Return to Transcripts main page


CNN Presents: Mississippi Still Burning? Forgotten Heroes; Fighter Girls; Kiss Incorporated

Aired November 24, 2011 - 13:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CNN PRESENTS, is Mississippi still burning? A shocking crime. Accusations of a sinister motive.

ROBERT SHULER SMITH, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: There's no doubt they were looking for a black victim.


SMITH: And even kill in this instance.

ANNOUNCER: "Forgotten Heroes." This expensive slice of California real estate is supposed to house American's homeless veterans. So guess who we found sleeping outside?

"Fighter Girls." Would you do this for practically nothing? This single mother does. But why?

"Kiss, Inc." Forget the music. Forget the makeup. This may be the smartest band in the history of rock 'n' roll.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN PRESENTS CORRESPONDENT: Can you put a dollar sign on the Kiss empire? $500 million? $750 million? $1 billion?

ANNOUNCER: The genius of Kiss, Inc.

Revealing investigations. Fascinating characters. Stories with impact. This is CNN PRESENTS with your hosts tonight Soledad O'Brien and Sanjay Gupta.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Good evening. We begin with a murder in Mississippi. It's a brutal killing allegedly fueled by race and by rage.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: We broke this shocking story right here on CNN. A young, white teenager accused of killing a black man. Just because of the color of his skin.

GUPTA: Over a four-month investigation we found even more disturbing details, uncovering how the teenager and some of his friends had this history of violent and racist incidents.

O'BRIEN: And raising questions also about whether authorities turned a blind eye. Drew Griffin has been digging into the story from the very beginning.


GRIFFIN voice-over): June 26th in Mississippi would bring temperatures and humidity into the 90's. A breeze out of the southwest would barely move the state flag enough to see that Confederate Battle symbol. Still displayed in its upper left corner.

At 4:00 a.m. on this Sunday morning, most of Mississippi was still asleep. But for a group of teenagers, white teenagers barreling west on Interstate 20, a mission was already under way. They were headed to Jackson. Because in their segregated world, Jackson is where the black people live.

SMITH: They were looking for black people. They were looking for a black person to assault.

GRIFFIN: Mississippi's Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith says evidence shows those white Mississippi teens had just one thing in mind.

(On camera): They discussed let's go get -- let's be honest here. Let's go get a nigger, right?

SMITH: That's exactly what it -- what it will show.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): It was still dark when James Craig Anderson walked out of a motel towards his car in a parking lot off Jackson's Ellis Avenue. Smith says that's when the white teenagers saw him. James, a black man, alone.

It is hard to imagine what happened next without using the term "hate." The teenagers from mostly white Rankin County were being led by an 18-year-old named Deryl Dedmon, according to police. Dedmon has a history of harassing teens at his high school. By several accounts from parents and students who knew him, he hated blacks. Hated white people who had black friends. He hated anyone he thought was gay.

And on this Sunday morning, after a night of drinking, he and his friends, witnesses have told police, were out to act on that hate.

Some of the teens there that night would tell police the teenagers attacked that lone black man without any provocation, repeatedly beating Anderson, yelling "white power." Then one of the vehicles drives off.

(On camera): Deryl Dedmon apparently wasn't through. He had two girls in his truck as he was leaving this parking lot, a big F-250 pickup truck. James Craig Anderson, the man who was beaten almost to a pulp, was stumbling down this curb. That's when police say Deryl Dedmon hit the gas, jumped the curb and ran right over his victim. Smashing him.

What he didn't know was the entire episode was being caught on a surveillance camera on the corner of this hotel.

(Voice-over): This is what was caught on that tape obtained exclusively by CNN. And we warn you, it is disturbing. James Craig Anderson first comes into view in the lower right corner of the screen after he was beaten, according to police. He staggers into the headlights of Mr. Dedmon's truck. His white shirt easily visible.

Then the truck backs up, surges forward. The headlights glowing brightly on Anderson's shirt before he and that shirt disappear underneath it. The truck runs right over the defenseless man.

(On camera): After he does that, he drives to a McDonald's. He picks up the phone. Apparently calls a buddy and says what?

SMITH: According to the testimony, "I ran that nigger over."

GRIFFIN: That witnesses say he almost was bragging about it. That he was laughing about it, really.

