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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Parents Both Researched Deaths in Hot Cars; White House on Hobby Lobby Decision; Blade Runner Trial; GM Announces Payout; McStay Family Murders

Aired June 30, 2014 - 12:30   ET

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


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORESPONDENT: Still to determine if this was a tragic coincidence or something much worse.

Nick Valencia, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Joey Jackson is here, CNN and HLN legal analyst and the perfect person to talk to about this, because now we have this monkey wrench so to speak.

It seemed so simple for prosecutors before, at least on its surface, and now we have a mother doing the same kinds of what sounds like damning searches on the Internet. What are they looking for to make this more supportive of their case as opposed to, hey, any worried parent might do that?

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: One very big thing, and what do we call it? Motive. Right. Does he have or she have some other agenda here as to why they would want this baby gone? Tough story to talk about.

BANFIELD: Awful.

JACKSON: Even in talking about this, and you hit the nail on the head, we were speaking off camera, as Ashleigh and I often do, and what you said, it depends certainly, the search warrant that has been conducted and the search that he actually made on the computer and she made, the proximity of time.

Were these searches that were done when the baby was just born, or are these searches the last week, the week before? Why is it relevant? Why is it important? It's relevant and it's important because it goes to show, if you're a prosecutor, was there some plotting, was there some planning, was there some premeditation? And that's why you want to know this.

I think, even if you don't find that, Ashleigh, it goes to something else, which is very important. And what is that? The issue of negligence. Remember the theory that he's charged under, right? The theory is a child abuse theory under second degree. That means you acted with criminal negligence. What does that mean in English? It means that you failed to perceive a risk, and that failure to perceive a risk -- people are negligent every day. There are accidents that occur every day.

But does it rise to the level of criminal negligence because your failure to perceive that risk, which is so gross, so wanton, so deviant from what a reasonable person would expect, and if you're searching these things, I see you thinking --

BANFIELD: I am. And, listen, I see that being met. If somebody goes into the pizzeria to pick up the pizza and leaves the kid in the hot car because they think they can do it fast. And then they get sidetracked and then ultimately something awful. There's a different set of circumstances here where this father is saying, his story, I just didn't even know he was in the back. I just completely forgot. I went to work.

JACKSON: And that's a problem because that goes to that issue of negligence. What would a reasonable person do?

When you have a child in the back seat and you're driving with that child, you might even be playing with them, right? Saying, hey, are you OK over there? Everything good? Hey, you all right? You know, playing with your baby.

Here, you have a child left in the car for seven hours. Then you have the allegation that this father came back to the car, and at that point, even if you give the father a pass, Ashleigh, for not initially noticing that the child was there because he's so preoccupied with life, when you go back, you don't notice?

So it goes to the issue of negligence, and if this search, in terms of, you know, leaving a baby in the car, if you can establish that search, you can show more negligence because you should know. He just searched it and should have known, hey, guess what.

BANFIELD: I can defend this guy. I can. I mean, would I? I'm not a lawyer, so I can't. But I can defend him because I know how unreasonable we all are as parents and how we survive daily in a tornado of tasks.

JACKSON: But would a jury?

BANFIELD: Well, if they're parents, and if I'm choosing that jury, I want every one of them to be parents of newborns. That's what I want.

Joey Jackson, as always, you keep me -- you get me off the ledge. Let's put it that way.

JACKSON: It's a tough story. It really is.

BANFIELD: I don't want to be the prosecutor in this case because it's tricky. Thank you, sir. A couple of other stories we're following as well. A former Olympic athlete has spent the last month undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, Oscar Pistorius. Yes, he is still on trial for that shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

What will the psychiatrist findings on his mental state mean for the future of this trial? We've got the LEGAL VIEW on that, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: It's a decision a lot of people have been waiting for for an entire month. Was Oscar Pistorius mentally incapacitated in some way when he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp to death? A pretty definitive answer came down -- no.

