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Jury Renders $30 Million Verdict Against Robert Blake; Wildfires Sweep Across Ventura County, California; Healing By Faith

Aired November 18, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us.
It is a very unusual Friday. There are a lot of developing stories right now. All day, in our control room, we have been watching wildfires blow up and down the mountains and canyons north of Los Angeles. And every time the flames have gotten close to homes or even to the V. on a mountainside, fire crews have rushed in to drop water or to bulldoze a fire break, sometimes with the flames just a few feet away.

So far, the fire crews have been there in the nick of time. But the battle isn't over yet.

So, I want to take you live to Ventura County.

And our Ted Rowlands has been watching the fires all day long. He joins us now with an update.

How do things look from where you're standing?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, it is becoming a beautiful evening here, as the sun sets.

The sky is full of smoke, but there is no wind. And that is the key. The winds died down this afternoon. And it gave firefighters the edge on this fire. It was a very dramatic day, however, as the fire came very close to a number of homes in the city of Ventura, north of Los Angeles.

Fire crews had to evacuate dozens of homeowners. They had gathered what they could, got out of the neighborhood. And then firefighters were able to save all of the homes, except for a couple outbuildings. And I tell you, being up here at the time, it was a dramatic scene, as the flames crept up a hillside, getting close to these homes. They attacked this fire from the air and from the ground. At one point, firefighters themselves, the ones that we were near, were in trouble a bit. Their truck was almost engulfed in flames. But they stood their ground and they held it off.

And then Mother Nature came in and took care of the winds. And that's where we are tonight. There's still some concern, as we do hit the evening hours, that the Santa Ana winds will kick up again. They will monitor it overnight. But, for the most part, all these the homeowners are coming back tonight. And they're coming back to find that their homes are intact. ZAHN: So...


ZAHN: ... do authorities know what sparked these fires?

ROWLANDS: They don't.

This fire started at 3:30 in the morning, which, by nature, is very suspect. There's the most moisture in the air at that point. Flames were reported in a remote area of a hillside in Ventura County. The firefighters say they are concentrating on putting this out. Then they will go back and concentrate on figuring out how it started.

ZAHN: Well, we wish them luck.

Ted Rowlands, thanks so much for the update.

Also, tonight, in California, actor Robert Blake is looking at a $30 million verdict against him in the civil suit over the death of his wife. A civil jury today found him responsible for the death, even though a criminal jury cleared him of murder just eight months ago.

Here's entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.


SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Robert Blake has spent a lifetime as an actor, but he wasn't able to win over one audience, a group of civil jurors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the majority of us felt that Mr. Blake was guilty.

VARGAS: By a vote of 10-2, jurors found Blake liable in the death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, and ordered him to pay $30 million to her children in damages. Jurors said the actor's testimony, in his own defense, was pivotal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a group, we believe that Mr. Blake was probably his worst enemy on the stand.

VARGAS: The verdict came eight months after Blake was acquitted in his criminal trial. But, unlike the criminal case, where the burden of proof was beyond a reasonable doubt, in the civil trial, it only took a preponderance of the evidence.

ERIC DUBIN, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: It is a good day for justice.

VARGAS: Blake has consistently maintained he found his wife dead in their car in May 2001, after they had dinner at a Los Angeles area restaurant. He said she was shot while he went back inside the restaurant to retrieve a gun.

Jurors in his civil trial weren't required to determine exactly how Blake was responsible for his wife's death, just that he was. Whether Blake can pay the civil damages is uncertain. Last March, after his acquittal on murder charges, he described himself as penniless.

ROBERT BLAKE, ACTOR: I'm broke. Right now, I couldn't buy spats for a hummingbird.

VARGAS: The lawyer for Bakley's family expects Blake to pay up.

DUBIN: Oh, yes, I will take a check, cashier's check or cash. I will leave it at whatever he wants to do, but, hopefully, not in quarters.

VARGAS: Legal experts believe it's unlikely that Bonny Lee Bakley's four children will ever collect the full amount.

Sibila Vargas, CNN, Los Angeles.


ZAHN: After the verdict today, Blake left court through a back door and avoided reporters. There has been no statement of any kind from his legal team. But it was a lot different back in March, after his acquittal. Take a look.


BLAKE: I was a rich man. I'm broke now. I got to go to work.

But before that, I'm going to go out and do a little cowboying. You know what that is? No, you don't know what that is. Cowboying is when you get in a motor home or a van, or something like that, and you just let the air blow in your hair.

