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War Rage on Trial; Meth Fires; Deadly Fruits
Aired May 6, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CNN PRESENTS.
"War Rage on Trial." Some soldiers go through hell. And some soldiers bring it home with them.
JESSE BRATCHER, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: I would have never shot anybody if it hadn't been for PTSD.
ANNOUNCER: But is PTSD a defense for murder?
"Meth Fires." A dangerous new method of making illegal meth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bottle blew up. Flipped me over. I had third-degree burns all over my body.
ANNOUNCER: And it ends up costing you.
"Deadly Fruit." Fresh summer cantaloupe. It seemed healthy. But it caused one of the deadliest food outbreaks in U.S. history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any one of those things would have been prevented, this tragedy probably wouldn't have occurred.
ANNOUNCER: How it could have been prevented and could still happen again.
Revealing investigations. Fascinating characters. Stories with impact. This is CNN PRESENTS with tonight's host, Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN PRESENTS HOST: It is one of the worst atrocities to emerge from the war in Afghanistan. In a chilling shooting rampage, Sergeant Robert Bails allegedly shot down 17 civilians. His lawyer says he may have had post-traumatic stress disorder. A diagnosis that could be used in his defense.
That is a scene playing out more and more in courtrooms around the country. Vets charged with violent crimes are saying PTSD made them do it. And juries are having to decide, should PTSD be a defense for murder?
Chris Lawrence investigates.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PRESENTS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Raymond Williams had worked his whole life for this moment. Just retired. Looking forward to traveling with his wife and see the grandkids. But he went out to get his mail one spring day and was gunned down by a man he never met. His wife found the body.
MATT WILLIAMS, RAYMOND WILLIAMS' SON: She said, you know, Matt, Matt, somebody shot dad. And shot dad, it didn't register. I'm thinking, OK, so where is he now? Did they take him to the -- what hospital is he in? And before I could even get another word out, she goes, "And he's dead."
LAWRENCE: Raymond's killer was a husband, father and veteran soldier just out of the army. Nick Horner earned the Combat Action Badge for fighting in Iraq. Now he was facing the death penalty for his crimes.
KAREN HORNER, NICK HORNER'S MOTHER: Not in a million years could I believe this was true. Because Nick would never -- he could never hurt anyone. Nick pulled the trigger, but that wasn't Nick.
LAWRENCE: This isn't a whodunit. It's a whydunit. One minute an ex-soldier is out shopping with his wife. The next he's murdering two people and shooting a third. Defense attorney Tom Dickey says Horner's not to blame.
THOMAS DICKEY, HORNER'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I argued to the jury in my opening, I said I believe that the Iraqi war came home that day.
LAWRENCE: Of the troops who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, the military has diagnosed 90,000 with post-traumatic stress disorder. The Veterans Administration, well over 200,000 troops.
After a decade of combat, PTSD is now showing up in the courtroom as a criminal defense. But is it a get-out-of-jail-free card?
Altoona is a small working class town in central Pennsylvania. Horner's bloody rampage was the only murder case in 2009. That April morning, Nick Horner dropped his kids at school and went shopping with his wife. They argued. And Nick stormed off, armed with his .45- caliber handgun.
JACKIE BERNARD, PROSECUTOR: He left Wal-Mart and went to a bowling alley where he sat all afternoon and drank several -- at least two pitchers of beer.
LAWRENCE: Prosecutor Jackie Bernard says Horner was relaxed and signed up for several bowling leagues. And then he walked to a nearby Subway intending to rob it.
(On camera): Witnesses say Horner was pounding on the back door, trying to get in. But this wasn't your typical robbery. Because evidence shows that Horner cut the electrical wires to the restaurant and even tried to shoot out the utility box.
(Voice-over): Horner's lawyer thinks he was in the middle of a PTSD episode.
DICKEY: Why do you do that? Why do you in broad daylight? Enter from a rear and announce yourself by firing, you know, five or six shots all over the place into the back of the building.
LAWRENCE: Inside, Horner shot and killed Subway worker Scott Garland. A teenager about to graduate high school. Then he threatened and shot another worker, Michelle Petty. Stole about $100.
