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Was Key Evidence Missed in Casey Anthony Trial?

Aired November 26, 2012 - 19:00   ET


JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST: Tonight, a twist in the Casey Anthony case that could have changed everything. Tonight, investigators admit they missed perhaps the most incriminating piece of evidence there was in the case against the most hated woman in America. That`s right, the jury never heard about it at all. Could this smoking gun have changed the outcome?

Tonight, I`m talking to a former Casey defense team member and the attorney for the woman suing Casey Anthony, right now.


VELEZ-MITCHELL (voice-over): Tonight, secret new evidence in the Casey Anthony case that could have changed it all. How did prosecutors miss the smoking gun that was right there on the Anthony family computer? We`ll debate whether Casey would have been behind bars right now and who is responsible for this colossal oversight.

And fists were flying over superstar Halle Berry`s Thanksgiving holiday as her model ex-, Gabriel Aubrey, confronts her actor fiance, Olivier Martinez, in front of her 4-year-old daughter. Both men ended up in the emergency room, and now Gabriel is facing a battery charge. We`ve got the very latest.

And how did this become the first sign of the holiday season, mobs and stampedes for deals and flash sales? Is this the true meaning of Christmas? Tonight, famed spiritual author of "A Course in Miracles," Marianne Williamson, helps us have a meaningful holiday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Florida sheriff`s office admits it missed key evidence in the Casey Anthony murder trial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say they failed to spot on a computer in Casey`s home that a Google search was made for, quote, "foolproof suffocation techniques" the day the little girl vanished.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Orange County sheriff`s office failed to notice the evidence in computer records they held for three years.

JOSE BAEZ, CASEY`S LAWYER: We were waiting for the state to bring it up. And when they didn`t, we were kind of shocked.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is disgusting. The baby, what about her?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justice for Caylee, justice for Caylee!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justice for Caylee, justice for Caylee!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justice for Caylee, justice for Caylee!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As to the charge of first-degree murder, the verdict as to count one, we the jury find the defendant not guilty, not guilty, not guilty.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, a smoking gun that could have changed everything. Ominous Internet searches, uncovered on Casey`s computer on the very day prosecutors say little Caylee was murdered. Tonight, investigators in the Casey Anthony trial are forced to admit they messed up.

Good evening, I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell.

And the big question tonight, could this newly-revealed evidence have changed the verdict in the Casey Anthony murder trial?

When Casey was found not guilty of the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, the public was outraged.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justice for Caylee! She was left in a swamp! Nobody there to defend her. We`re out here to say, Caylee, we remember you. We will stand up for you even when the jury failed you!


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Have you ever heard anything like that? Crowds running to get a spot in the courtroom to watch Casey`s trial in person. We all got invested. I was there for months covering it. The nation was riveted as Casey Anthony acted out.


CASEY ANTHONY, ACQUITTED OF MURDER: Can someone let me -- come on!

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

CASEY ANTHONY: Nobody`s letting me speak. You want me to talk, then give me three seconds to say something.

CINDY ANTHONY: All right. Go, sweetheart.

CASEY ANTHONY: I`m not in control over any of this, because I don`t know what the hell is going on.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: And now after all that, more than four years after little Caylee died, we learn a secret, a big secret, that investigators missed an absolutely crucial Google search done from a computer in Casey Anthony`s own home just hours before the child died.

Using Casey Anthony`s password-protected account, someone typed the phrase, "foolproof suffication," misspelling the word "suffocation" with an "i."

Even Casey`s attorneys knew about the Google search. Listen to this from WKMG, the Atlanta TV station that broke this story.


BAEZ: We were waiting for the state to bring it up, and when they didn`t, we were kind of shocked.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Who typed those words? WKMG believes it was Casey, arguing no one else was home at the time. Cindy and George had already left for work. So if prosecutors had known about this incriminating Google search, they would have been able to argue to the jury that Casey Googled "foolproof suffication" hours before she killed her child by suffocation.

Straight out to Michelle Suskauer. How big on a scale of 1 to 10 an oversight is this? I mean, in my humble opinion, it`s a monumental mistake.

I want to pull out for a second. I want to show you some of the notes that we have on this case. This is just a taste of what we have accumulated. There were 25,000 pages of discovery alone. Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the investigation, years spent on the investigation. And the smoking gun was on the laptop computer, on the home computer all along -- Michelle Suskauer.

