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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD
Arthur to Reach North Carolina; Dad Due in Court; Judge Decides Toddler Hot-Car Death Charges; What Life Is Like Today for Casey Anthony
Aired July 3, 2014 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining John and I. Be safe. Heed the warnings. Keep with CNN to watch storm coverage. It continues now with "Legal View" with Ashleigh Banfield.
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Fireworks postponed, flights delayed, picnics canceled. Hurricane Arthur is quashing Fourth of July plans right up and down the East Coast of the United States. But the worst threat may be the deadly rip currents that are swirling just under the surface of the waves.
Also today, a father, now a murder suspect, is due back in court. His toddler died, strapped in an SUV in the sweltering Georgia heat. But is the case strong enough to keep this suburban dad behind bars?
And it's been three years since the mother of little Caylee Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her own toddler. This hour on CNN, brand new exclusive photos of what Casey Anthony looks like now. Also, some details of her life since that mind-blowing verdict.
Hello, everyone, I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Thursday, July the 3rd. And welcome to "Legal View."
Tonight is the night. That's what we like to say, right? Except it's the night Hurricane Arthur is due to slam into or whip very close to North Carolina's southeastern coast. And it is expected to grow into a category two storm. The greatest threat may be the rip currents in the water. Rapid waves so powerful they can sweep you up with a mighty force. You do not want to mess with this force, folks. That dream beach getaway that so many people so desperately needed and planned for and paid big money for, now squashed by the first named hurricane of the Atlantic season.
And check out the gloomy clouds, looking ominous already, at least for some people. Our CNN crew in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina took this photograph of the front coming in. It seems like a lot of people are staying out of the water, which is exactly what they should be doing. And driving home that message, the governor put it like this -- "don't put your stupid hat on." "Don't put your stupid hat on." Don't go for the dip. Don't risk your life. It is not even remotely worth it.
I want to bring in meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN Severe Weather Center in Atlanta, and Alina Machado in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, who has been braving the elements.
Chad, first to you. Last I heard, we might be actually broaching cat two strength. Are we there yet?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Not yet. But this is worst case scenario that this storm did not turn out into the ocean. It did not make the right turn like most storms do here. It is still driving due north right toward Wilmington. And it's also getting stronger. Forecasts from the Hurricane Center to 105 miles per hour. And that is going to skirt -- those winds will skirt right along that shoreline and devour the shore. It will scour the shoreline from Surf City to Morehead City and right on into Cape Hatteras. This entire area.
I'm a little bit surprised now that the areas here southeast of Surf City don't have hurricane warnings on them just yet because this storm now is really gaining strength. It's breathing by itself. It's sucking air in at the surface and blowing it out at the top. Those are the cirrus clouds at the top. That's a hurricane breathing and getting stronger.
There's the eye of the storm right now moving just to the north of north Myrtle Beach, I believe, and then making the swing up toward Wilmington. You have to understand that these waves are going to be coming in for hours and hours. And if the eye wall does get to 100, to 105, as forecast, that eye wall is going to be right here scouring that southeastern coast of North Carolina. It's going to be a very long night for the people there. This is as bad as we have seen all week because it was forecast to be 85, 90. Now, at over 100 miles per hour, that does a lot more damage, Ashleigh.
BANFIELD: Well, I've been watching Alina trying to stand up straight and she's doing OK right now. I don't know if you can hear me very well, but maybe, Alina, you could just let me know what you're seeing there in terms of the water conditions, the wind conditions and whether we're starting to see that really heavy storm surge that causes those deadly rip currents that Chad always warns about.
ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ashleigh, this is pretty much what we've been seeing for most of the morning, but there have been periods of very heavy rain and very strong winds. We do see another rain band approaching, by the way, from the north and it's going to be strong to the point where the lifeguards at these lifeguard stations that they've been stationed throughout the coast, they've been pulled for a few minutes until this rain band passes because there's concerns that the winds will be so strong that they'll topple the guard stands.