And you just roam around and get some revitalization that there are human beings in the world.


ZAHN: Once again, he said that shortly after the acquittal in the criminal case.

Joining me now, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Am I imagining things, or is this almost a replay of the O.J. Simpson case here?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's really remarkable, almost down to the dollar -- acquittal in the criminal case, a finding of liability in the civil case.

The dollar amount in the Simpson case was $33.5 million. Here, it's $30 million. And, the Bakley family may not have much better luck than the Goldman and Brown families in actually seeing any of that money.

ZAHN: Well, you just heard what Mr. Blake said himself: I'm bankrupt. I don't have any money.

TOOBIN: Well, they don't have to take his word for that.

They will fire forensic accountants, private investigators, try to locate assets. But that in itself is very expensive. It takes a long time. This verdict will be appealed. And Robert Blake is 72 years old. He may try to just run out the clock on this thing.

ZAHN: Explain to us tonight how a criminal jury could come up with such an entirely different verdict than the civil jury.

TOOBIN: Two -- two main differences.

The main difference is, the burden of proof is so different. A prosecutor in a criminal case has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, which is something like more than 90 percent certain. A civil jury only has to be persuaded by a preponderance of the evidence -- that's 51 percent -- that the plaintiff's version is correct. So, it was a much lower burden.

The other thing was, he took the fifth at his own criminal trial; he didn't testify. He testified for eight days in the civil trial. And the jury obviously didn't buy a thing he said.

ZAHN: They certainly didn't. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you.

TOOBIN: He's be cowboying in a bicycle, I guess, because that's probably all he can afford.

ZAHN: And we will all be looking for that shot of the wind blowing...

TOOBIN: That's right.


TOOBIN: ... through the hair.


ZAHN: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks.


ZAHN: There is another big story up on Capitol Hill tonight, one that has sparked passions, tempers and even mean shouting matches.

As we speak, we are waiting for lawmakers to take a vote on whether to pull nearly 160,000 troops out of Iraq. It is yet another Republican effort to stamp out criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. Will it work?

Let's turn to our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, who is watching this drama play out on Capitol Hill.

It really got ugly there earlier tonight, didn't it? ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And the bottom line is, it's really political posturing on both sides of the aisle. At the end of the day, this resolution is not going to pass later this evening. There's not going to be any change in U.S. policy towards Iraq. The troops are not going to be withdrawn from Iraq.

But Speaker Dennis Hastert decided today that he wanted to try to call the Democrats' bluff. He believes that this resolution introduced yesterday by John Murtha, the Democrat from Pennsylvania, basically calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops within six months, he wanted to box Democrats in and force them to go on the record and take a politically difficult vote.

But there was a twist tonight. Basically, the Republican resolution that they brought up was not the Murtha resolution. It was a differently worded resolution that didn't have that six-month cushion of time to get the troops out safely. So, Democrats pounced on that, said this was really just a political stunt. And you are right, Paula. It got downright nasty.

And, at one point, a Republican, Jean Schmidt of Ohio, basically suggested John Murtha, a wounded veteran of the Vietnam War, somebody who got two Purple Hearts, was a coward.

Take a listen to what happened.


REP. JEAN SCHMIDT (R), OHIO: He asked me to send Congress a message. Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run. Marines never do.


SCHMIDT: Danny (ph) and the rest of America and the world want the insurance from this body...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will...

SCHMIDT: ... that we will see this through.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will be in order. The house will be in order. The House will be in order.


HENRY: Now, Republican Jean Schmidt was basically quoting a friend from Ohio who she says called her and suggested that Murtha was a coward. Democrats were protesting. They demanded an apology. She finally did take back those words and apologize. But from across the Capitol, Senator John Warner, a key Republican on defense policies, taking a look at his fellow Republicans across the Capitol tonight, putting out a statement saying, stop the political posturing. Now, more than ever, there needs to be bipartisanship on the war in Iraq, but very little of that tonight -- Paula.

ZAHN: I know there was the other scene I don't know whether you saw with Representative Harold Ford sort of charging across the chambers, yelling at someone: This is an uncalled for personal attack.

HENRY: It was right after Schmidt, in fact, you're right.

ZAHN: Yes.

And what was it, Representative Marty Meehan sort of screaming out, you guys are pathetic?


And, basically, I spoke to Congressman Ford tonight. And he said what happened is, is -- he started pointing his finger and running across the aisle, because some other Republicans were saying, about Jean Schmidt basically calling John Murtha a coward, she has every right to say whatever she wants.

