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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD
Tichelman Not Guilty Plea; Bergdahl Lawyers Up; Leanna Harris's Attorney Compares Her to Richard Jewell
Aired July 16, 2014 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: A Google executive found dead on his yacht. A much younger women he met on a sugar daddy website accused of injecting him with heroin and sipping wine as he died. Just a few minutes ago, she was in court. Another big date with the judge.
Also this hour, the U.S. soldier held by the Taliban for five years allowed to return to active duty. Now, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has lawyered up.
And it started as a routine call to Comcast customer service. But wait until you hear what happened when one man tried to cancel his service. Frustration and disbelief. What's the company doing about it and what are your rights if it happens to you?
Hello, everyone. I'm Deborah Feyerick, in for Ashleigh Banfield. It is Wednesday, July 16th. Welcome, everyone, to LEGAL VIEW.
Well, this just in, an alleged prostitute charged with manslaughter in the death of a Google executive on a yacht in California has just pleaded not guilty. And after her plea, the judge sent Alix Tichelman back behind bars. Not only is she accused in the heroin death of Forrest Timothy Hayes, a married father of five, but investigators are also looking into whether she's involved in the death of an Atlanta nightclub owner. Dean Riopelle dated Alix. He played in a band known for its sexually explicit lyrics and faddish (ph) themes. He died at his home several months ago, just two months before the Google executive. Alix, the alleged prostitute, was there at the time. One of Riopelle's former bandmates told CNN affiliate KRON that his friend would never use heroin or any other drugs. He suspected that something much more sinister is at play.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN VINE, DEAN RIOPELLE'S FORMER BANDMATE (voice-over): There's no way that that guy did heroin. No freakin' way. I mean she got him drunk and he was probably sleeping and she probably dosed him up and he freakin' died. And he was in no way, in shape or form any kind of user of heroin or drugs or anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FEYERICK: And Kyung Lah is live in Santa Cruz, California.
Kyung, really, a spectacular case. What happened in court? KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she entered the not
guilty plea, as you mentioned, Deb. She also requested that she be released on her own recognizance. That was denied. She asked that her bail be reduced. It is currently at $1.5 million. That was denied. So she was taken back into custody.
Through most of this arraignment, she was extremely quiet. She didn't say anything. Her eyes were pointed at the ground. Her family was there. Her parents and a woman who appeared to be her sister. These are very serious charges, felony manslaughter, drug possession and prostitution. Police say that she is the one who gave 51-year-old Forrest Hayes that lethal dose of heroin and instead of calling 911, as he was suffering, instead, allowed him to die at her feet. Now, they -- police also say that she was a call girl in Silicon Valley and that she met her clients and Hayes through a controversial website. And according to the website itself, they have millions of users.
BELLA, "SUGAR BABY": Up here is just describing a little bit about myself.
LAH (voice-over): She's 28, loves cooking, sunsets. A typical online dating profile. Until this section.
BELLA: Basically, the allowance you're seeking. I have moderate, which is $3,000 to $5,000.
LAH: Dollars, a month. And you heard right, an allowance, to date her. Bella -- that's not her real name -- is paid by suitors who list their sizable income and net worth, so-called sugar daddies, meeting sugar babies on the website seekingarrangement.com.
BELLA: I'm able to live the lifestyle I want without slaving for it. I'm being taken care of by someone I truly care for, and they're caring for me.
LAH: This is the same website that police say Alix Tichelman used to meet Google executive Forrest Hayes. Tichelman is accused in his murder and dubbed a high-end Silicon Valley call girl. Police say she used the website to meet her clients. The company says Tichelman was one of its users, but her profile raised no red flags.
ANGELA JACOB BERMUDO, SEEKINGARRANGEMENT.COM: Seeking Arrangement is in no way or form a prostitution or escorting service. We are a dating website.
LAH: That's the intent of the website, insists the company. It was started in 2006 by a self-described never been kissed M.I.T. nerd Brandon Wade. The former software engineer explained the concept to "Out Front" three years ago.
BRANDON WADE, CEO, SEEKINGARRANGEMENT.COM: A sugar baby is defined as a younger woman who usually wants to meet a wealthy man to take care of them. In this case, they are sugar daddies. LAH: Since then, Wade has built a multibillion dollar pay for play empire with more than 3 million members. Nearly half the women, says the company, are college students paying for the cost of their education.
MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: They are not a dating website.
LAH: Critics believe the website operates in a gray zone. The exchange of money between visitors is not clearly visible and the profiles don't necessarily solicit for sex.
ROBBINS: I don't think that it -- that makes it legal in California or any other state where prostitution is illegal. I just think it just makes it sticky to prosecute.
BELLA: I'm not in it just for the allowance. But, after all, we're -- we all are on this site for a reason.
LAH: In just two years, Bella has put $30,000 towards her college debt. She says she's only been intimate with two men, probably fewer partners than other women her age.
LAH (on camera): What is the difference between you and someone who's a paid escort?
BELLA: An escort gets paid to leave. I get a part of their wealth to see them again.
LAH: Now, the website says that it does strictly monitor its users. They try to do the best that they can, they say, and they also stress on their home page that prostitution is strictly prohibited.
FEYERICK: And, Kyung, quickly, did the judge give any reason as to why he would not release the bail for her?
LAH: Because he was concerned that she would simply not show up in court. If you look at some of the paperwork that's been filed here at court, they are concerned that she has Canadian citizenship as well. She has duel citizenship. And that she was preparing to move to another state.
FEYERICK: All right. Kyung Lah for us, thanks so much.
Well, clearly this is a conversation that bears even more discussion. I want to bring in CNN commentator and legal analyst Mel Robbins, who's been laughing through this segment, and CNN legal analyst and defense attorney Danny Cevallos.
Thanks so much, both of you, for joining us here.
I want to get to the more serious issue. That is, there is security footage that shows this woman not only sipping wine, but then stepping over this executive's body multiple times as he lay dying. And when you think about the callousness of that, Danny.
DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I want to talk about that, because people have made a lot of the fact that she's sipping wine and stepping over the executive. Now, that's morally significant because it may show that she's callus. But legally, it's not as problematic for her as did she bring -- hear are the questions that the prosecution needs to show --
CEVALLOS: Or give answers to. Did she bring the heroin? Did she help him inject it? They apparently think they've got a pretty good case there in the video because they've charged her with that. They do not charge her with sipping wine and leaving someone who apparently is nodding off.
And by the way, when heroin users use heroin, that's what they do, they nod off. Her defense is going to be, for sure --
CEVALLOS: That I thought he was just typically nodding off. Will it be effective? Probably not if the video shows what I think it's going to show.
FEYERICK: Although this --
ROBBINS: I hate that I agree with him.
FEYERICK: Oh, you do?
ROBBINS: Of course.
FEYERICK: My God (ph), Mel.
ROBBINS: I really do because there's no duty to actually step in and help somebody --
ROBBINS: In the United States. If you do and you botch it, you will not be prosecuted. But if, for example, as Danny lays out, he was consenting to the heroin, she might even say he asked to be injected with it. This isn't the first time that they were together. It's one of multiple times that they've been together. And if he then starts nodding off, she might be just waiting for his high to kick in.
FEYERICK: And the crucial thing -- well, the high kicks in very, very quickly, but the interesting thing is that also the heroin issues, the fact that this man, this friend of her ex-boyfriend's, the nightclub owner, said that, you know, this is not a guy who would do heroin ever. They're going to have to prove that, in fact, the executive may have been kind of a long-term user and that's going to be more difficult, no?
ROBBINS: Or not, or that they were in the kind of relationship where he had slowly lowered his barrier to it and wanted to try it.
ROBBINS: I mean that's what -- I think she should hire you, Danny.
FEYERICK: Yes. But here's the problem -- here's the problem --
ROBBINS: (INAUDIBLE) --
FEYERICK: You don't just try heroin, because heroin completely changes your life and just messes with you.
Let me just -- let me --
ROBBINS: You don't, but a lot of people do.
CEVALLOS: Well, you know (INAUDIBLE). Yes, see that's -- you know, people will really -- I'm going to make a distinction. Maybe this is the criminal defense guy in me.
CEVALLOS: But people will sample snorting it. But once someone's injecting, as a general rule, you don't just wander into a phish concert and say, hey, I'll try drugs for the first time, is anyone injecting?
CEVALLOS: That seems to me that somebody has probably been using for a while before they make that leap. That's just a general rule.
FEYERICK: Right. And we don't want to -- and we don't want to make allegation with this executive clearly, but this is something clearly that's going to come up in court. We didn't even get to how this website avoids all terms that could potentially make this friendly little dating site something akin to prostitution.
