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Kidnapped Girl Found; New Allegations Even Recent Vets Can't Get V.A. Appointments; Teen Faces 99 Years for Pot Brownies

Aired May 22, 2014 - 12:00   ET



"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: She was just 15 when she disappeared in 2004, taken away by her mom's live-in boyfriend, allegedly. And today, she is back home with a child of her own, after finally breaking away from a decade of deception and abuse.

Also, this hour -


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They go by R&R, rules and regulations, but they don't have any C&C, no common sense and no compassion.


BANFIELD: Behind all of the stories of the V.A.'s cooked books, cover- ups and politicians failed promises are real people suffering and dying, veterans who served their country. Investigative reporter Drew Griffin back on the case and he's live with us this hour.

And how can a California community sleep at night knowing that a judge could release this man, a man who's become known as the pillowcase rapist, because he terrorized that state in the '70s and the '80s, and he is just about ready to move on in.

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's Thursday, May the 22nd. And welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

This is a nightmare story, and it is all too eerily familiar. A California youngster, a young woman, found nearly a decade after she disappeared. Police say that she was drugged and kidnapped when she was just 15 years old, that she was assaulted repeatedly, physically and sexually, and all of this allegedly by her mother's 31-year-old live-in boyfriend.

Well, this is the man they're talking about. And, today, his alleged victim, who was 15 at the time, is now 25. Police say Isidro Garcia, the man you're looking at, forced her to marry him when she turned 18. That he even got her pregnant. That she gave birth to a daughter just two years ago. The young woman, quite understandably, doesn't want to be identified and so in any photograph CNN is blurring her face and also blurring the face of her now little daughter.

That's why these pictures perhaps look so incredibly strange. The victim and her alleged kidnapper and tormentor, along with their daughter, seemingly just looked like a normal family in photos from KNBC. In some of the photos they're even dressed in coordinating T- shirts from the lighthearted movie like "Despicable Me." Hard to even imagine.

Part of the reason why the neighbors had absolutely no idea what was really going on behind the closed doors. Police say that this young victim endured years of physical, mental and sexual abuse. Our Sara Sidner went to the apartment building that they shared. And it's just miles away from this victim's heartbroken mother.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These photos from KNBC show that 25-year-old woman found a decade after she says she was kidnapped. These photos, taken during her alleged captivity, show her, her alleged kidnapper and their child seemingly living a normal life. Breaking overnight, she tells our affiliate KABC that she's "so happy and God-blessed to be with her family." She says, "all the time" she cried for them.

Police say the girl entered a police station in Bell Gardens, California, with a disturbing story. She told police her mother's then live-in boyfriend, this man, Isidro Garcia, drugged, kidnapped and tricked her into keeping quiet after a fight at the family home back in 2004.

LT. SCOTT FAIRFIELD, BELL GARDENS POLICE DEPT.: She walked in on her own. And she stated that she was kidnapped about 10 years ago and held against her will.

CPL. ANTHONY BERTAGNA, SANTA ANA POLICE DEPT.: You're talking about a 15-year-old girl that came to this country, doesn't speak English. Her mother's boyfriend decides that he wants to physically and sexually abuse her. He tells her that her mother doesn't care, that she can't go to the police because they're going to deport her.

SIDNER: The girl reportedly telling police she ended up marrying and having a baby with her alleged kidnapper, all the while harboring the painful secret.

SIDNER (on camera): This apartment complex is where the couple lived. Police say it's about 25 miles from where the victim's mother lived. But people who live here in this very tight-knit community say they knew the couple well and they simply can't believe what they're hearing. It appeared they loved each other.

MARIBEL GARCIA, VICTIM'S NEIGHBOR: She would go to the market. Like every other couple, they'd be happy, kissing, holding hands. And like she comes up with this now. Why did she take so long to do it, you know?

SIDNER: Was there any indication that she was in trouble, that something was wrong in this family?

GARCIA: That I think of, myself, from what I've seen, no.

