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'Birther' Bills & President Obama; Iceland's other Volcano Threat; Mom Kept from Kids; School Principal Murdered; Trash to Energy

Aired April 21, 2010 - 23:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, the birthers are back and this time legislators are listening. Republicans in Arizona are trying to demand the presidential candidate produce a birth certificate in that state. Five other states are working on similar measures.

Tonight, you'll hear directly from one of the Arizona lawmakers who voted for that bill. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also tonight, you think the chaos from Iceland's erupting volcano was bad, what if it is only the opening act? We'll show its bigger brother which could be on the brink of blowing its top. It's our "360 Dispatch."

And later, "Up Close" you will not be able to turn away from this mom's story. After complications giving birth, she is now unable to move or speak; she can only blink her eyes. The question and court fight is over this, can she think and communicate and should she be allowed to see her three young children? Right now, she is not.

First up tonight, the birthers are back. Legislators and a number of states are listening and Arizona Republicans are trying to pass laws in response. The Arizona House of Representatives this week, passing legislation to require a candidate to show a birth certificate in order to get on the presidential ballot. Five other states are considering the idea.

But before we go any further, let's just walk over to the wall. Let's just get a couple of things out of the way here so we're all on the same page.

Take a look. This is an official copy of President Obama's birth certificate from the State of Hawaii, a Certification of Live Birth. Now, the state went paperless nine years ago so the original is now an electronic form on a server somewhere.

On the back of the official copy right down here is a stamp from Hawaii's State Registrar. Doubters claim the certificate is unsigned and therefore bogus. In fact, the stamp is how they do it in Hawaii.

Now, take a look at this, let's just move this down and move that down away. They also claim it doesn't have a raised seal, which as you can see, it does.

The photos by the way are from the nonpartisan They were taken at Obama headquarters in Chicago. Yet, cruise the Web and you will find plenty of other documents like this one purporting to show Mr. Obama was actually born in Kenya, even though the birth certificate -- let's take a look at this -- actually gets the name of the country wrong, it says Republic of Kenya, at the time it wasn't called the Republic of Kenya as it says it was right there.

But as we mentioned a lot of people are buying this notion of a foreign president. Check it out, this is pretty stunning. This a New York Times/CBS News poll, showing 20 percent surveyed one in five said President Obama is Kenyan by birth, another 23 percent said they just don't know. Only 58 percent said the President of the United States is an American.

Now, granted that's a majority, but still, can you recall any other time when a significant number of people actually had any doubt about their president.

And here's what the Arizona Republic Editorial Board writes about the proposed birth certificate law in their state, remember this is not a national thing. But this is in this state, Secretary of State Ken Bennett who lives in the real world, not on Conspiracy Island points out that it could be unconstitutional for a state to impose its own requirements on federal office.

The proposed legislation is worse than a foolish waste of time, the Arizona Republic says. It suggests Arizona is a place where any crackpot whim can be enshrined in law.

So "Keeping Them Honest" tonight and we're going to ask whether this bill or anything like it is even constitutional. We're also take a closer look at this 20 percent of birthers and what they believe.


COOPER: Joining us now is Arizona Republican State Representative Cecil Ash who voted for the measure. Thanks for being with us.

Do you believe Barack Obama is an American, born in Hawaii?

CECIL ASH (R), ARIZONA STATE LEGISLATURE: All the evidence I've seen is that he was born Hawaii. I've seen a birth certificate on the Internet. Of course, you can't believe everything you see on the Internet so. I've never personally investigated it or studied it.

COOPER: But -- ok, it sounds like you're saying you believe it but you don't believe what you read on the Internet. So you do believe he's an American, though?

ASH: Yes, I do.

COOPER: I mean, as you said, the Certificate of Live Birth is available for anyone to see, it's been released. And in Hawaii, there are only electronic records at this point; the Health Department there has verified it. They made public statements. So why vote for something which perpetuates these false Internet rumors?

ASH: Well Anderson, I think there's been a lot of controversy over the issue. It's created a division among a lot of people in the United States. And for better or worse many people don't believe he is a U.S. citizen, they believe he has loyalties -- a divided loyalties, I suppose you could say.

COOPER: Right, but those people are wrong, I mean, he is a U.S. citizen.

ASH: Well, you're telling me that he's wrong. I've never investigated that. If he is, then he has nothing to fear.

COOPER: But I mean the information is out there, I mean, it has been released, it has been shown. There are some people who don't believe it but there are also some people who believe the moon is made out of cheese. And you can say you've never investigated it but I think you would probably say the moon is not made out of cheese.

ASH: Well, I certainly would.

But the -- the reason I spoke up on this bill is simply because there is a lot of division in the country and I believe this would put an end to any future controversy about a president's qualifications.

