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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Sudanese Woman Faces Death for Her Religion; Malaysia Says It Doesn't Know Where Raw Satellite Data Is for Flight 370; Couple Fights for Custody of Adopted Child; Court Lets People Choose Online Info

Aired May 16, 2014 - 12:30   ET

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


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She can have the baby and then breast feed for two years after that. And then the death penalty will be carried out.

Now you make a couple of points here. She was born to a Muslim father. Now under interpretation of Sharia law in Sudan that means she is Muslim.

Now, it doesn't apply the other way around, by the way, if it was a male. So she is considered a Muslim by the faith. Now, her dad left when she was six. She was raised a Christian by her Christian mother. What happened then was she grew up, she married a Christian man, who by the way is a U.S. citizen, which is interesting angle to this story.

The court then decided, as she's an adult, one of the relatives got involved, reported this. They said you can't marry a Christian man. Therefore, the marriage is invalid. It's adulterous. You're getting 100 lashes for that crime.

And then when the court said renounce your Christianity, she said no, I am a Christian. She said -- they said, well, because you abandoned Islam, that's apostasy, and so you are subject to the death penalty.

What's crazy about this is she never considered herself a Muslim. She always considered herself a Christian. That's how she grew up. She's refusing to renounce her faith. The court says, well, death penalty for you.

Another interesting fact here, as I said, her husband is a U.S. citizen, says he's been asking for U.S. help and has had none so far. It really is an extraordinary case. As I said, she's in prison with her other child at the moment, who is 20-months-old, and she will have that child in jail as well and not getting any treatment while she's in there, according to her husband.

BANFIELD: She's caring for a 20-month-old toddler in prison, where, by the way, she's sick and having a bad pregnancy and they refuse to transfer her to a hospital. Her husband was not allowed into the courtroom, barred from the courtroom. He's in a wheelchair and can't live without her, apparently. None of this -- all of this falling on deaf ears to the Sudanese government. Ado Tei, I know as a member of Amnesty International, this is what you do. You fight these kinds of cases. You mount your own defense for people who seem defenseless. But how effective can you or, say, all of the other embassies that have weighed in in the Sudan, saying turn decision around now, what are the odds?

ADO TEI AKWEI, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: I think that, as Mr. Holmes said, there's -- unfortunately there's a 50/50 chance that the government will go ahead with this.

We consider her to be a prisoner of conscience, and this is a violation of Sudan's obligations to the U.N. standards, as well as the African human rights standards. So if we can mobilize enough public pressure, there may be some way to get the Sudanese government to reconsider this case, which is just abhorrent --

BANFIELD: Do they care, Ado Tei? Does the Sudanese government care what happens on CNN, what happens, you know, when the governments of the United States, the U.K., Canada, the Netherlands, all issue these statements condemning what they're doing and demanding a change? Do they care?

AKWEI: Well, they certainly may not care coming from a CNN or the United States, but if their peers and other governments in Africa actually stand up and say this is a violation of the African charter, I think that will carry some weight.

And we certainly cannot allow this kind of discrimination, which really applies mostly to women, as Mr. Holmes noted already, to continue, because this is really a restriction on her freedom of association, assembly --

BANFIELD: Freedom to live.

AKWEI: -- even, of course, religion. Yes.

BANFIELD: Oh, lord, I don't even know. By the way, I want to just throw one little piece of fact pattern in here, as well. The whole thing got rolling because her brother was the one who complained. It's unbelievable. It's unbearably unbelievable.

Michael Holmes, thank you for this. Ado Tei Akwei, thank you for the work you do. And I hope that, as you said, Ado Tei, the pressure can mount and perhaps this woman could get that 50-percent fighting chance.

AKWEI: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Tragic we're even reporting this. Thank you, both of you. In other news, that missing plane, Malaysia Airlines plane, there are new developments on that.

Not only is the plane missing now, the Malaysian government is saying to family members that it doesn't even have the radar data that was used to pinpoint where all those people have been looking for it for two months. They don't even have it. And guess what? The people who actually compiled it said they do so. What is going on? Why is this becoming a political battle? There are lives at stake and families with no answers.

That story, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Now, and yes, there are new questions that are surrounding the search for that airplane. They're coming out today. Nobody seems to have any clue who has the raw satellite data that led to the search in the southern Indian Ocean in the first place. They haven't found anything there.

And officials from Malaysia and Australia say they don't have the raw data to release, even if they wanted to. The satellite company Inmarsat who analyzed the data that has guided this search so far says, oh, yes, we did turn it over to the investigators, a long, long time ago.

