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Abducted Boys Believed to be in Cuba; Jay-Z and Beyonce Visit Cuba, Stir Controversy; Latest in the Jodi Arias Trial; CNN Spots Boat Belonging to Kidnappers

Aired April 9, 2013 - 11:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: "CNN Newsroom" continues right now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Carol. And, hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

So near and yet so far away, two young Florida boys who allegedly were kidnapped almost a week ago from their grandmother's home in Tampa, Florida, are now believed to be in Cuba today with their alleged captors, AKA their parents, Joshua and Sharyn Hakken.

Those two lost custody of four-year-old Cole and two-year-old Chase after a run in with police in Louisiana last June.

How the four possibly wound up in Cuba and what happens next are matters that I now put to my CNN colleagues.

We've got Patrick Oppmann who's reporting in Havana, and also Victor Blackwell who is in Tampa.

Victor, give me exactly what we do know from any Cuban officials at this point who may actually be talking about this case.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Cuban officials say that they are not aware of this. They have said that the U.S. has not asked them for any assistance.

Here's what we do know about this Cuban connection. The Hillsborough County sheriff's office here, they say that they received information that the family had arrived there.

They're not releasing the source yet. They're not saying he exactly what that information is.

We do know from a U.S. official here in the United States telling our Elise Labott at the State Department that U.S. officials in Havana are involved with the situation and they're aware of it.

Obviously to what extent, what their involvement is, that information has not yet been released.

But we are still waiting for the hard confirmation, for someone either with the State Department or with the Cuban government to say, yes, the Hakken family is here and this is their condition, their whereabouts. That yet has not come.

BANFIELD: And then, Victor, just remind me of the series of events that led up to this alleged absconding with children internationally.

There was a custodial issue with these children and these parents and Sharyn Hakken's parents were the custodians of these children.

How did they allegedly kidnap these kids, and how did that go down the day before they allegedly left?

BLACKWELL: Well, you brought up the grandparents, and I want to say this, that the grandmother of these two boys, Chase and Cole Hakken, she is here talking with detectives right now.

We are not aware yet that there's a planned statement. But of course we're here if that happens, if there is a news conference.

But let's talk about the custodial issues. On the day before this alleged kidnapping, this -- the kidnapping, we're told, happened Wednesday. The parents lost custody. They lost parental rights on Tuesday.

How did that happen? We've got to go back to June 2012. This is where the story starts. It's Slidell, Louisiana. The parents and the boys are in a hotel room.

Police show up. There's alcohol. There's drugs. There are guns. There are also a Joshua there, the father saying that they are in a journey to Armageddon. And the police were spooked by that. They thought the children why in danger. They took them.

Two weeks later, Hammond, Louisiana, they say that Joshua Hakken showed up at the foster home those boys were in with a gun, trying to take them. He faces charges in both of those jurisdictions in Slidell and Hammond for those two incidents.

Then on Wednesday, we're told that he showed up at his mother-in-law's home, Sharyn Hakken's mother, at 6:00 or so in the morning, tied her up after breaking into her house, took the boys, took her car and sped off.

The car was found. Later his truck was found. And then there was the report that he bought a boat, this 25-foot sailboat, The Salty, and that is what we're told led to the reports that they had been in Cuba or are in Cuba.

Again, all we're hearing from the sheriff's office here is that they received information that the family is in Cuba, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And, Victor, that's a far cry from having complete confidence that that's where those children are right now.

I can tell you this, that our Patrick Oppmann at CNN is in Havana as we speak, and he's chasing down these leads for us. He's going to join us live just as soon as he gets some clarity on where this family may be and whether that information that got to Florida was indeed accurate.

In the meantime, there are huge legal issues between these two countries who do not get along. Joining me now from Philadelphia is defense attorney and legal commentator Danny Cevallos.

Danny, just start from the very basics here. Is there anything the United States can do to get those children back if, in fact, they are in Cuba?

DANNY CEVALLOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, remember, Cuba is not like any other country. We have a special relationship with Cuba in the form of an embargo that we've had since 1960.

And the short version of it is, unless Cuba wants to cooperate, there is virtually nothing we can do. We don't have an extradition agreement. This is not Canada. This is not Mexico.

