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Dad Charged in Son's Death; Cochran Hangs On; Syrian Airplanes Kill Civilians

Aired June 26, 2013 - 14:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me here on this Wednesday.

We have to begin with these new details in this tragic story of a Georgia toddler who died, whose lifeless body was pulled from his father's sweltering SUV. So that child, here he was, 22-month-old Cooper Mills Harris died last week. Cooper's father told investigators he forgot that his son was in the back of his car in that rear-facing child seat. Didn't take the child to daycare. Now this dad's story is falling apart.

Police say 33-year-old Justin Harris knew his son was in that roasting SUV and that there is evidence to prove it. Harris is charged with murder. And we have this new arrest warrant, just in today, just released. Details why police believe Cooper's death was no accident.

But there is one other detail in that same warrant that raises questions about criminal intent. So with me now, a host of people here to walk me through this, CNN correspondent Victor Blackwell, who's there in Cobb County, criminal defense attorney Holly Hughes, and former Cobb County prosecutor Philip Holloway.

So, welcome to everyone.

And, Victor, let's just begin with you there on the ground. With this criminal warrant specifically, two nuggets, two take-aways here. Number one, the breakfast before this horrendous incident took place. And, two, the lunch time trip to the car.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's start at the beginning of the day, Brooke, where according to this warrant from Cobb County Police Department, Justin Ross Harris was seen. So that suggests that there's surveillance video. He was seen having breakfast at this Chick-fil-A restaurant not far from his home and from his workplace, and placing little Cooper into this car seat in the rear seat, rear- facing in the center of that seat. So that suggests anyone who has a child and they use a car seat, if you're in the driver's seat and you look into that rear-view mirror, you can see what's between the head rests. And he would have seen that child in that seat. That, again, is according to police. That's the morning.

Then he drove to work, went into his job at the Home Depot service center. And according to this warrant, Justin Harris was seen going back to that vehicle during lunchtime, opening the driver's side door, placing something inside, although there's no details about what was placed inside, closed the door and then walked back into work. Of course, that suggests he knew that his son, 22 months old, was inside that vehicle. The temperature that day outdoors, Brooke, 88 degrees. Experts say that it could have quickly gone up to more than 120 degrees inside that Hyundai Tucson.

BALDWIN: OK. Victor, stay with me.

Let me just broaden the conversation out here with Philip and Holly. First to the point about the breakfast, because initially when I read this criminal warrant, it's very easy to think, my goodness, this father had breakfast with this 22-month-old boy. You picture him feeding him a chicken biscuit at the Chick-fil-A before going all of a mile away to work. But we don't know, first of all, whether this child was asleep in the car. We don't know yet whether he got this child out. Could have been a drive-thru.

PHILIP HOLLOWAY, FORMER COBB COUNTY PROSECUTOR: We don't know. And the thing is, that Chick-fil-A is so close to where he worked, there's no way in the world a child could have fallen asleep and you just forgot about him in that short period of time. And that's the amazing detail. Just last week, they led us to believe by dripping out some information that this was going to go in a more different direction, more sinister direction. And now to find the charges downgraded is a little bit surprising.

BALDWIN: Let's take a look at the map here. We have it right over my shoulder. So you can see here, the Chick-fil-A starred. That's where, according to this criminal warrant, he did stop the morning of to grab breakfast. Just across that highway, Home Depot headquarters, where he hopped over to work and then ultimately drove up to Acres Mall Shopping Center, not too far away in Atlanta, and that's when, according to witnesses, he found the child, was screaming "oh, God, no," tried to resuscitate this child.

When you and I last spoke -

HOLLY HUGHES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right.

BALDWIN: I think it was just even on Friday -

HUGHES: Friday, yes.

BALDWIN: We were talking about this D.A. in Cobb County and how it's up to the D.A. to come up with these charges.

HUGHES: Correct.

BALDWIN: And there had been this outcry that this could -- and it still very well could be -- an accident. And so part of the charge now is downgraded.

HUGHES: Yes, it has. It's been downgraded. And what we're talking about is felony murder here in the state of Georgia. We don't have degrees. You know, we all hear, oh, murder in the first. That's not what we're talking about.