SMITH: That's what we plan to present.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Deryl Dedmon has pled not guilty. His attorney has refused to answer CNN's many calls for comment. Though during one court appearance, that attorney said he didn't see any evidence racism was involved.

The district attorney says nothing else was involved. He has classified this as capital murder and a hate crime.

You would think it would be a wake-up call for any town where that kind of hate could fester. But this is Brandon, Mississippi. Think again.

CHRIS BUTTS, BRANDON POLICE: It's just an unfortunate incident. It happened, but once it happened, we haven't gone into, you know, code red, oh, my god, we've got a, you know, major problem. Let's stop traffic and everybody needs to go home and lock their doors and, you know, we just kind of just keep going, doing what we do.

GRIFFIN: Here where a Confederate War memorial stands at the center of town, the police say there were no warning signs. But we found the police are wrong.

CNN has learned investigators are now looking into allegations Deryl Dedmon and his friends had a pattern of racism and violence.

(On camera): How did they get away with this?

They just never got in trouble. Like, they would be told on and the cops wouldn't do anything to them. They'd let them go.

GRIFFIN: School officials ever intervene?


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Coming up, did a town's indifference help lead to murder?



O'BRIEN: We've been investigating an alleged hate crime for months. It's raising disturbing questions about whether the hatred that haunted Mississippi's past is still burning today. And maybe even more disturbing, did a small Mississippi town ignore the warning signs?

Drew Griffin found in Brandon, Mississippi, that many people knew and may have looked the other way as a group of teenagers became more racist and more violent.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): The death of James Craig Anderson was like the dark Mississippi past come back to life. Prosecutor Robert Smith had only heard the tales of racial hatred from his grandfather who helped and even housed civil rights leaders like Medger Evers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was before Smith was even born, back in the '60s, when both men were shot down in a terrible wave of racial violence.

On June 26th, that ugly past was suddenly present.

(On camera): When you first saw the video, the surveillance video, what was your reaction?

SMITH: Certainly breathtaking. Unbelievable. I thought about the fact that that could have been anyone, including myself.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The district attorney has charged Deryl Dedmon, the teen driving the truck that killed Anderson, with capital murder. A second teen, John Rice, has been charged with simple assault. Five other white teenagers who were there have not been charged.

Anderson's family has kept their grief and frustration mostly private. But after a court hearing, Anderson's sister could not contain her emotions.

BARBARA ANDERSON YOUNG, SISTER OF VICTIM: Go to Brandon, Mississippi. Go to Brandon, Mississippi, and get those other five murderers who committed such an horrendous, violent act against my beloved brother, James Craig Anderson.

GRIFFIN: You have to drive east to get to Brandon. Cross the Pearl River. The invisible line that seems to separate black Mississippi from white. While in Jackson, Anderson's killing has prompted marches and a call for healing, in Brandon the reaction has been mostly silent. Brandon Police wouldn't even return CNN's phone calls.

(On camera): Is the chief in?

(Voice-over): It was an assistant police chief who finally came out to say there was no story here.

(On camera): Are you concerned that a lot of these kids are from Rankin County? Not just one or two, but there were seven of them who drove over there and took part in this. BUTTS: You're right. And I can't -- you know, you're going to have a couple of bad seeds. One guy ran over the individual. Not all six. So, you know, I can't -- I hate that it happened and I wish to God it didn't happen here or anywhere. But as far as it being -- you know, we have a national problem, we don't have any more problem than any other city. It's just an isolated incident. And you can quote me on that.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): But it didn't take us long to find out it wasn't an isolated incident. Deryl Dedmon has a criminal history. Arrested and convicted of harassment earlier this year. Two years ago this local pastor says he had to call police when his son was being harassed.

BRIAN RICHARDSON, PASTOR: And I had told Jordan for a year and a half that Deryl Dedmon will kill you.

JORDAN RICHARDSON, STUDENT: He had a look of no conscience. He was blank stare. Deryl always, I think, just carried around this backpack of hatred.

GRIFFIN: Other students also told us they were bullied or beaten by Dedmon and his friends, who called people nigger lovers if they befriended blacks. We were told school administrators mostly looked the other way as bullying and racial hatred festered.

