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Dad Charged With Murder, Son Died In Hot Car; CIA Toyed With Bin Laden "Devil Eyes" Doll; Pope: Don't Legalize Recreational Drugs

Aired June 20, 2014 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Bottom of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

And you have to think, in the case of this one Georgia father, whatever he pleaded before a judge, whatever happens to him in the future in a courtroom, he has already condemned himself in a way no criminal justice can.

According to reports, Justin Ross Harris admitted he forgot his little son -- look at this precious face -- Cooper, in his car when he went to work on Wednesday. Now, this little boy, who was almost 2 years old, was strapped in a car seat as the temperature climbed outside. By the time his dad returned, Cooper was dead.

"The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" reports that Harris -- quote -- "had to be handcuffed by arriving officers as witnesses and then paramedics administered CPR. 'What have I done? What have I done?' Witnesses heard the man scream, 'I have killed our child.'"

Police believe the boy had been in the hot car on a 90-plus degree day for more than seven hours. Harris pleaded not guilty Thursday to felony murder and child cruelty. And his case has a lot of people this week asking, is this a crime when a parent simply forgets to take a child out of a car when they say it was an accident?

And how can a mom or dad even forget their child in the first place? Tragically, my next guest can answer that question firsthand. Lynn Balfour was acquitted of second-degree murder after she left her 9- month-old baby, Bryce, in a hot car for seven hours. She joins me now from Charlottesville, Virginia. Lynn, welcome.


BALDWIN: Can you just -- I want to hear in your own words. It was March 30th, 2007. How did it happen?

BALFOUR: It actually was a change in my husband and I, in our routine. Often that's the problem and normally I made one stop on the way to work. This particular week I was making two. I was dropping my husband off and then I was dropping the baby off. But this particular morning, I got a phone call from my job with an emergency. We were dealing with a fallen soldier's family. We were honoring him. I was the person responsible for their transportation and I immediately went into work mode. And in my mind, I thought, I've already made a stop. I've dropped the baby off. But he was sitting in a car seat behind me in the driver's seat and not where he normally was, which was behind the passenger seat where he would be in my field of view. And I went on to work. I got out of my car. I went in to take care of the problem.

And I had no effective child care communication with my home care provider in place. So she knew that he had been -- had a bad cold a few days and thought I had kept him home. She did not call me until about 10 minutes after 4:00 in the afternoon on a Friday to ask me how he was doing.

And I was adamant that I didn't understand what she was talking about. He was there with her. And she finally was like no, Lynn, you didn't drop him off this morning. I immediately ran to my car and found him in the backseat in his car seat unresponsive.

BALDWIN: Wow. So all these details, it wasn't your normal day. Everything going on. I hear all of that and then you have the -- this is your child. How can you forget Bryce? You should be locked away. You should be paying a price for this. This is what a lot of parents are thinking as they're watching this right now.

BALFOUR: Absolutely. And one of the things that I thought over and over, they told me about a week after my son's death, the day of his funeral, that I was being charged. And I was asking myself, you know, I can go to Iraq. I can defend my country. I can manage $47 million worth of projects with no penny lost. I was awarded a bronze star for that. How can I forget my own child?

And I began to do research and I found a memory specialist because I didn't ever not hold myself accountable. I never made excuses for his death. It was my lapse in responsibility of why my son passed away and why he is not here. But I wanted to know how it was possible. How can a person, a loving, caring, diligent, detail orientated person lose your child or forget them?

What I found out is society puts a priority importance on what we can forget. As I educate parents now --

BALDWIN: You've become an advocate now. You're educating these parents. You saw a father charged with something you had and you threw your arms around him and whispered in his ear, you're not a horrible father.

BALFOUR: Yes, I was thankful in the fact that I was allowed to hold my son in the hospital when he died and they told me they could not save him. I made him a promise that I would educate as many parents and as many people all across the globe that would listen on the dangers of accidentally forgetting your child in the vehicle. Because we have non-vehicular accidents every year.