MICHELLE SUSKAUER: It was -- it was and -- there was so much that they had to go through in terms of law enforcement. But, Jane, the fact that it was there and they didn`t find it and the defense had it -- it wasn`t the defense`s job to tell the state what to do and how to prove their case.

Would this have made a difference, though, to the jury? I don`t know if this would have made a difference, because again, it doesn`t answer those crucial questions as to who exactly typed that into that Google search, because there is no witnesses to that. It is more circumstantial evidence here. And that was not enough for this jury to convict her.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, let`s lay out the facts of the case for our audience. Prosecutors believe Caylee Anthony was killed June 16. Now, let`s look at the Internet activity from June 16 that investigators missed that was found on the computer at Casey`s house ultimately.

Records show on June 16, George Anthony left for work at 2:30 in the afternoon. Cindy, she had already gone to work that morning. WKMG reports at 2:49 in the afternoon, the Anthony family`s computer was activated by somebody using Casey`s password-protected account.

At 2:51, somebody does a Google search for the term "foolproof suffication," misspelling the last word as "suffication." And then five seconds later, the user clicks on an article that includes advice on foolproof ways to die including, "Poison yourself, follow up with suffocation, place a plastic bag over your head."

At 2:52, the browser reports activity on MySpace, a Web site Casey Anthony used and George Anthony did not.

Robyn Walensky, you are the author of "Beautiful Life: The CSI Behind the Casey Anthony Trial." Robyn, this is how the child died. These Google searches talk about suffocation, poisoning and putting plastic bags over your head. She, according to prosecutors, was killed by chloroform. She was suffocated with the duct tape over the mouth, and she was put in plastic bags.

ROBYN WALENSKY, AUTHOR, "BEAUTIFUL LIFE": Jane, definitely when I first heard this, there`s definitely the wow factor here. And it`s a super interesting nugget.

But I have to tell you, Jane, you were sitting in that trial and so was I. I don`t think it would have made a hill of difference with these jurors.

When the trial was over, the jurors wanted to know how that witch`s brew was made, how the chloroform was made. And the prosecutors never told the jurors that nugget. They also never took the jurors on a trip to the swamp scene. And I think that those were the two factors that really would have made a difference in the outcome of the verdict.

While this nugget is super interesting, Jane, that they missed this, I still don`t think it would have made, really, at the end of the day, a fabric in the outcome of the not guilty verdict with these particular jurors.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, all right. You`ve got your vote. Susan Constantine, jury consultant, what say you?

SUSAN CONSTANTINE, JURY CONSULTANT: Well, I`m not so sure I agree with that. Because yes, it is a little nugget of gold, fool`s gold, maybe, but on the other hand, you know, we`re tying this all together, the duct tape, we`re listening to Cindy Anthony`s testimony about that she`s the one that did those chloroform searches.

But here we now have new evidence that could have tied the pieces together and really thrown kind of a wrench into the defense`s alibi here. So I think that actually it would have had an impact on those jurors.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Casey`s mom, Cindy, took credit for other incriminating searches on the Internet done on the family computer when prosecutors argue that Cindy was at work. Listen to Cindy`s explanation about a Google search for the phrase "neck-breaking."


C. ANTHONY: I did not search for neck-breaking, but I do recall that there was a pop-up that was showing a YouTube regarding a skateboarder that was skateboarding on rails like if you`re going -- like a turnstile-type rail if you`re going into some place and the skateboarder -- and I recall it saying, "a neck-breaking feat."


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Beth Karas, a lot of people felt that Cindy perjured herself and was making up stories to protect her daughter. But she couldn`t have claimed credit for this one because she was definitely at work on this -- at this time.

BETH KARAS, TRUTV`S "IN SESSION": That`s right. On June 18 -- June 16. You know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) had asked two months before trial, for a complete Internet history, and she didn`t get a complete Internet history. She wasn`t looking for search terms: look for suffocation, neck-breaking, chloroform. She just wanted the complete Internet history.

And there was an admitted -- sure starting to miss it -- screw-up on their part, because they did not search the browser Firefox, which is what Casey would use.

But George Anthony did say he saw Casey and Caylee leave at 1 p.m. He left at 2:30. She would have had to return home, which is what the state would argue. Jose Baez, the defense, says that it was George doing this search on June 16, 2008. And that it was actually an hour earlier than WKMG says.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Absolutely fascinating. We`re going to tell you more about the, quote unquote, "screw-up" on the other side.



