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CNN NEWSROOM

Wildfires Burning on Both Coasts and In Between; Courtroom Battle; Five Soldiers Killed and Three Missing in Iraq; Rising Gas Prices

Aired May 12, 2007 - 14:00   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: Wildfires burning on both coasts and in between this afternoon. We'll take you to the front lines of one of the biggest blazes.
Also ...

(BEGIN VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do I have? What do I have to ease the pain? Nothing! And you stand there and you can't say nothing. You can't (UNINTELLIGIBLE), because you're so (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(END VIDEO)

WHITFIELD: A mother's outrage explodes in the courtroom after the father who murdered her son is set free.

So, how could this happen? We'll ask our legal experts.

And $4 for a gallon of gas? It's already a reality for some drivers, but we'll tell you where to go for the best deal at the pump.

It's Saturday, May 12th. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, and you're in the NEWSROOM.

First, an all-out search underway right now in Iraq for three members of a U.S.-led military force, missing after an attack by insurgents. Five other members of the team were killed in the attack near Mahmoudiya, an insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is in the Iraqi capital - Nick.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, BAGHDAD: Well, Fredricka, we have a few details now coming from a senior U.S. military official. This is a first analysis of what happened to these seven soldiers and their Iraqi translator, who were at a stationary observation post when the attack happened in the pre-dawn hours.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: At the time of the attack, a nearby unit heard explosions and attempted to establish communications, but without success. At 4:59 a.m., an unmanned aerial vehicle observed two burning vehicles. Coalition forces arrived within an hour, secured the site and immediately initiated a search.

The names of the soldiers are being withheld, pending final identification and notification of next of kin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Now, when that quick reaction force secured the site, they found five bodies there. It's not clear if the Iraqi translator was among the dead or among the missing. So at this time, it appears at least two U.S. soldiers missing, possibly a third missing, as well.

The Army says that they are using helicopters, using unmanned surveillance aircraft, using other aircraft - all in an effort to scour the ground and look for the soldiers. Night fell here a little over an hour ago.

The military here says that they will continue searching until they have information. They are talking to local leaders to try and find out what they may know, what they may hear from their communities.

The big effort is on to locate the soldiers as soon as possible. And the U.S. military commanders here say they will not rest until that happens, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Nic, I'm seeing from wire services that this was an eight-person force that was at this stationary observation point there in Mahmoudiya at the time of the attack.

Does that mean that this likely could have been a situation where the troops were doing a shift change? Because eight people at one post seems like a lot.

ROBERTSON: What seems unusual to us at this stage - and we do know that the U.S. military is investigating this very thoroughly - is the reports of two vehicles on fire. It's not yet clear how many vehicles would have been - how many vehicles would have been at that post.

But if there were only two vehicles, that would seem to contravene the normal regulations that troops generally travel in at least three- or four-vehicle convoys. For eight people to be at a checkpoint, that - or at an observation post - that would seem to be reasonably normal.

It's not clear how long the observation post had been there. But what does appear to be emerging here - and, of course, these are early analyses and it's very difficult to know exactly what happened.

But this could potentially be a situation where the soldiers were being observed by insurgents, who chose the time and method to attack, knowing perhaps that they intended to kill and injure some of the soldiers, and perhaps try and take - kidnap, if you will - some of those other soldiers from that position, because, if there were only two vehicles there, that would be a relatively lightly armored post. But again, we know very, very few details at this time - Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nic Robertson, thanks so much, from Baghdad, for that update.

Well, let's get some military perspective now from retired Brigadier General David Grange. He is a CNN military analyst, and he spoke with us earlier in the NEWSROOM about the search that is currently underway.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, RETIRED, CNN MILITARY ANALYST (by telephone): It could be lack of communications. It could be the unknown of the situation.

And one thing you've got to be careful of in a reaction force, if you race in there and are half-blinded by not having all the information you need, it could be a baited ambush for the response - they know, the enemy knows that we'll respond immediately to this thing.

And so, quite often, they set up a second ambush to take out the rescuers.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Retired Brigadier General David Grange speaking with us earlier in the NEWSROOM.

Well, it is a working weekend for many firefighters in this country. Dry conditions are fueling huge wildfires in Florida, Georgia, Minnesota and California. The 200,000-acre Bugaboo fire straddles the Florida-Georgia state line. Smoke and haze have closed two interstate highways and hundreds of people have been evacuated.

About 85 square miles have burned along the Minnesota-Canadian border. That area could get some rainfall tomorrow, but it may also get winds that could also fan the flames.

