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Closing Arguments Begin in Amanda Knox Trial; Fort Hood: Warning Signs; Oprah Signs Off

Aired November 20, 2009 - 14:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: That's all 58 Democrats, plus two Independents, by the way. And it's not guaranteed that he'll get them.

And don't expect the president's decision on Afghanistan until after Thanksgiving. That's the word from a senior administration source on the back end of the president's eight-day tour of Asia. He's mulling more troops, but wants more assurances that Afghanistan and Pakistan will do their part.

And a schoolteacher took the witness stand today in Kennett, Missouri, where she no doubt wishes she never set foot in Wal-Mart. Heather Ellis is charged with roughing up the cops who responded to the raucous at the checkout lanes in 2001. Ellis claims that the cops used racial slurs. She could face 15 years if convicted.

Passion, drama, intrigue in Italy. Two full years of twists and turns, with a young American student in the middle and her young British roommate dead. Did I mention the sex and drugs?

Well, the Italian boyfriend and the alleged African accomplice. Finally, the trial of Amanda Knox is nearing a climax, and CNN's Paula Newton is there.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): For all the intrigue that has passed through this medieval city, from Roman battles to papal wars, Perugia is now in the throes of a modern mystery that has engrossed millions.

The place is like an all-too-real CSI. People talk evidence, motive, forensics, trying to crack the two-year-old case of Meredith Kercher, a British student who was slashed in the throat and left to bleed to death.

It's the indictment of Amanda Knox that has both magnified the mystery and ignited media mayhem. Knox has become a choice fill-in for the press, say her parents in Seattle, but to them, she's a victim.

CURT KNOX, AMANDA KNOX'S FATHER: How journalists took apart her MySpace pages and literally created a person that they needed in order to sell whatever it is they were trying to sell, versus the person that she really is. And she is a good kid. FRANCESCA BENE, ITALIAN JOURNALIST: It is very simple in the beginning. Take a photo and say, "Oh, she's a dark lady." True stuff.

NEWTON: The media first went with the police line -- Knox was guilty. But the local newspaper, "Giornale dell'Umbria," has investigated every shred of evidence, logged hours of testimony and interrogations. To them, what happened remains a mystery, but one that everyone can relate to.

BENE: Like our child, our brother or sister. So, it is simple for the people to see in them something of daylight.

NEWTON: If most can't relate to the horror of the crime, many relate to the young lives that have been so shattered by it. A British student allegedly murdered in her bed during a sex-fueled rage. Rudy Guede has already been convicted of the crime and sentenced to 20 years. And Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, both charged with murder.

(on camera): Amanda Knox's parents point out that in over two years of investigation, prosecutors have been unable to find any physical evidence in this house, the murder scene that would link their daughter to the murder.

(voice-over): But sources close to the prosecution tell CNN that during closing arguments, there will be a few surprises -- a portrayal that will describe a frenzied murder fueled by sexual violence and backed by evidence. Knox has been in prison for two years now pleading her innocence.

KNOX: You know, obviously there was a tremendous amount of tears, and it's one where we have to try to do our best to put on a face that it is going to work out.

EDDA MELLAS, AMANDA KNOX'S MOTHER: And we keep telling her that, that it's taking way longer than we ever expected, but she will get out of there. And she's innocent, and they are not going to put an innocent 20-year-old in jail for 30 years. It's just not going to happen, especially with no evidence.

NEWTON: A verdict is expected next month, and with it, Knox's parents expect their daughter will be home for Christmas.

KNOX: You know, we have purchased Amanda a ticket.

NEWTON (on camera): Saying that she can come back.

MELLAS: Yes. I'm sorry.

NEWTON (voice-over): The fact remains, even those closest to this case who have spoken to CNN acknowledge the full truth of what happened to Meredith Kercher and what happened that night is still a mystery.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PHILLIPS: So, Paula, does the prosecutor maintain that Amanda Knox was the center figure in this murder plot?

NEWTON: Absolutely. One of the surprises today really was the fact that the prosecutor talked more about how Amanda was the protagonist in all of this, that she wanted to exact revenge on a person she just didn't like, and it was really quite blunt in terms of him saying that she got her Italian boyfriend to hold down Meredith Kercher while this African drifter sexually assaulted her and while Amanda Knox slashed her throat.