Although Amber Alerts may be sent out internationally, ultimately, finding these children in Cuba presents a thorny international issue.

And if Cuba refuses to cooperate then there is virtually nothing -- nothing that the United States can do, short of some good diplomacy.

But legally, our laws mean nothing to Cuba and vice versa at this time.

BANFIELD: And when you say diplomacy, that's not usually a word we connect with Cuba. I know there's the U.S. interests section in Havana. There is no embassy. When you don't have diplomatic relations, you don't have an embassy.

But how do we talk with that country? It's not like this hasn't happened before.

CEVALLOS: Well, since 1960, remember, the embargo against Cuba is a vestige of the Cold War of the Red Scare, and each administration has successively loosened and loosened restrictions on Cuba, so that now it can't be said that we've gotten rid of the embargo, although some commentaries say it is a certainty in the future.

In this case, we have increased relationships with Cuba. We even have, as many people know, a military base situated at one end of the island.

So I mean, we have a presence in Cuba, and we have officials there. And we allow students and missionaries to travel there as it is.

So we do have an increased level, a modicum of diplomacy, in Cuba these days. The question ultimately is, Cuba is still a sovereign nation and, ff they decide they refuse to cooperate, we would have very little we could do short of sending in the Apache helicopters, which I this is not an option at this point.

BANFIELD: And just sort of to go back over recent history, I know this is very tough as the story continues to break, but Cuba has been a haven for people trying to escape the long arm of American justice. And that doesn't mean, as you said, that the Cubans play ball. They often do send people back. But is it willy-nilly? How do they assess each case? Do we know what the standards are?

CEVALLOS: Well, it's up to Cuba to decide who they deem to be a fugitive or who they deem to be some sort of political hero.

But you're absolutely right. There have been accused cop killers that have fled to Cuba and resided there for years and years. And, of course, the Cuban government for whatever reason has declined to return then.

So it really -- again, the watchword here is we're going to come back to the touchstone of diplomacy because ultimately there's nothing legally, short of declaring some kind of military action, which, of course, is a form of diplomacy gone bad.

But other than that Cuba decides who they want to keep and who they want to throwback, just like the fish they may catch in their ocean.

So in this case, legally, we have virtually no power. It's up to diplomacy, and I would expect that we would diplomatically handle their very carefully because we are virtually impotent when it comes to forcing Cuba to do anything.

BANFIELD: OK, Danny Cevallos, stay with me if you would for a moment.

And just a reminder, as we continue to follow this story, the United States government, a State Department official, in fact, is not confirming that those children or that family is in Cuba, but does say that U.S. interests section in Havana, quote, "is aware of this case and is in contact with local authorities to get more information."

They also cited privacy considerations as well. Don't forget we're talking about children, ages two and four and there are those considerations as well.

Our Patrick Oppmann, as I mentioned, is chasing down a lot of these details, and it is a little on the fly. So he's going to join us just as soon as he can get up live with us and tell us what he knows about what's happening on the ground there.

In the meantime, there's a whole other high-profile situation in Cuba, Beyonce and Jay-Z being slammed over taking a wedding anniversary trip at a place where we're really not supposed to have fun and games when we travel.

But did the United States government approve their trip, or did they break the law? You might be surprised about what they've been doing since they've been there and how it might help their case.


BANFIELD: We are talking about Americans who turn up in Cuba, but in particular, two young Florida boys and the parents who allegedly kidnapped them. But avoiding the law is only one reason that Americans go to that communist state, a communist state that government here in United States has been isolating for decades.

Jay-Z and Beyonce, for instance, decided to celebrate their wedding anniversary in Havana last week and then soon discovered that they are just as famous there as they are anywhere else.

But even they are being criticized by a couple of U.S. lawmakers who want to know whether they got permission and, if they got permission, how they got it.

Listen to Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen this morning on CNN.


REPRESENTATIVE ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: If you saw the footage and the photographs from their visit to Cuba, it looks just like what they -- what the Cuban government said it was.

It was a tourist trip where they were celebrating their wedding anniversary. And there are a lot of better places they could go where they're not feeding a monstrous regime, because every dollar that is spent there goes to the Castro regime so they can further repress the Cuban people.


