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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
New Arrest Made in Florida Murder Investigation; Tracing Michelle Obama's Roots
Aired July 15, 2009 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we begin with breaking news.
Just moments ago, the sheriff in Pensacola, Florida, announcing a new arrest in the brutal murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings at their home, apparently during a robbery with nine of the kids in the house. This woman, Pamela Long Wiggins, first sought, then brought in for questioning, now under arrest as an alleged accessory to the crime. We have details ahead.
Also ahead tonight, video seen for the first time of the accident that set Michael Jackson's hair on fire. Was it a turning point for him? Did it set him on a path to drug addiction and eventually death?
New details on that, we will show you the tape. It is, frankly, unbelievable.
Also, a powerful emotional journey -- journey -- 360 traces the roots of first lady Michelle, descendant of slaves and slave owners, back to her great-great-grandfather and a rice plantation in South Carolina.
We begin, though, with breaking news, another shocker in the Florida double murder that has horrified the nation, the Escambia County sheriff just minutes ago take -- making the brief announcement. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MORGAN, ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF: Tonight, we are taking into custody Ms. Pamela Long Wiggins, and she will be charged with accessory after the fact for felony murder.
And, again, tomorrow morning, at 10:00 a.m., we will hold a joint press conference with the state's attorney office and the Escambia County Sheriff's Office. We will fill you in on the specifics of these charges and Ms. Wiggins.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Pamela Long Wiggins, authorities located here in Orange Beach, Alabama, where he was apparently keeping a low profile. She had allegedly rented property to one of the seven suspects in custody, six of them shown here because one is a juvenile.
Her tenant, the alleged ringleader, Leonard Gonzalez Jr., a man with a long dark past and a long record of criminal violence. We will talk live with the sheriff in a moment.
But, first, David Mattingly with more on the key suspect.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Watch the chilling video of masked intruders breaking into the home of Byrd and Melanie Billings just minutes before their violent deaths, and authorities say you will see Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., the man who allegedly organized the apparently well-rehearsed and deadly attack.
County authorities say, this is the same man teaching children martial arts in a special program aimed at protecting kids from abduction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEONARD PATRICK GONZALEZ JR., DEFENDANT: If they grab your wrist, you...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: We heard from a number of people who had met Gonzalez. They say he made a great first impression.
That's what Joann and Larry Gers thought, too.
JOANN GERS, FORMER LANDLORD OF LEONARD PATRICK GONZALEZ JR.: He just looked like a very confident young man, but that was very honest.
MATTINGLY: They Gers say they rented their Gulf Breeze home to Gonzalez and his family in 2004, after Gonzalez claimed to have lost his family's home in Hurricane Ivan. Gonzalez, seen here with his family in his current MySpace page, even introduced someone as the county's top law enforcement officer to vouch for him.
It turns out, the couple says, none of it was true.
GERS: They didn't even have a house of their own. They had no real estate in this area.
MATTINGLY: And the man who vouched for him wasn't a police chief or a sheriff at all. The Gers say they only recently learned it was actually his father, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr., who's now one of the co-defendants charged in the Billings' double murder.
GERS: He had his father posing as the chief of police.
MATTINGLY (on camera): Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr....
MATTINGLY: ... was posing as the chief of police?
GERS: ... was posing as the chief of police and told us he was Wendell Hall. And we believed him. He was sitting right down on the couch next to me.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Gonzalez Jr. was articulate and seemingly credible in stating his innocence, but not enough to get a county judge to lower his million-dollar bond.
GONZALEZ: There is no hard evidence that links me to the scene of the crimes that occurred July 8. All I ask for is an opportunity to clear my name.
COOPER: David, Gonzalez Jr. had a previous criminal history, including prison time. How was he able to fool the community so easily?
MATTINGLY: You saw how credible he was, how composed and articulate he was in laying out his case, saying that this case is built on circumstantial evidence, that he doesn't belong in prison.
But we know of at least 10 arrests, including one for including for some violent crimes, some robberies, some drug possession. So, he has a long history on the wrong side of the law. When someone asked the sheriff asked today what they thought about his remarks before the judge, the sheriff simply said, well, people in hell want ice water.
COOPER: All right. David Mattingly, appreciate it.
David, Sheriff Morgan said it himself. The complexity of this case, in his words, is staggering. We have been getting new developments almost hourly in the case. Yet, for every arrest, every news conference, every question answered, a new one seems to come up. Was robbery really the only motive? What were the killers after? Why wasn't the Billings' elaborate surveillance system disabled? And what was in the safe that was stolen?
More now on what we know and still don't know, moment by moment, from Ed Lavandera.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thursday evening, Byrd and Melanie Billings are at home with nine of their children, the time, approximately 7:00 p.m.
Outside, a red van pulls into the end of the driveway. Three individuals exit the vehicle and burst through the front door. From the woods, more cross the lawn and enter through an unlocked utility door. They're inside the house for less than four minutes. Within that brief time span, the men confront Byrd and Melanie, several shots are fired at point blank range, both husband and wife now dead.