BALDWIN: OK.

HUGHES: Felony murder means you're in the commission of another felony and somebody dies as a result. You're then on the hook for murder, even if you didn't intend, you didn't set out to kill anyone. But what you have to intend is you set out to do the underlying felony. And what they downgraded it to is they've taken it from cruelty to children in the first degree, down to cruelty to children in the second degree, which just requires criminal negligence. Your behavior was so outrageously negligent that you can then be on the hook for murder, even though you didn't intend to kill and you didn't intend to really do that awful harm to the baby. But you're just so outrageous in your behavior, and that's kind of what we're hearing, because three times, Brooke, you put the baby in the car at home, you see the baby when you're at Chick-fil-A, but then you go out at lunch time and put something in your car, and you don't tell the police that. That's what's really killing him right now.

BALDWIN: Let me - let me read that. That's the key, too, as part of this criminal warrant.

HUGHES: Yes.

BALDWIN: This is, during lunch, said accused did access the same vehicle through a driver's side door to place an object into the vehicle. Said accused then closed the door and left the car, reentering his place of business. As Victor pointed out, it's a rear- facing child car seat. So one could think maybe it was more difficult, you didn't see that the child's face sitting in the back seat, wasn't facing forward. That could be something that the defense could say.

HOLLOWAY: Yes. And that's exactly right. And to your point, in mentioning the district attorney and his charging decision -

BALDWIN: Yes.

HOLLOWAY: I know the man personally.

BALDWIN: You worked in Cobb County for years.

HOLLOWAY: Well -- and he's an honorable person. He's a very good lawyer. And he's somebody who knows how to analyze the totality of the circumstances and look at all the evidence in the proper light. And there's obviously things that he knows that we don't know. So while I'm surprised that the underlying felony of cruelty to children was downgraded to the second degree, I've got to trust that he knows what he's doing and that he would not have lowered the charges unless there was a good reason to do so.

BALDWIN: With the charges lowered, let's say that looking way ahead, if this father is convicted, how many years are we talking about?

HOLLOWAY: Life.

BALDWIN: Life.

HOLLOWAY: It's a mandatory life sentence in Georgia for felony murder, even if you did not have any intention to kill. And as she said, all that's required is criminal negligence. And there's a fine line between mere negligence and criminal negligence. But either way, it's the absence of an intention to kill. And if it comes down to mere negligence, that could even give rise to a defense of accident or mistake or maybe some misdemeanor charges.

BALDWIN: It's just a - it's a stunning story.

HUGHES: Yes.

BALDWIN: It's a tragic story. It's the kind of story - I mean just checking thousands of people have been signing these petitions -

HUGHES: Right.

BALDWIN: Wanting this D.A. to downgrade the charges -

HUGHES: Correct.

BALDWIN: Because of this uproar. I read in "The Atlanta Journal Constitution" this morning, we'll have the reporter on next hour, saying people have raised, as far as donation goes, $20,000 to the family who we haven't heard from yet.

HUGHES: Yes.

BALDWIN: And, listen, if I was the mother, having lost my 22-month- old, I wouldn't want to talk to me either. But we haven't heard boo from family.

HUGHES: Right.

HOLLOWAY: Well, she's - she -

HUGHES: And that's so unusual, Brooke, because -

BALDWIN: It is unusual.

HUGHES: Think about all the stories that we have covered over the years. How many times do people get behind the defendant, the one who's charged for the crime, and rally for the defense and say, cut him free, let him loose. Look, that never happens. And what has changed here is just what the prosecution has to prove. Not the sentencing. This man is still looking at a life sentence if convicted. So, for him, his risk and his exposure is still that life sentence. And bear in mind, in the state of Georgia, that's 31 years before you're even eligible for parole. I mean a life sentence is pretty close to a life sentence. It's going to get real high for him. So the only thing that's changed is what the state has to prove. They don't have to prove that intent to kill, just that criminal negligence, and that's what makes this case so different. And I think the reason we saw so many people initially get behind this defendant -

BALDWIN: Yes.

