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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Mississippi Pardons Outrage; Tough February for Gingrich Campaign?
Aired January 30, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with yet another shocking development in a story that's already spread shock and outrage across the country. We're talking about Mississippi, and former Governor Haley Barbour's decision to pardon more than 200 criminals, and that includes four convicted killers.
These men you see right here, all of whom worked at the Governor's Mansion as part of a long standing program that's now suspended along with the pardons. But before a court put the pardons on hold, those four killers walked away. Now three have since checked in as required by the judge and are expected to show up at a hearing this Friday.
Last night, Mississippi authorities tracked down this man, Joseph Ozment, and served him with papers ordering him to be in court as well. They found him in Laramie, Wyoming, staying in a hotel under an assumed name. They say he tried to flee in his girlfriend's car when he saw them and that it took the help of local police to serve him the subpoena.
Now the pair is planning to get married, apparently the invitations had already gone out. There are hints that Ozment was thinking of living on the land, not settling down. He and his fiance recently the guests saying they'd be changing to a small private ceremony, quote, "to take place in an undisclosed date, time, and location.
Now in a moment Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood joins us. There's no -- love lost between him and former Governor Haley Barbour who's refused our repeated requests, by the way, to be on the program.
He calls Hood's allegations politically motivated and he blames the State Department of Corrections for some of the procedural shortcomings that led a judge to block the pardons. Friday, though, the former governor did speak to John King and during that interview made several claims that, "Keeping Him Honest," simply do not stand up to the facts.
First, about the murderers that he set free. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR: They live in the mansion. That's been the -- or on the mansion grounds. For decades, our governor's mansion has been served primarily by -- mansion by inmates from the state penal system. Almost all murderers, because the experts say people who've committed one crime of passion in their life after they've served 20 years, and these have served on average 20 years, are the least likely to ever commit another crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So there are two false statements there. First, that these -- these killers all committed so-called crimes of passion, not true. It's certainly not true, by the way, in the case of Joseph Ozment, who with a friend struck a -- stuck up a convenience store. Ozment immediately shot the clerk, a guy named Ricky Montgomery, three times and then twice again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY MCABEE, VICTIM'S SISTER: They said he was begging for help. They can't imagine how that feels.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He was begging Ozment.
MCABEE: And then for him to shoot him in the head, to know that he was all alone, that's the worst feeling to know that you can't help somebody that you love.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Not a crime of passion. That's murder while committing another serious felony, which is a capital offense. But Joseph Ozment pleaded guilty and testified against his partner so he got life, then he got a trip to the Governor's Mansion, then got a pardon.
But let's say he had commit one of those so-called crimes of passion, whatever that means, say he shot his wife, like this man, Anthony McCray. Of course McCray shot her in the back after first leaving to go get a gun. So even there it's hard to argue crime of passion, heat of the moment.
But just to say, for argument's sake, that it actually truly did fit the governor's description of a crime of passion, would that make Anthony McCray highly unlikely, as Governor Barbour claims, to ever commit another crime.
I recently asked forensic psychiatrist, Helen Morrison.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Dr. Morrison, this notion that people convicted of so- called crime of passion are unlikely to commit another crime, he says that's what the experts say. Is that true?
HELEN MORRISON, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: No. Absolutely not. Because passion, basically, is equivalent to rage. And if someone is rageful, they're going to commit a homicide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So point one, the killers who made it first to the Governor's Mansion and then out the door, did not all commit crimes of passion, some were as cold-blooded as they come. Point two, experts say the notion that a hot blooded killer will not kill again is simply absurd. But that's not all Governor Barbour said in his own defense. It doesn't stand up to a simple fact check. He said he consulted with families of the victims before pardoning the men who took their loved ones' lives, people like Tiffany Brewer who lost a sister and Tiffany's mom Betty Ellis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIFFANY ELLIE BREWER, VICTIM'S SISTER: He's in jail for 18 years. She was 20 years old when she died and had her child laying in her arms when he shot her in her head. And he's pardoned.
BETTY ELLIS, MOTHER OF MURDER VICTIM, TAMMY GATLIN: Is Governor Barbour going to pardon us for our aches and pains and heartache that we have to suffer? Is he going to pardon a child that had to grow up without a mother?
JOHN KING, ANCHOR, JOHN KING, USA: What do you say to those people who have come forward?
BARBOUR: The family actually came and met with my lawyers two years ago, because they understood that if any of these men, including that one, successfully served at the mansion they'd been serving almost 20 years, on average they've served 20 years, and that if they successfully completed, they would be pardoned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest," Brewer and Ellis, who join us in a moment, say that meeting never happened. In fact they say that despite repeated requests made to Governor Barbour or anyone else never met with or consulted them in any way about pardoning.