Robyn Curnow looks at the decision and what else happened in court after that long break.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After a month-long adjournment, Oscar Pistorius entered court, ready for the final phase of his murder trial.

GERRIE NEL, PROSECUTOR: Mr. Pistorius did not suffer from a mental defect or mental illness at the time of the commission of the offense that would have rendered him criminally not responsible for the offenses charged.

CURNOW: The prosecutor reading the results for the 30-day, court- ordered mental evaluation.

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The state has managed to close the gap for Pistorius to argue that due to mental illness he is not criminally responsible for the events on the night in question. This is not what Pistorius has been arguing, but now he cannot raise it going forward.

CURNOW: With his mental state cleared, the trial turned to Pistorius' physical disability and its impact on how he reacted, whom he says he fired on accidentally, mistaking her for an intruder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you see how he's walking, he's battling to walk.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: Want to break into that coverage because the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, has taken to the podium, and since we've had this monumental Hobby Lobby case, let's listen in.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... health of women who are employed by these companies.

As millions of women know firsthand, contraception is often vital to their health and well-being. That's why the Affordable Care Act ensures that women have coverage for contraceptive care, along with other preventive care, like vaccines and cancer screenings.

We will work with Congress to make sure any women affected by this decision will still have the same coverage of vital health services as everyone else. President Obama believes strongly in the freedom of religion. That's why we've taken steps to ensure that no religious institution will have to pay or provide for contraceptive coverage.

We've also made accommodations for nonprofit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds, but we believe that the owners of for-profit companies should not be allowed to assert their personal religious views to deny their employees federally mandated benefits.

Now we'll of course respect the Supreme Court ruling and will continue to look for ways to improve Americans' health by helping women have more, not less, say over the personal health decisions that affect them and their families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you talk a bit more about what options you're considering to make sure women have access to free contraceptives?

EARNEST: I'm not in a position to do that right now. Frankly, we're still assessing the decision and its legal implications. We're also assessing what practical implications there are from this decision, including what companies are actually covered by this Supreme Court decision.

As you saw, the ruling referred pretty narrowly to a closely held, private sector companies, and I described in my originally statement there are a range of other institutions that are treated in different ways. We're also taking a look at what kinds of health care plans these companies have and how many employees are actually affected by this decision.

So as we gather some more information, we may be in a position to better consider the range of options that are available to the president It is our view, as I said here at the top, though, that Congress needs to take action to solve this problem that's been created, and the administration stands ready to work with them to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On another topic, the -- some advocates are expressing some outrage over the letter that the president spent this morning on unaccompanied minors, and they say it's wrong to send minors right back to a violent situation in their own home country.

Can you respond to that?

BANFIELD: We're going to jump out of this. We wanted you to get the first comment from the White House regarding the Hobby Lobby ruling. They've moved on to the unaccompanied minor issue across the border.

And I want to wrap up for you what effectively the White House has said in reaction to the Supreme Court ruling, that ruled really in favor of Hobby Lobby not having to provide certain kinds of contraception that they deem to be more abortion-related contraception, like the morning-after pill or IUD, that they don't have to provide coverage to their employees.

And, ultimately, Josh Earnest said the government plans to continue to ensure, and I'm just going to paraphrase here -- "continue to ensure, work to ensure that those women who are denied that coverage will still be covered," although he couldn't articulate exactly how, said that they're still reading through to assess the practical implications of this ruling, and ultimately saying that the government still believes for-profit companies should not be allowed to assert their personal views to deny federally mandated benefits to their employees.

Our Athena Jones is standing by live from the White House North Lawn with a little bit more.

Apologize, she was in a moment -- we just lost her connection.

But when we come back after the break, I'm going to return back to the coverage that we were doing right before we stepped into the White House, and that was Oscar Pistorius' trial and how this big ruling on his mental capacities could mean a big implication for a verdict in that case.

Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: If you're like me, you keep wondering why on Earth this trial of the Olympian, Oscar Pistorius, is taking so darn long. It began months ago, and then it came to an abrupt halt so that experts could test whether he was mentally incapacitated the night he shot his girlfriend to death.

It is a tough question. Our defense attorney Danny Cevallos is a CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney as well, here to figure this out for me. This is not the kind of thing we see play out in American courts very often, a trial just kind of stopping for a testing to happen. This usually happens well beforehand.

But I think the bigger question here, Danny, is whether this is going to now mean we are at speed for closing arguments and actually a verdict.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You would hope so but trials in other countries don't move nearly as quickly as trials in the United States do once they're underway. Remember this case is not a who done it, this is a why did he do it. So the entire trial is a search into the mind of Oscar Pistorius. So you wonder, with the defense, what they have to establish is the reasonableness of his actions. How many - how many experts will they need to do that?

Well, we've heard from acoustics experts who've analyzed the screaming today and we've also heard from doctors. So the real question is, how much does the defense have? Could there be more delays? Well, it actually happens that in South Africa delays in trials are much more common than they are here in the United States. You just don't have it normally where you halt a trial in the middle to do mental testing that could have been done well in advance of trial. Again, South Africa, each day, demonstrates that its legal system, while similar to ours in some aspects, is very different in others.

BANFIELD: Is so different. Is it ever. Well, ultimately now he doesn't have that in his - in his trunk of defenses. No mental incapacitation. So we'll continue to watch. Danny, thank you. Nice to see you. Danny Cevallos, live for us today from CNN Center in Atlanta.

Big other news for you. General Motors is taking steps to compensate the victims of accidents that were caused by the company's faulty ignition switches. In fact, just this morning, GM made a big announcement. A settlement compensation plan with no monetary cap on the damages. That's big. The company claims that they are not going to put a limit on the amount of money that the company's will to pay people if they can prove that they were harmed, and to what extent they were harmed. There's the catch, usually. The compensation plan is meant to offer an alternative to litigation. There's another catch.

Ultimately, right now, there's really only an admission to 13 deaths that have been linked to that problem, although there are a lot of people arguing that number is much, much higher. It involves a lot of other people in the cars that crashed. The company still facing a federal criminal investigation into how it handled the safety flaws in the defective cars.

Our CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow has been on this story from the beginning and you were there this morning when this announcement was made. Can you break this down for me and ultimately tell me whether this is a win-win or if this is one of those things where the people who think they're harmed basically just see themselves in court trying to prove beyond how many different levels of proof they're going to have to their level of harm in order to get any payout?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ashleigh.

You know, we just wrapped up an interview with the man who is determining all of this. His name is Ken Feinberg. As you know, he is a victim compensation expert. He doled out compensation to victims after 9/11, after the BP oil spill. And I think he put it really well when he said, money is a very poor substitute for life. There is nothing that General Motors can do to bring these lives back, to give these people that are paralyzed as a result of these accidents the ability to walk again. But what they are doing is laying out what they're going to pay them.

Ken Feinberg will be the ultimate arbiter, the ultimate decider, judge and jury in this. We know there will be three categories, death, severe injury and a lesser injury. Those that died, their family members will get $1 million baseline plus money on top of that depending on their potential future earnings, what they made, et cetera, their age. That is going to be somewhere in the range from -- he gave example from $2.2 million up to upwards of $8 million.

But I want to play you this exchange we had with him in the press conference because there's been a lot of questions, as you brought up, about who counts. Is it just 13 deaths or is it a lot more? Is it just people sitting in the front seat when the air bag didn't deploy? What about people sitting in the back seat? Finally, we have that answer. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: A key question throughout all of this is, we have talked to victim's families is, will deaths be counted that occurred in the back seat of a car?

KENNETH FEINBERG, INDEPENDENT CLAIMS ADMINISTRATOR: Yes.

HARLOW: They will?

FEINBERG: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Even if they didn't die as a result of an air bag deploying?

FEINBERG: Doesn't matter.

