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JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL

Cops: Boy Starved, Held Captive in Closet

Aired April 1, 2014 - 19:00:00   ET

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


JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST: Tonight, breaking news. Escalating outrage as the stepmother accused of starving and beating this emaciated innocent little boy walks out of jail on $2,000 bail. That`s right: $200 in cash she posted. Look at that child.

Good evening. I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell, coming to you live tonight.

It is painful, very painful to look at the photos of this 5-year-old innocent victim. Imagine the torture this child endured. Police say his dad and stepmom kept him hidden away in a tiny closet, under the stairs in the family`s Houston-area home. It appears the couple`s six other children are seemingly OK. Why was this poor little boy, this little innocent singled out?

His dad in jail right now. But here`s the stepmom out of jail, picking up two of her six other children from school. And guess what? This suspected child abuser is pregnant with baby No. 7.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a small 4 by 4 room under a stairwell...

CHIEF MARK HERMAN, HARRIS COUNTY CONSTABLE: It`s quite common for them to keep this kid locked away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... a 5-year-old boy was forced to live locked inside.

HERMAN: They, like, refused to speak to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over the weekend, officers were called to this home.

HERMAN: This is something out of a third-world country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Arrested and charged with endangering a child.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The child was found to have serious injuries to his face and appeared to be malnourished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You know, he`s skin and bones. Look at the dad, when his face comes up. He could actually lose some weight.

This child is 29 pounds at the age of 5. You can clearly see bruises and scabs and scratches. He was wearing a soiled diaper when cops found him Friday at a motel.

Cops found out about this horror because the boy`s courageous 16-year- old step-brother had enough and got into a fight with his stepfather over the abuse of this little boy.

With cops on the way, the stepmother took the boy and fled her home, allegedly to hide him from cops. But detectives did ingenious work. They tracked the stepmom`s cell-phone pings to the motel, where they then found this little boy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN: It`s quite common for them to keep this kid locked away. We don`t know what the -- they refuse to speak to us. This is something out of a third-world country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: How long was this innocent little boy made to starve inside a closet? His grandparents told our affiliate, KHOU, they think he may have been held captive for up to a year.

But Child Protective Services insists, no, no, no, a social worker visited and photographed the boy just five weeks ago, and everything was fine and dandy.

Somebody`s wrong. They can`t both be right.

Are you as upset as I am over these photos? Call me: 1-877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.

Straight out to our exclusive guest, Frank Mann. You are the attorney representing the abused boy`s biological mother, who`s been kept away from this child, who is desperately trying to regain custody, who is finally now reunited and at the hospital with this boy. His mommy is finally there. You have breaking news for us, sir.

CPS insists the boy was just fine when they visited five weeks ago. But you have information about prior abuse this boy has suffered for a long, long time. Tell us.

FRANK MANN, ATTORNEY FOR BOY`S BIOLOGICAL MOTHER (via phone): Well, the abuse that we`ve seen, of course, is the starvation. We do -- we don`t know exactly when, but we do know that the child was Tasered by the father.

There was obviously verbal abuse, physical abuse. He pushed the child. He punched the child, putting the child in the corner, and when the child acted up, he slammed the child`s head against the wall, causing bruises.

The prior abuse six months ago during the summer in Texas, he left the child in a hot car. The two front windows were rolled down one inch. It was 98 degrees. And the tenant of the house where the father was doing remodeling work contacted the landlord, and the landlord called CPS. And CPS was involved.

When they saw the child allegedly, what I heard, was the child was completely red all over. He was sweating just profusely and in great distress. And CPS did not take the child away.

Again, like five weeks ago, here in Houston, the -- again, CPS was called again, allegedly, by the babysitter. And the child had -- you know, was starving. I don`t know how long the child has been starved, but probably abuse happened either around that time or after that time, with the Taser, the starvation, pushing the child, and locking the child in the closet. And leaving -- you know, it`s what`s been going on. That`s what we were just learning about. We were in court today, all afternoon, on this matter.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I want to get to more of what you`ve learned, and what the biological mother has gone through in an attempt to get to this child. Thank God she`s now at the hospital with him. That`s the one thing that just warms my heart, because I got sick when I looked at these photos today of this innocent, innocent boy, and what he`s been through. There are no words to describe this. This was -- if you can stand by, sir, we`re going to get back to you. Don`t hang up. But we want to get our expert panel in on this.

