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East Coast Rapist Suspect Caught; Casey Vs. the Cops: Showdown in Court; Rare Peek inside Sweat Lodge; Eat Your Veggies

Aired March 7, 2011 - 19:00:00   ET



JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, cops say they finally caught the East Coast serial rapist. After 12 years and dozens of sexual assaults, cops arrest 39-year-old trucker Aaron Thomas. And you will not believe what cops say he told them when he was finally caught. I`ll give you the latest as this creep is hauled into court and tell you how a cigarette butt helped solve the case. But could it have been solved a lot sooner?

Plus, a crucial turning point in the Casey Anthony case. The defense lays down a final argument that could make or break her murder trial. Will a judge throw out the most damning evidence against Casey Anthony? Then the story you will only see here on HLN.

(on camera) Please, please, I am asking you, help all your children.

(voice-over) I go inside a sweat lodge myself and endure searing, intense heat to get the inside story on the sweat-lodge manslaughter trial. Did a charismatic self-help guru recklessly cause the deaths of three people? You don`t want to miss this one.

And the woman who tried to change Oprah`s life joins us to talk about whether she was successful in transforming the queen of all media.

ISSUES starts now.



LT. JULIE JOHNSON, NEW HAVEN POLICE DEPARTMENT: On March 4, 2011 at approximately 2:15 p.m., Aaron Thomas was taken into custody without incident. We are proud of our investigation and hope the arrest of Aaron Thomas brings some closure to our victims in our communities.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, police arrest a man they believe is the monstrous East Coast rapist. Cops say when they cuffed 39-year-old Aaron Thomas, who was accused of brutally raping and terrorizing more than 17 women, he said, "Why didn`t you guys pick me up sooner?" That`s a quote.

This was a manhunt that lasted 12 long years, but cops have finally nabbed this unemployed truck driver, a man they say has a Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. There you see him in cuffs and a protective vest, getting into a vehicle right there. There he`s going to the car.

OK. This is a guy who cops say meticulously stalks his vulnerable victims.

DNA connected Thomas to one dozen rapes and sexual assaults. Police zeroed in on him after posting digital billboards and getting a detailed hot tip. They also used familial DNA. We`re going to tell you all about that. That`s where they can pinpoint a perp by seeing if they can match DNA from a crime scene to any relative who`s already in the system.

The final nail in the coffin? Cops cornered Thomas outside a courthouse where he was facing grand larceny charges. He dropped his cigarette butt. They picked it up, and the DNA was a match to DNA left at 12 of the crime scenes. That`s right. A dozen.

This monster`s alleged reign of terror began in 1997. His last known attack in 2009, when he raped two 17-year-old girls at gunpoint, allegedly, while they were trick-or-treating. Cops say Thomas has confessed. He also reportedly tried to hang himself in his cell just hours after his arrest.

Your thoughts on this horrific case? Call me: 1-877-JVM-SAYS. That`s 1-877-586-7297.

Straight out to investigative reporter Michelle Sigona.

Michelle, you have been on the phone getting information on this case all day. What is the very latest?

MICHELLE SIGONA, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, at this point, Jane, just as you mentioned, he is linked by DNA and, based off of my conversations with the FBI, to 12 of those cases. There are still five unrelated cases that he could possibly be linked to, but there is no DNA positive match within those. So that`s something else to look into.

Another possibility is that there could be some other victims out there that have never come forward before.


SIGONA: So that`s another thing that we really need to reach your viewers tonight. If you, you know, for some reason maybe you know someone or maybe you, yourself, are a victim, and you have not come forward, please take a moment to do that, folks.

In addition, just as you mentioned, he did allegedly try to commit suicide over the weekend. Was taken away to the hospital, brought back to the facility, is now on suicide watch. These rapes and attacks have occurred in multiple states, including Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, Maryland, not far from where I`m sitting right here.

And so what else is pretty cool about this is that, when the FBI decided that, you know what? This is going to be the unsolved case that we`re going to go after. We`re going to launch a billboard campaign. We`re going to launch a Web site. One hundred and sixty-nine thousand people hit that Web site and, if this case -- they`re still trying to figure out if the tipster, in fact, saw this person on the billboard and then called them with the tip. If this case is linked to the billboard, this will be their 40th billboard capture in a row, which is kind of cool.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, here`s what we know about this sicko suspect, Aaron Thomas. He was an unemployed truck driver, which may very well explain how he attacked women in four different states. He lived in the house that you`re going to see right there. That`s the house he lived in with his girlfriend and her 15-year-old daughter, who said her mother was totally clueless and became very distraught over the news that the man she was living with, the man she was sleeping with, is now accused of being this serial rapist who has targeted at least a dozen women.

