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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Criminal Charges in "Balloon Boy" Case?
Aired October 19, 2009 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, GUEST HOST: Tonight, balloon boy parents under siege -- law enforcement says the scare that riveted the nation was a hoax cooked up by the publicity seeking parents, who deliberately involved their three little boys in a con.
Their lawyer says not so fast. He's here to defend them.
Also, how LARRY KING LIVE exposed what may be a giant fraud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FALCON HEENE: We did this for a show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Then, a third person dies from a sweat lodge ritual gone wrong.
What happened inside a tent packed with people?
For two hours, intense heat, little ventilation and charges that no one was allowed to leave. A witness saw someone convulsing and foaming at the mouth.
Why didn't anyone stop the tragedy in the making?
Next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States ask around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in tonight for Larry.
This important announcement from Larry. He's got a great interview -- a very compelling interview with Suzanne Somers. It was going to run tonight. It will run on Friday night. That interview with Suzanne Somers Friday night.
In the meantime, we're watching the fallout from the balloon boy saga, a story that clearly has intrigued so many people around the country.
CNN's Dan Simons is watching what's going on.
He's in Fort Collins, Colorado right now -- Dan, tell us briefly about the major developments today. DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know is that several charges are pending, including three felonies. We don't know when the D.A. may, in fact, file these charges. It could be within the next day or two.
But, meanwhile, I can tell you that Richard Heene -- Heene is doing something that he doesn't normally and is sort of contrary to his persona. He's keeping a low profile, Wolf. We saw him earlier today. He emerged from his house, got in his pickup truck with his family, headed over to the grocery store then came back home.
In terms of how this all came to light, Wolf, we know that over the weekend, Heene went to the sheriff's station under the guise that he was going pick up what was left of that silver balloon.
When he got there, police said, you know what, let's have a -- let's have a talk. And at that point, they gave him -- apparently they gave him a polygraph exam.
At the same time, investigators were over here at the house, did their own separate interview with the wife and the children. And -- and after those interviews, apparently they were convinced that the whole thing was a hoax -- Wolf.
BLITZER: ...Dan, we're going get back to you.
Dan Simons in Fort Collins, Colorado.
I want to go right to the attorney now representing Richard Heene. His name is David Lane. He's a well-known criminal attorney from Denver, Colorado, although he's in Grand Rapids, Michigan today.
Very briefly, Mr. Lane, why are you in Michigan tonight?
DAVID LANE, ATTORNEY FOR RICHARD
AND MAYUMI HEENE: I'm here on a federal death penalty case.
BLITZER: Well, this is not a federal death penalty case by any means.
BLITZER: So you...
LANE: Nobody wants to talk about that.
BLITZER: You've got your hands full.
LANE: It's all balloon boy all the time.
BLITZER: All right. Well, tell us how you got involved.
Did you solicit the Heenes?
Did they come to you? How did you get involved in this case?
LANE: You know, ethically, lawyers are not out there soliciting clients and nor do I. My telephone rang. It was Richard Heene. And he came into my office and I am now his lawyer.
BLITZER: And did he tell you why he picked you out of all the potential lawyers out there in Colorado?
LANE: I think my name is written on bathroom walls in every correctional institution in the State of Colorado.
BLITZER: You're -- you're pretty...
BLITZER: You're pretty well-known, I take it, out there.
All right, so you've got a tough case based on, you know, what we know right now. And, obviously, your client -- I just want to be precise, you represent Richard Heene. You don't necessarily represent his wife, is that right?
LANE: Lee Christian in Fort Collins, who is an excellent defense attorney, represents Mrs. Heene.
BLITZER: And now, is there a reason why there are two different lawyers representing the two -- the husband and the wife?
LANE: Yes. Ethically speaking, in any criminal case, there's always a potential for a conflict of interest. So in -- in criminal cases presumptively, if there are more than one person -- if there's more than one person being looked at, each should have their own lawyer.
BLITZER: When was the last time you spoke with your client?
LANE: Well, I speak to my -- I spoke to my client today.
BLITZER: And how is he doing?
What's he saying to you?
BLITZER: I mean, I don't want you to violate any...
BLITZER: ...you know, attorney-client privileges, but what can you tell us?
LANE: I'll do my best.
You know, the whole family feels that they are under siege. They feel like any normal people would feel if their house was searched, their property was seized, the sheriff in the county they live in took an hour long press conference and said we're about to indict you for federal -- or for possibly federal charges and at least several state felonies.