OK, Mel, Danny, stay with me, OK? We're going to be coming back to this and other topics.
But first, Bowe Bergdahl has lawyered up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EUGENE FIDELL, BOWE BERGDAHL'S ATTORNEY: He's gone through an extraordinary ordeal. An unimaginable ordeal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FEYERICK: And despite his ordeal, Bergdahl is back on regular duty. So why does he actually need an attorney?
And, no, that's not Captain America. That's right. That is, however, the man police say just broke into the Kennedy compound. And wait till you hear who he was looking for. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
FEYERICK: Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the former Army prisoner of war, now has a lawyer. Bergdahl returned to active duty just this week. The Army says that he's been in processing, doing paperwork, settling into his new duties, which include mostly desk work. He is the focus of an Army investigation led by a two-star general. There are plenty of unanswered questions about Bowe Bergdahl, why he wandered off, how he spent his five years as a Taliban captive and all the events surrounding and leading up to it. One main question, did Bergdahl willingly leave his post in Afghanistan? His lawyer says those answers will come in due time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EUGENE FIDELL, BOWE BERGDAHL ATTORNEY: I know people are interested, but I would ask that everybody have a little patience here. He's gone through an extraordinary ordeal. An unimaginable ordeal. The mind boggles when thinking about spending five years in the hands of the Taliban. You know, imagine your worst nightmare. That's all I'll say on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FEYERICK: Well, CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Dallas right now. Also with me is Gary Salees (ph), a retired U.S. Marine Corps J.A.G. officer and military judge. He now teaches law at Georgetown University.
And, Ed, Bowe Bergdahl has not yet been charged with anything. The investigators have 60 days -- about 60 days to put together their investigation. Is there a sense of when they might question him?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's very much up in the air, but we do know that it can happen at any point now because what the Army has been saying is that none of that questioning would take place while Bowe Bergdahl was going through the reintegration medical treatment there at the Army base in San Antonio, Texas. But now that he has officially completed what they've been calling that phase three portion of that reintegration program, and he's now returned to regular duty and has taken an administrative job with a unit there in the San Antonio Area, that this could happen at any point. And, obviously, it's something that his attorney has told CNN that he will be preparing for and will happen at some point with that attorney next to him.
And this attorney knows full well the hornet's nest that is kind of swirling around Bowe Bergdahl. And he talked about that a little bit with us this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FIDELL: In due course, you know, the country is going to have more facts in front of it as the pending investigation unfolds. But for the moment, I would ask that everybody sort of hold the phone. I think the one thing I might say is that Sergeant Bergdahl has had a close brush with death over a prolonged period of time. He understands that his life has been saved. He's grateful to President Obama for doing that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: Deborah, you mentioned that 60-day window. That actually started in mid-June when that general was appointed, and there could be an extension added on to this.
But we're looking perhaps at mid-august that we might have a better sense watch direction the criminal justice system in the military will take in this case.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Sure, that military justice system.
All right, Ed, stand by for a second. Gary, I want to get to you. One thing that's very interesting to me is I believe it was his lawyer who suggested that maybe it's not just him, but that there's also a military lawyer with him as well, somebody within the Army that's assigned to handle him.
You know the lawyer, the civil lawyer, Eugene Fidell. Does Bergdahl have a team?
GARY SOLIS, FORMER U.S. MARINE CORPS JUDGE: Yes, he do. When you're accused, you're assigned a military lawyer, and that lawyer remains with you throughout the case. He's present just as a lawyer would be in any civilian case.
But the individual who is charged has the option of hiring, at his own expense, a civilian lawyer. And that's what he's done. So -- and I think he's chosen a good one, in that Eugene Fidell knows the military system very well -- military justice system -- and he's very media savvy as well.
FEYERICK: And, Gary, how unusual is it to have a two-star general assigned to investigate something like this? What is the best case scenario for Bergdahl and the worst case scenario?
SOLIS: Well, it is very unusual for a two-star to do it, especially because there has already been an investigation conducted years ago.
The worst-case scenario is that the general would find that he should be charged or recommends that he be charged with desertion at a court- martial and he could be facing, if convicted, a very long sentence.
The best-case scenario is that the general recommend that he's gone through enough, and he should be discharged. He's already served more than the time he enlisted to serve, and he should just be enlisted in the army and go home, and let's all forget about it, which is what I suspect will happen.