Thomas was caught after he dropped a cigarette butt with his DNA as he was leaving a Connecticut courthouse where he was facing grand larceny charges for stealing a bicycle, which is significant, because during two of the East Coast rapist attacks, he was allegedly riding a bicycle.

Mike Brooks, HLN law enforcement analyst, this guy was a coward. He was wearing a mask, and he was also wearing a hood quite often, which absolutely disguised his face but very violent attacks using a whole bunch of different weapons. Tell us about that.

MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. He would use sometimes a broken bottle and, at the last one that he believed he was involved in, back in Prince William County, where he raped two 17-year-old girls who were just coming back Halloween 2009, from trick or treating, and he raped them at gun point, Jane.

And they believe that was the last one, and that`s where they believe -- I was talking to some of my sources today. They believe that`s where the tip came from. It came from Virginia. They called the New Haven authorities. New Haven got involved. They put a -- basically a surveillance on this guy. They followed him into court.

He was smoking, put it down. A U.S. marshal, one of the people of the task force, they picked that up. They were able to get the DNA match off of the saliva. That was on Thursday. Then he was arrested Friday as he got off a bus by law enforcement agents from New Haven, Prince William County, and also from U.S. Marshal Service, part of this task force that was formed back in 2009.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, you know, you got to give them credit for following this tip and arresting this guy.

BROOKS: Right.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And I also have an issue tonight, and my big issue is, as he said. He said, "Why did it take you so long to catch me?" Why did it take so long? I mean, this is what this guy asked the cops when they arrested him.

As you mentioned, Mike, police got a detailed hot tip after posting billboards with a sketch, but the reports are they already had him on a short list of suspects after using familial DNA. Now, police say if they`d had the technology sooner, many women could have been saved from this horrific kind of sexual assault. Listen to this.


PAUL EBERT, COMMONWEALTH`S ATTORNEY, PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, VIRGINIA: We know one of his family members had been arrested well prior to these -- at least some of these crimes. And we know that his DNA was in the database in Connecticut. Now, if that had been available, and that familial DNA program was available, why, he would have been identified at that time.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: So Mike Brooks, I`ve got to go back to you.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: How soon -- how long ago did they have him on the short list of suspects based on the familial DNA before they got this tip that then dovetailed with this familial DNA? And why didn`t they move on him if he was on the short list of suspects when they first got him on the short list of suspects?

BROOKS: Yes. It`s hard to say exactly, but his offenses go back, they think, back to 1997. So when did they start getting the better technology into DNA, familial DNA? I was talking to some people today, and they said could it have made any difference back in `97? Maybe, maybe not.

But, you know, once they did get it, they think they got it somewhere around 2008, 2009, and it was a list, but it wasn`t as short of a list as people would think. Because it was a lot of different -- you know, when you talk about DNA I can sit here and talk for an hour. We talk about familial DNA and what makes matches and that kind of thing, but the bottom line is, yes, they thought it was him but they weren`t sure. Otherwise, why do they spend all the money going ahead putting up all these billboards that these do? It was this guy. They didn`t know for sure.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You know, what occurs to me, Sunny Hostin, legal contributor to "In Session," is if they got this detailed tip, even though his girlfriend says she was clueless and is devastated, somebody had to know who, what he was up to.

SUNNY HOSTIN, LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR, TRUTV`S "IN SESSION": You would think, but I think that you really hear, Jane, a lot of times people are clueless. These people are sociopaths that are leading this sort of double life. And oftentimes when I`ve tried cases and I`ve interviewed victims and victims` families, a lot of people are very surprised, especially with sexual assault cases. People are surprised that their loved one, their boyfriend, their husband could be guilty of these crimes. And oftentimes they testify on behalf of the defendant, because they just don`t believe that something like this could be true.

So did someone know? Perhaps not. Perhaps he just led this double life.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`d like to know, he`s an unemployed truck driver. How the heck is he living in that house? It looks like a pretty nice house. Who`s paying for his lifestyle as he goes off and commits these crimes, allegedly?