So, what were they after?
WILLIAM EDDINS, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY: I think the safest, easiest, clearest thing to say, that the primary motive in this case is robbery, home invasion, robbery. LAVANDERA: But it doesn't seem that simple. Authorities say a medium-sized safe was taken from the home, but won't reveal the contents of the safe, including how much money may have been inside.
And, as for any connection to narcotics, a federal law enforcement source tells us -- quote -- "This was not a drug hit. There's no connection we know of to the Mexican mafia. It appears to be money-driven."
Another big question, why didn't the killers disable the Billings' security system? The suspects allegedly planned the operation for weeks. Two had military training. Others were familiar with the property. How, then, could they let themselves be recorded on tape?
The answer, it seems, reveals the group's gaping mistake.
DAVID MORGAN, ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF: I believe that they entered that compound -- and this is the theory that we're currently working on to conclude this case -- they entered the compound with the belief that they were not under surveillance.
LAVANDERA: Sheriff Morgan said, this crime was planned out to the smallest detail, except they thought the system was off, and it wasn't. What happened? Authorities believe the person assigned to the task abandoned the mission.
MORGAN: We are now looking at anyone that may have had an involvement with the security system, every -- everyone from the company that installed it on back.
LAVANDERA: The final question, the future -- with their parents gone, what will happen to the children? The family attorney says, they're in a safe undisclosed place and being well-cared-for. A trust has been set up, and the oldest daughter promises to keep the family intact.
ASHLEY MARKHAM, DAUGHTER OF MELANIE BILLINGS: I feel like my mother's working through me. She -- everything I do, I can feel her there with me. And, if I have to be a matriarch, then that's what I'm prepared to do. Whatever I need to do to keep our family together and keep these children happy and in their everyday lives, I'm prepared to do it.
LAVANDERA: Ed Lavandera, CNN, Pensacola, Florida.
COOPER: Still so many questions. We're going to put them directly to Sheriff Morgan, who joins us next, as well as asking the question that you send in.
We have made it simpler to do. Just text them to AC360 or 22360.
Later, the Michael Jackson video you have never seen before, images of that fiery moment, filming the Pepsi commercial and the moments that followed, when his hair caught fire, and some say it marked the beginning of his dependence on high-powered painkillers -- the video and all the latest from the Jackson investigation, the LAPD now confirming they are not calling it a homicide investigation. We have all the details ahead.
COOPER: Continuing with our breaking news coverage in the brutal murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings in their home outside Pensacola, Florida, during an outwardly clockwork operation, chillingly so, with robbery as the alleged motive -- or an alleged motive.
Just a short time ago, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan announcing the arrest of Pamela Long Wiggins, charged with accessory after the fact to murder.
Sheriff Morgan joins us now.
Thanks for your time tonight.
You arrested this woman, this woman, a local realtor, Pamela Long Wiggins, an accessory after the fact. What was her involvement?
MORGAN: Well, she has had a long association with one of our primary suspects, Mr. Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr. And that was why she became a person of interest, because of that long-term association as her -- as a landlord and through her realty company.
And she also was a very good family friend, transporting him and his wife and children around. And so that's how she became a person of interest. We wanted the find out exactly what is that tie between the two of them. And, of course, she was with him, we have developed on, up on through the day of the murder. And, so, one thing led to another.
We will be holding a joint press conference tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Central time...
MORGAN: ... with the state attorney's office, and he will release the suspects on that.
COOPER: Can you say if she turned herself in?
MORGAN: Yes, sir, she did.
She was located in Orange Beach, Alabama, at a marina there. We put out earlier -- earlier today what is called a BOLO, a be-on-the- lookout order. And the Orange Beach P.D. received a -- a call-in tip.
And, also, I want to thank you, Mr. Cooper, and -- and your station. You were one of the stations that published her photo and put it on the air. People are watching this newscast, as well as others. And a maintenance man called the tip in.
And, so, we managed to get the Orange Beach P.D. down there. And she was held for us pending the arrival of our investigators. And -- she -- she complied on what to add. She complied in coming back to Pensacola, Florida.
COOPER: You say there is a distinct possibility there are more people involved who -- who are out there.
Do you know specifically who they are? I mean, you have been talking about looking somebody who -- who may have had knowledge of the security system, because it seems that those who were the -- the accused in this case believed the security system was off. It -- it didn't. So, maybe somebody was turned to turn that off and didn't fulfill that part of the mission.
Is that correct?
MORGAN: That's true.
COOPER: And do you know who that person might be?
MORGAN: That's true, Anderson.
We have -- at this time, we have developed two persons of interest along those lines. And, again, at this point in the investigation, it's something that we could share with the press, with the media, I should say, in that, again, when you review this operation, the one gaping hole in this is, why was that system left on?
And we are of the opinion that they thought, upon entering the Billings compound, that, in fact, the system had been disabled.
