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Congressional Support for Strikes Against ISIS; Second American Jihadist Killed in Syria; American Freed From Captivity in Syria Speaks; Mother Pleads With ISIS to Release Her Son; Life and Death Decisions; Father Not Guilty in Murder of Drunk Driver; Nine-Year-Old Girl Accidentally Kills Gun Instructor; Addict's Journey From Painkillers to Heroin

Aired August 27, 2014 - 21:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the president has been meeting with his top officials all week and more of that is expected, but White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he did not have a timeframe for a decision. And when I pressed Earnest earlier today on whether the president wanted to defeat ISIS, he said "Of course" and the president's top advisers have said, "ISIS really can't be beaten without dealing with the group in Syria." So, that's a good indication of what's to come.

Still, the president has pulled back from the edge of taking military action before it's not out of the question here.


COOPER: He also didn't seek congressional authorization for air strikes in Iraq. Is there any new information about what he plans to do regarding congressional approval if there are strikes in Syria?

ACOSTA: Yeah, a little bit new guidance from the administration tonight, Anderson. That is an open question.

The senior administration official said the White House is consulting with Congress on ISIS and Iraq and Syria, but because the president has not yet made a decision on Syria, this official said it's too early to say whether he will seek authorization from Congress.

Top White House aides do say the president has the authority to conduct military action in Iraq as the president and the administration have provided where they're called war powers letters or reports to the Congress that gives him 60 days to direct military action before Congress would have to vote to continue the mission.

The president could theoretically launch air strikes against Syria and provide another war powers letter to Congress, but I talked to a key Democratic congressman this evening, Adam Schiff, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. He said that may not work legally. Schiff and others in the president's party want Mr. Obama to go to Congress and seek authorization if he goes into Syria. But, Anderson, the White House is not making a commitment to do that at this point.

COOPER: All right. Jim, I appreciate the update.

Now, when it comes to congressional support for possible action against ISIS, President Obama already has someone in his corner that may come as a surprise.

Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash joins us live with more on what the president can expect from lawmakers.

So, if the president were to go to Congress, where do supports stand?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really mixed. There seems to be some robust support for the president to be much more aggressive with military air strikes to confront ISIS and to give him the power that he needs if he thinks he needs it from Congress, but Democrats are really split. And I think the answer to whether or not the president will come to Congress for support and for authorization is whether or not the Democrats in Congress want him to do it, whether he can get the votes. And maybe even more importantly, Anderson, whether or not Democrats -- the House are all up for reelection and the Senate, you have the Democrats fighting to keep control of the Senate and this is going to be potentially a very tough political vote for them.

So, we are hearing -- my reporting that of our producer Ted Barrett, that there's a lot of reluctance from Democrats on Capitol Hill to have to take this vote just before the election.

COOPER: And you're in Kentucky obviously coming to tight Senate race there. Republican leader Mitch McConnell seeking reelection, he had something surprising to say to you or perhaps surprising about congressional authorization for air strikes.

BASH: Well, first of all, what was surprising is that he said that he supports what the president is doing right now. This is a man who at every turn slams the president in his reelection bid here on everything. But this is one area where he says he things that the president is doing the right thing with air strikes. And as you've said, if the president were to come to Congress that he would very likely support authorizing additional force.

But, again, this is not necessarily all that popular even here in Kentucky and I asked them whether that could be risky for him in his reelection bid.


BASH: You're here in a tough race. A lot of your colleagues are as well. Is there any trepidation about having a politically explosive debate on authorizing use of force right before on election?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY: Look, I think the security of the nation comes first. I believe and others believe that ISIS can hit us here at home and that really trumps all of the considerations and I'm anxious here that the president hasn't mind and I think he's very likely to get support.


BASH: And, Anderson, you might be looking at me here in Kentucky and saying, wait a minute. It's probably not that far-fetched that this conservative state would support a hawkish policy towards ISIS, but this not 2001, this is not 2003, this is a different era. This is after two very long wars and even clearly Republican voters who I saw Mitch McConnell with today were asking very tough questions about whether ISIS really is that kind of threat...

COOPER: Right.

BASH: ... here in the homeland.

COOPER: Yeah, good questions to ask, Dana. Thanks.

There's also breaking news tonight and the story where they're not one but two American Jihadist died in Syria the recent days fighting for ISIS. The claim was coming from an anti-ISIS opposition group in Syria. They say that in addition to this man, Douglas McArthur McCain that we reported on last night, a second American has been killed fighting for ISIS in recent days. They did not, however, name him or give out any other evidence of that death.

Pamela Brown joins me from San Diego where Douglas McArthur McCain went to school. How -- Do we know how long law enforcement were keeping track about of McCain?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, law enforcement officials say authorities first became aware of Douglas McCain back in the early 2000s because of his association with someone that authorities were interested in at that time. But back then, there was nothing according to sources linking McCain to anything nefarious. But sources do tell me, Anderson, that over the years, McCain had several different associates that authorities were aware of including one person, a friend from Minneapolis, who actually traveled to Somalia and was killed there apparently by committing Jihad.