BROOKS: I wonder.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. We`re going to get a psychological analysis from Dr. Judy. Analysis on the other side of the break.

We want your calls. Everybody stay right there. We`re taking your calls: 1-877-JVM-SAYS.

I am also taking you inside my own personal sweat-lodge experience. I took cameras with me as I endured the heat to get the inside story on the sweat-lodge manslaughter trial. Did a charismatic, self-help guru recklessly cause the deaths of three people? I`ll take your calls on my experience, as well. Anything you want to know.

And also, more on this confessed East Coast rapist. He`s responsible for at least a dozen. Could it be hundreds?


1ST SGT. KIM CHENN, PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY POLICE: Sure. There are probably some cases out there that we don`t even know exist, and it`s great to have him off the street.




CHENN: In the last few days, the task force received an anonymous tip from a Crime Solvers caller as well as they were able to put some information together themselves. And both of these things coincided at the same time, and they came up with the name of a suspect.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, after a 12-year manhunt, cops say they have finally caught the East Coast serial rapist. We`re talking about 39-year- old Aaron Thomas, an unemployed truck driver, who lives with a woman who has a teenage daughter. That woman said she was totally unaware of his double life. He is accused of attacking 17 women.

There you see him in the bulletproof vest, getting into a police vehicle. He`s accused of attacking 17 women across four states, using guns, broken bottles, and other weapons to terrorize his victims, usually wearing a mask.

Cops say his DNA, which they got off of one of his cigarettes` butts, is a match to more than a dozen rapes that had turned into cold cases.

So, Dr. Judy Kuriansky, clinical psychologist, what do you make of this man who he, himself, said he had a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with women and asked cops, "What took you so long?"

DR. JUDY KURIANSKY, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Yes, he was playing a cat- and-mouse game with the cops about being caught and wanting to be caught. And it`s very, very different, Jane, from the kind of other serial rapists like Christopher Wilder, who was stalking girls in college, like Ted Bundy, who was handsome and so suave and debonair that the judge said, "I would have liked you in another life."

This is a guy who was depressed and is on suicide watch. That`s very, very significant in that he is turning his aggression also towards himself. It`s almost like he`s got two personalities here. He`s not just the psychopathic person who thinks, "Oh, I didn`t do anything wrong" or admits it and gloats over it. He has this other part of his conscience that he`s really miserable now about it. Not that I`m sensitive, because he is a monster.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Right. Because he tried to commit suicide.

Now listen, I`d like to go to Carey, Maryland, who is a frequent watcher of this show, viewer of the show, who says he is the first cousin of this suspect.

Carey, are you there?

CAREY, COUSIN OF SUSPECT (via phone): Yes, ma`am. I`m here, Ms. Mitchell.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, so first of all, thank you for coming on. You`re saying that this guy, you`ve seen him now on our show. You know him as your first cousin.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Are you stunned and shocked by this news that he is...?

CAREY: Yes, definitely. We -- the family is completely, you know, humiliated. I mean, to see him like I`m watching him now, you know, with a Kevlar vest on and them putting him in the back of the truck and, I mean, that doesn`t even -- he doesn`t even look the same.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, how do you know -- you know it`s him from his name?

CAREY: Oh, yes, yes. I can tell by the profile, the side profile that`s my cousin.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, he was a truck driver. He was a truck driver.

CAREY: Yes, apparently, he was a truck driver. Granted, I haven`t -- I haven`t seen him since the late `90s. OK?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Why was he estranged from at least you or possibly the rest of his family?

CAREY: I don`t think -- I think, you know, a lot of times families spread out. Families may have issues that they don`t want to work out with one another.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Did he ever seem violent to you? Did he ever have a hatred of women?

CAREY: No, no. I don`t, you know, again. I grew up with Aaron. OK? Aaron was like -- more like my brother than -- than my first cousin. OK? He helped me out on a lot of things that I had to do with.

And, Ms. Mitchell, I am not condoning and, please, I am not condoning anything that he did because, again, I watch your show all the time. And if it was another person, I`d say he should be castrated, you know.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me ask you a question. How did this guy -- how did he afford this house? This is a pretty big house that he lives at.

CAREY: I don`t know. Again, because I haven`t seen him since...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What is your family saying, your extended family? I mean, you guys are all on the phone talking about this like, "Oh, my gosh"?

