All right, tell me your name, please.

CASEY ANTHONY: Casey Marie Anthony.

STRICKLAND: All right. I have in front of me a plea form, and it appears to have your signature on the back of it. Is this your signature?


STRICKLAND: All right. So you`ve signed this, correct?



VELEZ-MITCHELL: That was Judge Stan Strickland and Casey Anthony in court. Now, just hours ago, that man you`re looking at there has taken himself off the case as the judge. The defense demanded a replacement, claiming Judge Strickland is biased. How will this move play with the jury?

CASEY ANTHONY: Darrell, Ohio, your question or thought.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a question concerning the circumstantial evidence that`s been on the media. Doesn`t circumstantial evidence create circumstantial doubt? And a body in the trunk of a car will give off chloroform as it decomposes. So I think we`re kind of in a rush to judgment. They don`t have to start the trial next week or whatever because the death penalty is irreversible. And I think we should wait and not have another Duke lacrosse fiasco. But I`d like to ask Jayne Weintraub about the fingerprints. Were her fingerprints ever on the duct tape, also?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: OK, Jayne. Take it.

WEINTRAUB: Her fingerprints were not on the duct tape. And as I`ve long said, there are no forensics in the case that tie Casey Anthony to the death of the child.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Beth Karas, what about the trunk of Casey`s car?

KARAS: This is a car that she had been driving, that she abandoned when it ran out of gas. It is a car her parents took over on July 15th, about two weeks after she abandoned it. Her father, a retired deputy sheriff from Ohio, says you know the smell of decomposing human flesh. Once you`ve smelled it, you don`t forget it. And that was his first reaction when he got into the car to repossess it and bring it home. There was nothing in the trunk, though.

BROOKS: And who can ever forget the 911 call by her mother, who is a former nurse? So...

WEINTRAUB: That has nothing to do with -- that has nothing to do with...

BROOKS: Wait a minute!

WEINTRAUB: ... or ties Casey Anthony to the murder or death of the child.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: One at a time.

BROOKS: We`re not talking -- we`re talking about the stuff in the -- just listen, Jane, you`ll understand what we`re talking about. We`re talking about -- her father was a cop. He knows what death smells like. And her mother was a nurse. She knows what a decomposing body smells like also.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, listen, I have to ask you guys -- during the break I was thinking how might this affect the trial. Oh, of course, change of venue. That`s the reason Judge Strickland was looking at the blogs in the first place because all the blogging and all the media was creating the need, possibly, for a change of venue.

CASEY ANTHONY: Mark Eiglarsh, now that we`ve got this tough new judge, is he going to say, Uh-uh, no change of venue?

EIGLARSH: We don`t know what his position is, nor do we know what Strickland`s position is. But in Strickland`s defense, the only reason why he began to look at the blogs -- if you remember, two years ago, when this case first came about, he didn`t know from the media coverage. But because the defense continued to argued about media coverage, he was forced to educate himself, to get a feel for what the climate was like. We don`t know what his position was. We certainly don`t know what this new judge is going to do.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But Jayne, this could be a brilliant move, could it not? Ten seconds.

WEINTRAUB: I think it could be. I think it was the right move. I don`t think that anybody had any choice when you see on the blog pictures of "Old Sparky" and the electric chair that we used to use. I think that the lawyers didn`t have a choice. I hope that Casey Anthony gets a fair trial. And I don`t think there is any forensic evidence or any evidence...


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Got to leave it right there. Fantastic panel.

Strange twists and turns in the search for Haleigh Cummings. Why are cops asking Ron, the dad to prepare for her funeral?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Mystery mounts in the desperate search for little Haleigh Cummings. The cops have now told Haleigh`s father to begin to make funeral arrangements.

What did police find in that river? New reports say they are doing tests on cinder blocks and rope. If they still don`t have a body, do they have a case?

Plus a 15-year-old girl fights for her life. Josie Ratley was brutally beaten, her head, face viciously stomped on al allegedly because of a text message.

Tonight we`ll talk live to the 15-year-old suspect`s attorney about the explosive developments in the case and go inside Josie`s painful road to recovery.

