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CNN Larry King Live
Aired January 30, 2007 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight -- exclusive. He was a champion who captured hearts around the world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barbaro turns it on.
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KING: But those hearts shattered, along with his leg when a gruesome accident cut him down in his prime.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barbaro is being pulled up and he's out of the race.
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KING: And yesterday after a brave eight-month struggle to come back, Barbaro was put to death. Millions mourned that decision. What did it do to his owners? They will tell us in their first interview since their horse they loved so much was euthanized.
Plus -- the doctor who put Barbaro to sleep after spending every day for the past eight months trying to nurse him back to health.
And a heated debate, does racing push horses too far? We will ask world renowned animal expert Jack Hanna, Bo Derek and more.
And then a woman convicted today of murdering her marine husband with poison for his insurance money. With his client facing life in prison, her attorney speaks. It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening and welcome to a sad edition of LARRY KING LIVE.
Our special guests are Roy Jackson, Barbaro's owner, Gretchen Jackson, his co-owner, and Dr. Dean Richardson, the chief of surgery at the George D. Wagner Hospital for Large Animals, the University of Pennsylvania's new Bolton Center. It's a remarkable place, by the way.
He did the original life-saving surgery on Barbaro back in May and treated the horse throughout the past eight months.
Barbaro is gone. Let's begin with a look back at his extraordinary life. Watch.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But they are coming to the finish and it's all Barbaro! In a sublime performance, he runs away from them all and saved something left for the Preakness!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barbaro, Barbaro -- I believe he's being pulled up. Barbaro's been pulled up. An astonishing development here. Barbaro is pulled up by Edgar Trotto (ph). He's out of the race and out of the Triple Crown. He appears to have injured his right rear leg.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fracture -- portions of the fracture extend from right about here down to about there. So basically this fracture is running from about this area down to about that area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really didn't think it was appropriate to continue with his treatment because the probable outcome was just so poor and he would have to go through it, basically unmanageable amount of discomfort.
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KING: Roy Jackson, it's been a day and a half. Has it settled in yet?
ROY JACKSON, BARBARO'S OWNER: Yes, it has, Larry. We, I think it was a difficult day yesterday for all of us. But we tend to be positive people, Larry. And we just look back and celebrate his life and all of the good he did.
KING: Gretchen, a lot might wonder for those who are not fans of the sport, I'm a tremendous fan of horseracing, how do you get so emotionally involved with a horse?
GRETCHEN JACKSON, BARARO'S OWNER: I think -- I want to think it's born in you. Because I couldn't tell you step one, step two, step three. I think there's a certain just rapport that certainly grows over the time you're with a horse. But you fall in love with a horse because it's a beautiful animal and it can do marvelous things. And if you enjoy riding, it can give you a lot of pleasure that way, too.
KING: We have got tons of e-mail for you. This is not a question but comment comes from Jenny in Tucson, Arizona. And it's typical of scores of e-mails when we announced we were doing this topic. The e-mail says, "Thank you for sharing the beloved Barbaro with us and for all you did to take care of him. He was a hero and we are all so sad along with you."
Roy, is that typical? Is that what you have been hearing?
R, JACKSON: Yeah. We have had wonderful messages, Larry. And all through this, we have had tremendous support, ourselves, the staff here, Michael Mats (ph) and Peter Brett (ph) that trained him. We just had wonderful support. There's just been tremendous interest. It's been sort of a surreal journey we have gone through.
KING: Were you the sign-off, Gretchen, you and Roy, on putting him down?
G. JACKSON: I think it was a mutual -- a mutual feeling and knowledge that the time was right, that everything that could be done to ensure his well being and quality of life and pain -- as pain-free as he could be had been done. And I think we had all -- we all understood it at the same time.
KING: Dr. Richardson, we were also hopeful for a period of time. He was walking, he looked great. Looked like they would send him out to pasture. They were talking about stud. What went wrong?
DR. DEAN RICHARDSON, VETERINARIAN: I think it is complex series of things that went wrong. It's been difficult to try to get this accurately expressed in the media, really, because it's fairly complicated. One of the phrases I use to describe this is that at some point it becomes like a deck of cards. If one card falls, then a number of other bad things can happen. And that's pretty much what happened, inasmuch as he basically got very sore in his laminitic left hind foot.