HUGHES: Is because we think, I could forget that. I can see myself doing that.

BALDWIN: Some parents are saying, no way in hell I could forget my child.

HUGHES: But - correct. Right. Exactly. But now with the additional facts -

HOLLOWAY: But when you - but when you hear that - yes, when you hear that it's only a half a mile away -

HUGHES: Going in and out -

HOLLOWAY: And, you know, how can you possibly forget that your 22- year-old - or 22-month-old is back there.

BALDWIN: Right.

HUGHES: In and out of the car several times in a day?

BALDWIN: (INAUDIBLE) impossible. We'll follow this.

HUGHES: Yes.

BALDWIN: We know that search warrant has to come out. More information will eke out in this case. Philip and Holly, thank you both very much.

HOLLOWAY: Thank you. My pleasure.

HUGHES: Thanks.

BALDWIN: (INAUDIBLE) going. Just horrible. Twenty-two-month-old gone.

Just ahead, this Tea Party candidate refusing to concede after using that nasty primary race. Hear why he says the fight wasn't fair.

Plus, she has just pulled ahead of her rivals in the ratings, so why is ABC's Diane Sawyer now stepping down?

And the crisis in Iraq just took a new dramatic turn. Air strikes killing civilians as CNN takes you on the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Baghdad Airport is just over there. I can see two helicopters flying over there. That's one of the targets for ISIS. This road that we're on right now, a few years ago, this is where U.S. troops were targeted regularly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MCDANIEL (R), MISSISSIPPI SENATE CANDIDATE: There is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that's decided by liberal Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: If he sounds like the loser, well, he is. The Tea Party's Chris McDaniel, he has yet to concede, but he is the loser of this epic runoff race that's the nearly deposed Mississippi's Thad Cochran, 36 years in the U.S. Senate. And in case you hadn't noticed, this is another Tea Party story. You know the refrain already, underfunded, fire brand emerges from out of nowhere and either beats a Republican heavyweight or runs close enough to give him panic attacks. You know the refrain, but this one has a twist.

Back to the wall, Thad Cochran called a play from Mississippi's Brett Favre, who cut him a last minute commercial. That certainly didn't hurt Thad Cochran whatsoever. But Cochran's hail mary, to stay with the football analogy here, was an appeal to black voters, Democrats, to come vote for him in a Republican runoff. In Mississippi, that is legal, and it worked for Thad Cochran. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Who did you vote for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thad Cochran.

BASH: Now, did you vote in the actual primary?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I did not.

BASH: So why did you come and vote in the runoff?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I feel like the man can do the job for us here.

BASH: Who did you vote for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Cochran.

BASH: Did you vote in the June 3rd primary?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: That was Dana Bash down in Mississippi here for us. And let's just hold it right there, hit pause and talk to John Avlon of "The Daily Beast," editor in chief, super duper smart guy, John Avlon.

You know, we can talk all we want about irony here, but let's just begin with sheer numbers. I mean the real question is, did these liberal Democrats, as Chris McDaniel calls them, did these liberal Democrats win that Republican runoff for Thad Cochran?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Brooke, you know, when McDaniel said liberal Democrats, what he meant was African-Americans. And we do know from the turnout that African-American turnout was astronomical. Over 40 percent in a predominantly African-American counties. So that approach, by the Cochran campaign, to look at this runoff as an opportunity to expand the map, with a massive get out the vote effort and to go beyond playing to the base, which has been the mantra in Republican primaries for so long, and instead try to expand the map, that proved successful. He was able to take advantage of the fact that Mississippi doesn't have voter registration and appeal to folks like African-Americans who are not traditionally Republican voters. But they wanted to stop Chris McDaniel and they succeed in doing so.

BALDWIN: They did. And speaking of expanding the map, I mean we all know, this is no secret, the Republican Party is challenged when it comes to attracting black voters. So what I really want to know -

AVLON: Yes.

BALDWIN: What was this runoff strictly some kind of odd anomaly, or do you have - I mean just imagine Thad Cochran's cell phone possibly ringing off the hook now with these Republican strategists saying, hey, how'd you pull that off?