And Harold Ford was running across saying, well, if she wants to call Murtha a coward, then let's have a debate with Murtha. And if you want to attack Murtha, somebody who's a -- again, a wounded veteran of Vietnam, two Purple Hearts, let's have that debate, instead of this political sideshow.

That's really what it has become on both sides, a political sideshow -- Paula.

ZAHN: Well, decorum certainly nonexistent there tonight.

Ed Henry, thank you so much.

One more thing: White House correspondent Dana Bash tells us that, in a few hours, the president will give a speech in South Korea in which he will quote a U.S. commander in Iraq as calling an immediate withdrawal -- quote -- "a recipe for disaster."

The advanced text of the president's speech shows that he will go on to say: "So long as I am commander in chief, our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sober judgment of our military commanders on the ground. So, we will fight the terrorists in Iraq, and we will stay in the fight until we achieve the victory our brave troops have fought and bled for."

Coming up, we change our focus quite dramatically. How can you defend parents who let their own baby die, praying for a miracle, but never even calling a doctor?


ZAHN (voice-over): Faith or crime? Tonight, shocking questions about a desperately sick baby fighting for life and parents who reject modern medicine for divine intervention.

LANCE HAMNER, JOHNSON COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: They called elders of the church to come and pray over the -- the baby girl.

ZAHN: How could parents who believe medical treatment is a sin let their children die? Is it a matter of faith or a crime?


Thousands of Katrina evacuees could be without housing in less than two weeks. I will have that story coming up.

ZAHN: Inside the Mongols -- the amazing story of the undercover cop that dared to bring one of the most dangerous biker gangs to justice.

BILLY QUEEN, AUTHOR, "UNDER AND ALONE": they're going to all shoot me in the back right here. There was nothing I could do.

ZAHN: Incredible danger and a secret life, deep in an outlaw world of drugs, violence and murder -- when PAULA ZAHN NOW continues.



ZAHN: So, if you have a new baby who gets sick, you go to the doctor. It is as simple as that for the vast majority of parents in this country. But what if medical treatment is against your religious beliefs? And what if the baby ends up dying? And what if it happens over and over again in your religious community?

Take a look at what investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has learned about what one Christian sect.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are problems from the moment Rhianna Rose Schmidt was born in rural Johnson County, Indiana, in the bedroom of her grandmother's house. She wasn't breathing.

According to her mother, the baby was gray and lifeless. For 20 minutes, a midwife gave the girl mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. And then Rhianna's mother witnessed this: "We were able to tell she had a heartbeat, and she began to take breaths. I was obviously very happy and praised God."

(on camera): That's what Rhianna Rose Schmidt's mother told an Indiana grand jury investigating her daughter's death. Rhianna Schmidt lived just one day. Prosecutors say she could have been saved. But, as she lay struggling to breathe, as she was burning with fever, her parents chose not to seek medical help. Instead, they called for divine intervention.

HAMNER: As we understand it, they called elders of the church to come and -- and pray over the -- the baby girl.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Prayers could not save Rhianna's life. Authorities concluded a doctor could have. And so, what happened in this Indiana town was considered a crime. The autopsy found the girl born with sepsis, a bacterial lung infection normally treated with antibiotics. Prosecutor Hamner called the parents' actions homicide.

HAMNER: You're looking at -- at a circumstance where you have loving parents. You don't have your stereotypical neglectful parents in a situation like this, and, yet, they didn't do the most basic thing that any parent who loved their child would do, which was to call a doctor when you can see that she's getting close to dying.

GRIFFIN: Dewayne and Maleta Schmidt would not talk to us on camera, nor would any member of their church. Church members filled the courtroom to support the couple at their sentencing. And, off camera, members of the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn say they believe the Schmidts did exactly what God wanted them to do.

(on camera): It is fundamental to their belief, their faith, that somehow God will provide everything they need, even if it is the help they need to save a dying baby. Medical interference is interfering with God's will.

BOB BARTLETT, FAMILY ATTORNEY: In this particular case, it has left a trail of three expired children.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Attorney Bob Bartlett represented Church of the Firstborn member Wesley Hamm in Fresno, California. Wesley and his wife, LaRonda Hamm, have lost three of their six children. Officials said none of them received medical care that might have saved their lives.

The latest to die, 10-year-old Jessica from a bronchial infection. LaRonda Hamm is Maleta Schmidt's older sister. And attorney Bartlett says they, the family, and the church share a faith most outsiders can't comprehend.