SIDNER (voice-over): But police say there was something terribly wrong.

BERTAGNA: We do know on two occasions she fled, she was caught and she was beaten for her efforts.


BANFIELD: Sara Sidner joins me live now from that apartment complex in Bell Gardens, California.

Sara, what exactly can this man expect now?

SIDNER: Well, we know that he had a court appearance, his first in Santa Ana, this morning. And we're expecting to hear whether or not the district attorney is going to charge him with what the police have -- think that he should be charged with. Things including kidnapping, rape and false imprisonment. Some very serious charges. We do know that there was a million dollar bail set for Isidro Garcia.

I want to give you some new information that has just come into us now. We are hearing from the Bell Gardens Police that they gave us some details of how this all came about, more than we had known earlier. Apparently the alleged victim walked in. She was on the phone already with her mother who had reported her missing back in 2004. She walked in.

She knew her case number from Santa Ana when her mother had first put that information to police saying that her daughter was missing. And police also say that the very same day she went in, she was complaining about some sort of domestic violence with her husband and they were able to arrest him on Monday during a traffic stop. They arrested him for alleged domestic violence.

So that's a little bit more detail on how this all unfolded. Very interesting to note that she was already talking to her mother when she walked in to talk with police and tell her story.


BANFIELD: All of it, all of it, Sara, is just so remarkable. Thank you for that. Our Sara Sidner reporting live for us.

And I know what you're thinking, this case brings to mind a lot of names with similar stories, like Elizabeth Smart. Elizabeth Smart, you'll remember, kidnapped from her bedroom, age 14, then rescued nine months later. She spoke with our Chris Cuomo on "New Day" this morning on the power that a captor's words alone can have when you're held captive.


ELIZABETH SMART, KIDNAP SURVIVOR: Well, as a survivor who has been chained up in physical chains and also had the chains of threats held over me, I can tell you firsthand that threat is so much stronger than physical chains. Now, I don't have intimate details on what threats he was holding her -- over her head, but I understand that he was holding her family, that he was threatening her family. And, for me, that was the strongest threat anyone could have ever made to me.


BANFIELD: It certainly helps to make more of a bizarre story perhaps a little more easy to understand.

I want to bring in HLN law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks, and Dr. J. Buzz Von Ornsteiner, a forensic psychologist.

First, to you both, Buzz.


BANFIELD: What Elizabeth Smart just said on the air -


BANFIELD: The power of the threat.


BANFIELD: Apparently this young woman, according to neighbors, she had a car.


BANFIELD: She had her own friends. She walked into the police station to report this case herself.


BANFIELD: I don't know that I've ever heard of a kidnap victim, after this many years -


BANFIELD: Able to walk in on her own. Can you just sort of make some sense of that?

ORNSTEINER: Sure. And again, you know, everyone's an individual and everyone acts differently when they're held captive, when they're in isolation, when they've been beaten, when they've been abused, when they're conditioned not to think, when they're conditioned not to ask questions, when they're conditioned to believe that their abuser is the one that they must follow the orders from. And again, it was just her and him.

What I like to think happened was, once the child was born, and once she had to have certain freedoms because the child, of course, with her captor being such a narcissistic antisocial personality, someone whose -- it's all about him and she is basically viewed as a slave or a pawn, that child, in essence, becomes him and she's allowed more freedom to take care of that child.

BANFIELD: Or - and we don't know this yet as the investigation's only just beginning, understandably, maybe there were now threats that she recognized upon this child and it was just too much to bear.

ORNSTEINER: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: And, that -- Mike Brooks, maybe you can weigh in on that. At this point, when you - first of all, in your long career of law enforcement, have you ever heard of a kidnap victim after a decade able to walk in on her own to a police station to report that she's the one they're looking for?

MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, not at all. And, you know, it's very interesting, too, Ashleigh, what Sara was just reporting, that she was on the phone with her mother. So, had there been other contact with her mother and the mother did not report this to police? Because when I first heard this, I'm saying, OK, if the mother told police that it was Garcia that probably took her 10 years ago, did they drop the ball? But, you know, what role is the mother, her mother playing in this now?