This 5-year-old boy -- and by the way, look at him. He`s fat. He could lose a few pounds. Meanwhile, he`s -- his son is starving in a closet, and he`s packing on the pounds.

This 5-year-old boy was wearing a soiled diaper when police found him. Children are typically potty trained at 2 or 3 years of age. This is a 5- year-old. God forbid, his dad and stepmom let him out of the closet long enough to use the bathroom. Did they force him to wear diapers in order to keep him in the closet for longer stretches of time? Or perhaps they never potty-trained him at all. This is part of the abuse and neglect, cops say.

And look at his back. OK? There`s -- there`s bruises on him. Look at his knee over there, if you can see his knee. There`s scabs. There`s a large scab there on his right shoulder. And look at those bruises on his leg. I mean, we could go all over his body and show you various bruises and the back of his head, too.

Straight out to our Lion`s Den debate panel. Right now, these parents are charged with child endangerment. I`ll start with former prosecutor, Wendy Murphy. Is that the appropriate charge or should the charge be attempted murder?

WENDY MURPHY, FORMER PROSECUTOR: This -- that`s exactly what I was going to say. Calling this child endangerment is like calling, you know, the brutal stabbing death of a person assault and battery. You can`t call this child endangerment. This is way past child endangerment.

Endangerment happens the first day they didn`t feed him, or the first day they put him in the closet. This much time goes by, this is attempted murder.

If we saw an animal this malnourished on your show, Jane, people would be marching in the streets, and they damn well better be marching about this poor kid.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And they should be, and they should be marching in the streets over this child. Does anybody disagree? I say attempted murder. Anybody on our panel who doesn`t think attempted murder is the appropriate charge?

EVANGELINE GOMEZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Jane, I don`t think it`s the appropriate charge. You`re going to get into a situation where you overcharge these parents and you lose the whole case all together. Look, it`s child endangerment. You`re going to have a prosecutor who`s going to have to show intent. You don`t want this case pleaded out and you don`t want it dropped to a misdemeanor. And the judge has the discretion to do that. You don`t want to lose it here. And if you overcharge, you run that risk.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Go ahead, Jon.

JON LEIBERMAN, HLN CONTRIBUTOR: But we should point out, Jane, it appears -- it appears in the next couple of days more serious charges will be filed. Police are indicating they want to go to some sort of felony assault charge in this case. That`s what they`re pushing prosecutors toward. They`re gathering more information, including doctors` reports...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`ve got to stop you.

LEIBERMAN: ... from this little boy being at the hospital.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Why is this mother walking away with two kids? Why was she let out on $2,000 bail? That`s $200. Is that how much this child is worth in our society? That she`s allowed to saunter off out of jail and pick up her kids?

LEIBERMAN: I don`t disagree with you, Jane. I don`t disagree with you. The problem is, though, she`s only charged with relatively minor crimes right now. And they don`t see her as a flight risk, because she has these six children, because she has all these ties to the area. That`s why the bail was so low.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hold on a second.

MURPHY: Why are we talking about the stepmother? What about the father? The biological father should be in jail.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: He is in jail. He is in jail.

LEIBERMAN: He is in mail.

MURPHY: OK.

LEIBERMAN: He`s been in and out of jail. In fact, we`ve learned he`s been in and out of jail over the past three months on a variety of charges.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What a shock.

MURPHY: What is he charged with in this case?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: He`s got a rap sheet. What a shock.

LEIBERMAN: Only child endangerment right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I find it shocking that a CPS social worker did nothing. I don`t believe the story five weeks ago someone was there and saw this. You don`t have to have a degree attached to your name to see this starvation this child suffered was something that had been going on for months. Not in less than five weeks.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Judy Ho, clinical psychologist, it is possible to fool CPS. OK? They said they took...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, but ultimately, Jane, here`s the thing. Ultimately the agency is responsible for this.

DR. JUDY HO, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: When they talk about this, it`s an overburdened system. It`s a very overburdened system. And when they don`t have an opportunity to directly observe the child, so oftentimes call a case inconclusive. This is probably a case where it got lost in the files, because of that. They were having trouble tracking down the child. Being able to interview both parents.

