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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Sergeant Robert Bales Facing 17 Counts of Murder; Rally for Justice for Trayvon Martin Starts Today

Aired March 22, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett.

And OUTFRONT tonight, we have breaking news. Staff sergeant Robert Bales, the man accused of shooting 16 Afghan civilians in a house-to-house rampage on March 11th will be charged with 17 counts of murder, six counts of assault and attempted murder.

Now, this is according to a senior U.S. official. We're going to have much more on this in just a couple of moments. Our Pentagon reporter is literally trying to break down the news, explain these charges to us. Paul Callan is with me right here on set.

And Paul, let's talk about this first. My question is 17 counts of murder. Reports are he had killed 16 Afghan civilians. Can you help us make sense of that?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: This is very strange. Sounds like there maybe another victim. The original reports were nine children, three women and four men were killed in this rampage and now we seem to have another victim, so 17 counts would look like another victim. I suppose they could have indicted him on two theories relating to one count of murder, that's a possibility as well. But we'll have to wait to see the details.

BURNETT: Would it be if perhaps one of the victims, one of the women were pregnant? Would that be another possibility?

CALLAN: It's unlikely that that would be the case. You would really -- you'd have to have a fetus that was ready to be born. And, you know one of the major problems in this case, and this has been said by the defense attorney, how do we know how these individuals were killed, because this took place in a field of battle, were there autopsies done? Were the bodies now? Not an easy case to produce the actual victims when you're in the state of war. So, we are going to have to look at that and see how it gets proved.

BURNETT: Paul, hold on one moment. I want to bring Chris Lawrence into this conversation, our Pentagon reporter who was been breaking this story. What can you tell us, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Erin, I think we're going to learn a lot more when these charge sheets come out, particularly why the death count may have increased from 16 to 17. But I think that the thing to keep your eye on -- I apologize for that, I'm with my daughter and these charges don't seem to be making an impression on her right now.

But I think the thing really to keep your eye on is the fact that when we talked to the officials earlier, they said they had limited forensic evidence. That the fact that a lot of these deaths were committed with a high-powered rifle at very close range meant that some of the bullets passed through the victim' bodies and lodged in the walls, so they do have some measure of forensics.

I think the key going forward will be how much they are actually able to prove, what they were able to determine from some of the eyewitness accounts. Remember this occurred in the middle of the night, in the dark, with allegedly a soldier who was in full gear with very little of his face possibly showing.

So, down the road you start to ask questions about, how much the witnesses will be able to identify a suspect and things like that? But for the immediate future, I think we look ahead to tomorrow and see how much detail about the crime the military releases in the charge sheets.

CALLAN: I think we could also say that this is a circumstantial evidence case as well. And I say that because there were admissions allegedly made by sergeant Bales to some of his fellow soldiers in which he claimed at least that he wasn't shooting women and children. He was shooting men of military age.

Now, that would be an admission by him that would link him to the crime scene. If they then link his gun to the specific victims, then they easily make a connection and they can prove their case.

BURNETT: Do we have any information, Chris, at this point or are you anticipating finding out any more in terms of what sort of punishment that prosecutors will be looking for?

LAWRENCE: I think from everyone that I have been speaking with, it's likely that they would pursue a death penalty case in this case. But a lot of the military legal experts I've been speaking with have repeatedly pointed out that the last soldier who was executed for a crime was in 1961.

To have a U.S. service member basically, you know, go on death row, the president himself has to personally sign off on that. The last time it happened was in 2008 when President George W. Bush did so. That service member is actually still on death row. His case is still going through appeal.

But Erin, here's the interesting thing. The crimes that that service member committed were back in the late '80s. So, you can see how long it takes for these cases to move through the legal system. So ultimately staff sergeant Robert Bales' case may end up on the president's desk of a president who is in office in the year 2025, not President Barack Obama or whoever even follows him. BURNETT: All right. Paul, could you weigh in on that. Is this something President Obama would have to make a decision on death row on? In this case there's so much anger out there that they would have to move quickly.

CALLAN: I don't think that the president would be involved in the death penalty decision right now. I do think though, that because this is one of the biggest alleged massacres in memory, I mean, you have to think back to the My Lai massacre, Sergeant William Calley to think of something as horrific. And you have the diplomatic and political problems that are being caused by this crime.

Afghan citizens will be looking saying is the U.S. seeking justice in this case. So, I would think they will seek the death penalty. But will it be ever be imposed? We're looking 20 years down the line on that. So, I'm doubtful it will be imposed.

BURNETT: So, you think that is -- even given all the anger, that this has caused the United States even questions whether continues in Afghanistan, that this trial could take how long?