BANFIELD: Lawyer and legal commentator Danny Cevallos joins me again, and he's joined also by a former juvenile court judge, TV host as well, and bestselling author, Glenda Hatchett.

Danny, let me begin with you. Since we were already talking about Cuba, let's digress a little bit, and what can you do legally to go to Cuba.

When it come does what Jay-Z and Beyonce are doing there, what might they be doing legally? What might they have actually secured in order to do what they're doing without breaking the law?

CEVALLOS: You know, Ashleigh, that's a great question. What we just talked about just a few minutes before is very important here.

This Cuban embargo, as time goes on, is becoming less and less and less stringent by each administration. Specifically, Cuban Americans are now allowed to travel freely. So we actually have Americans that are allowed to go. We also have exceptions for missionaries. We have exceptions for students.

So now it becomes a question of, well, if some Americans can go, what's the problem with other Americans going?

The rule, remember, is not -- there's no prohibition against actually physically traveling to Cuba. The prohibition is Americans are not allowed to spend U.S. money there. So, practically speaking, it's almost impossible to do that, but that's exactly how odd this embargo has become. Again, it's a vestige not necessarily -- it wasn't borne of human rights problems. It was borne of money.

The Cuban administration or the Cuban regime seized U.S. assets in Cuba, and the U.S. still claims $6 billion in claims against Cuba. That's billion, not million.

So this is really an embargo that's about money. However, no one would support this regime.

BANFIELD: So let me just suggest this. We had up on the screen while you were laying out that case all the different ways you can legally travel to Cuba, and the Obama administration recently added these person-to-person visits.

I just want to tell you what the Office of Foreign Assets Control suggests you have to do. If you're going to go on a person to person visit, and there is some reporting that that's the kind of paperwork that that star couple got, you have to have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will, quote, "result in the meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba." There's a lot more to it, but that's the gist of it.

Now let me tell you what some of the things are on the list of Jay-Z and Beyonce's day-to-day activities in Cuba, because this might actually be making their case. They visited a children's theater group. They went to the Superior Art Institute. They visited the Contemporary Dance Company. They went to the Old City with a top architect as well. And not only that, they, they had a number of interactions with some private musicians, as I understand, whether it was in their homes or in private venues. It certainly seemed like that was under the cultural person-to-person guidelines that the OFAC lays out.

So Glenda Hatchett, you be the judge.

GLENDA HATCHETT, FORMER JUVENILE COURT JUDGE: Yes, no, I absolutely agree, Ashleigh. And I can't imagine that people as prominent as Jay- Z and Beyonce wouldn't have sought some advice on this. And because the Obama administration relaxed the restrictions as recently has 2012, and we have these broad categories of cultural, religious and educational exchanges, and just to your point of having delineated these pieces, you know, it seems that they've fallen within that particular category.

Now really quickly, the thing is that the Treasury Department has said that they have a policy of not commenting on individuals as to whether they received license and (ph) what happens. So it sounds to me that they have a strong case. The penalties, though, on the other hand, up to $250,000 or ten years in prison, I would hope and certainly think that they would have researched this.

BANFIELD: I think I called it the person-to-person; let me just clarify, it's the people-to-people visit. HATCHETT: People-to-people.

BANFIELD: But I'll tell you something I just spotted. There was a story that came across our radar yesterday about a New York man that was fined $6,500 for just having traveled from Mexico, where he'd been staying for a while, on a side visit to Cuba. And it was a 14-year litigation period, but 6,500 bucks. And I'm seeing from the OFAC Web site, if you mess up on your license requirements, like if Jay-Z and Beyonce aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing under the license requirement, if they got it, you can face $65,000 for violation.

Danny, just quickly, ten seconds -- has anyone ever faced that?

CEVALLOS: Well, the U.S. government has enforced those things in the past and, again, the penalty is for spending money. So the U.S. government, the premise is probably that they're seeking to recover the money that was spent. But it's not based on that. It is a penalty, and it has been enforced.

BANFIELD: That's a heavy penalty, 64 -- that's a heavy-duty vacation, let me tell you. Danny Cevallos and Judge Hatchett, thank you both for that.

