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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Deadly Home Invasion; Farm Subsidies; Cheney's Tough Talk; Escaping Polygamy
Aired July 31, 2007 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Also tonight, the two suspects in that horrific home invasion triple murder, they were both out on parole. How did that happen? Hundreds of thousands of other convicted felons are on parole tonight. Is the system broken? We'll investigate.
And, later, we will take you inside a polygamist sect. You'll meet a woman who escaped her cult-like upbringing in Warren Jeffs' church. And what a tale she has to tell.
We begin with the home invasion suspects and a single fact that has thoughtful people asking tough questions and nearly everyone seeing red.
The two men charged with what, for all intents and purposes was an atrocity, were both on parole.
Take a look at these faces and think for a moment about what they are accused of doing. Police say they broke into the Petit family home in Cheshire, Connecticut, torturing the parents, sexually assaulting Mrs. Petit and her 11-year-old daughter, Michaela, strangling Mrs. Petit and torching the house. Only Dr. Petit survived. Again, those two suspects were on parole.
You can argue for and against letting certain people out of prison early if they can demonstrate they're not a danger to society. But like anything else, it comes down to people using their good judgment and government agencies having a little common sense.
The question tonight is, do they?
360's Randi Kaye is "Keeping them Honest."
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In 2002, when Joshua Komisarjevsky was convicted of burglary, he was sentenced to nine years in prison. He had been arrested 20 times.
Judge James Bentivegna called him a cold, calculating predator.
"Keeping them Honest," we wanted to know why, four years shy of completing his nine-year sentence, was this guy on the street, the so- called predator, paroled.
MICHAEL LAWLOR (D), CONNECTICUT STATE REPRESENTATIVE: In my 25 years, there's never been a case worse than this one.
KAYE: Connecticut Lawmaker Mike Lawlor sees a complete system breakdown. Komisarjevsky hasn't entered a plea, but is now facing capital murder charges for allegedly killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters.
Police say Komisarjevsky and fellow suspect Steven Hayes tied the family up and strangled Mrs. Petit. They say Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted 11-year-old Michaela, then both men set the house on fire, leaving the girls to die. Mr. Petit escaped.
It turns out Steven Hayes has 27 arrests on his rap sheet and had also been paroled just two months before the murders.
(on camera): The Connecticut governor's office says the committee deciding whether or not to parole Komisarjevsky didn't have all the facts. Missing, even though state law requires they be part of the file, were pre-sentencing reports, which would have included Komisarjevsky's criminal background and psychological evaluations.
We're told parole board members didn't have the sentencing transcripts either, which would have included the judge's cold, calculating predator comment.
(voice-over): If only parole officials knew what police and prosecutors knew, that Komisarjevsky had been burglarizing homes since age 14, stalking victims using night-vision goggles.
LAWLOR: If they had seen that stuff, they would have seen a few warning signals. It was discussed in court about his mental illness, his history of sexual abuse. And I think the uniqueness of it would have set him apart, and I think they would have paid a different level of attention to this case when it came before the parole board.
KAYE: Lawlor suggests it was laziness, maybe even turf battles, that left Komisarjevsky's parole file incomplete.
LAWLOR: When the parole board has asked for copies of police reports and asked for copies of sentencing transcripts, prosecutors and court clerks have refused to give it to them, complaining about the cost of postage or what -- the effort involved in making photocopies. And that's totally unacceptable.
KAYE: To prevent another mess, Connecticut officials are taking action. The chief state's attorney is mandating all police reports be provided to the parole board at sentencing.
The board will be able to access pre-sentence reports electronically. Plus, the governor says, state's attorneys will provide parole officials with all sentencing transcripts.
If only this system was in place back in April, when Joshua Komisarjevsky walked free.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
COOPER: Would the results have been different? We don't know.
Joining us now in New York is Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor and CNN senior legal analyst.
Jeffrey, these two suspects -- these guys have been arrested at least 20 times each. Is that common for criminals with that kind of record to get out early?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, actually, it's not all that uncommon.
I mean, Connecticut dealt with a problem that's true around the country. And, in the '80s, they got rid of parole altogether. They didn't want problems like this. So, they said, look, no more parole. And you know what happened? They ran out of space in their prisons. They simply didn't have enough room. So, they had to start leaving people -- letting people out.
And they did it in a kind of just cutting people's sentences almost randomly. So, in response to that problem, they brought parole back, because they said, look, let's make a rational decision about who gets out and who stays in. And that's how the parole boards got -- got up and running. And they tried -- and they were supposed to make these judgments.
