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Wife Claims She Murdered Husband in Self-Defense; Final Dunn Vote was 9-3

Aired February 19, 2014 - 19:00:00   ET


JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST: Tonight, jaw-dropping claims of sexual abuse, as stunning police interrogation tapes are played in the death penalty trial of a young wife and mother, accused of murdering her husband by bludgeoning him with a hammer. She claims it was self-defense, after repeated physical and sexual abuse. But prosecutors say this woman was cheating on her husband, was deeply -- and I mean deeply -- in debt and wanted his life insurance payout.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marissa Devault faces a second-degree murder charge for the January 14 attack on her husband.

What led up to the beating, police say she confessed to hitting her husband with a claw hammer while he slept. The defense told jurors a different story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would she take a hammer and hit him over the head if there were guns in the house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The two were having marital problems. Yet, Ms. Devault`s lover, who was controlling her and manipulating the murder plot from behind the scenes. Prosecutors say that was a lie.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Good evening, I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell, coming to you live. Tonight, we will play for you the jaw-dropping video/audio of cops grilling 36-year-old Marissa Devault just hours after cops raced to her suburban Phoenix home to find her bloodied husband thrashing and moaning from his wounds. He later died.

This trial is happening in the very same courthouse where you-know- who, Jodi Arias, was tried. And there are some creepy, creepy parallels.

Just like Jodi, Marissa claimed her victim had sexually degraded her and beat her regularly.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he hit you across the face? With his hand?

MARISSA DEVAULT, ON TRIAL FOR ALLEGEDLY MURDERING HUSBAND: With his hand. Woke up in the middle of the night. And I couldn`t open it because it was so swollen. He`s a good backhander, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they ask you what happened?

DEVAULT: Yes. I told them I didn`t know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You told them you didn`t know? You just wake up with your eye all swollen? And they believed you?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Marissa claims her husband also forced her to have sex with other men, as he watched. But prosecutors say this wife and mom, who worked as a stripper, murdered her husband in cold blood for cold, hard cash. Cops say she owed $300,000 to her secret lover. And he wanted it back ASAP. She allegedly even told that lover she had killed her husband before she actually did it. Is that a motive to murder? Money? A secret lover?

What do you think? Call me: 1-877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.

First, on the ground, in Phoenix, where it`s all happening, 92.3 News Talk Radio reporter Sandra Haros. You`ve been inside the courtroom. Sandra, give us the back story of this wife and mother`s behavior. Why cops say she`s a monster who should get the death penalty.

SANDRA HAROS, REPORTER, 92.3 NEWS TALK RADIO (via phone): As you know, Marissa Devault told Detective Dale Harris that he abused her and raped her until the day she allegedly bashed his head in. And she hit him over and over with a claw hammer. And the pictures from the investigation show blood splatters all over the walls and the ceiling.

And the prosecution says, as you said, the woman did it over the debt that she owed her boyfriend, or secret lover, who allegedly had kiddie porn all over his laptop and home computers. And he`s been asked to testify against her, which is interesting. And he`s been granted immunity.

But anyway, defense attorneys are saying that this woman just snapped. She didn`t premeditate this. She didn`t plan this out. If she had done that, she would not have called 911 while Dale Harrell was still alive. He was moaning; he was in pain.

But she called 911. Possibly doctors could have saved his life. Who knows? I mean, no one really knows. But he did die a few weeks later. Defense attorneys were saying that this woman had PTSD with battered women`s syndrome.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Of course. Of course they do. That`s exactly what Jodi Arias claimed. The parallels are so creepy, our panel`s going to weigh in on this.

OK. During the interrogation, it seems like Marissa is on a cheerful job interview, not explaining the brutal bludgeoning of her husband. Remember, this is just hours after he`s taken away so bloodied that there`s blood coming out of the EMS vehicle. He later dies. She`s cracking jokes about babysitters. Her behavior, right up there with Jodi Arias.


DEVAULT: That`s a great babysitter. Occasionally, he makes sure to clean up the room before you get home and you don`t necessarily know how much junk they`ve eaten.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh, boy, so many parallels to Jodi. So many. Look at the hair color even. They`ve got the same look. And the husband/boyfriends have the same look. It`s happening in the very same courthouse and both are facing the death penalty.