Accidental back overs. Accidental front overs. Accidental window strangulations. Children getting accidentally playing in t car and getting locked in and it's one of the most dangerous things that happens. And we babyproof our homes. But no one warns us about babyproofing our vehicles.

And now I work with a non-profit organization called "Kids And Cars" to educate parents, grandparents, family members, friends on how you can accidentally forget your child. And people tell me all the time, there's no way I could ever forget my child. I was one of those parents. I've heard about stories. It has happened to a NASA scientist at Langley. It has happened to a mathematician genius in Berkeley, California.

BALDWIN: I've heard that all week here in Georgia because of this particular case in the Georgia area. A lot of moms saying, there's no way. There's no way. I hear your point loud and clear. Let me just end with this quote from you. You had said, "I don't feel I need to forgive myself because what I did was not intentional."

You know, it's been a number of years since. You seem cool, calm, collected. Maybe some would say unapologetic. But I have to imagine, Lynn, that there is not a day that goes by that you don't think about Bryce.

BALFOUR: There's not a day. Many people ask me, you know, Lynn, you're really strong. I don't understand how you can get through this. The thing is, when you talk to parents this has happened to, the pain, it's not like a normal death in your family where you lose a child or a parent and you get to grieve and then you move on. That pain is every day. It's always there. It never goes away.

You learn to live with it, but then you are blessed and thankful for the things that you do have. Then you understand how it's possible and the only thing you can do is to make sure that you educate other people on the fact that it can happen. And I tell many parents that tell me all the time, this could never happen. I ask them one question. Have you ever driven to work? Have you ever gone anywhere?

And when you got there you don't remember the drive or if you took pills that morning, that you swear up and down you took, but you get home and the medication is still on your counter. If any of that -- if that has ever happened to you, then you absolutely can accidentally forget your child.

You just have to take steps in order to make sure that that doesn't happen. And on the web site, there are numerous tips and assistance in place in order to make sure that that will never happen.

BALDWIN:, let's say this again. Lynn Balfour, I am so sorry for the loss of your child, but thank you so much. If one parent heard you today, you've done your job. Thank you, Lyn, so much for coming on.

Let's stay on this because what does the law say in cases like this? How does this work? What charges could a parent face for leaving their child in the car? It actually varies by state. We'll talk to a lawyer to get some of those answers for you as we raise awareness. Stay here.


BALDWIN: I want to stay on this story. "The Washington Post" reported that in 2012 nationwide, 40 percent of cases of kids dying in a hot car involved no charges. In this Georgia case we were just talking about before the break, many are wondering if the charges against this father, Justin Ross Harris, will stick. Take a look at the count of child cruelty.

That's defined, quote, "When such person willfully deprives the child necessary sustenance to the extent that the child's well-being is jeopardized. If Justin Ross Harris forgot his child, how could that be considered willful?

Let's talk about that with defense attorney, Holly Hughes, here. It's interesting, as you were sitting here listening to Lyn tell her story. You were making the point that in each -- it's up to the district attorney to charge, whether it's in Georgia in this case murder one, murder two with Lyn. And you are of the school of thought that it's overcharging.

HOLLY HUGHES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I do believe that. And remember that just because you can doesn't mean you should. So technically, can the DA file a murder charge here? Yes. And what he's going to have to argue to the jury is that that cruelty to children has all the elements of that crime meaning he willfully, as you pointed out when you read that charge, he willfully disregarded the well-being of his child.

That is a very high burden. How are you going to prove to a jury that this man intentionally and willfully disregarded his son when it was just that he forgot? There's no intent here, Brooke, and intent is an essential element of every crime. That you have to prove to the jury.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about that using this case in Georgia. You obviously have to imagine there are investigators who are trying to figure out if this father intentionally left his child --

HUGHES: Right.

BALDWIN: -- or not, as an accident, as he's maintaining. That's happening right now.

HUGHES: Yes. They are doing an investigation. What they're looking into is, they're going to talk to all the family members, all the friends. They're going to find out, did this man ever express to anybody that he didn't want to be a parent? Was he unhappy being a parent? You know, would he rather not have had a child and he kind of feels saddled with it now?

