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Grand Jury Looking at Adults in Steubenville Rape; Who Owns Your DNA; Football Helmet Maker in NFL Crosshairs; How Can Celebrities Protect Themselves?
Aired April 15, 2013 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOE JOHNS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Authorities say the 42-year-old man's body was found in the back of a truck on the infield of a campground area of the race. This is near the back stretch of the Texas motor speedway. The local medical examiner says he shot himself in the head and local reports indicate he was fighting with other spectators before he died. That race is sponsored by the national rifle association, we should point out. Texas motor speedway rules say no weapons or firearms are allowed on the premises there.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joe Johns, great to see you. Thanks so much. It is the next chapter in the Steubenville rape case. Two teenagers were convicted last month, but now a grand jury is locking at the role of adults and whether adults broke any laws. We'll explore this when we come back.
BERMAN: The recent rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, grabbed headlines and ended with the conviction of two teenaged boys. Today a new grand jury is being seated to look into other aspects of the case, including what happened surrounding the attacks on this impaired teenage girl at different parties. Among the issues, the possible cover-up by grown- ups, adults, and the responsibility of homeowners who may or may not have hosted these parties.
Lisa Bloom and Brian Silber are back with me right now.
We want to focus just on the homeowners right now. There are three homes in question, one where the drinking took place, the second apparently a stopover for the teens, and the third where the rape happened.
So, Lisa, what do you think the grand jury is trying to determine, and with all three sets of homeowners here, will all three be treated the same in these cases?
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, ARVO.COM & CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. It will depend on the facts, and the question for the grand jury is criminal negligence. Were adults aware of criminal activity happening on their property or of a high probability that criminal activity would happen on their property because teenagers and alcohol were being mixed there and they closed their eyes to it? Normally this is a civil issue. I handle civil cases in my law firm. That's where I would expect this to go, probably not criminal charges for the adults unless there's really a smoking gun.
BERMAN: How aware do you have to be, Lisa? If you go away, should you assume your kids will throw a party?
BLOOM: Yes. The law expects people to behave reasonably. We know what happens when 16 and 17-year-olds are left to will all-night parties with a lot of alcohol. There's a high probability a crime will be committed, perhaps a dui, perhaps a sexual assault. So we're all charged with that. Parents, this should be a wake of wake-up call. You are legally charged with supervising minors on your property. You can't just take off and close your eyes to it.
BERMAN: So the teenager who lives at the third house was given immunity for his testimony, the teenager was. Does that extend to his parents in this case, Brian?
BRIAN SILBER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely not. They would need their own special agreement. When someone is given immunity by prosecutors it's something they write in a contract. It actually has a very funny name. In federal court we call that "a queen for a day." In state court it may be a different name in the local jurisdiction. But it's very specific to the individual. It's signed by his attorney and the prosecutor. So, no, I do not believe the parents have immunity.
BERMAN: Lisa brought up the possible penalties here. What do you think these parents face here, Brian?
SILBER: At best for the prosecutors this may be a misdemeanor charge for culpable negligence, which as Lisa explained, criminal negligence. But the standard is very high. This is something that's rarely charged. Let me give you an example. If you fire off a gun into the air and you're in a crowded area, you know, you do this in celebration, the bullet comes down and kills somebody, that might be culpable negligence. If you're handling a firearm, maybe you're not so careful, not trained, and it accidentally goes off and you shoot someone, that would not be criminal negligence. So it all depends on the facts. But in this case, I don't think the parents are going to ultimately be charged.
BERMAN: Lisa, I wonder if you can give me a scale of the issues here. You said if you go away, of course, you're in some way responsible, if you just leave the House and your kids start drinking. Will but that's not as bad as making alcohol available to your kids. There are parents who give their kids liquor.
BLOOM: Yes, and there are parents who are found civilly liable for the damages that result from it. We can't let people have a blase attitude about teens and alcohol. There are civil cases all over this country every day where parents are held liable for the results of giving teenagers alcohol. Yes, it's commonly done. It is also illegal and also leads to negative consequences as I say, particularly drunk driving consequences. Parents should r shouldn't do it, and if they do, their financial future is on the line in a civil case.
