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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Michael Jackson's Accuser Testifies; Interview with Anne Hjelle; Meth Lab Operator Kills 10-year-old In Southern Indiana

Aired March 10, 2005 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Good evening, everyone. Welcome. Glad to have you with us tonight.
In the Michael Jackson case, explosive testimony from the accuser, but not before the King of Pop had a chance to seize the spotlight once again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): A worried lawyer. An angry judge. And a frail-looking defendant. An all-star cast in a last-minute thriller. A dramatic day in the trial of Michael Jackson.

And a predator on the hunt.

ANNE HJELLE, ATTACKED BY MOUNTAIN LION: It knocked me off my bike and grabbed ahold of the back of my head.

ZAHN: A victim, face-to-face with the fury of nature.

HJELLE: I finally came to the conclusion that I was going to die.

ZAHN: And finding a miracle in the wilderness.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: We begin with Michael Jackson tonight, the case that has gone from strange to weird to downright bizarre today. It was a crucial day for the prosecution, with Jackson's accuser telling the jury that the pop star molested him twice after giving him alcohol.

But the drama started even before that. Check this out. Jackson, late for court, dressed in a suit coat and, yes, pajama bottoms, walking gingerly into the courthouse.

David Mattingly takes us through the scene step by step.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time, Santa Maria Superior Court goes back into session. Michael Jackson's young accuser is expected to return to the witness stand.

But where is Michael Jackson? Turns out the self-proclaimed King of Pop is in a town of Solven (ph), at a small, 22-bed hospital, seeking treatment for a, quote, "serious back problem."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He tripped this morning and he fell, in the early morning hours while he was getting dressed. His back is in terrible pain.

MATTINGLY: A hospital spokesperson tells CNN Jackson arrived at 7:25 a.m. She would give no details about his treatment or condition.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville immediately lays down the law, issuing a bench warrant. Jackson has one hour to appear, or else he goes to jail and loses his $3 million in bail.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're getting word now from our CNN sources at the courthouse, he has not arrived yet.

MATTINGLY: What follows is an unscripted, high-stakes reality TV celebrity drama.

With a national audience watching and his very freedom on the line, Jackson must hurry. It's a 37-mile journey, a 45-minute drive in the best of circumstances, and according to a hospital spokesperson, Jackson doesn't leave until after 8:45.

Back at the courthouse, tension builds. As the Jackson entourage speeds down the 101, exceeding 90 miles an hour at one point, Jackson's attorney nervously paces outside. He constantly checks his cell phone. 8:49, 9:09, 9:14, 9:20, 9:29.

It's clear to all who are watching the clock, it's going to be close.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We are just about a minute away now from the end of that one-hour time period.

MATTINGLY: But as the seconds fly by, Jackson is losing his race. About the time his black SUV exits the 101 with just 1.3 miles to go, his moment of reckoning is at hand.

The 9:35 deadline comes and goes. Jackson is late.

WOODRUFF: It is now past the one-hour mark. It is 9:35 a.m.

MATTINGLY: Two minutes, 37 seconds later, Jackson arrives. He emerges from the vehicle slowly, his father at his side, and aided by bodyguards. He appears unsteady, unsure of himself, solemn, unresponsive as fans yell his name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told him, be strong, Michael, hold on.

MATTINGLY: Wearing what looks like pajama pants and slippers, Jackson takes a full minute to walk the 30 yards from the curb to the courthouse door. A slow and curious spectacle, as cameras record every inch of this highly anticipated entrance. A sharp contrast to Jackson's energetic and upbeat arrivals of previous days.

Finally, 9:39, four minutes after the court-imposed deadline, Jackson walks inside the court to face the judge.

Instead of addressing Jackson, the judge addressed the jury, telling the jurors that he had to order Jackson to court today, but the jurors should not make inferences from the order about Jackson's guilt or innocence.

Late in the day, the judge eventually determines no punishment is necessary, and gives Jackson a warning, as the superstar's career, fortune and freedom hang in the balance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: David Mattingly reporting for us tonight. Joining me now from Washington, Raymone Bain, a spokeswoman for Michael Jackson. Good of you to join us.

Can you explain to me, Raymone, why the heck Michael Jackson would wear P.J. bottoms to court this morning?