Something big may be about to happen in the Haleigh Cummings case. Tonight reports that Haleigh`s father Ron Cummings has been told to start making funeral arrangements. Could this mean the cops have found the precious child`s remains or even a speck of conclusive, biological evidence?

Police are investigating the 5-year-old`s disappearance as a homicide. But are they any closer to nailing who killed Haleigh?

Art Harris of reports cops have found a piece of a yellow rope from a home where Misty`s brother Tommy Croslin was living when little Haleigh vanished on Misty`s watch more than 14 months ago. Misty Croslin`s grandmother said Misty told her about a yellow rope as a possible weapon used to tie Haleigh to cinder blocks and then tossed her body in the St. Johns River.

HLN affiliate WJXT reports cops also pulled a pair of cinder blocks from the river and are sending them for forensic testing; could those blocks have been used to weigh down little Haleigh?

Meantime, did Ron Cummings -- get this -- purposefully divorce Misty and then intentionally get himself busted in that February drug sting along with Misty, just to try to get Misty to crack and finally tell the whole truth? Ron`s attorney made this jaw-dropping statement.


TERRY SHOEMAKER, RONALD CUMMINGS` ATTORNEY: The police have always said that, you know, first if you divorce Haleigh -- I`m sorry -- divorce Misty, you know, we`ll find something out. She`ll crack. They told him, you know if Misty got in trouble, if Misty was in jail, we could probably get her to crack.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wow, if true, talk about a father`s dedication, willing to get arrested, possibly go to jail.

By the way, bounty hunter Leonard Padilla tells ISSUES that Ron`s family has approached him to bail Ron out of jail. A dizzying array of new developments to discuss.

I`m taking your calls; 1877-JVM SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.

Straight out to my fantastic expert panel, plus we are joined by Jean Casarez, "In Session" correspondent from our sister network, TruTV.

Jean, you`re tracking this case. What is the very latest?

JEAN CASAREZ, TRUTV CORRESPONDENT, "IN SESSION": Well, we do know -- let`s look at the facts -- that Terry Shoemaker, the attorney for Ronald Cummings went to see him on Friday. We also know that the sheriff`s department gave him two updates during the week in regard to the search at the St. Johns River.

And now the reports are coming out that he may have, in fact, have been told to prepare for a funeral. If true, that is a huge, huge statement. Because to have a funeral, what we can translate that to, common sense tells us that they found something in the form of remains.

And I think also, Jane, it is huge that this case became a homicide case last week. That means something had to have been found in the St. Johns River.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Mike Brooks, everybody thinks we`re looking for a body, we`re looking for a body. But in fact, all they need is one tiny bone from that child`s body that was somehow on the river bed and test that for analysis. And if that test comes back positive, they have got what they need, right?

MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That`s exactly right, Jane, because as we know, there was a forensic anthropologist there on the scene doing some testing of some of the items that they did recover. We heard that there were items recovered by Sheriff Hardy. He said that they did recover their 20 to 30 divers.

What exactly did they get? We don`t know but the initial results that there was a cooler that was recovered; apparently they were using that as a sifter for the silty bottom of the St. Johns River. He said they were recovering all kinds of things, alligator nails, but did they recover one little piece of bone or possibly more? We don`t know.

They are holding that evidence very close to their vest. But that`s what the indications are if they are telling Ron to prepare for a funeral.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: That`s right. Lots of new evidence up for analysis and investigation: two cinder blocks reportedly sent for testing; rope that was found allegedly in Tommy`s former home. What about deer blood found in the mystery van? The private detective who gave Misty a lie detector and voice analysis test said this on ISSUES just last week.

Quote, "She -- Misty -- talked about a van. And she said there was blood in the van. But she went to tell me that it was deer blood."

Now, Levi Page, you`re a blogger, way on top of this case. Cops said they found alligator toenails in the St. Johns River. So if they found alligator toenails that means alligators are in that river.

T.J. refused to speculate as to whether Haleigh`s killer they put deer blood on the child so that alligators would eat her but you`ve got to look at that possibility. And if it turns out there`s no body and no confession, despite everything that happened last week, is there still no case, Levi?