Now there's a growing chorus of scientists and family members of the flight passengers who are calling for the release, the public release, of that data, so that other eyes, perhaps wiser, or at least more diverse, can take a look at the data to see if we've been in the wrong place from the get-go. But nobody can seem to get it.

Want to bring in CNN safety analyst and former FAA inspector David Soucie to talk about that.

First of all, I did not expect that you and I after all of this time were going to have a conversation like this, that someone says the data's out there and the other someones say it's not. You've been in this business a long time. Why is this happening?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Of course they have it, Ashleigh. What they have is the analysis. They're making this point of saying, we don't have the raw data. They have the raw data. If they have the analysis, the raw data comes with it. It's not going to be separated.

But here's the real mystery in this. The only person that can authorize a party to the investigation to release information to the public is the investigator in charge, the IIC. The ICAO rules talk about this, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and so do the Malaysia rules about who is in charge.

Now, here's the mystery. Who is that? No one stepped forward and said, I am the investigator in charge. I've looked. I've searched. I've tried to find out. You have this person. You have that person. You have this head of the JACC. But no one has said, I am the IIC.

Even on the preliminary report, Ashleigh, it didn't say the name of the person. It just said this is a report from the chief investigator.

BANFIELD: OK. So I'll give them that. I'll give them sort of semantics or at least logistics hasn't defined who the big cheese is. But on the other side of the coin, I always go to the money. It's the journalistic rule. Follow the money.

Is there something more sinister here, David? That the truth is the motivation to really get to the bottom of this is in no one's best interest who might end up having to foot way more of the bill for it?

SOUCIE: It could be at this point, because the fact is, if this information is proven to be false and that we've spent all this time looking in the wrong area because of some error on someone's part, of course they're not going to want to release that information.

But now the International Civil Aviation Organization has the authority to press them for this information, to say, I don't care who's going to get hurt by this, it needs to be released.

And so I'm hoping that the ICAO steps forward, at least the group of the people that are in the ICAO, and say, this is what has to happen. Who's the IIC? We want to talk to this person, and that IIC can then say, release the information and then it will be. But until then, it's just hit and miss.

BANFIELD: All right, David Soucie, again, I didn't think we were going to have this conversation, 70 days ago, nor 60, nor 50, nor 20, really, I mean, honestly.

Thank you for your insight, as always.

Up next, a custody battle, 9-year-old girl, she was taken from her parents and her home, the only place she's ever known to be home. And she was taken a long way away to live with another state to live with a man she effectively has never really met. The adoption was overturned because that man's prison sentence was reduced. Let me repeat. His prison sentence was reduced.

So after the break, how about we define best interests of the child? I don't know, good idea?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: For almost seven years, the only home and the only parents Sonya Hodgin had ever known, well, they were in a quiet little town in Tennessee. And then one day a stranger showed up and took her away, a long way away, to Nebraska. And there was not a cop or a court that would come to her rescue. In fact, it was the court that sent the man to Sonya's house because that man was her biological dad, but a dad that she simply did not know. As CNN's Randi Kaye reports right now, this heartbreaking battle playing out just may change everything you thought you knew about adoption.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the sound of a nine-year-old girl begging to return to the only home she'd ever known.

KIM HODGIN, SONYA'S ADOPTIVE MOTHER: What did you say, baby doll?

SONYA HODGIN: I want you to come and get me.

DAVID HODGIN, SONYA'S ADOPTIVE FATHER: You just stay strong and everything's gonna to OK, OK?

KAYE: That was the last time Sonya's adoptive parents heard her voice, January 30th. Sonya had been removed from their home, her home, in Tennessee the day before. But why? Sonya had been in the care of Dave and Kim Hodgin since before she was two and adopted by the Hodgins back in 2008.

KAYE (on camera): When the adoption became final, how thrilled were the two of you?

K. HODGIN: Oh, we was ecstatic. We was just so happy.

KAYE (voice-over): But that joy was short-lived. And here's why. Sonya's birth father, John McCaul, is a convicted criminal. He pled guilty to transporting firearms, a felony, and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

Under Tennessee law, his rights were automatically terminated because state law doesn't allow anyone incarcerated for more than 10 years to have rights to a child under eight years old. But before his daughter's adoption was finalized, he cut a deal and got his sentence reduced to seven and a half years. That deal and lesser sentence allowed him to assert his parental rights and fight to reverse the adoption that was later finalized.

K. HODGIN: She's never laid eyes on this man. He's a total stranger.

KAYE: That total stranger managed to convince the court to reconsider. In November, 2009, one year and 12 days after she'd been legally adopted, Sonya's adoption was reversed. But she continued to live with the Hodgins while both sides fought for custody. Nearly five years later, a juvenile court judge ruled Sonya should be returned to her biological father.