BERMAN: Doesn't sound like a good idea at all. Aside from not giving kids alcohol, which you say sounds like a bad idea, what should parents know about their house and about what their kids are doing in it, Lisa?
BLOOM: Parents should be completely responsible for everything that goes on in their home at all times. It doesn't matter if the young people are 16 or 17 years old. It is your house. You are responsible for what happens there. You are the one who's going to get sued because teenagers don't have money. Parents have homeowners insurance so they're the ones who will get sued if bad things happen on their property. You have to be alert at all, you have to kick out kids who are behaving improperly, make sure they don't have access to alcohol or drugs. If they do, get them off your premises.
BERMAN: Brian, give you last word. Is it that simple?
SILBER: It's not exactly that simple because as a parent, you know your kids will go out and do certain things. There's some parents that would rather have them do it at home in the safety of their home where they're supervised. Letting them go off on their own to get drunk could be worse. It's almost a catch-22.
BERMAN: As is most cases with parenting, no doubt.
Brian and Lisa, thanks so much.
Stick with us. We have another question for you, who owns your DNA? That is a big question, a huge question before the Supreme Court today. We're going to lay out the case and what it could mean for you. Stay with us.
BERMAN: Watching a really fascinating case on the medical front today. The U.S. Supreme court is hearing arguments over an issue that involves literally every human being. The question before the court, can human genes be patented? A Utah firm, Myriad Genetics, found two genes linked to cancer and they patented the discovery.
Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is with us; and criminal defense attorney, Brian Silber.
Elizabeth, I have so many people in the legal and medical community saying this is a giant case today. What's at issue here?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It could set a huge precedent, a giant case. Basically what's at stake is, can a company own a part of you? We all have genes, these genes that we're talking about here with breast cancer. And can a company say, hey, we found it first so we own it? That means they're the only ones who can make the test to detect it.
And I just got off the phone with George Annas (ph), who is a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and a lawyer. He was in the room for the arguments this morning. He said there was a lot of attention focused on this particular analysis, that the justices said, look, let's say you discover a plant that would be a great drug, that could really help a lot of people, you can't patent that plant. That plant occurs in nature. So the justices were asking, can you really patent a gene? That gene is in all of us, occurs in nature.
BERMAN: So I understand the sort of law school legal question there, which you laid out, can a company own a piece of nature? Can a company own a piece of you? Like I said, an interesting sort of law school question there, but does this have an impact on our everyday lives?
COHEN: It does, and let me tell you why. Myriad said, hey, we own the patent, therefore we're the only ones who can do a breast cancer genetic test. Well, there have been patients who went to get this test and they said, if this test is positive, if I have this gene, I am removing both my breasts, I'm having both breasts surgically removed. They got an answer from the lab that says, yes, you carry this gene. These ladies said, wait a second, I don't really know I want my breasts removed based on results of one test. What if the lab goofed, made a mistake? It's happened. They wanted a second opinion. And they couldn't get it because this company has a monopoly on the gene. Some of those people are plaintiffs in this case saying that's just not right. We should be able to get a second opinion.
BERMAN: There is a lot of money at stake obviously. What is the company that owns the patent have to say about all of this?
COHEN: The company that owns the patent, Myriad, said, look, we put a lot of money and energy and time into finding this gene. We were first. We developed the new molecular even entities. We did the work, it's ours, we should own it.
BERMAN: Let's bring in Brian Silber.
You've been listening to this case. Where do you see this whole thing landing when it's said and done?
SILBER: I think this is going to come down to the science. Elizabeth is correct. You can't own a plant or human organ or thing of that nature. But the question is, the thing that they made, is it the actual gene inside our bodies, or is it another process that created something new that allows us to read those genes? For example, and this is my suspicion, I almost sense that this gene business is kind of like an x-ray. If I put my arm in an x-ray machine and then an image comes out, I believe that can be patented. They're not trying to patented human body. It's the thing that they created with science and research. If that's the case and that's what the justices find, then it should be patented and they should be rewarded for their efforts.