And authorities say in this case with McCain that they were aware he might be planning to travel over to Syria and of course he became increasingly concern once they learned after the fact that he had traveled to Turkey, the gateway into Syria. They were able to leave some information from some of his associates in Minneapolis and that made him the subjective of scrutiny just in the past few months.

But, Anderson, important to remember here that you have to meet a certain threshold probable cause before you put an American on a file as to travel overseas. And the big concern with these finders (ph) is that Americans could perhaps travel to Europe, across borders, going to Turkey and then into Syria. In McCain's case, he was put on a special list that Americans believe to be linked to militant groups once he'd already traveled overseas.

COOPER: You're at the college where this guy Douglas McArthur McCain went to school, any reaction from people there on the news that he died fighting for ISIS? BROWN: Well, the reaction is really just shock, Anderson. We have spoken to people who say they knew Douglas McCain. He studied here at San Diego City College and studied there that we learned. And he also -- Last year, we learned -- worked with a company that helped people with disabilities and in fact my colleague Dan Simon interviewed one of those people, Anderson, and this person says that from his knowledge that McCain was a terrific guy. That was a direct quote from this person that he knew he was religious that sometimes McCain would pray inside his apartment. But that he never expressed any extremist views.

And his family is outgoing at the same time but the sentiment saying that they -- that he never indicated that he was sympathized with ISIS until recently they saw some of his Facebook posts and social media post. But by all accounts, they're very surprised by the fact that he was allegedly aligned with ISIS.


COOPER: All right. Pamela, I appreciate the reporting. Thanks.

A quick reminder, make sure you set your DVR. You can always watch 360 whenever you want.

Just ahead, the best possible ending for one American journalist held captive in Syria for nearly two years. Peter Theo Curtis, he's back home tonight with his mom, the rest of his family. What he said when faced cameras for the firs time today.

Plus, a mom's desperate plea to ISIS to free her son still being held the journalist Steven Sotloff.


COOPER: In the span of just about a week, several American families have received life changing news about their loved ones who were ceased by terror groups in Syria.

Tonight, Journalist Peter Theo Curtis said the reporter is back at home in Massachusetts. He's nearly two-year ordeal finally over. Captured and held by al-Nusra Front, he was freed on Sunday.

Today, he spoke publicly for the first time since that release.


PETER THEO CURTIS, FREED AMERICAN JOURNALIST: In the days following my release on Sunday, I have learned bit by bit that there had been literally hundreds of people brave, determined, and big-hearted people all over the world working for my release. They've been working for two years on this.

I had no idea. When I was in prison, I had no idea that so much effort was being expended on my behalf. And now, having found out, I am just overwhelmed with emotion. I'm also overwhelmed by one other thing and that is that total strangers have been coming up to me and saying, "Hey, we're just glad you're home. Welcome home. Glad you're back. Glad you're safe. Great to see you."

So, I suddenly remember how good the American people are and what kindness they have in their hearts. And to all those people, I say a huge thank you from my heart, from the bottom of my heart.


COOPER: And Curtis told reporters he'd have more to say later, but right now he needs to focus on reuniting with his family. Understandably.

The family Steven Sotloff is praying that they, too will see their son again. He is being held by ISIS, the terror group that beheaded journalist James Foley and it's about to kill Sotloff, also a journalist.

Today, Sotloff's mom made a plea asking ISIS to spare her son's life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHIRLEY SOTLOFF, MOTHER OF STEVEN SOTLOFF: I'm sending this message to you, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Quraishi al-Hussaini, the caliph of the Islamic State. I am Shirley Sotloff. My son Steven is in your hands. Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hand of tyrants.

Steven is a loyal and generous son, brother and grandson. He's an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak. We have not seen Steven for over a year and we miss him very much. We want to see him home safe and sound and to hug him.

Since Steven's capture, I've learned a lot about Islam. I've learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others. Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He is an innocent journalist. I've always learned that you, the caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you to please release my child. As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over.

I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, who protected People of the Book. I want what every mother wants, to live to see her children's children. I plead with you to grant me this.


COOPER: It's hard to imagine the horror of what she has been through.

Joining me now is Dan O'shea, Former Navy SEAL. He was the coordinator of the Hostage Working Group in Iraq from 2004 to 2006. He's also the co-founder of GROM Technologies, a firm that specializes and recovering kidnapping victims.

Dan, I mean, this plea from Steven Sotloff's mom, how much does a video like this help them, does it?

DAN O'SHEA, CO-FOUNDER, GROM TECHNOLOGIES: Well, it's -- I mean, it's gut-wrenching to watch that. We watched that many times in Iraq.