BLITZER: Let's talk about those. The Larimer County sheriff, Jim Alderden, he -- among the various charges he publicly raised -- although no formal charges have yet been served -- conspiracy to commit a crime, that's a felony; contributing to the delinquency of a minor, that's a felony; and attempt to influence a public servant, that's a felony. One misdemeanor charge of filing of false report.
You're looking, potentially, at years in prison and a lot of money in terms of fines.
LANE: Well, you know. It's one of those things where when you take an aspirin and you read the warning label on the bottle, you could die any time you take an aspirin, but the odds are you won't.
These are, in the world of felony charges, fairly low level felonies. And this is simply what the sheriff is talking about. It's not up to the sheriff to file charges. It has to be run through a filing district attorney. And I would actually be a little bit surprised if they overreach the way the sheriff is talking about them overreaching.
BLITZER: Why -- tell me why you think the sheriff is overreaching right now.
LANE: Because it's piling on. And it -- it's using charges that really are not designed to fit this sort of a -- an allegation. I mean, an attempt to influence public servants fraudulently, that's bribing a public official. That's not what happened here. I mean, they may be able to try and ram a square peg into that round hole, but it's overreaching. And they -- you know, most DAs aren't going to -- aren't going to do something like that, although I've seen crazier things from prosecutors.
BLITZER: But if you make a 911 call and you say, I believe my 6- year-old little boy is in danger and he's flying away on a flying saucer across Colorado and you know that not to be true, you know exactly, supposedly, where that little boy is and that he's just fine, obviously that's -- there's something wrong with that.
LANE: Oh, you know, if they can prove that that is, in fact, the case, you're absolutely right, there is something wrong with that. He's filed a false report, if that's, in fact, what they can prove.
My position, at this point, is as a batter standing in the batter's box waiting for the pitcher to wind up and throw the pitch. Until the pitcher throws, I can't swing at anything. Until the pitcher throws, I don't get any of the evidence in this case.
So the sheriff doesn't have to give me anything until charges get filed. So I'm really eagerly awaiting the filing of charges so we can get a good look and see exactly what their evidence is that that is, in fact, what happened. BLITZER: Have they given you indication of when those charges might be filed?
LANE: We have information from the filing office at the DA's that they are thinking it might not be until next week.
BLITZER: So this week, you'll have a chance to continue consulting with your client. Now, he spent hours, I take it, on Saturday talking to police. They got him in. The sheriff himself suggesting, you know, on Friday, he was saying all sorts of positive things about the Heenes.
They came in on Saturday. I take it they were not your client on Saturday, when they began to cooperate with the police.
LANE: It's generally not a good strategy to send your client in to have a long chat with the police all by himself when you're his lawyer. No.
BLITZER: Why do you think he did that, assuming that the sheriff is -- is telling us the truth, that he already -- he knew he was part of a hoax?
LANE: You know, one of the things I need to look at to see if the sheriff's department has respected the Constitution is to look at all of the circumstances and the facts surrounding this taking of the statement. If he was under arrest at that point, if he did not feel free to leave, certain Constitutional rights occur. If he had asked for an attorney at that point and they said, no, let's just keep talking, certain Constitutional rights are implicated.
Until I can see the videotape of the interrogation, I really don't know whether any of these things happened. I need to see their evidence.
BLITZER: There was what the -- the sheriff in this case calls that aha moment last Thursday night, when Richard Heene and the entire family was, in fact, my guest on LARRY KING LIVE. And I asked Richard to go ahead, the sons -- Falcon didn't have an earpiece so he couldn't hear what my questions, but I asked him to relay a question to Falcon, why, after the father and the mother kept calling, "Falcon, Falcon," he didn't come out of his supposed hiding place in the garage.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And Falcon was really in the garage this whole time. I don't know if Falcon can hear me, but was he -- because I know, at some point, he fell asleep in that garage. But he was hiding out because he thought you were going to punish him for something that happened earlier in the day.
Did he hear anything?
Did he hear you screaming out, "Falcon, Falcon?" R. HEENE: He's asking, Falcon, did you hear us calling your name at any time?
F. HEENE: Um-hmm.
R. HEENE: You did?
M. HEENE: You did?
R. HEENE: Well, why didn't you come out?
F. HEENE: You had said that we did this for the show.
R. HEENE: Man.
F. HEENE: No.
R. HEENE: You didn't come out?
F. HEENE: No.
BLITZER: What -- what did he mean, we did this for the show?