COOPER: Are you in touch with those persons of interest, or are you searching for them?
MORGAN: No, sir, not at this time. We hope to begin the interviews of these persons of interest very shortly, hopefully within the next day or so.
COOPER: But -- but you know where they are?
MORGAN: Yes, sir, we do.
MORGAN: Yes, sir, we do.
COOPER: Now, we have looked at some of Byrd Billings business documents filed with county courts, and they indicate an intention to shield his assets from taxes.
Is -- is it -- there -- there are those who believe he may have been hiding cash in that safe. A, can you confirm that? And -- and, B, was that what was taken from the safe? MORGAN: No, sir, we cannot.
And I want to state here and refocus for the public what we have done throughout this investigation. People need to understand that the focus of our investigation has been the murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings, specifically that, who are the perpetrators of this crime. And we believe we have got the seven suspects that are involved this violent crime in custody today.
We are working on those folks now that worked on the periphery of this, who may have had some involvement that aided and abetted in some way the commission of this felony. We have not -- and I repeat, not -- investigated any member of the Billings family for any crime, nor have we even looked at that. We have received no complaints.
And at this point and juncture in this investigation, we have no reason to do that.
COOPER: In some interviews, you have said that robbery was "a motive." Maybe it's just a syntax thing. You didn't say "the motive."
Are there other possible motives?
MORGAN: Yes, sir, we believe there are. And, again, we're developing -- developing those in conjunction with the state attorney's office.
COOPER: There are other -- there's also a DEA -- the DEA had said that someone had -- from your office or from a -- law enforcement had contacted them for help in this investigation. You have said you did not do that. Do you have any knowledge of any other agency that contacted the DEA?
MORGAN: I believe, Mr. Cooper, there was some confusion in that.
Last week, we held a joint conference in my offices, in my -- in my conference room, where we brought in the bureau, the DEA, the ATF, the IRS, ICE. Almost every federal investigative agency was there.
During the conduct of this investigation, one of the things that was intriguing to us and also very frustrating was the amounts and volume of information that we had developed on other individuals, other crimes that may have been committed, et cetera.
And, so, I have both a legal and ethical responsibility to pass that information on to the appropriate agencies. Now, we have, in fact, briefed agencies along the way during the conduct of this investigation as a courtesy to keep them updated on our investigation.
I think, somehow, it was confused that -- that the DEA somehow was involved in our investigation. And I want to state here that, to -- that, to the best of my knowledge, as the sheriff of Escambia County, they are not.
COOPER: OK. We have been getting a lot of e-mails from viewers who are kind of scratching the heads, and say, if these folks were out to rob this couple, A, why -- why kill them? And, also, why have this military operation?
We have got one question from a viewer from Text 360. Their question was, "Why kill the parents if this was just a simple robbery?" This is from Candace in Georgia.
MORGAN: Well, again, if you're not present at the crime scene, or not involved with the crime, you're not really sure what spins out of control.
I can tell you that, in law enforcement, there's many things that start out as a simple street buy on drugs that turns violent very quickly, and a -- a death occurs. So, unless someone was actually in that home at the time of this robbery, you're only speculating as to why it devolved into a murder.
COOPER: Finally, at this point, do you feel like you have your hands around the overall -- I mean, exactly what happened and why it happened, and, at this point, you are kind of just trying to put the pieces together? Or is there -- and has that information been released, or do you feel like there's a whole -- there's more to this story that the public has yet to learn?
MORGAN: There will be more to the story.
In -- in -- in Florida, sir, because we work with the prosecution at this phase in this case, we have basically deferred to the state attorney on the release of -- of much of this information. But it will also come out at trial, once the prosecution begins their case, and, of course, the defense, also.
And, so, the elements that we can't speak to today will, of course, come out during the trial. But what I want to assure the public of is this. We have the seven individuals that entered the Billings compound and committed this violent crime. They're in custody in the Escambia County jail today.
And, again, we're working on those folks who may have some had peripheral involvement with this who may, such as with the alarm system, had a key component or element to play that chose not to, but our community is staff from that perspective. We don't have any violent offenders associated with this case that are still at large, to the best of my knowledge.
COOPER: Sheriff Morgan, it's been a long couple days for you. And I appreciate your time tonight.
Thank you very much, sir.
MORGAN: Thank you, sir. It's an honor to be here.
COOPER: The conversation continues online. You can join the live chat right now at AC360.com. I'm about to log on myself. Just ahead tonight, journeying through Michelle Obama's past and that of countless African-Americans. She is descended from both slave owners and slaves, as the president pointed out during the campaign. Tonight, we will show you the world of her great-great-grandfather.
Also, the video behind the picture, that picture, never shown before, the video, Michael Jackson, his hair on fire. Did his injury set in motion the chain of prescriptions and addictions that may have led to his death?
That and more -- when we continue. We will be right back.
COOPER: Still ahead: big bonuses totaling more than $1 million, not on Wall Street, but for government secretaries in Texas. Their boss says they deserved it, but was it legal?