HARLOW: And what about side impact (INAUDIBLE)?

FEINBERG: Doesn't matter. Irrelevant. If the person -- if it's an eligible vehicle, the air bag did not deploy or the driver, driver, passenger, pedestrian, occupant of another vehicle, where the air bag might have deployed, doesn't matter, eligible.

HARLOW: Side impact crashes?

FEINBERG: Eligible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: So we finally know that, Ashleigh. It's been a big question. Another key, two points here. First of all, as you said, if people agree to this program, they're not going to be able to sue GM. They've not going to be able to take GM to court. So they have to weigh that. Also, Ashleigh, GM is not including in this contributory negligence. If someone was texting, speeding, intoxicated when the crash happened, GM -- Feinberg is not looking at that in this. He's saying, if the ignition switch was mainly at fault here, than they deserve compensation.

BANFIELD: That's all they need.

HARLOW: They're going to get it.

BANFIELD: Poppy -

HARLOW: And that's a really interesting caveat. Yes.

BANFIELD: My -- my jaw just dropped hearing that sound bite from Ken Feinberg because up until now this has been -- this has created so much consternation for these victims. Why wouldn't GM just come out and say that if this is such a throw (ph) away (ph) to your question? Oh, for heaven sakes, Poppy, yes, it just seems crazy that they hadn't had that out sooner. This has been horrifyingly difficult for these people.

HARLOW: You know, I don't know. We've asked that, as you know, Ashleigh, every single time we've had a chance to talk to GM or their CEO.

BANFIELD: Yes.

HARLOW: They're leaving it in the hands of this man.

BANFIELD: Wow.

HARLOW: And this is his determination that this has to be broad, wide- ranging, broad scope. People are going to bring their cases in front of him. He's going to hold these hearings and he's going to decide who is going to get compensated. We'll see what that number is ultimately. But this is going to happen very shortly. I mean he wants to get this compensation out within the year.

BANFIELD: I like that you said that, money is a poor substitute for life.

HARLOW: Yes.

BANFIELD: But there is something else that is a big hindrance, and that is having to fight for it.

HARLOW: Right.

BANFIELD: So, Poppy Harlow, thank you. Great reporting.

HARLOW: Sure.

BANFIELD: You've been on this from the beginning. You've done a wonderful job, thanks so much. Poppy Harlow reporting live for us.

A family of four just vanishes. For years, in fact, until their bodies, the mom, the dad, two of their young children, are found in shallow graves. What happened to the McStay family? We're going to talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: It's a murder mystery yet unsolved and has a lot of people wondering, who would kill a family of four, a family of four including two small children, and then bury their bodies in a remote desert location? They disappeared four years ago, that's 2010, in San Diego. And CNN's Randi Kaye is investigating in a special report, "Buried Secrets: Who Murdered the McStay Family?"

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Monday, February 15th, 11 days after the family went missing, Michael called the sheriff's department, who came to the house to investigate. They immediately alerted homicide. Then investigators did something Patrick McStay finds unbelievable. PATRICK MCSTAY: They don't put any tape on it, crime scene tape, any

notices on the door, nothing. They just locked the house back up and they leave to get warrants.

STEPH WATES, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: It doesn't make any sense to me. I think you've got a family that's missing for a week and they're still not going to call it a crime scene?

KAYE: It took San Diego investigators three days to obtain the warrants they needed to complete a full search of the home. But during those three days, the McStays home remained unsealed, which allowed Joseph's brother, mother and friend access in and out of the house.

SUSAN BLAKE, MOTHER OF JOSEPH MCSTAY: I wouldn't go in there unless I called, you know, the sheriff's department and they said I could. So I had permission. I cleaned up the kitchen, because it was disgusting and the trash can from diapers sitting there all that time, you know, it was terrible, terrible smells.

MCGYVER MCCARGAR, FRIEND OF JOSEPH MCSTAY: She was cleaning. We were looking for bank statements. I mean, I think she was just reaching for evidence.