Stay with us; we do have a lot more discussion coming up, including the defense in the Jodi Arias trial saying that the courtroom has now become such a circus atmosphere. They're blaming the prosecutor for being the ringleader and asking once again to shut this whole thing down.


BANFIELD: The Jodi Arias murder trial is certainly getting crazy. This is day eight of testimony for the defensive domestic violence expert, and the cross examination has been so brutal that Alyce LaViolette has an entourage to help her get ready for her testimony in court, a little like a boxer be being sent into the ring.

Before she went one more round with Juan Martinez, one man was actually giving her a shoulder rub. Here's a glimpse of what this was like for her yesterday.


JUAN MARTINEZ, PROSECUTOR: Ma'am, in this case, you actually are biased in favor of the defendant, aren't you?

ALYCE LAVIOLETTE, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE EXPERT: Do I believe the evidence that supports domestic violence, yes. I think bias is an incorrect word, Mr. Martinez.

MARTINEZ: No. That is the correct word. Isn't it true that you are biased in favor of the defendant, yes or no?

LAVIOLETTE: I don't believe I'm biased. You're implying that, I think, that I'm lying about what I do. And I don't lie about what I do, Mr. Martinez.


BANFIELD: Well, some of the questioning and the way that the questioning has come not from this man, but from the prosecutor Mr. Martinez, is starting to affect the case, so much so that this defense lawyer and his team have filed another motion for a mistrial. They say they just can't do their jobs properly and they can't give Jodi a fair defense because of all the courtroom antics.

And that's not all. Arias testified that, during the killing, she had climbed up onto some pretty flimsy shoe shelves in order to grab a gun and then fired that gun in self-defense. So the prosecutors sent an investigator there last month to test those very shelves that Jodi said withstood all her weight. Now Jodi's lawyers want that investigation kept out of court. That's another motion.

We're going to continue that coverage shortly. But I want to get you back to some breaking news actually outside of -- in Havana, Cuba, where our Patrick Oppman is standing by. Patrick has been chasing down these leads that these two children, who allegedly were abducted by their parents, ended up on a sailboat and in Cuba. But up until now we have not had confirmation that they were completely confirmed to be in Cuba.

Those are the children. Patrick, you've narrowed your reporting and your search down to a marina? What have you seen?

PATRICK OPPMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, we've just walked to the Hemingway Marina in Havana where, amazingly enough, we ran into the same boat that this manhunt now has been looking for both in Cuba and in the United States and the Straits of Florida.

And here, the Hemingway Marina, a very well-known tourist spot. It's where most foreigners' boats would come into Havana to be registered by immigration officials. And we drove the entire length of the - (INAUDIBLE) marina. Lots of boats. And there, in the last slip, of the marina, was the boat called "The Salty," the same one with the paw prints and was on the Hillsborough County sheriff's Web site, the exact same boat, looking a little worse for wear.

And immediately we started shooting a little bit of video of this boat and could I see on the deck of the boat a small child playing. And while we were shooting, immediately security, Cuban security, became quickly aware that we were there, told us to stop filming. So not just the marina security (INAUDIBLE); it was state security people with sidearms on them very adamantly telling us to stop filming.

In the middle of this, a man it comes out, and a large man, heavy beard. I said, "Are you Josh?" And it sure looked like Josh Hakken. And he said, "Yes. Who are you?" And I told him we were with CNN, we want to talk to him. And he quickly ran into the boat and said, "I don't want to talk to you. I have nothing to say." Got in the boat, Cuban security came over to us and told us to stop filming. We asked who this person was and they claimed, although they hadn't spoke - (INAUDIBLE) well-guarded, not to know. And then I, of course, asked them was this guy under arrest? He's wanted in the United States. And they said, "No, no. He's not under arrest." And they wouldn't really explain their presence there, but when I said I needed to talk to him, if he'd (INAUDIBLE), they let me approach the boat without a camera. And there on the deck of the boat was a man who looked surely like Josh Hakken, and the man who said his name was Josh.; a woman who sure looked like his wife Sharyn; and a small boy playing.