COOPER: You told our producer you voted for this because you get a lot of calls from constituents with questions based on things they've read on the Internet. I mean, isn't it your job as a leader to actually lead to not just throw up your hands and say well, who knows what's real on the Internet? To actually say, well, actually Hawaii has released this information and it's factually correct?

ASH: Well, as I said, I haven't personally investigated that. But I think that if --

COOPER: But I mean, there's plenty of things you believe that you have not personally investigated. Why this are you holding onto?

ASH: That's true. Well, what we're requiring here is for a presidential candidate to demonstrate that he's qualified. And I don't think having any presidential candidate show that he's qualified by demonstrating the requirements -- of the requirements, that there's any problem with that.

COOPER: You told my producer you thought the President spent a million dollars fighting the release of his birth certificate. Then that raised concerns for you.

ASH: That's what I've heard. As I said.

COOPER: Right, but that's not -- you know that's actually not true?

ASH: I don't know that that's not true. As I said, I haven't studied it. You get a lot of information on the Internet. As you know, much of it is inaccurate.

This has not been a focus of my attention for the last two years, but I know it is a matter of controversy for many people. And I looked at this as simply a means to end that controversy.

COOPER: You also said to our producer that the president identified himself as foreigner on his college application.

ASH: Yes.

COOPER: You know that's not true, right?

ASH: I didn't know that that was not true.

COOPER: That was a story that was put out on April Fools' Day; it's a fake AP News story.

ASH: Like I said, I'm reluctant to believe anything I read on the Internet, including the evidence about his Birth Certificate. This -- this is not the responsibility --

COOPER: So the only way you will believe a Birth Certificate is if you see it for yourself at the State Office in Hawaii? I mean, to not believe anything that is put out by anyone, then how can you believe anything?

ASH: Well, it's not -- it's not my responsibility to check the qualifications. When someone comes to be on the ballot in Arizona, it's not my responsibility to check those qualifications. It's the responsibility of the Secretary of State.

And so all we said is if it's required that you be a natural-born citizen, he should determine that. Now, you -- you argue this in terms of what's happened to Barack Obama, I'm thinking in terms of the next nominees down the road.

COOPER: But this is all about Barack Obama. I mean, this is -- this is completely partisan -- no?

ASH: Well, that's why I spoke up on the bill. They were -- the other side, the Democrats were saying this is racist; it's to embarrass Barack Obama. And I spoke up to say, this is not a matter of race, it's not a racist issue. I'm merely voting for the -- as you call it, the birther's amendment.

COOPER: So where was George Bush born?

ASH: I have no idea where George Bush was born.

COOPER: But that wasn't a concern for you when he was in office?

ASH: The issue never came up.

COOPER: What about Bill Clinton, where was he born?

ASH: I have no idea. COOPER: So -- so all of a sudden, you're concerned about where the President of the United States is born, based on calls you're getting from constituents who are misinformed?

ASH: Actually, I did not get any calls from constituents until after this bill was passed. But I don't think there's any harm in requiring someone to demonstrate that they meet the requirements for the position. Now, nobody can deny -- regardless of what you believe about President Obama -- nobody can deny that there's been a controversy.

COOPER: Yes, but there's controversy about everything and there are -- but there are things called facts and you know the facts. You are a leader, you know the facts.

Isn't it your job, when a constituent calls and says, gosh, I'm reading all this stuff on the Internet that President Obama was a foreign exchange student, to say, actually, no, he wasn't. I mean, isn't that you're -- part of your job?

ASH: No, President Obama is president now. For the future, this kind of controversy should not come up again, because they'll have to establish that up front. And that will avoid this kind of controversy in the future.

COOPER: Your critics will say that you and the other Republicans only Republicans voted for this, are simply pandering to a misinformed electorate. That rather than setting the record straight yourselves, you're just pandering, you're just kind throwing up your hands and say, gosh, I don't know, there's a lot of stuff on the Internet and a lot of it seems controversial. We need this bill, rather than saying actually this information is false.

ASH: Well, I think our purpose was to avoid this kind of controversy in the future. And I think that's appropriate, that's our jobs as leaders, is to eliminate the possibility of this kind of controversy in the future.

COOPER: State Representative Cecil Ash, I appreciate your time. Thank you, sir.

ASH: Thank you very much, bye.


COOPER: Well, let us know what you think about that. A live chat is up and running at We're going to continue the conversation next about what's driving all of this with John Avlon and also Roland Martin.

Also new developments in the murder of a school principal who was getting results and winning the respect and the love of his students. Did he actually know his killer? On "Crime and Punishment" tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: No person -- no person, except a naturalized born citizen shall be eligible to the Office of President. That's from Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution. Now, flash forward -- forward to today, only 58 percent of Americans, 58 percent of Americans in a recent poll said they believe President Obama was born in America.