This man, David Gatlin, who shot and killed his estranged wife, Tammy Ellis Gatlin, and badly wounded her friend, Randy Walker, back in 1993.
Joining me now, Mississippi attorney general, Jim Hood.
So, Attorney General, the papers served on Joseph Ozment who've been missing now for days, compel him to show up for court hearing and also check in with the Mississippi Department of Corrections. How exactly will you be able to enforce that given that he's in another state and no longer in your custody?
JIM HOOD, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, that's what's such a difficult part of this process, you know, this is -- this is kind of like I've required to being on a manhunt with one arm tied behind my back. I can't use the criminal justice process of APBs and warrants. All we have is a civil document that we served him with. And that -- that is the most we can do because he is a -- we can't treat him as an escapee. He's a -- he has a document that says that he's a free man as of now. So if he doesn't show up in court, we will move to hold him in contempt. We have -- we have now served all five of those that were originally released and the court's order, the injunctive relief is requiring that five state remain in prison until the court is able to make a decision on this case.
COOPER: So, Ozment killed Ricky Montgomery over $60 while robbing a convenience store, shot him apparently three times in the eyes, he was begging for help, shot him again. So when Governor Barbour insists that the people he pardoned had committed what he calls crimes of passion and so were least likely to reoffend, what do you say to that?
HOOD: Yes, I've been a prosecutor my entire career for 20 years. And, you know, crimes of passion normally -- manslaughter is what that's considered, not cold-blooded murder. And many of these murders planned their murders. And, you know, that's not a crime of passion as far as what the definition is under Mississippi law.
COOPER: Is the pardon system stacked in favor of convicts from well-to-do families or those who have powerful political connections as the "New York Times" reported this weekend? Or in the case of these killers, from people who, however were able to do it, got a job in the Governor's Mansion and had, you know, contact with the governor?
HOOD: Well, as far as the trustees in the mansion, I'm not sure about that. But if you look at the rest of the list of those who were pardoned, it does come from influential families, those that contributed to the Republican Party and to Haley Barbour in particular. I've -- he ran the office of governor as if it were Mississippi in the 1950s. You know, and used the office and the trustees and its just a throwback to the 1950s, the way he handled his administration and the way that he's released all these prisoners.
COOPER: The prison population in Mississippi is about two-thirds African-American. According to Reuters, about two-thirds of the people pardoned by Governor Barbour were actually white. Do you believe is race a factor here?
HOOD: Well, They didn't have as much influence in African- American community so, you know, then -- and they didn't support Haley Barbour when he ran for governor both times. So, you know, it's just like some old political hack would call and you know ask and write a letter on behalf of somebody.
Some of them probably deserved pardon if they lived an exemplary life after they were released. But you know some of them have horrendous records while they've been in prison. And so there were many that were undeserving. And you know, there's not any logical explanation other than it was just a whim and that's -- by doing it on a whim, at the last moment, that's how he violated our constitution, which requires 30 days publication in the paper in the county in which the crime occurred. COOPER: I know you're not a fan of the governor, you're a Democrat. He's a Republican. But this idea that -- he keeps saying all our experts say that people who committed crimes of passion aren't likely to do it again. Do you know what experts he's talking about? Because we haven't been able to find any.
HOOD: You know, I think he's making this stuff (INAUDIBLE). Apparently, it's the first time I've seen him just get in desperate dire straits. He tried to blame the lawyer that worked at the Department of Corrections. His assistant attorney general. Today I released e-mails and texts where our lawyer, November 28th, advised the governor's people that they had to look at Section 124 of our Constitution and comply with the publication requirements.
Then our lawyer sends an e-mail to the commissioner of Department of Corrections. We've got a copy of that. We released all this to the media today. So it's documented that we, as far as back to November 28th, told them what the law was. And somehow he's trying to spin it so hard he's gotten in the area of falsehoods to try to blame other people.
Well, the fact is it doesn't matter. You know our constitution says that the convict has to publish for 30 days and that wasn't done in about 170 of his 203 pardons.
COOPER: Attorney General Hood, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
COOPER: In a moment, Tiffany Ellis Brewer and Betty Ellis, the sister and mother of one of the murder victims, Tammy Gatlin.
First I want to bring senior legal adviser -- senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
You know, I've talked about this. But this whole crime is a passion notion. I mean, again, what do you make of this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's rooted in the idea that a wife is a husband's property. In the old days you -- you know, you would never prosecute a husband for raping a wife, you would never prosecute a husband for assaulting a wife because those crimes were considered private family matters.