Right now, you can see that it is raining. There is some wind. Most of the people are staying out of the water, which is exactly what officials here are asking people to do. We have seen some surfers, an occasional swimmer or two actually in the water, but for the most part here in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, people are heading the warnings, paying attention and not getting in the water.
BANFIELD: And are there those red flags posted all over the beach? I was surprised to hear that the lifeguards are even out at all, let alone being taken down because of the danger for their stands. What kind of warnings are people getting if they haven't been watching the news?
MACHADO: Well, you know, the lifeguards are out because the beaches aren't technically closed, at least not here in Wrightsville Beach. But there are red flags up. You can't see them right now because they pulled them down because of that rain band that we're expecting to hit us in just a few minutes. But, yes, I mean, there are warnings out here.
The rip currents that you guys have been talking about, that's a real concern here in Wrightsville Beach and it's what authorities here are telling people to pay attention to and that's the reason why they don't want anybody in the water. So we're hoping that things will stay the way that we see them, that people will keep listening to officials here and stay out of this water as Arthur makes his way through.
BANFIELD: I just find that shocking that the beach isn't closed and we've got something approaching a cat two that's headed to shore. All right, Alina Machado, keep us posted. Chad Myers, with your eye on that storm, let us know as well when there are changes. Thank you to both of you.
Right now, a father charged with murder after leaving his son in a hot SUV is preparing to appear that a Georgia courtroom and the spotlight is going to be on him. At the heart of this case, did Justin Ross Harris leave that little boy in the vehicle in a terrible accident or was it something else? Something called murder? We're going go to the courthouse live, get you up to speed coming up.
And also ahead, remembering the Casey Anthony case. Three years ago this week, the Florida mother was found not guilty of murdering her baby daughter Caylee. We have an exclusive look at what Casey's life has become today.
BANFIELD: The father who left his 22-month-old son in an SUV all day in the hot Georgia weather is set to appear in court today for a critical pre-trial hearing. This afternoon, prosecutors are expected to try to convince a magistrate that Justin Ross Harris committed a crime when he left his child to die in his car. Harris has been charged with felony murder and child cruelty. He's pleaded not guilty. He said this was all a tragic accident. And this is a real tough one to sort out. CNN's Martin Savidge is reporting on all of the questions that are still surrounding the tragic death of little Cooper Harris.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The question a father cried in this parking lot weeks ago is just as relevant today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He just screamed, "what have I done" loudly.
SAVIDGE: Thirty-three-year-old Justin Ross Harris says after taking his son to breakfast the morning of June 18th, he forgot to drop off 22-month-old Cooper at day care, leaving him strapped in his car seat in an office parking lot in 90 plus degree heat for close to seven hours, discovering the mistake shortly after leaving work that afternoon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopped out of the driver's seat, opened the back door, pulled his child out, laid him on the concrete, tried to resuscitate him.
SAVIDGE: Cooper was dead. And within hours, his father charged with murder and child cruelty, held without bond.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He'll be entering a plea of not guilty at this time.
SAVIDGE: Public outcry against authorities was swift. An online petition demanded the charges be dropped saying they only added to the family's heart break over a terrible accident. And there was this anonymous YouTube ad slamming the case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The justice system has become the criminal and is robbing Ross of his right to grieve with his wife and family.
SAVIDGE: The chief of Cobb County Police responded with a rare public letter saying, "the chain of events that occurred in this case does not point towards simple negligence." Then, in a warrant, authorities said during questioning, Harris admitted to recently researching online child deaths inside vehicles and what temperature it needs to be for that to occur. And the second stunner -- the child's mother, Leanna Harris, according to investigators, made similar statements regarding researching in car deaths and how it occurs. Harris says he's not guilty of the charges but the news gave supporters -- even some longtime family friends -- doubts.
CAROL BROWN, HARRIS FAMILY FRIEND: I mean, he could have gone to his car and not seen the little boy if the boy was sleeping or - you know, it could have. I mean he could have been distracted. So -- but I do have questions about it.