This is what the prosecution went through in very exacting detail today.

PHILLIPS: And what can you tell us about the forensics and how they played out in this case?

NEWTON: You know, it's been so interesting. The key thing that the prosecution is putting its case on is on a knife, a knife that was not found at the scene of the crime, but was found at her Italian boyfriend's house. The knife, the defense says, not enough DNA to prove that Amanda used it at all, or that Meredith Kercher's DNA was on it. The defense also says the knife could not have been the murder weapon when you look at the wounds.

But, you know, Kyra, all of this has taken its toll. Today, when Amanda Knox, came in, we saw a very composed woman. You saw her taking notes.

By the end of it, she was shattered. Her family members telling me that, look, of course she was upset. All she heard the entire day was how she was a murderer -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Paula Newton reporting for us live.

Paula, thanks.

The formal investigation into the Fort Hood rampage under way. Maine Senator Susan Collins saying there were red flags galore about Army Major Nidal Hasan, accused of killing 13 people.

A security expert saying that the Army had the tolls to spot those red flags and the rampage should have never happened. Shannen Rossmiller says that she helped write a report last year for the Pentagon on how to spot religious extremists in the ranks, but apparently the brass didn't pay much attention. She blames political correctness in the military, and she's not the only one.

CNN's Brian Todd shows us how lawmakers, analysts and others are trying to connect the dots that circle the suspect.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More indications that potential safety nets may have either broken down or were never in place to prevent Nidal Hasan from allegedly murdering 13 people at Fort Hood. At the first congressional hearing into the shootings, discussions on what may have been the failure of law enforcement, military and counterterror officials to communicate with each other, even though it was discovered last year that Hasan had corresponded with a radical Muslim cleric.

Former Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend, a CNN contributor, indicated some restrictions on the agency's cooperation are just too unwieldy.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: But the rules become so cumbersome that they're discouraging, and so people don't do it.

General John Keane was commanding general at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, during the trial of two white soldiers for the murder of a black couple. Keane said, after that incident, the military took steps to flag racial extremism, but never came up with anything like that on radical religious behavior. Keane was asked another key question on why Hasan kept getting promoted, even when his superiors reportedly had information on his extremist views and incompetence.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Do you think that political correctness may have played some role in the fact that these dots were not connected?

GEN. JOHN KEANE (RET.), FORMER ARMY VICE CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, absolutely. And also I think a factor here is Hasan's position as an officer and also his position as a psychiatrist contributed to that.

TODD: Most of these security and terrorism experts agree that Nidal Hasan is likely someone who became self-radicalized, a lone wolf influenced by militant extremists, but not directing by anyone to kill.

But connecting those dots before this tragedy, one expert said, may have been important.

BRIAN JENKINS, SENIOR ADVISER, RAND CORPORATION: We're just not very good at predicting human violence. We don't have an x-ray for a man's soul.

TODD (on camera): But Brian Jenkins said looking back, it does appear that Hasan had what he called obvious personality problems that he channeled into a deadly fanaticism.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ali Velshi in Chicago, where the queen of daytime television has announced she is calling it quits. The question is, what is she going to do next?

I'll have that for you.

PHILLIPS: And Al Capone, "Machine Gun" Kelly -- no one escapes from The Rock. It's easier to break into Alcatraz than it is to break out. And 40 years ago today, dozens of Native-Americans took a stand for their civil rights by reclaiming the island in the San Francisco Bay. They say the land belonged to them in pre-colonial times.

Some stayed at the abandoned federal prison for a year and a half before the feds forced them to leave.


PHILLIPS: Twenty-five is one heck of a run, but the end is near for the "Oprah" show. The daytime queen fought back tears today when she announced that next season, season 25, will be her last.

So what's next for the media mogul? Chief Business Correspondent Ali Velshi in Chicago, over his home base.

So, what did the queen of talk have to say, Ali?

VELSHI: Well, look, there was a lot of speculation this would happen, that she's going to come to an end with her contract and announce that September of 2011 will be her 25th anniversary of air, and that's when she's going to call it quits.

Here's some of what she said, which will show up on her show this afternoon.