Now here`s another similarity. Outside of court, no glasses. Inside of court, they`ve got those nerdy librarian glasses on, and both claim degrading sexual abuse by their lovers.

You know, Marissa bludgeoned her husband with a hammer in the marital bed. Jodi killed Travis with a knife in the bathroom. Both crime scenes a bloody mess.

Listen, Jordan Rose, attorney out of Phoenix, we both stood outside that very same courtroom during the Jodi Arias trial. The similarities are astounding. Is that a coincidence, or could there be something more to it?

JORDAN ROSE, ATTORNEY: We have a lot of crazy women here in Maricopa County apparently. I mean, this is just ridiculous.

The thing is, what`s so fascinating to me is watching this Marissa talk about abuse with a smile on her face. It brought that memory of the psychoticness of Jodi Arias. And I`m thinking, this is happening right here. And they do look the same. And you`ve got the glasses, and now they`re not as cute. They used to be beautiful. And now they`re sort of degraded. And oh, they were abused. It`s a repeat. How did that work out for Jodi?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You disagree?

ROSE: Come on.

ANAHITA SEDAGHATFAR, ATTORNEY: I totally disagree. I totally disagree. Here`s why. I do not think this is Jodi Arias part two. In fact, I predict a different outcome. And listen, this is why. In this case, this woman actually has evidence to corroborate the fact that she was beaten.

JON LEIBERMAN, HLN CONTRIBUTOR: What evidence? What evidence does she have?

SEDAGHATFAR: She came in -- she came into the hospital with two black eyes.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: One at a time, ladies. Anahita, finish your thought. Finish your thought.

SEDAGHATFAR: The difference -- I think the difference between the two cases is that, unlike Jodi Arias, this woman, like I said, has evidence of the abuse. Her own 6-year-old daughter told the police, "I would go hide in my room when Daddy would beat Mommy."

And we have a student, a classmate that she studied with, witnessing her husband pushing her up against the wall.

Jodi Arias, there was no corroborating evidence other than Jodi`s own testimony that Travis beat her up.


SEDAGHATFAR: So I think she has...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: A quick rebuttal from Jordan, or jump in, Jon Leiberman.

LEIBERMAN: Well, look, there are two major similarities...

ROSE: She actually told -- told her lover, the guy she`s cheating on her husband with, that she owes $300,000 to, that she had already killed -- already killed her husband.

LEIBERMAN: Much -- and much like the Jodi...


VELEZ-MITCHELL: OK. Jon. Jon Leiberman. Jon Leiberman.

LEIBERMAN: Much like the Jodi Arias case, Jane, this case is going to come down to credibility.

The problem is, not many of the key witnesses have much credibility. You have one of the defendant`s lovers who actually took the fall for this murder at first. He admitted to it. He even had it notarized by one -- he had his statement notarized by one of the other boyfriends. That`s No. 1. So credibility`s going to be key.

But just like Jodi Arias -- you watch -- the defense is going to be to victimize the victim over and-again: talk about his sexual habits, talk about this alleged beating.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Just a second. There`s a tape I want to play. Settle down, Lion`s Den. I`ve got some more interrogation tapes that I want to play.

Marissa told investigators at one time she had to go to the hospital because of a swollen eye after her husband, Dale, she claims, smacked her, hit her. Watch.


DEVAULT: I wake up in the middle of the night. And I couldn`t open it because it was so swollen. He`s a good backhander, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they ask you what happened?

DEVAULT: Yes. I told them I didn`t know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You told them you didn`t know? You just wake up with your eye all swollen? And they believed you?

DEVAULT: They seemed to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he with you?

DEVAULT: Stan brought me because I couldn`t drive myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Stan know what happened to you?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Stan, by the way, is the one she originally tried to pin the killing of her husband on Stan, a developmentally disabled man who lives -- lives with them.

Judy Ho, we need a forensic clinical psychologist on this one. You look at her, and maybe we can play some interrogation tape video while we talk about this. She`s smiling the entire time. Even though she`s crying, she`s smiling. It`s as if she can`t keep that smile from her face.