And there is some encouraging news out of California, where firefighters on Catalina Island say they are making some progress. The fire no longer threatens the island's main town of Avalon. Residents are returning to their homes and some businesses are even reopening.

Now a closer look at what's happening in Florida. Firefighters there are warning that several communities, including Lake City, could face a threat within 12 to 24 hours.

CNN's John Zarrella reports from Lake City, Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT, LAKE CITY, FLORIDA: A double- edged sword out here in Lake City, Florida, today, this thick smoke and fog lingering over the top of us. But actually, this is good for firefighters.

What we have right now are high humidities and low wind, and that's keeping the fire pretty much under control. A hundred and fifty-seven square miles have already burned, and that's equivalent to about 100,000 acres.

You can see all the fire trucks still lined up here, and that's because they're waiting for their instructions to get in, and more importantly, waiting for some of this smoke and fog to clear. In the distance behind me - you can't see it - that's Interstate 10 out there.

The problem that they have, because of this heavy smoke and fog is that visibility on the highways is down in some places to zero percent. So, the Florida Highway Patrol has been forced to close sections of Interstate 10 and Interstate 75, in and around this Lake City area.

In fact, on the Georgia-Florida border, Interstate 75 northbound has been closed down, the Florida Highway Patrol telling us that they want to advise motorists, if they can, to stay out of this area. It is going to be very, very difficult for travel in and around Florida in this particular section of Florida throughout the day.

The best hope is, of course, that some of this smoke and the fog will lift later in the day. But right now, we are basically socked in.

Firefighters, though, are getting a better handle today, they say, on this fire, which started in Georgia - the Bugaboo fire, it was called. And that's because of the higher humidities and the low wind.

And they're hoping that that will hold for the next day or two, so that they continue to build the firebreaks around the fire. And they are telling us that what they need to do is build firebreaks in excess of 80 to 100 miles in order to control this fire.

John Zarrella, CNN, Lake City, Florida.

(END VIDEO)

WHITFIELD: Well, water, not fire, is the problem in Missouri, where levee breaks this weekend have drenched farms, highways and railroad tracks. And water levels are still rising in some places.

This morning, the Missouri River was six feet above flood stage in Jefferson City, the state capital. It's expected to crest more than eight feet above flood stage tomorrow.

Let's check in with Bonnie Schneider where, boy, it just runs the gamut. You've got extremes on each end. Too much water, too dry in some places. It's a mess.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST, CNN WEATHER CENTER: I know. If only we could get it all together, everybody would be happy.

But right now there's a dangerous situation in Florida in terms of travel. This is Mother's Day weekend. A lot of people want to get where they're going.

The problem is, in Lake City, Florida, where John Zarrella was doing his report, right now emergency officials are recommending do not try to drive on I-75 or I-10. And that's because of zero visibility due to smoke.

So they're saying right now that they're looking to closing more sections of the roadways in Columbia County. And that's in Florida, where we've had our wildfire and smoke advisories. It's really just been treacherous there.

Let's take a closer look. I have a new update for you. The dense smoke advisory has now been extended. At first it expired at 2 o'clock, but now we're going straight through tomorrow morning.

The air quality is just so poor there, all the way up into Georgia, down through northern Florida. We'll be watching out for some just very difficult travel conditions, poor visibility.

And for those of you that have upper respiratory problems, it's going to be tough to breathe out there, due to the smoke that you can feel as far south as south Florida.

Now we're going to the other coast, all the way to California. We're keeping an eye on things in Catalina. Winds coming in from the northwest have helped matters, because we're getting that moist low coming in off the Pacific.

The high temperature today 62. That's colder than yesterday, so that's some good news. Fog, of course, mixing in with sun and clouds. Some wind gusts may be strong, but overall, it's that west- northwesterly wind flow that will help to kind of prevent the fire from getting close to Avalon.

That was the concern yesterday. But it looks like the similar conditions for today as to what we saw yesterday, so we'll see some improvement.

We're also kind of keeping a check on air quality. So much of the country, from Minnesota to Florida and Georgia, back out to California, a lot of folks have to deal with poor air quality.

So, the best thing to do is stay inside, limit your time outdoors and keep these tips in mind to keep the air quality good in your home.

Don't light your fireplace. I guess you wouldn't with temperatures in the 80s. But also, don't smoke or burn any outdoor yard waste. Just some practical tips to keep that in mind.