"It's the perfect number." She talked about being, you know, the 25th year.

"Here's the real reason. I love this show. This show is my life, and I love it enough to know when it's time to say goodbye. It's the perfect number, the exact right time."

"I hope you'll take this 18-month ride with me through the show," referring to when she leaves. She also says, "My team and I will be brainstorming new ways that I can uplift you when we return in January. And season 25 will knock your socks off."

In fact, today was going to be her last live show. Then they go into hiatus for a little while.

It is unclear exactly what Oprah will be doing, but what is clear is that she owns her own network now. She is a media sensation like none anyone has ever seen. So, she will be doing something. It will make her a lot of money, and she will continue to be possibly one of the most influential women in the world, certainly in America -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: So you didn't ask her for a job on her network?

VELSHI: All things in good time. You know, she has been responsible, as CNN has been with me, and you have been with me, Kyra. She's really been responsible for launching some people's major media careers -- Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Rachael Ray and others. When Oprah decides she likes you, or she thinks you're valuable, that could launch you into a very, very lucrative and successful career.

PHILLIPS: I was just asking because I know she loves you.

VELSHI: I have been on her show, and I really, really enjoyed it. And she said kind things to me. It definitely is a milestone.

I must say, Kyra, you've known me for a long time. I don't get nervous on TV a lot, but that was last October. I kind of -- people say I looked a little nervous.


PHILLIPS: You did. You looked a little uptight. That's so unlike you.

And I made you squirm when I asked you that question. It's a double whammy.

VELSHI: Only two women make me nervous on TV.

PHILLIPS: Hmm. Let's see -- who would that be?

Ali, great to see you.

VELSHI: Oprah and Kyra.

PHILLIPS: I'll see you soon. Love you. Have a great weekend.

VELSHI: All right.

PHILLIPS: Well, the devil's in the details. Just ask anyone who signed up for a credit card lately. Page after page crammed full of legalese. How do you even know what you're signing up for?

Our Jessica Yellin is checking the fine print.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Americans swipe their credit cards 58 million times a day. But how many cardholders actually understand what they've signed up for?

Some in Congress are trying to get rid of the fine print in contracts like this one...

(on camera): Can you tell me what the annual percentage rate is? What the interest is?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't a clue. It doesn't say. You'd have to give me about an hour. But at the end of the hour, I would say no.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's too much gobbledygook. YELLIN (voice-over): To test the point, we sat down to read one.

(on camera): And the person to whom we address billing statements...

(voice-over): So how long did it take? Stay tuned.

Alan Siegel says it doesn't have to be this way. His company specializes in contract simplification. They've done it for the Internal Revenue Service, major banks and insurance companies.

ALAN SIEGEL, SPECIALIZES IN CONTRACT SIMPLIFICATION: It's designed to be readable, and it's totally plain English. And we use personal pronouns instead of the party of the first part.

YELLIN: He says government regulators and credit card companies have both resisted simple contracts.

(on camera): Is it possible to have a credit card contract that anyone can understand?

SIEGEL: Absolutely.

YELLIN: How long does it have to be?

SIEGEL: I believe it can be on one side of one piece of paper.

YELLIN (voice-over): In fact, he's created a sample, one page. Here's the interest rate. Here are the penalty fees. His testing shows a tenth grader could understand it.

(on camera): Have you shown this to any credit card companies?


YELLIN: And what do they say?

SIEGEL: Panicked.

YELLIN (voice-over): Some in Congress think card companies have a stake in keeping their products and their contracts confusing, and have proposed a consumer protection agency that would work to make these agreements less complicated.

The American Bankers Association is fighting it.

NESSA FEDDIS, AMERICAN BANKERS ASSOCIATION: There are other ways to address it rather than having to create an expensive big bureaucracy.

YELLIN: Speaking for the credit card companies, she says government regulators are already working on streamlined new rules that will make credit card agreements clearer. But she insists credit card contracts can never be just one page. Blame the lawyers.

FEDDIS: Those contracts are based on lawsuits that have compelled them to use certain terms, certain words, and to include certain information in order to have an enforceable contract. It's the nature of law.

YELLIN: Back to the current complicated contract.

(on camera): "Authorization for us to collect the amount of the check electronically or..."