JUDY HO: Right, Jane. And this is one of those uncanny parallels we`re talking about with Jodi Arias, because she had one of these similar interrogations where she was smiling. Her attitude was completely inappropriate to what is actually going on.

And I`m so sick of people misusing mental illness and particularly PTSD, because it`s not really giving credibility to those who are actually suffering from it. And I really don`t see this woman as being credible. I think we are completely abusing the system of giving the mentally ill an excuse out of these types of situations.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let`s go to the phone lines. Robert, Indiana. Robert, Indiana, what do you have to say?

CALLER: Hi, Jane.


CALLER: I tell you, there are so many television shows anymore like on the I.D. channel or some of those channels...


CALLER: ... that glorify these homicides. You know, you have shows like "Knives with Wives," and "My Dirty Little Secret" and "Husbands Who Kill for Fun" or whatever. And I think that we`ve gotten to a state where spouses have become desensitized to the feelings of their other spouses. And they practice, they see these shows, and they put these things right into action. And you know, like Jodi Arias, and this lady emulates her the same way.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You`re making some very good points. Sandra Haros, the reporter out there, you`ve been in court. Did these women come in contact? Because my understanding is that this defendant could have come into contact, perhaps did come in contact with Jodi Arias. I mean, she could have gotten some tips from Jodi behind bars about how to play it, how to play the self-defense card, how do play the "I was abused, I was sexually degraded" card, Sandra.

HAROS: Yes. Jane, there are rumors out there that they have befriended each other. And I did have a body language expert look at some of the interrogation tapes, and her body language during those interviews is that she is lying. She is not an honest person. She is intentionally trying to deceive detectives during the interrogation.

And, you know, criminals share secrets. You know, it`s not -- I`m not accusing this woman. I`m just simply implying that she just had an opportunity to speak with Jodi Arias. Whether or not that happened, that`s still unconfirmed. But what I can tell you...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, what else do they have to do behind bars? I mean, she`s got to take a break from her sketching for profit, Jodi does. Nothing but time on her hands to maybe doing a little consulting on the side for another woman accused of brutally and viciously killing a guy.

Oh, my gosh. We`re just getting started. You won`t believe some of the things that this Marissa character says. She`s giving Jodi a run for her money. Stay right there. More on the other side.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marissa Devault, Jodi Arias, both admitted to killing their lovers in Arizona. Both face trial in the same courthouse. The same long, dark hair. Outside of court, no eyeglasses. Inside of court, those same librarian glasses. Both facing the death penalty.




DEVAULT: He said that`s really stupid, but if you truly believe, there` got to be a way to fix that. You can`t tell me that we`re both that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) that we can`t make something work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me ask you this. Do you guys communicate?

Based on what you told me that these incidents happened, that he put his hands on you and beats the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of you. I ask you what do you do? What do you see?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: This detective, this female detective is trying to pin this defendant down. Oh, she`s moaning and crying about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband. Prosecutors say it`s a total fiction. So what you try to do is force them to give specifics. OK?

And I want to go out to Jordan Rose, attorney out of Phoenix, because we both covered the Jodi Arias case together, at the courthouse, spending hours together. This is deja vu all over again, as they say. This is hurting the -- if this woman is lying, as prosecutors believe, this is hurting real victims of domestic violence who will not be believed possibly because of these alleged pathological liars.

ROSE: Isn`t that true? I mean, we watch that, that`s right. And I miss you, Jane. Come back out.

This was just awful to see what Jodi Arias did to domestic violence victims, real victims. And then what this Marissa is doing. You can tell in the inquisition that she`s lying. I mean, she has no idea. What is the -- the inquiry is, what did you do? She has no idea. She`s smiling. She`s laughing. To her this is a game. And there`s really serious abuse going on. And this is putting a crazy, crazy emphasis on these abusers, these awful women who are trying to victimize themselves when they`re the aggressor.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Anahita Sedaghatfar, she claims, though, "I went to a doctor. I had this incident. I had that incident. "Obviously the prosecution is going to check that out, talk to the doctor and find out. And they`ve already done this. Whether that doctor exists, and whether she did come in on such-and-such a date and have such-and-such injuries and say such-and-such.

SEDAGHATFAR: Right, that definitely probably did happen. It`s too early in the trial to know if that`s going to come out or not. But there are witnesses. She`s testified -- stated to the police that here are witnesses to her abuse.