CAREY: Yes. Everybody, you know, we`ve been getting phone calls, obviously, from everybody, and we`re pretty much calling each other to try to -- you know, it`s just hard. It`s hard.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Was there anything in his personality when you were growing up that would lead you to think that he was capable of something like this?

CAREY: It`s not like you`re sitting there, you know, having a family reunion. We`re all having dinner, and he`s going to pop up and say, "Oh, I`m -- you know, I`m a serial rapist." You just don`t know.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But I mean, was he -- did he have weird relationships with women? Did he have...

CAREY: No. And that`s what I`m -- this looks mental.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Did he have mental problems growing up? Did he have any mental problems?

CAREY: No. He did not have any mental problems.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Was he popular? Was he, like, one of these loners or was he popular?

CAREY: He was just -- sometimes he did his own thing. I mean, but that was just -- that was just Aaron. But nothing like this, to this degree.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What do you mean to this degree? What was his worst thing that you knew of?

CAREY: I can`t say the worst thing I knew of. I can`t say that on the air.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Like what? I mean, just give me a hint.

CAREY: Jane, I can`t do that.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, what I`m saying is, did he -- did he have problems with girls?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Getting rough with them or abusive?

CAREY: No. I have never known him to have any problem with any women.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, he said he had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Did you note that kind of personality?

CAREY: No. Not at all. When I look at it...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: So there is no explanation for this? You`re saying there`s no explanation at all?

CAREY: No. There`s no explanation for it at all. And it is tolling (ph), tolling (ph) for the family.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Well...

CAREY: And we have to constantly watch this. And my family is trying to tear me away from the television set, because I just -- I have to keep watching, because I just cannot believe that`s my family up there.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. I understand, Carey. Thank you for calling in. Of course, the suspect victimizes their own family, as well.

Thank you, fantastic panel.

The story you will see only here on HLN. I go inside a sweat lodge myself and endure searing, intense heat to get the inside story on the sweat-lodge manslaughter trial. What do you think about all this? What questions do you have for me about my sweat-lodge experience? Call me: 1- 877-JVM-SAYS. .



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your honor, I`m going to object to Mr. Anthony challenging me rather than answering questions.


CINDY ANTHONY, CASEY ANTHONY`S MOTHER: Are you asking me a question?


C. ANTHONY: Well, what is the question? I`m sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say that to her from brother to sister?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you lying?

L. ANTHONY: Maybe.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight fireworks in the Casey Anthony courtroom as the prosecution and defense hurl accusations at each other.

For four days Casey has sat in the court watching this drama play out. Prosecutors say from the get-go she lied to cops. Now, cops have also been under fire, accused of sneaking around Casey`s lawyers by using her family to try to get the real story about what happened to little Caylee.

Casey`s defense wants the judge to throw out all statements, possibly incriminating ones, that she and her family made in the days after little Caylee was reported missing. They also claim Casey was not read her Miranda rights soon enough, but the prosecution says cops were doing their job and doing it well. But Casey was the real problem.


LINDA BURDICK, PROSECUTOR: She responded to questions not that were intimidating or forceful but are more appropriately described as detectives who are becoming frustrated with a mother who is lying about her missing child. That there was some urgency to this situation, because they`re already 32 days behind the gun.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: That`s right. When they called 911, the child had already been missing about a month.

Straight out to Jean Casarez, correspondent for "In Session" on TruTV.

Jean, when will this judge rule, and what exactly is he going to rule on that`s so very crucial?

JEAN CASAREZ, CORRESPONDENT, TRUTV`S "IN SESSION": We heard him say by the end of next week. This is a critical ruling, so he`s going to take his time on it.

But the real question here now is Casey Anthony, did she feel that she was free to leave every step of the way wherever she went, when she talked about Zenaida Fernandez Gonzalez, that that`s who took the baby, when she went with police to the Sawgrass Apartments, when she went to Universal Studios saying, "I work here"? Did she feel free to leave at any point in time?

The defense is saying no, and they`re asserting that through the facts, but the prosecution is saying she was in her own home. Of course, she felt free to leave. They didn`t have to ask her. And when she walked and talked with the supervisor and said, "It`s all my mother. It`s all my mother. Little Caylee is fine," that that was showing the voluntariness of her statements and her actions.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And if they rule she wasn`t free to leave, and therefore, she should have been read her rights, and they throw all that incriminating stuff out, that is going to really damage the prosecution`s case.