And that`s a really, really sad thing, because if they saw the other children in the house, they`re probably thinking, maybe this younger child in question is OK. Because as you can see in these videos that you`ve been showing, Jane, these other children are walking on their own, they seem fine. So maybe CPS called it too quickly. But they are such an overburdened system. It`s no excuse, but...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hold on. Eboni Williams, I don`t -- hold on. Eboni Williams?

EBONI WILLIAMS: I don`t buy it for one second, Jane. Overburdened they may be -- overburdened they may be, but look, ultimately this is on this system. That is one of the things they are chiefly charged with, especially for this purpose.

And you`re right. We don`t want to overcharge this woman in terms of attempted murder, but recklessness at the very least is evident by the behaviors here. And that`s exactly what a felony charge would...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hold on, hold on, guys. Let`s get to our callers. Because we`re getting calls up the wazoo. Nancy, Pennsylvania, what have you got to say, Nancy?

CALLER: Hi, Jane, if more people would care about our children, like you do animals, the world would be a much better place.

I`m sick and tired, even your panel here, they`re going back and forth and making excuses for CFS. When are we going to take this matter, take the bull by the horns and protect all of our children? This is just disgusting.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It`s disgusting! And I`m also, frankly, sick and tired...

MURPHY: Yes.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: ... of sitting here every couple of days and talking about how a child fell through the cracks. It`s unfortunately a weekly, even daily story. Oh, CPS was overburdened. Oh, another child fell through the cracks. How many more?

You know, we`ve got the NSA monitoring our phone calls. They can figure out, these Internet companies, what we`re going to buy before we buy it, where we`re going to vacation before we go on vacation. But they can`t figure this out? They can`t track children who are in danger? They can`t make sure whether it`s video cameras in the home, I don`t care what you have to do.

I have an elderly mother. I`ve got a video camera on her. I can go on my Internet and see her anytime I want, make sure she`s getting the care that she should be getting, which she is. Why can`t they do that with -- why can`t they use technology to track these nightmare horror-story parents?

We`re just getting started on this. At the top of the hour, Nancy Grace, with another horrific case of child abuse. This time in Delaware. A trust-fund baby convicted of molesting his own young daughter. And you will not believe basically he`s never going to see jail time. Never has. Nancy, 8 p.m., right here on HLN.

But first, more on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN: This is something out of a third-world country, not here in the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Investigators say Bleimeyer and his wife, Tammi, were eventually arrested and charged with endangering a child.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The child was found with serious injuries to his face. And he appeared to be malnourished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN: This is something out of a third world country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Arrested and charged with endangering a child.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The child is found to have serious injuries to his face and appeared to be malnourished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: This is an unbelievable story. There is the stepmother, who is charged with child endangerment. But as you can see, she`s out of jail already. She`s picking up two of her kids. How is that possible?

Now, Frank Mann, you`re the attorney for the biological mother. And first of all, this woman, this stepmother has six children of her own. She`s pregnant with a seventh. You know, before I get to you, I`ve got to go to Judy Ho. If you`re going to treat children, allegedly, this badly, why have so many children? I mean, what is that about? It`s outrageous.

HO: Well, Jane, a lot of these mothers and parents in general are very uneducated about child care to begin with.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: No, no, no. No, no, no, no. This isn`t uneducated. Sticking a child in a closet and starving them, that`s not uneducated. Go ahead.

HO: I was just going to say that, in general, these parents who have multiple children are uneducated about parenting. This is obviously a very, very special case where one child has been the object of abuse.

And this is something that CPS misses all the time. Because they look at all the other children, and they seem kind of OK, so they move on. And you know what? This happens more often than we know. Oftentimes there is a child who is disfavored, who is the object of the vendetta, because there might be conflicts going on with the parents, and they take it out on their children. They take it out on their children, because their children are a reflection of their partner.

And I feel like this is something that`s going on that has just kind of slipped under the radar for a very long time. And somehow both parents have really condoned it. So it`s just going on. And these other children in the house have no power to do anything or say anything, because they`re still teenagers or younger. So what can they do?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me say this. There`s a hero in this story, and it`s the 16-year-old boy, the stepbrother of this youngster, who confronted this boy`s biological father, his stepfather, and said, "Do something about it. You`ve got to stop abusing him." They got into a fist fight. And that`s why cops were called.

So if you`re watching, Mr. 16-year-old, you`re a hero to me for stepping up. You`re the only adult in this family, as far as I`m concerned.