And I guess you'll like this one, Fred - don't use your vacuum.

WHITFIELD: Oh, I really like that one. I'm all about no housework.

But, you know, sometimes people put their candles in their fireplaces, so I can see why you still have the fireplace stuff there.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, definitely.

WHITFIELD: So, we would do that.

SCHNEIDER: It's just important things to think about.

WHITFIELD: Yes. All right. Thanks so much, Bonnie.

Well, straight ahead, a weekend of mixed emotions at Virginia Tech. We'll show you how victims of the campus shootings are being honored at graduation ceremonies there.

And as you pay all that money at the pump, did you ever wonder where all of those dollars are going? We'll have some answers straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

And later, a mother's anguish plays out in court, all because of what the prosecutor called a deal with the devil.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Newly minted Virginia Tech grads starting a fresh chapter of their lives today. Commencement - it's supposed to be a time of joy, but it was also tempered with great sadness.

CNN's Jim Acosta reports.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT, BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA: This is no ordinary graduation weekend here on the campus of Virginia Tech. While this is a time of celebration for the graduating seniors and their families, those folks are also taking time to mourn the fallen classmates and professors who lost their lives - lives that are looming large over this weekend here in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Today, the individual departments are handing out diplomas to those graduating seniors. And even at those ceremonies, those individual ceremonies, they are taking time to remember the fallen.

But last night's event was the big event. That was the main commencement at the big football stadium here on the campus of Virginia Tech.

During that ceremony, the pomp and circumstance was subdued as the university handed out school rings to the families of the slain students, and then presented the pictures of those slain students and professors onto the giant screen inside the football stadium as their names were read one by one.

The main commencement speaker, retired general, John Abizaid, and the university president, Charles Steger, addressed the crowd of 30,000 people, reminding the people there that, while they should remember - take time to remember - those students and professors who lost their lives here, they should also remember not to let this tragedy define them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. ARMY, RETIRED: Your compassion, your steadfastness under pressure, your tremendous support of one another, make you a special group. And you make me know our nation is in good hands.

CHARLES STEGER, VIRGINIA TECH PRESIDENT: Revel in the joy of this day. Celebrate your accomplishments. Celebrate all those lives that have touched yours in helping you bring, to come to this point. Reach out and hug these people, if you can.

And to all of our students here today, those graduating and those who will be returning, I wish I could reach out and hug each one of you. You are the reason I get out of bed in the morning. You're my passion, the focus of my days and most of my nights.

You are the future, and your achievements will be felt around the globe.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

ACOSTA: And because of the tragic events on April 16th, security was very tight. It was ramped up for this graduation ceremony. There were long lines as security guards went through bags and kept an eye on the big crowd that was in attendance last night.

But in the end, this event went off without a hitch. There was just a little bit of rain, but still plenty of time to remember the fallen here at Virginia Tech.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Blacksburg, Virginia.

WHITFIELD: Another graduation not far away drew a notable speaker today. Howard University brought Oprah Winfrey to tears with an honorary degree.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: What a deep honor to be here today, for me.

I think Dr. Gates said it best. You can receive a lot of awards in your life, but there is nothing better ...

(CHEERS)

There is nothing better than to be honored by your own.

(CHEERS)

Thank you. Thank you. I'll be calling myself "Dr. Winfrey," on Monday morning on the "Oprah Show."

(CHEERS) (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And noting her dirt-poor beginnings in Mississippi, Winfrey went on to tell the grads, "When you see me, you see what is possible."

Forbes lists her as the first African-American woman billionaire.

Well, are you having a hard time finding the cheapest gas in your town? Straight ahead, I'll talk to an expert at finding some of the best deals.

And are you still looking for the perfect gift for your favorite grad? Some ideas later on in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: So, when you buy gas at the pumps, don't you ever wonder, where does all that money go? Why am I paying now over $3 per gallon.

Josh Levs has some of the answers for us.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I wonder that.

WHITFIELD: Are these satisfying answers? Or are they going to make me mad, angrier?

LEVS: Is there such a thing as a satisfying answer when it comes to an average national gas price of $3.07?

WHITFIELD: I have a feeling no.

LEVS: Yes, but ...

WHITFIELD: But help me out. I'm counting on you.

LEVS: You know, every week I give (ph) this reality check. I would love to have happy news. The fact that it doesn't happen as often as I wish is not my fault.

Take a look at this. Here's the deal.

You know, what we wanted to do today was look at your actual gas dollar. When you get to the gas station, what happens to every penny of it?