Gary Tuchman tonight is "Keeping Them Honest."
But, first, Tom Foreman joins us with a 360 bulletin -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson.
We begin with breaking news out of Michigan. A highway in suburban Detroit is shut down after a fiery crash. A police official told CNN affiliate WDIV that two tanker trucks crashed on Interstate 75 in Hazel Park -- that's just north of downtown -- sending flames and smoke shooting hundreds of feet into the air. Authorities believe the smoke could be toxic.
On the third day of her confirmation hearings, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor strongly asserted her adherence to the law, while dodging questions about her personal beliefs. Sotomayor was questioned today by Republican and Democratic senators, including Al Franken. She faces one more day of questioning tomorrow.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States is appalled by Iran's crackdown on protesters after its disputed political election, but, she says, direct talks with the republic are still on the table, for now. Secretary Clinton's remarks came during a wide-ranging speech on the administration's international policy priorities.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The question is not whether our nation can or should lead, but how it will lead, in the 21st century.
Rigid ideologies and old formulas don't apply. We need a new mind-set about how America will use its power to safeguard our nation, expand shared prosperity, and help more people in more places live up to their God-given potential.
(END VIDEO CLIP) FOREMAN: That's what the secretary says.
And, in Thailand, a fashion show that literally went to the dogs. Dogs strutted their stuff in fetching outfits from swimsuits to evening wear. The company hopes to sell these products to people who treat their pets as family members.
I don't know, Anderson. I -- we think of our dog as a family member, but, as a reward, I would not make her wear one of those.
COOPER: Yes. That looks more like a punishment in some cases.
FOREMAN: Yes, exactly.
COOPER: Right. Tom, thanks.
Another reminder, let's us know what you think. Join the live chat happening now at AC360.com. I finally logged on right now, just posted another comment.
Still ahead: tracing the first lady's roots -- Michelle Obama, graduate of Princeton, Harvard University, and, as the president pointed out, descendant of slaves. What we learned about her family history, we will show you.
Also ahead, never-before-seen video of the accident that some say might have triggered Michael Jackson's alleged drug addiction. See what happened after his hair caught on fire during that infamous Pepsi commercial. The video is just -- it's stunning, if you haven't seen it -- coming up on 360.
COOPER: We promised a report last night during our coverage of President Obama's trip to Ghana exploring the first lady's ancestry. Technical difficulties prevented it. We fixed the problem tonight, I hope.
And, in any case, the report, we think, is too fascinating not to air, even if it is a little bit late.
Now, I want to set the stage, though, a little bit first by playing a portion of my interview with the president, just a snippet, at the Cape Coast Castle, which is really a haunting place, where countless numbers of enslaved Africans were killed and even more held were before, being sent off on slave trips to America and the rest of the New World.
Mr. Obama talking about his wife's heritage and her reaction to the visit. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's something you referenced, actually, during the campaign in your speech on race about -- about your own life...
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes.
COOPER: ... about Mrs. Obama. You said that -- that she has -- has the blood of slaves...
COOPER: ... and also slave owners.
COOPER: How did she respond to being here?
OBAMA: You know, I haven't had the chance to process it yet. I think, you know, we were both listening and talking to the children.
But I -- I can't imagine that, for her, for her mother, who is with us, our children's godmother, who is with us, all of whom are direct descendants of slaves, that seeing that portal doesn't send a powerful message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, we don't know exactly where Michelle Obama's ancestors came from, only that her great-great-grandfather was enslaved on a huge rice plantation not far from Charleston, South Carolina.
Joe Johns picks up the story.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Humid, wet, mosquito-infested, overgrown, it was a sprawling South Carolina rice plantation in the 1800s.
This is where Michelle Obama's family believes her great-great- grandfather, Jim Robinson, spent his life, and where he toiled in the relentless Carolina sun. It's called Friendfield Plantation, but these fields would hardly have been a friend to Michelle Obama's great-great-grandfather or to the other 350 slaves here.
It was a hard life. Farming rice was backbreaking, alligators, snakes and swamp fever everywhere, sunup to sundown six days a week.
Historian Toni Carrier.
TONI CARRIER, FOUNDING DIRECTOR, LOWCOUNTRY AFRICANA: It was a terrible labor regime. It was a -- slavery itself was oppressive, and it's left a very deep wound in our society, because it's so unpleasant. JOHNS: Slaves here likely spoke their own dialect and grew their own food. Typically, most had roots in the rice-growing countries of West Africa. Today, this is what's left. It was called Slave Street, their cabins whitewashed, bare-bones, no plumbing, one or two families in a cabin.
ED CARTER, PROPERTY MANAGER: Shall we go in?
JOHNS: Ed Carter manages the plantation property. He's been here 20 years.
(on camera): So, this is it, huh?
CARTER: Yes. This is the -- the inside of the cabins. It would have had a fireplace, instead of a stove there, at one time. That was covered in.