KAYE (on camera): Wasn't it, though, a crime scene or -

MICHAEL MCSTAY, BROTHER OF JOSEPH MCSTAY: No, it was not deemed a crime scene because there was no signs of forced entry, there was no sign of foul play at the house.

KAYE (voice-over): Michael says investigators gave them the OK to remove some items from the home.

M. MCSTAY: With their permission, I grabbed his computer, what would be Joey's computer, and the SD card. I got the pictures off and I got that downloaded. And then I had to put that back prior to them issuing the warrant.

KAYE: Back in Texas, Patrick could hardly believe what was going on.

P. MCSTAY: The first think I'm thinking is, like, you're going to destroy evidence. I was just stunned.

WATES: Certain items that might have been really key to the big mystery of why they left that house are gone, touched, moved, cleaned up. It's ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And Randi Kaye is here with me live now.

This is the most bizarre crime, especially since we've had years of investigation. Have they got anything, any inkling, any leads on what happened to the McStays?

KAYE: In a way, Ashleigh, they're playing catch up because right now they have a brand-new detective, OK. So it's been four years. We know that the sheriff's department didn't even go in there with a warrant and they weren't even able to search the home until 15 days after this family disappeared. So this new detective is now first going out to the desert, to the Mojave Desert, where these two shallow graves were found. He's going through thousands of pages and documents. They're re-interviewing everybody.

So they're first trying to get a handle on what happened because it's San Bernardino County who's handling it now but it was San Diego who handled it before. And San Diego really thought that the family went off to Mexico because their Isuzu truck was found near the border --

BANFIELD: So Bernardino thinks San Diego messed it up?

KAYE: They're not saying that they think it messed it up, but they're looking at everything all over again because now that the bodies were found in their county, they have to sort of start from, you know, from square one. So --

BANFIELD: So in anybody saying -- this is just me talking, but a lot of times when you hear that, you think what a waste of time, how on earth is anyone supposed to get anything of substance and value this long after the fact, the destruction of evidence, the scene of the crime and yet fresh eyes on an investigation can mean all the difference.

KAYE: Well, fresh eyes and evidence suddenly because the house was never deemed a crime scene and now they actually have two shallow graves. They're not telling us what was found there. They're not even telling us if it was the two parents in one grave and the two young children in another grave. But they're not telling us how they died. They don't - we don't even know if they know that yet. We know they can find that out still even from those remains four years later. But there's a lot - but at least they have a crime scene now to try and figure it out, even if it's taking time.

BANFIELD: And let's hope they're keeping lots close to their vest. Not good for you and me -

KAYE: Right. Right.

BANFIELD: But great for a prosecution if they're going to have one ultimately.

KAYE: Well, I know the family feels a lot better about this group doing it.

BANFIELD: That's always good too. Randi, thank you. This is so fascinating. You always have the best pieces. And, in fact, if you want to watch, and I encourage you to do so, Randi's piece is going to air tomorrow night. It's a special report called "Buried Secrets: Who Murdered the McStay Family?," Tuesday night, 9:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

You know, leading one of the largest cities in North America is serious business, but it is a little hard to take a man like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford seriously these days. But today Mayor Ford is returning to work, in fact. He's supposed to be coming back this afternoon after a two-month leave of absence. The leave, of course, was so that he could go to rehab to get a handle on all those drunken episodes and the allegations of using crack cocaine.

There was that, but then there was also that laundry list of other things, other allegations of un-mayor like behavior. And I will just list a few of them for you -- smoking marijuana, popping OxyContin, snorting cocaine, chugging vodka while driving, smoking pot with prostitutes - yes, I just said smoking pot with prostitutes -- physically attacking staffers, sexually harassing staffers, mocking a cab driver, using staff for personal errands. He's giving a news conference at 3:30 this afternoon. Here's my prediction. That will be live across the country of Canada and it may just be live across the United States as well.

Thanks you, everyone, for watching. "Wolf" starts right now.