(voice-over): It took 10 minutes to read one page, an hour for the whole thing. No wonder so few of us know what we've agreed to.

Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: Fewer flights, more fees. You won't hear that in the airline ads. You might just live it if you're hitting the sky in the next few weeks, though.

Happy holidays.


PHILLIPS: A strongly worded letter from the Senate Ethics Committee, but no real punishment for Illinois Senator Roland Burris. Burris took over President Obama's old seat. You know, the seat that former governor Rod Blagojevich allegedly tried to sell. Senator Burris has been slapped on the wrist for being less than candid about how he landed that appointment, but now it's case closed.

Miley Cyrus' tour bus veered off a rural Virginia highway and flipped on its side this morning, killing one person and injuring another. The 16-year-old "Hannah Montana" star was not on board at the time. Virginia State Police don't know what caused the crash, but they've ruled out speed and weather. The bus was heading to North Carolina for a Sunday show.

Atlantis astronauts moving supplies into the International Space Station and gearing up for another spacewalk, but the most important event of the day happening back on Earth. One crewmember's wife is due to give birth today, so astronaut Randolph Bresnik is waiting for word, hoping to be on the phone for the big event.


PHILLIPS: As the song goes, "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays." Millions of people will be traveling this holiday season. And if you're one of them, you better be prepared. There'll be fewer flights and a lot more fees.

So, Susan, what do you think people need to know if they're thinking about Thanksgiving and later in the month for various holidays?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Be prepared, have plenty of reading material. Have your iPod all jacked up, Kyra, because it's a hassle. You know, Chad will, of course, keep us informed in terms about -- in terms of the weather, but you can expect more crowded planes on top of that.

The Air Travel Association says this Thanksgiving, travel overall will drop about four percent from last year. OK, so that's a good thing in the sense, maybe you think there'll be less hassle at the airport. No, you'd be wrong.

Flights will be more packed because there are fewer flights. Airlines have been cutting routes, they've been grounding planes, and they have been switching to smaller planes to save money. In fact, the ATA says 2009 capacity reductions are the steepest since 1942 -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: So what does this mean for ticket prices?

LISOVICZ: You know what it means. You know, overall, Kyra, actually, the ATA says fares for domestic fares were down an average of 13 percent in the second quarter, year over year. But we're not talking about, you know, average days, normal days.

We're talking about Thanksgiving and the holidays. And that's when you really get nickel-and-dimed. And the airfares go up, so you can expect certainly to get charged each way extra for these high- capacity flights, for these very much in demand flights.

There are some tips, of course, to get around it, and that's to be flexible with travel dates. Maybe you don't have to travel on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Maybe you don't have to leave on Sunday.

There are a few freebies. We'll tell you about them.

Virgin America offering free Wi-Fi. Google's offering free Wi-Fi at a whole bunch of airports. Delta, Continental, a few others offering satellite TV on some flights, but they'll be crowded -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: So you're talking about less flights, less seats available. Did you see this Web site on


PHILLIPS: OK. So, you can actually go to this Web site and go state by state and actually see the percentage of how many of those flights and seats available dropped. And it looks like Ohio down 28 percent. You can go get airport information there as well.

Kentucky down 23 percent. Over to Missouri, down 20 percent, almost 21 percent.

You know, and you wonder about that. You know when they say there's a technical problem with the aircraft and you're flight's been canceled. A lot of those have just been canceled because they're not selling enough seats.

LISOVICZ: You know, this is something that's been happening for a couple of years now, Kyra, and you're really seeing it. I think when we feel it the worst is when everybody wants to get to one place or another around the same time. And that's why you should be prepared.

You should be prepared for a lot of aggravation. It's as simple as that.

PHILLIPS: And you can find out where your state stands on that Web site.

Susan, thanks so much.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

PHILLIPS: All right. We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw it either -- Jon Stewart in a boa (ph) with a professional wrestler going up in flames. It turns out they were pretty fired up about something you saw right here on CNN.


PHILLIPS: You voted, now join Anderson Cooper to see who will become CNN's Hero of the Year. Nicole Kidman, Carrie Underwood, and Maxwell just a few of the celebrities scheduled to appear in the all- star tribute. Dare to be inspired, CNN HEROES, Thanksgiving night, 9:00 Eastern.