They're going to look and see if he has a criminal history. Has he ever been reported for cruelty to this child before? Have there been any calls to the Division of Family Services saying this child's been neglected, he hasn't been properly cared for. All of that will go into the investigation. And ultimately we may see charges reduced in this case to something like an involuntary manslaughter. An involuntary manslaughter can go as low as a misdemeanor and that is when you are committing a lawful act in an unlawful manner and somebody dies as a result of it.

BALDWIN: Everything I've read about this story in Georgia in the "Atlanta Journal Constitution," this guy was married, happy marriage. They were living in an apartment, hoping to buy a house, wanted a big yard for this child. There really are two schools of thought in this case. You have the one side saying, this is horrendous. No matter whether it was accident or not. How could someone do this? They should rot in jail.

HUGHES: Right.

BALDWIN: And then you have the others that say, I mean, imagine living with yourself each and every day. You heard Lyn say she thinks about Bryce every single day. Imagine just the emotional torture you put yourself through. You shouldn't have to serve time.

HUGHES: There is nothing. Nothing in the world that the criminal justice system can do to this father that he is not suffering through already. Not only does he have to face the fact that his actions caused the death of his son, whether intentional or not. That's just a fact he has to live with, Brooke.

And then this is a married father. So now he has to look his wife in the face and basically say, whether intentionally or not, I am responsible for the death of our child. And we know the statistics. A lot of marriages where they lose a child as a couple do not survive. So, no, there is nothing we can do to him.

And the whole point of the criminal justice system is said to be rehabilitation. Well, what are you rehabilitating here? This man did not intentionally set out to murder his child. If he was going to murder his child, this is about the stupidest plan in the world, Brooke. I'm going to leave him in a car and hope nobody hears him cry, nobody comes to his rescue, nobody sees him? No.

I think the state fails here because they cannot prove that he intentionally meant to either cause the death or even the intent for the underlying cruelty to children. He did not intend to willfully neglect his child.

BALDWIN: That's what they're looking into as you pointed out. That investigation is under way. I'm curious, you watching, tweet me @brookecnn. I'd love to know which camp you fall in. My heart goes out to this family, bottom line. Holly, thanks so much for coming in. I appreciate it.

HUGHES: Thanks, Brooke.

Coming up, Pope Francis shares his thoughts on recreational marijuana. What did he say? We'll share.

Also ahead, take a look at this doll. It's supposed to be Osama Bin Laden. We'll tell you why the CIA planned to make this doll and how the creator of GI Joe got involved.


BALDWIN: The CIA threw around this idea of an Osama Bin Laden action figure. This frightening looking doll to help turn Afghan children against the al Qaeda chief. Here it is. The doll's face is actually painted with heat dissolving material to reveal this red demon face underneath with these green, beady eyes.

So the spy agency began developing this Osama Bin Laden doll back in 2005 and went as far as to recruit a guy who helped create GI Joe for the top secret project. And according to this piece in the "Washington Post," the CIA code name for this doll was "Devil Eyes."

Elise Labott, let me bring you in, our foreign affairs reporter. You smile, I smile. It sounds like serious stuff for the CIA. Discouraging kids in Afghanistan from turning to the dark side.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Brooke. The prototype was developed. The CIA admits it was developed, but it never really went anywhere. Those dolls weren't distributed. It was designed to kind of spook the Afghan children and their parents and turn away from Bin Laden. We see with so many of these dolls it ends up immortalizing these types of people as heroes. That's probably why they nixed the idea.

BALDWIN: Tell me about this GI Joe creator. How did he get involved? Why would he want to get involved?

LABOTT: Don Levin, the creator of GI Joe was initially approached by the CIA to develop kind of toys and such for the Afghan children to develop some kind of good will. This is something that the CIA does a lot around the world to show the softer side of the CIA. They said he was initially then as reported first by the "Washington Post." They were initially skeptical when the CIA came to him later on to develop this prototype of the Bin Laden doll.

But eventually came around and really put his all to it. Don Levin died about a month ago after a long battle with cancer. His family sent out a statement to the "Washington Post," Don Levin was a dedicated patriot, a proud Korean War veteran. When he was called on, he was honored to assist our country. So unfortunately, he never got to see his doll put into action, that program was nixed but certainly it's an interesting idea.