But, obviously, here, they made a horrendous misjudgment about both of them.
COOPER: Well, also, I mean, you're saying they're supposed to make rational judgments. As we just heard in Randi Kaye's report, unless you have all the facts, it's hard to make those rational judgments.
And it seems like there is a history in the state of Connecticut, and probably elsewhere, of parole boards making decisions without having all the information, without having police reports that have been sent to them because people didn't want to Xerox them.
TOOBIN: You know, that is so believable, as someone who comes out of the law enforcement world.
I mean, think about it. You have one central parole authority, but all these little jurisdictions in Connecticut, which is, after all, not even that big a state, having to produce their records years after the fact, because after all, parole only takes place, you know, years after someone's been in prison.
You know, it's very hard to reconstruct those records, if you're not highly motivated to do so. And I'm sure it's slipped between the cracks. And here, with Komisarjevsky, they had barely anything to go on.
You know, the one thing you have to say somewhat in defense of the parole board is that, you know, he served four-and-a-half of a nine-year sentence. He was going to get out anyway in four-and-a-half years.
And this guy, I mean, if these accusations are true, was so deranged, that you know, the problem here was not four years versus nine years. It's that he was going to get out at all.
COOPER: What -- is there any clear -- I mean, are there any clear changes that need to be made to the system to prevent something like this from happening again?
TOOBIN: Well, certainly, there has to be complete information. You have to have all the information available to the parole board. And that's something that has to happen.
But you know what? People are fallible. And prior records are not infallible predictors of what was going to happen. I mean, I have looked at these guys' records. They were terrible records about house breaking, you know, breaking into houses, breaking and entering.
But, you know, I couldn't see this monstrous, monstrous crime in the making. And I imagine the parole board didn't either -- didn't either.
COOPER: And we're still trying to learn more about the crime itself, how it actually -- what was the genesis of it, who thought of it, how they worked together, if in fact these two are guilty of the crime.
There is one state Senator in Connecticut who has called for a suspension of parole decisions until a full review has been done. Do you think that -- that is likely to happen?
TOOBIN: Well, I think that is probably likely to happen.
But, remember, when you -- when you stop parole, you start to crowd your prisons, and something has to give. You have to let some people out. Parole is, unfortunately, the best way we have of deciding who gets out.
COOPER: All right.
Jeff Toobin, appreciate it tonight. Thanks, Jeff.
The number of men and women released early from prison is pretty astounding. Here's the "Raw Data" on it.
In 2005, there were 1.5 million inmates in state and federal prisons. Nearly 800,000 others were on parole. And half of all parolees were convicted of a felony.
Some are even former members of Congress. Today, the House approved legislation that supporters claim would drain the Washington swamp, so to speak, at least when it comes to lobbying and hidden spending.
It would stop lawmakers from going on lobbyist-sponsored junkets to tropical resorts, which 360 reported on last year. It would also bar members of Congress from forcing lobbying groups to hire political supporters in exchange for access, which CNN reported on two years ago.
First and foremost, though, the measure mandates that all earmarks, or secret spending, be disclosed at least 48 hours before the Senate votes. This is something that 360 has been reporting on all year.
Speaking of pork, consider this -- Uncle Sam taking billions of dollars out of your pocket and giving them to millionaires, even billionaires. We're talking about crop subsidies.
Last week, the House passed a new farm bill, which President Bush threatened to veto.
It has something for just about everyone -- more money for the food stamp program, $100 million for minority farmers, $1.6 billion for fruit and nut growers. But the lion's share, tens of billions of dollars, still goes to big corn and grain farmers, big, rich farmers.
CNN's Dan Simon is tonight "Keeping them Honest."
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Al Montna, rice farming is good business right now.
AL MONTNA, FARMER: There's great rewards in growing crops, especially crops like rice.
SIMON: So you would think the third-generation family farmer wouldn't get government handouts, right? Wrong. Over three years, from 2003 to 2005, he and his children received more than $900,000 in federal subsidies. Montna says that kind of money provides a vital safety net for farmers.
MONTNA: Agriculture is an investment in our national security and the well-being of this country.
SIMON: That argument has been used for decades to justify the billions spent every year on subsidies for crops like rice, corn and wheat.
But, to critics:
DAN SUMNER, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-DAVIS: I think it's hard to see a legitimate reason why we're still subsidizing these industries.
SIMON: Professor Dan Sumner says the government's policy, a product of the Great Depression, deserves an F.