He was still happy and getting around fine. But he was bearing the most of his weight on his right hind foot. The bones had healed but it was still a lot for his foot to hold up. And he ended up with a deep bruise on that side. That later became an abscess. The abscess was unmanageable, despite all of our efforts, could not be managed with him bearing weight on it. So we tried some other techniques to get the weight off of his foot. But by the time all of that was being managed, he was also starting to develop laminitis in both front feet. And when he developed laminitis in both front feet, we decided to quit.
KING: Did that mean he was in a lot of pain?
RICHARDSON: He was a totally different horse yesterday morning. He had gone through the entire night before for the first time ever being uncertain of himself, not knowing what to do, not knowing how to get up or down. We tried many things including getting him up and down in a sling.
But he was just -- you have to understand, he was just a completely different horse. For the first time since he had been here, he was in real obvious discomfort. And that wasn't going to be something we were going to tolerate.
KING: Roy, were you with him when the euthanasia was done?
R. JACKSON: Yes, I was. Dr. Richardson was there, Gretchen, myself, one of the residents were there, and part of the morning crew that has taken care of him for this long period of time.
KING: What kind of occurrence is it like, Gretchen? Is it peaceful? G. JACKSON: I think it is. I think it's remarkably loving. And there's such an outpouring of love and grieving. I mean, it gets blended together in a situation like this.
And it's -- I don't want to be morbid and I don't want to glamorize it, but it's very special to be amongst a group of people that really love -- love the animal and are joined together to celebrate its life.
KING: We will be right back with Roy Jackson, Gretchen Jackson, the owners of Barbaro and Dr. Dean Richardson. We will have an e-mail question about Barbaro and cloning, too. Don't go away.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barbaro wins by seven!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barbaro captured last year's Kentucky Derby, racing in a way that left fans breathless. No horse had won the coveted Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Affirmed's got a nose in front on the wire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nation, it seemed, put their hopes and heart in Barbaro. But in the second race for the title, the Preakness, a devastating blow.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barbaro shattered his right hind leg, an injury so severe, most horses would have been put down right away. Not Barbaro. Doctors fused his joints, operating several times on both legs over eight months. It seemed fitting a horse that fought so hard and captured the hearts of so many would survive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this horse was loved because he is a great athlete. Everybody knew he was a great athlete. People love greatness.
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KING: We have some e-mail questions for the Jacksons and then a question for Dr. Richardson. An e-mail from Cathy in New Hudson, Michigan. "Have Mr. and Mrs. Jackson decided where they will bury Barbaro?" Roy?
R. JACKSON: Larry, no, we haven't. We just wanted to give that some thought as to where the most appropriate place would be and didn't want to make a decision on the spur of the moment. So we are in the process of trying to work that out.
KING: E-mail question to the Jacksons from Brenda in Dallas, "I'd like to know if the Jacksons saved any of Barbaro's DNA for possible cloning in the future."
G. JACKSON: No.
KING: Did you give any thought to that?
G. JACKSON: No.
KING: From Christina in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, "Trying to prevent the slaughter of horses for human consumption abroad is an issue on the minds of many Americans. What is your view on the matter?" Are you aware of this problem, Roy?
R. JACKSON: Yes, I am. I think, Larry, Gretchen's probably better able to talk about that.
R. JACKSON: Because she's been more deeply involved than I have.
G. JACKSON: Yeah, I'm just slightly more involved. But what I know, Larry, is that there's a terrific cruelty involved in trucking the horse to the slaughterhouses and stallions, mares and fowls are crammed in cattle trailers with not enough head room and someplace them in there 36, 72 hours with no water or nothing.
And that's one of the concerns as well as the fact none of this horse meat they are slaughtered for is eaten in the United States nor are the companies owned by Americans. They are all foreign-owned and they are subsidized by the U.S. government to the point of $5 million a year.
And it's just -- it's against what the American generally feels about the horse. That the horse is a part of our culture. We got to the West Coast by horseback and it's just a part of us. We would like to see it outlawed in the United States so that the horse is treated with a respect.
And also we need to make plans for the horses that can no longer live as racehorses or be useful. We have to find homes for them in retirement farms and things have got to be in place to help this situation out. So it's a process that is taking place.
KING: An email from Karen in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, "Do the Jacksons own the foal, Barbaro's dam, La Ville Rouge, who is supposed to give birth in the spring?" Do you own that, Roy?
R. JACKSON: Yes. We have a 2-year-old by Quiet American that's with Michael Mats right now, that's a half-brother. And there's a full brother that will be coming along and she's in foal with Diana Former (ph) at the present time. And we are told she's carrying a cult. So there will be another full brother coming along.