Arizona's House of Representatives this week passing legislation mandating a presidential candidate produce his or her birth certificate to get on the state ballot. With us now political contributor, John Avlon, author of "Wingnuts" and political analyst Roland Martin.

Roland, let me just play devil's advocate here. What's wrong with the State of Arizona saying you know what, a presidential candidate should produce a birth certificate and we have the right to demand that?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Because they're stupid, they're stupid. Ok, these are the same people Anderson, who always talk about state's rights. So basically what they're saying is to the State of Hawaii, "We don't trust you."

And so I would turn it on this head, how would state officials in Arizona feel if another state rejected their birth certificates? See it's not just so simple as well, just present a birth certificate.

The other thing is there's no standard birth certificate in the United States. There are different types of birth certificates and different states in different counties. And so if I don't have my original out of Harris County in Texas, if I get a duplicate, it might not have the raised seal on it but it might be a vital statistics of birth certificate. So this is a nonsensical issue. They are playing to the nuts on the right.

COOPER: Is John, do you agree this is all about politics?

JOHN AVLON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. It has become all about politics, it's about -- it's feeding off a persistent fear that somehow President Obama is un-American and this becomes a symbol for that. But it really has -- look -- I mean, this is something that the Obama campaign put on the Web in June of 2008. The Republican Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingual has backed.

This should have been done a long time ago but it's managed to became a very persistent conspiracy theory because it is as Roland said, is feeding into a lot of people's worst instincts and fears. It has to do with whether or not President Obama is truly American. That is --

MARTIN: Right.

AVLON: -- absurd stuff and yet we see it getting currency now in state capitals, these folks have got to wake up.

COOPER: And Roland, I mean, I hate to bring race into this. But do you think there is a racial component to this that he is viewed as somehow other and that contributes to this?

MARTIN: Well, of course. You have these people who are sitting here or saying he was born in Kenya and questioning his legitimacy. And that's what we're seeing.

But I want to pick apart that ridiculous state official you just had. He said quote "divided loyalty." He basically was saying that President Barack Obama has divided loyalties. He's not really loyal to the United States.

Then he kept talking about, to demonstrate that he is qualified. What does that mean? And as you so put it, did any of the three to four previous white guys have to demonstrate they were qualified to be president?

These are the games they're playing and so this simply feeds into this continuing notion that he is not legitimate. You have this guy in the Army, who is about to be dishonorably discharged in a court- martialed because he's refusing to go to war and saying boy, he's not a legitimate president.

Oh come on, this is playing to the nuts, the nuts out there who don't want to believe anything about this president.

AVLON: Yes. And just -- you know, I'd just add to that, look, I mean, there is a birther bill in Congress that has you know, has half a dozen cosponsors. You know we've seen this stuff erupt before. It's lost its legitimacy or it should have. But it's persisting, it's being bumped up by some folks who have an interest in that whether, you know, conspiracy entrepreneurs or people who are playing politics with this.

And it began with some folks on the left. It actually, you know, the Hillary delegate in Texas is one of the people who started this up but we've got to remember --

MARTIN: Absolutely.

COOPER: Well, it's amazing when you look at the poll number, I don't know if this poll is accurate, the CBS News and New York Times poll, but only 58 percent of Americans think that he is -- was born in this United States, 20 percent think he was born in another country and 23 percent don't know or didn't answer.

MARTIN: But Anderson, look at all the work that we've done to debunk the fact that he is a Muslim and you still have people running around saying, "Oh, no, he's actually a Muslim."

So look, let's just be honest, there are some stupid Americans, ok, who want to believe nonsense. Let's just go ahead and say it.

AVLON: No, I don't think -- the American people are smart. The problem is you've got a lot of people constantly stirring the pot, pandering to the lowest common denominator. And look, everyone's entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. And this, we've got to just keep hammering this home, folks, the facts are clear. This is set and established.

And you know, just because you've got a bunch of conspiracy entrepreneurs trying to pump up Obama derangement syndrome in people, that's where we've just to say, look, this is not legitimate, this is wing nut stuff. And it's appealing to the worst instincts of the American people. We're better than this. We're smarter than this.

COOPER: And look, and it's one thing --

MARTIN: Go ahead, John.

COOPER: -- one thing for people who have busy lives who aren't paying attention to news on a daily basis. Look, I get why people don't have an opinion on it or say look, I don't know, there's so much information out there and floating out there.

It's one thing for people to understandably be confused about it or have a form of some opinion. But it's another thing for legislators to actually act on it and use taxpayer time and money to focus on this kind of stuff.