SAVIDGE: Then came Cooper's funeral, his mother remembering not only the young boy but speaking out defending her husband saying, quote, "Ross is and was and will be if we have more children a wonderful father." Adding to the drama, Cooper's father himself calling tearfully from jail.
With only suspicions and police claims of Internet searches to go by, many outside the investigation struggle to understand if Cooper's death was accidental or intentional. Hoping to find the true meaning of a father's anguished question -- what have I done?
BANFIELD: And Martin Savidge joins me live outside the courthouse in Cobb County, Georgia, along with CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin and former Atlanta prosecutor, who has worked with the judge and the attorneys who are currently working on this case, Philip Holloway. He's with us on the right-hand side of your screen.
So this is the county where Justin Harris is due to appear for his hearing today. Martin, I want to start with you. What exactly can we expect since this has now become a case that is under the microscope of the nation?
SAVIDGE: Well, as a number of people have put me already today, expect anything. I mean there really is a sense that something dramatic could be either revealed or occur inside of this courtroom today. The reason it's sort of magnified is the fact that so little is really known or has been said. And what I mean by that is that the prosecution has kept most of their information very close to their vest and all of what we have learned has primarily come from the search warrants. Even the defense has said so little and told family members and everyone connected to the family not to speak. So the only thing we ever really got on the family was from the eulogy of the mother. So little is known and so much is expected to be heard inside.
BANFIELD: Is there ever.
Philip Holloway, you know these players. Everyone who watches the details in this case, everyone seems flummoxed that there is only this notion of Internet searches. Doesn't there have to be significantly more evidence even to clear the probable cause hurdle?
PHILIP HOLLOWAY, FORMER ATLANTA PROSECUTOR: That's exactly right, Ashleigh. What we're going to see in this courthouse right behind me in just a little while is the first glimpse of what the prosecutor's case might look like. They're going to show some of their cards. They're going to show enough of their cards to meet the burden of proof of probable cause that the defendant probably committed this crime. They're not going to show all of their cards, however. The scope of the hearing is going to be limited in nature. But this is the first opportunity that the defense will have to cross-examine witnesses and to learn how to begin to craft their defense.
BANFIELD: Well, let me bring in Sunny Hostin on this question. And before I do that, I want to highlight something that Sunny has been saying often in the coverage of this case because I truly believe every time you say what you're about to say, you will save lives.
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you.
BANFIELD: You will save the lives of roughly 40 babies who die per year from forgetful parents who leave them in the car.
BANFIELD: You did something similar. Thank God it didn't last -- it didn't end up in --
HOSTIN: Yes, I left my little girl in the car and I wrote an op-ed opinion and I will tell you, I've been vilified on the Internet. I've had people say that I should be put in jail. The reason that I admitted to doing it is because I wanted to save lives, because I wanted people to know that I, too, did it, and it could happen to anyone. And what I --
BANFIELD: You came up with something. You came up with the most brilliant solution.
HOSTIN: Yes, thank you.
BANFIELD: And I don't care if you're an auto manufacturer out there, there is nothing technical that you can create that beats what you do or what you did.
HOSTIN: What I do - or what I did for about five years, I drove without my shoes. I would approach my car, take my shoes off, put them the backseat with my daughter and with my son right between their car seats. I'd get back into the car and drive to where we were going. And that is because, Ashleigh, you're never going to walk into whatever store or your place of employment in your bare feet, right?
And so I assured myself -- it was insurance -- that I would never, ever leave my babies in the car alone. And I would advise everyone just do it. It's the simplest thing in the world. Yes, you're driving without your shoes on and people are going to look at you like you're a little crazy, but it can save lives.
BANFIELD: It will. It will, because you cannot get out of the car without getting into the backseat and realizing that the children are there, too.
HOSTIN: I need my shoes.
BANFIELD: Thank you for doing that, and thank you for sharing that.