SUMNER: As taxpayers, we're spending a bunch of money to hand to individuals who are relatively wealthy people.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some very wealthy. "Keeping them Honest," we looked to see who else has been getting your tax dollars.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pippen. Whoa!
SIMON: Basketball star Scottie Pippen got $289,000 for his farm in Arkansas, David Letterman $8,000 for farming on his Montana ranch.
The list from an environmental watchdog reads like a who's who -- billionaire David Rockefeller, Ted Turner, the founder of this network. Even members of Congress got in on the game.
There are also wealthy people you have never heard of, like 88- year-old widow Constance Bowles, whose family has a cotton farm in California.
(on camera): Ms. Bowles lives here in one of San Francisco's most prestigious neighborhoods, called Presidio Heights. Anyone who lives here hardly needs government subsidies to get by. Yet, from 2003 to 2005, her family farm business received more than $1.2 million in government subsidies.
(voice-over): Ms. Bowles told CNN, we could do without it.
How could this happen? It's simple. Farmers apply for subsidies based on their acreage. The largest farms get the most of your tax dollars.
JIM LYONS, OXFAM: Ten percent of producers get 75 percent of the benefits from subsidies. So, there's no doubt that wealthy farmers continue to profit at a considerably higher rate than other farmers.
SIMON: It's not just rich people getting payments. Turns out, dead people are, too. The Government Accountability Office says, between 1999 and 2005, more than a billion dollars went to the deceased. Some payments went on for a decade.
David Harrison III died five years ago. His estate got $140,000 of your tax dollars, even as it gave tens of millions to the University of Virginia. The UVA football field is named for Harrison.
KEN COOK, PRESIDENT, ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP: We really ought to make sure that when someone is getting farm subsidy checks, they deserve it.
SIMON: Rice grower Al Montna thinks most of the money goes to honest and hardworking farmers. He also points out, the government outlay is just a drop in the bucket compared to other programs.
MONTNA: When you look at defense, and you look at all the other issues, I mean, it doesn't even make a line.
SIMON: And as long as the government continues to write the checks, he will gladly accept.
Dan Simon, CNN, Yuba City California.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Remarkable.
Straight head tonight, he's been called the most powerful man in Washington, and he rarely gives interviews. Vice President Cheney spoke to Larry King tonight. We will bring you best of it, then see how his words square with the facts.
It doesn't happen often, but it is happening tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (voice-over): He makes Tony Soprano's mom look like a wimp.
And Howard Hughes seems like a blabbermouth.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not going comment.
I have not made any comments.
I'm not able to answer that.
COOPER: Now, only on CNN, Vice President Cheney is talking about Iraq and mistakes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": OK. Let's go back. On this program, May of 2005, you said the Iraq insurgency was in the last throes.
KING: Why were you wrong?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Also, it nearly drove her to suicide.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to drown in self-pity and alcohol and not have to think anymore, not have to figure out what's right.
COOPER: Tonight, she talks about life in the cult, her escape, and how she's making peace with her past, only on 360.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")
KING: Wouldn't you like to be liked?
CHENEY: Well, up to a point. But, if you wanted to be liked, I should never have gotten involved in politics in the first place. Remember, success for a politician is 50 percent plus one. You don't have to have everybody on board.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Real talk from Dick Cheney.
The vice president sat down for an exclusive interview with Larry King earlier. Cheney basically said he didn't care what Americans think of him. He also said Alberto Gonzales is a good man and he's standing by the U.S. attorney general. He called questions about the firings of federal prosecutors a congressional witch-hunt.
But it's his blunt opinion of the war in Iraq has gotten a lot of people's attention.
Here's Vice President Cheney in his own words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE: OK. Let's go back. On this program, May of 2005, you said the Iraq insurgency was in the last throes.
KING: Why were you wrong?
CHENEY: I think my estimate at the time -- and it was wrong; it turned out to be incorrect -- was the fact that we were in the midst of holding three elections in Iraq, elected an interim government, then ratifying a constitution, then electing a permanent government, that they had had significant success. We had rounded up Saddam Hussein.
I thought there were a series of these milestones that would in fact undermine the insurgency and make it less than it was at that point. That clearly didn't happen. I think the insurgency turned out to be more robust.
And the other thing that happened, of course -- this was prior to the actions of al Qaeda in Iraq -- Abu Musab al Zarqawi with his bombing of the mosque up at Samarra in early '06, that, in effect, helped to precipitate some of the sectarian conflict that led to a lot of the Shia and Sunni battles.
KING: In that same interview, you said that the Iraqis were well on their way to being able to defend themselves. Why not? Why aren't they? Why aren't we gone?