I want to go -- and first of all, I`ve got to say what`s really sick is that there`s a 5-year-old biological boy of the stepmom that apparently she treats just fine. So one 5-year-old boy is treated fine, and the other one is allegedly -- I have to say allegedly, because you know, people are not convicted, these are accusations -- put in a closet. But we do know the child was starved. We don`t have to say allegedly; you can see it. While the dad`s obviously cashing in on the chips, the potato chips.

Frank Mann, you`re the attorney for the biological mother. You told me that she`s been kept away. This is the stepmom who`s accused. So there`s a biological mother who`s been kept away from this child by her ex, this man. Correct me if I`m wrong on any of this, Frank.

Now, why was he doing this? Why -- why take a child, and then allegedly abuse the child to the point of starvation? When the biological mother says, "I want the child"?

MANN: This, quite simply, is out of spite. Basically, my client said that she broke up with him, and said she wasn`t ever going to get back with him. Two weeks after that, he married the present stepmother. And since over the past two years has -- has absconded with the child, and has used legal maneuver after legal maneuver and getting around CPS. And has just wanted to punish the mother, apparently, and torture the child.

And my client has made all kind of efforts to get this child.

I`m concerned about the policy with CPS of not cross-referencing. They never called the biological mother, who for eight months there`s been CPS investigations. Two investigations over eight months. My client found out from a friend, from the Internet, that something was going on. She called CPS. And unfortunately, it was after all these incidents. Why don`t they cross-reference? Why don`t they contact the biological mother? They just went out and saw dad and the stepmom and listened to them and moved on to the next case.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And anybody who`s seen a movie knows that Parents can fool CPS. It happens all the time. In movies, in real life.

By the way, we want to be fair. This woman, her attorney, or the boy`s father and his attorney, they`re invited on anytime. If he makes bond. She`s out on bail, so she could appear on the show. I have some questions to ask her. But they`re all invited on. And apparently, they`re common law is what I`ve learned.

Let`s talk a little bit about how long this abuse has been going on. OK? How long this little boy has been starving. CPS claims they went to the family`s home February 20, five weeks ago. They claim the boy looked fine. They said they took photos as proof.

Fast forward. Five weeks later, last Thursday, police start investigating the day after they track the parents to the Texas motel, where they were keeping the boy after they fled because they heard cops were coming. He was in such bad condition he was immediately hospitalized.

So, you know, Eboni K. Williams, first of all, I wonder if they photographed this boy with his clothes on. Because kids can be really skinny and be healthy, and without seeing him undressed, you wouldn`t see any of the bruises. You wouldn`t see the skeletal situation.

WILLIAMS: That`s true, Jane. But something tells me that the face of this young boy was equally emaciated, and therefore, there would be an indication.

You know, Child Protective Services, that tells us all we need to know right there, Jane. And let me say: I agree with you 100 percent, but for this 16-year-old young hero, this 5-year-old little boy, we would not be hearing about his tragic story until after his demise. I am almost certain of that.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wendy Murphy...

LEIBERMAN: I need to add something.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Go ahead.

LEIBERMAN: I need to add something. CPS thought that something wasn`t right, on February 20, when they went out there. And they planned to follow-up visit.

When they went back a few days later, they were told that the family had lawyered up and the family was not going to cooperate. And in fact, the little boy had gone out of state with the father. So I just want to make it clear, CPS wasn`t -- they didn`t just wash their hands of everything.

(CROSSTALK)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wendy, that`s true, but -- no, I have to question that. Not you, but the fact that, oh, a bad parent lawyers up and then you go, "Well, OK, bye." No. Out of state? I want to know where he is.

MURPHY: That is a red flag, when the parents say, "We`re not going to let you have access," that`s the biggest red flag of all.

They had lots of reports of abuse by these parents against this child. How many bites at the apple are you going to get?

Look it, whether they get jail time or not, slice off her ovaries and slice his -- whatever it is that shoots sperm, because that man should never be allowed to father children, and she should never be allowed to give birth ever again.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But she is pregnant with her seventh child.

MURPHY: Take the kid away upon birth.