Now I need your other hat. That was mother, and now you're a former prosecutor. Those prosecutors better have something else than just a few Internet searches, which, by the way, hundreds of thousands of people have probably searched that very topic.
BANFIELD: They probably didn't have the convergence of something happening, but that in itself, you can't tell me that's enough for probable cause.
HOSTIN: I don't think it's enough, but I will tell you the probable- cause threshold is pretty, pretty low. It's like he probably committed a crime.
And so since it's so low, most prosecutors don't put that much on. I never put that much on. I would put my lead investigator on, have that person sort of go over the elements, go over a little bit of the investigation and that was generally enough.
I suspect, though, Ashleigh, with all of the coverage, with all of the questions about this case I think we're going see a little bit more, perhaps not that much more, but we're going to see a little bit more. BANFIELD: It's not the ham sandwich that we often think about in an
indictment, though. You do have to have something. This is huge. This is a father who could be grieving over the loss , horrific loss. He will have a life sentence on that alone. Or this is a murderer and you better be clear on that.
HOSTIN: Although, I'll tell you I suspect probable cause will be found even on scant evidence. It's rarely not found in these hearings.
BANFIELD: It's such a difficult case. I wish I had more time, but certainly we're going to do wall-to-wall coverage on this as that probable cause hearing gets under way.
Philip Holloway, thank you so much. Sunny Hostin, thank you. And, as always, Martin Savidge doing the job for us, live. He'll be live at that courthouse covering this case for us as well. Three years ago this week, a Florida mother was found not guilty of a very large crime, that mother, Casey Anthony, accused and then acquitted in the death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee.
Just ahead, CNN has new and exclusive photographs of what Casey looks like now and what her life has become.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J. CHENEY MASON, ANTHONY'S CRIMINAL ATTORNEY: She hasn't been freed from her incarceration yet, because she can't go out. She can't do anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BANFIELD: This Saturday marks three years since the verdict that stunned America, Casey Anthony found not guilty of murdering her 2- year-old daughter Caylee.
A lot of people still can't wrap their minds around what happened to that beautiful little girl, exposed in court, Anthony's web of lies, the young mother shown partying at a time she claims she knew her daughter was dead, and the state's compelling case that she intended to kill the toddler, but beyond the outrage is the tragic loss of that little girl.
July also marks the sixth anniversary of the day Caylee was first reported missing. If Caylee were alive today, she would be 8-years- old. She'd be enjoying her summer break from school and likely preparing to enter the fourth grade.
Now, in a CNN exclusive, we're learning what life has been like for Casey Anthony ever since that acquittal. We also have some recent photographs to show you that you won't see anywhere else.
CNN's Jean Casarez sat down with Anthony's attorney, Cheney Mason, to talk about the case and his relationship with his infamous client.
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: July 2011, hundreds gather outside the courthouse in Orlando, Florida, to wait for a verdict in what many say was the death-penalty trial of the century, the case against Casey Anthony.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As to the charge of first-degree murder, verdict as to count one, we, the jury, find defendant not guilty.
CASAREZ: The case ended as dramatically as it started, with a call to 911 for from a panicked grandmother.
CINDY ANTHONY, CAYLEE ANTHONY'S GRANDMOTHER (via telephone): There's something wrong. I found my daughter's car today, and it smells like there's been a dead body in the damn car.
MASON: We had a missing child who was absolutely adorable and a beautiful young woman, mother, 22 years of age, and had the grandmother screaming that on the phone.
CASAREZ: Suspicion fell on Casey Anthony. Police believed her stories weren't adding up, her little girl Caylee taken by the nanny that no one could find and pictures like these suggesting that while her daughter was missing she was partying sparked public outrage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you kill Caylee?
CASAREZ: Cheney Mason, an experienced death penalty lawyer, was watching from the sidelines while Anthony's attorney, Jose Baez, was coming under scrutiny for his lack of experience. Baez asked for help, Mason decided to meet with Anthony.