CASAREZ: It is, but they`ve got a lot of other evidence, and they also have a 911 call where she says certain things in relation to all of that. And they`ve got friends that she told that the nanny -- Zanny the nanny had the baby. So there are a lot of other statements against interest that may possibly come in.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wow. Well, I`ve got to say this that ruling is going to be absolutely crucial in this case. We`re going to stay on top of it and bring you the very latest, because if they throw out all that incriminating stuff about Zanny the nanny, wow. I think that is going to be very damaging to the prosecution, and I wonder if the defense is then going to introduce a whole new theory about who took the baby.

Thank you so much, Jean Casarez, as always.

The inside story on the sweat-lodge manslaughter trial you will only see here on HLN. Yes, that`s me. I took my cameras with me during an intense experience, enduring searing heat. It was tough. At a sweat lodge. We`re taking your calls. What do you want to know?


JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HLN HOST: The story you will only see here on HLN.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Please, please. I am asking you. Help all your children.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I go inside a sweat lodge myself and endure searing, intense heat to get the inside story on the sweat lodge manslaughter trial.

Did a charismatic, self-help guru recklessly cause the deaths of three people? You don`t want to miss this one.

And the woman who tried to change Oprah`s life joins us to talk about whether she was successful in transforming the queen of all media.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Please, dear mother, mother earth, listen to the cries of pain from the animals and answer their cries.

Hi there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, how are you doing?



VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, I experienced hours in a sweat lodge in the hopes of understanding what those poor people went through in Arizona when three people died after a sweat lodge ceremony. Tonight, never before seen video inside a sweat lodge; plus, I will tell you about my intense experience as dramatic testimony continues in Arizona in the manslaughter trial of that fellow right there squirming in the defense chair, famous self-help guru James Ray. He conducted the deadly sweat lodge ceremony.

Kirby Brown, James Shore, Liz Neuman all died after the October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony. One woman who was inside the sweat lodge told the court she had no idea anything was wrong until the very end.

Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it true then that the first time that you realized that there was a life threatening situation at Angel Valley was when you were already outside the sweat lodge ceremony and you had seen somebody doing CPR on James Shore?



VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hearing all this dramatic testimony, I wanted to find out what it`s like to be inside a sweat lodge. You see that? That little thing, that lump? That`s a sweat lodge.

What did those people in Arizona experience? Well, to find out along with some of my HLN colleagues I headed to Georgia -- the Georgia mountains in fact -- for an authentic, and that is the key, authentic sweat lodge ceremony.

Now, I made it through. It was hard. It was hot. It was claustrophobic but I made it through. The truth is I will never really know what these folks, Kirby, James, and Liz, what they went through before they died. Why? Because the sweat lodge I experienced seemed very, very different from the one that James Ray ran.

So what makes this sweat lodge that I went to different from the one in Arizona? I`d like to hear your questions. 1-877-JVM SAYS.

Straight out to Connie Joy, a former James Ray follower; Connie, thanks for joining us. You took part in previous James Ray sweat lodge ceremonies. Now the man who led our ceremony, Gary Fourstar, who I love, has never had a death or serious injury in the three plus decades he`s been doing it as taught to him by his own father, a spiritual experience.

But you said James Ray did have numerous problems before his final sweat lodge fiasco. So tell us about Ray`s troubled history with sweat lodges. Did he even have any training to do a sweat lodge?

CONNIE JOY, FORMER JAMES RAY FOLLOWER: Well, Jane, you know, the question you brought up at the end is did he have any training? He claimed during the events that he was trained by Native Americans to do the sweat lodge. I have since been told by numerous people who obviously are authorities in it that it takes many years, 20 years plus to be trained to be somebody that they would consider qualified to do this.

So if you go back to his history back in 2005 a man was taken away by ambulance after his sweat lodge experience with James. In 2007 I was there, I saw a woman carried out who couldn`t control the movements of her arms and legs. Many people laying on the ground all around throwing up, disoriented, shaking and chills.

And then, of course, in 2008 I know someone who had trouble breathing and some people said he stopped breathing twice. Another woman was unconscious or unresponsive for several hours and another friend of mine thought she was going to die. She called for them to get James to come help her and he had already left the scene.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Unbelievable. And I want to distinguish between the James Ray experience and the experience that I had with Gary Fourstar which I loved. He is somebody who was taught this by his dad and has done it for 35 years and knows every last detail to a T and considers every last detail sacred. He is not there to make a buck.