BARTLETT: I can't say that I came away with an expert understanding from it. The best way I could explain, as someone who is not a member of the faith, is that the Bible has passages that they believe expresses the idea that to seek medical attention basically is taking their -- it is a challenge to their faith, in essence, by -- it -- it is another way of saying that we don't believe that God is here. We need to seek man's help.

GRIFFIN: Those Bible references are in James Chapter 5, verses 14 and 15: "Is there any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church. And let them pray over him. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the lord shall rise him up."

Strictly following those verses, rather than providing medicine for daughter Jessica, sent the Hamms to prison for four years. But serving time for relying on faith, rather than medicine, even when children die, is rare. Many states actually allow parents to invoke their faith to deny their children medical attention. Forty states and the District of Columbia allow some religious exemptions for child care, even including abuse and neglect, although interpretation and enforcement vary.

All but two states allow religious exemptions from immunizations. And, in Indiana, denial of medical attention is only a crime if a child dies. Had Rhianna lived, even in a coma, prosecutor Hamner says there would be no crime.

HAMNER: That is exactly right. That is the law in -- in our -- in our state. In some states, there -- there is no -- there is an absolute defense, a religious defense. In other states, there is no defense at all. At some point, I think our legislature decided to try to strike a balance between the two.

GRIFFIN: Rita Swan was a Christian scientist who denied medical care to her dying son almost 30 years ago. Now she campaigns to stop parents from relying solely on faith, instead of medicine.

RITA SWAN, CHILD, INC.: Love and good intentions are not all it takes to be a parent. These parents love their children. But because children are helpless and cannot assert rights for themselves, the state has also got to require parents to affirmatively protect the child from harm.

GRIFFIN: Five children from this tiny Church of the Firstborn in Indiana have died in recent years, including Dewayne and Maleta Schmidt's newborn daughter.

Maleta Schmidt told the grand jury Rhianna's death strengthened her faith. "I was very, very sad. I wanted my baby," she said. "I love my baby. But I also realize that God is the giver and the taker of life. And he gives and he takes. And it is not up to me to decide when it is someone's time to go."

Convicted of reckless homicide, Dewayne and Maleta Schmidt were sentenced to work release for two years. They still have full custody of their two other children and say they will follow court guidelines on seeking medical care as long as they are on probation.


ZAHN: And then there is this.

Just this week, another Indiana grand jury indicted a midwife from the Church of the Firstborn. She's charged with failing to seek medical help for a newborn, who, like Rhianna Schmidt, died after infection was not treated medically.

The Church of the Firstborn is only one religious group that shuns modern medical care. Christian scientists advocate healing through prayer. And many members choose to avoid medical treatment altogether. And to be clear, Christian scientists have no connection to the sect Drew Griffin just investigated tonight. And joining me now for a very rare TV interview, a practicing Christian scientist, Christine Driessen, who herself is a mom.

Thanks so much for being with us tonight.


ZAHN: Good evening.

So, I understand, in your own religion, it is up to each individual to decide whether to seek medical care. But how could you defend denying a young child medical care that could, in the end, be life-saving?

DRIESSEN: Well, I can only speak for my own experience.

And -- and probably the first thing that I would want to say in any of these cases, my heart just goes out to the child and to the parents, because I'm a mom. And my child is so precious to me. And any loss of a child's life is a tragedy.

But I think each parent needs to be determining what is the best treatment for a child. And -- and, in Christian science, that's what a parent is supported in doing, in finding the treatment that will best preserve and protect their life.

ZAHN: But, Christine, as you know, in -- in a number of cases with Christian science -- scientist parents, young children have died from things like diabetes, from spinal meningitis, from blocked bowels, conditions that are in fact very treatable with the proper medical care.

So, how are those parents trying to balance their religious beliefs with what the child really needs? And -- and do you acknowledge that they have made -- some of these parents have made mistakes that have resulted in the death of their children?

DRIESSEN: I can't really speak for individual cases, not knowing the circumstances.

But I do know, as a practitioner, I receive calls from many different parents, some of them calling from hospitals, some of them calling because they have been working on a case with prayer. And there are no perfect answers. There's no treatment out there that is 100 percent reliable.

In fact, my uncle, when he was a teenager, my grandmother received a call from the medical doctors. He was in the military. He had come down with spinal meningitis, was in a coma, and was, they felt, about to pass on. They said they had done everything they could for him and there was nothing more they could do.