AVLON: Look, I mean, the Cochran campaign does show an alternate path to victory. It's the alternative simply doubling down on the base, trying to just, you know, try to get low turnout and appeal to just enough white folks to get across the finish line.

BALDWIN: It worked.

AVLON: You know, the Republican Party needs to deal with demographic change. They've had a real problem doing that. Really, Rand Paul is one of the few national Republican leaders who's constantly challenging the part to reach beyond the base, to come up with new coalitions, to reach out to African-Americans and Hispanics. The McDaniel - the Cochran campaign is one of the first to do it. Let -- in a primary, which the degree of difficulty is much higher. So it does show an alternate path to victory. It shows a different way to fight in the GOP civil war. And it could, if someone is inspired, inspire some folks in the Republican Party to think beyond the base and try to figure out how to practice the politics of addition, not just the politics of division, which they've done for basically the past decade.

BALDWIN: John Avlon, can I -- I want to ask you something sort of out of left field here. On Thad Cochran, when you look at his -

AVLON: OK.

BALDWIN: When you look at his age, 76, he is on his way to another six years in the Senate. You have New York's Charlie Rangel, Democrat, age 84. Do you see where I'm going here? He appears to have won his primary of -

AVLON: I see. I got it.

BALDWIN: Eighty-four-year-old, and a 76-year-old, listen, that's tons of experience. They're a little farther from some of those voters, speaking of expanding the map. They want the youth vote. I mean these two maybe are not entirely hip to the Twitters. Do you see anything interesting in that?

AVLON: I think you -- it's really tempting to draw a direct line between Cochran and Rangel last night. I don't think there's much of a - here's where Tip O'Neill gets his revenge, all politics is local. But the one thing I think that did matter in both these races is that that heritage of public service and the high name I.D. that made the mistake for alternative than their challengers. And I do think it's important to recognize that that increased turnout wasn't necessarily pro-Thad Cochran as much as folks may have liked his record of bringing home the bacon in Mississippi. It was just as intensely anti- McDaniel, anti-Tea Party. A concern that maybe these folks, like some of the other candidates we see, would embarrass the state in the Senate, or empower a Democrat to really take out - take them out. So that really motivates I think a lot of the opposition in the Mississippi race. It's not just a love of senior citizens, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Not at all. Not at all. Not what I was insinuating at all. John Avlon, I liked your word heritage - heritage in Congress. We'll go with that one. Thank you, sir. Thank you, my friend.

AVLON: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Just ahead, this move has everyone talking. Luis Suarez appears to bite an opposing player in a World Cup game. We talked about this yesterday. Pushing it forward today, could this mean that he's band from soccer?

Plus, Nic Robertson on the ground in Baghdad. The government there saying the city is protected from terrorists, but Nic took a ride on the highway just out of the city and found out that was not the case at all. We'll talk to him live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al Maliki, flat out rejecting Washington's calls to form this new unity government. In a televised address, Maliki said the U.S. planned to get the warring factions to come together, goes against the Iraqi constitution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): This is not to control (ph) Iraqis. The dangerous goal (ph) behind the call for the formation of a national salvation government, as they call it. It is simply an attempt by those who rebel against the constitution to end the young democratic process and confiscate (ph) opinions of the voters and circumvent the constitutional merits. The call for the formation of a national salvation government is a coup against the constitution and the political process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: That statement there coming as the situation in Iraq just got a whole lot more dangerous and dire. Syria apparently getting involved in the fight against ISIS. And in this ironic twist, it appears the Assad government, that the U.S. has strongly condemned, is now assisting the Iraqi army. The very same army the U.S. is helping.

Is this a case of the enemy of the enemy is my friend? You have Syrian war planes reportedly launching a series of air strikes in western Iraq in cooperation with the Iraqi army. At least 57 civilians were killed, according to local officials there.

Joining me live from Baghdad, our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson.