RAYMONE BAIN, SPOKESWOMAN FOR MICHAEL JACKSON: Well, Paula, he didn't get an opportunity to go home and change into his clothes. All of this was just nothing planned. I've been hearing reports all day that maybe he planned this because he didn't want to face his accuser. Absolutely not.

He contacted all of us this morning, very early, to say he could not move. His attorneys and all of his team suggested that since the hospital was not far away from his home, that he go there for treatment. We were hoping they would give him some kind of muscle relaxant. He stayed at the hospital longer than anticipated, and there was no time for him to go home. So he had to, unfortunately, wear his pajamas into the court, because by then, as you all know, the judge had issued a bench warrant.

ZAHN: Was he on medication when he arrived at court today?

BAIN: I believe so. We were hoping that they would give him something to lessen the tension in his back, because he could not walk this morning prior to arriving at the emergency unit. He had to be carried into the car.

It is fortunate that he was able to walk. I just listened to the report, and they counted how long it took him to enter the courtroom, but earlier today he could not walk at all.

ZAHN: So do you think they gave him some kind of painkiller or he took it on his own?

BAIN: Yes. No, the hospital, I think, gave him some kind of painkiller. I don't know what kind. I have not checked into that at all. We were just happy that he was able to walk.

ZAHN: There are a lot of discrepancies here about when he actually showed up at the hospital or first reported he was having a problem. I don't want to spend a lot of time on that, but I guess what I don't understand is why Michael Jackson would risk incurring the wrath of a judge who already rebuked him from being late to court during an arraignment, a long time ago. Why would he do that?

BAIN: Well, sometimes, Paula, things are unavoidable. When you're sick, you're sick. And I spoke to Michael several times yesterday and last night. He was looking forward to going into court. His defense attorneys have done an excellent job. We've been reading the reports, listening to all of you and your analysis of how well Mr. Mesereau has performed. So he was not afraid of going into court to face his accuser. Sometimes things happen. We don't plan when we get sick. We don't plan when...

ZAHN: But didn't someone owe the judge a call to give him -- to tip him off that Michael Jackson was going to be more than an hour and a half late for his appearance?

BAIN: It is my understanding from Mr. Mesereau that he did call the judge. It is my understanding. Now, I don't know how the press has gotten another story, but it is my understanding from Mr. Mesereau, whom I've spoken to, that he did call the judge.

ZAHN: Raymone Bain, we've got to leave it there tonight. Thanks so much for joining us.

Let's turn now to senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, a former prosecutor himself. You must be scratching your head tonight. It was not a smart move, whether this call -- Mr. Mesereau called the judge or not, to tick off this judge.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And I think that is the real issue here. I -- my sense is the jury probably didn't know much of what went on. They knew he was late, but you know, things -- people are late for all sorts of reasons. And actually, the way that courtroom is set up, the jury can't really see what kind of pants Michael Jackson is wearing, so the pajama issue probably didn't matter much to the jury.

But the real issue here is with the judge, because he is obviously fed up with Michael Jackson. What was interesting about what happened is he didn't even want to hear an explanation first thing in the morning. He said, I'm issuing a bench warrant, period. And Michael Jackson has about two and a half strikes against him. It won't take much at this point to get him thrown -- to have his bail revoked and throw him in jail for the rest of the trial.

ZAHN: But wasn't the jury also told by him to not read much more into this than just being rebuked for being late, and I would sanction you the same way if you showed up late?

TOOBIN: Well, I think the judge handled it pretty well.

ZAHN: So on one hand, it's kind of like a pretty strong move on the judge's part, but then it seemed to me like that diluted his move. No?

TOOBIN: I think what the judge did was pretty smart. He basically said, look, we were a little late. There was an issue with Jackson. The jury's got a lot to think about, especially on a day like today with such important testimony. I don't think Michael Jackson's fate is much determined by the weirdness this morning.

ZAHN: The testimony today was very difficult to listen to. And it begs the question, regardless of what Michael Jackson's spokeswoman just told us whether in some way the defense planned this late appearance to take some of the impact out of this brutal testimony?

TOOBIN: The only thing I can tell you is that Tom Mesereau is one of the most honorable attorneys known. He is a very serious guy. He would have no part in any sort of scam to, you know, to mess up the prosecution, absolutely. However, what's interesting about Michael Jackson's personal situation at this point, is he faking, is he not faking? At some level, it's not even that important.