CHENEY: They're not there yet because the job is not done yet, Larry.
When you think about what's been accomplished -- in what, about four years now since we originally launched in there -- they have in fact held three national elections and written a constitution. There are a significant number of Iraqis now serving in the armed forces, serving as part of the security forces. We have made progress on that front.
We have also, obviously with the surge the President decided on last January, I think, made significant progress now into the course of the summer.
The real test is whether or not the strategy that was put in place for this year will in fact produce the desired results.
KING: Will those results be in place on that day in '09 when you leave?
CHENEY: I believe so. I think we're seeing already from others. Don't take it from me. Look at the piece that appeared yesterday in "The New York Times," not exactly a friendly publication -- but a piece by Mr. O'Hanlon and Mr. Pollack on the situation in Iraq.
They're just back from visiting over there. They both have been strong critics of the war. Both worked in the prior administration, but now saying that they think there's a possibility, indeed, that we could be successful.
So, we will know a lot more in September, when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker come back and report sort of to the Congress and the president on the situation in Iraq and whether or not we're making progress.
Obviously, we want to get it done as quickly as possible.
KING: You don't know what to expect, though, do you? Or do you?
CHENEY: Well, I think it's going to show that we will have made significant progress. The reports I'm hearing from people whose views I respect indicate that indeed the Petraeus plan is in fact producing results.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Mr. Cheney's intelligence sources.
On the other hand, we have got Michael Ware, who has been there in Baghdad and all across Iraq almost nonstop since before the fighting began.
Right now, he's embedded with American forces in Diyala Province, coming to us through a nightscope camera. Because of the danger there, they're not allowed to turn on any camera lights.
Michael, you just heard the vice president saying that he expects General Petraeus to report significant progress when he gives his assessment come September.
What do you think of the vice president's evaluation?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, there is progress. And that's indisputable. Sectarian violence is down in certain pockets. There are areas of great instability in this country that are at last finding some stability.
The point, though, is, at what price? What we're seeing is -- is, to a degree, some sleight of hand. What America needs to come clean about is that it's achieving these successes by cutting deals primarily with its enemies.
We have all heard the administration praise the work of the tribal sheiks in turning against al Qaeda. Well, this is just a euphemism for the Sunni insurgency. That's who has turned against al Qaeda.
And why? Because they offered America terms in 2003 to do this. And it's taken America four years of war to come round to the Sunnis' terms. And principally, that means cutting the Iraqi government out of the loop. By achieving these successes, America is building Sunni militias.
Yes, they're targeting al Qaeda, but these are also anti- government forces opposed to the very government that America created.
And another thing to remember, Anderson, yes, sectarian violence is down, but let's have a look at that. More than two million people have fled this country. Fifty thousand are still fleeing every month, according to the United Nations. So, there's less people to be killed.
And those who stay increasingly are in ethnically cleansed neighborhoods. They have been segregated.
COOPER: Well, the vice president also referred to this "New York Times" op-ed written by -- by Ken Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon, who returned from Iraq. They were applauding the military progress and the Iraqi security forces' ability to hold areas and keep insurgents out.
How much have the Iraqi troops themselves actually improved?
WARE: Well, there has been improvement in the Iraqi troops. They are standing up, to a greater degree, in certain pockets.
But honestly, Anderson, it is a myth to believe that the Iraqi forces have been rid of their sectarian or militia ties.
No matter how much any commander wants to tell you, the minute the American forces turn their backs, these guys revert to form, be that Sunni or Shia lines, Kurdish ethnic lines, or be it militia lines.
So, there is still no sense of unity. And without America to act as the big baby-sitter, this thing is not going to last. So, all these successes that O'Hanlon and Pollack point to exist. They're real. But the report is very one-dimensional. It doesn't look at what's being done to achieve this and what long-term sustainability there is. I mean, these guys, unfortunately, were only in the country for eight days. And they point to a success story of a neighborhood in Baghdad called Ghazaliya. They say it's peaceful. We could walk around in a Sunni area.
Yes, that's because it's divided. And the Iraqi army troops won't let the Shia in. And the Shia army troops, just last week, there was an incident where the Iraqi commander of those troops went to remove all the furniture from a Sunni's house. And when a fellow Shia protested, he arrested that Shia.
That's the success we're talking about. The question is, is America prepared to pay this price? Yes, it will give you the numbers on pieces of paper that will allow your Congress to let you leave, but are you willing to endure what will follow?
COOPER: Michael Ware, embedded with U.S. forces.