And Jane, I agree with everybody, that tape really is bizarre. And that`s probably rule No. 1 to criminal defendants. Interrogation tapes can and will be used against you.

But the defense can really use that. They can spin that tape and say, "Look, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. She`s being consistent. She`s talking about the abuse, the same abuse that she claimed throughout her life with this man."

LEIBERMAN: Consistent is the last word.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What about these...


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I just saw two black eyes under her face, which I`ve seen before. I don`t know where she got those.

LEIBERMAN: I`m going to tell you, Jane...

LEIBERMAN: Go ahead. Yes?

LEIBERMAN: Here`s where she got the black eyes. It was a self- inflicted assault. She asked her roommate, or lover, whichever way you look at it, to beat her up and leave her in a ditch. That`s where she got those. And she admitted that to police.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What? When? When?

SEDAGHATFAR: Where is the evidence?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wait, wait. When did she do that? Was that after -- I mean, she ran out of her house at 2:45 in the morning, when cops arrived at her house. She had a hammer in her hand.

LEIBERMAN: Just let me finish. First, she is arrested on aggravated assault. She`s not yet pinned for the murder, because her husband hadn`t died yet. And then she`s let out on bail.

While she`s out on bail she sets up this plot with, frankly, a developmentally disabled person that she was living with, for him to beat her up and then call police. And they respond and find her in a ditch. That`s the sort of credibility. And I disagree with Anahita: she`s anything but ...

SEDAGHATFAR: But where is the evidence for that, though?

LEIBERMAN: She is anything but consistent...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Settle down. Settle down.

LEIBERMAN: Her story has changed five different times.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me tell you this. We are going to -- tomorrow we`re going to be back covering this again, as this trial unfolds. Will she take the stand in her own defense? In the very same courthouse where Jodi Arias took the stand. And remember, captivated the nation with her lies for 18 long days. Could we see a repeat there, too?

Come back tomorrow. You`ll find out.

Now, on the other side, an equally, if not more compelling, story. Could this guy who shot that young man, Michael Dunn, who shot Jordan Davis, could Dunn end up walking out of prison? We`ve got jaw-dropping developments for you. Plus, a Dunn juror is talking.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Michael Dunn got away with murder?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, I do. Myself personally, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you went to the deliberating room, you thought Michael Dunn was guilty?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of killing 17-year-old Davis?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What convinced you of it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To me, it was necessary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn`t think Michael Dunn had to kill Jordan Davis?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t believe so.


DUNN: I had no choice but to defend myself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was yelling. He was yelling.



He was angry. He was angry.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh, somebody`s shooting. Somebody`s shooting out of their car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He decided to shoot him. He chose to shoot him.

RON DAVIS, JORDAN DAVIS`S FATHER: "I`m sorry, Mr. Davis, I tried to revive."

DUNN: Absolutely. I`m in a panic.

CORY STROLLA, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL DUNN: That verdict is not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was shooting to kill.

DUNN: I was in fear for my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And for the worst of all reasons...

DUNN: It was life or death.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh, somebody`s shooting. Somebody`s shooting out of their car.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, stunning new developments in the Florida gas station killing that riveted the nation. Could 47-year-old shooter Michael Dunn walk free?

It looked like he may face the rest of his life in prison for attempted second-degree murder of three unarmed teens. But wait. One of the nation`s most famous attorneys predicts those convictions will not stick. If you think the mistrial on first-degree murder outraged people, imagine if Jordan Davis`s killer wins back his freedom on appeal.

Also tonight, juror No. 4 speaks out, saying the software developer got away with murder. She`s revealing secrets of the explosive deliberations that had jurors yelling and cursing at each other. After 30 hours of debate, they still could not agree on whether Michael Dunn murdered 17-year-old African-American Jordan Davis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You all first took your first poll of guilt or innocence on the murder of Jordan Davis. What was the vote?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten people thinking he was guilty?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And two said...



VELEZ-MITCHELL: Two said self-defense. Right from the start of the deliberations, two of her fellow jurors were convinced Michael Dunn shot Jordan Davis in self-defense during a fight over loud music. When the jurors took their final vote, the split was 9 for guilty and 3 for self- defense. Does the prosecutor have any chance of getting a guilty verdict if she tries Dunn for first-degree murder?