ZAHN: Why not, though? This is his second hospitalization in three weeks.

TOOBIN: That's right. He may be physically falling part. He may be having a physical/emotional breakdown, which may present the judge with the situation of, how do I continue this trial with a defendant who is unable to continue?

ZAHN: But Jeff, you could fake that too if you don't want to face this testimony.

TOOBIN: You could. But it's very hard to identify that kind of faking. Back pain is a classic difficult-to-identify problem. It often comes up in pension cases, people faking back pain. If he is falling apart -- seeing Michael Jackson, he's an extremely frail- looking person in the best of circumstances.

ZAHN: He looks strikingly different today.

TOOBIN: He looked awful, there's no doubt about that.

ZAHN: And even the spokeswoman admitted he was on some kind of medication.

So, what do we take away from today? Just quick Cliff Notes on what came out of the testimony and what the jury is left with at the end of the day?

TOOBIN: This was the day that his accuser said this was how Michael Jackson molested me. And it was vivid, extremely detailed testimony. If they believe today's testimony, Michael Jackson is going to get convicted and go to prison.

Monday -- no court in front of the jury tomorrow. Monday, is the day cross-examination will begin. That's when we see whether Jackson can resurrect his fortunes, because the accuser was a much better witness than his brother and sister, who were pretty bad.

ZAHN: That may be true. But he also could be vulnerable to some of the questions posed by the defense.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. Mesereau is a very good lawyer. He's done a very good job. It's so difficult to cross-examine this kid, because this is someone who had a 16-pound tumor removed from his stomach. The jury is going to be sympathetic to him. Tough job for Mesereau.

ZAHN: Jeffrey Toobin. Thanks for dropping by tonight. Appreciate it.

Michael Jackson is the one on trial, but he keeps trying the judge's patience. Next, a close look at Judge Rodney Melville from the lawyers who know him best.

And then a little bit later on, a bike ride on a favorite desert trail turns into a fight for survival. A fight with a mountain lion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Still ahead, the judge who threatened to put Michael Jackson to jail if he didn't hurry up and get to court.

And later, we call them pumas, catamount or mountain lions. And some are closer and more dangerous than you think.

First, though, just a bout a quarter the hour. Time to check in with Erica Hill of Headline News for a quick look at our top stories tonight. Hi Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Hi, Paula. Good to see you.

We start tonight in Wisconsin where police say a man's suicide there may be connected to the deaths of a federal judge's husband and mother. A police officer was trying to make a traffic stop outside of Milwaukee when the man behind the wheel shot himself. The officer then found a letter in Bart Ross' car detailing the killings of Michael Lefkow and his mother-in-law. Judge Joan Lefkow, dismissed in a civil suit -- dismissed a civil suit, rather, that Ross had filed last year.

Is your cellphone bill looking about as long as your phone book these days? Well, the FCC is hoping to change that. It wants cellphone companies to follow truth in billing guidelines that traditional carriers adhere to. Those include making the charges on your bill brief, clear and spelled out in plain language. Officials say they should be folded into the base rate so consumers have a more accurate cost comparison.

And now to an unusual assignment for New York City traffic police today: chase down and capture a run away dog. There's the guy right there. A confused pooch somehow got loose on Interstate 87. At one point, it darted across the highway between speeding cars. Police arrived on the scene with force with lights flashing to corral the little guy. But when officers got out to scoop him up, the dog got scared and ran right past his rescuers.

Eventually, though, New York's finest managed to get the dog by hovering around the animal and putting him in a squad car. No word of who the dog's owner is. Bet he's a little scared, though.

Paula, back to you. ZAHN: Much is being made about the fact that it was a female officer who rescued the dog and the local stations went wall-to-wall live with coverage of that.

Thanks, Erica, thanks. We'll check in with you at about a quarter til the hour.

Coming up next, a town's dirty, dangerous secret.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is meth destroying southern Indiana?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes, it's destroyed it. It has just destroyed the community around here. It's just unreal. It's unreal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Coming up, the shocking tragedy that finally opened everyone's eyes to the problem.