CARTER: But the walls have been redone.
JOHNS: There's not a lot of change in here. So, the rice plantations would have been back here?
CARTER: Right. When you come through the back door, these trees right here would not have probably been here. And it goes on back to the -- to the waterline, which is where the rice field starts at.
JOHNS (voice-over): The original master's mansion burned down and was rebuilt in the 1930s.
Old census records show Michelle Obama's great-great-grandfather was born about 1850. His parents were born in South Carolina, too. Jim Robinson married a woman named Louiser (ph) and had several children.
Neither he nor his wife could read or write. In fact, they would be the last generation of the Robinson family born into slavery and the last illiterate generation.
(on camera): Michelle Obama's great-great-grandfather was born a slave, but died a free man. He still came back to the plantation, though, and is buried here, in all likelihood, with his parents and many other relatives. You won't find his grave, though. Most of the graves out here are unmarked.
CARTER: There are about seven or eight marked tombstones, and the rest of them are just, you know, impressions in the ground where you can see they're buried at. And, most of the time, when -- when people back then couldn't afford a -- a cement stone, they would do it out of wood or cypress.
John, That's what we know about Michelle Obama's ties to the Robinson family of Georgetown, South Carolina, but there's a lot we don't know. We don't know how many generations of slaves there were or what route they took to this hemisphere in the first place. (voice-over): Research group Lowcountry Africana traced the first family's history in the U.S., but could not make the link back to Africa.
CARRIER: That would take a lot of time to do, and -- and certainly not a shred of documentary evidence right now which would even suggest to us what the African origins would be.
JOHNS: In Georgetown, Margretta Knox attended this church with Michelle's grandparents, Jim Robinson's grandson and his wife. But the family ties to the old plantations kind of got lost.
MARGRETTA KNOX, GEORGETOWN RESIDENT: You've been around all of your life so you just don't even -- your mind -- it doesn't cross your mind. You're just living life for today, I guess.
JOHNS: And in that way, it probably never crossed Jim Robinson's mind that one day his great-great-granddaughter, too, would be living in a White House so very different from his own.
Joe Johns, CNN, Georgetown, South Carolina.
COOPER: A White House built, in part, by slaves. You can watch my entire interview with President Obama and the exclusive walk and talk through the Cape Coast Castle on our Web site, right now, at AC360.com.
While we were gone with President Obama over the week, we looked at the increasing number of Americans who visit to Ghana and some who decide to move there. They say it's a place for them to reconnect with their heritage and for many what happened to their ancestors at the Cape Cost Castle is still vivid, still so raw. Tomorrow you'll see my full story, but here's a preview of a conversation with a woman named Imahkus Okofu who now makes Ghana her home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
And what about the experience of being in that room made you want to live here?
IMAHKUS OKOFU, GHANA RESIDENT: I don't know. It was something that just came over me. That when I -- after I had gone through that experience and after I had felt my ancestors, I felt -- I felt as though people were -- I felt as though people were putting their arms around me, they were comforting me. They made known that this was my place and that I had a responsibility in being here and that I belonged here. That's what it said, it said you belong here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: You can see the full report tomorrow on 360. And over the weekend we are running an hour special, President Obama's African journey at, I think it's 8:00 p.m. and also 11:00 p.m. repeated Saturday and Sunday night with more stories like that. Still ahead, a Texas lawyer giving his secretaries six-figure bonuses, government secretaries. Is he just a generous boss or is he stealing from the public to pay his private payroll? We're keeping them honest.
And never before seen video of the accident that may have changed Michael Jackson's life forever. See what happened after his hair caught fire during the taping of that 1984 Pepsi commercial. The incredible images, the video you'll see for yourself, coming up on 360.
COOPER: As the investigation into Michael Jackson's death continues, so does the speculation about his addiction to painkillers. Tonight, for the first time, we are seeing what that -- where that addiction may have begun. Video obtained by "Us Weekly" of the 1984 Pepsi commercial that went horribly wrong.
It was the sixth take and the pyrotechnics when off too early, causing sparks to hit Jackson's hair and explode into flames. Take a look.
Now, at the time, he doesn't seem to notice, keeps dancing, his hair on fire for more than 10 seconds. Finally, crew members rush him, tackle Jackson to the ground, put out the fire. It is a chaotic scene. The security detail quickly surrounds him, everyone. Finally, someone lifts him from the floor. You can see the second and third degree burns on his scalp and then he is taken off to a hospital.
Joining us now, Jackson's former publicist, Stuart Backerman and CNN senior analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
So, you say this moment really did change things for Michael Jackson. How so?
STUART BACKERMAN, JACKSON'S FMR PUBLICIST: I truly believe that it was a Seminole moment in his life, really, because that Pepsi commercial created such a painful situation, obviously, as the scalp was scalded. He couldn't grow his own hair, he had to wear wigs after that, but the most important part of that was that he was prescribed Demerol roll to mitigate the pain.