SIU, part two; Special Investigations Unit still on the story of America's loneliest border crossings and the money you're spending to make them the best darn border crossings in the middle of nowhere.

Here's an excerpt of Drew Griffin's original report from mid- September.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was supposed to be $15 million to replace what appears to be a perfectly fine border crossing station, especially when you consider the Bureau of Transportation's statistics say this border crossing station at Scobey, Montana sees fewer than 20 vehicles a day.

(on camera): It's not that you could just call this border crossing slow. Here I am in the middle of the day, sitting in the middle of the road, there's nobody here.

(voice-over): It's even quieter here, the border crossing at White Tail, Montana. The Bureau of Transportation statistics say the customs agents get an average of fewer than two vehicles a day. Yet, this too was to see a $15 million upgrade, thanks to the federal stimulus bill.

BURL BOWLER, RESIDENT: Well, I think everybody was pretty well blown away that they're spending $32 million in Daniels County on new border stations. I believe they need to update, but that just seems to be kind of a crazy number. GRIFFIN: Mark Chabot's family has been farming this border for generations. His land is adjacent to the border crossing in Scobey. In winter, entire days go by, he says, where you won't see a single car. The idea to build a new border station that sees fewer than 20 cars a day, at a cost of $15 million tax, he says could only have come from Washington.

MARK CHABOT, RESIDENT: Well, when you're spending someone else's money, the cost is no big deal, right? If I'm spending your money, why do I care? As long as you've got a big pocketbook.


PHILLIPS: Lay it out. That's the bottom line right there.

GRIFFIN: Tough talk there.


PHILLIPS: Exactly, they don't beat around the bush.

Now the day that story was supposed to air, the Department of Homeland Security came out with an announcement.

GRIFFIN: Exactly, Kyra. That's exactly what they did.

There was so much outrage over these lonely border crossings getting all this money, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, she put a hold on everything, decided there would be a 30-day review. And after further review, things cooled off a bit and Homeland Security has decided it's still a good idea, Kyra. They're going to go ahead with the plans, though they say they're going to try to spend less than the $15 million or so that each of these will cost.

In fact, in a statement on a government website, the Homeland Security director applauded the decision to spend this money saying that, "This review validates the thorough, transparent and merit-based processes the Department has used to distribute its Recovery Act dollars for projects vital," she says, "to our economic and national security."

PHILLIPS: So they're going to spend the money anyway, even though everybody says this is an absolute waste?

GRIFFIN: Yes, and this is the way Washington works. See, Homeland Security gets this money to spend -- stimulus money. So they figure up, they just have to spend it.

And everybody thinks it's a great idea and that's what Congress voted for, right? Wrong, says Senator Byron Dorgan who's furious about this. In fact, remember, his state is next door, Kyra, North Dakota. Some of this money will come to his state. He says this is a huge waste of taxpayer dollars and this is what he told us about that bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA: No, no, no. The vote on stimulus program or economic recovery program was not a vote to waste money. It was a vote to try to put people to work in meaningful jobs and meaningful ways. But there was nothing about that vote that would say to people go ahead and spend money like this. Build $10 million $20 million ports of entry in areas where you have five vehicles an hour, that's preposterous. It just does not meet the common sense test as far as I'm concerned.


GRIFFIN: Senator Dorgan says they're spending money at Homeland Security -- stimulus money -- like it's coming out of a bottomless pit. But you know, it's Washington. Nobody can seem to stop this train.

PHILLIPS: Well, somebody can, they're just deciding not to do it. So that's why you're going to keep exposing it.

GRIFFIN: That's right. It'll be a nice border station when it's done.

PHILLIPS: Oh, I'm sure. With nobody driving along a road there obviously. Obviously, no threat. All right, safe vacation. Thanks, Drew.

With the national unemployment topping 10 percent, ex-convicts usually find themselves at the back of the line when it comes to finding a job.'s Poppy Harlow actually visited the Red Hook section of Brooklyn for a follow-up with one of those ex-cons whose turning his life around.


POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: You know, last week we introduced you to Greg Headley. He just got out of prison, and ex-con working for minimum wage, temporary job picking up trash here in New York City. This week, a very different story. Following up on this, he has a full-time job now here in Brooklyn at Container Access Trucking Company. He got a 30 percent raise.

Greg and his boss Gary here to talk to us about this second chance.

This is huge for you. It gives you a chance to prove yourself, right?

GREG HEADLEY, NEWLY-HIRED EX-CON: Yes, ma'am. This second chance for me is a blessing. It shows others who are in my position, that are coming home from prison, that don't believe these chances exist that they really do. So I'm here to lead by example.

HARLOW: You know, when we talk about that, leading by example and bringing ex-cons on to work at your company, you work with the Center for Employment Opportunities, a non-profit here in New York that teams you up with people after they're released from prison. Why hire an ex-con and not someone else that doesn't have a record? There are so many other unemployed people out there.

GARY PORAT, OWNER, CONTAINER X: Because those people usually have much more expectations and they would love to work much harder because they do appreciate the work. Most people that are coming to work, with a bad economy they're still looking for benefits and other incentives. Those people are coming really truthfully, they just want to stay out of the streets and to work.

And fortunately, I would say that our company, because of our competitive prices and rates, we are able because of incentives that the city or the state are giving us, we are able to hire them. And as far as the economy, for our business it's also better because we get some incentives back for those people.

HARLOW: Yes, I mean, it helps there's obviously some subsidies that come from New York State that help with this as well. And when we look at the cost of society and when we look at the amount of people, the latest numbers show us that 70 percent of those released from prison go back to prison within three years. That costs us $26,000 a year per person that is incarcerated.

That's obviously not going to be you. Your dream is to start your own business; right, Greg?

HEADLEY: Yes, ma'am. One of my goals is to obtain my CDL through Chain and Duke (ph) and Container X and hopefully raise enough capital to open my own coffee lounge one day.

HARLOW: All right, well, we're rooting for you, Greg; thank you so much, Gary. Thank you.

And folks, this is just part of the story, you can see Greg's full story on You can see it all right there, back to you.


PHILLIPS: And the story of a teenage girl facing horrific brutality bringing fame to the previously unknown young woman playing her in the film.

CNN's Jason Carroll caught up with Precious.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, I know you have been hearing about this young woman who plays Precious. You know, it actually turns out she beat out 500 other hopefuls for that particular role. Not bad.

Her name is Gabby Sidibe, and it's a name you're going to be hearing a lot of.


GABBY SIDIBE, ACTRESS: My name is Clarisse Precious Jones and I want to be on the cover of a magazine. I wish I had a light-skinned boyfriend. CARROLL (voice-over): It has been called provocative and disturbing and has received an R rating.

MONIQUE, ACTRESS: Don't nobody want you, don't nobody need you.

CARROLL: Precious has already won awards. Oscar buzz surrounding Monique, who plays the abusive mother; Mariah Carey, the social worker; and newcomer Gabby Sidibe.

SIDIBE: It's certainly a huge surprise.

CARROLL: Certainly is considering what Sidibe was doing just a few years ago.

SIDIBE: I was seriously just a receptionist, seriously I was just a college student. I went to one audition and it turned into this. And so...

CARROLL: Over coffee, we talk with Sidibe about the movie's graphic subject matter and the audition that almost wasn't

SIDIBE: A friend of mine called me and told me about the audition. I didn't really want to go, because I had class the same day at the very same time.

MARIAH CAREY, ACTRESS: Can we talk about the abuse?

CARROLL: Based on the novel, "Push," director Lee Daniels tells the story of Precious, an illiterate 16-year-old living in Harlem who was sexually and physically abused.

SIDIBE: I have known this girl in so many different people in my life. Like I have known her in friends and family and in people I didn't want to know.

CARROLL: Sidibe hopes it will help real life Preciouses.

SIDIBE: People carry these secrets because they think that they're alone. And I think the film shows that you're not alone.

CARROLL (on camera): But some black scholars who say, you know, I'm not quite sure this is the image of the African-American family that should be being put out there. What do you think?

SIDIBE: I think that it's -- it certainly is an image. Does it speak for all of the black community? No.

