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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Slenderman Attack and Juvenile Justice; Psychology of Former Hostages; Legalities of AWOL Vs. Deserting; Interview with Senator Zeldin; GM Faulty Switches

Aired June 4, 2014 - 12:30   ET

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


DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: because we say if you're under a certain age or you're a juvenile, then you're not as responsible for a crime as you would be for an adult, unless you do something really, really bad. And then in that case, we're going to call you an update.

So, steal something from a store, we'll call you a juvenile. Try to kill someone, oh, no, no, that's so bad, we're going to ignore the neuroscience.

And the neuroscience is increasingly teaching us, and the Supreme Court is starting to recognize, what we've known for millennia, and that's that kids say and do the darnedest things.

They simply don't have -- now the science is starting to back up that they don't have the same synaptic ability to understand the nature and consequences of what they're doing.

So we need to resolve our juvenile system.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Can I just add to this, when we had our discussion about this yesterday, I was assailed fully on Twitter for suggesting that somehow I was OK with the murder or the attempted murder of a 12-year-old.

Let me be really clear, folks. That's not this conversation. This is a horrible crime. We're all on that same page. It's how to deal with children who do these things, and whether we adjudicate in a different system. Not give them a slap on the wrist, but adjudicate them differently.

Last one, quick.

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Interestingly, if the brain's not fully developed at the age of 12 and is developed by the age of 25, it also means that these are kids that actually could be rehabilitated.

BANFIELD: Yeah.

ROBBINS: And, if you throw them away for 40 years in an adult system, there is no way in hell they're getting rehabilitated. CEVALLOS: Not a lot rehabilitation --

BANFIELD: -- that we might actually have a chance with these kids.

But just as a reminder, I am not advocating that this was OK. Let's be really clear. There was a child here whose life has been destroyed, and she could have been dead.

So now that I got that out, thank you. Mel, Danny, stick around. I have other stuff I have to do today as well. And I want to take us back to that top story we've been looking at, the case of Bowe Bergdahl, the former POW.

His parents fought for nearly five years to free him from his Taliban captors. He's been back in U.S. custody since Saturday, so the weird part is, why haven't his parents been allowed to hug him?

Five years and still they haven't seen him, another longtime hostage can weigh in on this and let us all us why this sounds perfectly understandable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Five years in captivity would take its toll on anyone. Of all the things you'd miss, your family would likely be top of the list.

So why hasn't Sergeant Bergdahl who was freed on Saturday from the Taliban, been able to see his family yet? It turns out it is a very complicated matter not just because of the questions about why Bergdahl went missing in the first place. That's something else.

Our Anderson Cooper had a chance to speak with Keith, who was held hostage by FARC rebels in Colombia for five years, and he's got a clear answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH STANSELL, FORMER FARC HOSTAGE: I remember when I was told I only had 30 minutes, I thought, this is crazy. I want days with them, not 30 minutes.

And the docs, each one of us had a doctor assigned to us. The doctor who was assigned to me said, I know you think you can take 30 minutes, but I promise you, it's going to be tough. We had a signal worked out, if I couldn't make the 30 minutes, they would eventually pull me out.

About 10 minutes into it, it was -- my breath was very rapid. I was breathing deeply. I kind of had a cold sweat. It was just an emotional overload. I was beyond happy, but trying to keep it under control. Was tough for me.

Believe me, half an hour, I was sad when I walked out of the room, and I left my family in there. But I also walked out in the hallway and I could settle down and breathe and I had to go sit somewhere just to put myself together. ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": That's really fascinating. How long did that experience last with interactions with your family? Was it a little more every day?

STANSELL: It was a little more every day. I think really the first reunion for us, that was the initial shock, that's the big one. After that, it began to normalize fairly rapidly.

The next day, we had lunch. We spent the afternoon together. There was a quarters on base where the families were kept. I think it was on the third day where we were taken other there.

So it's all programmed out. No matter what the outcome on this court of public opinion on Bergdahl is, for the family and for him, I hope they trust in the folks in San Antonio because they know what they're doing, and they have their best interests in mind.

It helped us tremendously. There was a wall put up around us, and we were protected basically for about 10 days just so we could get our feet on the ground. It was definitely necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: So what are the next steps for Bowe Bergdahl when he eventually makes it back to America? Could he end up in custody again if something proves to be amiss?

And is there a big difference between being a deserter or being AWOL, and was he either? We'll answer those questions, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: I want to give you some breaking news, that the Secretary of Defense, Hagel, has now made some comments while traveling in Brussels, and he has directly referred to the Bowe Bergdahl situation, saying it is, quote, "unfair," referring to Sergeant Bergdahl, "to him and his family to presume anything about his motivations for leaving his base in Afghanistan back in 2009."

And as you look at this most recent Taliban video released this morning of the transfer of Bergdahl from Taliban forces to American special ops landing in those Afghan hills, the Sec Def also said he did not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. officials dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Bowe Bergdahl.