One of the ways the legal system has improved in recent years is that we take those crimes seriously again. And so the idea that, you know, a perpetrator of a domestic violence homicide is somehow better or less dangerous than someone who kills someone in a convenience store is just simply false.
COOPER: This guy Ozment who had been missing now for a long time has been found in Wyoming under an assumed name in a hotel and clearly not happy to have found.
TOOBIN: Yes. COOPER: Because he tried to allegedly escape in his girlfriend's car. He's been served with papers instructing him to appear in court. But this is a civil case. Right?
TOOBIN: Right. He probably could safely ignore that piece of paper. But the attorney general is going to court in Mississippi and he is trying to get an order that says these pardons are invalid because of this unusual provision in the Mississippi constitution that says you have to publish notice for 30 days, it seems like, as he said, 170 of these people of the 200, those pardons will probably be invalidated. Once they're invalidated, his pardon is no longer valid.
Then the attorney general can get an arrest warrant and if he can find him at that point, bring him back. But until the pardons are formally invalidated and the pardons are no longer in effect, I think Ozment and these others are probably safe in just ignoring the court.
COOPER: I want to bring in Tiffany Ellis Brewer and Betty Ellis, the sister and mother of Tammy Gatlin.
Thank you both for being with us. I'm so sorry for your loss and for all of this -- for this new horror that you are facing.
Governor Barbour claims his lawyers met with your family two years before David Glenn Gatlin's release. Is that true?
BREWER: No. That's absolutely false. We have had no contact with the governor or his lawyers, any of his people. No one has made and attempt to contact us.
COOPER: Betty, when you hear the governor refer to this as a -- as a crime of passion, what goes through your mind?
ELLIS: Rage. I mean, this is not a crime of passion, when somebody rents a car in Georgia, buys a gun, drives to Mississippi, stalks my daughter, and then shoots her. I don't believe that is a crime of passion. To me, that sounds like he thought about it a long time before he decided to do it, and that he had it well planned.
COOPER: Did you know that he was working in the governor's mansion?
ELLIS: We learned about it just by going on the Internet and looking at his status from time-to-time is how we found out he was a trustee at the Governor's Mansion. And at that time, the Walkers and I attempted to have that trustee status revoked, but they didn't want to talk to us then either.
COOPER: And -- I mean do you clearly believe that the governor broke the law when he pardoned these men?
ELLIS: Yes, I do.
COOPER: Tiffany, you do as well?
BREWER: Yes. Most definitely. He completely ignored the amendment, you know, the law in there, the 124. I mean it says it as plain as day. Any idiot could read it. I mean he just -- he ignored it, he chose to ignore it. So yes, he broke the law.
COOPER: When you think that this man now is out there and on the loose in Wyoming, wherever he may be tonight, what do you want people to know about him? How does that make you feel to know he's out there?
BREWER: David is actually in Alabaster, Alabama.
BREWER: So, you know, I want them to be aware, you know, he is a murderer. He -- you know, whoever Tammy would have been with that day, he would have killed or attempted to kill. He came to kill Tammy, and I believe, in my heart, once a person has murdered somebody, they have that power. You know, if somebody makes him mad enough, he'll do it again.
COOPER: And you're obviously hoping that David gets sent back to prison?
BREWER: Yes. Most definitely.
ELLIS: Yes. Most definitely.
COOPER: Jeff, how likely --
BREWER: I mean this man --
COOPER: Sorry. Go ahead.
BREWER: He got life plus 30 years. You know, I mean, and he served 18 of them? You know my sister lived 20 years. It's ridiculous, you know. It almost makes you -- I mean Haley Barbour obviously did not even open the case to look at the detective work and the things that were said. And I mean, he actually told somebody before he came to do this that he was coming to kill her. You know?
COOPER: Betty, why do you think the governor did this?
ELLIS: My real gut feeling is that it was a power thing with him. He did it because he could do it, and he wanted to.
COOPER: Well --
ELLIS: I don't know if it made him feel good that he was helping inmates get out of jail or what, but I think it was a power issue with him, just to show that he had that power and he was going to use it.
COOPER: Well, Miss Ellis --
ELLIS: He didn't think about the --
COOPER: Sorry. Go ahead.
ELLIS: The victims and everything that was going to be affected by this or anything.
COOPER: He didn't think about your daughter?
ELLIS: No. He didn't think about my daughter, that had been gone and none of us will ever be able to see her or hear her or talk to her ever again. He didn't think of any of that. You would have thought that being a father, that might have crossed his mind.