BANFIELD: Well, I can tell you this. I can tell you this. That the way this began to unravel, Mike, and, again, this is just the tip of the iceberg in this investigation -

BROOKS: Right. Right.

BANFIELD: Is that this young victim, now 25, had recently been reaching out to her sister on Facebook. Again, it speaks to the freedoms that this young woman had.

BROOKS: Right.

BANFIELD: She had her own car, her own friends and access to the Internet and was reaching out to her own sister on Facebook, which may have then indicated to her, and, Buzz, you weigh in on this -


BANFIELD: The power that he held over her, threatening her and then telling her her family was no longer looking for her and that they'd be deported if she went back.


BANFIELD: Perhaps the sister on Facebook was able to diffuse that.

ORNSTEINER: Yes. The fear of threat - and, remember, that person's been conditioned over time to believe, in isolation, that that is what they must follow to survive. But yet what the amazing ability to have the Internet, you're still connected with other people, even though you're still isolated. And also, people have been critical about her interactions with friendships or people in the neighborhood. But she's told to act a certain way or else she's going to be abused or else -

BANFIELD: It's how she grew up.

ORNSTEINER: Exactly. Conditioned.

BANFIELD: I mean, let's look at this, she was 15.


BANFIELD: Elizabeth Smart was out in the public being paraded around and a police officer had to needle her to get her real name.


BANFIELD: Needle her before she gave it up.


BANFIELD: I mean the power of these people over their captors.

ORNSTEINER: Over time, in isolation, the threats.

BANFIELD: Yes. J. Buzz, thank you, Dr. Ornsteiner. And, Mike Brooks, as always, thank you for your insight as well.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BANFIELD: I'm sure there's a lot more to come on this story. As I said, we're just at the beginning.

And we have another big top story that we're looking at, that cover-up in the treatment delays of America's finest, America's veterans hospitals. Just when you think it can't get worse, I have news for you, it has. A whistle-blower has told CNN that veterans flesh off the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have had to wait for months to get treatment of active injuries. Our reporter, Drew Griffin, digging deeper and deeper daily and he joins me live after this quick break.


BANFIELD: The lawmaker heading one of the investigations, and yes I did say plural investigations, into outrageous wait times and cover- ups at veterans hospital is telling CNN, you ain't heard nothing yet.


REP. JEFF MILLER (R), VETERANS AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN: This is just the tip of the iceberg. I know there's more to come. We've received some information and some tips that will make what has already come out look like kindergarten stuff.


BANFIELD: Just since yesterday, we have learned servicemen and women fresh off the battlefield are waiting, quote, "six months, nine months or longer" for care at the V.A. hospital in Phoenix. We're going to hear from one of the fed doctors who works there in just a moment. The head of that hospital who was put on leave after telling our Drew Griffin that there are no secret wait lists, she's now been stripped of her $8,400 performance bonus. They said she was awarded that bonus in error.

And the embattled secretary of Veterans Affairs is expected back on Capitol Hill today. But three other senior officials stood up a House committee. They just didn't show. So they will likely be invited back. When I say invited, I mean by subpoena.

Here comes the lawsuits. Just get ready. A Washington state woman is now suing the federal government over her veteran brother's death from skin cancer, back in 2012. Everything started as just a small spot on Cliff Douglas' forehead but that spot took over his entire body, melanoma, in the four months he waited to get surgery.

I want to get back to Drew Griffin, our correspondent, live in Phoenix, whose correspondence has dragged all this ugliness right into the light of day. As I say daily, early and often, congratulations, you have done an incredible job, Drew, even the CNN producers who worked on this. This has been unbelievable.

There is more you learned. I saw you in a sit-down in a doctor who literally had to hide things for fear those others that worked there would destroy them before any investigators could get there. That's not even the most of what she had to say.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is a doctor, Katherine Mitchell. She's currently working in the Phoenix, V.A. hospital behind me.

