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Burden of Proof

The Search for Julius Erving's Son

Aired June 14, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET



JULIUS ERVING, BASKETBALL HALL OF FAMER: For Cory to be out of that circle for this period of time brings about, as you would imagine, great concern, great anxiety, and a real test of faith. Now we are in a crisis situation, where we need the help of the media and the public.

PAT WILLIAMS, ERVING FAMILY SPOKESMAN: As you can tell, the family is deeply distraught.

CHEO ERVING, CORY ERVING'S BROTHER: I'm just trying to deal with it. I just want my brother home, that's all. You know, I just -- I want to know where he is. I want to know he's okay.

WILLIAMS: I'm also going to announce today, that on behalf of Cory's family and Cory's friends, that a reward of up to $25,000 is being offered for information which results in the safe return of Cory.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: He's known by sports fans as Dr. J. Now, he's using his national recognition to make a family plea. Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: the search for Julius Erving's son.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Yesterday in Florida, basketball legend Julius Erving made a televised plea to the nation. His family wants help in finding Erving's son, who's been missing since May 28th.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Cory Marvin Erving went to a shopping mall on Memorial Day weekend to pick up some bread for a family cookout, but the 19-year-old never returned.


J. ERVING: But even those who aren't experiencing it, who have had a child or a loved one unaccounted for, for even a matter of hours, knows that that's an individual's worst nightmare. And this bad dream has gone on with us for 16 days now, 16 very hard days.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Orlando, Florida, Seminole County Sheriff, Donald Eslinger. And in Miami, we're joined by private investigator, Stephen Kiraly.

COSSACK: Joining us today from Houston, Texas, is former FBI special agent, Don Clark. And also in Orlando, David Whitley, a columnist at the "Orlando Sentinel."

VAN SUSTEREN: And here in Washington, Tucker Brown (ph), Stephanie McClinton (ph), and Drew Thornley (ph). And in our back row, Tommy Dewey (ph) and Dave Denherder (ph).

Don, let me go first to you. You worked with the FBI, and there are occasions where the FBI have to search for people. Where do you begin searching for someone?

DON CLARK, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, first of all, Greta, these, as we know, are very difficult times. And we have to be, in this type of circumstance, we really have to be very sympathetic to the families and look at their wishes and desires. But we've got to try and develop as much information as we can, background information as to where we might start a trail to look for this.

In this particular situation, and in similar type cases, if we have any idea of historical perspectives on what the person may have been like, their associates, and so forth, that may give us some leads; absent the fact that no ransom demands that I'm aware of have been made.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, Dr. J. had a very publicized press conference yesterday, and there's been a reward announced. Do rewards help you significantly or do they sometimes get basically, you know, crank calls to you?

CLARK: Well, I think rewards do help. To the level that they help, there have been some good and bad with them, but I think that's a good idea to put the reward out there. Because if there are people who have some information, they may very well come forward with it. Yes, you will get the prankster's type of calls that will come in, but I think the reward in general will add some help to this situation.

COSSACK: Steve Kiraly, you're a private investigator. In a situation like this, often times, well perhaps a private investigator could get further than maybe the authorities can. What would you do if you had to investigate on behalf of Dr. J.'s family? Where would you start and how would you try and create this young man's life?

STEPHEN KIRALY, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: Well, sometimes because the -- either the lack of manpower or budget restrictions, a private investigator can assist. From what I can see thus far, it appears that the sheriff's department is doing an exceptional job in trying to gather facts and give information to the family and to the public. But there are certain things, like telephone records -- which I don't know whether he had a cell phone. I don't know whether he had a credit card. But one the most important things I can see is this information about this confrontation that he had the day before, and it seems like they're following up on it. But that's one of the most important pieces of factual information we can see right now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Don, do you assume foul play when you start an investigation like this? or do you look sort of, at the young man who's, according to his father, has a rather checkered history, and do you think that perhaps it was a, you know, that he may have wandered off and just left the family for whatever reason for a while?

CLARK: I think, Greta, from an investigative perspective, you've got to look at what you have and you've got to look at a history of what has taken place there. And you've got to make some assumptions to be able to get started and I think it would be prudent to look at the past and see if there's an avenue there to look into to get you some leads for the future.