And they had been on the boat. They had sunglasses on. The man seemed very aggressive, very unhappy that I was there. And I told him why I was there, that we were looking for this couple from the Tampa area that apparently had fled to Cuba. And he kept saying, "I don't want to talk. I don't want to talk." And finally actually to the woman I said, "Why only one boy here? There's a lot of concern over the well-being of your children. Are both boys OK?" And that was the only thing she said to me, she said, "Yes."

And I left my card. And I left; we were escorted off by Cuban security. But it appears the mystery of where this couple and their children has been all these days has been solved. We've seen their boat here in Havana.

BANFIELD: So to be completely clear, Patrick, you had a direct beat on one child on that boat. There are two boys, aged 2 and 4. I'm not sure how close a look you got. Were you able to determine if it was the 2 year old or the 4 year old that you saw?

OPPMAN: You know, the boy was playing - sorry, you're breaking up there a little bit. The boy was playing; he seemed very happy. And it was a beautiful scene, all these boats. And these are American boats, frankly, that come down, and skirt the embargo and stay at this marina. It's one of the few marinas that's really dedicated just to tourists (ph). And they could blend in very well, which may have been - I'll tell you, this was the only boat that had this kind of security presence around them. Whether or not the Hakkens are under arrest, in custody, they're certainly being very, very closely watched by security forces here in Cuba.

BANFIELD: The FBI right now is currently assessing the number of American fugitives that are seeking refuge in Cuba at right around 70, which is not that many, if you think about the Cubans the being able to keep track and that's why I want to ask you more about these security officials with sidearms. Does this look like this is a braking situation for them as well? Or does it look like they know darn well who this family is and that they are in the care and custody of the Cubans now?

OPPMAN: It looked like the security officials had been there for some time and perhaps that's why they didn't spot us filming right off the bat, because they'd been standing around this boat in the hot Cuban sun and maybe had sort of taken their eyes off the ball a little bit. But as soon as they were aware we were there ,they pounced very quickly and wanted to find out who we were.

Even though with credentials to be here reporting and film in public places, they very quickly told us we couldn't be filming. We needed to leave. So it seems like they've got a very close eye on this particular boat. There's concern, though - I talked to officials throughout the day, and there is concern, mostly (ph) on the U.S. side, about the children's welfare. They must have gone through something of an ordeal coming here because it's been very rough recently. And this boat is the smallest boat in the marina; it's just tiny. I can't imagine attempting a crossing like this.

BANFIELD: Has there, Patrick --

OPPMAN: Officials are telling us, though, that Cuban authorities and American authorities are working very closely in locating this boat, but it turns out that perhaps we've already done that for them. We found the boat here in the Hemingway Marina in Havana.

BANFIELD: Well, it's just stellar reporting on your part, Patrick, for having been able to track down that boat and at least three members of this family that are now officially fugitives of American justice. Have you seen, or is it easy to spot, any presence from American representatives, at least somebody from the U.S. interest section in Havana, approach approaching the boat? Do they even know they're there?

OPPMAN: (INAUDIBLE) and the way we do that is diplomats have certain plates. And the plates for U.S. diplomats is a 201 (ph) plate. There's black; they're - the license plates are black so you can recognize them. I was looking, because that could be a clue. I didn't see any of those particular plates that would identify officials from the United States interest section (ph) in the marina.

And I've been talking to officials throughout the day and, as of last night, officials tell us they had alerted Cuban authorities and have been in close contact with Cuban authorities. But as of this morning, we'd yet to hear confirmation that they found this family. It appears that the mystery, at least part of the mystery, has been cleared up.

There's a big question now what happens with this family? U.S. fugitives are not always sent back from Cuba. Of course, these crimes are not political. They're not revolutionary. And the government may decide, if the U.S. government requested, to send them back.

But that's going to be worked out. There's going to be a lot of diplomacy involved there. But the news we're getting so far, though, is that Cuban and U.S. authorities are working very, very closely to try and resolve this situation, which is something of a rarity here, where certainly these two governments almost never see eye to eye.

BANFIELD: And it just seems like such an odd way to end this journey, or at least this rush from justice, to just sort of be sitting on the boat in a marina. Does that appear that's where they're staying, that's their home? They're not looking for cover on land anywhere? This is it. This is where we're going to stay for now anyway.