Michael, stay safe.
WARE: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Now here's John Roberts with what's coming up tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING" morning -- John.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Anderson, tomorrow, we will bring you the most news in the morning, including an A- student's fight for his American dream. He has lived in this country since he was a baby. His grades got him into college, but now his friends are working to keep him from being deported. Their strategy and whether it has a chance to work, tomorrow.
Wake up to the most news in the morning right here on CNN -- Anderson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Hey, John, thanks.
Up next in "Raw Politics" tonight, Rudy Giuliani, Tony Soprano, and some real drama with actor-turned-possible-presidential-candidate Fred Thompson.
Here in California, a bridge collapses, leaving a truck driver trapped. Find out how it ended.
And we knew we were in L.A. when we saw this -- not your typical bird food.
And we want to hear from you. Send us a v-mail, a video mail. It's easy. Just go to CNN.com/360.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Here in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is promising health care reform and pushing for universal coverage. It's a far cry from other Republicans, including presidential contender Rudy Giuliani.
And that is where "Raw Politics" starts.
Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anderson, Rudy Giuliani is throwing punches like Tony Soprano at a free pasta bar, and things are getting crowded in the "Raw Politics" E.R.
(voice-over): Losers, that's what Mayor 9/11 is calling his Democratic foes as he lays into them over their health care plans. He says they will raise your taxes 20 to 30 percent and leave you with socialized medicine.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Only Michael Moore, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, I guess, would want to go to Cuba for health care.
FOREMAN: Dr. Rudy's Republican cure -- more free-market competition to drive down costs for patients.
Apply directly to the "poor Fred." Fred "I'm not a candidate" Thompson's fundraising appears to be running weak. His staff is grumbling. The "Raw Politics" prognosis -- if he doesn't get into the race by September, he could face a long, slow recovery.
And an electoral face-lift for California, maybe the most important political news of the day. The AP reports that Republicans are pushing a ballot proposal to end the winner-take-all tradition in the presidential race there. Normally, the candidate with the most popular votes gets all 55 electoral votes, and that is usually the Democrats.
Under the proposed plan, however, the winner would get just two electoral votes. The rest would be divided based on who wins each congressional district. That would mean a lot of votes for Republicans.
FOREMAN: The "Raw Politics" -- if approved, this could neutralize California as a big Democratic power and give a big boost to the Republicans' hopes of keeping the White House.
That's strong political medicine. We will just see how it goes down -- Anderson.
COOPER: Strong medicine and "Raw Politics," indeed.
Don't miss "Raw Politics" and the day's headlines with the new 360 daily podcast. You don't need an iPod. You can watch it on your computer at CNN.com/AC360podcast. Or get it from the iTunes store, where it's a top download.
Erica Hill joins us right now with a quick check of the headlines and a 360 bulletin -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts released from the hospital in Maine where he was treated after suffering a seizure yesterday at his vacation home. Doctors don't know what caused the seizure and said test results showed no reason for concern.
Roberts, though, did suffer a similar episode in 1993. The Supreme Court reconvenes in October.
In California, a FedEx driver suffering major injuries when a highway fridge bridge project collapsed. It happened north of Sacramento. That crushed his truck, trapped the driver inside. It took rescue workers more than two hours to free the man.
A construction worker was also hurt after riding a beam down about a 50-foot fall.
And further south, Hollywood awash in pigeons. The birds have apparently taken a shine to Tinseltown. But the problems, where there are a lot of pigeons, well, lots of pigeon poop.
The city, though, always awash in creativity, has found a solution, bird feed spiked with birth control, which is being placed on several rooftops feeders.
Anderson, don't know if you've noticed the influx of pigeons in L.A.
COOPER: You know, it's odd. I'm on a rooftop, and I don't see any pigeons. Maybe -- maybe it's had an effect already. Is it possible?
HILL: Maybe. You never know. It could have. People tend to work fast in Hollywood.
And tonight's "What Were They Thinking," I have to warn you, it's a pretty serious one, but really kind of unbelievable. Happening here in Georgia, the owner of a car dealership facing two counts of murder. He's accused of killing two employees because they asked him for raises.
HILL: Yes. The suspect, apparently, was having financial problems, according to police. Confessed to shooting both the victims. He turned himself in two days later.
Apparently, he said he'd been having financial problems and told the police when they kept asking for raises, that he just snapped.
COOPER: Erica, thanks.
Straight ahead tonight, inside polygamy in a church where not towing the line could earn a beating or worse. One woman's story and how she escaped.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (voice-over): It nearly drove her to suicide.