And then a little bit later on, a story of courage and beating the odds. A woman starting all over again after a savage mountain lion's attack. She'll share her story with us later on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: If you were following the Michael Jackson case today, you would have seen that things got pretty dicey for him, a judge threatening to sanction him for showing up about an hour and a half late to court. And if as Michael Jackson needed it, today was a reminder of exactly who he's dealing with in his trial, a judge who likes to stay in firm control of his courtroom. Well, it's a good time to take a look at the job -- judge. Once again, senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOOBIN (voice-over): On Michael Jackson's first day in court, Judge Rodney Melville was not pleased when the defendant was 20 minutes late.

The judge told him, "Mr. Jackson, you have started out on the wrong foot with me. I want to advise you that I will not put up with that. It's an insult to the court."

In spite of his scolding, Jackson danced on the roof of his SUV afterwards. But one of his lawyers at the time told CNN that in the future the star would get to Melville's courtroom on time.

BENJAMIN BRAFMAN, MICHAEL JACKSON'S ATTORNEY: It will never happen again. And there is nothing that Michael Jackson wanted to do to show disrespect. This is a terrific judge. He's a fair man.

TOOBIN: Many of the lawyers who have argued before him, describe Judge Melville as a fair judge, with a mild-mannered style but a firm hand.

JIM HERMAN, ATTORNEY: He controls the courtroom, which is important. Neither side wants the other side to get out of control.

TOOBIN: According to one of his top aids, Melville is brisk, but not intimidating.

DARREL PARKER, AIDE TO JUDGE MELVILLE: I think he's the way people want their judges to be. I don't think people want them to be Judge Judy barking from the bench and berating people. I think people want their judges to be people they can respect and look up to.

TOOBIN: The last judge to preside over a trial of the century was Lance Ito. He had an excellent reputation until the O.J. Simpson case. Going into his trial of the century, Rodney Melville also has a strong reputation and the benefit of lessons learned from Judge Ito, from what not to do.

JOE GALLAS, ATTORNEY: Unfortunately, Judge Ito, for whatever reason, seemed to get run over by everybody. Maybe that would be something that Rod saw and said, it's not going to happen to me.

TOOBIN: The judge has already fined a Jackson attorney $1,000 when asked the witness questions that were out of bounds. But after damaging grand jury testimony leaked out two weeks ago, Judge Melville gave Michael Jackson, and exception from the gag order he's imposed, and let him make a public statement.

MICHAEL JACKSON, ENTERTAINER: The information is disgusting and false.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back on the record on the Simpson matter...

TOOBIN: The Simpson trial was on live television. But Melville is not only keeping cameras out of the courtroom, he is censoring court documents before releasing them. Jackson's fans hope the judge is sympathetic to a superstar whose personal life has had some rough patches. But they might be surprised to know that Judge Melville is no stranger to human weaknesses. In a candid interview in 2001, he described his fight with alcoholism decades ago.

JUDGE RODNEY MELVILLE, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, CALIF.: The first time I had a drink, I knew right away that I liked alcohol. It was hot. It was straight. But it did something to me that made me feel more important, a nicer person, more acceptable to the people I was with.

What happened to me was one night in having been extremely drunk, I woke up, and it just struck me -- it struck me that I was an alcoholic.

TOOBIN: Judge Melville says it has been 26 years his since his last drink. He has worked local programs to help addicts to overcome their problems, but he's also stern with them when they appear before him in court. JIM HERMAN, ATTORNEY: It gives him, I think, a richer understanding of some of the difficulties people have. By the same token, it's not something that's going to affect him so that, for example, he would be lenient simply because someone had those problems.

MELVILLE: A judge -- when I said earlier that I direct people to treatment, I also give them a consequence for their act so that there is something more than just good news. I mean, there's some reason to quit what you're doing.

TOOBIN: The judge would seem to have little in common with his famous defendant. But it turns out Judge Melville likes to dance too, if only once a year.

PARKER: At our end of the year employee party, he's singing the Village People's "YMCA" song with an Indian head-dress on and doing, what is that, the chicken dance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, judge certainly wasn't doing that today when he threatened to revoke Michael Jackson's bail for showing up late again. A very tough day in the Michael Jackson trial. Court's in recess tomorrow, testimony in the case resumes Monday, in what stands to be another big day. That's when the defense cross-examines Michael Jackson's accuser.

Still to come, a small Indiana town had a very big problem, one that everyone ignored until it claimed a little girl's life. Stay with us for this shocking story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, so far this year, there have been more than 900 methamphetamine seizures in this country. What might surprise you is that 124 of them have been in just one state, Indiana, more than anyone else or any where else. And in one small town in Indiana, it took a tragedy for people to wake up to the scope and price of the meth problem.