CALLAN: No, the trial itself could happen within the next year or so. This will be fast tracked, I assure you of that. But the appellate process and death penalty cases, most of these cases, they take 20 years because they go up the chain and are knocked back down, and there's a retrial and by the time it's over you have 10, 15, 20 years before the sentence is ever upheld.

BURNETT: And Paul, when Chris was talking with how they would proceed with the death penalty, we had seen a lot, we had his -- sergeant Bales' football coach on this show. And a lot of other people have talked about this being a man that was greatly admired.

Does that help him? Does that make up for any of this? Or would all these vouches of good character, financial duress, marital difficulty, PTSD that was undiagnosed, will all of that help him or not?

CALLAN: Lawyers will call those mitigating factors and they certainly will help him. Because he doesn't -- he's not being described as somebody who was brutal and nasty throughout his military career. He looks like somebody who snapped. And for that reason there will be a lot on his side in terms of not imposing the death penalty. But unquestionably, prosecutors are going to seek the death penalty given the importance of this case and military operations by the United States throughout the world.

BURNETT: Chris, what are your pentagon sources, your military sources telling you about how much pressure there is right now to go for the most tough, the worst situation for sergeant Bales?

LAWRENCE: I'm told in a lot of these cases, Erin, the legal process is somewhat removed from that pressure. Especially when you consider the investigative team is usually separate from sergeant Bales' command structure. A lot of pains, I'm told, are taken to make sure that that legal process is sort of removed from the political process in much the same way that the Supreme Court operates sort of outside of the day-to-day wrangling between the administration and congress.

I think one of the things to really keep an eye on is the fact that the army will have to present its case first. That means the defense will get a chance to take a look to see how much evidence is out there and then choose which strategy they want to go for, whether they think the evidence is weak and they can simply try to get a not guilty verdict or if they think the evidence is strong and perhaps pursue more of a diminished capacity defense, bringing things like traumatic brain injury and PTSD into their argument.

BURNETT: I wanted to bring in Michael Breen into this conversation, a former army captain, and just ask you, captain, what you make of these charges as someone who has served, has been there and presumably you have a little bit of understanding about what sergeant Bales may have been going through.

MICHAEL BREEN, VICE PRESIDENT, TRUMAN NATIONAL SECURITY PROJECT: Hi, Erin. Thanks for having me on. And let me just say that sergeant Stein took the exact same oath that we all took and that's an oath that says if you have the privilege to serve in the United States military, if you have the privilege to wear that uniform, you're held to a higher standard. And that standard exists to protect the constitution.

BURNETT: I'm sorry, Michael. You didn't hear me. Just so our viewers know we are not going to be talking about Sergeant Stein in just a couple of moments and Michael didn't hear my question.

Michael, let me ask you this question again. I'm talking about Sergeant Bales and the charges, 17 charges, of murder that we have just found out about are going to be filed tomorrow, what do you make of those charges?

BREEN: Well, I think there's nothing particularly surprising about it. He committed a horrific series of crimes. I think we need to remember as we talk about this. It did happen in the context of war time. Sergeant Bales has been through a lot as a soldier. Many of us have. And that is absolutely no explanation or excuse for the gross violation of his code of honor, to say the least, and the horrific crimes that he committed.

This is an action by an individual. I fear and hope it will not reflect on the honorable conduct of the almost million people, men and women, who have served in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan.

BURNETT: Well, Captain Breen, I mean, it is true that as part of the Sergeant Bales story, there has been a lot of focus, a lot of it probably good for this country, about 20 percent of troops coming home that suffer from PTSD. But there also, as part of that narrative has more and more people have said, God, there are other soldiers that are ticking time bombs. Are there a lot of people who haven't been diagnosed with PTSD that are out in the field now? Do you think that's a fair concern or is it offensive for the people out there serving to be questioned like that? BREEN: I think it's unfair and I think it's inaccurate. There's no evidence that says that PTSD or TBI makes someone inclined, certainly not a ticking time bomb but inclines someone toward violence. This is one incident among millions who have served, about a million who served in these current conflicts. And if this was a civilian serial killer in civilian situation, we would be asking these questions.

So, I think the ticking time bomb thing certainly comes up every time single time, there's an incident either by a veteran or serving military member, but these are outdated stereotypes, if they were ever true in the first place. The VA has looked into this and I don't think they have found any evidence of a correlation, certainly not cause issue. But even a correlation between post trauma stress brought on by combat experience and the inclination to commit murder.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Captain Breen, thank you very much. He'll be back, Paul Callan also back and Chris Lawrence, who is breaking that story for us, our Pentagon reporter. As he gets more, of course, we'll bring that to you if we do that more tonight. But we do expect those 17 charges for murder for Sergeant Bales to come tomorrow.