Jill Carroll's family did the same and ultimately it ended up getting Jill back. But unfortunately, Jill was not held by al-Qaeda. And in this case, al-Qaeda (inaudible) -- the news we find is affiliated with al-Qaeda. They just a released a hostage and there's a whole background of story than that but ISIS has already proven they're willing to behead anyone that Iraqi Christians, Shia, any -- Yazidis.

So, it just -- We've got a new group that's taking it to the new level. So, a plea coming from the family -- I mean, she had all the right chords to try and stress the value of family and his personality and him being an honorable person, but at the end of the day it probably will fall in at the ears, that's my personal perspective and opinion.

COOPER: And right now -- I mean, is there an outside actor, a government that has influenced on a groups like ISIS? I mean, as you said al-Nusra Front -- I mean, many believe Qatar was behind them from the get-go and has given them financial support whether or not there was an actual deal struck for Theo Curtis which probably seems likely on some level. But is there a similar outside actor that has an influence on ISIS?

O'SHEA: Well, the influence that groups had in the past where the gold states who are financing terrorism, the al-Qaeda groups and really because they were financing with money.

But as we know, ISIS is flushed with cash. They scored -- they took over the Bank of Mosul, half a billion dollars purportedly and now they're getting $3 million a day with oil revenues. Some number in that neighborhood.

So, ISIS does need money. And, you know, the gold states are probably terrified of ISIS because ISIS, trust me, they -- when they establish their caliphate, they intend to expand it. So, it would be hardest to know if any nation state from Qatar to Saudi to UAE to any of those nations states, if they have any influence on ISIS as a whole they probably have reason to fear them just as the west does.

COOPER: In general, I mean, everything I've always been told about kidnappings is it's usually the strategy to try to decrease the value of the hostage is often not, you know, news companies don't report often out of, you know, respect and for that very same reason to not bolster the idea that this is a valuable hostage. It's a difficult thing when ISIS has made it public, for instance, that they're holding Steven Sotloff.

Is that still the recommended way to go about it to try to decrease the value?

O'SHEA: Well, absolutely, that's what you try to do but the reality is, you know, the fact that U.S. policy presume that we don't negotiate with terrorists. It's that this is how terrorist groups negotiate with us.

So, you just had Sotloff's mother make an emotion plea to these terrorists and that's a plea that is going to weigh on everyone. It's going to -- It's having that impact, it's causing people to call up and why we should not hold the U.S. government responsible for her son. And a lot of people would feel that way. So, this is how the game is played with these guys. It's back and forth.

And it's gut-wrenching but, you know, their hand was forced. The Sotloff's family's hand was forced when her son appeared in that video. So, he -- By keeping it quite an issue with the right track to train to take but now that her son's life is really, you know, in the hands of this leader right now, making that emotional plea, I don't think it will lead them a positive result but at this point you got to go after every straw you can grasp. So, the family was probably right making that plea to try and get some kind of international demand to focus on this -- on her son's case in particular.

COOPER: Did you find when you're working in Iraq that every group had some sort of a price financial or otherwise at which that they would make a deal? Or were there some groups who simply had ideological motivation and or propaganda motivation and they were going to go ahead and publicly execute that captive no matter what?

O'SHEA: Yes, they were -- I mean, I'm not sure in Iraq -- there were over 89 kidnapping groups of which they feel into four quadrants. There was the Shia Mahdi militia groups, they were the former regime elements that were Sunni, and then there were obviously a hard-core al-Qaeda groups that were ideologically driven and then there were just random criminals. So, everyday different -- every case was usually a different act or plain but the challenge here is that al- Qaeda was in the beheading game early on. But they received such worldwide condemnation that even the leadership, that's all we hear, we send our messages (inaudible) said, "Knock this off. This beheading is not helping them."

They killed (inaudible) son, an aid worker -- British aid worker -- Irish aid worker who'd been in Iraq for 20 years helping the poor and it was -- there was such an outpouring of disgust within the Arab world that even Al-Qaeda saw (inaudible). But ISIS on this hand, they don't care and that's where they've taken it to the next level. They are really Al-Qaeda 2.0 and that's why these pleas from the family, international nation state of plea and have influence, it's not probably working. And one caveat here to bring up -- I just saw an article, 15 percent of France supports ISIS and if you to go to the 18 to 24 year bracket it's up to 28 percent.

COOPER: Unbelievable.

O'SHEA: Now these reports probably the -- so, that's the problem. They're winning IO (ph) perception battle.

COOPER: Right.

O'SHEA: So, that's scary. That's -- This is again, a new evolution to the threat. And ISIS is really a much bigger, broader threat because they've established land-based on their territory. Al-Qaeda never did this...

COOPER: Right.

O'SHEA: ... beyond cities like Fallujah but -- so, ISIS is a new and improved threat and needs to be taken very seriously.