D. HODGIN: And Sonya's crying her eyes out, just screaming bloody murder, please don't let them do this, daddy. Please, mama, don't let them take me.

K. HODGIN: He took her bags and that's the last that I've seen her.

KAYE: Just three hours after the judge's ruling, Sonya was gone. Dave Hodgin asked John McCaul to reconsider.

HODGIN: I asked him to look into her eyes right now, because obviously he's standing right there, and she's begging and pleading and crying and it - it didn't matter.

KAYE: McCaul's lawyer in Tennessee told us, "despite repeated efforts by the foster family to terminate this child's father's rights, his parental rights have never been successfully terminated and his daughter has now been returned to his care."

This is Sonya's home now. KAYE (on camera): We came here to Omaha, Nebraska, hoping to get John McCaul to answer some of our questions about his daughter Sonya and his past. He had told me earlier by phone he'd be open to that and to check with his lawyer. But when I got a hold of his attorney, she told me that, at least for now, Mr. McCaul is forbidden by the Tennessee Department of Children's Services to speak publicly about the case and Sonya.

KAYE (voice-over): Back to that heart-wrenching phone call the Hodgins recorded in January during their last conversation with Sonya, this is how she described her new life.

K. HODGIN: Tell me how bad is that house?

S. HODGIN: Dirt everywhere. I think there's even mold.

K. HODGIN: There's even mold.

S. HODGIN: He doesn't have no clean water.

K. HODGIN: No clean water. No drinking water.

S. HODGIN: And it's just it's so dirty. There's dirt all over it. And inside it's so nasty. There's cigarettes everywhere.

K. HODGIN: Is he being nice to you?

S. HODGIN: Yeah.

KAYE: It's a recording Dave and Kim Hodgin can't even bring themselves to listen to.

D. HODGIN: Anybody with -- in their right mind would be worried. And, yes, we're terribly worried.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Dixon, Tennessee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: CNN commentator and defense attorney Mel Robbins joins me live now from Boston to talk about this.

Look, I get it, I know how the law likes to favor a biological parent at all costs, but then again, the best interests of the child has always trumped that in any case I've ever looked at before. What's going on here?

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: You know, Ashleigh, I can't believe - I can't believe this story.

BANFIELD: I know.

ROBBINS: When you flashed the photo of the judge that decided this, I wanted to punch him. I know that's not a nice thing to say. But they didn't even hold a best interest of the child hearing. What judge, what social service agency can possibly say, after a nine-year-old - and, look, I have a nine-year-old son who can't even handle a sleepover at this point in his life.

BANFIELD: Yes, mine neither. I know.

ROBBINS: To think about the damage that they have done to this little girl is insane. And the fact that this guy is now arguing that his rights weren't severed because he went from a 15-year sentence to a seven and a half year sentence and that now somehow makes him the right person for this child, it is so upsetting.

And I think we've gotten to a point in time, Ash, and I know you're going to agree with me on this one, where I think the best interest of a child always should trump what the biological rights are of a parent. Just because you have sex and you produce a child doesn't make you the best person to have the child.

BANFIELD: Doesn't make you worthy.

ROBBINS: Yes.

BANFIELD: Well, I just -- look, it's the Solomon's choice and if that father really cared about this child and her distress, there would be some sort of assuagement of this, a sharing or a visitation or something with the only people she's ever known. It's just - it's heartbreaking as mothers to have to even do this segment. Mel, thank you. Thank you for weighing in. Have a good weekend, my friend.

ROBBINS: You too.

BANFIELD: Another fascinating case that we're digging into as well today. And this is another one I can't believe that it's actually in print that it's real. Pedophiles who just want to be forgotten on the Internet have that ugly little history wiped out, they want Google to remove all the links to their ugly history and their searches. And a court has said OK. Yes, that sounds like a good idea. Seriously? We'll talk about that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Let's say there's something embarrassing about you on the Internet and you don't want anyone to see it. The short answer is, too bad, right? This is the Google era. The information's out there. Get over it or just don't do something stupid in the first place. That is not how they roll in the European Union, my friend. Not now.

Not since the top court there has ruled that people have the right to be forgotten. Even on the Internet. And that may mean, even if you're busted for child pornography, Google cannot request -- or can't deliver the search request. Sam Burke is here to explain this for me, along with Joey Jackson and Danny Cevallos.

Start off with what just happened.