KATHY JO NICHOLSON, FORMER FLDS FOLLOWER: I wanted to drown in self-pity and alcohol and not have to think anymore, not have to figure out what's right.
COOPER: Tonight, she talks about life in the cult, her escape and how she's making peace with her past, only on 360.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, he is certainly no stranger to us. That is, Warren Jeffs, the fugitive turned jailed polygamist leader. Jeffs remains behind bars in Utah, where he is standing trial on sex crime charges.
To the true believers, and there are thousands, Jeffs is a prophet of God. Few outsiders are allowed into their world. But tonight, we're going inside.
It is an extraordinary look at the reality of Jeffs' kingdom on earth, and it's being told by a woman whose blind faith was finally shattered.
CNN's Gary Tuchman reports.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kathy Jo Nicholson has spent much of her life trying to avoid ending up in hell, but now she feels she's been there and back.
KATHY JO NICHOLSON, FORMER FLDS FOLLOWER: I wanted to drown in self-pity and alcohol and drug abuse and just not have to think.
TUCHMAN: Kathy Jo spent her childhood in what many regard as a religious cult, and she believes that set her up for personal disaster.
NICHOLSON: I cared about nothing. I cared about no one. I cared not about myself. TUCHMAN: She belonged to the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints church, a sect of about 12,000 followers that advocates polygamy. The sect split off from the mainstream Mormon Church more than a century ago.
Kathy Jo grew up with a father, three mothers, 12 brothers and sisters.
NICHOLSON: The primary belief is that a man must have at least three wives to go to heaven and to own his own planet.
TUCHMAN: That's right, his own planet. But more disturbing, perhaps, is how early Kathy Jo could have become a wife.
NICHOLSON: It was becoming real in my mind that it could happen at any time when I turned 12.
TUCHMAN: Marriages of underage girls to older men have been common in the FLDS Church. Its so-called prophet, Warren Jeffs, is now in a Utah jail awaiting trial after accusations that he performed many of them.
(on camera): This is your school yearbook...
TUCHMAN: ... at the school where Warren Jeffs was the principal.
(voice-over): But before he was the prophet, Jeffs was in charge of the church school that Kathy Jo and her siblings attended.
(on camera): What have you whiten by Warren Jeffs' face?
NICHOLSON: Well, I've written "cool teacher!" with an exclamation point.
TUCHMAN: Warren Jeffs' father, Rulon, was the prophet back then. But when Rulon died, Warren took over. His followers sometimes take it out on outsiders who question their leader.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a great prophet and you're damned fools for bothering him. Because you're ass is going to get hung one of these days; when you look up from hell and look at him in the face.
TUCHMAN: Total devotion to the prophet and his teachings. That's what Kathy Jo was taught in school.
She sewed her wedding dress at 14, so sure that her wedding to a complete stranger was imminent.
(on camera): Did you think there was anything improper with girls, not women, getting married?
NICHOLSON: Minors? No, I -- I didn't think there was anything improper about that. I thought it was just speeding up the process.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): That's why she wasn't surprised when her best friend Katie left school.
NICHOLSON: She got married at 15 to a man 10 years her senior and immediately started having children.
TUCHMAN (on camera): If you were told that you were getting married, and married specifically to Warren Jeffs, the prophet, would you have been honored?
NICHOLSON: Oh, yes. Absolutely. One hundred percent.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Despite the indoctrination, Kathy Jo started to feel things weren't right with the FLDS or Warren Jeffs.
NICHOLSON: He would take the bad boys and literally beat them with a belt. He'd take them into the hall and he'd yell at them and, quote verses from the book of Mormon.
TUCHMAN: She still hasn't forgotten one boy who incurred the future prophet's wrath.
NICHOLSON: Warren went and got him, brought him to the high school, picked him up by his ankles and shook him upside down for several seconds in front of our -- our class.
And he told us, I'm shaking the evil out of him. I hope this will work.
TUCHMAN (on camera): Did he humiliate you in front of people?
NICHOLSON: Absolutely. As I got more and more rebellious, he would come up behind me while I was in a group and seize me by the back of the neck and lean down and whisper in my ear, are you keeping sweet or do you need to be punished?
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Keeping sweet, a euphemism for total obedience. And when you didn't keep sweet...
NICHOLSON: There were times when he would have different students -- I was one of them -- stand up on a chair in front of the entire class and flex their gluteus maximus for everybody to see, just to humiliate. I don't know why.