And if that's the case, then I think that's the way we've got to go, is to make that assumption and hope that it turns out for the best.

COSSACK: Steve, in terms of the fact that it's been reported that he had, the young man, the missing man, has had a drug problem in the back -- in his background; what would that information do for you? would you -- are there certain avenues that you would then go look at in searching for him?

KIRALY: Yes, again, you don't want to get tunnel vision, but with the appearance of him probably going back to drugs, according to the information that I've read, and this confrontation, again, it kind of points you towards the drug involvement. And I'm not sure whether he had debts, that he owed these people money for drugs or whatever the case may be. But again, the confrontation appears to be extremely important.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let's see how important it is, sheriff, you are in charge of this investigation, or one of the lead people in it; what's the status of the investigation by your office for this young man?

SHERIFF DONALD ESLINGER, SEMINOLE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Well, we've received a number of pretty good leads, substantial leads that we're following up as we speak. I heard the show a little bit earlier and mention about the cell phone, credit cards. Of course we've done all of that, it's Investigation 101, that our people are very talented and up to speed on all those methods or processes to track a missing person.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you suspect this is foul play, though, sheriff or do you suspect that this is a young man who may have wandered off and perhaps using drugs?

ESLINGER: Well, we know now and we had a briefing with the local media today at around 11:15, our investigation indicates that he has had a relapse: that he is abusing crack cocaine, at least we suspect that; so yes, that coupled with never being out of contact with his parents for more than 72 hours, having absolutely no financial support available to him to sustain him for 17 days, and then his confrontation that was mentioned earlier.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break.

More on the search for Dr. J.'s son, Cory Erving, when we come back.

Stay with us.


Bob Barker, host of "The Price is Right," testified on Capitol Hill yesterday in favor of proposed legislation that would prohibit circuses and traveling shows from exhibiting elephants.

If approved, the bill would allow only zoos to keep elephants in captivity.



VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the Worldwide Web. Just log on to We now provide a live video feed Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show, and even join our chat room.


ERVING: There was no altercation or nothing to make us believe that he would just take off at that particular time lead us to believe that he would just take off at that particular time. He was in good spirits, good mood. He had actually run an errand for the family to pick up bread at the place where he worked and called me, said he was going to be home in 20 minutes, and that was the last time I talked to him.


COSSACK: The son of Basketball Hall of Famer Julius Erving has been missing since May 28. Yesterday, Erving and members of his family spoke at a news conference requesting help in finding 19-year- old Cory Marvin Erving.

David, let me ask you now and go to the sort of the background of this young man. What do we know about him, and what do we know in terms of his background and history?

DAVID WHITLEY, "ORLANDO SENTINEL": (OFF-MIKE) ... some trouble throughout the years. I think it goes back to when he was 14 when he first went into -- had his first trouble with drugs, or went into a drug rehab center, and had been in and out of it. And he had a learning problem, learning disability, dyslexia, I think, which sort of set him back. And then I guess there's the whole issue of growing up in the shadow of a great father and whatever psychological problems that may bring along.

But he's a kid who has been in and out of trouble. Nothing terribly serious. I think the worst was the crack cocaine that he was caught with, which is serious enough. But it's the kind of thing that you always hold out hope that you can get it straightened out, and that's what they, I guess, were assuming that he had done. He had gotten a job recently, was working on getting his GED, so they that he was turning his life around.

VAN SUSTEREN: David, one of the first things I would ask if I were investigating this case is -- of the family is, has he ever disappeared before? Has he ever disappeared before, as far as you know?

WHITLEY: I don't know. Perhaps the sheriff could speak to that a little bit more. I think he has been off, as Julius Erving said yesterday at his press conference, that he had disappeared for two or three days at a time, but he -- after that time spent, he had always come back and contacted the family, and even in his worst drug-induced stupors, whatever they may have been. But now we're 17 days out and they haven't heard anything, so that's the cause for the real alarm.

VAN SUSTEREN: Sheriff, any other prior disappearance besides these two or three days that David just mentioned?