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, people would have thought, Google can't delete anything. They're not the ones hosting the information, they're just delivering the search results. But now this court ruled that somebody has the right to privacy so that they can contact Google and they can say, listen, I want this link to come down. Even though it's not Google who's written it, they say, I want this link to come down from Google or Yahoo!, information about me or this picture about me. And the EU has ruled that, yes, that's what can happen.

BANFIELD: So what I find so strange about this is that the toothpaste is out of the tube, the genie is out of the bottle and all those other wonderful expressions that we've come up with when it comes to the age of the Internet and information. Is the crux here, gentlemen lawyer friends, the issue of relevance? Because isn't that what they're saying? If something's no longer relevant about your history, then it can be scrubbed. How is it we define relevant, Danny?

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: Good point.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, yes, that's a good question. The important thing to know is that this is not an automatic edict for Google to take down information or links. Instead, you have to request that that information be taken down. And after that, it's a balancing test, your right to privacy versus the public interest in knowing about this information. And I will say that Europe takes a more privacy oriented view of individual rights than does the United States. But even in the United States, if it's in the -- what they call the preponderant interest.

And, Joey, from law school, you remember, we define preponderance -

JACKSON: You're going to remind me of law school?

CEVALLOS: Oh, I barely got through.

BANFIELD: You (INAUDIBLE).

JACKSON: On a Friday too (ph).

BANFIELD: Help me with that because, look, I have children.

CEVALLOS: Right. Uh-huh.

BANFIELD: It's very relevant to me to know where the pedophiles live.

JACKSON: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: OK, maybe the guy next to me does not care about children, doesn't like children -

JACKSON: But you do.

BANFIELD: And it's not relevant to him. So who gets the definitions benefit of the doubt?

JACKSON: Ah-ha, see, that's the great point, as was the point Danny made about relevance. Who decides that? And is the Google - are they the Google police? This I believe to be relevant and this I believe not to be relevant and therefore it poses a larger issue, right? When you're evaluating information, we expect that it's going to be legit, it's going to be complete, it's going to be authentic. And if it's scrubbed, what should be scrubbed? Should all those negative things? What about some of the positive things? What gets to decide that? And so it opens up this Pandora's box in this whole slippery slope as to what you get, what you're seeing and how, in fact, reliable it really is.

BURKE: And do you want Google to decide what's in the public interest? Because these search engines are all saying, we don't want to have to do this. We want to conduct business as usual.

BANFIELD: It's not our job. Yes.

BURKE: And we don't know what we're supposed to do legally and logistically. They don't want to do it, so why should somebody sitting at home think that they want Google to rule what's in the public interest?

BANFIELD: By the way, this just happened. What is Google doing? Do they even have the mechanisms to stop the insanity?

CEVALLOS: They do. They already have a mechanism in place for copyright violation.

BANFIELD: OK.

CEVALLOS: If you see - but that's sort of an easier case to make. After all, if I publish some lyrics to a song on my website and claim ownership, that's a pretty easy case to figure out if someone else wrote that song. So there is already a procedure in place for copyright violation. That may be an easier decision to make, an easier balancing.

BURKE: Yes, these - these are a lot different. A source that had knowledge of these requests says that a man in Europe who was convicted of child pornography was among the first people to request to link -- that link to articles about his conviction be taken down.

BANFIELD: Yes, (INAUDIBLE), of course.

BURKE: A politician with some bad behavior in office. Even a doctor with a negative review. So, Google has not taken down those links yet, but this is the position that they're put in.

BANFIELD: I didn't expect that father of the year (ph) would request that Google scrub those links (INAUDIBLE).

JACKSON: It's only the other people who have issues and drama who will.

BURKE: You know, Ashleigh -

BANFIELD: Yes. No kidding.

CEVALLOS: And it's the important thing to remember, the information, everyone, is still out there. So, for example, this just addresses indexing. So if you have Joey Jackson foreclosure 555 Main Street --

JACKSON: You're going to get a whole bunch of information popping up.

CEVALLOS: Joey Jackson - Joey Jackson is now gone. It's 555 Main Street. You can still look up that.

BANFIELD: I could - honestly, I could delve into this for hours, but I am done. And, you know what, I do not like getting Wolf Blitzer mad. That's - I don't (ph) know (ph) anything about that.

JACKSON: No, not at all, but the public has a right to know, Ashleigh. The public has a right to know.

BANFIELD: And Wolf Blitzer has the right to broadcast.

JACKSON: Yes, he does.

BANFIELD: So, gentlemen, have a wonderful weekend. Thank you all.

JACKSON: You too, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And thank you for watching. It's been great to have you with us.

Wolf, it's your show now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, the worst I've ever seen. That's how one San Diego official describes the wildfires in his county.