BERNARD: When he left, he walked over Scott's body as he lay bleeding there and said to him, sorry, didn't want to have to do that to you.
LAWRENCE: Several blocks away, Horner spotted Raymond Williams. Prosecutors argue he killed Williams for his car keys to try and get away. When Horner was charged, he pled diminished capacity. Wanting to convince a jury he was not guilty because of PTSD.
(On camera): So the robbery weighs against him. And the fact Horner had time to think about the first two people he shot before walking away and killing Raymond Williams. But this was a man with no real history of violence. Except for what he experienced in Iraq just a few months earlier.
So what would the jury weigh more?
(Voice-over): The PTSD defense for murder was successful in 2009 when an Oregon jury found Jesse Bratcher guilty but insane. Instead of serving 25 years in a maximum security prison, the Iraq war veteran is being treated at this mental hospital. He's allowed to take supervised hiking trips and could be released this month.
BRATCHER: I can honestly tell you that I would have never shot anybody if it hadn't been for PTSD.
LAWRENCE: The ex-soldier got into a shoving match with a man who he believed had raped his girlfriend.
BRATCHER: I remember him threatening and pushing me. Then having flashbacks of Iraq, like seeing my buddy get killed in Iraq.
LAWRENCE: Bratcher unloaded six hallowed point bullets into the victim. Reminiscent of the rockets and mortars he encountered in Iraq.
BRATCHER: And after I got back I had anxiety so bad, I thought I was going out of my mind.
LAWRENCE: Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with PTSD have been acquitted of lesser crimes, like robbery. Some have had prison terms reduced. But Bratcher's attorney says his is the first major criminal exoneration linked to PTSD.
MARKKU SARIO, BRATCHER'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's not defense that has been written up a lot. It hasn't been used a lot.
LAWRENCE: But that's changing. Now defense attorneys are advertising their expertise to troops facing charges. One veterans group is even publishing a manual with tips like finding witnesses from the defendant's squad. SARIO: Someone who can testify as to the horrific events that the defendant has gone through. Because they're -- those are the things that sell to a jury.
LAWRENCE: Nick Horner's mother says after Iraq, her talkative son didn't mumble more than a few words. So the family noticed --
(On camera): Something's different?
HORNER: His wife said that she would find him in the basement crying in the corner. He just wasn't my little boy anymore.
LAWRENCE: Horner's lawyer argued he was confused by a mix of prescription drugs used to treat PTSD.
DICKEY: And that's what I've been trying to argue throughout, is that Nick is sick. And not evil.
LAWRENCE: The prosecutor told jurors those drugs did not impair Horner's judgment.
BERNARD: He had the ability to form the specific intent to kill, and he did have the intent to kill when he shot Scott and Mr. Williams.
LAWRENCE: In the end, three medical experts agreed. And most importantly, so did the jury.
WILLIAMS: I understand that Mr. Horner saw things in Iraq that were probably horrifying. But, you know, so did we. One thing I know that he didn't see was the image of his father, you know, laying on the asphalt in a pool of blood like my mother saw.
LAWRENCE: Nick Horner was convicted of murder. But the jury spared him the death penalty and sent him to prison for life.
HORNER: We all felt like we're doing a life sentence with nick right now. It's -- it's still a nightmare that we can't wake up from.
KAYE: Coming up, making illegal meth is easier than ever. But it's also more dangerous. And guess who's left paying the bill?
KAYE: We've all heard about the tragic epidemic of methamphetamine addiction. Now there's evidence that the number of meth labs is increasing. And we found that they're more dangerous than ever. Especially a crude do-it-yourself method that can explode into a fireball in seconds.
Amber Lyon reports from ground zero of the meth belt. A rural area just outside St. Louis, Missouri. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
AMBER LYON, CNN PRESENTS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): This is Corporal Tim Whitney with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. And we are heading out today to go knock on doors of suspected meth labs.
CPL. TIM WHITNEY, JEFFERSON COUNTY NARCOTICS: We deal with a lot of method labs. We continue to lead the nation as far as a single county for meth lab seizures.