You know about the big oil companies. You know there are people in other countries making money off of that.

But what you probably don't know is, when you go to the pump, there are actually a lot of parties making a chunk of that change.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

LEVS (voice-over): The prices are being steadily driven up, prompting promises of action - again.

REP. STENY HOYER, D-MARYLAND, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I'm pleased that we have scheduled seven hearings in the House between now and Memorial Day.

LEVS: Meanwhile, where is your money going? Here's the breakdown.

Federal and state taxes take 15 to 20 cents of every dollar you spend at the pump. Distribution and marketing takes about five to 15 cents. That's money for the gas station.

Next, refining, where the big oil companies make a lot of their profits. Refining takes as much as a quarter of every dollar. These amounts vary.

But what generally stays the same is the biggest percentage of all - crude oil, which takes more than 50 cents of every dollar.

The price of crude oil is affected by supply and demand, and set largely by OPEC, which supplies about 40 percent of the world's oil and puts a production limit on its members to keep prices at a target level.

The most prominent member is Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil producer. Oil has long been at the core of U.S.-Saudi relations.

Among the 12 countries that make up OPEC, Iran and Venezuela, whose leaders are political enemies of President Bush.

OPEC has condemned terrorism. Still, some U.S. lawmakers worry about what happens with the money.

REP. EDWARD MARKEY, D-MASSACHUSETTS: But the money, which is then spent, is used by many of these countries to finance the terrorism.

(END VIDEO)

LEVS: And it is a mammoth sum of money we're talking about. You know, this week I looked into how much gasoline in general, in an average year to Americans use. Check this out, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. I know you're going to kill me.

LEVS: One hundred forty billion gallons of gasoline used by Americans every year.

WHITFIELD: And that's in part why President Bush says he wants to break this dependency that Americans have on gasoline. And so, he's also invested some time, energy and money, right, into some alternative routes?

LEVS: Yes. He's ...

WHITFIELD: How's that going? (LAUGHTER)

LEVS: Let's reality check that part.

WHITFIELD: What a question.

LEVS: I know. Check it out.

Every year he talks about something called renewable energy programs. Every year in the State of the Union, renewable energy comes up. And he always says that it's time to put more effort into that.

When you look at the actual money, though, it stayed the same. Every year since 2001, it's been $1.2 billion.

And, Fred, this is a case where the White House can discuss it differently, say, let's put new effort into it.

But when you actually look at the cash put into renewable energy, that has not jumped, $1.2 billion.

WHITFIELD: And so maybe the flip side of that argument is, this is a long-term plan. You're not going to have overnight successes. It's going to take some time before we see results.

LEVS: Yes, I mean, you need all these years. And you also need - but you've got to hit it from all directions, basically.

You need to reduce the dependence on foreign oil, but you've also got to change what people are driving. And you've got to change the habits of Americans.

And that's why there's also a debate about how much gasoline should cost. Some people say, if it's expensive, maybe that'll help decrease driving.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. A perfect segue into our next segment ...

LEVS: That's why I said it.

WHITFIELD: ... because we're not done talking about gas.

Josh Levs, thanks so much.

Well, we can't help you go back to the days of just $1 a gallon of gas. Do you remember that, 99 cents? I do.

But we do have a guest who can help us find perhaps the cheapest places to fill up the tank. He's also got some insight into what's causing the recent price increases.

Brad Proctor, of GasPriceWatch.com joins us from Dayton, Ohio. Good to see you.

BRAD PROCTOR, FOUNDER AND CEO, GASPRICEWATCH.COM: Good to be back.

WHITFIELD: All right. So, I guess we should all just get used to the fact that it's going to be $3 plus a gallon for a while, especially as we head into the summer months where everyone wants to hit the road for their road trips. Right?

PROCTOR: No, absolutely. You know, today, Fredricka, we're about 16 cents lower than we were a year from now, so there's still another - there's room between now and Memorial Day for another 16 cents.

WHITFIELD: So, what jacked it up? Because something tells me that it's going to go up in time for everyone hitting the road.

PROCTOR: Right. Well, you know, we've seen in the last week a rise in the unleaded futures price of gasoline. That's what the companies are going to be paying for gasoline in the future.

Today, we've seen the fact that even though oil has been fluctuating, it's been mostly on the downturn, though, which is counter to whatever we had before. I've (ph) talked at (ph) that - you know, as your last segment said, that's the major portion of gasoline.