(CROSSTALK)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Something is wrong when somebody who is in this situation is on their seventh child. I`m sorry?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Something is really wrong.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: More on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anderson was murdered in his luxury condo near Cummins (ph) Park in June of last year after he and Trujillo spent the evening drinking at a local bar. Prosecutors...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HERMAN: This is something out of a third-world country. Not here in the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Investigators say Bleimeyer and his wife, Tammi, were eventually arrested and charged with endangering a child.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The child was found to have serious injuries to his face, and he appeared to be malnourished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: The little boy, protected only by his 16-year-old stepbrother, this little child, 5 years old, 29 pounds, in a small closest wearing only a soiled diaper.

The 16-year-old stepbrother courageously confronted his stepdad. A fist fight broke out. But take a look at this -- the father of this boy`s criminal history.

Last year he was arrested for theft. This past January he was arrested again for theft. Just a month later, in February, he arrested for burglary. Now he`s charged with felony child endangerment. Among the charges, he allegedly kicked in a neighbor`s door. So rage problems, too.

I want to go back out to Frank Mann, the attorney for the biological mother, who was allegedly forced out of the picture, and this child ended up with the dad, who`s now accused of abusing him badly, starving him. Why didn`t the mom, the biological mom, get custody from the get-go when they broke up?

MANN: Well, because there were -- there`s an attorney general that was involved. She went for services with them. Attempts at that was thwarted. He filed a petition in Harris County court, pro se, without an attorney. Then he stole the child and he had her served, and then he non- suited the case. And so there`s...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Look, that`s all legalese. What`s the bottom -- what`s the bottom line? That was legalese. I mean, what`s the bottom line? Usually a mom gets custody. Does she have her own problems?

MANN: No, not at all. We were going to have a hearing on April 21 in Houston to fight for custody of the child, of course.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: But she hasn`t seen him for two years.

MANN: But she was going to work through the legal system. The problem with it is, is the stepmother was a former family law paralegal; she knows the system. They both used the system...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh.

MANN: ... to hurt this child. And to get revenge back on the mother. And there`s going to be an incredible amount of counseling, extensive counseling expense. We have a fund set up on my Web site at MannFamilyLaw.com.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I want to just -- and I hope -- I hope -- yes, I hope this child does get the counseling. We`ll put that up on our Web site for sure.

Evangeline Gomez, oh, she has history, this stepmom, as a paralegal for a family law firm, according to this man, and he says she knows the legal system and she knows how to manipulate the system.

GOMEZ: Frankly, Jane, that`s just not enough. CPS dropped the ball here, once again. They should have inquired. The father had a criminal history.

In each of those instances, they should have gone out to the home, checked the children, asked questions about this child in particular. Let`s see a birth certificate. What`s going on in the courts?

All they have to do is pick up the phone, contact the police department, and get information on who the biological mother is of this child, and reach out to this biological mother.

I don`t buy it for one minute that he was unwilling to give this information. And even if he was, they still have the capacity and the means to get this information.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Very quickly, Patty, North Carolina, what do you have to say? You`ve been waiting a long time.

CALLER: Yes, Jane, I love your show.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Thank you.

CALLER: And I`m just wondering, how could CPS go into that house and not see this? I would like to see those photos that they -- you know, they took.

And one more quick thing, but you know, I don`t have much time. But I would like to know what I can do as a citizen to assure that my complaints do not fall on deaf ears.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You know what? You`re raising a very good point. I think everybody is disillusioned these days with government. How many times have you called a government agency and actually gotten somebody on the phone? There`s bureaucratic nightmares that make a Tasca (ph) novel look like, oh, a walk in the park.

Our government is spending so much money, so much, billions and billions and billions and billions of dollars on everything from rounding up wild horses for no reason, to doing surveillance on certain people who don`t need to be surveilled.

This is the most essential, essential task of government, to take care of innocent children who are voiceless. And this is what happens because of bureaucracy. We`ve got to clean house on CPS coast to coast. We`re getting into the 21st century, use modern technology to track these troubled families, and snatch those kids away the second, the second you see something wrong.

If they had had a camera on this house, they would have seen that kid going into that closet and starving, and they would have pulled him out. But they didn`t have a cam.

Why not? Time for a change.

Now, up next, another very disturbing story. A homeless single mom, arrested for leaving her two young children, very young, locked in a hot car, while she goes on a job interview. Some say she deserves to be prosecuted. Others say, hey, she deserves our sympathy. She was trying to get a job.