LYON (voice-over): It's a high priority because meth labs can easily catch fire. Especially with the new one pot method they call shake and bake.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had people that actually preferred.
LYON: Joe, we'll call him, used shake and bake to feed his habit and to sell the others.
Among the ingredients, liquid fuel. Drain cleaner. Ammonium nitrate from cold packs. Lithium from household batteries. They're plastered with warning labels. But they can turn pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in some decongestants, into meth.
JOE: If you take your time, shake and bake comes out better.
LYON: But it can backfire. This is a demonstration by sheriffs deputies from neighboring Franklin County. They shake it up and the chemicals react. It's soon a flame thrower. That's how Joe was burnt.
JOE: I haven't slept a full night since I've started cooking meth. Because you're always scared no matter what. The bottle blew up. Flipped me over. I had third-degree burns all over my body.
LYON: And that's why authorities take shake and bake so seriously.
WHITNEY: I personally investigated incidents where people have died as a result of meth lab fires.
LYON: An ongoing investigation leads the Jefferson County narcotics team to this trailer. Kathy, she asked us not to use her real name, lets the deputies in without a warrant. As they suspect, there's evidence of a shake and bake meth lab.
WHITNEY: It's a pretty strong chemical haze. So it's pretty pertinent that we get these guys in their level B suits to protect them from the atmosphere when they go in and actually start dismantling the lab.
LYON: The fire department arrives with air tanks and a powerful fan. As it clears, we're also allowed in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring in this house, smoking. Still smoking.
LYON (on camera): So now that we're in the trailer, we're seeing a baby swing. Baby toys. Also if you head into the kitchen, we see a highchair. Just near the area where police say they were cooking the meth. And the ammonia stench is so strong in here, it smells like someone just took a bottle of nail polish remover and spilled it all over the place.
(Voice-over): The police find open containers of chemicals. And what appears to be a fresh shake and bake.
WHITNEY: That's another one pot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Got the lithium strips on there. If you can see the dark lithium strips.
WHITNEY: The dark strips are lithium from lithium batteries.
LYON (on camera): Did you ever think that what you were doing could have caused your trailer to possibly blow up?
KATHY, OWNER OF TRAILER USED AS METH LAB: No. I was never around when David was making it. And I guess it was just something that if I didn't see going on, I guess I didn't have to think of it as something that was that bad.
WHITNEY: She'd asked why we had everybody in suits with masks on. She said, what do you think, that stuff's poison in there?
KATHY: I'm not a bad person. I just ignored it because we needed the money.
LYON: So you were selling the meth to make money?
KATHY: No. I don't sell anything. My husband did, and he got our electric turned back on. And it was going to -- it was going to be over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll pick our area with this frame. Then we got a pattern that they make us swab.
LYON (voice-over): Detective Jason Valentine uses a test kit to sample residue from a wall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three or four drops to the test strip.
LYON (on camera): What's the verdict?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a positive test. There's been meth manufactured in here.
LYON (voice-over): With that and other code violations, Kathy's trailer is about to be condemned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to have to move out tonight.
KATHY: I don't have anywhere to stay.
LYON: And then an hour and a half later, Kathy learns her daughter is being placed in protective custody.
KATHY: I don't care. You're not taking my child. You are not taking my child. She can go stay at a family member's house. I know -- yes, I know what's best for my child. Maybe I made some wrong decisions. I don't care. You're not taking her.
LYON: Authorities place the girl with her grandparents.
KATHY: Oh, I'm so sorry.
LYON: Kathy's husband, David, will later turn himself into police to face charges. As this tragedy plays out, it's a microcosm of meth's impact.
WHITNEY: It's hard to describe when you see the toll that meth labs take on a community. We're all losers in it.
LYON: The drain on law enforcement. The cost of cleaning up the hazardous waste. And this night, a family torn apart.
When we come back, a shake and bake survivor tells his story.
DENNIS POTTER, BURNED IN A METH LAB: Looked like raw steak. I don't have feeling in that.