MASON: They brought her into the room, and I'm sitting there looking at this child herself and saying this can't be.
CASAREZ: But it was. The state gave notice they were seeking the death penalty against Anthony for the premeditated murder of Caylee, whose skeletal remains were found close the family's home in Orlando, Florida, about five months after she went missing. Could she look you in the eye?
MASON: Oh, yes.
CASAREZ: What was her demeanor?
MASON: She was afraid, unsure about really anything of what was going to happen, how it was going happen.
CASAREZ: Mason, in his new book, "Justice in America," describes for the first time calling Casey's parents, George and Cindy, to his office late on a Friday afternoon shortly before jury selection began. Mason had just received word that Casey's handwritten letters describing sexual abuse by her father were about to be released publicly.
MASON: We had them, one at a time, come into my personal office and made the announcement and told them, you know, Monday is going to be a bad day for you, George. And I felt, man to man, I ought to tell you in advance.
CASAREZ: What was his reaction?
MASON: Basically none. He looked at me and kind of turned sideways a little bit and clapped his hands down on his thighs and let out a big sigh. Didn't say anything.
CASAREZ: George Anthony never admitted to Mason any inappropriate conduct with Casey.
MASON: Then called mom in, Cindy, and told her, and she immediately welled up with tears and emotion and cried and was very upset.
CASAREZ: Once a jury was selected, this death-penalty trial began, and Jose Baez turned the case on its head by announcing this bombshell in his opening statement.
JOSE BAEZ, CASEY ANTHONY'S ATTORNEY: And it all began when Casey was 8-years-old, and her father came into her room and began to touch her inappropriately.
MASON: I didn't know that he was going to say that. I was concerned about that, because I knew that we didn't have the ability to prove that unless George got on the stand and confessed.
CASAREZ: Prosecutors made George Anthony their first witness.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever sexually molested your daughter Casey Anthony?
GEORGE ANTHONY, CAYLEE ANTHONY'S GRANDFATHER: No, sir.
CASAREZ: Testimony in the case continued for weeks as witness after witness and forensic experts from around the country took the stand in this circumstantial case. While the trial was being hotly contested in and out of the courtroom, secret plea discussions that would have spared Anthony's life were beginning. It was Anthony who shut them down.
MASON: Casey wouldn't have any part of it. She got very angry about -- that she didn't want to talk about it. She didn't want to hear it.
CASAREZ: So the trial went on, and then that verdict heard around the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror number 12, were these your true and correct verdicts?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
CASAREZ: Anthony was free. But the hatred against her was stronger than ever. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES: Caylee! Caylee!
CASAREZ: The public's opinion of Casey Anthony hasn't changed much. Cheney and his wife Shirley have remained close to Anthony. They share these pictures exclusively with CNN.
MASON: She does not have any blood family anymore. She has no contact with them.
CASAREZ: No contact with her mother?
MASON: I think she's had a few phone conversations with her over the years, but that's it. No contact.
CASAREZ: Her father?
CASAREZ: Her brother.
MASON: None. Not likely to ever be. She hasn't been freed from her incarceration yet, because she can't go out. She can't do anything.
SHIRLEY MASON, WIFE OF J. CHENEY MASOIN: I know that she has very strong feelings about what has happened to her. I also know she's very saddened by her loss and she never will forget her daughter Caylee, ever.
CASAREZ: Jean Casarez, CNN, New York.
BANFIELD: Our thanks to Jean Casarez for that interview.
The man that you saw in that piece, the defense attorney in the case, Cheney Mason, may be arguably one of the closest people to Casey Anthony ever since this trial wrapped up, and, in fact, after the break, he's going to speak to us a little bit more about Casey's future and Casey's present.
She lives in an undisclosed location right now in Florida. Some of her former attorneys have been doing what they can to help her, and I'm sure you're wondering, but she denied our request for an interview.
So coming up next, the next best thing, Cheney Mason will continue to tell us a little bit more detail about the life of Casey Anthony now and going forward.