Ad I hope she does meet with the White House deputy that arrived here a few moments ago, Kathryn Mitchell works in the post deployment clinic, with members coming out of active service in Iraq and Afghanistan and transitioning from the regular military health care into the V.A. health system.

These are the people she says should be given the highest priority. They are being told, when they get to the door here, stand in line.

Let's listen.


GRIFFIN: You're telling me that our troops, come back from war, now separated from active service --

DR. KATHERINE MITCHELL, PHOENIX V.A. POSTDEPLOYMENT CLINIC: Who should have priority for scheduling, do not.

GRIFFIN: Who are coming to the Phoenix V.A. for follow-up care for war injuries.

MITCHELL: Correct.

GRIFFIN: Are being put on a waiting list and made to wait six to 10 months?

MITCHELL: Yes or longer.

GRIFFIN: You're kidding?

MITCHELL: No. But it's the same for everyone. Everyone is made to wait.

GRIFFIN: That's now. That's happening now?

MITCHELL: Unless they've changed something since the --

GRIFFIN: You're there now.

MITCHELL: I don't -- since all this happened --

GRIFFIN: We're talking two or three weeks.


GRIFFIN: Can you tell me two or three weeks ago what type of person we're talking about?

MITCHELL: We're talking about people injured by being blown up by IEDs. We're talking about people who had a mental breakdown and have severe PTSD and are having trouble functioning.

We're talking about veterans that were severely injured by some means in the -- while in the military, even if it wasn't in actual combat because we have people involved in vehicle accidents and people injured stateside.

GRIFFIN: Who have you told this to, in terms of this United States government?

MITCHELL: The OIG knows when they spoke to me. The OIG inspectors can ask anyone who does scheduling.

GRIFFIN: They asked you?

MITCHELL: They didn't ask me. I told them.


GRIFFIN: Ashleigh, Rob Nabors, the White House deputy sent out by the courthouse, did arrive 15 to 20 minutes ago. He's scheduled to meet with the executives here and then go on a walk-and-talk around the hospital meeting with health care providers.

I hope he meets with the ones that we've been talking to, both on the record and off, because they will tell him very similar stories to like what you heard from Dr. Katherine Mitchell.


BANFIELD: Drew, as I watched that arrival video that you just aired, I kept wondering, why did it take Drew Griffin and CNN, the reporting that we've done and you've done, for him to arrive at that hospital and for the president to hold a news conference yesterday since this was part of the campaign when President Obama was a senator. This is just too long and too ugly.

And, again, congratulations to your team for uncovering this, Drew Griffin reporting for us live.

We are following another case. I'm sure at some point in your life you have either seen, heard of or at least you know something about hash brownies. But we have a legal question whether a punishment could possibly fit a crime. Have a listen.


JACOB LAVORO, DEFENDANT: When I heard I was going to get life in jail, my face turned completely white and I had to throw up.


BANFIELD: And you heard right, life, a Texas teenager possibly facing up to 99 years behind bars, all because of allegedly making and selling brownies laced with pot and hash.

The LEGAL VIEW on that, next.


BANFIELD: At a time when several states are loosening their marijuana laws, there is a case out of Texas drawing some national attention because a teenager who lives there is now facing the possibility of being in prison for up to 99 years. And his crime? Allegedly baking and selling marijuana laced with -- brownies laced with marijuana and hash oil.

Pamela Brown has the details.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nineteen-year-old Jacob Lavoro was facing the same prison sentence as some rapists and murderers in the state of Texas, up to 99 years behind bars. His alleged offense? Baking brownies with hash oil.

LAVORO: Honestly, when I heard I was going to get life in jail, my face turned completely white and I had to throw up.

BROWN: But local Texas police say Lavoro made a business out of selling them selling them for 25 bucks a pop.

Court documents indicate police found several bags of marijuana and hash oil in separate containers in his house, enough to bring another felony charge against Lavoro. But because of a controversial law, it's those hash brownies that could give big jail time.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It really was meant to cover a situation where you were mixing a small amount of cocaine or heroin with white flour, and it was difficult to weigh it because it's all mixed up together.