And that's when my grandmother turned to Christian science prayer, the understanding Christian science has of prayer, and he was completely healed. The doctors thought that, because of the coma, he would not -- there would be very serious aftereffects. And even those were healed. So, parents need...

ZAHN: All right.

DRIESSEN: ... need to have other alternatives sometimes. And they need to be able to choose what is best.

ZAHN: And what have you chosen along the way? You have a grown daughter.


ZAHN: Has -- have you ever taken that daughter to a doctor and -- and sought any kind of medical care?

DRIESSEN: Well, I haven't needed to, because, for every challenge we have had -- and there haven't been many, because this prayer has supported health, it's preserved health, as well as helping to heal things that she may have faced -- but every time there's been a challenge, it's been met so quickly with prayer. And I think that's why...

ZAHN: Has there ever been a case, though, where she has faced a critical illness?


ZAHN: An acute illness?

DRIESSEN: No. Every -- she's had wonderful health. And if...

ZAHN: But had she faced something that you thought was life- threatening, would you have been comfortable at that point looking beyond the prayer and seeking some medical -- medical attention?

DRIESSEN: As a mother, what was most important to me was that she not suffer, because Christian science doesn't teach that it's God's will that children suffer. It teaches that God is the life of each one of us, and God is a tender love that preserves life.

So, I would -- I would do anything to preserve her life and keep her from suffering. It's just that, because of that and because prayer in Christian science has been effective in my life, in my mother's, my grandmother's...

ZAHN: It worked for you.

DRIESSEN: ... and my daughter's, that it was the first thing I would rely on. And -- and it was so effective. It was so reliable.

ZAHN: Well, we appreciate your sharing your story with us tonight.

Christine Driessen, thank you...

DRIESSEN: Thank you.

ZAHN: ... for your time.

And, believe it or not, here we are, the weekend before Thanksgiving, and FEMA, the federal agency that bungled so badly after Hurricane Katrina, has just told thousands of storm victims they have to move again.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have two children. I can't imagine being homeless all of a sudden with two children. On the 1st, all my things are going to be put out on the street?


ZAHN: What's going on now? Are people really going to be homeless? We will get some answers in just a minute.


ZAHN: Right now, tens of thousands of New Orleans evacuees are just 12 days away from being completely cut off by FEMA or as close as you can get to being completely cut off. They've gone from emergency shelters to hotels and now FEMA is telling them the hotel money is going to run out on December 1st.

Of course, panic is setting in as these hurricane evacuees face the very real possibility of being homeless again, just three months after the storm. Here is Jason Carroll.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This morning, Quintin Garrus took time to play with his kids, 9-month-old Justice and 2-year-old Zaria (ph). For the family, a brief moment of happiness before harsh reality sets in.

QUINTIN GARRUS, KATRINA EVACUEE: We're frustrated, angry, tired, disgusted, disappointed, just ready to settle down.

CARROLL: Since September, this family of four, forced from their New Orleans home by Hurricane Katrina, has been living in a New York hotel room, temporary housing, paid for by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The family's funds are running low. They've been unable to find work or affordable permanent housing in a city where an average cost of a one-bedroom is more than $1,000 a month. They say FEMA has done little to help.

DANIELLE WEST, KATRINA EVACUEE: FEMA never came here and said well, this is what we're doing for you all. This is housing and you can go here and they're going to have this and that for you.

CARROLL: Now FEMA says as of September 1st, it will stop paying hotel bills for Quintin and some 51,000 other evacuees living in hotels across the country.

WEST: Can't imagine being homeless all of a sudden with two children. On the 1st, all of my things are going to be put out on the street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know what to do at this point because we keep getting pending, pending, pending.

CARROLL: On Friday, a roomful of evacuees living in New York hotels faced FEMA and city officials.

KEN CURTIN, FEMA: I'm here to tell you what the reality is. I'm the messenger.

CARROLL: Danielle West hoped to hear something encouraging, but most of what she listened to were complaints from others just like her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have not received a check. I have not received any assistance whatsoever from FEMA.

CURTIN: But if they have told you that there's a check that's been sent, that in a way is good news because that means you're eligible and we need to find that check.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: December 1st date was not told to us. OK? We found out that through a rumor.

CARROLL: Then, some encouraging words. New York City officials say the city would pick up the tab, and allow evacuees, under certain conditions, to stay in hotels until January 1st. But then the city representative said something no one wanted the hear.

MONICA PARIKH, NYC DEPT OF HOMELESS SERVICES: But the shelter system is an available resource.