Our breaking news continues tonight because at this moment thousands of rallying in Florida demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.

And more breaking news in OUTFRONT because a toxicology report for Whitney Houston finally released and we now know what happened in the singer's final few hours.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: More breaking news tonight. Thousands gathering right now in Ft. Mellon park in Sanford, Florida, all to support 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The teenager was shot and killed last month by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. This is now a case which the entire country is watching. The crowd tonight calling for Zimmerman's arrest. At this point no charges have been filed. Zimmerman maintains it was self defense. Some experts have told us today that it might not be until there is a grand jury next month that George Zimmerman may actually be charged, although they expect he will be. The question is could it happen sooner.

Earlier today Sanford police chief, Bill Lee, who has been a lightning rod in this case, stepped down after receiving a no confidence vote from city commissioners. Trayvon Martin's parents said they were not satisfied.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRACY MARTIN, TRAYVON MARTIN'S FATHER: The temporary step down of Bill Lee is nothing. We want an arrest. We want a conviction and we want him sentenced for the murder of my son.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. An arrest is still a question tonight as prosecutors are forced to deal with Florida's stand your ground law.

And now, we're going to go to Ft. Mellon Park in a couple of moments but this controversial law is at the center of this and we want to talk about it because it would protect George Zimmerman from being prosecuted.

Since the law was passed in 2005, justifiable homicides have more than tripled in the state of Florida. A senator Oscar Branyon has trying to change that and he's called for special hearing to look at the law.

Bradford Cohen is with the Broward association of criminal defense attorneys and feels differently.

So Bard, let me start with you. So-called justifiable homicides have tripled since the law has passed. When you look at that on a very simple level, doesn't it definitionally mean the law is bad?

BRADFORD COHEN, FORMER PRESIDENT, BROWARD ASSOCIATION OF CRIMINAL LAWYERS: No. On a very simple level, yes, I will agree with you. But if you actually examine it, the only reason why that is increased in my opinion is because more people are using that law in regards to the justifiable homicide issue. What happens is, you're not counting the people -- those people might have gone to trial and gotten not guilty by way of self defense. They're just not having to raise that, because they are raising it before trial or they're not getting arrested at all because they're raising it. So just because it's increased --

BURNETT: OK. So you're saying justifiable is the adjective that matters here. That homicides overall aren't going up?

COHEN: No. I think it's justifiable. That's the only issue that I have a concern about, because you're looking at one number. You're not looking at whether or not the murders in all went up. We're not talking about the OK corral here. People aren't going around shooting other people and using this law. These people that are using the law are using it justifiably. And if they went to trial they could have been found not guilty by way of self defense. But they are raising it before trial and raising it at a stage where they're not being arrested.

BURNETT: Senator Branyon, obviously you disagree. And tell me what the biggest issue with this stand up ground law is for you.

OSCAR BRANYON, FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: I do. And I really think he brought up one of the biggest issues. People are not even going to trial so you are talking about we're not even having a court case where we talk about whether or not the person did use self defense or whether they were attacked. We're not even looking into the facts. We're having people that are ending up just like Zimmerman. And that's the biggest problem with the law right now, it's too vague and it does not speak to the real -- it does not give the prosecutor the ability to actually have a trial.

COHEN: I don't agree with that at all. BURNETT: OK. Let me just ask Senator Branyon one quick follow- up on this. Because the Tampa bay times actually looked at this law over the past couple of days, some great reporting, found that it's been used in 132 cases since it took effect in 2005, 74 times the defendant cleared, obviously 58 times he was not. Is that an indication that it seems to work? It doesn't look like it always goes in favor of the person doing the shooting.

BRANYON: You know it doesn't always work. You know, and let me just say this. I mean I don't think that someone shouldn't be able to defend themselves or that we should persecute someone for defending themselves. But when you get into a case like this where someone is pursuing, or is the provocateur, then you know, I think that at that point, you need to say that's not really self defense and we can't have someone with a non-rebuttable presumption when they're the ones that did the chase. So, I think that's one of the biggest problems there.

COHEN: There are a couple of things wrong with what he said. Number one is we don't know if this individual actually chased him and then cut off the chase as what he's saying. Number two is you're actually putting faith in the police and the police department to do their own investigation and come up with whether or not it's self defense. So essentially what he's saying is he does not trust the police departments, he doesn't trust investigators, he doesn't trust the detectives that are doing their job and saying to themselves, this was a case of self defense.