CARROLL (voice-over): Despite those critics, just walking down the street...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I get a picture with you? Excellent woman.

CARROLL: ... and you'll see Sidibe has many fans.

(on camera): How old are you? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES: Eight grade, 13.

CARROLL: Eight grade, 13; do you think you're old enough to see a movie like that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom really wants me to see it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We talked about it, but I don't know the content of the movie itself.

CARROLL: Well, Gabby, what do you think?

SIDIBE: Maybe 12 is old enough to see it, but with a strong conversation afterwards.

CARROLL (voice-over): Sidibe hopes the conversation afterwards will be about hope.

SIDIBE: She doesn't let life income her down and keep her down. She keep moving and that's where you can see the hope.


CARROLL: Well, as for what she will do next, Gabby told me she hopes to do a comedy, if she can. The movie Precious opens nationwide today -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Jason Carroll, thanks so much.

Top stories now, a schoolteacher on the witness stand today in Kennet, Missouri testifying about that fateful trip to Wal-Mart nearly three years ago. Heather Ellis is charged with roughing up the cops who responded to a dust up at the checkout lane. This is a look at her mug shot after the whole mess happened; hadn't seen it before. Ellis claims the cops attacked her with racial slurs, a conviction could put her in prison for 15 years.

Saturday night is vote night on Capitol Hill. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid needs 60 votes to put his health care bill to the floor. That's all 58 democrats plus two independents, and there's no guarantee that they're all on board.

And look for a post-Thanksgiving announcement on the war on Afghanistan. President Obama, just back from Asia, is said to be very near a decision and more troops and a new plan, but it won't come before the holiday.


PHILLIPS: An exclusive "AC360" investigation reveals this, how the Amy's own rules on evidence gathering may have led to the murders of four Iraqis in 2007. Three decorated Army sergeants were convicted of premeditated murder, but now questions about the rules they had to follow for taking in detainees.

Special Investigations Unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau has a preview of tonight's story.


ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Many critics tell us the rules for gathering evidence put too much pressure on soldiers to be like police officers. I asked Brigadier General David Quantock, who oversees detainee operations in Iraq, about the training soldiers received before going to war.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID QUANTOCK, U.S. ARMY: We're asking them to take basic evidence, which they've been trained to do. Again, we've got the greatest soldiers in the world and I don't accept that they can't take basic evidence off of a -- off of a crime scene.

BOUDREAU: General, though, if it's so easy to collect this basic type of evidence, then why were so many detainees let out because of lack of evidence?

QUANTOCK: You know, we were -- we're trying to make the fight fit the Army as opposed to have the Army fit the fight. I think a lot of times we thought the insurgency would dissipate. We were working closely with the government of Iraq. We were trying to improve the Iraqi security forces. But at the end of the day, it didn't work out very well, we had to get better at taking evidence off the crime scene.

BOUDREAU: During our investigation we also obtained 23.5 hours of Army interrogation tapes, tapes you'll only see on CNN.

We'll have more on what's on those tapes in our investigation in to the detainee policy tonight on "AC360."


PHILLIPS: Well, you know, I've covered my share of city hall meetings and there's just something about this one that -- I don't know, it's a little different. I can't quite put my finger on it.


PHILLIPS: A fifth-grader refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance in class until gays and lesbians have equal rights. Remember Will Phillips? The 10-year-old boy and his father talked with our John Roberts this week.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: What's the reaction been of your fellow students at school to you not standing up for the pledge and the views that you hold about this issue?

WILL PHILLIPS, 5TH GRADER: Not very good. They have taken from what I said an assumption that I'm gay and the halls and the cafeteria, I have been repeatedly called a gay wad.

ROBERTS: A gay wad? What's a gay wad? PHILLIPS: I really don't know. It's a discriminatory name for a homosexual.


PHILLIPS: Yes it is, discriminatory.

Will seemed to be taking the name calling in stride, but it's gotten worse. We were heartbroken when Will's mom sent an e-mail today telling us it was so bad that her son had to leave school early one day. Well, last night, "The Daily Show" enlisted some muscle to help, wrestler Mick Foley.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": This is a very valuable child. This child must be protected.


Ladies and gentlemen, Mick Foley!