CASEY ANTHONY: Dad, please...

GEORGE ANTHONY, CASEY`S FATHER: I`m not trying to get you upset.

CASEY ANTHONY: I am upset now. I`m completely upset. One, the media`s going to have a freaking field day with this. I wasn`t even -- I wasn`t even supposed to take this. Let me speak for a sec.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Casey`s attorney during the trial, Jose Baez, claimed that Casey`s father, George Anthony, could be responsible for little Caylee`s death. Listen to these dramatic comments in Jose Baez`s opening statement.


BAEZ: And shortly thereafter, George began to yell at her, "Look what you`ve done! Your mother will never forgive you, and you will go to jail for child neglect for the rest of your freaking life."


VELEZ-MITCHELL: And even in his book on the case, Jose Baez points the finger again at George Anthony, saying that George could have typed the Google search for foolproof suffocation. But George was already at work.

Jayne Weintraub, criminal defense attorney, you`ve always been sympathetic toward the defense. Would the jury buy that? George went to work. He had a job. And Casey`s cell phone pinged in the neighborhood of the home around the time of this Google search.

JAYNE WEINTRAUB, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, to buy this whole premise, you have to buy the fact that George was absolutely precise about his time line. And I don`t buy anything that George Anthony said. Therefore, I can`t accept the premise that he was already at work, No. 1.

No. 2 is, it could have been a daylight savings glitch on the computer, which had happened previously on these forensic analyses. They did not reset it.

And No. 3, it doesn`t really matter because double jeopardy is attached, and there cannot be a retrial. You can`t convict the computer. You need the person typing on it. And they would never have that. On other similar instances, this jury rejected this kind of a stretch by the prosecution.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I don`t know it`s a stretch to say that somebody does Internet searches on the very day that somebody`s murdered that correlate almost precisely with the way in which the person is murdered: suffocation, chloroform, poison...

WEINTRAUB: Jane, chloroform, there were traces of chloroform in the trunk of the car, not the trunk of the body. There was no chloroform.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, listen, we can`t argue the entire case. But let me say this. And you might agree with me -- and I want to go to Matt Morgan, you`re the attorney for Zenaida Gonzalez, the so-called Zanny the nanny who is suing Casey Anthony, saying that her life was ruined by Casey Anthony claiming initially that she left the child with Zanny the nanny.

How, in your opinion, big of a mistake is this, that they failed to find on the home computer because they didn`t check the right Internet search engine [SIC]. Some people use Internet Explorer. She didn`t. That`s -- they checked Internet explorer. They didn`t check the Internet check search engine [SIC] she used, Mozilla Firefox. How big of a mistake is it, and how much is it going to cost your client, Zenaida Gonzalez?

MATT MORGAN, ATTORNEY FOR ZENAIDA GONZALEZ (via phone): I think it`s unfortunate they didn`t do their due diligence, because obviously, they should have searched every search engine [SIC] which was uploaded to the computer.

For my client in particular, it does not really affect her case in any way because our focus and our concern, when we present the evidence in our case, will be of and relating to the statements made by Casey Anthony in relation to Zenaida Gonzalez and the affects those statements have had on Zenaida Gonzalez`s life.

So this revelation, which has come forward with the evidence truly won`t make that dramatic of an impact on Zenaida`s case...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But Matt, it would have been -- it would be far better for your client, had she been convicted, for example, than if she -- since she was acquitted, that makes your lawsuit against her a little more difficult. You`ll give me that?

MORGAN: Well, in a sense. But our lawsuit is really focused upon the statements which were made before her criminal trial really got going. So with defamation, as soon as you make that remark, you`ve got the claim for defamation. I mean, you make a statement about a person that causes a defamatory effect. And then it causes harm to somebody.

So as soon as that statement is made, as soon as it`s broadcasted to the world, you`ve got a claim. If she was accused of them, then found guilty, then perhaps that, you know, it could have been a benefit. But ultimately she was not.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Matt, thank you for joining us.

On the other side of the break, we`re going to talk to somebody who was on the defense team for Casey Anthony. Next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury find the defendant not guilty, so say we all, Orange County, Florida on this 5th day of July, 2011, signed foreperson.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: And we are delighted to welcome to our show Linda Kenney Baden, who was a member of the Casey Anthony defense team.