By now, it is possible you have heard the accounts of his fellow platoon members who are apoplectic that in the search, the subsequent days, weeks, months and years of searching for Bowe Bergdahl, there were several they claimed died as a result of IED attacks or as a result of deferred resources that led to perhaps more exposure.

There's been a lot of criticism. The secretary of defense in Brussels addressing that, specifically. I want to put aside the politics of this, because there has been more than many of us can stomach. Just about anybody with a political bent tries to get in a little bit on this action. The trade in the deal is a whole other conversation, but the fact is a U.S. soldier is now free from enemy captivity in Afghanistan. And whether he is to be celebrated or whether he is to be potentially punished, we're going to have to wait until the military irons out a couple of things, not the least of which, what to call Bergdahl's actions the night he actually disappeared.

A military official tells CNN that the initial army investigation into Bergdahl's disappearance in '09 found that he left his outpost deliberately, without his weapon, without his bulletproof vest or his night-vision goggles.

Does that mean he was AWOL, Absent Without Leave? Does it mean he was a deserter? There is a big difference and it is significant in this case.

I want to bring in Lee Zeldin. He knows the difference. He is a New York state senator, but he's also a JAG officer in the Army Reserves. Thank you so much, Senator, for joining me on this one.

With your military background and your knowledge of the uniform code of military justice, what do we need to find out from Bowe Bergdahl, and why do those two terms mean so much in this case?

LEE ZELDIN, NEW YORK STATE SENATE: As you said, AWOL is absent without leave. In order to dessert, you have to have the intent not to return. In order to prove that there was no intent, it's very challenging in this particular case, because he was captured within 24 hours. The burden is on --

BANFIELD: We know that for sure, captured within 24 hours?

ZELDIN: We don't. The only information that we, the public, know is that it appears that he may have been captured within the first 24 hours, but we do not know that for sure.

BANFIELD: I have heard of this equated like AWOL would be skipping class and desertion would be dropping out of school, a very big difference.

If, in fact, it can be -- and let's be clear. None of this is a given. None of it, not even the AWOL part, is a given. They want to find his side of the story before there's any, you know, assumptions made. But if it can be proven he was only AWOL and was captured, as the Taliban said, in the middle going to the bathroom, what difference does that make for his sentence if he does get sentenced as opposed to being AWOL and captured?

ZELDIN: Well, desertion, you could be sentenced to death.

BANFIELD: For desertion, death.

ZELDIN: AWOL, you know, when you're AWOL from the military, you may be discharged, you may receive some level of punishment, you might be court-martialed. But desertion is a much more serious offense, especially in a case like this. This might be one of the best examples if why, if he was in fact guilty of desertion, the punishment would be most serious, because we have had soldiers who have lost their lives and now we've had this unprecedented prisoner exchange, which is causing obviously international incident.

BANFIELD: And I just want to be clear, our Barbara Starr has a source at the Pentagon who said that it would be unlikely he would see any time behind bars because five years as a POW is certainly enough.

I'm flat out of time, but, Senator Zeldin, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

ZELDIN: Thanks for having me, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Thanks for the JAG insight too. Appreciate that.

A grieving family fighting to vindicate their daughter's death, they say, because she died due to a faulty key ignition switch that GM waited years to warn anyone about. And they say GM hid the critical information from them. Their story just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Tomorrow may be the day that we get answers as to why General Motor waited at least a decade to tell the public that ignition switches in 2.6 million of their cars could accidentally be knocked into the accessory position while driving. And that's serious because it causes the engine to shut off, disabling the air bags, the power steering and the brakes. GM says 13 deaths have been caused by the faulty ignition switches. But there could be more. One Georgia couple believes their daughter's death was caused by that defect. Before the recall, they settled with GM, but now they're trying to take the auto giant to court over it claiming that they were deceived. More now from CNN's Poppy Harlow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEN MELTON, FATHER OF BROOKE MELTON: I would gladly give my last breath just to hug her and tell her I loved her one more time. Just one more time.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): March 10, 2010, was Brooke Melton's 29th birthday.

BETH MELTON, MOTHER OF BROOKE MELTON: I kept thinking that this is not possible. It's her birthday. It can't - this can't have happened that she died.

K. MELTON: When I touched her hand, it was cold. I knew - I knew in my heart and my gut there was - there was something wrong with the car, that it wasn't her fault.

HARLOW (on camera): It was here that Georgia State Patrol says Brooke Melton's 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt hydroplaned on a rainy evening four years ago. The car spun out and was struck by another vehicle, then dropped 15 feet into this creek. The accident report says Melton was driving too fast for roadway conditions, causing her to lose control of the vehicle.

B. MELTON: She was driving 58 and the speed limit was 55.

HARLOW: Do you believe that that could have caused the accident?

K. MELTON: No. I believe that she lost power.

HARLOW (voice-over): Brooke Melton's parents blame General Motors. It's now known the ignition switch on her Cobalt was defective. This analysis of the car's data recorder provided by the Melton's attorney shows the switch was in the accessory position at the time of the crash, shutting the engine off and disabling the air bags, power steering and antilock brakes.