If you really want to look at world events in the last couple of weeks, it was Chavez nationalizing his oil companies that took about $1 billion - or $30 billion - big numbers here - off the oil companies' markets last month.

So, you know, that's where they got hit pretty hard. It'll be interesting to see their profitability. And, of course, at the same time, the price went up (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WHITFIELD: Well, why does it always seem that these numbers fluctuate when it is a time that more Americans, for example, do seem to hit the roads? It's around the Christmas holiday season, Thanksgiving, and now the summer.

I mean, it leaves a lot of motorists kind of doubtful about who really is at the controls of these figures.

PROCTOR: Well, it is a traded commodity. And, of course, one of the biggest issues is the supply of gasoline.

And while we're finding capacity has been down, it is nowhere down as far as it was after Katrina. We had 25 percent of the refining capacity knocked out and we weren't near this price.

So, you know, sometimes you hear that oil impacts the price the most. And then you hear it's refining capacity.

But really, the last two weeks it's been working contrary to what those historically have been. But we always see Memorial Day, Labor Day, those are the two most expensive driving periods.

WHITFIELD: Yes. All right. So, Brad, so give us some hope. Help us find the cheapest gas in our area, because there's an art to doing that.

PROCTOR: Sure. Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: How do we do it?

PROCTOR: We've got a Web site, GasPriceWatch.com, that we've been out seven years in development now. And you can actually go out there - and this is - you volunteer your time to maybe spot a price near your work or by your house, take a minute. You put it in.

If you want to look for a price, you don't have to do anything but go to the Web site, put in your zip code or zoom in to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) map ...

WHITFIELD: But you don't want to go too far, because there, you know, therein lies a part of the problem. You defeat the purpose if you've got to waste gas in order to get somewhere to save gas by a couple of pennies.

PROCTOR: And Fredricka, people need to remember, the government gives you 44.5 cents for every mile when you're taking the deduction.

So, if you're going to go a mile out of your way, you'd better be able to save about 45 cents when you go to that gas station.

WHITFIELD: And that's a long shot.

All right, Brad Proctor, GasPriceWatch.com, thanks so much.

PROCTOR: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Straight ahead, will the weather provide any relief for those fighting the flames in, let's say, Florida - since these flames are popping up everywhere across the country. We'll focus on Florida coming up.

And a mother pleads with the court to keep the man who killed her son behind bars. Our legal experts will weigh in on the case straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

And this weekend's commencement ceremony at Virginia Tech includes special tributes to the 32 people killed in last month's massacre. One of those receiving his diploma is a math major whose quick thinking on April 16th likely prevented 11 more deaths.

Zach Petkewicz is today's CNN hero.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZACH PETKEWICZ, VIRGINIA TECH STUDENT: After the initial gunshots, I heard a scream. I didn't what the gunshots - I didn't know if it was gunshots at first, until I heard that screaming and it all kind of sunk in.

Two of the girls in my class peeked out in the hall and saw a gunner come out of a classroom with his gun pointed down. They immediately slammed the door shut, told us. Everybody kind of went into a frenzy, a panic.

I hid behind the podium and then just kind of looked up at the door. It was like, there's nothing stopping this guy from just coming in.

And so I said, "We need to barricade this door."

We had a long, rectangular-shaped table that me and another, one of my classmates had on either side of the door. The gunner tried the handle. He couldn't get in, because we were pushing up against it.

He tried to force his way in, got the door to open up about six inches, and then we just lunged at it and closed it back up. He backed up and shot twice into the middle of the door.

Thankfully, we weren't in front of it when he did shoot through it. He just turned and kept firing down the hall and didn't try to get back in.

The worse mass shooting in U.S. history ever.

KIRAN CHETRY: Your quick thinking may have saved so many lives. What do you say when people are calling you a hero today?

PETKOWICZ: I'm just glad I could be here.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Zach Petkowicz, he is just one example of an everyday super hero. People whose spontaneous acts of courage save lives. For more visit cnn.com/heroes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: We want to take you straight to Tallahassee where officials there in Florida are updating us on the wildfire situation there.