Here's Drew Griffin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Traffic jams in Crothersville, Indiana last only long enough, but at Louisville/Nashville passed through on its way to Chicago. If bad things happen in this town of just 1,500 people, it's hard to keep them a secret.

CHIEF NORMAN FORD, CROTHERSVILLE POLICE DEPT.: It's pretty close-knit town. Usually, if something's going on, you know, most people know about it.

GRIFFIN: But that doesn't always mean people do something about it, as you're about to see. On January 25, 10-year-old Katie Collman was having a typical day.

JOHN NEACE, FARTHER OF KATIE COLLMAN: It's something that she's done hundreds of times literally, block-and-a-half away, and never had a worry.

GRIFFIN: Katie's father, John, says she left home at 3:10 that afternoon, one block to the corner, turn left to the sidewalk, across the railroad tracks to the store. A five-minute walk. The family needed toilet paper. But Katie didn't come home.

And after five hours of searching, the family was panicking. Five days later, the search ended here.

NEACE: We got the news that Sunday that they had found a body.

GRIFFIN: Dumped face down in a ditch, hands tied behind her back, a shocking crime, even more shocking when Crothersville learned one of their own was now confessing. Charles Hickman, 20-years-old, he told police he killed the girl because on her journey from the store he says she saw him making methamphetamine in the apartments across the tracks.

And behind that confession, a lot of people in this small Indiana town have their own confessions to make. The path to Katie Collman's death had been paved long before she walked down this street.

(on camera): Is meth destroying southern Indiana?

DARYL HICKMAN, UNCLE OF CHARLES HICKMAN: Oh, yes, it's destroyed it. It has just flat destroyed this community around here. It's just unreal. It's unreal.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): And only now, says Katie's father, after a child has died, is this town starting to admit it.

NEACE: Naturally living in a small community, nobody wants to stand up and say, yes, our town has a problem.

GRIFFIN (on camera): The fact is, Crothersville knew it had a meth problem and apparently looked the other way until it was too late. This is a house that burned just a month before she died, a meth lab inside was the cause of that fire. Weeks before she crossed these railroad tracks to go to the general store, police in this town received calls that methamphetamine was being burned inside those apartments. Not one call, but two.

(voice-over): The first call made to police was December 30. The caller happened to be Katie Collman's uncle concerned about the smell of chemicals from an apartment building just a block from Katie's home. A week later, January 5, the apartment building's owner calls police. A similar suspicious odor.

What happened? Police Chief Norman Ford.

FORD: We Checked the area, did not smell anything, had no reason to, you know, knock on anybody's doors or anything like that because, you know, we've got to have probable cause.

GRIFFIN: Despite a history of problems at the Penn Villa Apartments, despite two calls from people who thought they smelled meth, despite the fact that this county had the sixth highest number of meth labs seized in the state last year, at least three right in town, the police chief said the officers couldn't find a reason to investigate further.

Spend a little time with Chief Norman Ford, and you'll see why Crothersville is having problems tackling meth.

FORD: We've got three officers who -- you know, we patrol, we do traffic, we do accidents, we do everything else, and then when it comes to happen to work drugs, drugs is something you have to put time in, and you can't be, you know, bothered with something else when you're working drugs, and that's where my problem is right now.

GRIFFIN: He brought us to the local farm co-op where tanks of anhydrous ammonia sit right out in the home.

FORD: It's used to fertilize crops with.

GRIFFIN: The chemical inside is also used in making meth, yet, there are no locks, not even a fence. There have been many thefts.

(on camera): I'm dumbfounded that this is just out here. I just can't believe it. It's just here.

FORD: It's like your batteries in your flashlight. They use household batteries, they use Drano, they use Sudafed.

GRIFFIN: So how are you going to stop this?

FORD: I don't know. It's going to have to be a legislation, I guess.

GRIFFIN: Two weeks before Katie's disappearance, Chief Ford and his 2 officers were ordered into this room behind closed doors in a special executive session with the town board. Board members weren't there to hear about new legislation.

Board member Vaughn Isenhower says he and the other board members thought the town's drug problem was out of control. They wanted some old-fashioned arrests.