LEVI PAGE, INTERNET RADIO HOST AND BLOGGER (via telephone): You know what, I think that that`s a possibility. It`s horrific to think that anybody would put deer blood on a child to attract alligators to eat them.

What is interesting to me is that Haleigh Cummings had Turner Syndrome (ph). She had violent outbursts, temper tantrums, screaming. Whoever tried to do this, (INAUDIBLE) I want to know if he had any scratches, did he have any bite marks on him, any bruises that Haleigh tried to put up a fight.

Wouldn`t Misty or Tommy have had that if that were the case? There`s not that many descriptive details in order for me to believe what they are saying.

And also this -- I want to address what Ronald Cummings attorney Terry Shoemaker is saying. I think it`s a load of crap. That Ronald Cummings engages in drug trafficking in order to -- that`s not Ronald Cummings` first (INAUDIBLE). He has a history of drug offenses before this happened. And if he wanted to help police, why did he marry Misty Croslin?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, yes. None of it really makes sense. And then we`re hearing, did Ron Cummings divorce Misty and then get himself busted in that February drug sting just in order to get close to Misty.

Listen to what his attorney said yesterday. This is unbelievable.


SHOEMAKER: The police have always said that, you know, first if you divorce Haleigh -- I`m sorry, divorce Misty, we`ll find something out. She`ll crack. They have told him, if Misty got in trouble, if Misty was in jail, we could probably get her to crack.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now Mark Eiglarsh, Ron`s mother is saying Ron may have gotten involved in that alleged prescription drug ring just to get close to Misty.


BROOKS: Exactly.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Why are you laughing about that?

EIGLARSH: Come on. I`ve defended enough drug traffickers to know that love isn`t their motivation. It`s the mighty dollar. Give me a break.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: No. I guess what the mom is saying is that even after he divorced her, ok, they are saying the cops said divorce her, she`ll crack. So he divorces her. Then the mom is saying he got involved in the drug ring with Misty in order to get close to her to get information.

EIGLARSH: And that`s what my mother would say, too, to defend me. God bless her.

That`s a wonderful defense when you`re caught on video or audio; when a busload of nuns catch him doing whatever he`s doing, you come up with something. I think the best lies are based on half truths. Ok. Got it. He loved her, he wanted to get close to her. That works.

I`m not buying it.

BROOKS: And he married her, Jane, after the initial police report when he called her his dumb b-word girlfriend. Then he marries the woman. So what did he do? Did he marry her to try to get some information out of her, and then divorced her? I`m not buying that story.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`m just saying it`s a crazy case. These people are very hard to figure out --

BROOKS: To say the least.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: -- right, to put it mildly.

What if, for example, Jean Casarez -- it sounds crazy but what if the mom is right, that Ron purposely maybe even colluded with the cops to be part of the sting, to get himself arrested so that they would be sure that Misty would end up in jail and therefore crack and tell the truth.

CASAREZ: Two things Jane. First of all, I heard on a jailhouse tape between Ronald Cummings and his mother Teresa Neves, her saying that to him very tenderly. Number two, I`ve watched hours of jailhouse videos, especially in the drug interaction when they were making the drug deals and definitely Misty is in charge of that whole thing. Ronald is in the back seat most of the time. He talks, but she`s really the one that is running the operation.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wow, ok. None of it continues to make any sense. We pray that there`s a break in this case and that we can all get closure soon.

Fantastic panel; thank you so much. And remember, tomorrow night right here on ISSUES we`re going to talk to Misty and Joe`s grandmother Flora Holler (ph). She`s the one who got this whole search going. You don`t want to miss that.

Also, Josie Ratley fighting for her life as we speak, savagely beaten, waiting for the bus, all over a text. Tonight, the 15-year-old boy accused of beating this girl is being charged as an adult. I will talk one on one with his attorney and the attorney for Josie Ratley`s family.

We`re taking your calls on this; 1-877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.


HILDA GOTAY RATLEY, JOSIE`S MOTHER: When I`m home, you know what I do? I cry and I stay in bed. That`s what I do. And I pray. That my baby comes back to me the way she was when she left my home that day.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Stunning twist in the gruesome beating of a Florida teen.

But first, "Top of the Block" tonight.