COL. CHRIS KNIGHT, DIR., FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL: -- coming eastbound diverted in the area of Suwannee County, which is Live Oak southbound on 90. Again, an advisory, if you don't have to travel, we simply ask that you don't. It is gridlock. You will be sitting on the interstate. You will be sitting on 90. We're doing the best we can to move the traffic. Simply because of the volume of traffic, it's very difficult to do. Another consequence of a situation like that and that particular area, Lake City, restaurants are closing, gas stations are closing simply because the vendors cannot get to those particular businesses to give them supplies that they need to keep open. So overall, if you don't have to come in the state of Florida, southbound on I-75, what we're trying to do is push traffic over on to I-95 if they're coming northbound or coming southbound, we're getting traffic over to I-95 if you do have to come in or out of this particular state. We appreciate the cooperation from the public and if you don't have to drive in areas, we simply ask you not to. Dave?

WHITFIELD: That's the advisory out of Tallahassee, Florida, there. They're asking folks to stay off of parts of I-75, especially near Lake City because the smoke is such that he has really cut back on visibility and that's also why it's having a ripple effect. Many restaurants and even gas stations are having to close, because as you heard from that official, not even the vendors can get through on the traffic gridlock.

(WEATHER REPORT)

WHITFIELD: An update now on a legal situation that a lot of folks were caught by surprise on this week. A deal with the devil, that description from a prosecutor describing a plea agreement that freed a father who admits to killing his young son and then hiding the body. The father, Curtis Williams, only served 20 months in prison. Our legal guys will discuss this case in a minute. But first, CNN's Allan Chernoff explains why the child's desperate mother agreed to the plea deal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The suffering of La Shawn McCoy whose 2-year-old boy was murdered at the hands of his father seems unbearable.

LA SHAWN MCCOY, CURTIS MCCOY'S MOTHER: I don't know how to get rid of this pain I have. I pray, I pray, I do, I pray that one day I'll be able to think about my baby and not feel this pain that I can just feel happiness.

CHERNOFF: For 16 years the murder of 2-year-old Curtis McCoy was an unsolved mystery. In 1989 the young boy was visiting with his father, Curtis Williams, who lived apart from the boy's mother.

(on camera): Williams told police that he had lost his son while shopping here in downtown Newark, when he reached back to grab the boy's hand, he said little Curtis was gone.

(voice-over): Curtis's mother couldn't believe it. She kept pressuring police and finally two years ago Williams was charged with murder. But prosecutors saw they had little evidence and La Shawn had to know where her son's body was. So a plea deal was struck. Williams would reveal the burial site in return for a deal that could gain his freedom from prison. But days of digging and sifting dirt here under the New Jersey turnpike in Jersey City yielded nothing. Experts said the small body had probably decomposed. In court Friday morning La Shawn begged the judge to overturn the plea bargain to which she had agreed.

MCCOY: I need justice served, your honor. I need some kind of closure. Curtis walking out of here won't be justice served.

CHERNOFF: Then she turned to Curtis Williams.

MCCOY: Now what do I have? What do I have to ease this pain? Nothing. You stand here you can't say nothing. You can't shed a tear because you're so cold hearted.

CHERNOFF: Prosecutor Deborah Simon said she done the best she could under the circumstances.

DEBORAH SIMON, ASSISTANT PROSECUTOR: Sometimes the strengths and weaknesses of your case require you to make a deal with the devil. And unfortunately that was the position we were in.

CHERNOFF: Judge Peter Vazquez signed off.

JUDGE PETER VAZQUEZ, NEW JERSEY SUPERIOR COURT: Suffice it to say, that a plea arrangement such as this would never, never be reached without the consent and the understanding of the victim's family. I would never have accepted this plea if that had not been represented to me.

CHERNOFF: La Shawn McCoy was distraught. The plea bargain, do you feel that justice has been done?

JEFFREY JABLONSKI, WILLIAMS' DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I do. Taking into account everything that has been -- that has transpired in this case, absolutely.

CHERNOFF: But La Shawn McCoy says her 18-year search for justice has been fruitless because today, Curtis Williams, who confessed to killing his 2-year-old son, is a free man, after having spent just 20 months behind bars. Allan Chernoff, CNN, Jersey City, New Jersey.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Oh, that is a painful case no matter which way you look at it. So let's see what our legal experts have to think about this plea deal. Avery Friedman is a civil rights attorney and law professor, good to see you Avery.

AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Hi Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Richard Herman is a New York criminal defense attorney and law professor. Good to see you as well.

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Hi Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, well this is painful, especially since you even hear from the judge there who says I wouldn't have agreed to this kind of plea deal had it not been for weighing upon the emotions of the victim's family who agreed to this. But given that no body was found, and that was kind of the contingency, right, on this plea deal, Avery, then why is it that the judge wouldn't overturn this plea deal given that the body of the child was never found?