VAUGHN ISENHOWER, TOWN COUNCIL: All three of them were told to step up the patrol and...

GRIFFIN: Bust meth users.

ISENHOWER: Bust meth users -- any suspicious activity. And they said, well, by the time you take them to the county jail and fill the paperwork out, they're already back on the streets. Somebody's come and picked them up. So, it's kind of a futile effort, but that's their jobs.

To me, that's an excuse.

GRIFFIN: The town leaders decided simply to talk about it again in a few weeks. Nothing had changed. Then everything had changed, even for Debbie Hofricter, the aunt of the man now accused of murdering Katie Collman.

DEBBIE HOFRICTER, AUNT OF CHARLES HICKMAN: It could have been anybody in this town.

GRIFFIN: What happened to this town?

HOFRICTER: That, I don't know. They're shutting their eyes to it.

NEACE: This is one of Katie's friends.

GRIFFIN: John Neace and his family have lost their 10-year-old angel. He now believes his daughter died, because so many shut their eyes to the grip meth has on this small town and as a warning for other small communities.

NEACE: Come to realize that it -- all it takes is for the town, a community to stand up against the riff-raff in their town. And take their community back away from these individuals.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So sad. That was Drew Griffin.

A couple of notes. Charles Hickman's lawyer didn't want to comment. And while Hickman is the only man arrested since the death of Katie Collman, a state and federal task force is investigating the meth problem in Crothersville.

Meth has become an epidemic in this country, no longer just in poor areas, now in wealthy areas, even suburban moms are using it. We're going to keep you posted on this story.

Still ahead, a survivor's amazing story. What it is like to live through a savage attack by a mountain lion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JELLE: When he bit down there, he punctured the ear canal. And then he moved again. And I didn't realize it at the time, but he would grab on and drag me down the hillside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: How she escaped the jaws of death thanks to her incredible bravery and a very courageous, loyal friend.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Coming up in a few minutes, laughter. We all need to laugh. New medical research that may really tell us it's good for our health.

Nothing weirder than seeing people in the lab laughing together.

But first, it's about a quarter till the hour, time to check in again with Erica Hill at Headline News.

Hi, Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS: Hi, Paula. You're having a little too much fun over there.

ZAHN: Yes. We are having fun.

HILL: All right. We're going to get down to the headlines now.

The Senate approved a bill today that would overhaul U.S. bankruptcy law. It was topping the requirements for filing bankruptcy, effectively baring thousands of Americans from discovering -- dissolving, rather, medical and credit card debt and instead putting them under court-ordered repayment plans. That bill now heads to the House.

President Bush is on a two-day four-state Social Security blitz. On the itinerary: Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana. He's trying to drum up support for his plan to privatize the system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a safety net for retirees. There's a hole in the safety net for a younger generation coming up. And that's why I've asked Congress to discuss the issue. I guess it's just my nature. I believe when you see a problem, you've got to deal with it and not pass it on to future presidents and future congresses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Congressional Democrats are virtually unanimous in their opposition to the president's privatization plan.

Michael Jackson arrived for his trial this morning more than an hour late, wearing pajama bottoms and slippers and looking a bit disheveled. The judge threatened to arrest him for being late. His lawyers said he was at the hospital with back pain after falling while he was getting dressed. Jackson's accuser was back on the stand and testified that Jackson touched his genitals on two separate occasions.

Former President Clinton is resting after successful surgery to remove scar tissue and fluid that built up around his left lung, a complication from heart surgery last fall. He is expected to remain hospitalized for at least three more days.

And that's going to do it from the Headline News studio. Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: Not bad for a guy who was playing golf just yesterday. Erica, thanks.

HILL: Not bad at all.

ZAHN: We're glad he's doing well.

Coming up next, one woman's incredible story of a savage and unexpected attack by one of nature's most powerful predators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HJELLE: It knocked me of my bike and grabbed a hold of the back of my head. And I knew right away that it was a mountain lion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Her unbelievable rescue and her courageous comeback, next.

And a little later on, if you want to help your heart, do this. Jeanne Moos has a suggestion that we all think is worth laughing about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: I don't know how many of you out there have ever had a fear that a wild animal will suddenly spring up on us. Children often have nightmares about this kind of stuff. But what you're about to hear really did happen to two young women, when a bike ride in the mountains became a battle for survival.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): The Santa Monica Mountains, 150,000 acres of pure California wilderness, shared by people and wildlife. For friends Debi Nichols and Anne Hjelle, the day began normally, biking on their favorite trail.