MARTIN: Right. And that's why I -- look, I know, John, I know we want to be nice about it, but I'm sorry, if we keep putting out fact after a fact after fact and people still don't believe the facts, they're stupid, John. That's what we call them in the real world. Maybe it's not nice or PC to call them that on television.

But this is ridiculous --

AVLON: It is.

MARTIN: -- I mean, think about it, this is a state, a House of Representatives in a state saying forget another state, forget a Republican governor, forget the head of the health department, forget all of them, they're all wrong, we want to see it ourselves. This is crazy.

AVLON: Hey, look, the state legislators in question aren't just stupid, they're cynical. And you know, the big problem ultimately it goes from an old quote by Jonathan Swift, "You can't reason people out of something that they weren't reasoned into."

This is fright wing politics, this is about fear-based appeals designed to divide the American people and try to delegitimize a duly- elected President of the United States. That's why we should all be offended by it.

COOPER: I think a lot of people are going to be offended, Roland by you calling people stupid.

MARTIN: Well, go right ahead. But if they believe he is a Muslim and they believe he is not American, I'm sorry, Anderson, they're stupid.

COOPER: Roland, I'll leave it there. I'm not going to argue with you. Roland Martin, I appreciate it. John Avlon as well, thanks very much, guys.

Still the case -- in case you want to see the actual Arizona bill that we've been talking about, we've got it online at

Up next, take a look at this eruption. What could be worse -- much worse than the Icelandic volcano that shut down air travel for days? Another Icelandic volcano, possibly now if history is any indication of getting ready to blow. We'll take a look at what the evidence is.

Later, the case of Abbie Dorn, who went into the hospital to delivery triplets, she ended up with severe brain damage and now the kids' father doesn't want them to see their mom. Her case along with Jeffrey Toobin and Sanjay Gupta on the legal and medical angles when we continue.


COOPER: Nearly six days after a volcanic ash cloud stranded airline passengers around the world, some good news to report. Good news, more countries are opening their airspace and more flights are taking off and landing and more people are finally reaching their destinations.

The worry though, is for how long the ash that's coming from this volcano in Iceland that may remain active for week, even months to come. Now, the eruptions are spectacular but they may also be a sign that another volcano on the island could also soon awaken. It's happened before.

Gary Tuchman is in Iceland and has this "360 Dispatch."


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a brilliantly clear Icelandic day, it's easy to see the eruptions from a volcano that has caused so much chaos. But not far away, a glacier on top of one of Iceland's most powerful volcanoes over the centuries, a volcano that could cause far more chaos -- it's called Katla. Our guide told us we could actually drive on top of 2,000 feet of ice to reach the peak of Katla.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see it by the control line that we're just getting off to 1,000 meters; 3,300 feet.

TUCHMAN: We had arrived, we felt like we were on another planet.

(on camera): We are now on the very top of Katla. If this volcano were to erupt, this is where it would emanate from. This is the beginning of the crater, this valley, the crater six miles wide.

Katla is the volcano that people in Iceland fear the most. There have been very strong eruptions over the centuries. The last time it erupted was 1918, a long time ago, the end of World War I.

On the average over the centuries it erupts twice a century so that's why people think it's due. And it's so powerful that in the worst case scenario, according to the experts, the amount of water that could flood Iceland if it erupted would be six times the amount of water in the Amazon River per second and that gives you an idea of why people are so scared of it and why it's so carefully observed.

You can see the volcano that's erupting right now right across from us. Here it is. It's sunny out. But you can see the big gray cloud, that's the ash, and the ashes are heading in our direction because the wind is blowing this way, so we can't stay here that long. On the ground here is snow. And you could see the black stuff here; this is the ash from this current volcano that is erupting.

Now, the present advice from this week frightened a lot of people who lives here by saying that this volcano that's erupting is a small rehearsal for what might happen here in Katla. The reason he said that is because over the centuries these two volcanoes have erupted at the same time frequently. Scientists aren't sure if there's a reason that one erupts and the other one does or if it's just coincidence. But either way people get very nervous about it.

This is Katla and this indeed is the volcano that people here in Iceland are scared about.

(voice-over): Before we left Katla, we were completely quiet so we could hear this. That boom is the sound of the eruption of the active volcano, a chilling sound on top of this desolate glacier.


COOPER: So Gary, there's part of me that think -- ok, this other of the volcano it is just hype. That -- that look, is -- I mean, is there actual evidence this thing is near blowing or how do they study these kinds of things? What do the experts say?

TUCHMAN: There are some scientists, Anderson, who say that the magma from one volcano could create eruptions at the other volcano. There are others who say it's just a coincidence they both erupted near each other in previous centuries.