Straight out to the Lion`s Den. I want to start with Rolonda Watts, who`s been here throughout this entire saga. Your reaction to the fact that, from the get-go, two jurors were convinced it was self-defense and wouldn`t budge, and even convinced a third person.

ROLONDA WATTS, BLOG TALK RADIO: I think the self-defense created a problem from the very beginning. And I think that that`s what that juror who came out and spoke publicly said.

And I believe that that is the issue. The self-defense issue threw the jury off from the very beginning. And I think we`re going to have real issues if in the second go-around, they stand that ground, so to speak.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Dunn`s former neighbor said he`s a racist. We heard from him on this show. We`ve seen letters that are racist in nature, that Dunn wrote from jail. We heard him call, and please, this is offensive, but we`re getting the facts out here. He called African- American inmates thugs and animals. Yet somehow, the issue of racial bias never came up at the trial. So how did it affect the jury? Listen to this from ABC.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a lot of folk in America, they would say, white man shoots and kills a 17-year-old black boy. How could it not be about race on some level?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sitting in that room, it was never presented that way. We looked at it as a bad situation, where teenagers were together, and words were spoken, and lines were crossed.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Jasmine Rand, attorney for Trayvon Martin`s family. Of course, that`s the teen who was killed by George Zimmerman in a similar case. How can we blame the jurors for not noticing the big elephant in the room when prosecutors never brought race into the case?

JASMINE RAND, ATTORNEY: I think we need to start addressing race directly in these cases. And we don`t have to assume that just because he`s a white man and shot a 17-year-old kid that was black, that it was racially motivated.

And the reason that we don`t have to assume is because we have Michael Dunn`s own words. He referred to the music as thug music. He wrote racially biased letters from jail. So we have his own testimony. I think we need to directly confront the issues of race, because this case was clearly racially motivated.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Boyce Watkins, social commentator, founder of Your Black World, they didn`t do that. The prosecution did not do that. And then many experts said, well, unless you charge it as a hate crime, you wouldn`t be able to get any of those things in.


BOYCE WATKINS, SOCIAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I think that it`s very interesting that we`re so afraid to talk about race.

I mean, you know, imagine if Jordan Davis had defended himself and pulled out a gun and shot Michael Dunn instead. I would say Jordan Davis would be in prison right now, and he would have gotten a very long sentence. I know people who`ve been sent to prison for over a decade for situations that were clearly in self-defense.

I think that anybody who thinks that Dunn was defending himself is delusional. They have no logical evidence to support that point. There was no weapon. There was nothing that Jordan Davis did on that night to show that Michael Dunn was in danger for his life.


WATKINS: So the key is...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Anahita, go ahead.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Hold on. Anahita.

SEDAGHATFAR: First of all, I think that`s actually rather insulting to the jurors. And let me say I want to commend this woman for speaking out. Because you know she has no obligation to talk to the public. And I think, contrary to whatever the verdict was, I think justice was served in this case.

And that`s because these jurors did exactly what we want them to do. They went in that room. They deliberated; they asked questions; they looked at the evidence.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Stop with the platitudes. We all love jurors. Let`s get to the facts of the case.

SEDAGHATFAR: But that`s -- so to say, or suggest there was no evidence that this was self-defense, I think, is rather insulting to those jurors that sat there 30 hours...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We have a right to question the verdict. Come on, this is America.

WATKINS: What about the dead kid? I think it`s more insulting to the dead kid.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: One at a time. Hey, panel. Panel, hold on a second. Jon Leiberman, make your point.

JON LEIBERMAN, HLN CONTRIBUTOR: The way the law is written, we are asking these jurors to put themselves in Michael Dunn`s head and decide for themselves what he felt was a reasonable threat to bodily harm. So we can definitely talk race. We can have that conversation.