R. HEENE: Um, I have no idea. I think he was talking about the media. They've been asking him a lot of questions. So somebody had asked him that question earlier.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Mr. Lane, you heard the exchange. The police say that was that moment when they began to suspect this was one big fraud. I want your reaction, because that little boy was clearly saying they -- we did this for the show.
LANE: You know, having talked to 6-year-old Falcon myself, and the Heenes, I have a different take on that particular exchange. He had been demonstrating in the garage for the media how he climbed up into the attic.
And, you know, so the issue is going to be, well, was he referring to that time or was he referring to when -- when the balloon was loose?
When was he referring to?
Taking the statement of a 6-year-old and putting whatever spin you want on it -- law enforcement will put whatever spin they want on it. The defense will put whatever spin they want on it. What is actually the case, you know, only Falcon can probably know. And he's six and he probably doesn't know at this point.
BLITZER: Mr. Lane, I want you to hold on for a moment, because I want to continue this conversation. I have some more questions for you.
We also have questions for our other guests, who have different perspectives on what's going on.
Here's a question for our viewers -- do you think the balloon boy incident was a hoax?
You can tell us at CNN.com/larryking. Click on our blog, as well.
We'll be back with someone who says she knows what the balloon boy dad did, Richard Heene.
That's coming up, right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with David Lane.
He's an attorney representing Richard Heene, the father of the so-called balloon boy.
Do you have any indications, Mr. Lane, that social services or child protective services might try to take away those three little boys from the parents?
LANE: Absolutely not, other than that the sheriff has raised this allegation in a most irresponsible way. You know, I mean I have heard of no evidence -- not even an allegation -- that there has been any child abuse whatsoever. To me, child abuse would be if -- if law enforcement goes out and grabs the Heenes and does the perp walk and arrests them publicly after they've -- after they've contacted law enforcement, through me, and said all you need to do is call me on the phone and in 10 minutes I'll have them in your office to turn themselves in.
If they don't do that and they go out and slap the cuffs on in front of three little boys, be they guilty, be they innocent, be they somewhere in between, for the police to do that, that would be child abuse.
BLITZER: Would it be child abuse for parents to tell their three little boys -- ages six, eight and 10 -- to lie to authorities about this incident?
LANE: No. That would not fit within the definition of inflicting emotional distress, sexual abuse or physical assault on a child. It may not make you the parent of the year, but it's not rising to the level of abuse.
But slapping the cuffs on your parents when they're more than willing to turn themselves in simply to have a made for TV moment, that's child abuse.
BLITZER: What about taking your little boys into a storm -- into a tornado, chasing a tornado in a rather dangerous environment?
LANE: You know, go talk to social services. Find out if there is some allegation that that's abusive, that he ever endangered his children in any way, shape or form. You know, I don't have any evidence that he did. If you, do I'm sure social services would love to hear it.
BLITZER: And we might be hearing from them, for all we know. The -- as you point out, the sheriff himself raised that.
David Lane, we're going to let you go.
Thanks so much.
But I'm sure we'll have you back. This story is probably not going away by any means.
Appreciate it very much.
LANE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's bring in Barb Slusser right now. She knows Richard Heene.
First Barbara, Barb, tell us how you know Richard Heene and his wife.
BARB SLUSSER, FORMER PARTNER & COLLEAGUE OF RICHARD HEENE: OK. I met them when they moved here to work with me on a paper. Richard had been collecting some research data to prive a -- prove a theory he had about electromagnetic fields in mesocyclones and tornado genesis. He needed help writing that paper. I became that help. I became the vehicle. And we got the paper published in the "National Weather Digest" in July 2008.
BLITZER: How long have you known...
SLUSSER: And subsequent...
BLITZER: ...Richard and the family?
SLUSSER: A couple of years.
BLITZER: So give us your...
SLUSSER: Let's see, they moved...
BLITZER: Give us your assessment of what has happened over these past few days.
Did this come as a shock to you?
SLUSSER: Wow! No. At first when I had heard about it, I didn't realize they were talking about Richard. And I was really concerned. And even when I found out it was Richard, at first I was very concerned. I actually called Richard on his personal cell number and left a message for him that I was really upset, how can I support the family, what can I do?
But then inside, I started thinking about it and some things just, yes, knowing Richard, it -- it wasn't beyond him to pull a publicity stunt.
BLITZER: And we're going to pick up that thought...
SLUSSER: So, you know...
BLITZER: Barb, we're going to pick up that thought after a quick break.