COOPER: Right, he has publicly said that he became addicted to painkillers to soothe the pain from that.
BACKERMAN: That's right. I mean, when you think about it, I mean, as we just witnessed, he had a fire on his head, in essence, and you know, like I mentioned, his scalp was scalded badly and he was in deep pain and so initially his prescription drug situation started out in a very innocent way, in a sense, by virtue of him trying to mitigate that deep pain that he had.
COOPER: When you were representing him, how important was his physical image to him? I mean, clearly he must have thought a lot about it because of all the surgeries he underwent. BACKERMAN: Oh, it was really important to him, how he looked. I mean, as a celebrity, and as a person who unfortunately wasn't really secure in his own skin, nonetheless, you know, he felt that he had to look good and so his visual image was very important to him.
COOPER: Jeff, seeing this video for the first time, you have covered...
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR ANALYST: It was just astonished. But you know, this is true that when you talk to people about Michael Jackson, this event was considered the biggest event of his adult life. The implications of it, not just physically, but emotionally, and his life really did change after that.
COOPER: Do we know how?
TOOBIN: Well, it just -- he became more withdrawn, more paranoid, more isolated from other people and physically, this was something that, you know, did not heal quickly or well or totally, and it just scarred him in every sense of the word for the rest of his life.
COOPER: What do you make of the -- LAPD has come forward, Jeff, and said this is not a homicide investigation or we are not considering this a homicide investigation?
TOOBIN: I never understood why anyone was talking about this in terms of a homicide, anyway. If you define homicide in the traditional way of some sort of intentional killing, this doesn't seem like anyone tried to kill Michael Jackson. Sure, Latoya was talking about it, but you know, Latoya often doesn't make a lot of sense. There's no one who had any access to him who seemed to want him dead. You know, maybe the doctors didn't treat him as well as they should have, they should have done something else, but the idea that someone killed Michael Jackson always seemed preposterous to me.
COOPER: But, if somebody misprescribed medication or oversaw the administering of medication that he should not have been receiving they could be up on charges.
TOOBIN: They could be civilly charged -- there could be a civil lawsuit for malpractice, there could be medical disciplinary proceedings. The idea that you could criminally prosecute someone, even for manslaughter, for giving drugs to someone who himself had tremendous access to drugs...
COOPER: But if somebody is overseeing the, you know, I.V. use of Diprivan, isn't that criminal?
TOOBIN: You know, I think you would have to know the circumstances. If you had, say, an individual who demanded Diprivan, who said I have used it in the past, who showed you records that he used it in the past, I mean, you just don't know what the circumstances are. This does not seem like a criminal case to me and the LAPD which, by the way, has a record not so great in celebrity cases, they might want to stay away from a criminal case unless they have it dead to rights, but I don't think they would in this circumstance.
COOPER: Stuart, given your experiences in working with Jackson, I don't know how many interactions you had with the family, does it surprise -- it shouldn't surprise many people, but I'm going to ask the question anyway -- Latoya is paid for an interview with a British tabloid, Joe Jackson's receiving, I guess, $200,000 from ABC, allegedly, for the use of video, but also an interview went along with it. I mean, it does seem like a lot of people are kind of making money off of this.
BACKERMAN: Well, it doesn't surprise me to tell you the truth. I remember a time we were in Las Vegas and Michael Jackson called to say Joe Jackson was on the way with a videographer who wanted to sell a documentary to a network and he told me: It's all right. You can tell my father to come up to the Mirage where I was staying, but between you and me, Stuart, I'm not going to be there.
Michael didn't want to play that game anymore. He wanted to avoid his father because he knew his father was, in essence, using him as a prop to, you know, procure, acquire moneys for -- at Michael's expense basically, to Joe Jackson's benefit. I'm sorry to say that, but that's the truth.
COOPER: Stuart Backerman, appreciate you coming on, again. And Jeff Toobin, as well. Thank you very much.
There's much more on Michael Jackson and his family on AC360, right now, including and in depth look at Michael's parents, their relationship with each other and with their son. More details on that.
Next, dramatic developments on a story we've been following. A former Texas D.A. using money seized from crime suspects to pay his secretaries massive bonuses. Did he go too far? "Keeping Them Honest."
And shark attack survivors headed to Capitol Hill and the mission may surprise you, specifically, which side they're taking when it comes to humans and sharks. Details on that, ahead.
COOPER: Did a former district attorney in Texas use public funds as a private piggy bank? It is a story we broke and tonight new details and new surprises. And I want to be clear about one thing, in Texas, and several other states, it is legal for police to spend money seized from crime suspects. But in this case, did this D.A. go too far? As you'll see, he used the cash to pay the secretaries to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Gary Tuchman tonight is "Keeping Them Honest."
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Frank Garza was a district attorney in south Texas who gave his secretaries shockingly large bonuses. He says he had good reason to write them checks totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
JOE FRANK GARZA, FMR JIM WELLS CO, TEXAS D.A.: They were my eyes and ears in the community.