COOPER: Miss Ellis, we're going to continue to follow this, continue on this, and Miss Ellis Brewer, thank you so much. I know it's not an easy thing for you to talk about. We appreciate it. And thank you for talking about your daughter and your sister tonight.
BREWER: Thank you. Thank you.
COOPER: Jeff Toobin, thank you as well.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google Plus, add us to your circle. Follow me on Twitter @Andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting tonight.
Up next, with the Florida primary now just hours away, there's breaking news. A major possible shift in Newt Gingrich's campaign strategy. We'll tell you about that. Ari Fleischer and Cornell Belcher join us.
Also late word on just how brutally Syria's dictatorship is now cracking down. We're going to bring you the latest and the death toll in just one day is staggering.
Let's also check in with Isha -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, what happened on I-75 in Florida is almost beyond description. A wall of smoke, a massive wreck, deadly fires, in short, nothing short of a nightmare. We have late details tonight on what caused it when 360 continues.
COOPER: Breaking news tonight about Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign looking beyond Florida to the states that have contests in February.
Joining me now on the phone, CNN political reporter Peter Hamby who just got in some new details.
Peter, what have you learned tonight?
PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Hey, yes, Anderson. I was just with the Gingrich's campaign in Fort Myers. I talked to Gingrich spokesperson RC Hammond. They're acting kind of game out February which is he knows is tough month for them. There's a lot of Romney friendly states in February. He's got the money, the organization in many of those states.
Hammond basically told me that they're going to downplay significantly expectations in Nevada and in Michigan, two Romney strongholds. In Michigan, that's Romney's native state. His father was governor, obviously. He won that state in 2008 over John McCain by a substantial margin.
And in Nevada, Romney has also been organizing there for a long time as has Ron Paul. So again, tough states for Gingrich there. He tried to shift the emphasis to Arizona, which is a winner-take-all state, along with Michigan, it's the only winner-take-all state in February.
Again, Gingrich's spokesperson told me they think this is a state that has a strong Tea Party grassroots conservative presence that can really play well for them. But February is a tough month for them. They're ultimately looking at -- to March, so Michigan and Nevada are not ranking very high on the Gingrich priority list right now -- Anderson.
COOPER: But he's still standing by the notion he's going to stay in it until the conventions?
HAMBY: Yes. Absolutely. And their rationale here, they're looking toward March. March is when you start to have the states where delegates are awarded proportionately. So if you win 30 percent in some of these states, you'll get 30 percent of the delegates. The Gingrich campaign put out a memo late last night looking at it and basically pointing to March and saying that even if Romney wins Florida he will have barely gotten 5 percent of the total delegate that you need to win the nomination.
You need 1,144 delegates. They're saying this is kind of a long haul. This reminds me a lot of Hillary Clinton's campaigning against Barack Obama --
HAMBY: -- in 2008 where she suffered a lot of loss in February in places like Wisconsin, Virginia and Maryland. She really had to wait until March until where she was competitive in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania that were more friendly to her.
COOPER: Peter --
HAMBY: And Gingrich is looking at a lot of southern states for him in March where the delegates will be awarded proportionately so he can try to collect a bunch of votes.
COOPER: Peter Hamby --
HAMBY: Delegates, excuse me, at that point, Anderson.
COOPER: Peter, I appreciate it.
HAMBY: And try to make a run at it for June.
COOPER: Peter, thanks very much. Now the fight for Florida. Let's talk about that on the eve of the primary there with 50 winner-take-all delegates at stake, Romney and Gingrich are both campaigning heavily obviously. Romney is way ahead in the polling there. A new Quinnipiac survey shows Romney at 43 percent among likely Republican primary voters, Gingrich trailing behind, 29 percent.
The latest national Gallup poll, it's a different story, showing Gingrich and Romney virtually tied for the lead among registered Republicans' choice for the nominee.
Let's talk about it now with CNN political contributor, Ari Fleischer, and Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher.
What do you make of this, the battle in Florida? First of all, how do you think it looks for Romney and for Gingrich?
ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Anderson, I think it's looking great for Mitt Romney. He's really -- because of the debates and that's really been the driver for all the primary election so far, has opened up a lead after his big South Carolina loss.
I think Mitt Romney is going to win Florida by nine percentage points. It's going to be a good-sized win. I don't think it's going to be as big as some of those other polls indicate because there's still nagging conservative questions about Mitt Romney. But it's going to be a very good night for Mitt Romney in Florida tomorrow.
COOPER: Cornell, a smart move for Gingrich to basically cede Nevada and Michigan to Romney? Or not put a lot in there?
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, no, I think it is a smart move. When you look at the long picture and when you look at the money and the organization really matter early on. One of the beauties about the Obama campaign early on how we were able to stand against the establishment candidate early on was that we took that grassroots movement, that grassroots energy and turned it into fundraising.