So with that said, here I am after the sweat lodge ceremony. Take a look at this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey there. You are just like walking --


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wow. Quite an experience, one to remember -- I will remember this definitely for the rest of my life. And it was really beautiful. Look at that. Look how hot it is in there.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, this is something special. Our cameras were actually allowed inside the sweat lodge during this extremely sacred ceremony. Watch as they pour water on the rocks to create the steam. You are looking at me and others there. Really we`re in a vulnerable state.

It`s a spiritual -- I look like I`m in a trance because I am in a kind of trance. I forgot the cameras were on me and I was just -- couldn`t see a thing. It is pitch black when you`re in there. And I thank all these good people for letting us bring our cameras in for this very specific and limited time. People were really in a spiritual state and that`s the thing.

Here is the weird thing. We brought this tape back, right? Guess what? The video wouldn`t play. It took several engineers to make this video play back. Which kind of makes me wonder were the spirits saying, hey, we don`t want you to play a lot of this video?

That being said, you know, here is the thing that I would say that makes these two experiences I had and the James Ray experience. Ours was a spiritual experience. It was not an endurance test. Nobody was there in an ego-based way to show I`m tough, I`m the toughest person.

Dr. Judy Kuriansky, critics say Ray`s sweat lodge had become this sort of ego-based sweat lodge, ego endurance thing about, well, I`m the toughest guy and I can do this and you should be able to do it, too. And you may feel like you`re going to die but power through it because look how strong I am. And they also, some critics have claimed that he has some kind of God complex. Your thoughts knowing the Native American rituals?

DR. JUDY KURIANSKY, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, exactly. I think that there are people who are subject like perhaps Ray what`s being called plastic shamans. A shaman is a real spiritual leader and that is a person who goes through leading people through these kinds of sacred experiences. Like you said, you are really enduring sensory deprivation. As you said, it`s pitch black.

I`ve been in one myself. That is it`s also run by very, very legitimate people. You`re wearing very little. There`s prayers, drumming, sometimes singing, sometimes total silence. But the sensory deprivation is disorienting. And so you do not have rational thought and people do have to be watching after you, I believe, especially if you are not someone who is really a veteran at things like that. And so someone, the fire keeper, gate keeper --


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. The gate keeper -- this guy, I trusted this guy. There is a big difference between the guy I was with and James Ray.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: First of all, he didn`t charge $10,000. All right? I`m going to go to Sandy in Oklahoma, your question or thought Sandy?

SANDY, OKLAHOMA (via telephone): Hi, Jane.


SANDY: My question is I wondered if in your experience you were asked to fill out a medical questionnaire ahead of time. There are some conditions that might eliminate you from that experience and if they might have had medical people standing by.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And my answer is no. I didn`t fill out anything and I think it was done on the understanding that it`s a very small space and if you are feeling bad you can leave. You can roll out of the tent anywhere.

I mean, this blanket -- look at this guy with his little baby on the back, who`s so cute. What a nice group of people. But there are blankets there. You can roll out. You lift the blanket and roll out if you don`t like it.

Debra Opri, my understanding is in the case of the sweat lodge they did sign release forms. Is that going to hurt the prosecution`s case?

DEBRA OPRI, FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY: Well, they have a duty of care over these people and, first of all, when you go for massages, when you go horseback riding, you`re always signing these releases. You`re always being asked certain questions. If they were asked certain questions and they answered honestly, it`s going to help the case.

But you have to look inside exactly what was going on and when you`re paying $10,000, this is not something that is excusable especially when you`ve got three deaths. First time an accident, but with three deaths, they should have been more with the monitoring. So I say, yes, to the medical questionnaires.

On the legal aspects of it, I think there`s going to be a conviction because you can`t say you assumed the risk.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I say never predict what`s going to happen in a criminal trial. Boy, have I learned that from experience.

But on the other side of the break, we`re going to talk to Sunny Hostin` who has been in-depth in this trial and is going to give us an analysis. And based on what I`ve gone through and what`s gone on in the trial.

There I am praying. And by the way, I prayed for the two-legged creatures and the four-legged creatures when I was asked if I wanted to give a prayer. That`s what I said.