School officials declined our interview requests, but a spokesperson told CNN they take bullying seriously and that they had no record of any trouble from Deryl Dedmon. Students told us Dedmon and his friends were a problem. Using racial slurs. Calling blacks and even President Obama the "N" word.

Ken Johnston used to manage a gas station where Dedmon and his friends used to hang out.

KEN JOHNSTON, DEVELOPER: It seemed like that every word that came out of their mouth was the "N" word. And that they're taking over. As if it was some kind of war.

GRIFFIN: Dedmon's family has refused to talk to CNN. So has his attorney. This man did. Once close to Dedmon and his friends, he now fears them.

UNIDENTIFIED FORMER DEDMON FRIEND: I believe that every one of these kids that are in the incident are dangerous and they're capable of many things. And I just don't want to be seen because I'm really worried about it.

GRIFFIN: This man told us there were other violent and racial incidents with Dedmon and other friends of his.

(On camera): Did they ever go looking for black people, hunting, literally?

UNIDENTIFIED FORMER DEDMON FRIEND: Yes. They're known as the -- like I said, the Brandon boys. But they're also known as the racist kids. The white group.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): CNN has learned federal investigators from the Department of Justice have uncovered two other possible incidents where groups of white Rankin County teens, including Dedmon, have sought out and attacked a black person.

(On camera): Have you guys been concerned about --

BUTTS: Nope.

GRIFFIN: -- these guys? Not at all?

BUTTS: Nope.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): This man says racism is behind Brandon, Mississippi's, silence.

(On camera): Do you believe there's a lot of people in Brandon, Mississippi, that may feel the same way about the killing of a black man?

UNIDENTIFIED FORMER DEDMON FRIEND: Yes. Yes. I've even heard it out of some of the police officers' mouths. That -- that this is their statement. Deryl was a good kid. He just made one bad mistake.


O'BRIEN: Drew Griffin joins us now.

We talked about teenagers. What happened to the other teenagers involved?

GRIFFIN: The five other teenagers involved had been very cooperative with this investigation. And I think it's fair to say without their cooperation a lot of the details would not have come out. That being said, this investigation, both federal and state, is ongoing and I'm told more charges may be filed.

GUPTA: How much more is going on here do you think? This one teenager and one community, I mean, do they talk about is this a symptom of a larger problem?

GRIFFIN: You know, many people are saying this is a wake-up call for Mississippi and maybe even for the rest of the nation. These are teenagers, as you said, Soledad. They didn't grow up in a vacuum. Parents, aunts, uncles, you know, siblings, teachers, even they go to church. These kids go to church.

And what Pastor Richardson is saying is, look, we can't allow this. We can't all go to church and pray for mankind on Sunday, and then allow our kids to go and use the "N" word on Monday. So this is a wake-up call that he would like to bring the attention of. So far, I must tell you, it's not being heard.

O'BRIEN: Drew Griffin, thank you very muff much. I know you're going to continue to follow this story as it goes through the courts. Appreciate it.

GUPTA: Thanks a lot, Drew.

And up next, a story that I've been investigating for several months now. Think of it as another form of injustice. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan back home and living on the streets.


GUPTA: There's a little bit of a contract. I'm going to serve my country but then --


GUPTA: -- my country is going to serve me.

RISSMAN: That's kind of what I was hoping for, yes.

GUPTA: Where did it fall apart?


GUPTA: I decided to find out in my special investigation.


GUPTA: For far too many Americans, the street is their home. It's a life bad enough for anyone, but unforgivable when the struggling men and women have already risked their lives for their country.

I was stunned to find out that more than 8,000 homeless veterans live in Los Angeles alone. And what surprised me even more, there's a plot of land there nearly 400 acres that was donated for free just to build a home for vets.

It would have been a lifesaver for a vet I met in Los Angeles.


GUPTA (on camera): You're young. How old are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm 22. Almost 23.

GUPTA: Almost 23. And you are from this area originally?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: San Fernando Valley, just up over the hill.

GUPTA (voice-over): Fresh out of high school, Robert Rissman signed up to fight for his country.

(On camera): What makes an 18-year-old join the army?

RISSMAN: I wanted to go to college and make something of myself and the army said they'd pay for it.

GUPTA: It's sort of a contract. I'm going to serve my country, but then --


GUPTA: -- my country is going to serve me.