KING: So Barbaro is going to have two brothers running? R. JACKSON: Yep. Hopefully everything will go right with the birth and we hope that he will have two brothers running. It will be interesting to follow that.
KING: Are you going to name them associated with the name Barbaro?
R. JACKSON: Larry, Barbaro was named after some fox hounds on a picture that's been in my family for some years. And we will probably -- there are six fox hounds and Barbaro's the furthest on the right. And we will probably use a couple of the other names. Brought us good luck once, and we will do it again.
KING: And let Edgar Prado keep riding them. Dean Richardson, did you learn from this? Can you apply all of the treatment and surgeries done on Barbaro to future cases?
RICHARDSON: Well, certainly, yeah. We do this on a regular basis and we learn from every case that you do. We employed techniques in treating Barbaro that were relatively new and we used them on more cases since we did him. It's like most things in medicine and surgery, you certainly have incremental advances every time that you do surgery and you should improve on a regular basis.
So, yes, I certainly expect if we had the same exact fracture come in, we would do better with it, I hope.
KING: Thank you all very much. Our condolences and best wishes in the future. This is a tough game. Roy Jackson, Gretchen Jackson, Dr. Dean Richardson.
When we come back, critics say horseracing is animal cruelty. We will talk to Hollywood beauty and wild life ambassador Bo Derek about that. Along with the animal preservationist Jack Hanna. And later a representative of PETA. We will check in with her opinions. Don't go away.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was put to sleep Monday morning. Doctors had been treating the prize-winning horse since it shattered three bones at the start of the Preakness last May. During the weekend surgeons installed two steel pins into one of the bones that had been on the mend but Barbaro struggled through Sunday night and doctors decided the pain was too much for the horse to bear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a completely different horse. Our statement and our belief, our goal from the beginning was to do what was right for the horse.
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KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE Jack Hanna, host of "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures," director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo. He is in West Palm Beach.
And here in L.A., Bo Derek, the film and television star, animal lover, ambassador for the State Department on wildlife trafficking. Jack, are you an aficionado of horseracing? Do you like the sport?
JACK HANNA, COLUMBUS ZOO: I like the sport, Larry. Don't get to go to very many. But I was raised on a farm in Tennessee with horses. And I have been fortunate to film horses in the wild in southern Montana. And I have always believed that horses were born to run. If you watch a wild horse, if you watch horses in general, I have visited Derbyden (ph) Farms in both Columbus, Ohio and Lexington as well as farms in Ocala as well as Bo Derek's farm out there, ranch out there in California.
So whenever I visited these farms, horse farms, Larry, I must say -- two didn't know I was coming -- I have never seen animals treated that way in my entire life. To watch that veterinarian just now and owners of that horse, your heart goes out to them, Larry. I have been to Ohio State University, tough university, where they work on horses for the research to keep these animals better and stronger. That type of thing. It just shows you what they are trying to do.
KING: I know.
HANNA: Horseracing to me, Larry, is a living art. As John Phillips (ph) the president of Derbyden (ph) said it's a living art and you watch them run magnificently in these races.
KING: Bo, I know you're a horse fan. We were at a derby together once a couple years ago.
DEREK: Yeah. And the Breeders' Cup.
KING: And the Breeders' Cup. What do you make of this story? Luck of the game?
DEREK: It's luck of the game, these are athletes. These horses are bred, they have been for hundreds of years to run and selectively bred and that's what they do and they are brilliant athletes and Barbaro was a hero. And it just -- it makes me feel good because people respond to them the same way I do.
KING: We knew he had taken a false step out of the gate before the race. They had to bring him back around again and delay the start of the race about five minutes and put him back in. That might have been part of the cause. Do we ever know the cause of something like this?
DEREK: It's the way they are built. Look at the big body on these little, tiny skinny legs but the horse had all of the love, all of the training, I mean some of us humans should live so well as some of these horses.
And I know that the Jacksons take wonderful care of their horses.
KING: Jack, have you been around animals put to death? HANNA: Yes, I have, Larry. It's a difficult thing. My wife, with our dogs, she's always been there. I am kind of outside the room but I obviously in the zoological field have been there. I have been in the wild when I have to see it when animals are injured in the wild as well. It's tough. But it's the love you have for the animal -- there was a veterinarian, Larry, at our zoo, the name of Dr. Gardner (ph). He would come to our zoo sometimes and he would treat goats there -- this is back in the early '70s. He would treat the goats and these other animals.