But we also have to have the conversation about the way the self- defense laws are written in some states, including in Florida. It`s extremely hard. It was extremely hard for that jury to try and put themselves in Michael Dunn`s head. They come in with the same biases -- any group of 12 people comes in with the same biases that a lot of people have.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Listen if you`re -- I`ve got to get to this. If you`re upset now, look, famed attorney Allen Dershowitz slammed prosecutor Angela Corey, saying the people of Florida should get rid of her claiming she overcharged Dunn with first-degree murder. He predicts the three guilty verdicts for attempted murder related to Dunn shooting at the three other teens as they drove away will likely be overturned claiming the smarter charge would have been assault with a deadly weapon.

Listen to this.


ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY: I think she may also lose her appeal on the attempted murder case. There is a chance that he could walk as a result of prosecutorial ineptitude. It`s possible.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I mean, Rolonda Watts, if he walks on the three attempted murders -- you know --

ROLONDA WATTS, RADIO HOST: I really think this nation is going to have a real major, major issue. I mean, this is just ludicrous. What I do appreciate is what the juror pointed out. It`s how unnecessary this entire thing was. The man should have just gotten in his car, turned around and gone on about his business.

And as a person in society, whether you`re black or white or whatever, mind your own business. If he had done that from very the very beginning, thank goodness juror number four gave some humanization to this whole thing. Because this is -- they don`t have a case without bringing in the racial issue. So what it looks like to me is the prosecution doesn`t plan to have a case. This man could possibly walk free.

Then you`re going to have to deal with America where people are tired of you shooting and killing their children. Because let me tell you, what`s going to happen when a young black teenager feels when a white man walks up and tells him to turn his music down, then he feels intimidated and he pulls out and starts shooting. What are we going to do, America? That`s the question.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And should a -- we`ve got a lot of guns in this country. We`ve got a lot of people who have arguments. I mean, really, we had a shooting just recently, where people were watching previews, somebody`s texting in a movie theater, next thing you know, he gets in an argument, he throws popcorn, he`s shot dead. Where is it going to end?

Coming up, cops insist we`re going to have this every day as well. There was no foul play in the brutal mysterious death of Alfred Wright. So why were cocaine, meth and amphetamines found in the body of this man who has no history of drug use? Why is the Justice Department now investigating this case?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went in after her. She`s saw the (inaudible) young black guy. She told me that, yes, I saw him out on his cell phone by his truck. And all of a sudden, he put his cell phone in his sock, took off running like the truck was going to blow up.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a high (inaudible) of suspicion that this is a homicide.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His family said he was a victim of foul play saying his throat was cut and other parts of his body were mutilated. But the sheriff still will not call it a homicide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think we really have an investigation. It seems that most of it taking place so far is to discredit my son.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, public outrage over a mysterious death that some are convinced was murder. A Texas physical therapist disappears without a trace, only to be found dead less than three weeks later with missing body parts. The cops say, well, it was an accident, blaming it on a deadly drug combination. But Alfred Wright`s family says drugs don`t cause part of your body to disappear. Is this another racially motivated murder?

LAUREN WRIGHT, ALFRED WRIGHT`S WIFE: I still know and believe wholeheartedly that someone did this to my husband.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Alfred Wright vanished outside of this liquor store last November. Cops found his clothes the next day, about a mile away. Then they called off the search after only four days, saying, well, there`s no signs of foul play. And Alfred was probably on drugs, claiming meth addicts sometimes take their clothes off.

But the family found his body less than three weeks later in the very same area deputies had allegedly already searched. The family says, Alfred`s body did not look like he spent weeks in the Texas woods. But in what the family is calling it a very strange coincidence, cops say Alfred did have drugs in his system as cops had kind of predicted and declared his death an accident from a lethal combo of cocaine, meth and amphetamines.

But the family says Alfred was not a drug user, period. And that his body seems to have injuries drugs wouldn`t cause. So was this a drug- fueled accident like the sheriff`s department claims? Or is there a cover- up of a brutal murder as the family believes?

Now this is not a town that`s a stranger to racially-fueled crimes. In 1998 an African-American man was killed by a group of white men who dragged him alive behind their truck for miles -- an infamous case.

Straight out to CNN reporter, Deb Feyerick, who has done amazing work on this story over and over again with numerous reports. Because of your reporting, Deb, the FBI and the Department of Justice are now looking at this case. Why is it, what are the reasons why the family of this dead man believe this was murder? Not just a drug overdose?

