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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Mom Beaten; Baby Died in Hot Car; Police -- Suspicious Internet Searches by Father of Child Who Died in Host Car; Tea Party Leader Who Videotaped Woman in Nursing Home Is Dead; Police Talk to Boy Found in Detroit Basement

Aired June 27, 2014 - 12:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You better get your son before I kick him in the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) face too. And it's not -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Sickening and senseless violence as others simply look on. No one even tries to help that woman, except that child, a two-year-old son of the victim.

Also ahead --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY GRACE, HLN HOST: We are getting reports that your son has been found alive in your basement.

CHARLES BOTHUELL, FATHER OF MISSING BOY: What?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Remember the missing child who turned up in his own basement? With a very confused dad? Well, Charlie's finally talking to the police. So will we finally find out what was really going on in that house?

And send in the drones. A United States official tells CNN armed U.S. drones are now flying over Baghdad as the Iraq crisis escalates to a whole new level today with the discovery of mass graves.

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Friday, June the 27th. And welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

I want to begin with this. A it's a warning right off the bat. The video that we're about to show you is extremely disturbing. It's so tough to watch. But it is important. You're about to see a mother being beaten by a co-worker near to a McDonald's. The police chief in the town of Salem, New Jersey, says that this is clear evidence of something he calls moral and social breakdown in the fabric of our society. And it is not just because of the nature of the beating itself, with

what child looking on, but it's also because of the people who witnessed it. The people who witnessed it and did nothing except one thing, they pulled out their cell phones to videotape it. The only person present who tried to prevent this horrible attack was that brave little two-year-old child.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(INAUDIBLE)

CHILD: Mommy!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh. Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) on the ground. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) stupid dummy (ph). Stupid (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You better get your son before I kick him in the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) face, too. And it's not over (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) make me lose my job. You came up there and told the (INAUDIBLE) and told (INAUDIBLE) and they (INAUDIBLE) and went and told (INAUDIBLE) and (INAUDIBLE) a question. It ain't over no (EXPLETIVE DELETED). (INAUDIBLE) start running your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (INAUDIBLE). Stupid (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And, yes, that was her spitting. As you let that sink in, this is the after effect. This is what the beating did to this victim. That's Catherine Ferreira. She had a concussion. Her nose was broken. She had extensive bruises and cuts to her face. And there's the baby.

Her alleged attacker is 25-year-old Latia Harris. Apparently Miss Harris had a motive of being furious because she was allegedly the target of workplace gossip and was afraid that she was going to lose her jobs. She certainly articulated that on the tape. Harris is facing charges of aggravated assault, along with terroristic threat. Here's the problem, police have yet to find her to make the arrest. And now they believe she just may have fled the state.

Joining me to talk about this disturbing case is victim's rights attorney Gloria Allred, as well, Dr. Susan Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is with us and CNN legal analyst and defense attorney Danny Cevallos is also here.

First to you, Dr. Whitbourne, I need you to explain and get me off the ledge as to how this happened that a woman with a two-year-old child can be beaten so ferociously while people actually comment and videotape nearby and not one person except the baby tries to stop the beating.

SUSAN WHITBOURNE, PROF. OF PSYCHOLOGY, UNIV. OF MASS. AMHERST: There's so many aspects to this situation. It all happened so quickly. And we do know there is a bystander effect that's been shown in many psychological studies. And it's a typical tendency, unfortunately, for people, not necessarily to rush in and help when somebody needs our help. And the reasons are many. One is the situation. But, two, is, we look at ourselves and we look at what's happening and we try to decide if we can be of help. And oftentimes people are frightened. And so their reaction is one of fear and that takes over.

Now, when they take out their cell phones, we don't know what's going on. In part they may be, quote, helping, unquote, by trying to record the incident so it can be used later. We hope that's the case. But it would have just taken one person besides the child to intervene and it would have ended up very, very differently for this poor victim.

BANFIELD: And perhaps others would have stepped forward as well. And they certainly could have overpowered her. There were enough people who were standing by.