COOPER: Dan O'shea, I appreciate you being on with us again. Thanks.

For more in the story and others you go to

Coming up, more than two weeks later, there are a lot of questions about Michael Brown's killing including whether officer Darren Wilson acted correctly when he open fire. All the forensic evidence, we haven't seen really any forensic evidence. But tonight, we're going to give you an up close look at police confrontations and how a split- second decision can mean the difference between life and death and how officers are actually trained on this.


COOPER: What's Police Officer Darren Wilson justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown? The unarmed 18-year-old was laid to rest this week. His families demand a justice. But much remains in dispute about the shooting of course and none of the forensic evidence has been released. Several investigations are underway, grand juries, hearing testimony. Brown's death spark days of protest as you know and in the middle of it, Ferguson's police chief said they were already trying to take steps to try to repair their procedures and their image.


CHIEF THOMAS JACKSON, FERGUSON POLICE: It's our first priority to address it, to fix what's wrong, we're working very closely now with the Department of Justice community relation's office and they're making recommendations for us to -- for training and things to work and get involve with the community that is at odds with us now and to rebuild that trust and that relationship.


COOPER: Well, there are special programs for police officers.

I thank Gary Tuchman who takes us inside a one of a kind lab where the soul focus is research on police confrontations like the one between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown that quickly can spiral out of control. Here is Gary's report.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN REPORTER: The Spokane Washington police officer is getting wired so his brain and body functions can be monitored as it gets ready to make life or death decisions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spokane police.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police department. Hey. Hey. Talk to me. Talk to me. Wait, let go of her.

TUCHMAN: Decisions in a most unique laboratory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing? Hey, let me...

TUCHMAN: Corporal Jordan Ferguson is one of many police officers, military members, and civilians who have volunteered time in this violence confrontation lab, complete with frightening with realistic actors on a huge virtual reality screen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You receive a call from a person who says, a convenient store is being robbed, do you understand it?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, back up, back up, back up. Put your hands up. Put your hands up. Drop the knife right now. Drop it.

TUCHMAN: While the volunteers make split second decisions, brain waves and heart rates are checked. It's all part of an ambitious research project at Washington State University partly funded by the Defense Department with a goal of improving justice in America. Professor Bryan Vila is the man in charge.

PROF. BRYAN VILA, WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY: We don't know yet. Still a hundred and some years since Teddy Roosevelt had the first police firearms training in New York. We still don't know whether there's a connection between the training. We get police officers and their performance in a combat situation.

TUCHMAN: Sergeant Terry Preuninger was told he has to pullover a stolen car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, sir. Can I see your driver's license or vehicle registration and your vehicle insurance?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, you want my driver's license?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't own any driver's license.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, you guys. I hate you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God you...

TUCHMAN: The researchers say these volunteers' hearts are generally racing because it's also realistic.


TUCHMAN: Many findings from the study will be released by the end of the year, but some have already been published. The research is declaring that volunteers of all races often view African-American suspects as more threatening than white suspects. But that they may have subconsciously overcompensated because of that bias.

VILA: The surprise was that they are more restrained in shooting African-Americans than there were whites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police officer. Raise your hands. You at the counter, let me see your hands. Don't move. Stop. Stop.

TUCHMAN: The officer never knew that the man had a gun but did not shoot.

SGT. TERRY PREUNINGER, SPOKANE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Sometimes, we don't know if we made the right decision or the wrong decision. You know, we make a decision and then we live with it for the rest of our lives.

TUCHMAN: Now, these are also used as volunteers. So, with the cops guiding me, I pull over a suspicious car with a broken taillight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pull over, sir. Your taillight's broken. You know what? Right. Sir, sir, take your hands out of your pockets, sir. Sir, sir, take your hands out of your pockets. Sir. Sir, put your hands on the stairwell, sir. Sir, sir, you're not listening. Hands on -- OK. Thank you. Yeah, thank God, it looked like he was getting a gun out, so I took the gun out and stood point out at him, a proper way to deal with it.

TUCHMAN: Exactly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, stop, stop.

TUCHMAN: There is a lot more to learn, as these researchers try to make life safer for citizens and for the cops who served them.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Spokane, Washington.


COOPER: I want to dig deeper on police confrontations. Joining me now are Neil Bruntrager, General Council of the St. Louis Police Officer Association and Phillip Atiba Goff, Assistant Professor of Social Psychology at UCLA.

Philip, let me start with you. The fact that volunteers of all races often view the African-American suspects as more threatening than the white ones but were actually more restrained in shooting the African- Americans than they were the white suspects. What do you make of that? I mean, does that inline at all with your understanding of how things actually play out?