We're also going to speak to some other folks who know this family quite well -- indeed, have been on reality TV shows with them.
Much more of our coverage coming up on LARRY KING LIVE.
BLITZER: The Heene family broke into the reality TV scene by appearing in two episodes of ABC's "Wife Swap." For the second episode, psychic Sheree Silver traded into the Heene household.
Here's an excerpt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "WIFE SWAP," COURTESY YOUTUBE/ABC)
R. HEENE: Wait a second, did you not sign up to swap wives with another woman?
SHEREE SILVER, WAS ON "WIFE SWAP" WITH HEENE FAMILY: A pact...
R. HEENE: Did you?
S. SILVER: A pact...
R. HEENE: Did you?
S. SILVER: Listen.
R. HEENE: No, I'm talking. I asked you a question.
Did you or did you not...
S. SILVER: Did I what?
R. HEENE: Jesus .you're impossible. What I'm telling you right now is I need you to pass out these fliers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to speak to Sheree Silver when we come back.
Here's another question for you -- do you think the balloon boy's parents should be jailed if the story is a hoax?
Remember, that's our Quick Vote question tonight. Go to CNN.com/larryking to answer it. We'll be back with the "Wife Swap" participants who lived with Richard Heene and his sons after this. When we return, what Sheree Silver experienced at the hands of Richard Heene and his kids and what her own son endured during the swap.
BLITZER: We're back with Barbara Slusser, who worked closely with Richard Heene for the past two years.
What kind of man is he?
SLUSSER: A very complicated man. He's very motivated. He's motivated to prove himself in many different ways. First of all, he really loves science. And although he doesn't have a background or training in science, he's kind of self-taught. He's got a lot of ideas and theories. Some of them are kind of out there, but some of them were of interest, especially to myself and my other co-host, Scott Stevens...
BLITZER: Is it true he only...
SLUSSER: ...who is a meteorologist.
BLITZER: ...he only had a high school degree?
SLUSSER: Yes. That's true. Yes.
BLITZER: He never went to college?
SLUSSER: Not that I know of. Nope. No.
BLITZER: What kind of -- what kind of father is he?
SLUSSER: He loves those kids. He absolutely loves his kids. He's -- I don't know how to describe it, though. That family, you have to kind of understand, works as a unit. I mean they are very cohesive. He's doing everything for the family. He's doing it all to get the attention for himself, but in the same vein, that includes the family. That family is his unit. And that unit moves as one -- like one brain, one unit.
I don't know how to make people understand this. He wouldn't -- he, in his own mind, would never deliberately hurt his kids by taking them into, say, the storms that we went into. That wasn't something he thought about.
In the same vein, the rest of us, as parents, or, you know, regular people out here go, wow, you know, really bad judgment, especially when he decided to try to drive into Hurricane Gustav. That was the final straw for me.
BLITZER: That's when you...
SLUSSER: And when he said he was driving (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: Is that when you parted ways with him?
SLUSSER: Oh, yes. Definitely. Definitely. When I heard he was taking the family down there, un-unh. Way too over the top. Too dangerous.
BLITZER: Barb, hold on a second.
I want to bring in two more guests, Sheree Silver and her son, Andrew.
Sheree actually lived with Richard Heene and his two sons for two weeks for the ABC reality show, "Wife Swap".
How did that go, Sheree?
S. SILVER: It was a very hard, trying situation.
BLITZER: Tell me about it.
S. SILVER: Richard was very angry, very verbally abusive. He had high extremes of emotion. Sometimes he was yelling at me and screaming at me. And the next minute he'd kind of say sorry and then he'd go back to being pretty abusive again.
It was difficult. But there were times when he showed a real human, kind side and there were times when he was just berserk.
BLITZER: Were you surprised by these allegations of a hoax?
S. SILVER: Well, my first initial feeling was oh, my God, Richard, what have you done?
And then I didn't want to believe it. I just didn't want to believe that someone would do something like this. So I tried to tell myself, you know, no, he wouldn't do something like this. He wouldn't tell all of America that his kid's going to fallout of the flying saucer, you know?
But now, the more I feel about it and the more I think about it and the more I hear what the sheriff is saying, nobody wants to think that of a person. But I do know that Richard wants to be famous and he wants to be a scientist and do his work.
So, you know, he tried to get me to do a reality show with him and I just couldn't work with somebody like that.
BLITZER: Andrew, you're 15 years old. Mayumi, the wife of Richard, she was your mother, in effect, for two weeks during this ABC reality show, "Wife Swap".