A campaign for justice for a 52-year-old elephant who cannot speak for herself; she goes by Queenie or Boo. Her defenders claim she`s been living in terrible conditions for decades in a circus accused by USDA of letting their elephants become emaciated and not providing in a veterinary care.

Now the USDA has a chance to ease Queenie`s suffering by sending her to a sanctuary where she can roam free for the very first time since she was abducted from the wild decades ago. But sources tell ISSUES the USDA may send Queenie, a.k.a. Boo, to another zoo. I say boo to that. We tried but could not reach the USDA for comment.

If you`re watching Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, please do the right thing. If you at home feel the same way, you can call the Secretary yourself, 202-720-3631 or join the Save Queenie, Save Elephant`s Facebook page. Or you can go to my Facebook page and follow the links.

Together I hope we can give Queenie at least a few decent years on this earth.

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

Shock tonight as the 15-year-old suspect in the Josie Ratley beating is charged as an adult. Wayne Treacy was arraigned over the weekend in Florida. This obviously troubled teen now faces life in prison for first degree attempted murder.

His alleged victim, Josie Ratley, underwent her third surgery today. Part of Josie`s skull was damaged when the teen was repeatedly kicked in the head during the March 17th attack.

This morning on NBC`s "Today Show", Josie`s devastated mom showed new video of her daughter and gave an update on her child`s progress.


HILDA GOTAY RATLEY, JOSIE RATLEY`S MOTHER: She is confused. And she does not know why she`s there. And her -- and that`s why when the crying comes in. Because she doesn`t know why she`s there, you know, and of course, she has a lot of headaches, too.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh, this is just such a tragic story for both families. With me tonight: Rick Freedman, the attorney for Josie Ratley. You have been updating us on Josie`s prognosis. What is the very latest?

RICK FREEDMAN, ATTORNEY FOR JOSIE RATLEY: The latest is, I just came from the hospital Jane -- good evening and thanks for having me. She had reconstructive cranial surgery today. The part of the skull that was removed during the second craniotomy was placed back into her skull. And they also did some stretching of the skin and replaced some other areas that have been damaged and cosmetically tried to fix it up the best they could.

She got out of surgery about 5:45 today. And she`s now under heavy sedation. She`s in a lot of pain, obviously. And she`ll be that way for the next 24 to 36 hours. And then hopefully she`ll be back in rehab two day from today.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Fifteen-year-old Josie had part of her skull removed to relieve pressure back in March. And as you just heard she`s got a long, long road of rehabilitation in front her. But Josie`s mother remained positive on NBC`s "Today Show".


RATLEY: They say she`s a good candidate, that it`s going to take a long haul, you know. But little by little, we don`t really know what she`s going to be able -- capable of, you know, yet. But it`s all been positive, you know, thinking.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: So as we`ve been just telling you, Josie just got out of surgery a couple of hours ago and will be heavily medicated for the next 48 hours.

I think, Rick, everybody wants to know about her progress and what are her chances for long-term recovery, being able to speak again, being able to move and being intellectually at the same level that she was before this horror.

FREEDMAN: She`s had serious damage to the front left portion of her brain, the communication and speech area. She cannot talk. She cannot walk. And unfortunately the right side of her body, primarily the right arm, hand and fingers are -- she can`t use them right now. And what`s a shame about that is she was a tremendous artist.

She had done such great artwork over the course of her lifetime that people have been calling us wanting to put this art on t-shirts and put this art on prints and now she can`t even use that right hand to draw anymore.

So the injuries right now are devastating. It`s going to be a long haul of occupational therapy, rehabilitative therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy and that`s going to be for years.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let`s talk about the suspect. In just one month 15- year-old Wayne Treacy has gone from a student to possibly spending the rest of his life behind bars. Prosecutors had a wide range in deciding how to charge this young man in this brutal attack. They decided to try the 15- year-old as an adult.

So he was arraigned on the charge of first degree attempted murder as an adult. He could get life in prison.

Rick, what is your reaction to that decision to charge him as an adult?