PROFESSOR PHILLIP ATIBA GOFF, UCLA ASSISTANT: Well, it can be and I think one of the really important things to understand is that the specific situation that the officer might be in, that's going to determine a whole heck of a lot about how their attitudes translate into behavior. It could be that if I see them as more of a threat, but I feel generally safe around me that I'm going to be more restrained. On the other hand, if I feel like there's a threat and I genuinely believe that my life is in danger, we might see it go the other direction and that's what we see in some of the laboratory research that we've seen with other police officers and other simulations.

COOPER: And Neil, in terms of a connection between the training that police officers get and their performance in a combat situation. You say it's important to understand the speed at which these incidents play out. I mean, even watching the video, you get a sense of just how quickly these things can occur.

NEIL BRUNTRAGER, ST. LOUIS POLICE OFFICER ASSOC.: Oh, that really is the important part of this. People just don't realize how quickly these things can transcend into lethal situations. So, what you hope is that because it does happen so quickly is that that training will kick in. But, you know, of course the down side of that is that -- because it happens so fast, the training does kick in, you respond according to the training and then you have to stand back and look at it. You may have made a bad decision. You may have made a good decision but you made a decision based upon what you saw and how you were trained. You hope it's the right one, Anderson, but it's not always the right one.

COOPER: And, Phillip, I've heard you said that you don't -- that we don't know whether the ratio of disparities that we see in law enforcement are from the actions of law enforcement or if they're picking up on bad things before contact with law enforcement. Can you explain that?

ATIBA GOFF: That's exactly right. So, we've been seeing a lot of stories recently on the disparity between the residents in Ferguson and the police department in terms of the demographics. The residents of Ferguson and their political representation, the residents of Ferguson and who gets pulled over for crimes, but we don't know if that disparity is because of what police officers are doing, the policies of police department or maybe it's discrimination, bias or something else in education, in housing, in healthcare, in employment. And so, we got to take a look at these police outcomes as something broader than just what the police do. It's not a racial problem with police it's a racial disparities issue that's as old as America itself.

COOPER: So, the problem can be larger than the local police force?

ATIBA GOFF: That's exactly right. And if we think of it as just -- it's just this one officer and this one individual who unfortunately ended up dead, at the end of it, the forensic evidence is going to be important. We need to be respectful of the family, because after all, their child has been taken off this earth. But the problem of race and policing or race in America is always bigger than just the one incident. And so when we get optic (ph) on it, we can also get amnesia act on it.

This happened number of years ago in L.A., it happened in Watts, it happened in Newark and if we forget those things then we do end up being doomed to repeat them.

COOPER: Neil, in terms of the level of force that police are allowed to use in responding to a situation allows for the fact that police officers are forced to make split second decisions, doesn't it?

BRUNTRAGER: Yeah, it does. And again, the standard, the legal standard, is you can act reasonably to prevent yourself from obviously being the victim of force and you can use that force which is necessary to protect you. And I will tell you that I think all of these studies in this sort of analysis is so very, very important. We have so many resources that we can now use to try and better understand what an officer is going to see, what an officer is going to feel. If we can implement that and we can teach and train an officer to be a safer officer everybody, everybody is served by that.

COOPER: And Phillip, though, in your research you found or you say that the vast majority of police officers do try to do the right thing.

ATIBA GOFF: That's absolutely right. The vast majority of any human being tries to do the right thing. And what we're talking about, unfortunately, is a small number of cases, a small number of the things that any individual officer does that have tragic and life ending consequences. That's why it's really important when you deal with any small number with well meeting people to be looking at the broadest possible picture. And one of the things that I hope comes out of this terrible tragedy is that we start taking the issues of racial law enforcement seriously by tracking not just the behavior of individual officers but seeing how often these kinds of tragedies happen in general.

We've had a tragedy in Ferguson, but we've got an embarrassment by the fact that we have no idea how often individuals are shot by police nationwide because the data are not tracked. We need a national database on that, plus a whole -- other host of factors. And the good news is law enforcement agrees and they want to create that database.

COOPER: Interesting.

BRUNTRAGER: Anderson, if I could throw out.

COOPER: Yeah. Yeah.

BRUNTRAGER: We are very careful in St. Louis to make sure that we do track this information. Now, the problem is, what do we do with it? So, we've got large compilations that aren't really being utilized to understand this. And in the last six months, oddly, there had been efforts by the St. Louis Police Department to really try and understand what goes on, again, to make it a better and a safer world that we all live in. And that data compilation is extremely important. I couldn't agree more with the professor.

COOPER: Neil Bruntrager, I appreciate it. Phillip Atiba Goff, thanks very much.

Up next, a verdict in the case that has no shortage of heartbreak to go around, a father accused of murdering the drunk driver who had just killed his two young sons. Let me tell you what the jury in Texas has decided.


COOPER: Welcome back.

This is the kind of case really that has no winners only lives, ended in life shattered. A jury in Texas today found a man not guilty in the murder of a drunk driver who had killed his sons. Local media report saying 2012, David Barajas and his two sons were pushing their truck down a road near their homes, south of Houston when a 20-year- old man, Jose Banda Jr., drunk driver, hit and killed the two boys who were age 11 and 12.