We don't even know the facts of this case. We don't know if the keys were in the car, if the keys were in the ignition. If there is other thing that back up what he was saying was that he was leaving and that he was attacked when he was leaving, we don't know any of those facts.

BRANYON: Well, I'm not trying to argue the case.

BURNETT: But should we have a right to? Should have a police department not just have the unilateral right to do that without transparency, Senator Branyon right, is that what you're saying?

BRANYON: Exactly. And that's my point. You see, I'm not even talking about the case. I'm talking about the actual law. I mean, just yesterday in Miami a man got off in this case where he chased the man down and stabbed him. And it was a chase, it was caught on film. And he got off on this exact same law. What I'm saying is --

COHEN: And that was by a judge, though. A judge made that decision.

BRANYON: And you know what, if this went to a judge, then -- if Zimmerman goes to a judge, then I might be OK with that. But it points out the loopholes that are in this law right now. I mean would you agree that you should be able to chase someone and then stab them if you felt like they were intimidating you back when you started the chase?

COHEN: We don't know --

BURNETT: Brad, answer his question because I think it's an interesting intellectual exercise.

COHEN: Sure. If someone chases someone down and kills them not in self defense, no, then I don't think the law is applicable to that. But if someone is -- if there is more to the case than that, if there's something additional, which I'm sure there is, because judges in Miami and judges in Broward are very up to the law, they understand the law and they understand how to apply this and they did apply it and they found that it was dismissible. So he's saying if this case goes in front of a judge, if Zimmerman goes in front of a judge and this case is dismissed, are the rallies over? Because that is - do they see justice? Because I don't think that's what's going to happen.

BRANYON: I think at that point that's where we step in and change the law. Because at this point, if he gets off and if the facts are the facts that we've heard so far and he gets off, then that's why I say the law needs to be changed because I just don't fundamentally believe that's the way things should work.

COHEN: The one thing is you don't know the facts.

BURNETT: One fact we do know is that Trayvon Martin did not have a gun.

BRANYON: Right.

BURNETT: And if it's stand your ground, shouldn't you be at such a point that you're worried for your life that there's a gun. How it would be OK to shoot him in self defense?

COHEN: It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to have a weapon. You have to in fear for your life. Weapon, no weapon, or whatever it is, if someone is beating you to the point that you are in fear of your life, you are allowed to take action. That is what the law is about. So I don't know if he had skittles and an iced tea or what happened or if he was beating him crazily, I have no idea.

I know the back of his head was bleeding. I know his nose was bleeding. I know there's evidence to show there was some sort of scuffle. But the police did an investigation. That's what they're saying, complete investigation. And during their investigation, they 100 percent back up Zimmerman.

So this is going to go to trial, if it does go to trial, you're going to put a police officer on the stand that's going to say I believe he acted in self defense. This is a loser case for the prosecution if that's what's going to happen.

BURNETT: Do you agree with that, Senator Branyon? I mean, you know racial profiling could have played a role in self defense. He could have thought because it was a black teenager, he felt threatened when he shouldn't have and he had no right. BRANYON: And that has been one of the problems with the law. It implies that you should go out -- it gives you the ability to do what Zimmerman has been accused of doing, which is believing that someone might be up to no good and you can chase them and, you know, if someone runs up on me, I might run and feel threatened and then I might fight back. And now you're saying if I run or if I push them off of me, somebody who I have no clue who he is, if I push him off of me, he can pull out a gun and shoot me.

If you're saying that that's what the law should do, then that's why I believe we should change it. And let me just say this. I'm sorry, go ahead, Erin.

BURNETT: I was just going to finish the conversation. So finish your sentence first.

BRANYON: Well, I think we need to change it. I've seen the law. I mean we know exactly -- a lot of people have agreed that this law is way too vague, it needs to be specified.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much. Appreciate both of you taking the time, Senator Braynon and Brad. We appreciate it.

A lot of passion on this. We do have literally thousands of people at this moment in Ft. Mellon Park in Sanford, Florida, gathering together. Here is an aerial picture of what's going on. It really began at the top of the hour.

David Ovelle has been covering the story for the "Miami Herald." He is at Ft. Mellon Park.

And David, what can you tell us is going on right now? Obviously a lot of people behind you.

DAVID OVELLE, REPORTER, MIAMI HERALD: Hi, how are you? Well, it's a real interesting scene. There are definitely thousands of people here. It's definitely a mixed crowd ethnically and it's a very boisterous crowd, very spirited but very, very peaceful. And everyone here is listening to speakers talk, demanding justice. They are waiting for Reverend Al Sharpton to come with the family of Trayvon Martin. And right now it's just a big gathering of people wanting justice.