I want you all to listen to what the victim had to say about the beating that she endured. Again, with her child right there. Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CATHERINE FERREIRA, BEATING VICTIM: I could have been dead right now. Had she hit me in the right spot, it would have been over. This is not good for anybody. You don't look good. I definitely don't look good. It doesn't look good. After that, I became so much closer to my son because it's like he didn't care what was going on, he wasn't afraid, he just wanted to defend his mom. So that is -- that's my world right there, like, I love that boy so much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Gloria Allred, sometimes we don't have a face on the kinds of charges that seem so to plague the courts, aggravated assault here and there. But when you see this kind of evidence, this has to make a difference in this case. If they ever find Miss Latia Harris, 25 years old, what is she facing? What's the likelihood that that woman is going to do a long time behind bars?

GLORIA ALLRED, VICTIMS RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, I think -- and especially if she does have a prior criminal history, yes, she is likely, if convicted, to spend a lot of time in custody. But, you know, I want to say that there's also -- there are two victims here. One is the mom, whom we just saw with the horrendous, you know, injuries to her face.

But another is the hero toddler, because the toddler in, you know, obviously did that because he is so bonded to his mom, which tells me she's probably been a very good mom because he's there to defend her. But in addition, the memory of his mom being attacked and his trying to help but not being able to assist her, to stop the beating, is probably going to be with him for many, many years, if not the rest of his life.

BANFIELD: Can I - Danny, can I just read something from the police chief and then get you to comment on something afterwards? But the chief - DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I want to talk about that.

BANFIELD: He was so appalled by -- we've invited him on the show. I think he may be a little too busy at this point with this case facing him down right now, but I want to read for you what he said. "Unfortunately, arrests aren't going to change anything. There is a moral and social breakdown in the fabric of our society which is clearly evident when a woman gets pummeled in broad daylight in front of her child while a dozen people pull out their phones to record the incident instead of calling for help. There is so little regard for human life by the actor and by the bystanders."

I want to talk about those bystanders.

CEVALLOS: Yes.

BANFIELD: So many people are angry with them and their commentary saying, whoa -

CEVALLOS: Yes.

BANFIELD: When they see something particularly egregious. But the truth is, no one has a duty to respond, do they?

CEVALLOS: Ah-hah, that's exactly right. I agree with the police chief's sentiment. You know, I've handled a lot of these video cases. You see them most often in juvenile cases in school. There's a fight in the hallway. What does everybody do? They pull out their phone and they videotape it. And are people enjoying it a little too much? Probably.

But at the same time I want to play devil's advocate. Our society does not reward vigilantes. If you intervene in a fight, you could either get hurt or the police could come and lock you up to. And that's just the way it is. But the reality is, these people that are bystanders, however deplorable some of their motives are to laugh and think it's entertaining, you know, on the other side, now we have some pretty tremendous evidence and this woman will not get away with it. is that -- at the end of the day, is that better or worse? I don't know.

BANFIELD: I mean -

ALLRED: Danny, you called them vigilantes, but I would say good Samaritans -

CEVALLOS: You could.

ALLRED: If they intervene -

CEVALLOS: Sure.

BANFIELD: Intervene.

ALLRED: If they have the courage to do so. If they have the moral sense that that's what they should do, if they recognize that could be their mom, their sister, their daughter, then they will. CEVALLOS: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: You know, the only light - the only light at the end of this tunnel, I think, is what you mentioned, that is that we have the video evidence against this alleged perpetrator. I'm going to repeat her name because she is still on the loose. Twenty-five-year-old Latia Harris. This happened in Salem, New Jersey. Take a close look at that face. She may have left the state by now. But, you know what, CNN has some pretty broad reach. By all means, call your local authority, call 911 if you know anything about the whereabouts.

Dr. Susan Whitbourne, thank you so much for your time. Gloria Allred, Danny Cevallos, please stay with me as we continue our coverage today.

We've got some new evidence in the case of that Georgia toddler who died after his father left him in a sweltering SUV for a whole day. A source is saying that the police found disturbing Internet searches that were made on the father's computer. So how will they impact the case against him? You might be surprised to find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Every time we think about this story of the baby who was left in that hot car and ultimately died after seven hours, the story cannot get more bizarre and it can't get more heartbreaking either. Something new seems to come out and crush us all over again. And here's what I'm talking about today.