What do you think? Our "Lion`s Den" debate panel, debates the next, with you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scottsdale police say 35-year-old Shanesha Taylor parked her SUV in this lot and then went inside an insurance office for a job interview. The problem is her six-month and two-year-old were still inside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Homeless and desperate for a job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 35-year-old Shanesha Taylor parked her SUV in this lot then went inside an insurance office for a job interview. The problem is her six-month and two-year-old were still inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As minutes pass, temperatures rise. And police respond to find a two-year-old and six-month-old alone in a hot car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She needed the job, so it`s just a sad situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, jaw-dropping developments as cops arrest an Arizona mom, and charge her with felony child abuse, after they say she left her two kids, ages two and six months, in an SUV with the windows barely cracked, in direct sunlight, for at least 45 minutes. Why? Because she had a job interview. She`s currently unemployed, and also homeless. And she says she had no one to watch her kids. Is she a victim, or is she dangerously irresponsible?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had a citizen call us, she saw a Dodge Durango and she heard a baby crying inside. The windows were just cracked open a little bit. The car was not running. The kids were unattended at that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Cops say this woman, 35-year-old Shanesha Taylor, left her kids in her Dodge Durango while she went on an interview with an insurance company at about 12:30 in the afternoon on March 20th, just the other day.

A woman walked by the vehicle, heard a baby crying and called 911. The police and the fire department raced there to find a two-year-old boy and six-month-old babysitting in the car. Cops say the engine was turned off, the windows only slightly cracked, when Shanesha came out of the interview she started crying. She told cops, "Hey, I`m homeless, I had no one to watch my kids. I was trying to find a job, Officers." But she`s charged with two counts of felony child abuse, and was released on bond just a couple of hours ago.

Straight out to the "Lion`s Den" debate panel. This is what we`re going to debate, is Shanesha Taylor a victim or is she a dangerously irresponsible mother who deserves to be charged? Let`s start with former prosecutor, Wendy Murphy?

WENDY MURPHY, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Look, obviously she`s a terrible mother. And it doesn`t matter if she was going into the office building because she was going to get drunk and, you know, dance naked on a bar. It doesn`t matter if she instead was going to get a job. If the kids died, they would still be dead.

Let`s stop with the "don`t judge her harshly" stuff. By the way, the guy in the story we just did with the poor emaciated kid, he did the same thing to his kid -- that boy was in the car for even longer and guess what; no charges at all. White man, black woman -- that`s unfair.

EVANGELINE GOMEZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Exactly.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: That is unfair. Evangeline -- who was speaking up? I want to hear. Go.

GOMEZ: Let me tell you, Jane, this case, she`s in jail and her kids have been removed because of who she is and not because of what she has done. I have represented parents in these types of cases, and I will tell you, at most, if there`s no prior criminal history, no charges are ever brought. It`s dismissed. Or, they have to attend a parenting skills class. They get two visits by CPS, and that`s it. The case is closed.

EBONI WILLIAMS, ATTORNEY: This is disgusting. CPS in this situation should not have removed those children or had her put in jail. What they should have done is offered services. If she`s homeless, they can put her connect her to social services organizations and get housing vouchers and child care services.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I just wanted to point out, she`s crying in her mug shot, I believe, and tears rolling down her face.

WILLIAMS: Yes, she is. Yes, she is. But let`s be clear. Her judgment here was absolutely wrong, ok? What she did in this situation was absolutely handled incorrectly.

But I do agree with my colleague here, there are alternative ways to handle this short of a conviction. We have what`s called deferred prosecution that says she avails herself to parenting classes, avails herself to potential community resources that perhaps she didn`t know about beforehand. And if she proves herself to be turned around from this situation, her charges are dismissed and she gets her kids back. But make no mistake about it -- she`s not a pure victim in this case. There were some (inaudible)

(CROSSTALK)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: This story has gone viral. It is a huge uproar with people outraged on either side. Some saying she`s an unfit mother, others say she`s a victim, she was trying to make a better life, she had nowhere to turn.

Listen one of Shanesha`s supporters is Amanda Bishop, and she`s joining me now. Amanda, you started a fund-raising campaign online. Youcare.com -- you raised more than $75,000 for this mother. I personally think your heart is definitely in the right place.

But here`s my question. Here`s a woman, we got her background report, she`s lived in the area for years. I`m just wondering, why no friends, no family? You reported that these kids are being -- they went to CPS and then they went to a relative`s house. If they could go to a relative`s house, why couldn`t she have left the children -- the two kids with a relative, or a friend, and come up with another alternative than to leave them in the car, Amanda?