ESLINGER: Despite the circumstances of him leaving or being away from his family, it's never extended longer than a 72-hour period. And I guess the frequency hasn't been as great as earlier described. Never before as he ever -- longer than 72 hours go before he made contact with either parent. So that reason, coupled with the other ones, is root of our concern, concerning his well-being.

COSSACK: Sheriff, you mentioned earlier that your investigation has turned up evidence, at least that there was a confrontation before his disappearance.


COSSACK: Tell us about that confrontation. What do you know about it, where did it take place and who did it involve?

ESLINGER: Well, we're still working on that now and trying to develop credible information concerning that by interviewing witnesses, potential participants in that. So I'm really not at liberty to describe that to you, and it would be speculation at this point. And we're gathering information even today concerning that event.

COSSACK: Why do you use the word confrontation, though? That connotes, you know, it could be a violent confrontation, could be an argument. You know, why is it that you use that word? ESLINGER: Well, because it actually was a physical confrontation where the vehicle which he was operating was damaged by one particular individual. And we're still in the process of confirming this.

VAN SUSTEREN: David -- let me actually go to David.

David, oftentimes, the media has information that the sheriff can't talk about. The sheriff can't because of his particular role. Do you know anything more about this confrontation? Has information become available to you?

WHITLEY: I wish I did. Unfortunately, I'm at the mercy of the sheriff here to my left and don't know anything more than what they have reported so far, although we have people working on it.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's the area like where Cory hung out and where Cory lived?

WHITLEY: Well, Cory lives in a very nice area, as you'd suspect. The Ervings -- Julius Erving is a man of some means, so...

VAN SUSTEREN: Does he live with his father? Does he live with his father and mother?

WHITLEY: I believe he -- the sheriff, yes, tells me, yes, he does still have a room with the father. The area, of course, where he disappeared, was last seen is not so nice. It's generally where -- if you want to score some crack in town, you head down to Altamont Springs area and that's where you would find it.

COSSACK: Sheriff, you mentioned the fact that there was perhaps an accident or car accident with an individual. Can you tell us who this individual is or can you tell us whether or not you're seeking this other individual?

ESLINGER: I cannot -- I can't speculate on the causation of the confrontation, nor can I -- am I at liberty to identify the individual. We're still working on this. Please understand that the investigation is ongoing. We're doing everything possibly that we can do to identify Cory's whereabouts and locate him, and I'm not at liberty to discuss some of the details of this investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Sheriff, because this is a famous man's son, obviously we know an awful lot about this. But tell me about your county. Is it unusual for someone to disappear? Is this a particularly safe county? Is this a bizarre incident?

ESLINGER: Yes, Seminole County is a bedroom community of Orlando. It's about 360,000 people live here. It's one of the higher household medium incomes within the state of Florida, and we've had only two or three missing adults, endangered adults during this calendar year. So this is somewhat unusual. Our crime rate is significantly lower than that of the state average. So we live in a very nice community and we have an obligation to all members of our society and our community to provide the best possible law enforcement service. COSSACK: Sheriff...

VAN SUSTEREN: Is this...

COSSACK: I was going to say, Sheriff, what's the response been to Dr. J., or Julius Erving's press conference yesterday? I know you've mentioned that, in fact, you had at one time 90 calls. Are you still getting calls and are you still checking them out?

ESLINGER: Oh, yes. Yes, sure are. In fact, when I left the office to come here, we had about 150 calls, and that does not include all the calls for the family to offer them their support.

VAN SUSTEREN: David, sometimes people are very well-known in communities. Is Cory the type of young man who is very well-known in his community?

WHITLEY: No, I don't think he is well-known. Certainly being Julius Erving's father, people would recognize the name and go, hey, are you so and so? But the family -- the Erving family's kept a relatively low profile.

That's one thing about Julius Erving. He was always very accessible to the media, but he never really sought it out, certainly was not the kind of self-promoting athlete that we have come to know in this day and age. I mean, he was certainly no Dennis Rodman. And the man -- one of the big appeals that people find in him is that he is sort of humble and graceful and will stay off to the side. And they actually brought him down here to sort of lend sort of a -- some of his stature to a franchise that needed an image makeover because they were having some trouble with some athletes that they had had, and they thought, well, having Dr. J. along would help spruce up the image. And so his family came down here with them.