And I would say Dr. Gardner, then he would have to treat a horse at Derbyden Farms, millions of dollars. He said, Jack, it's the love I have for these animals. Whether it's your goat at the zoo or just like the beautiful horse at Derbyden Farms, these are all living features. We have love for these creatures and that's what the whole key of this thing is, the love we have.
And the love of horseracing and what these owners have, this love, it's beyond comprehension. Yes, you hear about some of the animal rights groups saying this might not be natural. I can tell you one thing, there's bad eggs in everything. There might be bad eggs in the horseracing business or in the restaurant or whatever business you want to talk about. We try to eliminate those bad eggs and do the best we can, as Bo knows, some of the things happening the last 10 years with horseracing is incredible.
KING: Bo, have you ever had to put a horse down?
DEREK: Yes, many times.
KING: Many times?
DEREK: Many times. I find it a gift. If you love an animal and you see them suffering, it's a gift to stop the suffering and give them a peaceful death.
KING: Is the death peaceful? They go to sleep.
DEREK: Yes, always peaceful. Always peaceful and then I can tell you a horse, mare, broodmare of mine who died during the night and I got up and she had a twisted intestine and it was a very painful death. And I have to say, I was sorry I wasn't there to stop here suffering.
KING: It's an injection.
DEREK: It's an injection.
KING: Does it happen quickly?
DEREK: It happens quickly, peacefully. They are sedated even before that with another drug. And for me, I'm -- I was happy that I was able to do that for them.
KING: Jack, do you think the horse -- there are those who complain and we will have an activist on, Lisa Lange of PETA will be on, what about a whipping of a horse, is that bad?
DEREK: Well, I talked to a jockey today, Joe Slaven (ph) out of Orlando who worked out horses at derby den. Wasn't at the races but worked these horses galloping and that type of thing. He said it's a small little stick, I guess you call it a stick, there is other names for it. It has little frayed things on the end of it. It's not necessarily the hitting of the horse. You can not take a little thing like that and hurt a 1,500 pound animal. I'm sure some people can. But these horses, Larry - and Bo can correct me, are inspected before and after the races. The animal mainly responds to the clicking of the sound of the whip and not, you know, sitting there beating a horse.
Now whether that happened 30 years ago, I don't know. But I'm just saying in today's horseracing, am I right, Bo, they are inspected before and after the races in every which way possible, drugs, the horse's skin, everything. I'm sure this guy is telling the truth.
DEREK: Yes. And Larry, have you been in winner's circles. The horses do not come back with any marks on them. And it's a rhythm, also, the whipping, to keep them running at a certain place. And some jockeys and some horses don't require whipping and some do.
KING: But the whip must hurt? It has to ...
DEREK: It depends who is using it, obviously. But it's more about the rhythm than anything else.
KING: Our guests are Jack Hanna and Bo Derek. We will take a break. Come back, Lisa Lange, senior vice president of communications, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We will come back. You have heard Jack and Bo's take on Barbaro phenomenon and the business of horseracing. Lisa will join our guests and she might have her own say about it. We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson were with Barbaro Monday morning and made the decision to put the colt out of its misery.
G. JACKSON: I would like for all of us to say a prayer for Barbaro and to all of those who loved him so much, certainly grief is the price we all pay for love.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barbaro was heavily favored to win the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes after winning the Kentucky Derby, which would have made him the first Triple Crown winner in nearly three decades. The beloved horse drew an outpouring of support in some of the expensive efforts ever to save a thoroughbred.
Surgeons repaired the fractures and the healing process looked favorable but the horse developed an infection on the broken leg and laminitis on his front hooves. Barbaro never again walked with a normal gait.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We've had a lot of praise for a great sport and the loss of a great athlete. Jack Hanna remains with us, as does Bo Derek. And joining us now also in Los Angeles is Lisa Lange. She is senior vice president of communications, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, well-known as PETA.
What does your organization think about horse racing?
LISA LANGE, PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS: Well, we feel that the horse racing industry has a lot to answer to. This is a cruel industry. And we have to remember -- and it's especially helpful to remember when we are looking at the tragic life and illnesses and -- injuries, I'm sorry, of Barbaro leading to his death -- that these racing horses are cash cows. They make a lot of money for their owners and the number one concern is profit by this industry. We have to remember that Barbaro was three years old. He was very young. He was physically immature. That's very hard on their bones to race on those very hard surfaces.