AMANDA BISHOP, SUPPORTER OF SHANESHA TAYLOR: You know, I don`t know. That is something that Shanesha would have to speak for and answer for herself. That`s not something I know the answer to. All I know is how I felt for her, and how I related to her story and how, you know, millions of others are relating to her situation and her scenario. And why we reached out and why the fund was started. That`s something that Shanesha would have to, you know, approach.

(CROSSTALK)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: First of all, I want to applaud you. I want to applaud you because very few people, a lot of people will say things online, but very few people take action. I always say love is an action. You`ve taken the action to try to help this woman and her children. So bravo to you.

I think everybody on our panel would agree, right? Does anybody disagree that this woman deserves our applause? Let`s see our panel.

MURPHY: I disagree.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You disagree?

MURPHY: You`re giving this woman a prize for almost killing her kids?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wendy, no harm to those children.

(CROSSTALK)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: First of all, I don`t know why she`s homeless, ok? Because sometimes people are instantly homeless. They have maybe a bad landlord, they get evicted, they lose their jobs -- bad things happen to good people, we all know that. So until we understand why she lost her job -- her home, how she ended up homeless, the one thing that speaks to her character is she was trying to find a job.

I will say this, I think it`s a false choice. You know, sometimes people convince themselves, I have only two options, this one and even a worse one. When there`s a third option, that is not a drama option, doesn`t create a lot of negative excitement, but a smarter option, there`s got to be services.

Dr. Judy Ho, clinical psychologist, there`s got to be services out there for, I believe, I don`t know for sure, but I`ve got to believe there`s got to be a way to leave your kids in some kind of safe situation, even if your friends aren`t picking up the phone, the family members who have the kids tonight reportedly aren`t apparently around, something doesn`t add up about this.

DR. JUDY HO, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: That`s right, Jane. There is a resource which I will share. But before I do that I just want to say that this is the awful downward drift cycle that people get into. They`re homeless. They`re trying to get a job. Now she might be a convicted felon. No one is going to hire a convicted felon.

So she`s trying to get herself out of this situation and she didn`t use her resources, but she may not know about resources in the way that most people who are not homeless know about.

So the resource I`d like to share is the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. Their Web site is www.naccrra.org. And they should get low cost and no cost --

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me tell you something -- we`ve all dealt with the government at various times in our life, whether for a child, an elderly parent, what have you. You have to have a PhD to navigate these Web sites. It`s not as simple as picking up a phone and say, I`ve got a job interview and I want you to take care of my kids. You`ve got the bureaucratic form- filling and all the other nonsense.

Sometimes I`ve looked at these. I actually needed some professional to guide me through something once because it`s so arcane. The government needs to simplify. If we want to keep ladies like this in a situation where they don`t have to get arrested in order to go for a job interview, simplify the forms. Get rid of the bureaucracy that is choking us and costing us billions.

On the other side we`re going to talk to an expert. What were some of the things she could have done that she didn`t? I`m going to ask him about the bureaucracy, the paperwork, the stuff that you can`t even understand because it`s so convoluted. Is this woman a criminal, or was she just a woman with her back against the wall? When we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was upset. This is a sad situation all around. She said she was homeless. She needed the job, obviously not getting the job. So it`s just a sad situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We don`t know how this 35-year-old mother Shanesha Taylor got into this situation. But as she told cops, she didn`t have anybody to watch her kids, so she left them in a hot car while she went on a job interview, and was at least 45 minutes away, according to authorities.

So we`re all asking -- where`s her family, where`s her friends, where`s the father of her kids. She`s claiming she has no support whatsoever. Now, here`s the thing Eboni K. Williams, even if she got the job, where would she have left her kids had she gotten the job? And she lived in the area.

We ran an (inaudible) she lived in the area for years. How is it that she`s without support? Something just doesn`t seem to add up on that.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely, Jane. Look, there`s tons of resources out there. The doctor talked about some of them. But again, people don`t know how to access them. Unfortunately as tragic as this situation has turned out, this is a great learning opportunity, not just for Miss Taylor, but for other mothers like her.

Look, her situation as horrific as it seems to us it`s not really all that out of the ordinary. There`s a lot of working poor, working homeless that are amongst us --

HO: Right.