RISSMAN: That's kind of what I was hoping for, yes.

GUPTA: Where did it fall apart?

(Voice-over): It began to fall apart in Iraq.

(On camera): You saw things that I know you don't want to talk about.

RISSMAN: No, I don't.

GUPTA: And probably never want to talk about.


GUPTA (voice-over): You see, Robert was in a rapid response unit. He saw action night after night.

RISSMAN: I got back from Iraq, and I was having a lot of psychological issues. I guess you could say.

GUPTA (on camera): Post-traumatic stress?

RISSMAN: Post-traumatic stress disorder.

GUPTA (voice-over): Back home at Fort Carson in Colorado, he started feeling like people were out to get him. A few months later, someone discovered Robert's illegal sawed-off shotgun hidden in his barracks. According to Army papers, Robert told investigators he was suicidal. At one point, he spent a full day drinking, then sat on the side of the bed with the end of the gun in his mouth.

RISSMAN: I wish sometimes that -- that I had died in Iraq. So that my life would have meant something, you know?

GUPTA: Forced to quit the Army, Robert ended up homeless.

RISSMAN: I went through some pretty bad times when I first got out. I was doing a lot of methamphetamines, my drug of choice. I was smoking a lot of dope. And I was getting in with some rough crowds.

GUPTA: And many of those rough crowds were made up of people just like Robert. Returning veterans. As many as 1 in 3 soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from traumatic brain injury, severe depression, substance abuse or PTSD.

RISSMAN: I was dealing with other people that weren't so nice.

GUPTA (on camera): Is that weird for you to hear?

RISSMAN: Yes. That's really uncomfortable, actually.

GUPTA: What do you -- what happens when you hear a noise like that?

RISSMAN: It startles me a little bit. But I know it's a truck.

GUPTA (voice-over): You see it everywhere you look. Ex-soldiers like Robert are desperate for steady care and for stable housing. So I was stunned to hear about a piece of property in west Los Angeles set aside for this very purpose. For veterans. For long-term housing. And it's literally across the street from the VA hospital.

(On camera): The story here actually dates back all the way to the 1880s. Back then the government wanted to create facilities for ageing veterans of the civil war. So former Senator John P. Jones and his friend, who was a glamorous heiress, decided to donate all of this land. Now back then it was mostly ranch land.

But today, just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, it is some of the most valuable real estate in all of North America.

CAROLINA BARRIE, FILED LAWSUIT AGAINST THE VA: It was solely an act of goodwill. An act of trying to take care of the veterans that they had from the Spanish-American war and the civil war.

GUPTA (voice-over): Carolina Barrie is descended from the heiress who made this gift. And she's part of a lawsuit against the VA file by the American Civil Liberties Union. The original deed includes a condition. That the land be used to establish and maintain a branch of a national home for disabled vets. And a permanent home for thousands is exactly what it was.

BARRIE: They had their post office. They had a trolley system that went all the way downtown ascending to the beach. Everything was provided for them. They had a special uniform. It was a marvelous place to live, and the grounds were gorgeous. I mean, they were just gorgeous.

GUPTA: Mark Rosenbaum is the lead attorney for the ACLU.

MARK ROSENBAUM, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: At one point this campus housed as many as 4,000 veterans. But beginning with the Vietnam war vets were kicked out. They were literally kicked out.

GUPTA: Around 200 veterans live on the property today. But none of them in permanent housing. Alongside them, empty buildings. A public golf course. A variety of private businesses. Like a theater and a bus depot.

ROSENBAUM: This land has been utilized for enterprise rent-a-car. For Marriott hotels. For UCLA baseball. For exclusive private schools. They know what this land is about.

GUPTA: With veterans sleeping on L.A. streets, I decided to head to the VA to see why this land isn't used for their housing.

(On camera): People have said, look, that property is not being used for that purpose. Is that a legitimate beef?



ANNOUNCER: We now return to CNN PRESENTS with your host, Soledad O'Brien and Sanjay Gupta.

O'BRIEN: We've been investigating a story in Los Angeles. There are more than 8,000 veterans who don't have a home.

GUPTA: You know, it's particularly surprising when you consider that there's land specifically set aside to house homeless vets. So why isn't that happening? I went to L.A. to find out.