We would like to see an end to the horse racing industry because animals are suffering for it. And if Barbaro's case can call attention to the cruelty of the horse industry, and the tragedy of his life and death, then we're grateful for that.
But we need to be sure -- and we urge people to try not to romanticize this and not romanticize this industry because there are so many reforms that could be made now that are being fought, like making sure that the animals are running on softer surfaces, making sure they're not raced when they're that young, making sure that legal and illegal drugs are not used to mask injuries so that animals are running with...
KING: Stop right there, honey.
LANGE: ... breaks or with torn tendons...
KING: I didn't mean to say honey. Stop right there, Lisa.
First they are now making tracks that are much more -- artificial traps in a sense, Gulfstream has it, Hollywood Park has it.
As to two-year-olds, maybe they race two-year-olds too much. And it's been argued that three-year-olds might be put to racing too early. You agree, Bo?
DEREK: Yes, that's always been in discussion and I'm sure it will continue.
KING: What about her argument that these are cash cows?
DEREK: I would like -- do you know many people who have actually made money if you own racehorses? I think what you said, that every spectator, you will have kings and you will have peasants. And they can switch during a horse race. It was a very nice phrase that you used.
But I think that it's a passion. People love horses. There's nothing like it. Barbaro is evidence of that. And as far as the thoroughbred racing industry, they're the formal supporters, and the Jackson family, of stopping slaughter and supporting rescues and...
KING: Jack, you were saying the animals were treated well, Jack. As a zoo director, you would see that the thoroughbred animal is treated well?
HANNA: Larry, all of the places I've ever been, they're treated like royalty, as I said. Plus, Larry, you know, we have football. We have car racing. We have all sort of things where even human beings are involved. I don't how many horses -- you know I read statistics where these animals have died years ago. But I don't think we have those numbers dying today, especially the way these horses are cared for.
As far as drugs, my understanding is these horses are checked even better than human beings, ball players are, before and after a game. So it's hard to believe that those kinds of drugs, as she says, are used in today's racing field.
Again, I don't get to watch that much horse racing. But what I've seen at the farms is phenomenal. I've seen horses, Larry, that have been out of the wild because they have to take them out of the wild every once in a while. And they do auction some of these horses off, not for the horse meat trade, but, as Bo knows, for individual owners that want to have a wild horse. And some of the injuries these horses have are phenomenal, as well. And I sit there and watch these horses when they did -- the horses had no way of seeing me. I was up on a mountain watching them. And they just sat there and ran and played and ran their hearts out all day long. So I don't think it's abnormal for a horse to run.
LANGE: If I can interject something...
KING: Go ahead, Lisa.
LANGE: If I can interject something, here, too. I think Bo brings up a really good point. We heard about Barbaro and we saw his injuries and we heard about his tragic story because he was a winner. But there are a lot of animals out there, there are a lot of horses out there. In most cases when they sustain an injury like that on the track, they're euthanized on the spot. Anywhere from 700 to 1,000 racing horses are euthanized every year due to these kinds of industries.
Now, the Jacksons went to extra lengths to help try to repair his injuries. But that is not normally the case. And that's why we urge people to reject the sport of horse racing. Because, unlike what Jack says, people who play football, people involved in Nascar, any other sport that involves a human being, they choose to be there.
In this case, the horses don't and they are paying with their lives in too many cases. And we appreciate the Jacksons speaking out against horse slaughter. Every person involved with the horse racing industry should. But they're not. Seventeen percent of the 90,000 horses slaughtered in this country every year are racing horses. Some of them are thoroughbreds, many of them are quarter horses. So there needs to be a huge industry change. But we would also like to see people move away from supporting the industry completely.
KING: Well, of course, the attendance is way down. But the attendance at OTBs and the like and inter-track wagering is way up.
Bo, how would you respond to her?
DEREK: I would like to focus on the 100,000 horses that are being slaughtered for human consumption overseas by foreign-owned slaughterhouses in this country. They operate in states where it's against state law. They operate on federal laws. There are bills before the Congress right now this year that we hope to past, 503, and get that passed and stop the horse slaughter because that's a cruelty that nobody benefits from and it's very inhumane.
KING: And to you there's no question horse racing is not cruel?