ANDREW SILVER, WAS ON "WIFE SWAP" WITH HEENE FAMILY: Right.
BLITZER: How was she as a "mother?"
A. SILVER: Well, Mayumi was kind of crazy, I would say. She -- she definitely had a temper. My brother and I are kind of into acting and she -- she didn't like really believe in that kind of thing. She insulted us for acting. We play the guitar. She insulted us for that.
BLITZER: That's surprising, because the sheriff says both Richard and Mayumi met in an acting class in Hollywood. So she's got a background in acting.
A. SILVER: Yes. Yes. Richard and her, like, spent some time in improvisational acting. And Richard was telling me when I met him that, basically, you take whatever the audience says and just ignore it and just keep going. And I guess maybe that's something like what he pulled in here. I don't know. But...
BLITZER: Did she ever talk to you, Mayumi, about her own family?
A. SILVER: Mayumi didn't really talk about her family too much. She said that they liked doing lots of projects together. So she tried bringing that kind of thing into our own family, which it wasn't my exactly idea of fun, hunting for UFOs in our backyard or building like a flying saucer or hover board kind of thing, I guess. It was weird.
BLITZER: Sheree, what were the three little boys like when you were their "mother" during "Wife Swap".
S. SILVER: When I first arrived, the three boys were really rambunctious, very rude, very disrespectful. Richard found it funny that they were burping and farting and -- and swearing at me. It was incredible to be in their house. They were like three children -- his three children plus him. There were like four children. And he thought it was funny for them to be abusive to me.
BLITZER: Did you think he's -- he is a competent father?
S. SILVER: Well, I don't think parents should teach their children to be swearing and be rude and disrespectful to people. And I don't think fathers should take children into tornadoes. And I -- I did say something about that to him.
And I said, you know, why do you have to take your children?
You can go in the tornado and do your experiment.
Why do you have to take your children?
And he said, oh, I want them to witness it.
And it was like, you want them to witness maybe you dying?
And, you know, he didn't -- he was a good father in the sense that he hugged them and kissed them and wanted them to learn things and -- but there's fine lines here, you know. They're children. They don't need to be at risk.
BLITZER: Sheree Silver and Andrew, thanks, guys, very much.
Barb Slusser, thanks to you, as well. We'll call you back, I am sure.
We'll take another quick break.
When we come back, we'll take a look at some of the legal implications of what's going on. Mark Geragos is standing by.
Also, some of the psychological issues at stake. Dr. Charles Sophy is standing by, as well.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We are joined now by two guests, Mark Geragos, the criminal defense attorney, and Dr. Charles Sophy. He's a psychiatrist, medical director at the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.
Dr. Sophy, do you believe it is at all possible or likely even that child protective services in Colorado will take these three kids away from their parents?
DR. CHARLES SOPHY, LA COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES: I think that it's likely. At this point, I think they need to go in there and take a look at the judgment and the safety and the risk issues that these parents place their children at. And if they don't take these children, they should at least put some services into place to help dad deal with his anger, which apparently we see, and a lot of impulse control, and a lot of the bad judgment that's going on in these decision makings.
If they will take the kids, it's really based on the fact that there are safety and risk issues. But they'll also look at mom. Is mom able to protect these children. And obviously, it doesn't look like she can.
BLITZER: If this were happening where you are, in L.A. County, what would happen?
SOPHY: Well, I definitely -- we'd go into that house. We'd take it apart. We'd look at their history. I know they've had some DV history, some 911 calls. And we'd put that whole picture together and do a safety and risk assessment and come out with an answer. And most likely, we would be involved on some level in this family, if we didn't take them away and find a relative, at the very least, to be able to keep them safe, until we can get that family better situated.
BLITZER: Mark Geragos, what kind of case, based on what the sheriff has said, and based on what you know, do the DA, the prosecutors in Ft. Collins have?
MARK GERAGOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I don't know what they're going to file. I really don't at this point, because so much of what's been put out there has been either self-admitted misinformation and speculation. Part of the problem from the prosecutor's standpoint is, first of all, you've got a six-year-old who you're using, as the sheriff says, your ah-ha moment. Well, that may be the ah-ha moment for the sheriff, but that six-year-old may never testify in a courtroom, because he may not be competent as a witness. That's one problem.
BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second. Could they submit as evidence the video from LARRY KING LIVE?