GUPTA (voice-over): I wanted the answers. For men like Robert Rissman. He's a 22-year-old former soldier and now a recovering drug addict. He was diagnosed with PTSD. He's in transitional housing with no idea what comes next. He's just trying to get back on his feet.

RISSMAN: I had to steal food at one point because I had too much pride to ask anyone. I still have that kind of pride.

GUPTA: For vets like Robert, the ACLU filed suit to try and force the VA to build housing on 400 acres of land that it was given back in 1888.

(On camera): At first we called the head of the VA. And they said, look, we can't comment on pending litigation. We called the Department of Justice we've learned as handling the case. And they said they can't talk about it either.

Finally the VA called us back and said the chief of staff wants to sit down to talk to me to tell us what they're doing to help homeless vets.

DR. DEAN NORMAN, CHIEF OF STAFF, VA GREATER LA HEALTHCARE SYSTEM: We've added 700 emergency housing and transitional housing beds. They have mental health programs, substance abuse programs and medical programs.

GUPTA (voice-over): They also have something else. They're known as rent vouchers.

NORMAN: Which enable us to put veterans in permanent housing.

GUPTA: In Los Angeles, each voucher, just for veterans, is worth more than $1100 a month. This year Dr. Norman says the Los Angeles VA has given out $2,000. Of course, that's $2,000 vouchers for more than 8,000 homeless veterans.

(On camera): Doing the math, there's not enough of these vouchers obviously. If they all called you the day after this airs.

NORMAN: Well, it would be shocking. But be wonderful. And we will figure out a way to give them emergency and transitional housing.

GUPTA: If they're hearing you right now, what would be their next step?

NORMAN: The easiest thing is to show up.

GUPTA: Just to show up at the front door?

NORMAN: Show up at the front door. And we have a variety of numbers. I'm afraid to give you my secretary's number, but I will.


NORMAN: If you have any questions in Los Angeles it's 310-268-3284.

GUPTA (voice-over): Of course, I did wonder how many of the homeless vets are, in fact, seeing this. How many could even find a phone.

(On camera): There's been a lot made of this property that's just about a block away from here that I think is around 400 acres that was designed for veterans. It was to provide housing for veterans. And people have said, look, that property is not being used for that purpose. What of that? I mean, is that a legitimate beef?

NORMAN: Well, I'm speaking for the agency, and you know that's under litigation right now so I can't even comment on that.

GUPTA: The VA will say that we are going to end homelessness by 2015.

ROSENBAUM: Well, they've been saying that for decades. What the most interesting thing is that the lawyer for the VA walked into a federal courtroom and said, we think this case should be thrown out of court. We don't think there's a basis for the VA to have to provide housing.

GUPTA (on camera): This is the lawyers on the VA'S side. And they're the ones that are raising the flags saying, look, we're not sure this is possible as a starting point.

NORMAN: Again, I can't comment on the litigation. I wish I could, but I can't.

GUPTA: Do you think it's possible?

NORMAN: I think we have the resources with the community to end homelessness for veterans in Los Angeles. That, we do.

GUPTA (voice-over): Robert Rissman who is not part of the lawsuit says he hopes it gets resolved before his housing placement runs out. And he's back out on the street.

(On camera): You want a new life.

RISSMAN: I want to get a degree. I want to graduate from college. I want to get a good paying job. Buy a house, you know, the right things.


GUPTA: Now the place that Robert stays now is a group called Volunteers of America. It's remarkable. Like him, most of the people there have no other place to go. And every one of them fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's how they're living now.

O'BRIEN: That's pretty amazing. So a couple if questions. First, what happens next for him legally speaking?

GUPTA: Well, you know, people would like this lawsuit thrown out. Especially the government, obviously. The federal judge has said that's not going to happen. I think what they're pushing for is some sort of mediation, and specifically for him trying to get him his benefits back so he can get his counseling that he's not getting and making it worse for him.

O'BRIEN: And then what happens for him next?

GUPTA: I think he would like to, you know, stay at this halfway house, which is what you call it essentially, voluntarily for the time being. And he wants to go back to school. I mean, that's how this whole process started. But we're going to keep tabs on him, Soledad. He's an interesting guy. And I think he's emblematic of what's happening out there.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I'd like to know what happens with him.