TUCHMAN (on camera): He asked them to show their butts to people?
NICHOLSON: Not lifting anything up but just flex, flex it.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Kathy Jo and her best friend got in trouble for talking with boys. And Jeffs wrote a letter to Kathy Jo's father about the two girls.
NICHOLSON: Often they would try to be alone by themselves to giggle and talk, avoiding participation in group activities. When around boys and even younger boys, they would outwardly show their cuteness. TUCHMAN: Kathy Jo's so-called cuteness and the attention she got from boys did not go over well with Jeffs, who got her kicked out of high school. And eventually, she left the church, too.
NICHOLSON: I felt very guilty and very much what have I done? I am going to hell. But you know what? It's worth it.
TUCHMAN: But the worst part of her life was still to come.
COOPER: Coming up next, what finally pushed Kathy Jo over the edge and why, when she escaped from polygamy, her nightmare was far from over. The conclusion of Gary Tuchman's investigation.
COOPER: Coming to you tonight live from Los Angeles.
Tonight, a former follower of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is giving us a rare and chilling journey through his fundamentalist church.
Imagine being told that a man must marry at least three wives to go heaven. That's what she was led to believe. She left the sect. Incredibly, that is when her life started to spin out of control.
Once again, here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.
FOREMAN (voice-over): When she was 18, Kathy Jo Nicholson fell in love with another member of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints Church, and they married. They made a momentous decision, leaving their families and the church to start a new life in California.
For Kathy, it was good-bye to a father, three mothers and 12 siblings.
NICHOLSON: That's when I cried the very most, because I was leaving my family, everything that I had ever known, my friends and God behind. And I knew I was leaving that behind, and I was choosing it.
TUCHMAN: For the first time in her life she was free to do as she pleased, but she hid her past.
NICHOLSON: I was so ashamed and so afraid that if somebody found out, they'd think I was a nut, a crazy person.
TUCHMAN: After spending her whole life in a secretive sect, Kathy Jo was emotionally unprepared for life on her own.
NICHOLSON: I did a lot of bad things to my -- to my body, and I remember my mom telling me your body's a temple, take care of it. And I think a lot of that was just to spite that. It's my body; I can do what I want with it.
TUCHMAN: She started abusing drugs and alcohol. She was cut off from her family. Her young marriage was falling apart.
NICHOLSON: You come down off of a three-day binge, you don't feel very good. You feel like you're going to die.
TUCHMAN: Kathy Jo wasn't sure if life was worth living.
NICHOLSON: I wanted to drown in self-pity and alcohol and drug abuse and just not have to think, not have to -- not have to think anymore, not have to figure out what's right, am I going hell? I wanted to live in the moment, and I wanted to -- nothing mattered. For a long time.
TUCHMAN: Kathy Jo wondered if she made the wrong decision. Perhaps she should have stayed in Warren Jeffs' church. She no longer had her family, and she was now divorced.
(on camera): How lonely were you?
NICHOLSON: Very. You asked me if I ever thought about having children and how many I wanted. At that time in my life, I wanted someone to love me, and I chose to have a baby.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): She started a relationship with a man named Tim, and they had a baby.
NICHOLSON: When our son came, I started realizing I have a reason to live and to take care of myself so I can take care of my child.
TUCHMAN: After her son, Jacob, was born, Tim died of a staph infection. Sadness and emptiness returned. But then she met this man...
NICHOLSON: I noticed that he was very solid and very handsome and very single. And wasn't a polygamist.
TUCHMAN: Kathy Jo and Ryan now live in North Carolina and are about to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary.
(on camera): And this wasn't the type of marriage I guess you envisioned when you were a 12-year-old or 13-year-old?
NICHOLSON: No, I actually bought my wedding dress.
TUCHMAN: You didn't have to sew it?
NICHOLSON: I didn't have to sew it. And it was -- it was like heaven on earth. It really was.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Although her father has disowned her and she's not allowed to talk to most of her family, one of her brothers decided to leave the church and join Kathy Jo. And then her birth mother followed. NICHOLSON: She cried every day, trying to decide between her faith and her child. He was her baby. And so she just came out for a visit that never ended.
TUCHMAN: Thirty-six-year-old Kathy Jo believes the rest of her family remains in the polygamist border communities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hilldale, Utah. There, Warren Jeffs' followers are told...
(on camera): Can I ask you a quick question?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No cameras allowed here.
TUCHMAN: Any idea at all?
(voice-over): ... not to talk to outsiders or watch television or read newspapers or magazines. You won't find a magazine like "Glamour" in FLDS homes, but Kathy Jo hopes an article she wrote about her life in the magazine will make its way to some followers.