DEB FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, among the main reasons they think it was murder is simply how they found the body. First of all, it was an area that allegedly had been searched by sheriff`s deputies; turned up three weeks later, well after the sheriff had called off the search. But also it was the position of the body.

The sheriff had said, when somebody`s on meth they tend to run around, take their clothes off, go in the underbrush. And instead of finding scratches as you normally would from the pines, from the barbed wire, from all the things there, Alfred Wright`s body was surprisingly smooth. And also, if he had been running around in that area, you would have thought that there would have been some sort of mud, either on his body or on his tennis shoes. But those two surprisingly clean. So things just simply don`t make sense, they don`t add up.

Alfred Wright was a family man. He`s got three young boys. He was a physical therapist, had clients in that area. And so for the sheriff to call off the search so quickly, the question is either he simply failed to do his job or perhaps there`s something more sinister at play.

And so the family really wants answers. The Texas Rangers are now investigating.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Deb, we can tell you that the dead man`s father, Douglas Wright, is on the phone. We`re so happy to have you, sir.

Let`s just set up a little bit of the evidence now. Your son was last seen in front of a liquor store, when he pulled over because his truck was overheating. He called his wife to pick him up. But apparently you or his mom or both drove to get him. At around 6:00 in the evening his wife says he stopped responding on his cell.


L. WRIGHT: The last time I called him, I just heard heavy breathing. He was in distress of some sort. He was not responding to anything that I was saying.

"Trying to get to you. Answer the phone. Answer the phone. Please answer."


L. WRIGHT: And at 6:16, I said, "Please answer." And that was after I`d already heard him in distress of some sort.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: The store where he stopped happens to be owned by a sheriff`s dispatcher, whose son is the deputy. They say well, the surveillance cameras just weren`t functioning, or for some reason they don`t have any tapes.

I want to go to Douglas Wright, the father of this dead man. First of all, I`m so sorry, sir, for your loss and we want to help by finding out what really happened.

Now, someone said that there are racial overtones to this case. Your son was married to a beautiful woman. They are a beautiful family. Could that have been a factor? Why are people saying that there are possible racial overtones to this case, sir?

DOUGLAS WRIGHT, FATHER OF ALFRED WRIGHT: Well, it`s due to the vicinity that you`re in. That vicinity is known as a racial area. And it`s a fact, there`s no doubt about it. And thereby, because of the environment, pertaining to any given thing, then you have to correlate it with things that happen that doesn`t happen.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, let me ask you this, sir. Of all the things that I`ve read -- the most astounding to me was that, and correct me if I`m wrong, the autopsy seems to say that your son, I know this is upsetting, that his tongue was missing, was absent. Now, how on earth would that happen if it`s simply an accidental drug from a drug combination? Is that true?

D. WRIGHT: Well, you tell me. I mean, his throat was -- also there was a slash on his throat also during autopsy but the first autopsy. The medical examiner said they done it. But if they don`t want to know anything about autopsies, you don`t cut across, you cut down. And we also found out, of course, you stated his tongue was cut out. His eyes was missing. His ear was cut off. How did he do this?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, sir, we have a team of experts here. I want to try to get their insights into this. And we`re going to do that on the other side. We`re just getting started. This is just a very, very bizarre and disturbing case. And we`re digging deep.

We`re lucky to have the father of the victim as well as Deb Feyerick, the correspondent who`s done amazing work on this subject. Stay right there.



RYAN MACLEOD, WRIGHT FAMILY LAWYER: If Alfred`s body was there, it is incredible, it`s actually unimaginable to me that dogs would not have found his body.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Boyce Watkins, social commentator, founder of Your Black World, something doesn`t add up -- Boyce.

WATKINS: Yes, absolutely not. You know, I`ll say, my dad was in law enforcement for over 25 years, so I respect good cops. But I also know that there`s a lot of police corruption, particularly in small towns where the police kind of feel like they`re above the law and they can get away with it.

And I don`t think that they expected CNN is going to be scrutinizing every move that they make. So what I think we should ask for in this particular case is justice. Justice does not mean that we presume this is racially motivated, we do not presume that the police did anything wrong, but we look over every nook and cranny of this case. And if somebody did something wrong, we make absolutely sure that they pay because you`re right, something doesn`t add up here.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Jasmine Rand, attorney for Trayvon Martin`s family, 10 seconds -- we`re almost out of time, but what do you have to say?