CARROLL: Critics say some of the city's shelters are so unsafe, even the homeless won't stay there. West had enough.

WEST: I've never been homeless a damn day in my life.


WEST: I should go to a shelter?


PARIKH: I know this's hard.

CARROLL: West was too upset to talk with us after that. FEMA's representative didn't want to talk either.

(on camera): Why, at this point, are we still hearing the same kind of complaints we heard several weeks ago? More than a month ago? Why are we still here?

Tonight, New York City's mayor sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, asking them to extend hotel funding and consider postponing the deadline.

(voice-over): Despite the city's efforts, many here aren't sure what their futures now old or who they can turn to for help.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: FEMA officials have said they were hoping to move Katrina evacuees out of hotels long before the holidays. A total of 51,000 evacuees are still in hotels with just two weeks to go.

Coming up next, a story of incredible bravery that borders on recklessness. We are going to meet an undercover cop who secretly penetrated one of the most feared outlaw biker gangs.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a club. We're outlaws. And you need to know that. You need to know what you're getting into.


ZAHN: Well, what he was getting into was a world of drugs, lawlessness, guns and some of the most loyal friends he ever met. Stay with us for his incredible story.


ZAHN: Now, I want to give you an astonishing look inside the Mongols, one of the most lawless and feared motorcycle gangs. This week in Nevada, a half dozen of them had been in court fighting charges over this deadly brawl caught on surveillance tape with Hell's Angels three years ago. The Mongols are 350 strong.

They deal in illegal drugs and in just about any other criminal activity you can imagine, even murder. We all know this thanks to an undercover agent's incredible -- almost foolhardy -- courage. He joined the gang, won their trust, and brought dozens of them to justice.


BILLY QUEEN, RETIRED ATF AGENT: I was out there by myself. If the crap went bad, I would have been in serious trouble.

ZAHN (voice-over): Forget the way he looks. This man was a top undercover agent, who for two years was assigned to penetrate one of the country's most brutal outlaw gangs, the Mongols.

QUEEN: Certainly not as big as the Hell's Angels, but although not as big, probably the most feared outlaw motorcycle gang out there.

ZAHN: Billy Queen worked for ATF -- the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. And he discovered that while the Mongols used ruthless violence to enforce their criminal rule, they also enjoyed the violence for its own sake.

QUEEN: The guy with all the tattoos on him is Rick Slayton. He's a Mongol. This guy in the hat right here is the guy that threw the stuff. What is happening is they're surrounding him now. He's got no place to go. They're going beat the crap out of him and they are going to beat the crap out of all of his buddies.

The knives are going to come out. People are going to be stabbed. And over here, they're stabbing a guy. After the Mongols get through what they're doing, the guy with the hat, he's still hanging on to his hat, hitting him with the chair. Now it is over. And now what happens is the Mongols just disappear.

ZAHN: When the night was over, five people were hospitalized and none arrested. This is the violent gang world that Billy Queen infiltrated. Starting out as a prospect ...

QUEEN: When you first come in the club ...

ZAHN: Like a fraternity pledge, Billy progressed through the ranks of the gang, earning special patches, or rockers, along the way.

QUEEN: After a certain period of time, a month, maybe two months, they'll vote on whether you should go to the next step and give you your center rocker.

ZAHN: After more than year with the Mongols, Billy was voted treasurer of California's San Fernando Valley chapter.

QUEEN: This patch here is an officer patch.

ZAHN: But unknown to the president and other Mongol officers, Billy Queen and his ATF colleagues were secretly recording the illegal drug deals, thefts, gunfights, stabbings and murders. And along the way he often had to prove his loyalty to this vicious brotherhood.

QUEEN: Rocky pulls out his knife, slits that plastic bag and he lined out two lines of meth out on the table. But he turned around at me and put the knife at my face and said is that line too much for you? I looked down at it and said, no Rock, that's fine with me, you snow I'll get my dollar bill and we'll take care of business.

I think to myself what you going do? What are you going to do? My face was getting red, my ears were getting ready and I stepped between Rocky and the dope and I bent over with it like I was snorting it and went -- and wiped it off in my hand. I raised up and Rocky looked around and saw the dope gone. He looked at me, yeah. He did it. Cops don't do dope.

ZAHN: But he was a cop. And he was touched by the chilling advice Rocky later gave him.

QUEEN: And he said, this is not a club. We're outlaws. And you need to know that. You need to know what you're getting into. I sat there for a little bit thinking to myself, I wonder if I do know what I'm getting into here.