And, Nic, tell me more about the air strike and just how involved is the Syrian army at this point?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the government here in Baghdad, we talked to a military spokesman this evening and he said no Syrian aircraft came into our space. We control our airspace. We monitor it with radar and we've seen no violations of our air space. None of this really adds up, Brooke. But what, you know -- at a sort of a -- at a government to government level, getting a clear answer, none of it adds up, because the Syrians are denying they're doing it too. But the reality is, people on the ground are seeing Syrian aircraft in the sky and people are being killed.

What the reality on the ground is, also, and what it adds up to on the ground is angst and anger. People are seeing women and children being killed and brutally maimed in these bombings. And that, of course, is going to fuel sectarian tension. The one thing Secretary Kerry said that he wanted to be clear about when he was in Baghdad two days ago was that there should be no outside interference by any country that could raise the sectarian tensions or be misinterpreted on the ground here. And that's what seems to be happening.

You've got those rocket strikes, apparently bomb strikes by the Syrian air force today. We've learned this evening, just south of Baghdad, six people killed, 21 wounded in a suicide bombing coupled with mortar bombing on a popular cafe about 25 miles south of Baghdad. And also another incident in the west of Iraq. Rocket strikes on a mosque on a house there. Again, innocent civilians being killed and wounded there.

All of this, all of the -- all of these incidents, it's just raising the temperature here. But while we see the Syrians taking on ISIS fighters out in the very west of Iraq, closer to the capital here, a line has been drawn in the sand by the Iraqi army, and they're taking them on right there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Just west of Baghdad, Iraqi army soldiers celebrate a rare victory. Bodies are draped over the hood of their Humvee. "Look at those ISIS. We killed them, those pimps, ISIS," one of them shouts.

Not far away, more Iraqi soldiers battle the militants. Amid claims and counterclaims of who controls what, the government insisting it has retrenched and refocused its forces to keep ISIS out of the capital. Inside Baghdad, we find thinly manned checkpoints. No heavy weapons in sight. A solitary armored personnel carrier is all.

ROBERTSON (on camera): We're driving out to the west of Baghdad. The army's drawn a line in the sand to stop the ISIS advance coming in from the west of the country. But it's far from clear that they can do it. The moral has been collapsing. There has been such a high desertion rate.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In better days, this main artery of the capital would have been clogged with traffic. We see only occasional army trucks on the road. No tanks or big guns.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Baghdad Airport is just over there. I can see two helicopters flying over there. That's one of the targets for ISIS. This road that we're on right now, a few years ago, this is where U.S. troops were targeted regularly. But now we've gone beyond the outskirts of the city limits here (INAUDIBLE).

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Driving on, we see a few roadside vendors. The shabby remnants of once-thriving market stores struggling to find buyers on the fringes of what is becoming a wasteland.

ROBERTSON (on camera): This is as far as we can go. We can't go to the next checkpoint. We've got to turn around. It's too dangerous to go any further right now.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Precisely what dangers we'd meet if we drove on are unclear. But images like these posted on the web by ISIS give a hint. Iraqi soldiers in civilian clothes, shown with their I.D.s, fear on faces about what's coming well-founded. The next frames show the men being executed. Such images clearly having a chilling effect on Iraqi troops. And most soldiers on this highway would rather not drive on to find out what ISIS is really like.

Driving back into Baghdad, hitting the city limit, security somewhat tighter. Twenty minutes to get our papers checked, longer than the passport control at the international airport. But still, no heavy weapons visible. If ISIS gets this far to the edge of Baghdad, with such a thin military presence in their way, no telling where ISIS will stop.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Yes, we got the army today to take us further out of the city and we got to kind of where their front lines are, even further out. You know what, there's very few troops out there, as well, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Glad you got the perspective outside of the city. Our Nic Robertson, thank you so much, live in Baghdad.

Just ahead, the Diane Sawyer announcing she is leaving "World News." Why? She's in the middle of a ratings win streak. We'll discuss that.

Also ahead, Luis Suarez, soccer player from Uruguay, known as "the cannibal," appears to bite an opposing player in yesterday's World Cup match. Could he be banned from soccer? That's where the conversation is today. You're watching CNN.

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