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American Morning

Interview with Shawn Blake, Fred Abdalla

Aired August 22, 2002 - 07:54   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: An Ohio woman thrown in jail for a week, after her children got too sunburned. She happens to be free this morning, but police spotted Eve Hibbits' 2-year-old and her 10-month- old twins at the Jefferson County Fair and said it looked as though their faces had been painted red.
It turns out the family had spent an entire day at the fair in 95 degree heat. And yesterday, prosecutors dropped felony charges against Hibbits, but she still faces trial on a misdemeanor charge.

We begin with her attorney this morning, Shawn Blake.

Good morning, Mr. Blake -- glad to have you with us this morning.


ZAHN: First off, we're going to honor your request and not show the pictures of the three children who got sunburned. But first, take us back to that day, and how it was they got so much sun exposure to the point where they suffered second-degree burns.

BLAKE: Well, that's just not accurate. They did not suffer second-degree burns. And I'm going to stop short of even calling this a sunburn. You know, the hospital did check out these children. They concluded that there was certainly not a second-degree burn. They were released to their mother the following day when she was arrested.

So any comments as far as being -- having second-degree burns just simply is not the case.

ZAHN: So are you saying the sheriff and the folks in his department are lying about the severity of what these kids suffered?

BLAKE: Well, I'm just basing this off of what I know, and that's from the doctor, the treating physician, as well as the hospital reports from Trinity West Medical Center.

ZAHN: So tell us about what your client thinks about sitting in jail for a week because of all of this.

BLAKE: She was extremely distraught. Frankly, one of the most distraught clients I have come across. It's the first time she has ever been in trouble in any way, and so for her to be in there for eight days was pretty hard on her.

ZAHN: Does she understand, though, that what the officials were really concerned about was the future safety of her children? They thought if she had just taken the precaution of putting sunscreen on these kids, maybe they wouldn't have gotten burned at all.

BLAKE: Well, my client did apply sun block to the children. Again, that is not accurate that she did not apply sun block or sunscreen. She did, in fact, do that. I think as more evidence is gathered here, I think all of that is going to come to light.

ZAHN: Yes, I'm a little confused, because the facts are so conflicting here. What do you think is going on here? If you say she put sun block on the kids, and that she didn't endanger the lives of these kids, why these charges? Why did she spend a week in jail?

BLAKE: You know, there's a little bit of a concern there. But I'm just basing this off of not necessarily from a defense attorney perspective, but rather from independent evidence that I have gathered through a preliminary investigation that was conducted yesterday.

ZAHN: Who has she made mad along the way? If everything you're saying is true, there's got to be some reason why she has been targeted.

BLAKE: We're not sure, and everything that I am saying is true. It's going to come out that what I'm saying is, in fact, the case.

ZAHN: All right, Shawn, we're going to leave it there, because we want to get the other side of the story. Shawn Blake, appreciate your joining us to talk about Eve Hibbits' story.

BLAKE: Thanks.

ZAHN: Joining us now from Steubenville, Ohio, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla.

Good morning, sheriff -- thanks for being with us.


ZAHN: I don't know whether you were able to hear what Eve Hibbits' attorney had to say, but he essentially denies these kids were even burned. What do you way to that?

ABDALLA: As a defense attorney, he's doing his job. I'm going on the basis of what I stated and have stated over the past day or so. Our report was, first, that the child had first-degree burns. The hospital director was quoted in the paper saying the children had second-degree burns.

But the burns wasn't the major issue, which this is being played up to be. My concern was the fact, as we first reported, that the child had a collapsed lung. Now, we find out that the child was born with a collapsed lung. If that's the case, the mother is out in 95 degree temperature, high humidity, with a child with a collapsed lung. What mother would normally do that? I don't think many. We did what we felt we had to do, and that was take the children and have them treated at the hospital and try to provide safety for them.

ZAHN: So the sun block was never an issue here? Because the initial reports were that you were very upset that these kids didn't have sunscreen on them, and then Eve Hibbits' attorney just said they did have sun block on.

ABDALLA: Well, that's not what Eve Hibbits told me. She told me she didn't have sunscreen on them, and her husband asked me, "Where do you buy the sunscreen?" So you know, again, he's defending his client, and that's what he's supposed to be doing.

I'm going on based on what we were told a week ago. She didn't use sunscreen. But my major concern was not so much the sunburn, it was the fact that this child had a collapsed lung, and that's what we went with.

ZAHN: And then what...

ABDALLA: And again, we don't want this woman to go to jail for 15 years like it's been reported. I don't know where that came from. Eight days is enough. We wanted to give her a wake-up call. We wanted intervention from Children's Services, which is going on right now, and this woman has been familiar with Children's Services in the past on parenting issues.

ZAHN: So her attorney made it sound like you're just targeting her. Is it because of her previous history, then, that this arrest came about?

ABDALLA: Not really, no. Now, that we know that she has a previous history, we have something to go on, but the reason she was charged was because of the sunburn, but more because of the collapsed lung of that child. And I've said that from day one. We never wanted her to get 15 years in prison. That's just absurd.

ZAHN: All right, Sheriff Abdalla, we've got to leave it there. Thank you very much for providing your side of the story.

ABDALLA: You're quite welcome.

ZAHN: It's very important that we heard both sides here this morning. Have a good day -- thanks for joining us.