Either way, they're keeping a very close eye on Katla. The good news is this current active volcano, we've (INAUDIBLE) again today, experts told us this morning, that the volcano is 80 percent weaker than last week. That's very good news, considering the last time this volcano erupted, the one that's active right now back in 1821, it lasted for 15 months and it was very strong.

By the way Anderson, I want to tell you, it's a little noisy out here in Reykjavik. And the reason it's noisy is because they have this festive night, a public holiday tomorrow, it's called the first day of summer holiday. They celebrate summer Anderson, two months early here in Iceland. So I could tell you, this isn't like summer to me; it's about 28 degrees Fahrenheit right now.

COOPER: Reykjavik is kind of a big drinking town, as I recall, isn't it?

TUCHMAN: Oh, it's a party town, Anderson, but we're going to sleep after this is over.

COOPER: No doubt about it. I'm sure.

Gary, I appreciate it. Thanks for all the reporting all this week.

What about the ash from that volcano? Will it continue to pose a threat to air traffic? That's what we want to know. Joining me now is severe weather expert, Chad Myers.

Chad, what's the forecast in this area for the next couple of days?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, for northern Europe, all of Ireland in the clear. But for parts -- and especially in different eruptions, parts of Scandinavia may be in jeopardy if this goes up higher again. Right now the eruption is only going to 15,000 feet.

That's not where the planes fly. The planes are flying at 30,000 feet. And I guess the planes have to land through 15,000 feet at some point in time. But if they can fly right over it, that's ok. We won't have to worry about the jet stream.

Let's go to the graphics. I'm going to show you exactly where the winds are going to go for the next seven days. They're going to go up into, this is 30,000 feet. This is the jet stream, the volcano right there on the upper center of your screen. There is the surface, going back towards Greenland and then the jet stream back towards Denmark and then on Saturday, still back towards Greenland.

It's kind of a pattern where it depends on how high the ash goes, whether it goes to the east or whether it goes to the west. And where it's going now, it will actually go from east to west, almost towards Canada, but never actually getting there, so Europe in the clear.

COOPER: What's the potential of this thing kicking back up though, in the days ahead?

MYERS: Oh, absolutely. I don't -- I don't -- the volcanologist said I don't give numbers on it. But if I would say, I would give it a 90 percent chance of a -- in a larger eruption in this volcano right now.

COOPER: You've been talking to Vulcan (ph)?

MYERS: I have. Yes, fly and be free, burial at sea. No. I would say that there's a very -- better than 50-50 chance that this erupts again, for sure, larger than it's erupting now. Maybe not bigger than the original eruption but certainly another eruption still to come. This isn't over.

COOPER: And in terms of airways are they close to returning to normal? I mean, there's got to be a big backlog of traffic.

MYERS: Huge backlog, Anderson, tens of thousands of people that are just waiting on flights. And you know what? There's Flight Radar24 showing this -- and I know this doesn't look like a lot -- because we show this all the time over the U.S. It's 3:00 in the morning there and there are a lot of planes in the sky because people are trying to get other people to where they want to be.

It is just thousands, tens of thousands of people are waiting on flights that they lost five days ago and there may not be an opening until, some say, May 5th, for them to get on a plane.

COOPER: Yikes. Chad Myers, I appreciate it, thanks. On top of it; Chad, thanks very much.

MYERS: Sure.

COOPER: Still ahead, childbirth left her paralyzed (ph). This story is just unbelievable. This is a mom who got paralyzed in childbirth, unable to speak, and her parents are now fighting for her right to see the triplets that she almost died giving birth to. Her husband, who' now her ex-husband, won't let the kids see her. We'll take you "Up Close" in this complicated case.

Also "Crime and Punishment," tonight, a beloved principal murdered and police are hoping some new clues will lead them to his killer or killers.


COOPER: Still ahead, who killed a popular middle school principal? Was it one of his students? We have new twists in the murder mystery in tonight's "Crime & Punishment" report.

But first, Joe Johns has an update on some important stories, "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the Coast Guard is searching for 11 workers still missing after a massive explosion on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana. One hundred twenty-six people were on the rig in the Gulf of Mexico when the blast happened last night. Seventeen were injured, three critically. The cause of the explosion is under investigation.

The House Ethics Committee launched a formal investigation today into sexual harassment allegations involving former New York Congressman Eric Massa. The Democrat stepped down last month after allegations became public that he had inappropriate physical contact with male staffers.

GM paid off the last of its government loans today. The payment of $5.8 million to the U.S. and Canadian governments was ahead of schedule.