LYON: And guess who picks up the tab?
KAYE: More and more meth lab fires are leaving a wake of hard to treat burn victims. And it creates a multimillion-dollar financial burden on hospitals and taxpayers. Amber Lyon continues her report from rural Missouri on the hazards of a do-it-yourself recipe for making meth, known as shake and bake.
POTTER: There was a tattoo that covered the majority of my chest right here. That was removed from the burns. And my throat, my eyes, the side, my ears. That, I don't have feeling in that. That's, like, a numb feeling.
LYON (voice-over): His name is Dennis Potter. More than 60 percent of his body was burned in a meth lab fire.
POTTER: Looked like raw steak. Have you ever skinned a deer? That's what it looked like. Or have you ever skinned a cow or anything like that?
LYON: Dennis began using meth at 16. Hooked on the intense rush. POTTER: You think you're on top of the world and you're untouchable. And, like, you could make it rain or shine when you want. You think like you're god when you're on it.
LYON (on camera): God?
POTTER: Yes. More like you think you're the president of the world.
LYON (voice-over): He dropped out of high school where he was known as one-punch Potter. He then started making meth.
Shake and bake. A new recipe that combines all the ingredients into one bottle. Highly risky because it can blow up. But so convenient, you can make it in your car.
POTTER: Just driving along, shaking it, and set it between your legs and loosen the cap so you can release the pressure and cap it back off and keep shaking.
LYON (on camera): Were you ever worried this could explode on your lap?
POTTER: No. You really don't think about that. You think about when you're done how high you're going to get off the meth.
LYON (voice-over): The fire happened making meth in his trailer.
POTTER: The jug was on fire. When my buddy handed it to me to get rid of it, I kind of shoved him out of the way because I knew it was too late. So I shoved him and, boom, it blew up. I remember seeing a flash of light. A big flash of light. And I remember being on fire for about five minutes.
TOM CISCO, NEIGHBOR: My feelings that night were primarily rage.
LYON: The next door neighbor Tom Cisco has two young children.
CISCO: Their concerns were that they were going to lose all their toys and their home where they lived. My concern? The lives of my babies. I mean, that was my main concern.
LYON: Luckily, the fire was contained. His children were safe. But the parents of 20-year-old Dan Mittenberg several counties over were not so fortunate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This one is a scholarship award that he'd gotten to go to Lynn.
LYON: Linn Technical College. Dan rented a room here. A mile from the campus to avoid parties and drugs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wanted to go to school to learn.
LYON: But down the hall, a meth cook. When the lab caught fire, he got out. Dan did not. Dan's parents remember the last time they talked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He called me and told me, I'll see you Friday night, you know. And --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was supposed to help Tom move.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he says, I love you.
LYON: The fire in Dennis Potter's trailer almost killed him, too.
POTTER: I could see the fire, and it's about in my face. And the fire's coming up, coming up, and it's burning my mouth. And I'm breathing in the flames. And I can feel the flames burn me -- burning my throat. And on the inside I could feel it in the inside on fire, too.
LYON: He was taken to Mercy Hospital in St. Louis with second and third-degree burns. Plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Smock.
(On camera): When you first saw Dennis, were you thinking he was going to survive?
DR. MICHAEL SMOCK, PLASTIC SURGEON: He was clearly at risk of dying.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you.
POTTER: I miss you.
LYON (voice-over): At his bedside, the grandmother who helped raise him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day I look at my grandchild I cry. He doesn't see it but it's there.
LYON: Shake and bake burns from chemicals and heat are especially complex.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we do is we first have to cut off the burned skin.
I'm just going to wrap your pinky and your thumb.
And we use one of these kinds of knives to shave the burned skin off of the burn area.
LYON: Dennis's family took pictures as he had skin grafts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You move this over an unburned part of the skin and it shaves off a thin layer of skin. That's the skin graft.
POTTER: They cut it from my thighs. Little chunks of skin. Little square chunks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At one point we had to sew his eyes shut as we placed skin grafts on his eyelids.
POTTER: The bandages and the way the skin looked, and the way it just -- looked like Freddy Krueger.