FRIEDMAN: Well, the forensics is what killed the case. So what happened was the prosecutor, again, from a perspective of prosecuting a case, she knew that the best she would wind up with, the best she would wind up would be a manslaughter, which would be five to ten, and under the rules of parole, when the crime occurred in 1989, the perpetrator, Curtis Williams, would have gotten one year nine days. In this case, he got one year eight months, which was actually better than the prosecutor could have done here.

FRIEDMAN: So how unusual is this, Richard? It certainly sounds like this is a bizarre way in which to resolve a case.

HERMAN: Well, Fred, you know, I believe the prosecutor sat down with this poor woman and explained to her that, you know, there's a chance if we go to trial here he's going to get acquitted, because frankly I don't even know how he was charged. When there's no body Fred it's very, very difficult to bring a murder case. Remember the Peterson case, Laci Peterson, they didn't bring it until they found the body. So it's very difficult and Avery is 100 percent right there. With no forensics, there was no DNA, there was no body. Frankly, again, I don't know how this guy was charged. I think they read her the riot act, they told her the reality of the situation. She thought she could get something for it, she thought he would be honest and say where the body was. Who knows if he even did it or not.

FRIEDMAN: That's right.

HERMAN: You know he wanted to get out of prison, so maybe he would have said anything to get out of prison, I don't know.

WHITFIELD: So it sounds like, Richard, you understand where the judge was coming from, that perhaps he said this was a reasonable plea deal given the fact that there wasn't the kind of forensic evidence needed in order to pursue a trial and have the kind of I guess just verdict from the case.

HERMAN: What he said was, the consent and understanding of the victim's family and based on that, I'm going to uphold this agreement. That was represented to me and I'm going to bind the parties to that agreement.

FRIEDMAN: Bottom line, I'm hoping this case isn't over because for the suffering that La Shawn McCoy has gone through for 18 years Fredricka, I want her to bring that wrongful death case and I want her to go after Curtis Williams for the rest of his life. She may collect absolutely nothing, but if justice is going to be served here, he has to be held accountable.

WHITFIELD: Wait a minute, so why wouldn't the case be over though, Avery, because you've got the case of double jeopardy, he can't be tried.

FRIEDMAN: No, no, no, no, double jeopardy on the criminal, not double jeopardy on civil. The criminal case is over. That admission that confession can be used in a civil action and I'm hoping she goes after this guy.

WHITFIELD: Really? So a civil appeasement could actually come, you think, for the mother of this child? What could she -- what could she possibly get from this man who has been in jail. I mean source of income, I mean that's what is usually at the end of a civil case. What could she really realistically get from him?

HERMAN: Fred, it's like in the O.J. Simpson cases where they went ahead and sued him civilly for the wrongful death. It's the same thing here, but you're right Fred, this guy probably has zero assets. FRIEDMAN: It doesn't matter, it's a matter of principle, Richard. Richard it's a matter of principle --

HERMAN: I understand.

FRIEDMAN: Even if she collects nothing, it's the right thing to do.

WHITFIELD: Still, it is so sad. You just feel for all parties in this case. Avery Friedman, Richard Herman, thanks so much. Always good to see you. So sorry --

FRIEDMAN: Happy mother's day.

WHITFIELD: Oh, thank you very much. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

HERMAN: Happy mother's day.

WHITFIELD: I'm so sorry this segment had to be so short. Usually we like to keep you guys as long as we can.

HERMAN: We'll see you soon.

WHITFIELD: All right thanks.

HERMAN: Take care.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: An update on the search for U.S. soldiers still missing in Iraq right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Happening right now, at least four U.S. troops are dead in Iraq after an insurgent attack south of Mahmoudiya. This is new video just in to CNN after the aftermath of that attack. At least two other American soldiers are missing. An Iraqi interpreter who accompanied the Americans is either dead or also missing.

Dry conditions are fuelling huge wildfires in Florida, Georgia, Minnesota and California. The 200,000 acre bugaboo fire straddles the Florida Georgia state line. Smoke and haze have closed two interstates, I-10 and I-75 in northern Florida. And hundreds of people have been evacuated.

The blue angels back in the air after tragedy. We have these live pictures in now from the Johnson Air Force base in North Carolina. The fast-flying navy team is about to put on a show there today, the first performance since last month's crash that killed one of the team members, that crashed during a show in South Carolina. After the accident the team stopped fly for nine days and cancelled a show in Nebraska.