Prosecutors say the father then shot and killed the drunk driver. After being acquitted today, the father said he's still destroyed and missing his sons as always but a weight has been lifted.


DAVID BARAJAS, ACQUITTED OF MURDER: I'm happy. I'm happy. I can move forward with my life. I can proceed with things that I want to do in life with family and as a person.


COOPER: Joining me now live is Senior Legal Analyst Jeffery Toobin, he's a Former Federal Prosecutor and Legal Analyst Mark O'Mara, George Zimmerman's former attorney.

I mean, Jeff, obviously, this is just a horrific case all around. I think probably everybody at one point or another has thought in their life what if somebody killed the loved ones of mine, how would I act? Do you think that kind of things weighs on a jury?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You bet. It does. They're human beings and, you know, what the defense did in this case which I think was very clever was they didn't exactly say he had it coming, he deserved it. They gave the jury an opportunity to acquit but on the evidence that was before them. There was no eye witness. There was never a gun recovered. They sure didn't seem like there were any other suspects but the jury could say, "Well...

COOPER: Which is not enough not enough to say beyond a reasonable doubt?

TOOBIN: Yes. Even though, you know, that the, you know, human factor was a very big in a case like this.

COOPER: Mark, do you think that it could've just come down to the fact that there was reasonable doubt? Or I mean, did the police fail to produce a murder weapon, the residue on his hands, you know, turned out negative?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly wasn't part of jury nullification or a jury pardon. It just seems that way. But I look at it a little bit more concerning. I'm wondering if there wasn't somewhat of a confederacy of amnesia in a case like this, because somehow many witnesses who seemed to be very readily available to see what they may have seen came in and testify that they didn't see it. The two young boys who are there to testify, they didn't quite see a gun though they heard a gun shot from feet away. The other person who saw the man run to a house and come back and heard a gun shot right afterward says, but I can't tell you for sure it was the defendant, a gun residue test that doesn't show up anything.

I'm wondering if this may not have been a little bit more sinister and now it troubled me that this may have been played in a way to virtually assure an acquittal.

COOPER: So, I mean, that saying, it's interesting possibly the prosecution itself was part of that.

O'MARA: You know, if you look at it, the way the prosecutor presented the case I think they tried what they could. And, again, I know this sounds sort of conspiratorial but it just seems as though the witnesses who may otherwise have been a bit more specific in their presentation of evidence leading to the guilt of the defendant just never sort of struck home with that and that that left an opening for a jury acquittal.

COOPER: What about that Jeff? And the father said he never left the scene. There were two witnesses who said, you know, he'd left for three minutes or so which is theoretically long enough to go get a gun.

TOOBIN: And they found an empty holster in his house. I mean, it sure -- it seemed like there was a lot of circumstantial evidence. You know what I thought of in this case was in the 1988 presidential debates, remember Bernie Shaw of CNN, asked Michael Dukakis, "What would you do if your wife was murdered?" And it was a question about the death penalty.

COOPER: Yes, they sexually assault...

TOOBN: Right. I mean, it was just a horror. I mean, in a very, you know, visceral question and Dukakis sort of, you know, ignored the emotional aspect of the question. These cases have a lot of emotion to them. I mean, you know, think about it. The guy lost two kids right in front of him and, you know, to a drunk driver. But obviously, you know, we can't have a society where, you know, people go, you know...

COOPER: And at one point...

TOOBIN: ... and acting their own kind of vengeance.

COOPER: At one point, dash cam video was shown of the father administering CPR to one of the sons while the wife was crying out for help. Again, just in terms of the emotion of it it's overwhelming.

TOOBIN: It is. I, you know, would love to know if we could have an X-ray vision into the hearts of the jury, what they really saw -- what they really thought was going on here. We'll never be able to do that but I bet it was fairly complicated. COOPER: Mark, trials like this one where the emotional component is extraordinarily high, does that make it that much more difficult from a lawyer's perspective?

O'MARA: Well, I mean, it does because you have to acknowledge the emotional aspect of it without playing into it too much. It is a real delicate balance because you're there presenting evidence or defending against evidence, but if you're unaware, for example, in many of the murder cases, Zimmerman included, of the emotions that wrap around it and you then don't connect with the jury because they certainly feel the emotions of a case where there's a death or in this case three. And you have to be aware and sensitive to how you present to someone who's thinking that.

COOPER: Mark, it's great to have you on. Jeff, stick around because I want to ask you about this next story.

A nine-year-old girl with an UZI accidentally killed an instructor at a shooting range who was showing her how to use the gun. Will charges be files against anyone? That's next.


COOPER: Well, a nine-year-old girl from New Jersey accidentally killed her instructor at a shooting range, a man who was teaching her how to fire a submachine gun. Her parents were there with her at the shooting range in Arizona according to local sheriff's office. It's a range where kids as young as eight can shoot a weapon if they're with a parent or guardian.