According to the police, a source within the police, they believe the father of the baby boy who died in his sweltering hot SUV, that father allegedly searched the Internet for information about animals dying in hot cars prior to this happening. Let's try to get your head around that for a moment. Someone using Justin Ross Harris' computer at work was interested in how long it takes an animal to die in a hot car. That's the exact way that Harris' son Cooper died. He was strapped inside his car seat inside his dad's car for seven hours on a boiling hot Atlanta day.

CNN's Victor Blackwell has been on this terribly tragic story from the beginning. And also with me is victim's rights attorney Gloria Allred and CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos.

Victor, I want to start with you. Look, the charge came out fairly quick. It was murder. And it was a child abuse charge that was somewhat altered as well. It might just have been logistically altered. But why was it -- do we know why was it that charge came quickly? Did it have to do with this Internet search for how long it takes an animal to die in a hot car?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, police say initially what made them suspicious were the answers that dad was giving on the scene. And then when they came back here to police headquarters to question him, the story just fell apart from there.

Now, in relation to the searches there, we don't know if Justin Ross Harris conducted the search himself or when that happened. Only that, according to these sources, police found those searches on the computer. But here's what, you know, the other attorneys who were on the panel today can help me understand. I mean they're the attorneys. If police believe that Harris conducted these searches, that would point toward premeditation. But there was that downgrade of the child cruelty charge from first degree, which is malice intent, to second degree, which is simple negligence. Just -- they don't seem to correspond.

BANFIELD: Well, interestingly enough, as I read through this, and you two are far better with statute than I am, it looked as though the higher level child abuse charge required a withholding of food and water. It was sort of simple logistics issue and then to downgrade it would fit these circumstances, this fact pattern better, if in fact the fact pattern is true.

But, Gloria, I want to ask you something. The fact that someone does a search on the Internet prior to a crime is not new. It has popped up in almost every case I've covered in the last 10 years. Police are good at this. Crooks are not. But it doesn't mean a slam dunk.

GLORIA ALLRED, VICTIMS' RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Right. We saw the Scott Peterson case, in that case he was convicted.

BANFIELD: We saw it in Casey Anthony too.

ALLRED: In that case, she was acquitted, so we don't know. As has just been pointed out, we don't know when the search was conducted. We don't know who conducted it. If it was at his workplace, maybe somebody else used his computer.

We don't know. We can go to certain assumption, but do we know for a fact yet? No. Are these going to be the only charges? Are they going to be amended at some point? We don't know that yet either. But it certainly is not a good fact for him, at least for the potential jury pool, that that fact about the animals and how long they can live in a hot car. That's not a good fact in terms of influencing a potential jury pool.

BANFIELD: This whole notion of searching for ways to die before somebody near you mysteriously dies and you end up charged with a killing. Sometimes it's just the specifics of how the victim died.

I cover a case in Florida where Justin Barber shot his wife and shot himself I think five times and miraculously survived. On his hard drive was a search for how to shoot yourself and survive. That is so specific to that crime. Isn't that a case where it's just better evidence, in terms of it doesn't matter at this point who was searching, it's pretty clear there's a nexus there?

CEVALLOS: Internet searches are fascinating as evidence because they're a glimpse into the meanderings of our mind. If you think about everything you've searched for, does it really draw an accurate picture of who you are? It's easy to take -- of all the Internet searches we do and men, all the Internet searches, we search some pretty horrific things. If you looked at mine, it might be all murders and mayhem. It's a difficult thing. Are they admissible as evidence? Yes, if they're authenticated. What do they really tell us about intent? And certainly if you isolate one search, this sounds like a very speck one, the one you talked about, very specific, and I think very damning.

But, again, you have to look at Internet searches as a whole. You think about them, they really are the meanderings our curious mind.

BANFIELD: This is a semipublic computer, what a perfect way to frame someone for something that might happen, although it's pretty odd, this circumstance and how that child died. But it is something to keep in mind, other people can do things to certainly make your life difficult.