O'BRIEN: Well, coming up, women in the violent world of mixed martial arts.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom, she'd cringe, and oh, god, you're so pretty, you know, why are you doing this to yourself?


O'BRIEN: Well, that's exactly what we wanted to know, too. That's up next on CNN PRESENTS.


GUPTA: It's brutal. Sometimes bloody. And wildly popular. It's mixed martial arts, MMA for short, and it can be very lucrative. If you're a man.

O'BRIEN: Yes. But if you're a woman, not so much. It's actually a very different story. So why would any woman climb into the octagon, into this cage, for all-out combat for what amounts to almost nothing.

GUPTA: Well, our Amber Lyon follows along a young single mother who wanted to find the answer to that very question. Now a warning to you, some of the images are pretty graphic.


AMBER LYON, CNN PRESENTS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They're tough. Skilled. And not afraid to be sexy. In an exploding sport dominated by men, these female fighters fight for much more than a win. They want respect.

(On camera): Why do you fight?

MICHEL GUTIERREZ, MMA FIGHTER: It's very empowering. It's the hardest sport out there. There's nothing that you can do to test your limits more than MMA.

LYONS (voice-over): Michel Gutierrez is a pro MMA fighter. That's mixed martial arts. A full combat sport. We're talking two fighters in a cage, no pads.

Once banned across the U.S., today MMA is one of the fastest growing sports among men and women.

(On camera): Hey, Michel, how are you?

GUTIERREZ: Welcome to throwdown.

LYONS: Good to see you. Thank you. This is your home away from home?

GUTIERREZ: This is. This is my house.

LYONS (voice-over): A house Michel spends up to 40 hours a week in. Pumping iron. Training. From boxing and various forms of martial arts --

(On camera): I'm about to get my ass kicked.

(Voice-over): -- to wrestling.

GUTIERREZ: This is called a triangle. Put my foot over. Hook this.

LYONS (on camera): Oh, geez. Yes, I feel that.

GUTIERREZ: And then squeeze my legs.

LYONS: And so your goal in this is to choke me?

GUTIERREZ: I want you to pass out. And I just kind of pull that way and you're choking, and tap. There we go.


(Voice-over): But when Michel isn't spending 40 hours a week practicing takedowns, she's spending another 40 hours pouring drinks. Because the sport she loves doesn't pay anywhere near enough to support this single mother.

(On camera): Do you make more money bartending or fighting?

GUTIERREZ: Bartending.

LYONS: Bartending. Wow.

GUTIERREZ: As slow as it is in here right now, I make more money of two days than I walked home with from my last fight when I was split open like a watermelon.

LYONS (voice-over): Michel isn't kidding. By some accounts her last fight was one of the bloodiest in women's MMA history.

GUTIERREZ: She grabbed my braid. I had my hair braided like I always do. And she grabbed it and she kneed me in the face. And then she cut me open right here and she hit an artery so it was bleeding like all over the place. So they had to stop it due to blood.

When I see it, it makes me sick a little bit. But in other ways, it's beautiful, like almost like a warrior shot. You know that's me. I fought. I would have continued on fighting if the referee would have let me. I wouldn't have been, oh, I'm bleeding. I would have continued on. Because I thought that that was kind of a beautiful picture.

LYONS (on camera): Some people would say that --

GUTIERREZ: Some people are repulsed by it.

LYONS (voice-over): It is hard to watch at times. Which begs the question, why would you do this for nothing? Even Michel's late mother didn't understand at first.

GUTIERREZ: My mom, she'd cringe and, oh, god, you're so pretty. You know why are you doing this to yourself.

LYONS: But Michel's mother did eventually come around.

GUTIERREZ: She started to accept it a little bit. And was giving me kind of, like, her approval, you know. Like, you're the only person in the family that has a dream. And I want you to do it. I feel like when she died, a little flip switched in my head. And I just went all MMA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, six. This is unreal.

LYONS: And it is this raw brutality that may pose one of the greatest hurdles to women's MMA. According to insiders like fighter Kim Couture.

KIM COUTURE, MMA FIGHTER: There's a lot of guys we come across that just don't like it. They just don't want to see it. It's really hard for them to watch.