TUCHMAN: Over a five year period, Garza wrote the three women checks worth more than $1.1 million because he says they were loyal and exceptional workers. The money came from a so-called forfeiture fund. Certain people suspected of serious crimes must forfeit cash and valuables to the police. Many states, including Texas, allow police and D.A.s to spend this money so law enforcement can benefit from such arrests. But, D.A.s are only supposed to spend this money on "official purposes".
Armando Barrera is the current district attorney of the county, who beat Garza this past election day.
ARMANDO BARRERA, CURRENT JIM WELLS CO, TEXAS D.A.: Most of the money that was used by him was for three secretaries.
TUCHMAN (on camera): Most of this forfeiture money?
BARRERA: Most of it.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): CNN has received a report from an auditor hired by the county which indicates that's correct, that more than half of the forfeiture money went to the secretaries. The report saying between 2004 and 2008, the former D.A. wrote one secretary checks totaling $380,000, another $378,000, a third $376,000.
As for Garza, he also wrote himself $81,000 worth of checks, according to the reports, which he says were for expenses.
Look at the checks for just 2007. One secretary received an extra $103,000, another $108,000, the third, $98,000. County officials say these secretaries received base annual salaries around $35,000 a year. When we met the former D.A. two months ago, he acknowledged paying these women a lot of extra money.
GARZA: I saw nothing wrong with it.
TUCHMAN: Remember, the law says the D.A. must spend forfeiture money for official purposes only, but Garza says that's not as clear cut as it sounds.
GARZA: There's no definition nobody can tell you what an official purpose is.
TUCHMAN: In a written statement to CNN, following the release of this report, the former D.A. said, "There is no question that the operation of the D.A.'s office depends on an effective and competent staff...the whole purpose of paying the salaries that I did was the achievement of getting such a staff. This is an official purpose of the D.A.'s office."
We've been provided 1099 forms showing the secretaries did report income to the IRS. CNN's repeated attempts to interview these three women were unsuccessful. Garza says he has talked to them about a report and that none of them want to talk to us.
He say it is audit was a witch hunt that was politically motivated. The new D.A. and the auditor deny that and the D.A. says he's sent this audit to the Texas attorney general's office to investigate these huge paydays for the three secretaries.
COOPER: So how did the D.A. pay these women and was there a regular schedule for these additional paychecks?
TUCHMAN: Well, Anderson, Mr. Garza spent a lot of time writing checks. In 2005 alone, we counted the number of checks he wrote to these three women. More than 300 checks, 100 checks to each of these women, roughly. That's about one check every three or four days. And I asked him, you know, reasonable people might think maybe he didn't want to write a few checks with a huge amount rather he would like to write smaller checks more times. So, I said to him, why did you write so many checks? And he said, well, it depended on my account. If there was a lot of money in the forfeiture account, I'd write checks, if there wasn't I wouldn't write a lot of checks.
But, you know, it's fair to say that this man is in a county where a lot of people, a lot of members of the public are very is shocked and surprised from what they're learning of us and other members of the local news media, there.
COOPER: It is stunning. Gary Tuchman, you did it again, Gary, thank you.
Next, coming up, the story about churches under attack. CNN's Michael Ware inside a renewed wave of violence targeting Christians in Iraq. Extremists ratcheting up their efforts to drive out what is left of the Christian minority.
And an unlikely defense team, shark attack victims lobbying Congress in support of sharks. We'll tell you why.
COOPER: Tonight, a fresh reminder of the uncertainty and bloodshed in Iraq. Bombings in Baghdad and Ramadi today killed at least 12 Iraqis. And as you know, in recent weeks the uptick in violence has also included a renewed wave of attacks on Christians. They're being marked for death, the killer sending a message to the faithful. Michael Ware has more in tonight's "360 Dispatch."
MICHAEL WARE, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A church bombs in Baghdad, one of six struck by Islamic militants in less than 24 hours. Here, in Catholic bishop Warduni's rectory, his curtains shredded by shrapnel from a car bomb, part of a long-running campaign of attacks with a single, clear message from the extremists: Christians are not welcome in Iraq. Attacks that began not under Saddam Hussein's regime, but only after the U.S. invasion . BISHOP SHLEMON WARDUNI, CHURCH WAS BOMBED: This is a question of just attack the church. Why? We don't know. So, all this sudden actions against Christians, sure, it will be not so easy for Christians.
WARE (on camera): On Sunday evening, dozens and dozens of Iraqi families fill these chairs, here in the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic church in Baghdad. They come for 5:00 p.m. mass, as they do every week. When mass finished, they came out here into this courtyard. This church's protected by Iraqi check point. It's closest one just outside there, on the corner. When the car detonated, two young men had just stepped outside to collect their cars to take their families home. Those two men lost their lives and according to the Iraqi government, so did two others from the Muslim family living nearby. And among the congregation, the church says at least 25 people were wounded.