But they've maintained a pretty low profile. Certainly his friends know him, and -- but he's never been -- some athletes you see, or famous people, they will make a spectacle of themselves at games and where it on their chest. I mean, there have been athletes here whose parents certainly made a scene of themselves and let everybody know who they are and what they are. But that's never been the case for the Ervings.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break.

Up next, garnering national exposure: The search for Julius Erving's son expands beyond the borders of the Sunshine State. Stay with us.


Q: The United States government has agreed to reimburse the estate of Richard Nixon for papers and tape it seized when he resigned in 1974.

A: $18 million. Lawyers for the estate estimate the materials to be worth at least $35 million. (END Q&A)


VAN SUSTEREN: For 17 days, the family of basketball hall of famer Julius Erving has been searching for his 19-year-old son. Cory Marvin Erving went to the mall to get bread for a family cookout and hasn't been seen since.

Don, there's a press conference yesterday, obviously BURDEN OF PROOF is doing a national show today on this topic. Does the media help or does the media sometimes get in the way of these investigations?

CLARK: Well, I've had some experience, Greta, where the media has really helped. And if you recall several months ago, when we were looking for a fugitive, it helped. We have also had some positive experiences where we have been looking for a child and the media has helped.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about hurt?

CLARK: I think if there's more information out there that can -- Not more information, but if there is sensitive information out there that may get out that could damage. And I think that is up to the authorities to try to make sure that that information does not get out there. And if we can keep that from happening then I think we can use the media to get the information out, and to exploit some of the leads that may come forward.

COSSACK: Don, the FBI doesn't get involved in every case like this? When would the FBI become involved in the Erving case?

CLARK: Well, since we are talking an adult, granted it is Julius Erving's kid, but he is still an adult, the FBI's involvement would have to come under the federal kidnapping statute, Roger. And what that would mean is there has got to be some evidence that some interstate connectivity took place here. Granted, under 24 hour presumptive clause, that even if there is no evidence at all, the FBI can get in it, assuming that that would have been sufficient time for the interstate nexus to take place.

And with the cooperation of the sheriffs or the other authorities there, that's exactly what the FBI would be doing, and that would give a wider range of exposure to be able to have a flow of information and to be able to have some response to lead information that may be sent out from the home base.

VAN SUSTEREN: Steve, give me some nuts and bolts, if you were hired by his family now, where would you begin? what would you actually start doing, knocking on doors, or what?

KIRALY: Naturally, I would be working as much as possible in conjunction with the sheriff's office as to not hinder their investigation, but I'm an ex-law enforcement officer, and sometimes the badge and the police officer, if you are going into a narcotic area, whereas where I would be going looking now, and talking to some of the narcotic traffickers that may have dealt with Cory. Private investigators sometimes can do a little bit better, OK? Only because they don't have to show a badge.

And naturally, a narcotic dealer doesn't want to admit that he's a narcotic dealer.

COSSACK: Sheriff, in terms of your investigation, are you ready to have the FBI come in and assist you yet? Do you feel that this is something that perhaps there is a out-of-state connection?

ESLINGER: No, not at this point. It is not a multi- jurisdictional matter as of right there. But there could be some ancillary issues concerning associates and others that could be involved in some type of federal activity or federal violation of law. So that would be the only time that we would ask them to participate in that investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: David, in the 20 seconds we have left, a lot of national attention, what's it like locally?

WHITLEY: It is the big story. At least it is getting the fire's that are raging around here off the front page, and the Southern Baptist Convention where they are not letting women become preachers. So there are other issues going on, but it is a big story and people are certainly consumed by it.

COSSACK: All right, that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Today on CNN's "TALKBACK LIVE," the Central Park attacks. Did police ignore victims' pleas for help? That's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

VAN SUSTEREN: And join me tonight on CNN's "NEWSSTAND," as we'll take up the debate over crime in Central Park. That's at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time. And we'll see you tomorrow on another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF.



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