LYONS: But is it repulsion or exposure that's really keeping these women from the big paydays?

The Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC is the world's biggest mixed martial arts league. It's got the largest crowds, purses and sponsors. But it's a boy's club. No women.

Dana White is the founder of the UFC and he has been criticized for his decision to exclude women. Especially after this TMZ video went viral last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When are we going to see women in the UFC, man?



WHITE: Never.


LYONS: Dana declined our request for an interview on this story, but he did recently speak with CNN about female fighters. And he defended his refusal to include women in the UFC this way.

WHITE: The problem is right now, about girls fighting in the UFC, there aren't enough good women to create an entire division.

LYONS: But Michel and other female fighters we spoke with aren't buying that argument.

GUTIERREZ: Every promoter, almost, other than the UFC, has at least one female fight on the card. So that goes to show a lot.

LYONS (on camera): So almost everyone but the UFC?

GUTIERREZ: Yes. Like every card, on the undercard there's a girl on the fight. That's a lot of girls in the main event.

LYONS (voice-over): And to be fair, Michele's point isn't completely lost on the president of the UFC.

WHITE: As the sport continues to grow in popularity and more and more people start taking martial arts, you know, it's inevitable. You're going to see a lot of women competing.

LYONS: But for now, for Michele, it's still a question of slinging drinks, scraping by and fighting for nothing more than respect. Living on that dream that some day soon she'll punch her way to the top tier of the MMA. And what that would mean for her. And fighter girls everywhere.

GUTIERREZ: It would mean not having to work at a bar. It would mean just being able to train and be a true professional athlete. It would be huge. It would mean everything to us girls.


GUPTA: You know, this next story that we have is also one of perseverance.

O'BRIEN: Coming up, Kiss, Inc. How Kiss the band is making tons of money from Kiss the brand.


GENE SIMMONS, KISS: I think every step you take should be on Kiss ground and every breath you take should be Kiss air. It should be planted a Kiss, oh, I'm sorry, we already trademarked that.


GUPTA: What makes some bands seemingly stick around forever? It's really hard to predict. Especially if you had said we're going to wear flamboyant makeup, we're going to spit blood, we're going to have these smoking guitars and we still plan on rocking after 40 years.

O'BRIEN: Yes. But you look at a band like Kiss. Where they've really been brilliant is that they've managed to amass a fortune with that over-the-top image.

GUPTA: Which is exactly why we're taking this in a slightly different direction. CNN Money's Poppy Harlow who usually reports on high finance and corporate intrigue, well, she's going to cover this for us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The greatest band in the world, Kiss.

HARLOW (voice-over): This isn't the '70s. It's 2011. And Kiss is selling out concerts across the planet.

SIMMONS: Thirty-eight years ago, we put together the band that we never saw on stage but wanted to. We were not marketing gurus. We didn't know the sense of what marketing meant. We just gave the fans what we knew was a band they wanted.

HARLOW: But it's the Kiss brand that may be worth even more than the music.

PAUL STANLEY, KISS: The fundamentals of how Kiss is run are the fundamentals that make for a successful business.

HARLOW (on camera): Should we head in?

SIMMONS: Please.

HARLOW (voice-over): Turns out Gene's got quite a collection of Kiss merchandise in his L.A. home. And we got a rare look inside.

(On camera): This is what we heard about. The Kiss shrine, right?

SIMMONS: Come on in. You'll see what I mean.

HARLOW: Oh, my goodness.

(Voice-over): From Kiss coffins --

SIMMONS: Look at the quality. They also double as coolers.

HARLOW: -- to Kiss comics, the group has played the marketing game perhaps better than any band in history.

(On camera): Even baby clothes.

(Voice-over): And now boasts some 3,000 different pieces of merchandise.

SIMMONS: We have Kiss lotteries. Scratch, but you don't sniff. Kiss Mr. Potato heads. The Kiss boots. You know, you kind of go like that. And, of course, the Kiss condoms. And it's my face.

HARLOW: It's all funneled through Kiss catalog. A holding company for everything Kiss. Including the trademark to their famous painted faces.

(On camera): Can you put a dollar sign on the Kiss empire?

SIMMONS: We make a living.

HARLOW: $500 million? $750 million. A billion?

SIMMONS: Give me a cookie.