Well it's not exactly a fox trot but there's no dancing around the fact that this man has an unusual relationship with this wild animal. That's right, it's exactly what you think it is. That story coming up shortly in the NEWSROOM.

And graduation, kind of like Christmas in May for those getting diplomas. Well, here's techno file report from our Reynolds Wolf right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REYNOLDS WOLF (on camera): Are you searching for that perfect graduation gift but you're just a little bit stumped? Well, no worries. Brian Cooley from Cnet.com is here to help us out, steer us clear and hopefully give us some great ideas. And I know you have some great ideas for us.

BRIAN COOLEY, CNET.COM: I love these beauties. I mean first of all, for gaming, you know the Nintendo Wii is hot but you can't find one. The Nintendo DS Light's a pretty good placeholder. The duel screen that it's known for, they slimmed it down from the original DS and of course that great legacy of all those Nintendo games. And pretty cheap, you know $130 or less you can get one of these. That's very affordable. Check out this music player Reynolds, this is going to be the next kind of iPod. It's from Sandisk, it's call the Sansaconnect. That little bump is a wi fi antenna, this can connect wirelessly to the Internet or to other devices like it to share music, download music and stream Internet radio. That is really the future of iPod-like devices. If you want to give a phone but you also want to give a music player, this one does both, Nokia's 5300 music express is a great music player. It's not an iPod but it's not bad. Transport controls and volume buttons out here tell you it's something different. And then for a camera, I like this very flat Sony. The T- 100, its pocket size, which is very hot these days. Nice slide down door, 8 mega pixels, image stabilization and a great big screen for sharing photos.

WOLF: Wow. I'm thinking there are going to be a lot of people that are happy to get their diploma and these wonderful gifts.

COOLEY: I'll take one of these instead of a diploma.

WOLF: You and me both. Absolutely, Brian Cooley of Cnet.com. Thank you so much.

COOLEY: You bet.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Well let's check the stories clicking with cnn.com surfers. Now the most popular videos on our Web site, a security tape watching your eye. It's astronaut Lisa Nowak on tape at the Orlando Airport. Remember that? Well police say that she attacked her romantic rival in an airport parking lot. Nowak is set to go to trial in September. But you still find it interesting. Soccer's David Beckham making a televised plea for the safe return of a missing British girl, 4-year-old Madeline McCann vanished from her parent's hotel room. The family was vacationing in Portugal.

Shock jocks Opi and Anthony apologizing for crude sex talk on XM Satellite Radio. The comments aimed at the first lady and the secretary of state. And if you want to know what they said, you'll have to log on because I'm not going there.

In our ongoing look at our planet. A man's unusual relationship with a friendly fox. CNN's Veronica de la Cruz reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smile at the camera.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ: He likes to cuddle and to be petted and take long walks into town. Cropper the fox is even popular with the kids. Unusual behavior for a wild animal, but this friendly fox can't survive in the wild on his own. A disease that affected his memory renders him incapable of hunting or defending himself. So Mike Trowler rescued and nursed cropper back to health, making him his pet, a relationship that took time to develop.

MIKE TROWLER, CROPPER'S OWNER: It started as trust and trust grew to familiarity and familiarity to affection. And now I can do virtually anything with him because he knows he's quite confident that whatever I do is going to be for his pleasure or his benefit. And it's wonderful. It's a superb relationship.

DE LA CRUZ: Looking more like a fur stole than a wild animal, Trowler takes cropper for a walk. He says this fox is like any family's dog or cat with one distinct flaw.

TROWLER: Fox urine has an unfortunate property. You can't wash it off. If you apply water to fox urine, the smell becomes a stench. It's a bit like switching on the amplifier at a disco.

DE LA CRUZ: So while cropper gets to run around the house during the day, Trowler says he does spend each night in this hut in a safe room with a view and the envy of all other foxes. Veronica de la Cruz, CNN, Atlanta.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: A little TMI there. A little too much information on certain aspects about that fox, but you wanted to know.

Straight ahead, the latest on the U.S. search for soldiers missing after an insurgent attack this morning south of Baghdad. A check of the day's headlines is next and then CNN's "Special Investigations Unit."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHTIFIELD: Hello I'm Fredricka Whitfield, here is what's making news right now. American troops on the hunt in Iraq on the ground and from the air looking for three missing members of a U.S. led team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: This morning at 4:44 a.m. in Iraq, a coalition force team of eight soldiers, seven Americans and an Iraqi army interpreter, were attacked 12 miles west of Mahmoudiya. As a result ...

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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