DEREK: No, there are. I think Jack put it right. There are owners -- responsible owners. There are human beings that are not responsible and that are cruel to animals. But this is a horse that has been bred for hundreds of years to run and to be used in sport. So I would encourage use and not abuse.
KING: Jack, you think that too, bred to run?
HANNA: Right. Obviously, Larry, from what I've seen both in the wild and what I've seen at these farms, you know, I don't see any -- I've never seen any abuse. I'm sure, as I said before, as PETA's pointed out, there is abuse. It's like in any walk of life, whatever business it is, there's going to be abuse somewhere. But to stop horse racing would be ludicrous.
KING: Lisa, you must agree they are bred to run?
LANGE: Let them run. Don't race them. There's no good reason to take a three-year-old colt who is maturing physically and put them on a racetrack and bet on them and then see how many of these animals are injured and die.
no. Let horses run. We're all for it. We just don't think that they should be running on a hard track. We don't think they should be running young or be drugged.
KING: OK. Thank you all very much.
Bo, great seeing.
Jack Hanna, as always.
Lisa Lange, thank you.
Coming up next, the military wife who thought she planned the perfect murder. But today in court a jury said otherwise. And wait until you hear what prosecutors say she did with the insurance money.
As we go to break, the very convincing 911 call she placed on the night in question.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CYNTHIA SOMMER, DEPENDENT IN MURDER TRIAL: He's, like, trying to breathe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
SOMMER: Todd -- I've -- honey, I love you. Please. I love you...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am, is your front door locked? Can the MP's get in?
SOMMER: Jenna, is the door open?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're there?
SOMMER: Yes. He's, like, trying to breathe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Are the MP's there or the paramedics there, ma'am?
SOMMER: Are they paramedics or MP's?
Todd, I love you. Don't do this to me. What am I going to do without you?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KING: Welcome back. Very early on February 18th, 2002, Cynthia Sommer placed a 911 call saying that her 23-year-old Marine husband had collapsed in their bedroom. Todd Sommer was taken to a hospital, declared dead shortly after 2:30 a.m. An autopsy revealed nothing. The cause of death was listed as cardiac arrhythmia.
A year later, military scientists found elevated levels of arsenic in his tissues. Cynthia was arrested in November of 2005, charged with poisoning her husband to cash in on his $250,000 military life insurance policy.
Earlier today, a San Diego jury found Cynthia Sommer guilty.
With us are Cynthia's attorney Robert Udell. He's in San Diego. In New York is Dr. Larry Kobilinsky, the forensic examiner, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. And also in San Diego is Beth Karas, correspondent for Court TV News. She covered the trial of Cynthia Sommer from the get-go.
Robert, were you surprised at the verdict?
ROBERT UDELL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Oh, absolutely. We were stunned. You would have never convinced me in a million years that a jury on this evidence would find that Cindy killed Todd.
KING: How did they happen to come up with this tissue a year later?
UDELL: Well, if you're in the armed services in this country and you pass away, they open a file, and in typical bureaucratic fashion, if you open a file, you have got to close a file. So based upon the gastrointestinal symptoms that Todd had shown immediately prior to his passing, they ordered this heavy metals test.
KING: Did you have a theory as to who poisoned him?
UDELL: I don't believe anybody intentionally poisoned Todd. I'm not even so sure Todd died of arsenic poisoning. But even if you assume he did, nobody did it intentionally. Cindy didn't, and he had no enemies. There were no grand conspiracies here. People die in this country of poisoning every day.
KING: How is she doing?
UDELL: She's a very strong person, quite honestly. Disappointed. She knows that she did not kill Todd, so she definitely has that luxury to rely on. She's a great American. She had faith in the criminal justice system in this country. She assumed that it would do the right thing, and it's failed her again.
KING: Beth Karas, you covered this trial. What was the key to the conviction, in your opinion?
BETH KARAS, COURT TV: Well, you know, it's a circumstantial evidence case. So there was not one piece -- there was no smoking gun. But clearly, her behavior was something that the prosecution relied on in large part, not just before, but primarily afterwards.
Two months to the day of his death, she got breast implants that she had wanted for a long time. And her husband had known about it, and he was supportive. They just didn't have the money at the time. She got a new boyfriend at that time. And in the two-month period before she got a new boyfriend and new breast implants, there was evidence -- and the jury heard it -- she had sex with four other people -- a married couple, husband and wife, and two other men.