JASMINE RAND, ATTORNEY FOR TRAYVON MARTIN`S FAMILY: He made a good point saying that we shouldn`t make assumptions. I don`t think that we can overlook the fact that there may have been some involvement of white supremacist organizations. This is their classic M.O., ripping out of the tongue, ripping off of the nails. We have two other black men that were killed in the area: one dragged behind a truck with a rope until his death. So I definitely think that that`s something we need to look at.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We have to leave it right there. Thank you, fantastic panel. We`re not going to let this story go. Stay right there.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hey Rico, tonight our Animal Investigations Unit" is shining a light on the dark lives of beautiful greyhounds who maybe racing to their deaths.

An astonishing report in the "Miami Herald" says 74 greyhounds have died on Florida racetracks since last May of last year. On average that would be one every three days. These deaths just coming out now because a new Florida law demands owners report whenever a dog dies at a track. Critics claim these days are often a tragic end to a tortured life.

The group Grey2K just released this very unsettling video of greyhounds racing. You can see it here -- dogs colliding, collapsing. They say some of the animals you`re looking at here died.

Straight out to Carey Theil of grey2kusa, you just released a big report. What are your key complaints against greyhound racing, Carey?

CAREY THEIL, GREY2KUSA: Greyhound racing is (inaudible) named. Thousands of greyhounds in this industry endure a life of confinement, they suffer serious injuries. Female greyhounds are given animal steroids to prevent them from going into heat. This is an industry that puts their profits ahead of animal welfare, and that`s why we`re fighting not only to reform this industry but also to prohibit it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: The greyhound council, the American Greyhound Council, which manages greyhound welfare safety adoption in the racing industry represents breeders, kennel operators, tracks -- they responded to these allegations saying over the past decade the industry has made significant progress in reducing greyhound injuries. You can look at their entire statement on our Web site and Facebook.

Randi Kaye, "AC360" correspondent, you were moved by the story we did yesterday because your family rescued a greyhound, and we`ve actually got some pictures of the greyhound your family rescued from this industry. Tell us what the animal was like, Prince, when you rescued him. There he is.

RANDI KAYE, "AC360" CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Jane. I mean Prince was -- he was amazing, you know, but we rescued him -- my sister actually rescued him and then she ended up giving him to us. She rescued him from one of these rescue groups.

And he was really skittish, he was really nervous around men, especially, so that might speak to how he was treated by his handlers when he was racing. He was just nervous about everything. But you know, he`s really a gentle giant, and when I saw your report last night, I was so moved by it because I think a lot of people don`t realize these dogs make better pets than they do racers.

He was so sweet. He would lean into us, you know, when he eventually got comfortable with us, he would try and hug us. He would literally try to wrap his body around us. We had a Jack Russell at the time and a cat. He got along with everybody. He used to sleep in our bed every single night. He insisted on sleeping in our bed. He was 100 pounds, Jane, so he would still insist on sleeping in our bed.

But, you know, his teeth would chatter, and that`s when we knew that was the sign of a very special -- a very happy moment for him. But, you know, I think he still had nightmares. He didn`t even know how to walk up and down the steps. They don`t teach them these kinds of things. My husband would have to carry him up and down the staircase in our house for a while.

But he would sleep and he would have these neighbors where his paws would go like, you know, almost as if he was still racing in his sleep. He was having nightmares or dreams from what it was like on the track. But he was an absolute angel and we still miss him.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, thank you for sharing your story. If you`re interested in this issue, please go to our Facebook page. And also there is this group grey2kusa.

And Carey Theil, we`ve been talking to you. I know you held this big news conference; you have a 91-page report. The bottom line is, you know, the industry says fewer than one-half of 1 percent of all racing starts result in injuries. But it`s the whole concept of racing dogs. This is something I have an issue with, using these dogs to bet on and to race. We`ve got a few seconds.

THEIL: Sure. Well, look, the facts are very clear about this industry, and that`s why it`s been prohibited in state after state. It`s why dog racing only exists now in seven states and even in those states, it`s ending.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`re out of time, but look at it. The picture tells the story.

Nancy is next.