Still leaving some gun advocates, they may be putting an UZI in the hands of a nine-year-old is questionable even if it is legal. Our senior of legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin joins me.

TOOBIN: Do you think...

COOPER: What do you -- I mean...

TOOBIN: Do you think, you know, putting a UZI in the hands of a nine- year-old is maybe a questionable decision?

COOPER: Well, I mean...

TOOBIN: It's insane. I mean, this thing is totally insane.

COOPER: It is legal.

TOOBIN: Well, that's the thing. I mean, you know, again, Mike Kinsley, my mentor in journalism, he likes to say, "You know, the scandal isn't what's illegal, the scandal is what's legal. It's what society chooses not to punish." In Arizona, it is legal as long as there are -- there's supervision and there -- the parents approve, the parents were present...

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: ... there was a skilled supervisor there.

Now, I think the parents to put it mildly made a error in judgment in allowing this girl to do this. But, I mean, how you could have a society that allows a nine-year-old to shoot an UZI is just unbelievable.

COOPER: I mean, under a federal law, no one under 18 can posses a weapon like this. But if it's -- if you're with a guardian, you can be instructed.

TOOBIN: Correct. And this was, you know, and the tragedy here is, you know, a lot of people in this country hunt with their parents. I mean, that's a big bonding experience for a lot of people. You know, that is something that, you know, people have done for generations. I don't think there's anything wrong with that but just an element of commonsense, an UZI? A semiautomatic weapon? I mean, just look -- I mean, just look at her in that photograph.

COOPER: Right. Again...

TOOBIN: She can't even hold that.

COOPER: ... it's very easy to lose control very quickly and, you know, finger on that trigger...

TOOBIN: That's a military weapon.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: I mean, military people have trouble with it...

COOPER: And apparently she lost control of it, the gun went up and she continued to fire and shot him in the head. No one's going to be brought up in charges, though, as far as we understand.

TOOBIN: As far as I'm aware, not only will it be no criminal charges, I don't even think there are going to be any civil liability.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: I mean, it's now being handled in Arizona as a workers compensation matter because he was injured on the job.

COOPER: So, the family of the man who was killed can't sue...

TOOBIN: You know, he was injured on the job, so he will be -- I mean, I don't think he could sue his employer because that was the customary way of instruction, you know, I don't think he can sue the nine-year- old girl's family. I just think...


TOOBIN: ... this is the system that's in place and it's heartbreaking.

COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much. Just ahead, the prescription pain killers, are they a gateway to street drugs particularly heroin? They're certainly were for grandmother in Colorado ended up a heroin addict after getting hooked on Oxycontin prescribed by her doctor. Her story and Dr. Drew weigh in next.


COOPER: Well, you probably heard a lot in the last few years about the rise of prescription drug abuse for one working mother in Colorado, the pain killer she was prescribed didn't just kill her pain, it led her straight down the path to heroin addiction. She started off with Oxycontin prescribed totally on the up and up and eventually turned to heroin because believe it or not when she was addicted heroin was actually the cheaper fix.

We're going to talk to Dr. Drew about just how common that is in a moment.

First, Ana Cabrera has one woman's story.


ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This park is where you'd pick up?

CYNTHIA SCUDO, RECOVERING ADDICT: This is it. It's one of them.

CABRERA: How often?

SCUDO: Probably twice a week.

CABRERA: Cynthia Scudo was an all American mom of eight with a deep dark secret.

Did you care who was around?

SCUDO: Nope. Never worried. I was thinking about one thing and that was heroin.

CABRERA: Hooked on heroin for nearly a decade.

SCUDO: In the beginning, it was to feel good. At the end it was black.

CABRERA: It started innocently enough she had pain in her head, scar tissue perhaps for multiple C-sections, but doctor prescribed Oxycontin. But in just two weeks, Scudo was addicted.

SCUDO: By the time I get to my second doctor, she said you're taking enough for three adult men.

CABRERA: Are doctors too quick to prescribe a painkiller?

DR. PATRICK FEHLING, ADDICTION SPECIALIST, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO: Some of them, definitely. CABRERA: Addiction specialist Dr. Patrick Fehling says what happened to Scudo isn't uncommon and neither is the jump from prescription meds to heroin.

FEHLING: They act on the exact same parts of the brain. They cause reinforcement. They cause euphoria.

CABRERA: But heroin is much cheaper. One Oxycontin can cost $80 on the street, $100 worth of heroin could last Scudo up to three days. Scudo crisscrosses Colorado to meet with drug dealers at parks, strip malls, sometimes with her grandchildren in the car.

SCUDO: So, this is a good place to pick up because we've got size of houses here, fences.