GERAGOS: They could submit that. But they -- if they did that, as a hearsay, that's not going to fly in terms of a trial, where you have to have the right to confront and cross examine, number one. Number two, the other piece of evidence that they have talked about, the lawyer came out and said that they were put on the box, the polygraph. The polygraph is not admissible as well.
So my guess is -- and I'm purely guessing -- is that they've got some kind of e-mail trail that pre-dates this thing by a couple of weeks. They think that on that e-mail trail, they've determined that this was a set up, and that based upon that, they think they can file some charges. But that is not a slam dunk at all. And it's going to be up to the prosecution to determine what they're going to file. It's not up to the sheriff.
Ultimately, the prosecutor's going to make that decision as to whether or not he's going to bring criminal charges.
BLITZER: We saw that little Falcon, Dr. Sophy, throw up twice on national television Friday morning, once and then they let the kid go on another TV show. What, if anything, does that say to you?
SOPHY: I think that definitely tells me there's child endangerment, bad decision making on a parent's part, bad judgment. That is emotional abuse of a child. If he, short of having the Flu, is throwing up on national television, that boy is nervous and is under pressure. And that's emotional abuse.
BLITZER: We'll leave it there, Dr. Sophy, Mark Geragos. We'll definitely continue this conversation. Thanks very much.
When we come back, we'll move on to another story that's generating a lot of interest out there. The sweat lodge death toll now stands at three. What really happened at that new age retreat? A witness is here with her account. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Wolf Blitzer, sitting in for Larry. A third person has died after participating in a sweat lodge ceremony during last week's retreat led by the self-help guru James Arthur Ray. This happening at a resort just outside Sedona, Arizona. The latest victim is 49-year-old Liz Neuman (ph) of Minnesota.
James Arthur Ray posted this statement on his Facebook page: "words cannot fully express how deeply I'm saddened by the news of the death of my dear friend Liz. I had the honor of knowing her for over seven years, and she was deeply loved and appreciated. Liz was an amazing woman who touched so many lives. She'll be cherished and remembered by all. Liz, you're in our hearts forever. My continued love, prayers and support go out to her family in this time of grief and loss."
That statement from James Arthur Ray. Joining us now is Shawna Bowen. Shawna is a licensed independent substance abuse counselor. She had attended James Arthur Ray seminars in the past. She had also participated in what are called the sweat lodge ceremonies. Shawna, you were not a participant at the deadly event last week. But you've been at other similar events. Is that right?
SHAWNA BOWEN, INDEPENDENT SUBSTANCE ABUSE COUNSELOR: Yes.
BLITZER: Tell us about this whole sweat lodge ceremony. What exactly is it?
BOWEN: In the sweat lodges that I've attended, it's basically just a native American ceremony where you do rounds, so to speak, where you bring in hot rocks in a kind of circular structure, and you sit around the hot rocks, and someone is generally leading the sweat lodge through times of prayer. Then, once a time of prayer is over, you open up a part of the sweat lodge, and you bring in more hot rocks.
BLITZER: How is it possible that three people died as a result of spending, what, two hours in that sweat lodge last week? Explain how hot it gets. Can you breathe in there? What's going on?
BOWEN: I am really surprised that people died in a sweat lodge. It's certainly not an outcome that I am familiar with ever. I have no idea why people died in this particular sweat lodge. And I think that's the question that I'm hoping will be answered.
BLITZER: You got there to the Sedona -- outside of Sedona how much after the horrible news was known that people had died?
BOWEN: Well, when I came there, I saw people that were not responding. I did not know whether or not anyone had actually died. But there was definitely people not responding.
BLITZER: Because a lot of people were rushed to the hospital. They were very, very sick. They're still alive, but they were very sick as a result of what happened during those few hours in that sweat lodge.
BOWEN: Yes. I mean, that is my understanding, given that they fell ill as they came out of the sweat lodge.
BLITZER: Who seemed to be in charge?
BOWEN: My understanding is the person running the ceremony was James Ray. So as far as sweat lodge ceremonies that I've attended, the person running the sweat lodge would be in charge.
BLITZER: Did you see James Arthur Ray that day?
BOWEN: Yes. He was there when I arrived.
BLITZER: And was he inside that sweat lodge when whatever happened happened?
BOWEN: I believe that he was participating in the sweat lodge. Generally, the person running it would be also participating in it. And so I'm -- my understanding would be that he was inside the sweat lodge. And then, once the people were pulled out of the sweat lodge, he remained near the sweat lodge where the people were.
BLITZER: You say you spoke with one man who actually left the sweat lodge before completing the entire operation, or whatever was going on, is that right?