LYON: It's been two years. A remarkable recovery. But it came at a price. And not just to Dennis.
Dennis was on Medicaid. Courtesy of taxpayers.
(On camera): There are some taxpayers who will watch this and be upset.
POTTER: Hell, yes. I say thank you. I didn't really want you to have to pay for stuff like that.
LYON (voice-over): Medicaid paid only a fourth of the bill. Leaving the hospital holding the bag for nearly $100,000.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have an unlimited source of funds. And an increasing percentage are patients with meth burns. At some point, yes, there is a limit to how far that can go.
LYON: A few weeks after our interview, police found meth equipment in a vehicle where Dennis lives, and he was arrested. Dennis says this time he was not involved.
When we come back --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got eight adults in a meth lab and I got two boys.
LYON: A small town cop says he has a solution.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The answer has been staring us in the face since we let the Genie out of the bottle.
KAYE: The number of meth labs in the United States has been going up as meth makers increasingly turn to a do-it-yourself method they call shake and bake.
Amber Lyon continues with the story of a small town cop who says he can stop it by taking on a multibillion dollar industry.
LYON (voice-over): As head of the narcotics task force in Franklin County, Missouri, Sergeant Jason Grellner has helped shut down 1500 meth labs.
SGT. JASON GRELLNER, FRANKLIN COUNTY NARCOTICS TASK FORCE: We got eight adults in a meth lab and I got two boys.
LYON: But he can't keep up as more meth cooks use a simple one pot method they call shake and bake.
GRELLNER: And so what we end up with today is a meth lab that literally fits inside a toaster box.
LYON (on camera): So this is an entire lab?
GRELLNER: That's a meth lab right there.
LYON (voice-over): Grellner has seen the worst. Here a fire trapped a meth maker's daughter inside. Luckily, the guy broke a window and pulled her out.
GRELLNER: He's no hero in my book. He's a guy that got very, very lucky he didn't kill his child that day.
LYON: Grellner himself has paid a price.
GRELLNER: This is the actual one pot bottle. This is the most dangerous part.
LYON: Lung damage from chemicals at a meth lab.
GRELLNER: I carry inhalers around with me now. I take two or three different medications a day. I end up hospitalized one or two times a year.
LYON: But it hasn't stopped him from leading a battle to turn off the faucet for meth labs. The key ingredient for making meth, pseudoephedrine, can be extracted from some decongestants and then chemically altered.
GRELLNER: If we remove one oxygen atom we reduce that pseudoephedrine hydrochloride by one oxygen atom, we go from this to this.
LYON: Pseudoephedrine used to require a doctor's prescription. But in 1976, the FDA allowed it over the counter. Today, all you have to do is show the pharmacist an ID, and there's a limit on how much you can buy. But meth makers easily use straw buyers they call Smurfers to skirt the law.
(On camera): If we spent $15 for these two boxes at the store, how much could that get you on the street moneywise?
(Voice-over): Meth makers pay big bucks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This box here is $100. Right here, you're holding a $100 bill.
LYON: But in this state where meth is deeply entrenched, Grellner believes he can roll back the tide.
GRELLNER: If you return pseudoephedrine to a prescription drug, pseudoephedrine meth labs go away. They just end.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three, two, one, play it. LYON: For years, he's used the media to promote his cause.
GRELLNER: What we're trying to do is put a Genie back in the bottle.
LYON: But he keeps losing to a powerful opponent.
GRELLNER: How many years have I been trying this? '98? '99. 2012. What are we? O for 14 years?
ELIZABETH FUNDERBURK, CONSUMER HEALTH CARE PRODUCTS ASSOCIATION: He's very passionate on this. And our paths cross multiple times. And very committed to it.
LYON: Elizabeth Funderburk works for CHPA, the Consumer Health Care Products Association. CHPA represent the multibillion dollar over-the-counter drug industry.
FUNDERBURK: We are looking to stop crime. We just think there's a better solution than requiring a prescription for the large majority of law-abiding consumers.