FREEDMAN: I can tell you I`ve spoken with Hilda Gotay, Josie`s mom. She felt it was the right decision. She is putting her hands, as she told me, in God and in the criminal justice system. She feels like at the end of the day that Mr. Treacy will get what he deserves.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You yourself have said on our show previously, though, that we cannot simply lock up troubled teens and throw away the key and hope to find a solution to the cultural problem of teen violence. What else do we need to do?

FREEDMAN: We need to do a lot of education with our children. And that means speaking to them before things like this happen. That means having serious-age appropriate discussions with them at the kitchen table. Turn the television off and have those discussions with them about how serious it is when text messages and Facebook posts can lead to something as serious as being kicked in the skull to within an inch of your death.

And when you talk about kids in real life situations, you`re going to find out that they`re going to start listening more and they`re going to learn more. Because these are teachable moments and if we`ve got to pull something positive at what happened to Josie then, we`ve got to do it by teaching our kids about all the things that are dangerous out there with all this new technology and the Internet. So let`s use this moment and learn something from it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. When we come back -- thank you very much, Rick Freedman. Our hearts are with your client`s daughter.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: And next we`re going to go inside the recovery. And also talk to the attorney for the suspect, next, right after the break.



FREEDMAN: You`re giving 6- and 8- and 10-year-olds now cellphones. And that`s all they know is texting. But do they know that texting somebody something inappropriately said can lead to potentially getting yourself killed or within an inch of death.

We don`t talk to our kids about this because we never thought about it.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight on ISSUES, Josie Ratley`s third surgery and her accused attacker is now being charged as an adult but he`s only 15 years old.

With me now: Jenn Berman and Russell Williams, the attorney for the 15-year-old suspect Wayne Treacy.

Your reaction, Russell, to his being charged as an adult.

RUSSELL WILLIAMS, ATTORNEY FOR WAYNE TREACY: Well, as much as I wish they didn`t charge him as an adult, it was inevitable based upon the consistency of the Broward County State Attorney`s office and charging individuals who commit serious crimes of this age as adults.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I mean, listen. Wayne Treacy, your client faces life in prison for first degree attempted murder. But is it the right punishment for this boy? I mean he`s had a lot of trouble. He saw his own brother commit suicide. On his birthday, he finds his brother hanging from a tree. His father`s been in and out of prison dozens of times.

This guy needed counseling. He needed psychiatric help and he didn`t get it. Should the court system factor that in, Russell?

WILLIAMS: Well, I`m hoping that when I have the mental health reports in front of me after the doctors are done evaluating him that I could present that to the court at the time of sentencing. And hopefully, that would mitigate his sentence somewhat so he does not have to spend the rest of his natural life in prison.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. (AUDIO GAP) details of his troubled past, but you essentially, Russell, are not denying that this occurred. In other words, you`re admitting, yes, he did do this.

WILLIAMS: Well, I`m admitting that he was at the incident at the scene where the beating took place. I don`t have enough facts to say that he was there. But from what I gathered, he was in the area at the time and obviously he`s being remorseful and his family being remorseful that he -- they did sustain that Josie Ratley unfortunately sustained a beating at his hands.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Jennifer Berman, psychotherapist -- what kills me is this is destroying two families. I don`t condone obviously what this kid did. It was evil, it was violent, it was horrible -- alleged.

But to destroy two young lives, it just -- there`s got to be some other way. There`s got to be some other alternative than just incarceration to deal with cultural problems.


JENNIFER BERMAN, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: It`s such a tragedy and it`s particularly tragic that the school didn`t catch this earlier on. This is a kid who desperately needed counseling, who had red flags all over the place. A horrific childhood (AUDIO GAP) like you said, that does not condone what he did. This is a kid who seriously needed help and did not get it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I think that the parents, to a certain degree, have to be held responsible if a child does something like this. And that`s where I see the big gap.

Jennifer, what about the parents that didn`t get him counseling.

BERMAN: You have to (AUDIO GAP) brother committed suicide; that the father was in and out of jail. Clearly, this is a kid who did not get parenting that he needed. It seems like no one was home to take care of him.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Thank you, my fantastic panel.

Remember, tomorrow night, right here on ISSUES, we`re going to talk to Misty and Joe`s grandmother, Flora Holler. And you`re not going to miss that.

You are watching ISSUES on HLN.