BLITZER: And what did he say to you?
BOWEN: Um, well, after the initial people that were -- that had gone to the hospital, I had spent some more time with some of the others that weren't as bad off. And he had shared that he had left early and that he had felt kind of bad about that. He had said, yes. I wasn't playing full on. I left early. And he felt bad about it. And I had said, wait a minute. You left when it felt right for you to leave. You were taking care of yourself.
And then he said, well, you know, in a way that's true, and I'm glad I did that, because then I was well enough to help bring the others out of the sweat lodge that were not responding.
BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break, but when we come back, I'm going to ask you, Shawna, if you still have confidence in James Arthur Ray. Shawna Bowen will stick around. We have more guests who have inside information on what happens with these sweat lodge ceremonies. Our coverage continues after this.
BLITZER: James Arthur Ray's popularity as a self-help guru soared through his connection with the, quote, "The Secret" documentary and the book. He appeared on LARRY KING LIVE in March 2007 from the site of one of his mass seminars. Larry asked him about critics of his teachings. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: What do you make of the critics, James?
JAMES ARTHUR RAY, SELF-HELP GURU: Well, you know, it's interesting, Larry, because any time a new idea comes to the fore, it goes through three phases. It's first ridiculed. Then it's violently opposed. And then it's finally accepted as self-evident, normally after the opposition dies.
So what we're really doing here is bringing forth a new way of thinking and behaving that some people haven't considered before. So I'm not surprised at all.
What I believe is that people fear things that they don't fully understand. And so I know that in a world of dualistic behavior, in a dualistic plane which we live in, third dimension, there's always going to be just as much positive as negative. So if you're doing wonderful things in the world, there is going to be people in opposition.
We all have a special purpose and mission to fulfill in this life time. And part of my passion is to help people really understand what true wealth is, a state of well-being, finding their unique gifts, and then using the secret to create the life that really they're meant to create and meant to live in this life time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So how much trouble is James Arthur Ray in? Is he in real trouble? We'll talk about that right after the break.
BLITZER: We want to remind viewers, Larry's interview with Suzanne Somers airs Friday night. You'll want to see that, a really compelling interview.
Let's get back to Shawna Bowen. She's a licensed independent substance abuse counselor who had attended James Arthur ray seminars in the past. She participated in sweat lodge ceremonies. Also joining us now Jonathan Ellerby, PHD. He's a teacher and healer, spiritual program director at the Canyon Ranch Health Resort, author of "Return To The Sacred Ancient Pathways to Spiritual Awakening," also joining us, Mark Geragos, the famed criminal defense attorney, who is going to talk about some of the legal aspect of what's going on.
What lessons, Shawna, do you hope have been learned from this tragic incident? Three deaths and a lot of people very, very sick as a result of spending a few hours in that so-called sweat lodge.
BOWEN: Some of the lessons that I hope people are going to gain out of this experience is one is that sweat lodge -- what sweat lodge is and what it is not. And to make sure that that ceremony is not put in a bad light. Also, the whole question of people who are looking to better themselves or that are out there searching, where is the discernment between self-care, self-understanding and following what others suggest? I think that that is something that I hope everyone will take a look at so that something like this is prevented.
BLITZER: There are some reports, Shawna, that the participant had fasted. They weren't allowed to have any water. No food prior to taking part in that sweat lodge ceremony. What do you know about this?
BOWEN: That was my understanding, that there was like a two-day fasting before the sweat lodge ceremony.
BLITZER: Does that include no water, too? BOWEN: That was my understanding. And then they were offered some sort of a breakfast that morning, and were encouraged to hydrate. Maybe just not enough time to hydrate. I would leave that to health professionals.
BLITZER: Jonathan, tell us what you think about this whole tragic incident? You study these phenomenon.
JONATHAN ELLERBY, PHD, TEACHER AND HEALER: Sure. I've been involved in sweat lodges and similar ceremonies for about 20 years now. I have to say, I've never heard of anything quite like this. One of the things that is difficult for people like myself on the outside is to understand what exactly was being done in that program? We don't seem to have enough details from the police or even from the people that were there to see how this was different than other things that are out there, that are time tested and generally very safe and healthy.
BLITZER: Doctor, what is the positive -- potential positive benefit of participating in a sweat lodge ceremony?
ELLERBY: Sure. Well, these things have been done for thousands of years, and in cultures all over the world. So you have to realize that the positive benefits are not just conjecture. This has stuck around for 1,000 years because it makes a difference.