I think if Newt Gingrich can turn sort of his grassroots, sort of conservative Tea Party network into fundraising and he can match Mitt Romney where he's being out-spend right now, what, Florida, 4 or 5-1, and match him in those later states, I think he has a chance at this, and, particularly when it moves south.
I mean look, if Mitt Romney didn't like South Carolina, wait until he gets a load of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, et cetera. So I think it's a smart move for Newt Gingrich and he's playing a long -- he's playing the long game here and I think he makes some sense especially when you look at the national polls where he's basically tied.
COOPER: Ari, do you agree with that?
FLEISCHER: Yes, there's another deeper reason why, too, especially in Nevada. Four years ago, Nevada Republican primary turnout heavily, heavily Mormon, 28 percent, the largest group was protestant, 26 percent of the voters were Mormon. Voted 95 percent for Mitt Romney. So what you're going to see is the opposite in the south where there -- questions have been raised about can he do well in the south.
And Arizona also has a significant Mormon population. Eleven percent of the voters in Arizona's primary four years ago were Mormon, a clear Romney advantage there. So it is smart for Newt to narrow the playing field. But no matter what, Newt is going to have a very difficult February. Mitt Romney is about to have a very good February because of states that vote in February.
But then it does come down to March. And where Mitt Romney remains vulnerable is if and when this becomes a one-on-one contest because of what I've mentioned before. Those nagging doubts the conservatives have about his core convictions.
So with Rick Santorum staying in and if Newt Gingrich stays in, it helps Romney. If one of those two were to drop out, then you get a different race. I also think you could flip it. If Newt Gingrich dropped out, I could predict to you that Rick Santorum would actually become a very formidable one-on-one candidate against Mitt Romney.
COOPER: And no doubt Santorum is hoping that might happen.
Cornell, looks like Romney maybe making big gains if you look at some of these poll numbers with evangelicals, even with Tea Partiers, in Florida. Leaving aside the actual vote count, what numbers do you think the Obama campaign are going to be watching tomorrow night?
BELCHER: Well, you know, I think -- I mean, Florida is an awfully important state. I think we're more concerned about sort of what's happening with independent voters in some of these battleground states and we see the national poll is showing that this battle is actually hurting Romney with some of these independent voters.
The evangelical numbers, it's fascinating to me, because when you look at that -- and sort of partisanship aside, this as a pollster, when you look at how Newt Gingrich was able to run up a 20-point advantage among evangelicals in South Carolina, the fact that he's now sort of splitting evangelicals evenly with Mitt Romney in Florida is a real interesting number.
And sometimes I think there's outliers in some of the internal numbers. That is a really interesting number. If that number is true, if he can compete with evangelicals, with Newt Gingrich, this race is over.
So I look for him not to sort of win by 14 to 15 points, although Fred Thompson came on as that, you know, if he doesn't win by double- digits, sort of saying that expectation game. But look to see if that evangelical number holds up because if that number holds up for Mitt Romney, it's a very good -- it's a very good story line for Mitt Romney.
COOPER: We got to leave it there. Ari Fleischer, Cornell Belcher, guys, thank you very much. Fascinating stuff.
FLEISCHER: Thank you.
COOPER: A quick reminder, obviously going to bring you the complete coverage tomorrow night. A special edition of "JOHN KING, USA" at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, and then the vote count and analysis at 7:00 as the polls begin to close.
Coming up, a horrific scene in Florida. A massive traffic accident killing at least 10 people. We're going to show you some of the images that really -- just stunning stuff. Pile of at least 12 cars, seven semis, take a look at how this happened.
Also later, the medical mystery that's left a group of teenagers at the same Upstate New York high school with uncontrolled ticks. You see it right there. Could there be an environmental connection, or in this all in their heads, as some people are saying.
Erin Brockovich thinks it's possible there's an environmental reason. I spoke with her and Dr. Drew Pinsky coming up.
COOPER: Some new details tonight on that horrific multi-pile pileup in Florida that left 10 people dead and at least 21 injured. At least 12 cars and seven semis were involved.
Today, Florida's highway patrol said they had closed the section of interstate 75 for about three hours because of heavy fog and smoke from a brush fire, but they reopened the stretch of highway barely half an hour before the crashes began. The 911 calls released today captured the horror of it all.
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: My God! What is going on?
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: OK. We are getting help out there, OK.
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Ma'am, ma'am, this was the 10th one. We just had five in a row.
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: OK, is anyone pinned?
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: We can't tell.
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Was that another one?