Thank you, both. If you could stick around, I've got a couple of other things. Victor Blackwell, as always, excellent reporting, thank you.

A boy discovered in his family's basement after disappearing for 11 days, found in his own basement. Now the investigators are talking to that boy, and his parents are trying to piece together what happened as well. So where will the evidence lead them? We've got the very latest on this very unusual case. Plus, have those parents seen that boy yet? It's a bit of a mystery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: An unusual story, I want to bring you the breaking news today, and it has to do with a runoff election in Mississippi for the Mississippi Senate seat that happened just recently in which Thad Cochran prevailed.

During that campaign, there were some very unusual accusations about a challenger in the tea party actually videotaping Senator Cochran's wife in a nursing home, lots of controversy regarding that.

But now it appears that the person behind the videotaping, the tea party leader in Mississippi, has committed suicide. It is a curious story, to say the very least. I beg your pardon, let me just retract that. He is dead. We do not know that it's a suicide.

I want to bring in Joe Johns from Washington, D.C. How did this happen? What's the circumstance of this death?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We don't know a lot about this, but I can tell you he is a Mississippi tea party leader. He's also an attorney in that state.

His name is Mark Mayfield, and he is dead, according to his attorney, Merrida Coxwell. Now Mayfield was one of the three men charged with conspiring to photograph the wife of Senator Thad Cochran in her nursing home and create a political video against Cochran.

Coxwell put out a statement to CNN. She said, "Mark Mayfield was a client, but, more importantly, he was a friend for 34 years. My heart is completely broken. This is beyond tragic. And the people of this community and state have lot a good man and citizen."

Coxwell said she did not want to say anything more right now, if I do say harsh things about certain people and so on.

The bottom line is, in this phone call with Coxwell, Mayfield said he'll be remembered as a man in the community that everybody loved. So we're still trying to get to the details of how the tea party leader died after this huge controversy in that state, Ashleigh. And we'll get back to you when we have more information.

BANFIELD: Very curious indeed. Joe Johns, thank you for that. Appreciate it.

Coming up, more on that story out of Michigan, such a disturbing revelation, a boy missing for 11 days discovered in his own father's basement, and yet now the arrest is the stepmother. But not necessarily related to the case. What is going on in Detroit? Answers in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: This is certainly a mystery that's captivated us. How does a 12-year-old boy who'd been missing for 11 days end up in his dad's basement, that after the FBI had come in and actually brought cadaver dogs as well, went through everything and found absolutely nothing?

We showed you Charlie Bouthell's father who was getting the news, strangely, live during an interview on HLN's "NANCY GRACE" program, right while she was conducting the interview.

And now the little boy, Charlie, his stepmother is behind bars. She was arrested, but the charges don't necessarily relate to the case. The charges are for probation violation, weapons charge. The child's siblings have now been removed from that home, and our Alexander Field looks at the investigation and where little Charlie is now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Twelve-year-old Charlie Bothuell is with his mother this morning after suddenly being found in his father's home Wednesday, 11 days after disappearing.

CHARLES BOTHUELL, FATHER OF BOY FOUND IN BASEMENT: We have not done anything wrong to my son, nothing but to try to help him.

FIELD: On Thursday, Charlie's stepmother was taken into custody for a probation violation on an unrelated weapons charge as the boy's father, Charles Bothuell, tells Nancy Grace over the phone he has not yet seen his son.

NANCY GRACE, HLN ANCHOR, "NANCY GRACE": Why won't police let you see the boy? Where is he?

BOTHUELL (via telephone): You know, I'm breaking the "no-comment" rule, but I was briefly on the phone with him when he called my mother, and I need to go now because I'm not listening to the attorney.

FIELD: Police found Charlie in his own basement, the boy crouched down, barricaded behind a stack of boxes and a 55-gallon barrel, items so heavy, officials say, he couldn't have constructed it himself, the 12-year-old, seemingly excited to see police, who say he was hungry.

GRACE: Out to the father of the --

FIELD: HLN's Nancy Grace broke the news to Bothuell that his son was found live on air.