LANCE COOPER, MELTON FAMILY ATTORNEY: And we believe the evidence is overwhelming that the defects in this key system resulted in Brooke's loss of control and her death.

HARLOW: GM would not comment on the data recorder information. The defect led GM to recall 2.6 million cars. But before the recall, the Melton's settled their case with GM for an undisclosed amount. Now they're fighting an uphill legal battle to reopen it.

COOPER: They thought they had the truth when they settled their case. We now know they had some of the truth but not all of the truth.

HARLOW: In a new lawsuit, the Meltons allege that GM hid key documents from them and say a GM engineer lied in a sworn deposition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you the designer release engineer for the ignition switch in the '05 Cobalt?

RAY DEGIORGIO, ENGINEER, GENERAL MOTORS: Yes, I was.

HARLOW: The Meltons attorney gave CNN part of (INAUDIBLE) deposition of Ray Degiorgio, who denied approving any changes to the ignition switch.

DEGIORGIO: There was never a work order that I saw outlining this spring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So any such change was made, it was made without your knowledge and authorization?

DEGIORGIO: That is correct.

HARLOW: But in 2006, Degiorgio signed this form, authorizing a fix to the ignition switch, making it harder to turn inadvertently.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know that he lied under oath.

MARY BARRA, CEO, GENERAL MOTORS: The data that's been put in front of me indicates that, but I'm waiting for the full investigation. I want to be fair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Well, let me -- let me help you here. He said several times he had no idea these changes had been made.

HARLOW: Degiorgio did not return CNN's calls. He's been put on paid leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good evening, everyone.

HARLOW: GM declined an interview with CNN, but denies concealing facts or engaging in any improper behavior in the Melton case. The automaker admits 13 people died as a result of the defect, but won't release those names. GM's list only includes frontal crashes where air bags didn't inflate.

HARLOW (on camera): General Motors says 13 deaths, 47 crashes.

B. MELTON: And they're playing with numbers. They don't count Brooke's death and she's dead because of that ignition switch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ms. Barra, is Brooke Melton included in General Motor's death count, yes or no?

BARRA: To my knowledge, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

BARRA: Because it was a side impact.

K. MELTON: Her death has not been counted. It means like it doesn't matter.

HARLOW (voice-over): Ken Melton still keeps his daughter's number in his cell phone, something for him to hold on to.

HARLOW (on camera): Are you willing to settle this time?

K. MELTON: No. Settlement is off the table.

HARLOW: Any amount of money?

K. MELTON: Right.

B. MELTON: It's not about the money.

HARLOW (voice-over): General Motors hired former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas to do an internal investigation. The Justice Department is also investigating. And Ken and Beth Melton will keep fighting.

B. MELTON: Brooke's worth it. Whatever it takes. If it took the next 20 years, knowing the truth for her, it's certainly worth it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: And CNN's Poppy Harlow is here with me now.

Brooke was not counted in that original 13 -

HARLOW: Right. BANFIELD: That GM is admitted to. Is she perhaps the tip of a very big iceberg of other people who come forward?

HARLOW: She may be. General Motors, up until, you know, today when we spoke with them, is sticking with that 13 number, saying that this ignition switch defect resulted in the death of 13 people. However, we know that they're only counting frontal impact crashes where air bags did not deploy, not side impact crashes, not people that were sitting in the back seat where these crashes happened. There's a situation where -- a case where one girl died who was in the front and is counted on the list, and another girl who was sitting in the back is not counted on the list. And that is one of the things that trouble so many of these families. They're asking, why wasn't our child, our loved one, counted?

BANFIELD: It's not just an air bags issue. They've already said that the brakes might not work. So the air bags -

HARLOW: It basically shuts off the engine.

BANFIELD: Be damned. Everyone in the car, therefore, is out of control. How can that be that the back seat passengers don't count?

HARLOW: We have asked -- I asked this morning, General Motors, why -- why it is only those frontal crashes. To this point they don't have an answer. But you know, tomorrow morning, Ashleigh, they're going to release that internal investigation.

BANFIELD: How toothy is that?

HARLOW: Well, it's led by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas. So it is truly independent. They have promised transparency. Will we see in that report why only frontal crashes are counted? If more deaths will be added to the list? And who knew what at General Motors when? How high does this go?

BANFIELD: Mary Barra? Mary Barra?

HARLOW: That is the question. She's testified under oath in front of Congress that she knew nothing about this.

BANFIELD: Wow. Very serious. And you're on it tomorrow for watch -

HARLOW: We'll be in Detroit live, yes.

BANFIELD: OK, Poppy, thank you.

HARLOW: Sure.

BANFIELD: Do appreciate it. Poppy Harlow reporting live for us on this story.

And we are flat out of time. Thanks so much for being with us. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, starts right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, white flags, handshakes, rocket propelled grenades, the world now getting to see for itself.