LYON: Last year Grellner recruited freshman Missouri State Representative Dave Schatz to sponsor a prescription bill. CHPA won again. With newspaper and radio ads, phone banks and lobbyists.
STATE REP. DAVE SCHATZ, MISSOURI: Well, I wasn't prepared for that. I didn't realize that you would walk in to an issue like that with that strong of an opposition and how powerful they were.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And will tell us how many grams were in the box.
LYON: CHPA's solution is an electronic data base. It tracks retail pseudoephedrine sales. And CHPA actually paid to put it in place. It's called NPLEX. If someone tries to buy more than the legal limit, NPLEX red flags the sale to block it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it says that exceeds your gram purchase limit.
FUNDERBURK: Obviously when we put this technology in place, our hope is that it would drive down the meth labs.
LYON: But last year, the number of meth lab busts in Missouri was up. Nearly 7 percent. In part because meth makers are still using straw buyers.
(On camera): Law enforcement in Missouri tells us that meth labs are going up because crooks are circumventing NPLEX.
FUNDERBURK: Criminals are always going to find ways to get around the system.
LYON (voice-over): Right now only Oregon and Mississippi require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine. Twenty-one other states have adopted the NPLEX tracking system. But Sergeant Grellner says the system is too easy to beat.
GRELLNER: I can give you every other chemical needed to manufacture meth. But if I don't give you pseudoephedrine, you can't make meth.
LYON: Grellner vows to continue his crusade. Even going from town to town to lobby local officials for reform. One by one. If that's what it takes.
GRELLNER: We're not hiding the cure for cancer. We're not taking away a substance that cures any known disease. We're asking to go get a prescription to un-stuff your nose.
KAYE: The industry group CHPA is now supporting a small compromise. A bill in Missouri that would require prescriptions for felons to buy pseudoephedrine.
Coming up, it was the worst food outbreak in the U.S. in nearly 100 years, killing more than 30 Americans. And it could have been prevented. We investigate.
KAYE: Last fall, Americans began to hear of people sickened and dying from eating cantaloupes infected with a bacteria called Listeria. The deadly food outbreak lasted months. Then in December health officials announced it was over. By then, at least 30 people had died. And it was the deadliest food outbreak in nearly 100 years. Now Drew Griffin has disturbing details of how the outbreak happened and how it could have been prevented.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN PRESENTS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You pick them out knowing just how sweet it's going to taste and how good it's going to feel. Summer cantaloupe. You're eating right. You're eating healthy. And all the better if you are pregnant. Like Michelle Wakely (ph).
(On camera): Do you remember the cantaloupe? Bringing it home, thinking I'm pregnant --
MICHELLE WAKELY, VICTIM: I'm going to eat healthy.
M. WAKELY: Getting fruit cups at restaurants, I go, OK, it's going to be good, it's summertime, it's nice out. Fruits in season. Taste good.
GRIFFIN: Cantaloupe's in season. M. WAKELY: Yes.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): That was last season and since the moment she ate that cantaloupe, her life and her baby's life would never be the same.
M. WAKELY: When we went out late in the afternoon and we were just at a store and I had to call Dave, I went Dave, I'm having terrible contractions.
GRIFFIN: Nearly three months before Kendall was due, the baby was literally forcing her way out of her mother's poisoned body.
M. WAKELY: My gosh, I was so scared. It hurt so bad. And the reason why it hurts so bad the baby was trying to come because the infection at that point is pretty far, you know, into my bloodstream.
GRIFFIN: It was Listeria. A dangerous infection for pregnancy women, for the elderly, for small children. The Listeria had come from cantaloupe from one farm.
Michelle and her husband had no idea about all of that. They just new both the mother and the child were in trouble.
(On camera): When they told you this baby is going to be born 11 weeks early --
M. WAKELY: It was awful. The doctor came in and he told you about the problems that could happen with a baby that's born that premature. It was devastating and he went like, she could be blind, she could be deaf. She could have heart problems, cerebral palsy, ADHD, and the list went on and on.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Michelle's baby was born in a rush within hours. And as soon as she arrived, baby Kendall was whisked away by a team of emergency doctors. Michelle and David couldn't even hold her. Barely saw her.