WILLIAMS: -- and they live in secrecy, and they live in shame. It`s unfortunate, but it`s about finding those resources, albeit a church, a day care centers that have pro bono services or things of that nature. Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, but you know what -- let me tell you. When I was a kid, my mother took me to the World`s Fair. And there were these areas where you could leave kids. I was a tiny little tot. She very nicely left me there, because that was supposed to be what you did. And I screamed blue -- I hollered, you could hear me around the entire world`s fair. She had to come back within 30 seconds and get me.

There was no way I was staying in this strange place. Children don`t like to be left with strangers.

I want to go to John Harrell. You`re the northeast regional communications director of the Florida Department of Children and Families. One of the things we`ve been talking about, John, is there`s so much bureaucracy, that if people don`t have a PhD in Kafkaesque bureaucracy, they don`t know how to take advantage of services. It`s so complicated.

JOHN HARRELL, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES: Jane, I think that`s a fair point.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What could she have done? What could she have done?

HARRELL: Here`s the thing. First off, certainly all agencies need to really think about the people they`re serving. And we need to try to communicate in terms that they can understand. Now, certainly your other guest had a good point as far as what we would recommend. Look, they got to reach out to people, agencies such as United Way, churches, local non- profit agencies, local early learning coalitions that could refer them to child care providers. There is help out there.

And also many communities throughout the USA now have 2-1-1 information lines where people can call to find out about these services. So they should utilize those --

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me stop you. Let me stop you. We only have a couple of seconds. She`s standing there. She`s got a job interview, two hours. Is there a government agency where she can go? I don`t know, Head Start? Is there anywhere she can instantly take her kids? No, I would assume you have to fill out forms. It`s going to take weeks or months. You can`t do it in the blink of an eye.

HARRELL: Here`s what I wonder. If she`s at a homeless shelter many of these homeless shelters have child care. I think the thing is you have at least to try, ask questions. The last thing you want to do is leave your kids in the hot car where it can quickly get hotter.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, we`ve discovered -- we`ve been covering the case of little Relisha Rudd who was in a homeless shelter and she ended up being abducted by the janitor who worked at the homeless shelter, and there is a very good possibility that child is dead. So I don`t know. I don`t know if there is any good answers.

The good answer is to use some of the billions of our tax dollars that we spend on ridiculous things: research that doesn`t need to be done, you know, rounding up horses, surveilling people and spend it by -- on a credible system that`s like the 21st century, that`s like Amazon.com or Fresh Director (ph) -- any of these places where you do something really complicated, you put it on line, and boom, you get a result.

Because it`s the private sector doing it the smart way as opposed to the government that does things like we`re back in the 19th century.

A wild story up next. A woman who used a stiletto, but maybe not. We`ll see. We`ll see what we have coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELEZ-MITCHELL: 35-year-old Shanesha Taylor tonight is facing child abuse charges because she had a job interview with an insurance company. But she`s homeless, and she left her two kids in the car, and they started crying and it was hot. And the cops came and said they waited 45 minutes.

So is she a criminal or is she a decent person who was trying to get a job and just had nowhere to leave the kids?

I want to quickly -- we only have a couple of seconds. Jon Leiberman, your thoughts. 10 seconds each.

JON LIEBERMAN, HLN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I wouldn`t say that she`s totally a victim. She`s in a horrible situation, but leaving your kids in the car for what I`ve learned was more than an hour is just unacceptable.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Evangeline Gomez -- quickly.

GOMEZ: Not unacceptable. This situation I`ve seen it happen before. And people don`t have charges pressed against them. The state is going to have a difficult time proving substantial risk of harm here because the windows were open, you had a child who was six, so the child could have screamed, could have called for help if there was an emergency.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Eboni K. Williams -- I don`t know if I buy that one. Eboni.

WILLIAMS: Jane, this case is right for a deferred prosecution. Ultimately this woman should have these charges dismissed, but I think this is an opportunity here for her to learn and grow. She should earn that dismissal through parenting classes and other resources being available to her.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Got to leave it right there. Tomorrow we`re covering stiletto murder case. It`s on trial right now.

We`re also having an interview with the nephew of the accused kidnapper Khalil Tatum who committed suicide and killed his wife, it`s believe, and who knows what he did with this precious child.

Nancy Grace is up next.

END