BURNETT: All right. Well, David, thank you very much. We're going to keep checking in as that rally grows. The passions on this are incredible.

And John Avlon, what I'm curious about is whether this is going to affect presidential politics. Whether the president or any of the candidates will make a phone call to the family or make a comment.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. Well, it hasn't happened yet. But of course, and this is first of all, bigger than politics. This is a matter of justice. When you have thousands of people weeks later rallying in a sense of outrage, the question is what do we do with that passion? How does that affect our national conversation?

We've already seen the Florida state senator who authored this bill saying it shouldn't apply to Mr. Zimmerman. So, I mean, there are ways that politics can start to channel this passion in constructive directions. But it becomes the responsibility of political leaders to use it as a wake-up call. To remind people that race is still an issue in our politics and to help depolarize the situation.

BURNETT: How does the president handle this? As the first African-American president of the United States. I mean, this is both personal for him as well as a national issue.

AVLON: So far there has not been a statement, in part because I think his weighing in would be seen potentially as politicizing, especially with his opponents.

Here's the real question. Do the Republican candidates and our colleague, David Frum, suggests us. The Republican candidates can help depolarize the situation by calling the family, by making the point that they're running as president for the whole nation. And that, I think is a moral obligation not to try to answer these questions because it's a distraction but to assume that level of responsibility and to try to begin to heal and depolarize this conversation. That's the obligation of all political leaders in the country.

BURNETT: All right. John Avlon, thank you very much.

And we have new details about the death of Whitney Houston. The toxicology report out just within the past couple of hours. We have that for you.

And a marine sergeant who posted comments critical of the president is facing dismissal. Is this a violation of his free speech?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about, where we focus on our own reporting, do the work and find the OUTFRONT five.

And, first, breaking news tonight: Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the man accused of shooting 16 Afghan civilians in a house-to-house rampage late in the night on March 11th, will be charged with 17 counts of murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder.

Coming up, we're going to go live to Ted Rowlands, outside the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas prison, where Bales is held.

Number two, the national security of United States at risk over water shortages and polluted water. This is according to a new global intelligence report. The assessment released today focused on seven river basins in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. A senior U.S. intelligence official tells CNN terrorist groups could target nations with those rivers due to their vulnerability. There are serious water issues in the next 10 years.

Number three, Nigeria's finance minister could be the next female president of the World Bank. The "Wall Street Journal" reporting that several countries will nominate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to the position.

Now, the role of president of the World Bank has traditionally gone to an American and this is a big endorsement for Nigeria which despite endemic corruption is forging ahead with being one of the world's top 20 economies this decade. Nigeria is not only the biggest supplier of light sweet crude favored by American refineries. It's also a place that has amazed me. To me, Lagos was like the New York of Africa, energy, entrepreneurialism are overwhelming.

Number four: initial jobless claims fell by 5,000 to 348,000 last week. Economists tell OUTFRONT, signs continue to point towards another month of positive job growth, saying employers will add jobs about 200,000 of them in March.

Well, it's been 231 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back? Always worth reminding us of that situation.

Breaking news tonight -- the Los Angeles County coroner says Whitney Houston's death was officially an accident, but the coroner's office declared today that Houston died from accidental drowning with heart disease and cocaine listed as contributing factors. Now, the preliminary report from the Beverly Hills Police Department lists four other drugs found in the pop star's system, including marijuana and Xanax. It does say, though, that those actually didn't contribute to her death.

Joining me now is the Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, who treated Anna Nicole Smith, and our legal analyst, Paul Callan is back.

But, Dr. Kapoor, let me start with you. Is this what we expected? And can we tell from the investigation that you can do as a coroner which drugs would directly contribute and which ones didn't?

DR. SANDEEP KAPOOR, ANNA NICOLE SMITH'S DOCTOR: Well, I think this really highlights the idea of a combination of medications. Although there was the medications like Xanax and Benadryl and the other medications -- now, Benadryl again is an over-the-counter medication. So, there's a whole host of substances in here. And they may have contributed or contributed to the state of mind or how drowsy she may have been.

But the key is, obviously, cocaine use is -- has been implicated here in the cause of death, and it appears that there may have been a chronic use because her arteries were hardened, a little bit more accelerated than you would expect in a 48-year-old woman.

So -- BURNETT: And, Dr. Kapoor, I'm sorry, I just want to -- let me just interrupt there because I want to make sure I understand that cocaine could be and is often a driver of heart disease. The heart disease couldn't have come from something else? I didn't know that.