Everybody hang tight. We have so much more. My experience at a self-lodge and the self-help guru sweat lodge manslaughter trial; what do you think? Whatever question you want to ask me go ahead. Yes I was very sweaty but ask me whatever question about what I experienced, 1-877-JVM- SAYS. I will answer it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think about that last one?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fantastic. It was so hot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt like my skin was health melting. Did you feel that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was a champion. So was Jane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. The heat, tell me about the heat.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did. Hug it out.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: More on my sweat lodge experience in a minute but first "Top of the Block" tonight. All Charlie Sheen`s ranting and raving has finally caught up with him. Listen to this from "The Alex Jones Show".


CHARLIE SHEEN, ACTOR: They lay down with their ugly wives in front of their ugly children and just look at their loser lives and then they look at me and they say "I can`t process it."

Well no and you never will. Stop trying. Just sit back and enjoy the show.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: The executives at the hit show "Two and a Half Men" have apparently heard enough. Breaking news just in: Charlie sheen officially fired as Warner Brothers put it, terminated effective immediately.

You think this shut up sheen? Think again. He shot back in a statement to TMZ saying, quote, "This is very good news. They continue to be in breach like so many whales. It is a big day of gladness at the Sober Valley Lodge," his name for his home. His lawyer also told Radar Online that Sheen will sue Warner Brothers.

We haven`t heard the last of it from this wacky "winner" but he is headed to court tomorrow to try to get his twin boys back. Mark your calendars for more fireworks. We`re going to give you the very latest tomorrow night. We`re going to play some tape from Sheen`s Corner, that`s his latest entrepreneurial venture. It`s crazy stuff. We`re going to play that for you in depth tomorrow as well as covering his court case.

That is tonight`s "Top of the Block".


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Very tribal, very tribal feeling which is so cool because we are so alienated. And I don`t think we realize how alienated we are as a culture until we go into a situation like that and experience that kind of basic tribal culture where people are praying together. They`re screaming, they`re crying for a loved one or a sick person or somebody who is addicted and it just felt so timeless.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight my experience and it was amazing inside an authentic sweat lodge as self-help guru James Ray stands trial for the deaths of three people who died inside his version of a sweat lodge.

So what`s the difference between his version and mine? Is his sort of sweat lodge on steroids? Why did we all make it out ok? Was it the temperature? Was it the preparation? Was it our state of mind? Was it a combination of everything?

Was it the fact that we weren`t dealing with a guy with a huge ego trying to prove something. We were dealing with a very humble man who was taught the sweat lodge experience by his father, a Native American.

I want to go to Frederick in North Dakota who is a Native American and who has some thoughts on what I experienced and this manslaughter trial. Frederick.

CEDRIC, NORTH DAKOTA (via telephone): Hello. My name is Cedric, c-e- d-r-i-c.


CEDRIC: I appreciate the opportunity you`ve given me here. I`ve grown up in this way. We use our language a lot. What I see on TV you would never be able to show. And I am part of the Sioux Lakota nation, the great Lakota nation, and in our way, men and women do not partake together and what you`re showing on the screen you would never be able to show on the screen.

And then not only that but it`s real important to know how far you`ve come from the original teachings, you know, this is where we`re at out there in Sedona.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right, Cedric. I think you are making a very good point.

Here is my big issue. What I experienced in the traditional sweat lodge was entirely different from James Ray`s sweat lodge, which really seemed to be a sweat lodge on steroids.

Our leader Gary Fourstar told me that the key is the leader`s intention and attention. Listen to what he said to me.


GARY FOURSTAR, FOUNDER, MANY HORSES FOUNDATION: Intention is important. Without intention nothing happened. But attention, where is our attention? Where attention goes energy flows. If you have good intentions but don`t let your attention flow there then you`ll have disaster. But we allow our -- we set our intention which is to hold a space for lodge for whatever is going to happen to take place. But then we focus our attention on the prayers and on the songs and on each other.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Sunny Hostin, what is the ego issue in this trial?

SUNNY HOSTIN, LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, when you call it the ego issue, he`s been charged with reckless manslaughter, Jane. And the bottom line is they have to prove that he failed, that there was a risk of death. He knew of the risk of death and he just disregarded it and that`s why I really think the prosecution in this case has a really tough battle.