ZAHN: Some gang members remain suspicious of the new Mongol they knew as Billy St. John. And Billy Queen learned to live with fear. QUEEN: When fear becomes a part of you, you start feeling it, then you slow down. Fear is a good thing in a situation like that where you use it for survival.

ZAHN: And one of the most fearsome Mongols was a prison-hardened leader known as Red Dog.

QUEEN: He suspected me practically the entire time I was in. They took me out in the middle of nowhere in an abandoned orange grove and when I got out there, there is six or eight of these guys standing around. They all got guns. So Red looks at me and says, so if I put a bullet in the back of your head, nobody is going to know where to start looking for you. I said, that's right, Red. And he looked at me and said turn around and go out there in the field and set some targets up.


ZAHN: Billy Queen faces a life and death moment of truth, far from any police backup, when we return.


ZAHN: We are back with the story of Billy Queen, the federal agent knows he's lucky to be alive. He is actually infiltrated and become a member of a vicious outlaw motorcycle gang, the Mongols.

Well, that's when his worst fears came true. The gang's leader, Red Dog, accused him of being a cop. Billy Queen still shakes when he remembers that day.


QUEEN: Red Dog looks at me and starts saying how long was your academy Billy? He kept getting louder and kept getting louder, and kept closer to my face and pointing his finger at my face. How long was your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) academy? Police academy! And I try to shake him off, shake him off. Who did you tell you were coming up here. Who knows you with the Mongols today? Who knows you up here.

Nobody, Red. Nobody. So I put a bullet in your head, nobody will know where to start looking for you, is that right, Billy. That's right, Red Dog. And he said, turn around and go set up the targets out there.

And I turned around and I started walking out in the field and said if they made me this is it. They're going to all shoot me in the back. There was nothing I could do. I didn't have a gun. I bluffed them as far as I could bluff them.

ZAHN: It turned out it was Red Dog who was bluffing.

QUEEN: I turned around and looked while I was sitting the cans up and they're all joking with each other and stuff like that. And so I get my heart going again and I pull myself back together so I can play the game for the rest of the night. ZAHN: For most federal agents, the line between enforcing the law and breaking it is clear. But for undercover agents, in as deep as Billy Queen, that line sometimes disappears. It happened when the Mongols accidentally ran into a rival gang in a bar. It didn't take long for the fight to start. And a brother Mongol, the chapter president, was in the middle of it.

QUEEN: Right when we went in, there was a guy that was leaning up against an ice machine and he had a beer in one hand, and finally the president looked at him and said what the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) are you looking at? And this guy looked back at the president and said you. And when he did, the president just decked him, just bam. Beer went up in the air. He took one swipe and hit me in the side of the head. I hung on to him and I swung back and when I did, he reached in behind him and he came out with this knife.

And I let go of him and I was -- he swiped the knife across my jacket, slit the front of my jacket. I'm afraid he's going to kill me. I'm righteously afraid this guy is going to kill me. I hollered for Rocky, the chapter sergeant of arms to shoot him. And I'm hollering, shoot him, Rocky, shoot him. I'm going around in a circle with this guy. As far as I was concerned, the case was over with at that time.

So is it always clear? No, it is not clear. When a fight breaks out in the bar, and the clubs come out and the knives come out, stuff like that, and you're slugging it out in the bar, you hit somebody, that's an assault or is it an assault? Are you protecting yourself? What are you doing?

ZAHN: That question first began for Billy Queen when his mother died, suddenly, during the investigation.

QUEEN: I didn't ask anybody anything. I told the Mongols, hey, look, my mom died and I told ATF, I'm taking a break. I gotta go home, my mom died.

ZAHN: When he got back to his undercover life, as outlaw biker, to the people who knew him as Billy St. John, he began to see things in a new light.

QUEEN: And I rode over to Evil's house. And when I walked up to the door Evil and I put my hand out for that handshake and he grabbed me around the neck and said, Billy, I'm sorry about your mom, buddy. I love you, brother. And I almost -- I almost cried. I almost dropped to my knees and cried. ATF hadn't said a word to me. Not when I left, not when I came back. Not the case agent, not anybody in the office, nobody said, sorry about your mom. But that first Mongol I saw grabbed me around the neck and said he loved me and was sorry about my mom.

And the next one that I saw did the same thing. And the next one did the same thing. And I told myself, this is where I belong. I wanted to be a Mongol at that time. I didn't want to be Billy Queen. I wanted to be Billy St. John. And I wanted to get on that bike and ride off with them. ZAHN: In the end, after two long years riding with the gang, Billy finally did leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His undercover activities, which were at great risk to and sacrifice from the agent ...