KAPOOR: Well, cocaine, over years of use, can accelerate atherosclerotic heart disease or plaque in the arteries over chronic use. So, you know, the short effects are that it could -- in someone without heart disease, it could cause a fatal arrhythmia from heart rate increasing. But over time, it can accelerate your atherosclerotic heart disease.

BURNETT: Paul, let me ask you a crucial question here, which of course given the Michael Jackson trial, now with Conrad Murray is the first question. Now, of course, we've got the Dr. Death out in California was giving pain medication to people.

Will police look into how she got the drugs, the cocaine, the marijuana, the Xanax, even though the Xanax is now supposedly not explicitly tied to her death?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the doctors are off the hook in the Whitney Houston case because there's only one prescription drug, Xanax, and they're saying that didn't cause the death. They're just saying there was some Xanax in her bloodstream.

If they're looking for a criminal prosecution, they've got to be looking in two directions. One, who sold her the cocaine? You could have a theory against the drug dealer who sold her the cocaine.

There could also, and I'm not saying they would do this, but there could be -- you know, we'd have to know the people who were in the room with her when she went into the bathtub. Did they know that she was cocaine intoxicated, that she might go under water? Could they have been reckless or negligent in their conduct?

Now, we don't know and I doubting that it would amount to a criminal case. And I think in the end there will be no criminal case here.

BURNETT: But, now, is there not an urge in the system now, though, to try to establish more and more precedent to, if you were the dealer of drugs or you were the doctor, whatever it is, to go ahead and push charges? That that might actually result in fewer people abusing all of these drugs.

CALLAN: Well, theoretically I understand your making that argument. But in truth, prosecutors have had a very hard time getting convictions in these cases. They got a conviction in the Michael Jackson case because of the odd fact pattern, using Propofol in a non- operating room environment.

BURNETT: Right.

CALLAN: But a garden variety Xanax prescription or even a drug dealer prescribing -- prescribing, selling cocaine -- BURNETT: Right.

CALLAN: -- that really -- that happens every day in the street and everybody doesn't get prosecuted for murder for selling drugs.

So I don't think they're going in that direction here. This is an unfortunate death caused by drug addiction and heart disease. I think you'll see people move on.

BURNETT: Dr. Kapoor, from what you know about the drugs, the specific cocktail that we're hearing about -- do you have any sense when she took them or would we be able to tell how close to her death that she took each of these individual drugs?

KAPOOR: I think -- the levels have not been out. But, you know, obviously, cocaine is metabolized quickly. So, it probably was ingested if it caused her death, close to the time of her death. So, it had to have been within minutes because it clears the system very quickly. So, if you're going to catch it in the blood, it had to have happened quickly.

Now, the other drugs, including Flexeril, remember that's also a prescription drug, that's a muscle relaxant. So, you have a combination of uppers, the cocaine, and downers, like the Benadryl and the Xanax and the Flexeril. So the problem is the Russian roulette system happens here.

BURNETT: Right.

KAPOOR: There's just a combination which leads to a medical disaster.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much, Dr. Kapoor, and, Paul Callan.

Well, a marine sergeant says he's facing dismissal after posting comments about the president on Facebook, and the military coup topples the government in the country of Mali. Well, this led to an increase in (INAUDIBLE).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We have breaking news tonight.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the man accused of shooting 16 Afghan civilians in a house-to-house rampage March 11th, will be charged with 17 counts of murder, six counts of assault and attempted murdered. And all this according to a senior U.S. official who spoke to CNN.

Now, Sergeant Bales is being held in a military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.

Ted Rowlands is there following the story.

And, Ted, what's the latest you can tell us? TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we're not getting any information from Ft. Leavenworth. They are not commenting because these charges haven't officially been released. We also reached out to John Henry Browne, the attorney of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales who was here at Ft. Leavenworth earlier this week, meeting for two days with his client.

He says until he's seen the charging document, until he's officially shown these charges, he is not going to respond to what he says are, quote, "leaks".

So we're getting no information from Bales' attorney or from Forth Leavenworth here. One of the specific things we're asking is why 17 charges when the official death toll as far as we knew was only 16? Clearly, someone else must have died in the past few days.

BURNETT: Ted, I'm curious, our Pentagon team is reporting that some of the difficulties here in proving this case include the fact that autopsies were not done on those Afghan civilians. There could be resistance in the Afghan community to, obviously, taking them out of the ground and to finding more information out from the autopsies.

I know you've spoken to Bales' attorney. What has he told you about his client, how he plans to defend him?

ROWLANDS: Well, he's been very forward with his skepticism in terms of the amount of evidence here. Another thing is witnesses. How much do the Afghan witnesses know and will they volunteer to be transported to the United States during a trial? Will they be able to identify Bales?