CABRERA: This mom and grand mom in her mid 40's at the time didn't shoot heroin like some addicts do, she smoked it.

SCUDO: And I would drive with my knee, hold the foil in one hand, a straw in my mouth, the lighter in the other and I would be driving down (inaudible) going 65 miles an hour just smoking heroin.

CABRERA: Driven by the drugs for nine years, Scudo thought she was destined to die a drug addict until a wake up call one day when she looked in the mirror.

SCUDO: I was a skeleton. I had this lovely green glow going so I knew my liver was shutting down. The skin was hanging -- literally hanging off my body and something about that moment when I saw myself triggered something in my head.

Oh, home away from home.

CABRERA: What's going through your mind?

SCUDO: Chaos, hope, for the first time in a long time.

CABRERA: That's what was happening when you first got here?

SCUDO: Yeah. I knew I couldn't do it by myself and I didn't know how to do it.

CABRERA: Scudo was in rehab for 33 days. This was her intake picture.

SCUDO: Hell. I threw up every 15 minutes. I would have to live in the shower with the water temperature of 120 degrees to burn the skin to not feel the pain in my back.

CABRERA: The physical withdraw was just the first hurdle. Scudo has worked through a 12-step recovery. It's been over three years. No relapses and Scudo, now 55, and a grandmother of 18 has a new appreciation for life.

SCUDO: The only way I'm going to stay clean and sober is to remember where I came from. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: She's lucky she made it out. Ana Cabrera reporting.

I spoke with addiction medicine specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky, host HLN's "Dr. Drew on Call"


COOPER: So, Drew the slide from addiction to pain killers like Oxycontin being addicted to heroin, I mean, it seems like it's a -- just a common place occurrence now.

DR. DREW PINSKY, ADDICTION MEDICINE SPECIALIST: It is common and I've been chanting about it for a couple of years and I've really have seen this thing accelerate in the last six to 12 months. Physicians are finally getting the message that we have been over prescribing in opiates, the oral pain medications. They are rapidly addictive as you portray in the stories here and it is a problem that we, as physicians, are creating.

The problem, though, now is once we identify there's a problem, we have to refer it for appropriate treatment and my deepest fear was what physicians would start doing was saying, "Oh my God, you're a drug addict. You're a bad patient. I'm not prescribing for you anymore." As oppose to referring them for treatment. And guess what? When you take a person strung out of oral opiates and tell them they're cut off. They are going somewhere and right now they're going to the street and the cheapest best way to get high with that compound, with that class of drug is heroin.

COOPER: The DEA just last week announced they're going to tighten control of things like Vicodin, Oxycontin and making them scheduled...


COOPER: ... two drugs...

PINSKY: Appropriate.

COOPER: ... is that going to make it more difficult for doctors to prescribe them?

PINSKY: No, no. And really that's going to mean they can only prescribe them for limited time period which hopefully will mean that less people will become addicted and then hopefully it will also raise awareness.

But again this is not about the oral opiates, this is about how doctors are transitioning these patients who've they created addicts and brought them into addiction and referring them for treatment of this -- what we call an iatrogenic disease that's caused by the interaction with the medical system. It happens all the time and it often gets missed and now it's getting -- people are getting shut out and they're turning to the streets. COOPER: Well, you know, I think often, though, we don't think about people later in life. I mean, the woman in the piece was in her mid 40's when she got addicted.


COOPER: Is there any kind of typical profile of someone who becomes addicted or when they get addicted to opiates?

PINSKY: Not right now. I mean, if you have a history of alcoholism in your family heritage, if you have a history of drug addiction, yourself of any drug addiction or you have a family history of drug addiction, you are at risk.

But, Anderson, there's another sort of chapter to this story that people need to be aware of. In my world when people get strung out on heroin, they don't typically die of heroin addiction. When they die, they die when they go back to pills. The pills are the easiest thing to overdose on. So, my -- In the last couple of years, probably the last 10 years, pretty much every patient I've lost has been around pills.


PINSKY: And that's where the real -- Yeah.

COOPER: Is it because the body is used to heroin and then they're changing it up? Or are they just using more pills?

PINSKY: It's -- They are using more pills. They're combining with benzodiazepines. Heroin, you're pretty much using by itself or you're putting some cocaine in there, you're doing speed balls. You're not adding the Valium and the Klonopin and the Xanax which this typically co-prescribed when patients go in and say, "I can't sleep." but they don't take them off the opiates, they put them on a benzo and that's where people really get into trouble. That combination is exceedingly common and quite deadly.

COOPER: Wow. Incredible. Dr. Drew, thanks very much.

PINSKY: Yeah, you bet.


COOPER: Incredibly scary stuff.

That is it for this two-hour live edition of 360. Thanks very much for watching. We of course will see you again tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Now, if you can't catch us live, remember you can set your DVR so you can watch 360 whenever you want.

CNN Tonight with Don Lemon is next.