ZAHN: As a direct result of his undercover work, 54 Mongols were arrested. And 53 went to jail for crimes that included murder, illegal drug dealing, and weapons violations.

QUEEN: It was hard for me to sit there on the witness stand and look those guys in the face and them looking at me them call me brother and told me they loved me. They did love me. They loved Billy St. John. And it was hard.

ZAHN: He knows the Mongols will never forget that. And he is haunted by a deadly threat. That one day the Mongols will take revenge.

QUEEN: I know that I'm always going to be looking over my shoulder. I would be foolish not to. I don't go anywhere today without a gun. And when I go to bed at nighttime, I sleep with a double barrel shotgun right by my bed.


ZAHN: And it appears for very good reason. One more thing, retired ATF Agent Billy Queen has written a book about his adventures with the Mongols. It's called "Under and Alone."

Mel Gibson is making it into a movie. He will play Billy Queen.

Coming up next, the urgent search for a suspect in a sickening crime, and people are very worried.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unnerving that he's actually walking around. And all of us feel a little, you know--our anxiety level's up a bit.


ZAHN: Coming up next, the very latest on the manhunt.

And at the top of the hour, "Larry King Live" guest, Teri Garr and Meredith Vieira, and the struggle to overcome a devastating chronic disease.


ZAHN: The latest now on a story we have been following. As we speak, New York Police are stepping up their search for a suspect in a horrible crime.

A man who disguised himself as a firefighter to hold a woman captive and then sexually assault her. This week, authorities thought they came close to catching him, but he is still on the loose tonight. And the fear is spreading.

Here's Allan Chernoff.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The police manhunt for an alleged sexual predator known as the fake firefighter has New Yorkers on edge.

The suspect, Peter Braunstein, a former journalist for a fashion publication, has alluded police for two and a half weeks, elevating the anxiety level.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's unnerving that he's actually walking around. And all of us feel a little -- you know, our anxiety level's up a bit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just feel a little bit more threatened. I would say any woman and any child, so this is -- it is pretty disturbing.

CHERNOFF: The 34-year-old victim, who lives here in Manhattan, told police her attacker set two small fires on Halloween night in her building. Then posing as a firefighter, entered her apartment, tied her up, drugged her, and then sexually abused her for more than 12 hours.

Braunstein's face has been plastered across the tabloids and local TV. But so far, police have had no luck.

The search intensified yesterday when a Brooklyn coffee shop owner said he believes Braunstein came into his shop for a morning cup.

JOHN ARENA, BOCOCA'S COFFEE SHOP: Ninety-nine point nine percent sure. We both gave each other the same vibe. We looked at each other like, you know who I am? And walked right out.

CHERNOFF: Arena told police detectives scoured the area. A blood hound even followed a scent from the victim's pillow to this empty brownstone two blocks away, but police found nothing.

A retired police investigator, who used to patrol this Brooklyn neighborhood, says the public needs to be patient.

CHRIS RISING, RETIRED NYPD: We go out and look for perpetrators every day. It doesn't happen overnight. It's not CSI, you know. It's not, you know, NYPD Blue. Sometimes it takes us months, a year to apprehend an individual.

CHERNOFF (on camera): The NYPD is calling the search a media- fueled manhunt pointing out there are murder suspects, potentially far more dangerous people out on the street, but the simple fact that this case is so much in the public eye makes it a big priority for the police to get their suspect. (voice over): Detectives are swarming the neighborhood, handing out wanted posters. Adding to the intrigue, comments from Braunstein's estranged father, who told CNN his son may be toying with the cops.

ALBERTO BRAUNSTEIN, FATHER OF SUSPECT: He's good to try and play cat and mouse with the police to see but how far can he go.

CHERNOFF: Many suspects on the run will go as far as they can, says criminal profiler Pat Brown.

PAT BROWN, CEO, SEXUAL HOMICIDE EXCHANGE: Sometimes a person who has a psychopathic personality simply enjoys the attention. They get a kick out of it, and they are so arrogant, they think I can just slip in and out place, and no one is going to be able to actually catch me.

CHERNOFF: The NYPD has its hands full enough fighting street crime and preventing terrorism, but with each passing day, the hunt for an alleged sexual predator is becoming more frustrating for the nation's largest police force.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: And that's it for us. Thank you so much for joining us. Good night.


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