So he has publicly said that he is a bit skeptical of the evidence out there that would directly convict his client. Clearly, he'll use that as a bargaining chip as they move forward through this very long process. You'll have the U.S. government likely going for the death penalty and Bales and his attorney likely saying that he should be acquitted and it will take a considerable amount of time. Obviously, these cases always do.

But it's interesting that he is so forward and so out in the open, saying that he doesn't believe there is enough evidence to convict his client.

BURNETT: Pretty incredible to hear.

Well, Ted Rowlands, thank you very much -- as you can see, standing outside Ft. Leavenworth, where Sergeant Bales is tonight.

We'll check in with Anderson Cooper.

I know he's got more as we continue covering all this breaking news here tonight, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Yes, we got breaking news. Major developments in the killing of Trayvon Martin, including thousands rallying right now in Sanford, Florida, his hometown where the teen, of course, was shot dead. The man leading Sanford Police Department's investigation as you reported stepped aside, did not resign. Tonight, I interview the man who has the power to actually fire him, the Sanford city manager just ahead.

Also new late details on what killed Whitney Houston. As you reported, the toxicology report out tonight. We're going to speak with Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Drew Pinsky about the cause of her death. It's confusing accidental drowning. What role the drugs found in her system, cocaine and a cocktail of others played in that death. We're also keeping them honest on the gas price politics and the ridiculous, of course, at the top of the hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Anderson, thank you very much.

And now, free speech or grounds for discharge? Sergeant Gary Stein says he's facing dismissal from the military after he posted anti-Obama comments on his Facebook page. Now, Stein founded the Armed Forces Tea Party and he wrote on the group's page that he would not obey the president's orders. He later modified that comment saying he would not obey illegal orders. That wasn't all.

In another post he wrote, quote, "Obama lies". In another quote, "Obama is the domestic enemy our oath speaks about."

Sergeant Stein has also questioned the president's birth certificate. He's accused of endangering good order, and discipline and violating a Department of Defense policy limiting the political activities of service members.

Sergeant Stein spoke to CNN earlier today and here's what he said to defend himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERGEANT GARY STEIN, U.S. MARINE: I swore an oath to defend the Constitution, but I don't have the right to interpret it? I mean, I'm an American. That Constitution is a part of the founding documents of my country. Just because I sign a document saying that I'm going to join the military doesn't waive my right to interpret the Constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Michael Breen joins us again.

And good to see you again, Captain.

Let me just put this question straight to you. Is this free speech or is this -- I don't know what the right word would be, but calling the president the domestic enemy our oath speaks about doesn't feel right.

MICHAEL BREEN, VICE PRESIDENT, TRUMAN NATIONAL SECURITY PROJECT: No, it doesn't feel right because it isn't right, Erin. I mean, what's shocking about this frankly is that Sergeant Stein seems to be surprised that he's leaving the Marine Corps over this or is likely to. He knew the rules when he signed up. Everyone who serves, everyone has the privilege to serve in the U.S. military and wear that uniform today is a volunteer. I knew the rules when I signed up, too.

And those rules include abiding by and living by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That code has been in place for over 200 years. It's stood the test of time two centuries and it exists to protect the Constitution that Sergeant Stein seems so concerned about and to protect our democracy.

We do not want our military involved in politics. If Sergeant Stein wants to serve in a military that's involved in politics, if he wants to check out what it's like to live in a democracy where the military is constantly involving itself in the political process, he should check out Pakistan.

BURNETT: He said he had a disclaimer on his site that my tweets are my own, they don't reflect my organization.

I'm curious whether you think that goes far enough?

BREEN: It doesn't cut it. Sergeant Stein is being charged under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But he's getting off easy in some way. Article 82, which is far lesser used and far more serious is the code for mutiny, which I realize sounds like some kind of -- something out of a bad movie about the Navy and the Age of Sail, but all mutiny really means is just getting a group of people together who altogether agree to stop following orders.

Encouraging that is a violation of Article 82 and that's what Sergeant Stein does when he says "I'm not going to follow the president's orders, I don't think he's in charge anymore."

BURNETT: I'm curious whether you think there needs to be changes, though, when you sign up. When you look at the Department of Defense, what you agree to when you sign up to be in the military in this country, you say you're not going to participate unless you're authorized in public speeches, picket lines, interviews, marches, rallies or any public demonstration, including those pertaining to civil rights when in uniform.

First of all, is when in uniform a literal thing or not, because that's important. And secondly, public speech. I would imagine they need to adjust this for social media pause it would seem fair that Facebook and Twitter are public speech, certainly in the private sector where we are, we treat them as such.