You know, I`m a former prosecutor so I`m usually really supportive of prosecutors but this is a very, very difficult case for them to show because like you said, Jane, there were blankets there and you could have left if you wanted to.

There were people there that did leave. These three victims, unfortunately, did not leave even though they had the ability to.

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

I want to talk about my new book "Addict Nation". You know some people go to sweat lodges to help themselves with addiction problems. My new book "Addict Nation" has all sorts of ways to deal with addiction and I want you to check it out at or just go to Amazon. It`s got information you can use.



JOHN SALLEY, WELLNESS GURY: The best sacrifice you`re making is that you`re going to sacrifice your life so you can live longer. To think that you`re sacrificing and you`re missing out on something, yes you`re missing out on foods that have pesticides and foods that have hormones and foods that make you obese.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight the amazing woman who tried to change Oprah`s life here in an ISSUES exclusive. Was she able to convince the lady of all media that a diet of fruits and veggies and nuts and grains is the way to go?

Last month, inspirational health and wellness expert Kathy Freston, pulled out stops to show Oprah and her staff that going vegan is good for you and delicious.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s really good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s got a good taste to it. There`s kind of like a sausagey taste to it. What do you think, Luke?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Luke, yes, what do you think?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s pretty good, isn`t it?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think?




VELEZ-MITCHELL: But did she convince Oprah herself and what about the millions of Oprah viewers who want to lose weight and get fit? Those same millions have become addicted to the new genre of TV called fat TV. Shows like MTV`s "I Used to be Fat" and NBC`s "The Biggest Loser". A whole genre of TV shows spawned by America`s obesity epidemic.

Straight out to the author of the wildly successful, New York Times bestseller, "Veganist: Lose weight, get healthy, change the world", my hero, Kathy Freston; Kathy, great to have you here.

Tell us about Oprah and those on her staff who went vegan. Give us a progress report.

KATHY FRESTON, AUTHOR, "VEGANIST": Thanks for having me, Jane. So Oprah challenged her staff to go vegan and they did it for about a week. It was fantastic. They really undertook the challenge and cut out all meat, cheese, eggs, fish, everything out of their diet for a week. And the cafeteria was serving vegan food. People were lined up out the door. They lost collectively 444 pounds in a week. That was pretty amazing.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wow, I would think that with that incredible success they would want to continue. Have a couple continued at least?

FRESTON: I think a lot of them have continued actually. There were some of the guys on the show and I was surprised it was really a lot of the guys that were saying, you know what; I like this. I like the way that I feel. I haven`t had to take my antacids all this week. I`ve lost -- you know, one guy lost 11 pounds in a week.

And it just sat right with their souls. I think they saw the behind- the-scenes video of what happens to animals as they become our meat and cheese and so a few of them are sticking with it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, going vegan no passing fat. I`m vegan for something like 15 years. People who try this diet finds it transforms their health.

Check out this clip from a fantastic new documentary "Forks over Knives"?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know of nothing else in medicine that can come close to what a plant-based diet can do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you go through life thinking that what happens to you from a health perspective is based on your genes, you`re a helpless victim.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`ve reversed the diabetes. The diabetes is not coming back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just can`t understand why I suddenly changed my life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Diet is so much more important than anybody ever thought.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: This is about health, Kathy.

FRESTON: Yes. And you know, within the first week of eating a vegan diet your weight begins to drop. Within the second week of eating a vegan diet your blood pressure drops and your blood sugar drops. Within the third week, just three weeks, your cholesterol drops significantly.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`ll have your message for America in one second. Hang in --



ROBIN QUIVERS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: -- calories anymore. I don`t have to worry about overeating.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Another one of my heroes, Robin Quivers of the "Howard Stern Show".

Kathy Freston, what did Oprah decide to do after going vegan for a week? What was her commitment?

FRESTON: She said that she was going to be vegan-ish. I like that. It means you are leaning into a plant-based diet. She said that they were going to continue to do meatless Mondays at Harpo ever after. So I think that`s really exciting.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I think that`s fantastic because it is a process and not an event. If you were on this journey and you want to get healthy, look at this beautiful woman right there. That`s what vegan does. It is beauty from the inside out. You can`t pour a lotion on your body to get beautiful. It`s about eating right.

FRESTON: Thank you, Jane. Thank you so much.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I just love what you`re doing. God bless you. Come back soon, Kathy Freston.

Nancy Grace up next.