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Yes, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: OK, how many vehicles now?
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Sixteen.
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Get away from the car!
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Do you see any fire? Do you see anything like that?
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: No fire. We can't see. We have on the hazards.
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Here comes another one. He's coming too fast. Here's comes another one. See, there he goes. That one was a bad one. I am hearing people crying on the other side. That is northbound.
COOPER: They were witnessing a chain reaction of crashes in both sets of lane, south bound and north bound. Chad Myers joins me now. Chad, this accident claimed 10 lives. Do we know exactly what happened here?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We know what happened. There was a fire in the swamp and in the forest, only 60 acres not that big, but in a regular fire, smoke goes up and keeps going up. But in Florida, last night, it didn't keep going up. The reason why?
It's because there was a layer of warm air up here. So as soon as the smoke tried to go up, it hit the layer of warm air and came back down, it's called inversion.
The most famous inversion ever was in Denora, Pennsylvania many, many years ago where people died because they suffered from the smoke that just wouldn't leave the valley.
That's the Allegheny, Monohala Valley near Pittsburgh I'm talking about, but that's what happened yesterday. The smoke was trapped near the surface. It couldn't go away. People drive into the some and they were hitting cars that were already stopped in the roadway.
COOPER: And a lot of survivors, I mean, they were saying the smoke and fog was so thick, they couldn't see the hazards. This isn't that common, though, is it?
MYERS: It is not. What happened here, this smoke and fog got in a bowl, this bowl is just south of Gainesville. I've driven through this bowl many times on I-75, it's the prairie. Literally, it looks like you're driving through the Serengeti.
You look to the right and you look to the left, it's completely flat, but all around you are hills. You look for giraffes because you think you're in Africa. It looks crazy, high elevations here. High elevations there.
And right through there, it's going to be a swampy area. That air, that smoke settled right into that low area, into the bottom of that bowl and that's what caused the visibility down to literally zero.
COOPER: And I guess, one thing investigators will be looking into, could this have been avoided? I mean, should there any warnings or road closures?
MYERS: Well, Anderson, there were road closures. The roads were closed for three hours and then the smoke kind of cleared because the wind blew just a little bit. But then half an hour after they re- opened the road, the crashes happened and 10 people died.
So I guess, we have to think the road probably should have stayed closed. There's not much you can do. Once you are in this smoke, you are in it.
COOPER: It's so unbelievable. Chad, appreciate it. Isha's back with some of the story she's following at "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, opposition activists say 100 people were killed across Syria today. More than three- quarter of the deaths were in Homs. The U.N. Security Council says it will take up a draft resolution this week calling for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to step down and transfer power.
In Northern California, Oakland City Hall has reopened after workers cleaned up damage allegedly caused by "Occupy" protesters over the weekend. Police arrested about 400 protesters.
Meantime, in Washington, U.S. park police began enforcing a band on camping in two Washington parks that protesters have occupied for months. At one side, protesters ignored the order and setup a large blue tarp they're calling the tent of dreams.
And Anderson, the puppy thieves caught on tape in California making up with a three-month-old chow are off the hook. One suspect distracted an employee while his accomplice grabbed the puppy.
After the video aired on television, the dog snatcher sent the pet store more than $600 and a note of apology. The store's owner took the cash and asked the sheriff's department to drop all charges.
COOPER: Really? That doesn't seem right.
SESAY: The dropping charges or --
COOPER: You steal a dog and you just send -- I don't know.
SESAY: If you have $600, why steal the dog? It wasn't worth $600 according to the pet shop owner.
COOPER: I don't know.
SESAY: Strange out there.
COOPER: All right, Isha, we'll check back with you a little bit later on this hour. A "360" follow up next, a medical mystery that deepens, what is causing the strange ticks on more than a dozen teenage girls at the same school seemed to have developed. Environmental expert Erin Brockovich is now on the case so as Dr. Drew Pinsky. We're going to talk to both of them ahead.
Plus verdict in the murders of three sisters who prosecutors say were the victims of what's known as honor killing.
COOPER: Tonight on "360 Follow," a medical mystery that we first told you about earlier this month. More than a dozen teenage girls at the same high school in upstate New York had developed strange ticks.
Including twitching, stuttering, flailing, and verbal out-bursts. One of the girls, Thera Sanchez has epilepsy and says her seizures were well controlled before the ticks started.