HJELLE: It was a January day, a nice day, and we were just going to go do a short loop through an area called Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Probably a half hour into the ride, that was where everything changed.

ZAHN: Nearby in the dense brush, a 110-pound male mountain lion. He had already tasted human blood, killing a man biking on the same trail. Mark Reynolds' body was hidden in a deep ravine. No one knew it was there.

HJELLE: Well, we turned down a single track called Cactus Hill. The trail is about 12 to 18 inches wide in most places. It's very fast. It's like a roller coaster. A lot of ruts. There's cactus. It's very heavy vegetation area. Very rough terrain. It's a lot of fun.

It's something we do often, so we headed down that trail. I was ahead of Debi by just a little ways. And the next thing I knew, I saw a flash of movement over my right shoulder. I could tell immediately that it was some type of animal. It had a reddish-brown fur, and it knocked me off my bike and grabbed a hold of the back of my head. And I knew right away that it was a mountain lion.

ZAHN: Mountain lions can cover 40 feet in a single leap, capturing prey four times their size. But they rarely attack humans. There have been 15 confirmed attacks in California since 1890, six of them fatal. Anne was number 14.

HJELLE: The first thing I did was cry out. I said, "Jesus help me." I knew I was in a really difficult situation, and this is an animal that is totally capable of killing me very easily. So...

ZAHN (on camera): You knew that. You were looking at death at that moment.

HJELLE: Right. I knew that I was in serious trouble. As soon as I cried out, I started trying to punch over my right shoulder, thinking if I could get to hit him in the face to try to get him to release. And I still don't know to this day if I ever even touched him.

ZAHN: The lion didn't let go.

DEBI NICHOLS, FRIEND: You know, when I saw her on the ground, when I came around the corner and saw the lion on top of her, I you know, threw my bike, hoping that that would alarm him, but it didn't even faze him. So she was, you know -- he was starting to pull her down a hillside. And I thought, she's going to be out of my sight, grab her leg, you know. And it was just a tug of war from that point.

ZAHN (voice-over): The tug of war continued as the mountain lion's teeth tore into Anne's flesh.

HJELLE: He moved from the back of my neck to the side, just over my ear. When he bit down there, he punctured the ear canal. And then he moved again. And I didn't realize at the time, but he would grab on and drag me down the hillside. I wasn't aware at the time that I was being dragged.

But he grabbed onto the left side of my face. And a fang broke my nose and the other fang went into my upper lip. And the lower jaw went into my cheek here. And when he closed down, I felt basically my cheek tear away.

And at that point, I knew that my injuries were obviously very severe, and it wasn't much later that I finally came to the conclusion that I was going to die.

ZAHN: But Debi did not give up.

NICHOLS: He was pulling us, both of us, you know.

ZAHN (on camera): And you're two strong women. You're a former Marine, personal trainer, fit as they come. HJELLE: Not strong enough, though.

NICHOLS: I had my heels dug in the whole time. It was just incredible. You know, I just kept thinking how tenacious this animal was, you know.

ZAHN (voice-over): Suddenly, two bikers appeared, hearing Debi's desperate cries for help.

NICHOLS: And you know, I was just screaming at these guys to come down. And you know, they were...

ZAHN (on camera): Did they come down?

NICHOLS: They eventually did, but it, you know, it was -- it was a difficult situation for them to look and see her whole face engulfed by this mountain lion. They started just pelting rocks. And eventually, one hit.

ZAHN: And he let go?

NICHOLS: And he let go.

ZAHN: The lion released Anne and disappeared into the thick brush. Debi watched helplessly as her friend was losing blood as her chances for survival faded fast. One of the rescuers called 911.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a lady that is attacked by a mountain lion in her face. Her face is almost gone. I need people out here at Whiting Ranch, Cactus Ridge. She's in bad condition. I would get somebody here now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

HJELLE: It was 16 minutes from the 911 call until the paramedics arrived on the scene. They got an I.V. started, put a neck brace on, a little bit of bandaging and then they basically put me on the helicopter. And it took a total of 40 minutes from the initial 911 call to arriving at the hospital.