So physically speaking, some traditions use the lodge for purification and detoxification through the skin. But spiritually speaking, what happens in the actual process in the lodge is, you know, reflections and prayers and meditations and teachings. And the environment itself, because of the dark and the heat and the steam itself, what we find is that people are kind of allowed to focus in a way that they don't normally.
We're invited to connect with our hearts, our sense of our highest good, maybe a connection with a higher power. So a lot of people leave something like a sweat lodge feeling peaceful, feeling grounded, feeling clear about their intentions. There's generally a lot of focus on forgiveness and letting go and renewal. It's really a beautiful process. So whatever's happened here strikes me as very unusual.
BLITZER: Maybe a beautiful process, Mark Geragos. But a homicide investigation is now under way into those three deaths. How much legal jeopardy, in your opinion, is James Arthur Ray in right now?
GERAGOS: It's a very interesting investigation. I mean there's obviously legal jeopardy any time they classify it as a homicide, which is what they're doing. I don't think the coroner has yet. The big question is going to be what actually caused these deaths? Was it some kind of a toxic mix inside the sweat lodge? If so, that would tend to argue against anything being filed against Mr. Ray.
If, on the other hand, it had something to do with not having enough water, them not being able to hydrate properly, then you might find somebody ambitiously trying to file some involuntary manslaughter charges in a case like this. That's the jeopardy. As to whether or not he's going to get filed on is all going to depend on what they determine is the cause of death.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by. We have more -- hold on a second. We're going to get right back to you. We'll take a quick break, continue our conversation right after this.
BLITZER: Jonathan, what qualifications do you need to lead a sweat lodge seminar?
ELLERBY: Well, this raises a big question about this particular event, which is that different lodges require different kinds of qualifications or credentials. So in the Native-American communities, there are generally pretty clear you might say protocols or stages that a person goes through, in terms of education. That depends on the individual community.
Now, when people take these things outside the Native American community, then we need to ask new kinds of questions. Frankly, I think that when people are running non-Native lodges, especially if they're non-Native people, then they need to be more, you might say, accountable or aware of non-Native standards. And typically, whatever tradition you're doing this in, it takes years of training because there are so many fine details involved in doing this successfully and well. And I think that's important regardless of the tradition a person is running a lodge in.
BLITZER: Mark Geragos, if you were advising James Arthur ray right now, legal advice, because there is a homicide investigation under way -- three people are dead -- what would you tell him?
GERAGOS: Well, first thing is don't talk to you. After what I saw with the balloon dad on Friday, that would be the biggest mistake. Second, I would tell them that you want to do a parallel investigation. You want to find out immediately what the toxicity, if there was some toxicity here, which obviously there was -- what caused that? I would want to know, and not use the term scorched Earth, but you would go in there and try and determine what it was that actually caused this.
Because if, in fact, it had something to do with the environment, as opposed to the -- you know, the hydration, that is going to make or break a criminal case here. And so that would be, I'm sure, what he's getting counseled to do at this time.
BLITZER: Because the notion of negligent homicide comes to mind. Is that what we're talking about here?
GERAGOS: Well, any -- you have -- any time you have an involuntary manslaughter charge, obviously you have a death, and then there has to be a mental element. The person who is being charged with this death did something. And they did something that was so grossly negligent that we are going to charge that person criminally. So, in this case, it would be you didn't allow water; you didn't allow food; you didn't properly rehydrate them. Well, normally, and you just think at first blush, absent knowing the facts, you would think that people would not drop dead. You'd think maybe they would pass out. Maybe they'd be carried out. Maybe they would complain of dizziness, but not to die. I think three deaths would suggest to me that there is something going on in the environment down there, that these coals and the hot air and -- combined with something else in the environment is what caused the death.
BLITZER: Mark Geragos and Jonathan Ellerby, we'll have you back. Thanks to both of you very much.
And a very, very sad note; CNN is now morning the death of Dave Kohler. Spent more than a decade helping steer this network on an aggressive, accurate and fair journalistic course. Dave served as CNN's senior vice president and general counsel. A peerless professional and big hearted friend, he was the man we turned to with so many questions all the time, especially about media law. He always had an answer that was as insightful as it was informed.
Dave Kohler died Thursday after a courageous battle with cancer. He was only 56 years old. He leaves behind a distinguished legal legacy, a loving family, countless friends, and a lot of CNN staffers who benefited from his wisdom and warmth. We will miss Dave very much.
I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry King. "Anderson Cooper 360" starts right now.