But now much they're worse. In fact, she had what appeared to be a seizure during an interview during Dr. Pinsky's television show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feedback is good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oops. She is having a little bit of reaction there. Let's get back to her so I can see what's going on here, please. Help me. Are you all right? Mom, what's going on there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, she's not. She's having a seizure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is she? These are seizures she's had since she was a kid? Is that what we're looking at?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. No. These are from the ticks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are a different kind of seizure that she develops?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are a different kind of seizure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her airway OK? We need to call paramedics?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. No. They -- it's OK. It's OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's Dr. Drew on HLN. Thera was apparently OK after she came to after the seizure, but her mom isn't satisfied with the answers she's been getting.
The State Health Department officials said they found no environmental or infectious cause for the girls' symptoms. Some doctors who have examined the girls say the ticks could be stress related, something called conversion disorder. We're going to have more on that in a moment.
Activist Erin Brockovich is now getting involved. Over the weekend, some of her associates collected soil near the girls' school. Brockovich is looking to a chemical that spilled in 1970 train derailment about four miles from the school. I talked to her and Dr. Drew about the case.
COOPER: Dr. Drew, you interviewed some of these young women, some of these girls exhibiting really astonishing symptoms. I know you haven't given them an actual examination, but as a doctor, from what you know, what's your assessment?
DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, HLN'S "DR. DREW": Well, you know, my concern was that it was being dismissed as a conversion reaction with possible mass hysteria. In another words, that the group was really having a psychiatric event together.
COOPER: What is conversion reaction?
PINSKY: -- without an explanation. Conversion reaction is, you know, in the old day, people will get paralysis or blindness. It's a way of expressing emotional turmoil from physical symptoms. It can happen in a group. It can be contagious.
Some speculate it's the basis of the Salem witch trial. That was a group that's having a mass hysteria. But it didn't pass the sniff test for me, particularly some of the girls I met like Thera.
It seemed so clearly biological. It didn't feel like a psychiatric event to me. So my concern was that they were being dismissed as conversion without things being fully and completely evaluated.
Many questions in my mind were left unanswered. I wanted to see to it that resources were brought to bear to get to the bottom of it. Yes, there may be some with conversion out there, but I'm convinced some have a biological problem.
COOPER: And it was fascinating to watch the interview you did. Because one of the young women sitting there, her arm is moving a lot and then the other young woman had what seemed to be a seizure. How common is that? Is that related to whatever she is going through now?
PINSKY: That's what she and her mom reported that she had an increase of this seizure-like events. Now she had actually had one of these while hooked up to an EEG monitor, brain wave monitor and the brain wave monitor did not confirm that this was seizure.
So that means it's something called a fictitious seizure, which suggests it is something of a psychiatric nature, but it doesn't confirm that. There could still be an underlying tick type syndrome merely flaring in a seizure-like activity. Again, I thought they were awfully dismissive towards this girl without a complete explanation. COOPER: Well, Erin, you know, as you know, so far health officials said they found no indication there are environmental factors at play. That doesn't satisfy you. Why not?
ERIN BROCKOVICH, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: No, it doesn't. Because upon listening to what community members are reporting and we have done our own investigation. In 1971, there was a train derailment with a very large TCE, trichloroethylene spill that they were not able to capture. That nobody attended to for over 20 years.
Now the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in 1999, states that this plume had already gone four miles of the original derailment site east and southeast that places the school in close proximity to this contamination that has yet to be defined, that is in the bedrock.
That EPA has entered into negotiations to get a soil vapor extraction system in, which still isn't in place, coupled with confirmation that the school is built on a swamp and confirmation there are six gas extraction wells underneath this ball field.
So there is concern that this TCE plume could be in close proximity to the school. No one's done testing to see if it is at the school. They have done no soil testing and no soil vapor testing.
And yet there are reports from parents that at this athletic field where all the children have been, there is an orange yellow substance oozing up from the ground. So we don't feel environmentally anybody should have sounded and all clear.
COOPER: So Dr. Drew, what do you make of Erin's concerns? I mean, how real?
PINSKY: For me, it's a dream come true. I was hoping somebody with expertise in toxicology and environmental toxins could potentially cause symptoms like this could be available. I have talked to several physicians with concerns that this could be a post infectious process.
There are several other theories out there floating around as well. But the point is these theories are flying around and aren't being systemically ruled out and you've got a growing population of girls in distress.
By the way, my other concern is they're calling it conversion reaction and yet, they're getting systematic treatment even for that. So there's all kind of missing pieces here that need to be nailed down for these poor girls.
COOPER: But, Doctor, I mean, if there had been widespread contamination in the area of a train derailment in the early '70s, as Erin is questioning, why would problems just now be showing up in a specific unusual way and kind of such limited focus?
PINSKY: Right, a couple of possibilities. One is that this was some sort of in-utero exposure. The one thing I would be looking for up there, which I don't think has been looked for is a period of time in which there were a series of infant deaths or premature pregnancies that were terminated prematurely from infant demise.