BERMAN: Is the issue how big of a change you have to make or how much they have to put in to get that gene out?
SILBER: My thought would be this is a very specialized area. I would imagine that they have to make something that is qualitatively different than the underlying gene. Again, I'm not a science or expert in genetics but that would be my thought process. I would want to know what they have done different than simply let's say harvesting an organ from somebody.
BERMAN: Brian Silber, thanks.
Elizabeth, terrific reporting.
A football helmet maker is already in the crosshairs in lawsuits by NFL players. Now a jury ruled it's partly at fault in a smaller suit. That ruling may have an impact on the larger concussion case. Stay with us.
BERMAN: A football helmet maker facing lawsuits from thousands of NFL players now has to pay up in a high school case. A Colorado jury ruled this weekend that Riddell owes Rhett Radolphy (ph) $3.1 million. He is now partially paralyzed from playing football. His lawsuit had two claims, first that the helmet had design flaws. The second, Riddell did not adequately warn players about the dangers of concussions. But the jury only faulted Riddell for the second claim, the failure of the warning.
Riddell gave this statement, "While disappointed in the jury's decision not to fully exonerate riddle, we are pleased that the jury determined that the helmet was not defective in any way." The company plans to appeal.
We want to bring back in legal analyst for arvo.com Lisa Bloom; and Brian Silber.
Lisa, let me start with you.
The jury found the company at fault only for part of the claims in the lawsuit, saying there was no adequate warning, saying there were no design flaws. The fact that they only found one, will that help in an appeal?
BLOOM: Adequate warning.
BERMAN: The fact they only found one and not the other, will that help in an appeal?
BLOOM: Well, it will. But let's remember they got hit with a $3 million judgment. This is clearly a victory for the plaintiffs who said that they were harmed notwithstanding wearing this helmet. These are very fact-specific kind of tort cases where somebody, on the one hand, has been injured, suffered a concussion playing football. And on the other hand, a company says there are too many lawsuits out there. But this jury took a look at all of the facts and said there should have been more warnings, that these helmets alone were not sufficient to protect against the concussions. You are absolutely right. There will definitely be appeals.
BERMAN: Meanwhile $3 million is a lot of money. Riddell is also listed in lawsuits by thousands of former NFL players making several claims to this high school student they were not adequately warned about the threat of concussion. So, Brian, will the Colorado lawsuit, could that affect the larger NFL case?
SILBER: It certainly can. You know, the plaintiffs attorneys representing the NFL players have to play close attention to these rulings as well as the other side Riddell has to look at it also. I think it still creates an issue that has to be lilt gaited. It's not a black and white win or loss for either side. There is still that one final point. And I think that's ultimately what Riddell may have to decide in terms of their business. Do they want to settle this one thing now after judgment or take it all the way and see if they can win and stamp out this problem once and for all?
BERMAN: Does the fact that the equipment was not ruled defective, does that give them what they want to keep on fighting?
SILBER: This is merely a question of risk and assumption of risk. If you're a football player and it's the first time you hit the field and put on that helmet, you can probably say I've relied on the helmet and never done this before, but if you've played multiple seasons and you know about football and getting tackled and you know about the injuries and you know what a helmet can do, that argument may be a little weaker.
BERMAN: Lisa, what do you think this means for the larger NFL lawsuit? I'm a huge football fan and right now concussions in football are really all anyone's talking about right now. If they're being charged $3 million for not warning people they could get concussions in this high school case, will that have an effect on the NFL?
BLOOM: Absolutely. This is one case. Multiply that times potentially hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs and I'm sure the company is taking this very seriously. Many of us see warnings on all kinds of products. The question is how much do we really follow those warnings? If there were warnings all over the helmet or if materials were distributed to parents when they purchased the helmet, would it really make a difference? Would kids be yanked out of football? Would they play differently? I'm sure the helmet manufacturer says no, warnings are routinely ignored by people.
BERMAN: That's a great question. I know the answer. People across the country are all talking about it.
Lisa Bloom, Brian Silber, stick with us.