Like a lot of professional wrestling brethren, I was touched by young Will's plight. So I'll tell you what I'm going to do, if I found out that anybody has hassled this young man or teased him or called him a wad of any sort, I and perhaps a few of my friends will come to his school and bring a world of pain.

Teachers, faculty, students, beware! Because the eyes of Mick Foley are upon you. Misery will be your study buddy!


PHILLIPS: Well, Will's mom says that he was pretty pumped at the idea of a bodyguard. Will says that the next time somebody messes with him, he's going to imagine Mick Foley sneaking up behind the bully.

And a message to you boys who are bullying Will, shame on you. It's obvious you are jealous that Will is smarter and more well spoken than you are. Hopefully one day you will grow up and realize that you were being the wads, dork wads.

The only thing missing from the city hall meeting in Durango, Colorado? The slaw and the biscuits. Check it out, some clown in a chicken suit crashed the party about the same time the mayor was talking about a law that deals with hens in the backyard. Yes, the politics of poultry.

And that is your "Moment of Hen."


PHILLIPS: Well, we got a Back Story Bonus for you today -- or is it a Bonus Back Story? Anyway, on Wednesday we brought you an incredible look at a wild animal orphanage in Africa. CNN's David Mackenzie got up close and personal we shall say with these parentless elephants and rhinos, and they did they same with him.

Check it out.


DAVID MACKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are about a half a dozen young orphans here at the orphanage. They range from a few weeks to a few months. And at that age they're at the most vulnerable from cold, from disease and also just to get used to their new surroundings. So they use tricks here to try and make them feel familiar with the natural environment.

What they have done here, is put up a blanket for the young ones.


They put up a blanket for the young ones and it's as if their mother is standing here. So they come forwards it and they push up against it. They feel the shadow of the blanket and it's like they're with their mothers. Wild elephants, like these African elephants, when they're in the wild, like to be next to their mothers to feel protection.

This is Sulla (ph), she's six weeks old. They say her mother died because of starvation in the Kenyan drought. The person who found her gave her cow's milk, which is extremely harmful to elephants because of the fat. And if she survives, they say, then she'll be only the second elephant that's got over that.

OK, that's Madan (ph). He's a black rhino and he's basically playing with us. He came here when he was just a few days old, now he's 11 months. He's already extremely strong and a bit grumpy like most black rhinos. These animals, unlike elephants, are solitary. They're known to get quite aggressive when they get older.

And basically when they got him, he was premature, his mother abandoned him. And they flew out being in a big caravan airplane to pick up this guy. But when they got there, he was just -- how big? Like this big. He was just a few inches. He was just a few inches and they could have put him in a plastic bag. But now he was getting a bit older and he's black rhino so he's grumpy and he'll just get grumpier.

He's strappy, a bit bolshy (ph). But still, he does like to be tickled.

Yes, you do. Yes, you do.

He's even so old even now just at 11 months, that he can't even be shown to the tourists, so it's pretty lucky we're getting to see him now. You can see his horn is already developing. Black rhinos are very endangered in Africa, they're often poached for their horns. Their horns end up in Asia for brew and for potions. So this is a slightly older group of elephants, they range from about seven months to two years old, and they keep him in a group to socialize. Some of these elephants are really badly traumatized. The main reasons they land up here is for poaching, some in the herd were killed or because of the drought, there's been a really terrible drought in Kenya. So what the elephants do is they end up looking for water and they fall down water holes, particularly in the northern part of Kenya and in Sarvo (ph), the big area of wildlife south of Nairobi.

So a lot of them are really traumatized and need to spend time with other elephants. So none of these, well, most of these aren't related to the other, but if you see here, they're getting to know each other, they're touching each other, hanging out. It almost becomes their own herd of elephant so that they can feel like they're in the natural environment more.

When they get here, often they say that the elephants are quite shy, they are psychologically scarred. But with time and with hanging out between the younger ones and the older ones, they end up healing those scars because elephants are particularly intelligent animals and are really helped by touch and by socializing and this is why they get them together like this.


PHILLIPS: Well, if you want to help the baby elephants, you can go to We have a link to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust posted there on our blog.

Have a fabulous weekend. I'll see you back here Monday. Rick Sanchez takes it from here.