(On camera): When you did see her, what did you see?
DAVID WAKELY, FATHER: We probably saw her, what, about six or seven -- she was --
M. WAKELY: So little. So tiny, red, all wrinkled. It didn't really look like a real baby, it looked like something that you look at like in pictures or something. Bones showing through.
D. WAKELY: Translucent.
M. WAKELY: Translucent. Yes.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): This is Kendall today. Better. Still developed mentally behind her peers.
D. WAKELY: She's got a button that were surgically put in her stomach. So it was like a little valve. You open it up.
GRIFFIN: Being fed through a button in her stomach. Still under 24-hour care.
(On camera): You still don't know what Kendall is facing. M. WAKELY: Correct.
D. WAKELY: Right.
GRIFFIN: You have a couple years, at least?
M. WAKELY: Yes.
GRIFFIN: To wait, watch, and worry.
M. WAKELY: Every milestone's going to be like is she going to or is she not going to? Is she going to be three months late because she was born three months early? So I'm sure we won't know everything, the full extent until she goes to school and starts to learn.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Kendall and Michelle are among the lucky ones. They lived.
We now know according to federal statistics the Listeria outbreak last September was the most deadly food outbreak in the U.S. in nearly a century. And one of the worst three outbreaks ever. Nearly three dozen Americans died. It should never have happened.
Last fall as people began to die, to fall sick, investigators from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control fanned out across two dozen states, interviewing those falling ill or relatives of those who died. They took samples of blood and samples of fruit, still sitting in refrigerators. And the trail of evidence, the cantaloupes themselves, led to this remote part of eastern Colorado near the town of Hollow, and one single farm. Jensen's.
DR. JIM GORNY, U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: It truly was an aha moment.
GRIFFIN: Dr. Jim Gorny was the FDA's chief investigator on the case.
(On camera): And you were able to go back to all these victim's families and they were told, cantaloupes grown on this particular small farm four hours southeast of Denver is what caused the death of your loved one?
GORNY: Yes. I mean the evidence is very, very strong in this case. Some of the strongest evidence I've ever seen.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Jensen Farms has been a fixture in this part of Colorado since the early 1900s when the first Jensen arrived from Denmark. Since then this dry dirt has been passed from generation to generation. Two years ago it went to Eric and Ryan Jensen. They grew up growing cantaloupes. Knew the business by heart. But last year they decided to make just a few changes. And it would cost them everything.
GORNY: What turned the operation upside down was some significant changes they made. It was a very tragic alignment of poor facility design, poor design of equipment and very unique post-harvest handling practices of those melons. If any of those things would have been prevented, this tragedy probably wouldn't have occurred.
GRIFFIN: When we come back, what went so wrong and why didn't anyone notice?
DR. MANSOUR SAMADPOUR, IEH LABORATORIES AND CONSULTING GROUP: How could anyone have a food processing plant without any local, state or federal inspection?
KAYE: Last fall federal officials determined that a small farm in eastern Colorado was the source for the contaminated cantaloupes that caused the deadliest food outbreak in nearly 100 years.
We now return to Drew Griffin's story on exactly what happened at that farm and the food safety system that's failed to stop the outbreak of deadly fruit.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The worst food borne outbreak in nearly 100 years began at this farm. Two young brothers, the fourth generations of Jensens, decided to change the way they packed the melons their family had sold for decades. They will not say on the record just why. But we know what they did. Cantaloupes were cleaned with a new machine. Actually, a second-hand potato washer, according to FDA inspectors.
And the farmers eliminated a microbial wash used by many farms. The FDA would later find out that Jensen Farm had created the perfect conditions to grow the dangerous bacteria Listeria.
GORNY: It was a very tragic alignment of poor facility design, poor design of equipment, and very unique post-harvest handling practices of those melons. If any one of those things would have been prevented, this tragedy probably wouldn't have occurred.
GRIFFIN: The melons, shipped across the country, were time bombs. The sick, the elderly, and unborn babies the most vulnerable. Since September more than 30 dead. One as recently as March. Every single death linked genetically to the cantaloupe at Jensen Farms.