We're going to come back in a second with this question, what would you do if someone came racing at you with an electric razor? I know it sounds funny but it was really scary for Hugh Jackman. And he's not the only star with a serious stalker problem. Stay with us.
BERMAN: Actor Hugh Jackman had a terrifying workout when a woman with an electric razor chased him down in the gym shouting "I love you." I know you hear electric razor and think that sounds kind of funny, but Jackman's publicist says he's seen this woman near his daughter's school and at home. Not funny at all. She was charged with stalking on Saturday. Singer Billy Joel recently hired a bodyguard for his daughter who has a stalker, according to reports. And a woman arrested at Singer Clay Akin's home this month. She allegedly scaled a fence and she peeked in the window.
We're joined again by legal analyst for Avvo.com, Lisa Bloom; and attorney, Brian Silber.
Brian, what can celebrities do to protect themselves?
SILBER: Well, I really feel bad for people in this position. You know, having a stalker is extremely stressful and worrisome because these people are on the fringe. There's something not mentally right with them. The legal recourse someone has is just to file an injunction which is a court order that instructs that person not to go within x amount of feet. But the truth is if you have a mental problem and you're not stable, I don't know that that's going to stop somebody. That's the real issue here. That's the problem.
BERMAN: I think that's what we commonly refer to as a restraining order here. If you're talking about a stalker, Lisa, is a restraining order effective?
BLOOM: A restraining order is always a good idea. I've been a stalking victim myself. It's true that a piece of paper isn't going to stop somebody who's dangerous, but police love it when you have a restraining order because you can simply hand it over to law enforcement. If that person violates the restraining order, they go directly to jail, they don't pass go, they don't collect $200. So it's a great tool for law enforcement.
Of course you also have to take precautions yourself. For women, I always advise you have a big barking dog, that you have security, that you don't go out alone. These are normal precautions that we take in the 21st century.
But please, everybody out there, if you are having a problem, you should absolutely go to court. You don't need a lawyer. Go in and get a restraining order.
BERMAN: You can't fix everything, but at least it helps seems to be the message you're sending. How can you tell from a legal standpoint the difference between, gosh, I'm your biggest fan ever and, boy, I'm a stalker -- Lisa?
BLOOM: Well, you can tell because the person is harassing you over and over. They're saying creepy things like the Hugh Jackman stalker said I'm going to be your next wife. They start talking about your children. They start showing up inappropriately at your home or at events where they're not invited. It's a pretty clear delineation between a stalker and someone who's just a nice fan.
BERMAN: And what about anti-stalking laws, Brian? I guess they vary state-to-state. SILBER: They do. In Florida, if it's a consistent thing that you're constantly harassing someone, whether it's harassing phone calls or cyber stalking or like Lisa said showing up at their job or work, you simply go to the police and they're actually very easy charges to prove especially on the phone or Internet. You bring a phone bill and say, hey, I got 32 calls between 2:00 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. from this person.
BERMAN: Lisa, it's frightening to hear in your case that you were stalked. I'm sorry to hear that. When you talk about some of these giant megastars, Hugh Jackmans or bigger, I suppose some of them hire bodyguards or an entourage. Are there legal repercussions or implications that come from that?
BLOOM: From having bodyguards? Not unless they behave inappropriately. I also represent clients who are high profile people and I always advise them to get security. Security can take pictures of people too. Immediately anybody who looks suspicious lingering around your home behaving inappropriately. Unfortunately, anyone at Hugh Jackman's level have to have a security, they have to live in a gated community. That's just the world we live in now.
BERMAN: It is unfortunate indeed.
Lisa Bloom, Brian Silber, thanks so much for sticking with us all day. A lot of ground covered.
SILBER: Thank you.
BERMAN: I appreciate it.
BERMAN: Thanks for watching everyone. I'm John Berman. AROUND THE WORLD comes up next.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes. Welcome, everyone.
MALVEAUX: We begin in North Korea where threats of nuclear war give way to celebrations today. They are marking the birthday of North Korea's late founder, Kim Il-sung. His grandson is the current leader, Kim Jong-un.