Linda, Jose Baez said that they were waiting for this bombshell -- this really unbelievable smoking gun evidence that never came. Can you put us inside the defense team mindset as this crucial piece of evidence that was in the computer, the home computer, never, never made it into the courtroom?

LINDA KENNEY BADEN, FORMER MEMBER OF CASEY`S DEFENSE TEAM (via phone): Well, first of all, good evening, Jane. I hope you and your family are all well.


BADEN: But I`m not going to put you in the mindset of the defense team, because I wasn`t on the defense team at that time.

But what I can say to you is that we were very confident at the time I was on the defense team -- and I`m not revealing any secrets, because Jose Baez already revealed this, that this search actually exonerated Casey Anthony.

Quite frankly, I don`t know about the people that did the new evaluation of her computer, but what I do know is that you can`t say that that search at 1:50 -- and it is 1:50, not 2:50 -- was done by Casey Anthony.

For instance, at 10 p.m. that night, there was activity on Casey Anthony`s Yahoo! account from that computer. No one`s mentioned that. It certainly wasn`t Casey.

The next day, there was Facebook activity and MySpace activity on Casey Anthony`s account from that computer. That was the day that Casey Anthony wasn`t even at the house at all.

So I think this is not a bombshell. And I think the defense was certainly ready to deal with this and deal with it in the way that they believe would have exonerated Casey Anthony.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I want to give Beth Karas -- you and I both covered this -- a chance to put that into perspective.

KARAS: Well, I hear what Linda is saying, that it was really 1:50 in the afternoon, not 2:50, 2:51, 2:52 . And we heard Jane Weintraub say it might have been a Daylight Savings issue where the computer had the wrong time.

So there are two different reports coming out about the time. If it`s 2:52 in the afternoon, then Casey had time to come back home after George left if he left at 2:30. But George says that she left at 1 p.m. with her daughter. And so -- I mean, this is not, I don`t think, a smoking gun that would have been a game changer in the end. And would have caused 12 people to come back with a guilty verdict. There are just too many questions still.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Robyn, ten seconds, are you at least a tad surprised that had they didn`t check the other search engine [SIC]?

WALENSKY: Shoddy work, Jane. But at the end of the day, the verdict would have been the same. The jurors wanted to now step by step how little Caylee was killed.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, it`s a fascinating subject. I want to thank Linda Kenney Baden for joining us.

You will not want to miss "NANCY GRACE" at the top of the hour. She will have so much more on this case. That`s at 8 p.m. Eastern, right here on HLN. On the other side, we`re talking Halle Berry. And you won`t believe what went on during Thanksgiving.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanksgiving drama at Halle Berry`s house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police were called to her home in L.A. after a brawl broke out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That`s when a fight broke out between Gabriel and Olivier Martinez, Halle`s new fiance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`re all struggling to find love.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gabriel Aubry was dropping off their daughter when police say he got into a fight with Olivier Martinez.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a lot more serious than what it was, just this ongoing custody battle.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, a holiday face-off between Oscar winner Halle Berry`s French actor fiance and her model ex-boyfriend. Get out your scorecards. It gets complicated. But they`re all (UNINTELLIGIBLE); I`ll tell you that much.

But it all started when Halle`s ex, Gabriel Aubry, dropped off their 4-year-old daughter with the actress, at her Holiday Hills home on Thanksgiving day.

TMZ reports Halle`s fiance, Olivier Martinez, walked up to Gabriel, the ex-, and said something along the lines of, "We have to move on." Possibly referring to Gabriel and Halle`s bitter custody battle that allegedly was the catalyst causing Gabriel -- and that`s how we pronounce it -- to push and take a swing at Olivier.

Unfortunately for Gabe, he missed, and instead he got punched in his very gorgeous face.

The fight reportedly left the male model with a big black eye and broken ribs and ended when Olivier made a citizen`s arrest. And now Gabriel is charged with misdemeanor battery. Unbelievable.

Straight out to Jen Hager, what a way to celebrate Thanksgiving, right?

What happened in the wake of this knockdown drag-out? I mean, what is this all about?

JEN HAGER: This is an ongoing custody dispute at the heart of this between Halle and her ex-boyfriend and the father of her child, Gabriel Aubry.

And remember, just a couple of weeks ago, Halle Berry was told by a judge here in Los Angeles that she could not move to France with her fiance, Olivier Martinez, and take their daughter, Nala. So there could have been some residual feelings left over from that. Sources tell that there is security surveillance video of the fight between Olivier and Gabriel Aubry.