And a high-tech facelift for Benjamin Franklin; the Treasury Department unveiled a new $100 bill today with new watermarks and an embedded security thread to try to stop counterfeits. This is the first remake of the C-note in 14 years. Once that's on, it's all about the Benjamins. COOPER: So wait. So it's going to have that blue stripe down it? That's interesting.

JOHNS: Yes. I thought that was kind of tacky.

COOPER: Yes. Well, you know, I guess to stop the counterfeiters; they've got to do what they've got to do. And the big feather, that's new, too, right?

JOHNS: Right. It looks like a mistake.

COOPER: It does look like a mistake. I wondered if maybe we just had, like, bad video or something.

All right, Joe. Thanks very much.

Time now for the "Beat 360" winners: our daily challenge to viewers to come up with a caption better than the one we can come up with around here for a photo that we put on the blog every day.

So tonight's picture -- there he is -- former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, star of TV and stage, he arrives for a court hearing today in Chicago.

The staff winner tonight is Kirk. His caption: "All that humble pie, not too kind to the wasteland -- waistline." It would be funny if I didn't mess it up -- apologies to Kirk.

Our viewer winner is Brad from Massachusetts. His caption: "'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here', check; 'The Celebrity Apprentice', check; 'The Biggest Loser', here I come."

Ouch. Brad, your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way.

Still ahead, she almost died giving birth to her triplets. Now her ex-husband won't let her see them. He says he's protecting the kids. Her parents disagree and are fighting for visitation. Who's right? Well, we'll take you up close inside this emotional case and let you decide, next.


COOPER: Does a mom who can't move, speak or possibly think for herself have the right to see her own children? That is the question at the center of a pretty bizarre legal battle.

Yesterday, a judge ruled that the parents of the severely- disabled woman have the legal right to fight on her behalf so she can see her 3-year-old triplets. The 34-year-old woman was left unable to move or speak after a series of mishaps during the birth of the triplets in 2006. She now lives with her parents.

The triplets live with their father. He says it would be too traumatic for them to see their mom.

Joe Johns has an up-close look at this tragic case. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): This is Abbie Dorn. She's unable to walk or talk or take care of herself. A nurse gives her physical therapy. She lives at her parents home in South Carolina.

Abbie has been like this for almost four years. Before then, she was living in Los Angeles, a chiropractor, newly married, excited about starting a family.

But Abbie and her husband had trouble conceiving. They tried in vitro fertilization, and soon, they found out they were having triplets.

Four years ago, she gave birth to two boys and a girl. A few hours later, something went terribly wrong. Abbie started internal hemorrhaging. That caused her heart to stop. And when the ordeal was over, Abbie was brain damaged.

Her parents say she did not lose control of everything; that she communicates by blinking her eyes. They say she blinks to tell them what she thinks. And what she's telling them, they say, is that she wants to see her children.

SUSAN COHEN, ABBIE'S MOTHER: She gives me a long blink when I ask if she wants to see her children. She also looks very longingly at pictures of her children. We have made a large board for her, and she looks at her children all the time.

JOHNS (on camera): Because she hasn't seen them for two years -- they were 1-year-old when Abbie's parents brought her home to South Carolina to care for her. By then, Abbie's husband said he wanted to move on, and they were headed for divorce, living on opposite coasts.

Her husband had the kids, and now lawyers representing the two of them are waging an ugly battle over visitation.

VICKI GREENE, LAWYER FOR TRIPLETS' FATHER: He has been told by the neurologist and the neurosurgeon that she's not capable of any cognitive thought process or interaction with the children. And until we get an updated neurological report, he really can't assess what is best.

But it is not his goal to keep the children away from her. He believes it's his right to make the decision and when it's age appropriate where they can understand the horrible tragedy, he'll be the first one on a plane to take them to see their mother.

LISA HELFEND MEYER, LAWYER FOR ABBIE'S PARENTS: Introduce Abbie to the children by way of photographs, stories, little antidotes (SIC) about their life together, and then from there, go on to contact, via Skype or other kind of media. And then from there, have the children go with their father, if he wants to accompany them, to South Carolina, where they can see their mother for essentially the first time.

JOHNS (voice-over): Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: All right. Let's dig deeper into legal and medical issues surrounding this case with CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

So Sanjay, Abbie's parents are claiming that she communicates by blinking in response to questions. Does that give any indication as to what her state -- what, you know, the state her brain is actually in?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, if in fact, she was able to respond, hear some sort of command and make some sort of movement, in this case, blinking of the eye, to give some sort of communication, it would.

But you know, a lot of times, it's hard to sort of parse out that someone is, in fact, responding to a particular thing or whether or not they're just blinking their eyes. I mean, people who are in persistent vegetative state can have sleep-wake cycles. They can have eye movements. They can have all sorts of things.