BROWN: In this case, police weighed all the ingredients in the pot brownies, not just the hash oil. They included the sugar and butter and milk and eggs and flour and chocolate, too, 661 grams total. But Lavoro's attorney said the actual drugs only made up a small fraction of that.

JACK HOLMES, JACOB LAVORO'S ATTORNEY: Probably about five grams of actual controlled substance, which in this case would be THC, and the rest is going to be baked goods.

BROWN: But police did exactly what Texas state law allows them to do, because there's no way to weigh the two separately.

COMMANDER ALAIN BABIN, ROUND ROCK POLICE: They were absolutely following our policies and procedures and followed the statute and filed the appropriate charge, yes.

BROWN: A legal analyst, Paul Callan, says the law makes no sense.

CALLAN: I don't think the law was ever intended to cover a situation like this where you're making a marijuana brownie. You know, if it did the Texas legislatures must have been eating these brownies when they wrote the law.

BROWN: The district attorney's office tells CNN they will offer a plea bargain to Lavoro that wouldn't include any jail time.

Even if Lavoro agrees to it, he's already spent a month in jail before being released on $30,000 bond.

LAVORO: It was scary. I was in there with real criminals that laughed at me.

BROWN: Lavoro says he is definitely out of the pot brownie-making business.

LAVORO: That's a no.

BROWN: Lavoro's attorney says they want to wait until they get the lab results back on substances taken from Lavoro's home before entertaining any plea deal.

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


BANFIELD: All right, Pamela, thank you.

Jacob Lavoro's dad appeared last night on Don Lemon's program, and he says he's absolutely stunned that his son could be facing life in prison for this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not shocked that he smokes, or smoked, marijuana. I am shocked that he's facing five years to life for marijuana.

That shocks the heck out of me. It doesn't seem right.


BANFIELD: And there are a lot of people who agree.

Paul Callan, former prosecutor here in New York with me, and also with me, this delightful tray of a pound and a half, almost a pound and a half, of brownies. And that's why I wanted to lift this tray so that you would see exactly the volume.

We're not talking cases and cases of brownies, but we're talking about more than just the THC that was located in his brownies. These are clean. We're talking about the cocoa, the butter, the flour, the cake. Everything was included in the weight that he's being charged with. I don't understand.

CALLAN: I will do a lot to improve the ratings on this show, but I'm not going to eat a marijuana brownie on air. I know it's clean.

BANFIELD: Let's remind our viewers. They are not marijuana brownies.

CALLAN: They're not. OK. Anyway, yes, this is a --

BANFIELD: Why did they include all those ingredients?

CALLAN: It really sounds idiotic, doesn't it? But here's where it comes from, heroin dealer's selling you heroin, and he mixes it with talcum or flour or something to cut the heroin, he's going to get charged with the entire volume that he's claiming that he's selling to you as a buyer.

BANFIELD: Because they can't separate it.

CALLAN: They could, but it's too hard to separate it. So they have these laws, and now, all of a sudden, marijuana brownies, they're applying it there. They shouldn't.

BANFIELD: Unintended consequences, perhaps.


BANFIELD: Two issues his lawyers raised on the show with Don Lemon last night.

Number one, he claims that his client says the police never identified themselves. In fact, he says they misidentified themselves, saying they were maintenance workers. So that's a Fourth Amendment issue.

Number two, he says there were two other roommates in the room, so who actually owned the brownies? And then, number three, there's an issue with a cell phone that apparently was seized and that there was material on the cell phone that gives them sort of drug dealer evidence.

There's issues with all three of those.

CALLAN: Oh, this lawyer's got a quiver full of Fourth Amendment arrows to fire here because, one, cops need a search warrant to search your house.

Now they can get permission to enter, but some of the early reports are that they identified themselves as maintenance workers and somebody let them into the house. If that's the case, it's an illegal search.