BALDWIN: It is, especially the heat sensitive material that it would fade away into this devilish looking OBL. Elise, thank you so much.

Coming up, Pope Francis weighing in on pot. Does he think marijuana should be legal? What the pope has in common with Hillary Clinton may surprise you. But first, this week's "CNN Hero" for many a night in a ballpark is a family tradition. For those with autism, the sights and sounds of a baseball can be overwhelming. That is where Wendy Ross comes in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The experiences with my son is a gamble. You are on edge all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I stay in sometimes because it's easier for him to be around all of his toys. I'm afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a developmental pediatrician, I do a lot of diagnosing of autism. When I heard my families were afraid to go out, I felt like I need to find a way to help them. Every day experiences like going to a baseball game can be a challenge for kids with autism. There's a lot of unexpected sensory things happening. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good, how are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I work with the Phillies to train all 3,000 people that work at the ballpark. We prepare the families with a storybook of experiences that may happen at the park. And then we provide supportive game experiences sort of like a safety net.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you start taking steps outside of your door, your world gets bigger and bigger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's having fun. One success means more success.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's about more than a game. It's about opportunity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hopefully there will be zoos in our future and aquariums. The world is our oyster.



BALDWIN: Did you hear what the pope said about legalizing marijuana? Well, he's not exactly for it. Earlier today in Rome, Pope Francis told members of the International Drug Enforcement Conference that the worldwide trend for legalizing recreational drugs is a very, very bad idea.

He said, I'm quoting him "Drug addiction is an evil and with evil, there can be no yielding or compromise. To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics is in no way resolves the problem."

So let me bring in Daniel Burke, co-editor of CNN's Belief Blog. Daniel, I guess, I can't say I'm surprised hearing what the pope said. He also said legalizing drugs fails to produce the desired effects. What does he mean by that?

DANIEL BURKE, CNN BELIEF BLOG CO-EDITOR: I think, Brooke, that the pope sees this issue through a different lens than most Americans. He's not talking about a couple dudes toking up a joint and going to play Frisbee golf on an afternoon. This pope was a pastor for many years in some of Argentina's poorest communities. He saw lives ruined by drugs. I think he's saying legalizing drugs, essentially adding more drugs to that situation isn't going to help anybody. He's speaking very personally here.

BALDWIN: That makes sense given what he probably did see many years ago in Argentina. Let me move along and ask you about a big headline. The general assembly of the U.S. Presbyterian Church voting to change its definition of marriage allowing everyone to get married including same-sex couples, which seems like a big deal for the church. Does that mean that gay and lesbian Presbyterian couples can get married today?

BURKE: As of this weekend. So they have a little plan to plan, but as of this weekend, yes, in the 19 states where gay marriage is already legal according to secular law, they would be allowed to be married in Presbyterian Churches. That's a huge deal. The church in the United States has almost 2 million members, 10,000 congregations. Almost every town in America has a Presbyterian Church and they have a long and storied history. This is a pretty big deal and LGBT groups celebrating as a major victory.

BALDWIN: Have to imagine there's been opposition though.

BURKE: Yes, conservative Presbyterians actually called it an abomination today. We saw about 400 congregations leave the Presbyterian Church in 2011 after they voted to allow openly gay ministers. Some are predicting a similar kind of reaction to this vote yesterday.

BALDWIN: The times are changing, Daniel Burke, thank you so much. Just quickly an update on the anthrax scare at the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC we talked about yesterday, 87 workers at the CDC in Atlanta may have been unintentionally exposed to anthrax. It happened when a lab didn't properly deactivate the samples before moving them to other labs.

The workers in the labs were not equipped to handle live anthrax. Officials say the risk of infection for those involved is low and there is no risk to the general public. Just a quick reminder, you can like us on Facebook, Just tossed a new behind the scenes video on there for you today.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend. I hope you stay right here because my friend, John Berman is in for Jake Tapper. "THE LEAD" starts right now.