COOPER: I want to bring in Jeff in a moment. But Sanjay, I mean, there have now been studies -- I did a thing for "60 Minutes" on this -- in which they put people who were thought to be in comas or persistent vegetative states inside MRI machines and ask them to respond to things and see areas of their brain light up according to what's being asked, which indicates there's a level of cognition, even in sometimes if we don't know that there is.

So in this case, I mean, why shouldn't this woman's kids be able to come? Maybe it would have some response for her and some deep level that she may not be able to visibly show?

GUPTA: When it comes to the particular study you were talking about, this woman, I believe, in England, a traumatic brain injury, you know, again, specific areas of the brain affected in a traumatic brain injury. And it can render someone into a coma; render someone seemingly unable to communicate.

But that's a very different situation, Anderson, than I think when someone simply didn't get enough oxygen to their brain for such a long period of time that it caused cells in the brain to die. The brain can't respond because those areas of the brain, the area of the brain where you swing a racket, for example, when told that you're playing tennis, those parts of the brain don't exist. They've simply died away as a result of that lack of oxygen.

COOPER: Jeff, legally, I mean, what are the big issues here?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think there's a factual issue that is in many respects more important or at least determines the legal issue. And that is what you've been talking about with Sanjay: whether she has any cognitive function at all. And any judge, I think, is going to want that question asked -- answered first. And it won't be enough simply to have her parents say, "We know we can communicate with her." They are going to need an independent evaluation of whether she is, like Terri Schiavo, completely in a persistent vegetative state or, like some people with ALS, Tony -- the writer, who's been writing recently about his experience with ALS, that she would certainly have more right to access if she had cognition. If she didn't --

COOPER: So if she had some level of cognition, she would have a greater legal right to access to her kids?

TOOBIN: She would have a greater legal right, and they would have certain rights to have a relationship with their mother. But if she really is incapable of any kind of communicative activity, then I think the ex-husband would be more within his rights in saying there is just no reason to have this sort of --

COOPER: What about the legal rights of the children? I mean, in divorce cases, the kids -- courts give an attorney to the kids. Don't the kids have some right to -- to a relationship with the mother?

TOOBIN: They do. And I wouldn't be surprised if this case proceeds along, that a lawyer is assigned to represent the kids. But at the moment, the guardian, the father, speaks for them, and they're too little, really, to have -- have an opinion in this. But this case, at least at the moment, is really much more about the mother's request, or at least purported request, to see her kids.

COOPER: You know, it's interesting, Sanjay. The father is obviously concerned about bringing the kids to see her, because he's afraid the kids might get traumatized and feel somewhat responsible for her condition.

On the flip side of that is, I mean, I had a dad who died in the hospital when I was 10 years old and wasn't able to go see him in a hospital and will never, you know, forget that. And I don't understand -- I mean, it's interesting the way the dad sees it, versus, you know, the way the parents see it.

GUPTA: Yes. And it's a tough question. And Anderson, you were older, obviously, at the time, 10 years old. These children, I think, are two-and-a-half, three years old.

To say that it's harmful really assumes a lot of things. I mean, it assumes, first of all, that they identify that this woman is even their mother, number 1.

Number 2, it identifies that they may have some sort of guilt. I mean, the father is sort of saying, "Look, they're going to feel badly, because they may think somehow that they are to blame for the condition she's in." This happened during childbirth, as you know.

And finally, that they would even remember it, you know, at 2- 1/2, 3 years old, the way that you form memories, the way that you store memories, the way that you can recall memories later in life it's very different. It changes, you know, maybe around the age of 5 or 6.

But so I think it's a hard case to make.


GUPTA: That this is somehow harmful to the children.

TOOBIN: But there's also -- don't kid yourself -- there's also a money subtext to this case. Because there is a multimillion-dollar damage award that the mother received, and the ex-husband is looking for a piece of that money. So that is, as usual, something that taints the whole process.

COOPER: Good to keep in mind. Jeff Toobin thanks very much. Sanjay Gupta, as well, thanks.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, if you're interested, there are a lot of resources for parents with disabilities. And you'll find some good information on our Web site at

Tomorrow on the program, Dennis Quaid joins us. His most important role, that is, father; He's on a mission to prevent medical mistakes like the one that nearly took the lives of his newborn twins. Can he win the war against health care harm? Our interview with Dennis Quaid is tomorrow.

And a reminder: you can join the live chat right now at; a lot of folks talking online about that story about Abbie and also the story about the birthers in Arizona.

Next on the program, who killed a popular middle school principal? Shot to death in his home did he know his killer? Late developments in the investigation ahead.


COOPER: He was a popular principal, beloved by his students, committed to turning his school around. Tonight, he's the victim of a murder. So who killed this inspirational leader and why? Police are hoping new clues hold some answers.