GORNY: So we had lots and lots of evidence that basically this was definitively -- as definitively as possible a smoking gun that this was the source of the contamination.
GRIFFIN (on camera): What many people don't realize is most of the produce we eat is never inspected by any government body. The FDA doesn't have the money or the manpower to do it. The food industry did come up with its own voluntary inspection system called food audits. But we found that system is full of holes. Just days before the outbreak, Jensen Farms paid a private food inspection company called Primus Labs to audit their operation. Primus Labs subcontracted the job to another company, Bio Food Safety which sent a 26-year-old with little experience to inspect the Jensen Farm.
James Diorio gave the farm a 96 percent. A superior grade. But on the front page of the audit, Diorio noted the Jensens had removed the microbial wash.
DR. TREVOR SUSLOW, U.C. DAVIS: Having anti-microbial in any wash water, particularly a primary or the very first step, is absolutely essential and therefore as soon as one hears that that's not present, that's an instant red flag. It has this netted rind.
GRIFFIN: Trevor Suslow is one of the nation's top experts on growing and harvesting melons safely.
SUSLOW: What I would expect from an auditor is that they would walk into the facility, look at the wash and dry line, know that they weren't using an anti-microbial and to say the audit's done, you have to stop your operation. We can't continue.
GRIFFIN: The auditor, James Diorio, would not return CNN's calls. The subcontractor, Bio Food Safety, and Primus Labs declined CNN's interview requests. To some food safety experts, the third party audit system that the Jensens relied on is a joke.
SAMADPOUR: This so-called food safety audits are not worth anything. They are not food safety audits. They have nothing to do with food safety.
GRIFFIN: Dr. Mansour Samadpour runs one of the nation's largest food safety testing and consulting labs for both industry and the government. He says consumers should have no faith in the current system of farm audits. Because of a conflict of interests. Farms pay for their own inspections.
SAMADPOUR: If this industry is sincere and they want to have their product be of any use to anyone, they should be printing their audit reports on toilet paper. The problem is that we have never had a recall, an outbreak, or a situation where, you know, several people died where the company in question was not audited and did not have scores of 96 percent, 97 percent, 95 percent, 98 percent.
GRIFFIN: While critics say some auditors do a good job, it's a voluntary, patchwork system with no national standards or regulations. For now, the audit system, however flawed, is what most farms rely on. Why? Because in four generations of farming, the FDA's Jim Gorny and his team were the first federal food safety officials to ever set foot on Jensen Farms.
(On camera): Prior to your arrival the FDA had never been to that farm.
GORNY: They had not. SAMADPOUR: Where were these guys before? Why should anyone be allowed to have a processing plant without the required amount of expertise, without having the food safety systems in place, produce food and send it into chain of commerce? So we have failures at multiple levels.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Back in Indiana Michelle Wakely doesn't care much about the FDA, the private inspector, the audits. She and her baby got sick eating cantaloupe grown by farmers, she says, who should have known better.
(On camera): One day I am going to go to that farm. And I'm going to speak to those farmers. What will you like me to ask them?
M. WAKELY: Why? Because they -- they said that their facilities weren't clean. They said the -- everything about their process was not done correctly in accordance to the guidelines issued by the government. There's so many things that they weren't doing correctly. Why? To save a dollar? I mean, people have died now.
GRIFFIN: We met with Ryan and Eric Jensen, the two brothers who now run Jensen Farms, for about an hour in their office behind me. It was all off the record. Not to be quoted.
(Voice-over): The Jensen Farm will likely fall into bankruptcy. Its assets sold to pay some of the medical claims of those sickened or to go to families of those who died. Most troubling of all, there is nothing in place, no protective systems, that could prevent this from happening again. Somewhere else.
KAYE: Just last year, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law. But even with the new law, farms or food facilities still may not be inspected any more than once every seven to 10 years. And many food safety experts are not convinced the problems will be solved any time soon.
That's it for tonight's program. I'm Randi Kaye. Thanks for joining us.