HEGER: Right. Now, I`m told that there is no sound on the cameras outside in the driveway where this fight took place. However, sources close to Gabriel Aubry are hopeful that this video will exonerate him. But Gabriel Aubry has another big dilemma on his hands because he is a Canadian citizen. He is in the United States on a work visa. Now, ever since 9/11, the INS, the Immigration Naturalization Services Department, has been cracking down on people that have been arrested for any crime. Now, just this arrest alone for allegedly battery of Olivier Martinez could have his visa revoked and he could be deported back to Canada. It`s a mess.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Ok. But Michelle Suskauer, criminal defense attorney, here`s what I don`t understand. Olivier is from France and he was in this fisticuffs with Gabriel. Gabriel was badly beaten. Gabriel`s the one with the black eye. Martinez has scuffs on his hands reportedly. Why is Olivier Martinez not charged with anything?

MICHELLE SUSKAUER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, you know, certainly they could both be charged with a fray if they`re both involved. And I think that the video --

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But they`re not. It`s only Gabriel who`s charged.

SUSKAUER: That`s right. And so he could not only lose his citizenship but lose custody. And Olivier could very well have started up with him, which really -- he could, again, we`re not going -- it`s going to be a he-said, he-said. So it really is a question of what was said and was there something threatening said which caused Gabe to make that first punch, really?

Are these charges really going to be filed here is the question and whether this is going to go away? Because this is so high- profile, charges probably will be filed. But it`s going to be a question in terms of a defense here for Gabe which is what was said to him which caused him - - was it just some words that he didn`t like or was it threatening in order for him to allegedly protect himself?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Interesting. Well, the bottom line is, if there`s surveillance video it would perhaps indicate who threw the first punch and that would be the person in trouble. And if that`s Gabriel after Olivier Martinez allegedly says, we have to move on, and if Gabriel allegedly throws the first punch -- I`m not saying he did. I wasn`t there. And he`s invited on our show anytime. But would that be yes or no, the defining?

SUSKAUER: No, not necessarily because it depends on also what was said. Was there something that was said as well? Was there something threatening that also caused it -- I think it`s not just so cut and dry who threw the first punch. I think it`s a little bit bigger than that.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Got it. Got it. Yes. And, again, I wasn`t there. Everybody, I would love to have any of these people on our show, frankly.

Halle and Olivier met on the set of their movie "Dark Time". Check this out.


HALLE BERRY, ACTRESS: My father once told me to be careful of the things you love most in the world because if you`re not careful, that very thing can also destroy you.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, well, if I were one of the sharks, I`d be more afraid of them, frankly. Four-year-old Nala, that`s the little girl at the center of this threesome, was allegedly right there when this ugly Thanksgiving Day brawl began between Halle`s ex-fella and current fella.

Halle reportedly whisked the child away into the house before it got physical. This is clearly not what any child wants to see. But Jeff Gardere, clinical psychologist, I mean you have to ask Gabriel, Thanksgiving, emotions always run high during the holidays. He`s returning his daughter to the woman he had the child with and he sees her with another man. That`s very combustible stuff, emotional.

JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: It absolutely is. You really do have to ask the question -- of course, we weren`t there. I wish we were. But it`s an issue of what was Olivier doing there and why did he have words with --

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, he`s the fiance. He has every right to be there.

GARDERE: So here`s the thing, right. I`m a shrink. I work with these divorcing couples all the time. I work with them on healthy divorces. This is between Halle and Gabriel, not between Halle, Gabriel and Olivier. So Olivier, probably a very nice guy, make like a tree and leave.

Stay in the house. Do not come out there, especially with this issue that it`s so combustible, so volatile between your girlfriend and the father of their child, her soon-to-be ex.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You are right. It`s a triangulation. And that`s always an unstable situation, three-way. This isn`t the first time Halle`s accused Gabriel of having anger issues. She said she has trouble controlling his temper and she even claimed he`s a racist, which is a horrible thing to say about somebody, serious accusation. Let me put it that way.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said you made racial slurs. She said you pushed her while she had your daughter in her hands. Nothing to say about this?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Jen Heger, let`s talk about Child Protective Services briefly.

HEGER: Child Protective Services has been contacted again in this case. Child Protective Services was contacted earlier this year after allegations surfaced that Gabriel allegedly pushed Halle Berry`s nanny while she was holding Nala. There were no criminal charges filed in that case.