But -- and she was also in wet t-shirt contest and a thong contest. And she did get a tattoo to memorialize her husband on her arm, but when she testified, she displayed that big tattoo and she had a big shiner, a big, black eye. You know, it was a little tough looking. She looked a little tough on the stand. But I think that it was her behavior after the fact that may not have sat well with the jury.
KING: Did she collect on the insurance? KARAS: She did. She collected one month to the day after his death, March 18th. But she did put half of the quarter million dollars in trust funds for the children, four of them, and for herself.
KING: Dr. Kobilinsky, what is your view of this?
DR. LARRY KOBILINSKY, FORENSIC EXPERT: Well, I think, Larry, based upon the symptoms prior to his death, he did survive 10 days after the onset of symptoms -- they are classical symptoms for heavy metal poisoning. And based upon the observation of over 1,000 times the normal level of arsenic in his liver and about a third of that in his kidney -- again, that's pretty classic signs of toxicity due to arsenic poisoning.
So I really think it's inescapable. You can't come up with any other really viable hypothesis, except that he died of arsenic poisoning.
How he got that arsenic is a question. You can get arsenic through eating, through drinking, through inhaling in the gaseous form, or through absorption in the skin.
But, Larry, the levels that were found in those tissues, in the liver and in the kidney, you're not going to get that through inhalation or absorption through the skin. I believe he consumed it or drank something with it, with large amounts of arsenic. It was an acute poisoning, and that's what did him in.
KING: We will take a break and come back with more. Let's check in with Anderson Cooper. He will host "AC 360" at the top of the hour. What's up, Anderson?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Larry, tonight on "360," some puzzling words from the man chosen by President Bush to oversee operations in the Middle East. He says he does not know whether the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq is the right move. We'll get to the bottom of that. And we'll also have a frank discussion on Iraq with a man who knows the country like few others, CNN's own Michael Ware. He'll even tell us about his own escape from kidnappers who were determined to kill him.
And new developments in the search for a woman who'd used the identity of a missing person to get into Harvard. And we'll look into the record of self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne. See if it stands up to what's been advertised. All that and more, Larry, on "360."
KING: Thanks, Anderson. And Michael Ware is a great reporter.
COOPER: Sure is.
KING: Anderson Cooper, "AC 360" at the top of the hour, 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.
Right back with more of this fascinating case. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CYNTHIA SOMMER: We walked towards the bathroom. I turned and said, are you OK? What's the matter? And he -- I turned the light on. He looked at me and he said, I'm OK, I'm all right, and he fell down.
I went in, and he was covered with a white sheet. And I pulled it back. It didn't really seem like it was real. I told him that I loved him, and I hugged him and I took his wedding ring off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOMMER: I didn't have anybody to watch the kids. I didn't know where I was going to live. I didn't know anything that was going to happen. I just -- I had lost everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Robert Udell, was it, frankly, her lifestyle that did her in?
UDELL: Oh, absolutely. There was no evidence, as everybody seems to agree, connecting Cindy to obtaining or even attempting to obtain arsenic. The only evidence the people had was her conduct after Todd died.
KING: Beth, would you agree with that, that the conduct defeated her?
KARAS: I do. And also because at the onset of the symptoms, which occur within 30 minutes to maybe four, five hours from ingesting, she's the only adult with him. There's four sleeping children in the house. So it sort of, who else but Cynthia could have done this?
But she never, Larry, never said after the fact -- at least it wasn't ever introduced by the prosecution -- that she was glad her husband was dead, that she was happy to be released from this stifling relationship.
She may have gone a little wild afterwards, but she continued to grieve, because these men she slept with said that she missed Todd and she had a little shrine to him at home. She wasn't hiding him at all.
KING: How long was the jury out? Beth?
KARAS: Just under 12 hours, but two hours of that was spent hearing readback of testimony yesterday from three witnesses. So 10 hours, really.
KING: By the way, we invited the prosecution in this case to take part in tonight's show. The DA's are not doing any interviews until after sentencing.
Dr. Kobilinsky, why didn't they pick it up right at death?
KOBILINSKY: Well, they actually came up with a diagnosis by exclusion. He was a healthy young fellow, and when you can't see any kind of trauma or any kind of reasonable explanation, you look to a cardiac arrhythmia. And that is what the diagnosis was. They did not do a tox screen, basically.
There are a number of ways you can detect arsenic if you suspect it, but you know, not every pathologist is a forensic, board-certified pathologist.