NICHOLSON: Maybe when someone's in the dentist's office or maybe browsing at the Wal-Mart, they may see the word "polygamy" on the front and think, "Hmm."
TUCHMAN: Kathy Jo has now been out of the church for almost 20 years, but after FBI top ten fugitive Warren Jeffs was apprehended and appeared in court for the first time, she had a flashback.
NICHOLSON: He looked up at the camera and gave the smirk, his little -- and that was the smirk that he would give before he damned you straight to hell or gave you the beating of your life.
I looked at this man that was so powerful in my life, not very long ago, and still at present is so powerful in so many people's lives. And he was just so thin and pale. And he didn't have his holy garments on, and he was wearing -- he looked like just a man. Just an evil, skinny man.
TUCHMAN: Kathy Jo Nicholson has been on her own for just over half her life now, but Warren Jeffs still haunts her.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, Charlotte, North Carolina.
COOPER: Just ahead, a young engineer with a vision and a plan to change the world. He found a way to give power to the powerless by bringing them light. He's not even 30 and he's a CNN hero. His story is next, on 360.
COOPER: You might think MIT would train some of the most brilliant minds in science and math is a world away from the remote coast of Nicaragua. And of course, in many ways, it is. But that is changing, all because of one young man who took the engineering skills he learned at MIT to one of the country's poorest regions. He literally gave the people who live there light and the power that comes with it.
Here's one of our CNN heroes.
MATHIAS CRAIG, CNN HERO: It's very difficult to explain to people how remote it is here on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. It's very remote. There are no roads, essentially anywhere. So all transportation is by boat.
Approximately 14 percent of Nicaragua's population lives on the Caribbean coast.
More than 70 percent of this region does not have electricity.
CRAIG: Monkey point has always been an abandoned community. They have a serious energy problem here.
In these isolated communities, only the wealthiest people have generators. Most people in the community will never have access to that power source.
My name is Mathias Craig and I work to bring sustainable energy services to isolated communities.
Going to be good were we raise it.
We're really based around the wind turbine. And then we have a power system with batteries where we store the energy produced by the windmill.
This converts battery power to alternating current. This is what is being transferred down to the school.
The school also doubles as a community center.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up, up!
CRAIG: Our interest is in delivering sustainable energy services, so we wanted to build our systems from scratch here and train local people here through the process of building, that people would learn how to service them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beautiful.
CRAIG: It has a tremendous impact. Any path they choose pretty much requires electricity and clean water. So by providing one of those basic services, you're opening up a whole new world of opportunities. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We is living in a historical moment right now, having electricity in Monkey Point is something great to have in the development in the education level.
Since 2003, Mathias' organization has brought sustainable energy to six communities in Nicaragua, benefiting approximately 1,500 people.
CRAIG: My most satisfaction that I can receive is really getting a chance to be in the community and see how the energy is being used and seeing the benefit that it provides.
COOPER: If you would like to learn more about blue energy, the group that Mathias created, you'll find more information at CNN.com/heroes. You can also nominate your own hero there.
Up next, we'll check the 360 blog for your thoughts on the Connecticut home invasion story. It's what's "On the Radar," when 360 continues.
COOPER: Let's check the 360 blog. A lot of you weighing in on the Connecticut home invasion story. A mother and her two daughters killed by two suspects. The lone survivor, the father, a doctor, was beaten in the ordeal.
Joseph in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, writes: There are a lot of twisted and perverted people out there, and this crime bothers many of us because we realize no matter what precautions we take, no matter what neighborhood we live in, and not matter what our economic situation is, this type of crime could happen to any of us.
Lilibeth in Edmonds, Washington, says: I used to live in one of America's biggest cities. I moved to a small town because I got tired of looking over my shoulder. Even now, I still do this, and as I've learned over the years, even the small town I live in is not totally free of crime. I guess we take all the necessary precautions to protect ourselves, but the bigger question is, what drives people to commit these crimes?
That is certainly a good question.
Jolene in St. Joseph, Michigan, writes: We may all be paranoid about locking our doors and windows now but it can't possibly be as bad as what the father must be going through. My prayers go out to him as he continues through his recovery.
We all here at 360 certainly feel the same way.
If you want to give your feedback on a story, logon to CNN.com/360blog. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks very much for watching the program tonight. Our international viewers can watch "CNN TODAY" next. Here in America, "LARRY KING" is coming up.
I'll see you tomorrow night.
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