At the time when Gabe was arrested this weekend on Thursday, Child Protective Services was contacted again out of an abundance of caution. Halle Berry did the right thing. She got Nala out of that situation. But CPS has to become involved here, because as your expert guest has said, this is a clearly combustible situation. This little girl has now been around violence and it`s just not a safe environment for her to be in.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It is not. And my message to all of you, there is no mess you can`t clean up. Stop now, get peaceful immediately.

On the other side, I`m so delighted and excited to have on our show, Marianne Williamson from "A Course in Miracles".


VELEZ-MITCHELL: And here`s your viral video of the day. Looks like somebody decided to hit the treadmill to work off that Thanksgiving Day dinner. You know, I think he enjoys it. And only if he enjoys it should he be doing it, only if it`s fun for him. But it kind of seems like he`s having a blast. You know he could jump off anytime.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Push one of my kids, I will stab one of you (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I literally got squished. Half of my body was in that door. That was insane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. The zombie apocalypse has the gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people are not shoppers. These people are here just like me to witness the madness.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: That`s what holiday shopping looks like. It`s off to a record start this year with an estimated 247 million shoppers hitting stores and Web sites over the weekend. And with the mass amount of people on Black Friday and Cyber Monday comes what`s fast becoming a new tradition -- screaming, pushing, fighting, as shoppers try to snag the best deal. Check a little bit more of this out.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: But is this really what the holidays are supposed to be about? Have we as a culture become over-consumed with the material aspects of this holiday and completely forgotten what the real meaning of the holidays should be? Is it time to just hit the pause button and rewind this whole shopping frenzy?

Joining me now, one of the most beloved spiritual leaders in the United States, author of the new book "The Law of Divine Compensation", Marianne Williamson; Marianne, we are delighted to have you here today in the hope that you can make sense of what`s going on culturally with holiday shopping, holiday frenzies, holiday stampedes. I fear I believe we`ve gone off track. Help us.

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON, "THE LAW OF DIVINE COMPENSATION: Well, we`re not just off track one time of year. I think that what we see in a video like you showed is this extraordinary assault of crass consumerism and materialism that is so obvious right before Christmas. But it`s not like that`s an issue for us just one time of the year.

So I think we have to sort of psychically protect ourselves and protect the space in our own hearts so that we can actually experience the meaning of the holiday season. You know, the holidays are about love, they`re about a power inside our hearts that lifts us to a new place and out of that place we relate to other people differently and we can have peace and harmony and justice and brotherhood and love, that`s the season.

But at the same time, we don`t want to denigrate shopping in general during holidays because we want to remember how many people in the United States, particularly during an economy like this, make the money that they need to practically for the entire year during this season. So it`s a balance. It`s not either/or.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I want to talk to you about that because let me read a letter that I wrote to my family and essentially I told my family, I`m not buying gifts this holiday season.

This year I would just humbly request, no gifts or cards for me except for e-cards. And I wrote this, "America`s highest levels of overconsumption occur during the holidays. We`re now seeing the environmental wreckage firsthand as the East Coast was devastated by Hurricane Sandy which scientists say without question was made much worse by climate change."

And I talked about how my family members are, myself included, close to either the Hudson River or water of some sort. And I said this isn`t theoretical anymore. Marianne, with 40 percent -- up to 40 percent of retailers` annual income coming from sales made between November and December, we all need, let`s say, cereal (ph), equal amount around the year. But that spike is about gift giving. Is it perhaps time to re- evaluate what it means to give a gift?

WILLIAMSON: Well, I don`t think you re-evaluate what it means to give a gift by refusing to give one. I think that there`s something here about moderation and balance. The whole concept of giving gifts at a holiday like this is actually very beautiful, even on a spiritual level. But it doesn`t have to be this, "Oh, my God, what am I going to give them?"

There are people who give gifts that are very much in keeping with what they can afford, that are appropriate and that are so heartfelt. I mean there`s something beautiful about giving a gift, I believe, at the holidays. And there`s something beautiful about receiving a gift. So I think there`s an issue of proportion and perspective here.

And I think we also need to honor, you know, I many years ago was the owner of a bookstore in Houston, Texas. And I remember how much I needed those sales at Christmas. I don`t think anybody was coming at Christmastime and by buying a book, destroying the environment or destroying their credit. I think that if we just go back in all things in our lives to a realization that if we focus too much on the things outside, we forget what`s happening on the inside.