HARLOW: A billion dollars.

SIMMONS: Anywhere from one to five.

HARLOW (voice-over): Kiss items sold through live nation merchandise have raked in more than half a billion dollars over the last 15 years.

(On camera): The Kiss brand is on, what, about 3,000 different pieces of merchandise now?

STANLEY: Right now there are -- there are approximately 3,000 branded pieces of Kiss merchandise.


STANLEY: Only because it's things that the fans want.

TOMMY THAYER, KISS: The reason there are so many great things associated with Kiss is because, you know, the characters and the larger-than-life imaging. Can you name another band that this works so well with in the first place?

HARLOW (voice-over): But when it comes to protecting the brand, they only trust each other.

STANLEY: It shouldn't be we're the music and then the corporate heads are the business. We work too damn hard to let somebody else steal the glory or the money.

ERIC SINGER, KISS: We've been working in the studio and Gene's on his computer going through eBay. And I'm, like, what are you doing? I'm looking for bootleggers. I mean nobody better to watch your house than you.

HARLOW: Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have equal say in all things Kiss. But Gene's the one you'll find in the spotlight.

(On camera): You've said that Gene's sort of about the flash and the image of Kiss. Do you ever worry, Paul, about oversaturating the market?

STANLEY: Well, that's part of my job. My job is to say, let's slow down.

HARLOW: Do you tell Gene to slow down sometimes?


HARLOW (voice-over): We got to see how Kiss operates when we went on tour with the band. Destination Oshkosh, Wisconsin, of all places where there are plenty of rock and heavy metal fans.

(On camera): Ballpark, what could you guys walk away from this one show tonight with?

SIMMONS: A million?

HARLOW: A million bucks. Not bad.

SIMMONS: That's why it's good to be me.

HARLOW: All right. We made it. Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

(Voice-over): Dinner and a meeting with Doc McGehee, the band's manager and a huge part of this business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll check in about $180,000 worth of T-shirts out there.

HARLOW: The Doc's even known for delaying shows to sell more merchandise.

THAYER: Welcome to a rock festival.

HARLOW: Tonight they've got a meeting with execs from Hello Kitty.

THAYER: My little daughter loves Hello Kitty.

HARLOW: For what could be the band's biggest deal yet.

THAYER: Hello Kitty, hello Kissy.

HARLOW: Then into the inner sanctum.

(On camera): Look at you guys. What a transformation. Look at these heels. Look at these heels. How many people can say that they have done Gene Simmons' makeup?

SIMMONS: You know I would say none. STANLEY: Not bad, huh?

HARLOW: Like a true woman.

STANLEY: Now the fun begins.

HARLOW (voice-over): And when it's over, a trademark reminder that there is only one Kiss.


O'BRIEN: And that's it for tonight's show.

GUPTA: But we leave you, though, with a preview of some of the stories you'll see on the next CNN PRESENTS.


ANNOUNCER: Predators in plain sight. Priests accused of sex abuse, kicked out of the church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we are on a block where a molester priest lives. Do you think these neighbors know about it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm certain that they do not.

ANNOUNCER: An alarming investigation. How they could be living in your neighborhood.

An all-star cast. A controversial play. How a 30-year-old playwright is challenging the way we remember the last day of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. Here's some of the stories making news right now.

First up, organizes say about 3.5 million people lined Broadway to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade there in New York City. Today's 85th edition of the annual parade featured a number of floats and a lot of huge balloons as well.

In London, "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling told real-life horror stories about what it's like to be hounded by paparazzi. She testified there in a British inquiry about wishing she had an invisibility cloak to shield her children. Also, Piers Morgan, a former British newspaper editor, will testify.

It is an extra special happy thanksgiving for the parents of three American students detained in Egypt since Monday. Authorities ordered their release today and the mother of one of the students spoke with CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOY SWEENEY, MOTHER: I cannot wait to give him a big hug. I don't know if I'll let go of him the entire rest of the day. You know, I'm going to say I love him, I love him, and I'm so ecstatic that he's home.


BALDWIN: Joy Sweeney said she's adamant that the three boys did nothing wrong. Egyptian authorities accused them of throwing Molotov cocktails.

More news as it happens right here. A special edition of CNN PRESENTS is next.