FEYERICK: All right, interesting take there, Gary Solis. Thank you so much. Ed Lavandera, also, thank you.
And the mother in the case of the toddler left to die in a broiling hot car is now speaking out. Hear what she has to say about displaying a lack of emotion, and why is her lawyer comparing her to accused Olympic bomber Richard Jewell?
Plus this --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way that you can help me is by disconnecting our service. That's how you can help me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is that helping you, though? How is that helping?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because that's what I want.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, so why is that what you want?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because that's what I want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FEYERICK: OK, admit it, we've all had that kind of a phone call, canceling your cable or anything else for that matter, dealing with a credit card company.
One man and his wife had a nightmare of an experience, caught it all on tape. That's coming up.
FEYERICK: She spoke at her son's funeral. Now through her lawyer we're hearing again from the mother a toddler left in a boiling hot SUV for the first.
Leanna Harris attorney released the following statement. It reads in part, quote, "Newspapers, television and online media have fostered a poisonous atmosphere in which Leanna's every word, reaction or emotion or failure to cry in front of a crowd is scrutinized for some supposed hidden meaning in much the same way the press unjustly harassed and hounded Olympic hero Richard Jewell when someone didn't behave as someone thought he should."
Joining me to talk about Leanna Harris, her reaction and attempt to push back against all the media scrutiny, CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos and Mel Robbins.
Danny, do you think this is a justified response? The media and all the bloggers and everybody on the Internet have simply been too harsh on this woman?
DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, let's look at what we have so far. After several weeks, we have some odd statements that she's made. We have her lack of emotion and maybe a bad eulogy. If that's all they have, then there's no prosecution here.
And it's really frustrating. It's funny because, for people like her, if all this goes away tomorrow, she will still have been reviled for at least several weeks, and that doesn't go away very quickly. And it's -- this should be --
MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: If ever.
CEVALLOS: -- a cautionary tale that we should not rush to judgment when it comes to this kind of -- I guess you would say social prosecution, because ultimately if they end up not prosecuting her, she's not going to get a gift basket from society as a whole saying, gee whiz, sorry that we held you up to scorn and burned you in effigy.
FEYERICK: Right. And she's not a suspect, though police believe that she behaved a little bit suspiciously from the statements she made.
But, Mel, I want to ask you. I read something in "The Washington Post," a writer by the name of Terrence McCoy, and he says, "The Internet give its users ability to shame without fear of retribution. Shaming is a tool that people use to enforce norms, feel superior, exact revenge."
Is this what we're seeing going on, everybody just jumping on board this woman without knowing the facts, without knowing her pain, her guilt?
ROBBINS: That's exactly what's going on, and I wrote a CNN opinion piece about this thing. Basically saying, leave the lady alone, because, as Danny said, yeah, she may have said something odd. She may have done an Internet search. But there's a perfectly rational explanation for all of these things.
ROBBINS: And so the fact her husband is sitting in jail is not lost on us, but I think when you hear of a tragedy like this, what you want to do, you want to know the answer to why.
And it's so easy to basically make the knee-jerk reaction and say, oh, I bet he did it on purpose. Oh, I bet that wife that doesn't look like I think I would look in the -- if I'd had this happen to me, I bet she's in on it too, which is ridiculous.
FEYERICK: But there is also some evidence against certainly the husband, the life insurance policy he took out on his son's life. Most parents don't do that --
ROBBINS: Hold on a second --
CEVALLOS: If life insurance policies are evidence of criminal intent, then why would anybody ever buy a life insurance policy or ever collect on it?
ROBBINS: Hold on, they took it out for a number of reasons. One is to have the costs there in case there ever is a sudden death so that you can pay for lost wages because are you're going to take off work, you can pay for funeral homes, you can pay for any medical bills that are still left around.
The other thing to keep in mind is one of those policies was taken out in 2012. The other was a tack-on by his employer.
FEYERICK: That's true. That's true.
ROBBINS: So it's not really that suspicious.
FEYERICK: OK, there are texts, but let us not go there.
OK, thank you so much, Mel Robbins, Danny Cevallos. We're going to be coming back to you in just a little bit.
And can just about anybody walk into the Kennedy compound? Actually, yeah, they can. Apparently, so did Captain America.
How this guy ended up in the Kennedys' kitchen, who he was asking for, and who the Kennedy was who was at home at the time that it happened.