(voice-over): Attacks virtually certain to continue.
WARDUNI: They are almost doing against us. We have no job. We have no security.
WARE: With U.S. Troops now restricted to bases outside of Iraq cities, able to operate only at the invitation of the Iraqi government, the security the bishop seeks must now come from the Iraqi security forces. Those forces are being trained by Americans led by this man, Lieutenant General Frank Helmik and the general says these church bombings shouldn't be taken as an indication of how the Iraqis are faring.
LT GEN FRANK HELMICK, U.S. ARMY: Our combat forces left the city. It's been two weeks, if you will. So again, these "attacks," these high profile attacks are not unexpected at all.
WARE: In the end, there will be one true measure of success, how well the Iraqi forces can protect Iraqis.
HELMICK: In some cases, they are reverting back to the Iraqi way, but that's not the wrong way. It is the Iraqi way. And what our goal is and our mission is to leave a credible security force in this country to provide the protection for the Iraqi people. So, the Western way may not be the right way for the Iraqi military.
WARE (on camera): No one knows the exact figure, but most agree that the time of the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq's Christian community was about a million strong. Now, almost seven years later, most believe there's only a few hundred thousand left. After years of sustained attacks on their communities by Muslim militant extremists, a witness to another recent attack on a church here in Baghdad said that if this continues, there will be no Christians left in this country.
WARDUNI: I, for myself, I will stay here until the last drop of my blood.
WARE (voice-over): Courage he will need for the fate of Iraq's remaining Christians and churches will be one of many barometers of the new Iraq's success or failure.
Michael Ware, CNN, Baghdad.
COOPER: Well, let's check on some of the other stories we're following, right now. Tom Foreman joins us with another "360 Bulletin" -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson a. Russian- made airliner with carrying 168 people crashed in northwestern Iran today killing everyone on board. Among the passengers, 10 members of the country's youth judo team. Some witnesses say the plane caught fire before crashing into a field creating a huge crater. The plane's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have both been found.
After more than a month's delay, the space shuttle "Endeavor" on the way to the International Space Station, a beautiful launch this afternoon. Seven astronauts onboard are bringing equipment to Japans' space station science lab. They will reach the space station on Friday.
Strange allies on Capitol Hill. Nearly a dozen shark attack victims urging Congress to protect the animals that hurt them. The group wants to strengthen laws protecting sharks from finning. The growing market for fin meat, which is a popular ingredient in the soup delicacy in Asia, threatens many shark species all around the world.
And smokers know that cigarettes are not cheap, but wait until you hear this. This New Hampshire man says he swiped the debit card at a gas station to buy a pack and was charged more than $23 quadrillion dollars. He says he went online to check his balance and saw the 17 digit charge. And to add insult to injury, a $15 overdraft fee. And just -- just to get an idea here, Anderson, on what his bill looked like, here's the number: $23,148,855,308,184,500. Luckily, he called his bank, Anderson, and they fixed it.
COOPER: They believed him, luckily.
FOREMAN: Yeah, that's quite a bill, there.
COOPER: Yeah. I was once charged a googolplex for a beer. But, I don't even know if a googolplex really -- a googolplex - thinking the kindergartner number. Everyone would be like, oh yeah, a googolplex. Googolplex and one.
FOREMAN: Yeah, you had those giant numbers when you were kids. They weren't real numbers, you just made them up.
COOPER: Right. All right, Tom.
Up next, a debate -- well, a debate to dance to. Take a few lawmakers, a bill, add a little music, and what do you get? It's our "Shot of the Day," coming up.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Tom, for tonight's shot, making laws and getting down, a couple of guys created something called "Auto Tune the News" by adding a drum beat, bass line and a little electronic mix to the vocals or electronomix (ph). I'm not sure what that is.
They've made the debate over the climate bill fun to watch. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just remember these four words of what this legislation means: jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs let's vote for jobs and jobs. Don't forget about jobs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All in favor say aye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Opposed no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vote no, vote no, vote no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Between the two sides (INAUDIBLE) word freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom to allow the American people to live their lives. (INAUDIBLE) That will allow America to flourish. To allow guns to flourish and allow freedom to flourish
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I love that.
FOREMAN: That's great. I like. More cow bell, huh?
COOPER: I know. Boehner should get a record deal from that.
FOREMAN: That was good. We should do that every night.
COOPER: That's right. We should.
FOREMAN: That would certainly simplify our coverage for about 30 seconds.
FOREMAN: It's from AutoTuneTheNews.com if you want to check it online. Yeah, pretty cool stuff. Tom, thanks very much for your help tonight. I appreciate it. You can see all the most recent shots at the Web site, AC360 and also the "Beat 360," which we didn't have time for tonight will be on the Web site a little bit later.
Coming up at the top of the hour, the breaking news. It's an out and out tragedy. A new arrest in the case of the Florida couple brutally killed, Byrd and Melanie Billings. We'll get the latest from the local sheriff and much more. Breaking news when 360 continues.