ZAHN: Anne was in critical condition. She had trouble breathing, had lost a lot of blood and had facial nerve damage. Her eye was so badly mauled, she didn't know if she would ever see again. Anne may have been alive, but she knew she would never look quite the same.

HJELLE: You look in the mirror, expecting to see your reflection that you know, and this was not my face. It's, you know, it was so swollen, stitches. It was just unbelievable to be looking at that and realizing that this is me now?

I was thankful I could still see, even though I had over 30 bite wounds to the front of my neck. It didn't hit any kind of major arteries, the voice box, esophagus. Everything was OK. This animal was totally capable of taking me out. And I was here to tell the tale. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Orange County deputies shot a rifle and shotgun and did kill the mountain lion right there by the attack site.

ZAHN: The night of the attack, Orange County deputies hunted down and killed the mountain lion. The state law that protects the animal also mandates it be destroyed once it attacks a human.

In the 14 months that have passed since the attack, Anne has had three facial surgeries to reconstruct her nose, eyes and cheek. She has more surgeries ahead but continues to make progress. In fact, Anne is biking again on Cactus Trail, the same trail where she almost lost her life.

(on camera) How much courage did it take to get back on your bike again?

HJELLE: You know, I have -- I do have fear, and certain trails will trigger that fear, narrow trails with bushes on both sides. And I know statistically the chances of that happening again are basically zero.

ZAHN: When you look at your friend Debi now, you've got to look at her as almost an angel.

HJELLE: Super hero actually. No, but I know that without her I would not be here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And what a bond they share. Anne Hjelle and her friend, Debi Nichols, say they're closer than ever, very lucky.

Experts say mountain lions usually avoid people. They're nearly extinct in the eastern U.S. But out West there's actually been an increase of encounters as more people encroach into the cats' territory.

Please stay with us. Stay tuned and see why a good laugh is good medicine, as well. Jeanne Moos has the perfect reason to lighten up, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Well, when we heard the story about laughing being good for you, we just had to put our own Jeanne Moos on the case. Here's her report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's no laughing matter. Laughing matters.

DR. MICHAEL MILLER, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND MEDICAL CENTER: A potentially important heart-protective mechanism.

MOOS: Translation, laughter may be good for your blood vessels. Maybe that's why they call it a hearty laugh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't your mama stay another week?

MOOS: Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center took 20 healthy volunteers and showed them two types of movies. A funny movie like "There's Something About Mary" and a stressful movie like "Saving Private Ryan."

Before and after the clips were shown, 160 blood vessel measurements were taken. Hey, no fair. The doctor's not allowed to laugh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a bleeder!

MOOS: Talk about bleeding, in 19 of the 20 volunteers watching the funny movie, their blood vessels dilated, expanded. This is good, especially finding that the opposite tended to occur when they watched the stressful movie. Blood vessels constricted, reducing blood flow. But during laughter, average blood flow increased 22 percent.

(on camera) Like we needed a study to know this? Good old- fashioned "Reader's Digest" has been saying it forever. Laughter, the best medicine.

(voice-over) But what about a serial laughter, like Bill Clinton? He's always cracking up, turning red. Look at that blood flow. Yet, Bill Clinton laughed himself all the way to the hospital for a bypass.

Still, doctors theorize that laughter may signal the brain to release beneficial chemicals, endorphins. They suggest the next step might be to take people with heart disease to a laughter clinic a couple of times a week, sort of like this laughing yoga class.

What about anxious laughter? A glimpse of this Jackson impersonator must have caused the woman's vessels to both expand and constrict.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the matter?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's creepy!

MOOS: And what makes us laugh may not always be healthy for the one we're laughing at.

The study's authors recommend 15 minutes of laughter a day. Just watching this piece may be improving your blood flow.

ALI VELSHI, CNN HEADLINE NEWS: And spending that money so...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ali, are you OK?

VELSHI: I'm back. Are we all right?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, that improved my blood flow tonight. We thank you all for joining us. We know that Jeanne Moos is awfully good for our health.

Before we go, an update on Rachel Scdoris. You might remember her from the other night. She happens to be the legally blind musher in Alaska's Iditarod sled dog race. She has moved up to 67th place. Six racers are behind her. Six more have dropped out. Tomorrow, the story of amazing dog teams pulling all these racers together.

Thanks again for joining us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Have a great night.

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