With tonight's "Crime & Punishment" report, here's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time in years, Principal Brian Betts wasn't there to greet his students outside Shaw Middle School in Washington D.C.

JOAISHA EVANS, SHAW EIGHTH GRADER: He was down right there every day. Every time I saw him, I always walked up to him, and give him a hug.

KAYE: Last Thursday, when Betts didn't show up for work, a concerned co-worker drove to his house after school. A door was unlocked and a light on upstairs. The co-worker called police. Investigators found Betts dead. They say he'd been shot at least once.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a random event. There were no signs of forced entry to the home.

KAYE: Betts's family can't make sense of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's unfathomable to the family that they think this was somebody that he knew. It couldn't have been somebody that he knew very well.

KAYE: A few things were missing, investigators say, including his SUV. This dark blue Xterra was discovered later miles away. Police say two people were seen getting out of it, but witnesses didn't ask any questions.

(on camera): Police are asking lots of questions, such as is the same person who was driving Betts' car the same person who killed him? Had he let someone inside? Why was his door unlocked? Did he know his killer or killers?

Investigators say Betts was last seen alive around 11:30 Wednesday night, the night before his body was discovered.

(voice-over): Betts, at 42, was a rising star in the D.C. school system, an Outstanding Teacher Award recipient. He was hand-picked by Chancellor Michelle Rhee to save a troubled urban school.

His students adored him so, 100 of them were allowed to remain in his middle school for ninth grade. A white principal with mostly black and Hispanic students, race didn't weaken the bond.

They mourned him at a weekend vigil. Today, on their first day back since his death, raw emotion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I couldn't believe it. When I saw -- when I saw the news, that's when I started crying.

KAYE: Twelve-year-old Anthony Smith showed us his arm, where he'd written, "Rest in Peace, Mr. Betts."

ANTHONY SMITH, SHAW SEVENTH GRADER: Everybody liked him. I wouldn't think that anybody from the school that he know would try to hurt him. He was a nice person.

KAYE: At school, a memorial board quickly filled up with cards and letters as students searched for words to express their grief. Counselors helped them cope. On a message posted on the school's Web site, Chancellor Rhee called Betts' death "unspeakably tragic."

While colleagues and family members grieve, police hunt for clues at his house and in his car. If they're right, and Brian Betts did let his killer inside, police want to know why.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Up next, "One Simple Thing." You won't want to drink this cocktail but it can transform the way your kitchen works. We'll explain when we continue.


COOPER: In our "One Simple Thing" report, turning household trash into energy. It's happening here at home and across the world. Tonight, we want to show you how one American organization is reaching out to families in Egypt, giving them the tools to transform garbage into gas; giving all of us something to think about.

Ben Wedeman reports.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hanna Fati is whipping up a special cocktail. Kitchen scraps, stale tea, some tap water, it hardly looks appetizing. But he's not going to drink this slop it's going into the home-made biomass unit on his roof. It's his own private factory for cooking gas.

Even for somebody like me with a shaky scientific background, the technology here is pretty easy to understand. The kitchen wastes go in here, at the bottom of this tank, start to decompose producing methane gas, which rises to the top, and comes out of here and goes down to the kitchen producing about two hours worth of cooking gas a day, for free.

Not only that, when it's all done, what comes out of here is excellent organic fertilizer.

Hanna lives in Cairo's Manshiyat naser (ph) neighborhood, home to the city's Zabbaleen (ph), Arabic for garbage people. The Zabbaleen, predominantly Coptic Christians, have been Cairo's garbage collectors for generations: recycling, reusing, reselling almost everything.

Hanna's gas unit is part of a project sponsored by the American- funded NGO Solar Cities which aims at encouraging the use of environmentally friendly technology. Hanna's neighbors, however, still have doubts about his project.

HANNA FATI, SOLAR CITIES: It's a crazy idea. They can't believe that the garbage will produce gas.

WEDEMAN: Hanna taught himself English from newspapers, books and magazines he'd found in the trash. Using the same skills his family has honed for generations, he built not only a biogas unit, but also a solar water heating system for his house.

FATI: If we open this up, you will feel it.

WEDEMAN: It's warm. FATI: It's good for a shower.

WEDEMAN: It's perfect for a shower. Yes.

FATI: That's what we are looking for.

WEDEMAN: This solar water heater has cut his electricity bill in half. This sort of homemade do-it-yourself technology is second nature to Hanna, whose goal is to become as completely self-reliant as possible.

He's even managed to make his own solar powered radio, from odds and ends he found -- you guessed it -- in the trash.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.


COOPER: Incredibly clever guy.

That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts now.

I'll see you tomorrow night.