We don't have that information yet. If you see that then it's possible this was an in-utero exposure and I think Erin is suggesting is that there may be something emerging now that has been in the soil for some time that has been exposing these girls causing a toxic reaction.
COOPER: And Erin, how do you take care to avoid fanning what's clearly a panicky and uncertain situation in that community?
BROCKOVICH: Well, we don't want any panic and we're certainly not here saying that this is going to be the cause of that. I think the panic has already started because some disorder without further investigation in the absence of a lot of data was tagged on these young girls. So we don't have answers, but the community does.
COOPER: I hope you guys find something and let us know. Dr. Drew Pinsky, thank you. Erin Brockovich, thanks as always.
Well, fascinating stuff. Continue to follow that story. It's such a mystery at this point.
Still ahead, a verdict in an incredible disturbing murder trial. The victims, three young sisters who prosecutors say they were killed by their own parents and own brother because they were too westernized.
Also ahead, what the cruise ship that wrecked off Italy's coast is going to cost Carnival, the parent company that has seen business plunge since the disaster.
COOPER: Let's check in with Isha again in the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Isha.
SESAY: Anderson, three members of an Afghan immigrant family in Canada convicted of murdering other family members say they will appeal. A jury found them guilty of killing three sisters and another relative because they believed the young women had dishonored the family with their westernized behavior.
The deadly ship disaster in Italy is going to cost its owner. Carnival Corporation says it expects to post a loss this year of nearly $400 million. Seventeen people were killed in the incident.
And we have glimpse of one of the Super Bowl commercials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm calling the studio. Matthew, you're not shooting today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Movies bring so much joy. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop. It's done. Just get some rest. Diva. He bought it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Matthew Broderick stars in the Honda commercial, on his hit movie, "Ferris Buehler's Day Off." It was set to debut during the Super Bowl, but Honda released it early.
COOPER: I actually watched the whole thing today. He's great.
SESAY: I haven't seen the film.
COOPER: All right, coming up at the Kentucky State Center, a bill gets introduced attached to a penguin. Also, Miss Kentucky happened to be there so is "The Ridiculist."
COOPER: Time now for the "Ridiculist." And tonight we're adding a story we're calling adventures in state government. I like to announce that as of tonight, I have a new favorite TV show. Forget the Real Housewives because from now on, when I want entertainment, I will kick back and watch the goes on of the Kentucky State legislature.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senate resolution number 92, a resolution honoring the Newport Aquarium for its outstanding contributions to the ecology of our world and the economy of Kentucky through tourism and honoring the Newport Aquarium for its penguin exhibit known as the "Penguin Pelusa."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Yes. He did say "Penguin Pelusa." That got my attention. Now I know what you're thinking, some boring resolution honoring some penguin park, big deal.
But this isn't just any party. This is a Kentucky State Senate party. There ain't no party like a Kentucky State Senate party because a Kentucky State Senate party is BYOB.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the penguin. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: They brought a penguin. The good people of Kentucky, your government at work and you just know this is not going to end well. To use a poker analogy, when you raise the stakes by bringing a live penguin to the table, nature calls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This chamber supported the Tourism Development Act and also amendments there to over the years and amended the --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you talking about the penguin that just defecated on the floor over there? Is that the penguin you're talking about?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually, Senator, I believe that's your desk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Thankfully, the camera did not zoom in on whatever the penguin passed on the Senate floor and the real work of government was allowed to continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, let's see if Miss Kentucky can top that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's right. Next on the agenda, Miss Kentucky.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would move that we adopt the Senate citation 03 and introduce to you this fine young lady from Bowling Green, Kentucky, my constituent, Miss Kentucky 2011, Miss Blair Thornton, welcome her here today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Is the Kentucky state legislature directed by David Lynch, a beauty queen, a penguin out of nowhere. Seriously, just throw in a dreamy keyboard soundtrack and it's Twin Peaks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two penguins walking across an iceberg and one penguin turned to the other and said, you look like you're wearing a tuxedo. And the second penguin said to the first penguin, you look like you're wearing a tuxedo and the second one said, maybe I am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Anyway, since Miss Kentucky went to the troubled showing up, let's hear what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just got back from competing at the Miss America competition a couple weeks ago and this is my first day on official duty. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I'm happy to report that Miss Kentucky did not slip on the official duty that the penguin left on the floor thus successfully bringing to a close another great moment in "Ridiculist" history.
That does it for this edition of 360. I'll see you again at 10:00 tonight. Thanks for watching. "PIERS MORGAN" starts now.