I think that the appropriate pathologist would have immediately suspected heavy metal poisoning and would have looked at it. You know, arsenic has been used for a long time, and it's developed the name inheritance powder, because arsenic, you can't -- it's colorless, it's odorless, it's tasteless, and it is one of the favorite poisons of choice over the years.
KING: Where do you obtain it?
KOBILINSKY: Well, you can get it in herbicides, weed killers. You can get it in rodenticides or insecticides. It used to be used in medications long ago. But as soon as we started to use sulfa drugs and antibiotics came around, they stopped using it.
And by the way, it's common. It's present in soil. It's present in water. And, you know, there are safe levels that you can consume. Don't drink the water in Bangladesh.
KING: Robert, did they ever link your client to getting arsenic?
UDELL: Oh, absolutely not. The NCIS agent conceded -- he was the last witness -- that after five years, thousands of hours, spoken to hundreds of people, there was not one iota of evidence, there was not one witness, there was not one document, not even a hearsay statement connecting Cindy to obtaining arsenic or even attempting to obtain arsenic. She was convicted based upon her post-death sexual conduct.
KING: When is sentencing, Robert?
UDELL: March 23rd.
KING: Are you appealing?
UDELL: Well, there are a couple of things that need to be done before then. One is we are going to ask the judge to reconsider his ruling that there was legally sufficient evidence to even take the case to the jury. Two, we are going to go back to the experts and figure out what went wrong here, because we know Cindy did not poison Todd. And yes, if she is -- the judge does not revisit the issue and allows the conviction to go forward, we will appeal it.
KING: We will be right back with more on this incredible story. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury in the above-entitled cause find the defendant, Cynthia A. Sommer, guilty of the crime of murder.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Robert Udell, how are the children doing? Where are they, and where is the money?
UDELL: Well, the money is gone. Defending Cindy was not an inexpensive proposition. But the children are -- Genna (ph) was here at trial. And I guess she is going to go back to Michigan. And the other three children are with Cindy's brother in another town in Michigan. But the reality of it is that this family is fractured forever.
KING: Could this have been a military trial?
UDELL: No. Just because Todd was in the military at the time of his death does not give them jurisdiction. Had Cindy been in the military, yes, they would have had jurisdiction. But, no. No, at no time could the military system have been involved.
KING: Beth Karas, you watched it all the time so I guess it's direct to ask you. Do you agree with the verdict?
KARAS: Well, I have to say, I was surprised. But I understand any verdict, quite frankly, Larry. I have been doing this too long. I have been a lawyer for decades and I don't predict anymore. I would have understood a not guilty verdict, though.
KING: You would have?
KING: Because this is really...
KARAS: Because there were problems.
KING: This is a really circumstantial case, right?
KARAS: It is very circumstantial. And you know, she had his body cremated, but it was Navy policy to keep some organs and tissues in situations where it's a strange death. A 23-year-old, healthy, active-duty Marine who had his five-year physical exam just a month before and was found to be in ship-shape. So before closing the case at the end of 2002, 11 months after he died, there was someone on the Navy death review board who said, let's just test those tissues for heavy metal. So it was luck for the Sommer family -- I'm not talking about Cynthia, but for Todd's family, who felt that perhaps there were unanswered questions -- that they went forward.
KING: Dr. Kobilinsky, you have got to admit, this is an unusual case.
KOBILINSKY: It is unusual. It's highly circumstantial. But I'm convinced that he ingested the arsenic. How he did that, whether it was from food at a restaurant or whether he was deliberately poisoned or it was unintentional poisoning, I cannot say. But he died of arsenic poisoning.
KING: By the way, is it a painful death?
KOBILINSKY: It sure is. It is very painful. Abdominal cramps, convulsions, shock and cardio myopathy, circulatory problems. It's not a good way to die.
KING: And it can mask the person finding the body into thinking it was something else?
KING: Thank you all very much. Robert Udell, the defense attorney for Cynthia Sommer. We will follow this up. She'll be sentenced March 23rd. Dr. Larry Kobilinsky, forensic examiner, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Beth Karas, correspondent of Court TV News who covered this trial from the get-go. We thank them all.
Tomorrow night, we're going to have a major panel discussion, a bit of a debate on global warming. You know, it's in the news. It's always in the news, but in the news really today with apparently the government putting some clamps on what could be said or not said by scientists dealing with this issue. Global warming is the topic tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE.
Right now we head to New York. Anderson Cooper and "AC 360" -- Anderson.
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