BREEN: Sure. Just to be clear, the uniformed members of the military enjoy a pretty broad amount of freedom of speech in a whole name of issues, in their private time when they're not wearing the uniform. But questioning the authority of the commander in chief, questioning the president's authority to give orders, stating that you won't follow the orders if asked to, if ordered to, is pretty extreme and Sergeant Stein certainly knew better. I think you'd have trouble finding anyone in the military who doesn't understand that the military is an instrument of our elected officials. I mean, this is an act of faith. When I joined the U.S. military, I looked at it very consciously -- as an act of faith in democracy, as a statement, when I took that oath, a statement of my trust in the American electorate that I would abide by their wishes at the ballot box when they elected the leaders who would issue my orders.

I personally disagreed very strongly with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 for strategic reasons, but I was an Army lieutenant and I went to Iraq and I fought for a year in an infantry company, because that's what my oath means. That's what I had given my word to the American people that I would do.

BURNETT: Right.

BREEN: Sergeant Stein certainly understands that or at least he should have.

BURNETT: Well, thank you very much. Appreciate you're taking the time.

Let us know, everyone, what you think on our blog and our Facebook page. We want to know what you think and especially those of you who are in the military. Let us know.

Well, Tim Tebow is the newest Jet and he landed on a special jet in New York. But there are a number of things you might not know about the deal. And we dug and we dug and we found them and this is great.

And the government of Mali was toppled by a military coup. We've got a personal link to this story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: So I remember covering Brett Favre's arrival when he was the quarterback coming in to save the Jets. It was breaking news, we cut into programming, we sat there awaiting the plane breathlessly. Oh, it was a day.

And today, it was deja vu. Tim Tebow, though, arrived in New York and local media were rabid. See? Now he's finally here. The Jets can get started on what's really important -- selling merchandise.

Which brings me to tonight's number: 84.99. That's the price of a Tim Tebow Jets jersey for sale at NFL.com. Now, Tebow's jersey has been a hot seller in the past two seasons.

But there are some crucial snags here. First, we don't know his number for the New York Jets. When he played for the Broncos he was number 15, but there is no guarantee he's going to get that number. So, we have to wait for that.

And there's another thing, the Tebow jersey for sale now is made by Reebok. But Nike takes over as the NFL's official outfitter next month, so there are rumors there could be real changes coming in how the jerseys look. So the jersey that you buy if you buy one now might not look anything like the jersey Tim Tebow will actually be wearing next season.

So, will that make the early bird jerseys more valuable because they're rare, one of a kind, special or limited edition or less because they're not accurate?

So let us know on Facebook, Twitter or CNN.com/OutFront. Let's make a new market.

Still OUTFRONT, a boa constrictor, 42 bats, and my sister, Laurie.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Here's a story that hasn't gotten enough coverage. There was a coup in the country of Mali overnight. The military toppled President Amadou Toure after a gun battle in the capital of Bamako. President Toure is unaccounted for but reportedly safe.

Now, the United States has strongly condemned the violence and called for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule. In recent years the United States has feared that al Qaeda and other militant groups are gaining strongholds in Mali. President Toure was considered an ally in fighting terrorists. The generals behind the coup said he wasn't doing enough.

Now, though, there's complete disarray and there are a lot of reasons to hope democracy wins and that violence doesn't cause harm to an already desperately poor country.

A country that's also personal to my own family. My sister Laurie, if you watch the show, you probably know her as Jasper's mom, lived there three years while she served in the Peace Corps. When I heard the news, I called her and we reminisce about that time and I reminded her as I always do about when I visited her in her village in Nimbugo and a boa constrictor slithered slowly, heavily, ponderously over the backs of our knees one dark night and there is no electricity, folks.

She still denies this happen although our other sister backs me up. We were lying side by side.

She shared another story, too. She had bats, 42 of them. They slept in her hut during the day and went out at night while she slept. She spent a lot of time cleaning up the bat poop and used it to fertilize her garden. She was thinking about how symbiotic that relationship between her and her 42 bats was, I was thinking, wow, this is a little strange, Laurie, that you counted your 42 bats.

Now, we laughed about those stories but we also remembered some very serious things too. There was a Muslim festival that she took me to where Christians and Muslims were celebrating together in African style. It was very ebullient. There was a lot of dancing and there was no violence. So, here's hoping Molly can figure this out, because it may be esoteric to much of the world, a land-blocked African country, but as we have learned the hard way, extremism in remote places with weak governments can end up hurting us all.

Thanks so much as always for watching.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.