And that`s why we have the kinds of tragedies that we have in the world because too often we`re not showing up with deep humanity. And that`s the point of this season. So anything we do to mark the season, including the love we show to each other. You know how sometimes you get gifts from your children or other family members at Christmas that maybe hardly cost anything and that were very, very appropriate.

I don`t want to totally get rid of the notion of the beauty gift giving either because that`s a symbol of what happens in the spirit -- the gifts of the spirit that we then extend to other people. Once again, I think it`s balance. I don`t think it`s either/or.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Marianne, I love what you`re saying. And on the other side, we`re going to talk about alternative gift-giving and how we can use that gift concept in a different way to maybe get back into a more peaceful, spiritual outlook towards the holidays.

Stay right there.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Time for your "Pet o` the Day". Send us your pet pics to Sugar, oh, look at that patch. And Tony -- Tony is very distinguished -- well-groomed, well-groomed. And Bella, she`s just hanging. Yes, she says, Bella, hey, fella. My name`s Bella.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wow, so many fights. California mall, three men caught on tape violently fighting in the middle of a store -- Families watching in horror. What is happening with us? Well, I`ll tell you, there is an alternative. The good news is that our society can break free from the consumerism and the materialism that has really overtaken the holidays.

You can give your family and friends gifts, but do it in a different way using alternatives that are good for you, good for the planet, good for your wallet. It can make a difference.

For example, instead of buying gifts, try throwing a holiday no-shop swap. You all bring stuff that you don`t need but it`s still good. I threw one here at my place. And everybody brought stuff -- there was no wrapping paper. We spent time with each other. We had a lot of fun. We traded gifts.

Or you can gather some people together to go carolling. Try that -- ok, it`s fun. And you can certainly decorate your home. There are so many things you can do.

And Marianne Williamson, a spiritual leader here in the United States and the author of the fantastic new book "The Law of Divine Compensation", you`re right. I think we need to redefine the word "gift".

WILLIAMSON: Right, because the gift of the spirit, the external gift at Christmas and Hanukkah is actually a symbol for the internal gift which is -- in Judaism, it is the gift of the fact that the candles remained lit for as many days as they did.

In the Christian tradition, it is the gift of the Christ within us and so the ideas that we extend the gifts of the spirit into the lives of other people. And that is how we experience the gifts of God. That is how we experience the gifts of god by extending them into the lives of others.

So the spiritual meaning of gift giving is a beautiful thing. And I think we`ve all had a moment when our hearts were touched, when we opened a package and we thought about -- you know, there`s an art to gift giving. When it`s something that you know would make the other person happy but also has the stamp of your personality.

You know, we have all gotten so -- as you point out so emphatically here on this program today -- we have become so assaulted by the crassness of modernity that it actually has deprived us to some extent of the deeper meaning of the very things that the externals are about, such as gift- giving.

So I think even when you talk about the craziness that some people are displaying in these stores at Christmas, you and I both know Jane, unfortunately, they`re not just crazy one time during the year. So these are bigger issues than just -- you know, they`re displayed and they`re reflected and they`re so obvious during the holidays. But there`s something which is across the board an issue for our society that has become so externally focused that the vision of the outer world costs us the vision and the experience of really the things that matter most if we`re not careful.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I love the way you put that. And, again, your new book "The Law of Divine Compensation".

More on the other side with Marianne Williamson.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Perhaps the best way to celebrate the holidays, in my opinion, Marianne, is to give a gift that somebody really needs, like a cleft palate surgery or a donation to a favorite charity in somebody else`s name. What are your thoughts on that?

WILLIAMSON: Certainly the things you`re talking about giving are extraordinary. Even when you were showing the clip of the people who were swapping, I couldn`t help but think they could also be giving all those things to Salvation Army. So obviously, there are people in need and giving to people in need the things they really need obviously is important.

But I also think, Jane, that -- you know, I travel around the country and really the world sometimes in the work that I do. And sometimes people give me the sweetest little things that -- no, I don`t need them, but they`re such beautiful little givings, whether it`s a little statue of an angel or a card that they made themselves with some poetry or some spiritual inspiration. So I think that --


VELEZ-MITCHELL: And, Marianne, your gift today is your words.

WILLIAMSON: Thank you.


WILLIAMSON: Thank you.