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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Charges Filed in Florida A&M Death; Former NFL Player Dies

Aired May 2, 2012 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 on the East Coast.

And we begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with the question that seems to have no simple answer. How can someone be fatally beaten, kicked, suffocated, allegedly by more than a dozen people, and yet not one of those people, not one of them, face murder or manslaughter charges?

That's one key question tonight in the killing of Florida A&M band member Robert Champion, that young man there. Authorities say he died from a brutal form of hazing known as crossing bus C in which the victim is made to walk down the aisle of a band bus while bandmates hit him.

Now, today, Florida prosecutors charged 11 alleged participants -- this is one of them -- with what's called felony hazing. They charged two others with misdemeanors. Now, if convicted, the maximum anyone could face for beating someone to death, or taking part in a beating, would be six years in prison.

Again, the question is, why not murder or manslaughter charges? One answer, says -- say prosecutors, is that it would be tough getting convictions with the evidence that they have.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWSON LAMAR, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY: The testimony obtained to date does not support a charge of murder in that it does not contain the elements of murder.

We can prove participation in hazing and a death. We do not have a blow or a shot or a knife thrust that killed Mr. Champion. It is an aggregation of things which exactly fit the Florida statute as written by the legislature.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that statute was written seven years ago with the best intentions to hold people accountable for hazing deaths. You have to wonder, though, does the very fact that it's on the books allow some people to pay lighter penalties for causing someone's death than would otherwise be the case?

The attorney for the Champion family says so. He calls it a loophole. You are going to hear from him and from Robert Champion's own mother in just a moment.

The fact is, if the people accused of beating Robert Champion to death on this bus were charged and convicted of manslaughter, they would face up to 15 years in prison, not the six years if convicted of felony hazing. We mention manslaughter because it and the hazing statute essentially identify the same offense, the unlawful taking of life whether by act or by negligence or recklessness.

Then there's the question of accountability on the part of the university and the elite band which has a history of brutal hazing. Here's what happened late last year when CNN's Jason Carroll tried to get answers from A&M president James Ammons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you believe you bear personally any responsibility for what has happened to any of these students here?

JAMES AMMONS, PRESIDENT, FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY: Personal responsibility? I have done everything in accordance to the law here in the state of Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, five days later, A&M's trustees deferred a vote on president Ammons' future, as well as that of the band director, Julian White. They said they wanted to wait until the Champion investigation was complete.

Now, we asked the university now that charges have been brought whether they're planning to take any action on the two men. We got no answer. President is still president. Julian White is on administrative leave, but still collecting a paycheck. And Robert Champion, as you know, is dead, dead at the age of 26.

His mother, Pam, again, who joins us shortly, says hazing does not begin to describe what was done to her son. She says the charges today don't fit the crime.

First, though, Randi Kaye with how this nightmare began.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): In some sort of sick ritual, Robert Champion, a 26-year-old drum major from Florida's A&M University, is beaten as his fellow band members watch. It's November 19, 2011, in Orlando, after a football game that included a halftime performance by the group.

On board the bus, members of the FAMU's Marching 100. A band member calls 911.

911 OPERATOR: Are you with him right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I am with him, ma'am. He's not breathing. I tried to give him CPR and he started...

(CROSSTALK)

911 OPERATOR: OK.

KAYE: Days later on November 22, it's announced Champion's death is the result of a hazing incident. They call it crossing bus C, an initiation during which pledges attempt to run down the center aisle of the bus to the back while being punched, kicked and assaulted by senior members.

PAM CHAMPION, MOTHER OF VICTIM: What was done to my son was wrong. It was brutal. He had nobody that would help him.

KAYE: That same day, November 22, the university's president, James Ammons, announces the suspensions of any and all performances and engagements for bands and other ensembles. He speaks that night at a memorial vigil in Tallahassee.

AMMONS: We encourage all of you to spread the message that FAMU has a zero tolerance for hazing, and that any alleged acts of hazing will be dealt with as a criminal act.

KAYE: Band director Julian White is also there.

JULIAN WHITE, FLORIDA A&M BAND DIRECTOR: I loved that young man. The 100 is better because he was one of us. The community is better because he lived among us. His march has ceased. But his memory will linger on.

KAYE: The next day, November 23, band director White is told he's going to be terminated in December. He hires an attorney. Later, he's put on administrative leave with pay while the case is investigated. His attorney now wants him reinstated.

December 1, four students are dismissed from the university in connection with Champion's death. About two weeks later, December 16, the medical examiner rules Robert Champion's death a homicide, after finding he collapsed and died within an hour of the hazing incident. The M.E. says Champion had excessive internal bleeding due to soft tissue hemorrhage and blunt-force trauma.

LAMAR: No one could have expected that his college experience would include being pummeled to death.

KAYE: On December 19, the school's board of trustees rejects a request from Florida Governor Rick Scott to suspend university president James Ammons, announcing he will stay in office during the hazing investigation.

(on camera): But this isn't the first hazing investigation at Florida A&M. CNN has learned, since 2001, there have been at least six incidents. Days before Robert Champion's death, 26 band members were suspended for landing a freshman clarinet player in the hospital. Her legs had been beaten with fists and a metal ruler. And, earlier this year, four band members were charged with the beating of five pledges. Between 2002 and 2011, according to "The Miami Herald," more than 100 band members had been kicked out due to hazing.

(voice-over): In the case of Robert Champion, on January 12, friends speculate Champion's sexual orientation was a possible factor in the hazing. His parents and their lawyer stress this is not a hate crime; this is a hazing crime.

And, finally, after six months of interviewing nearly 50 witnesses, on May 2, Florida state attorney announces not murder, but misdemeanor hazing charges against 13 individuals. Of those, 11 are also charged with a felony, hazing to death.

Whatever happened that awful day, those involved will have to answer for it, as soon as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement can track them down.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, questions remain though about the charges and accountability.

Earlier tonight, I spoke with Robert Champion's mom, Pam, and their family attorney, Christopher Chestnut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Mrs. Champion, the charges today are for felony hazing, could bring up to six years in prison. Do you feel that these charges go far enough?

CHAMPION: My first reaction is no.

I was very disappointed in hearing what the charges would be, and I was very disappointed in that. But they did explain to me the reasoning behind that. But, of course, my first reaction was I was very, very disappointed.

My husband and I both, we had been anticipating something that was a little more harsh.

COOPER: Something -- were you hoping for some sort of murder or manslaughter charge?

CHAMPION: Yes.

COOPER: Do you feel that there are others who are still accountable who have not been named?

CHAMPION: Absolutely. Oh, yes, absolutely.

COOPER: How so? CHAMPION: Well, we know if we had a bus full of people, and you only have 13, you know, absolutely, there are some that are not -- that has not been part of the investigation or interviews or whatever a proper name for it would be.

COOPER: The prosecutor today described hazing as a form of bullying. He called it -- and I quote -- "bullying with a tradition."

Do you agree with that? Do you think it is a form of bullying?

CHAMPION: Well, you know, the term hazing in itself is a very light term as to what it is. I don't look at it as being a form of bullying.

Hazing is a very brutal assault is basically what it is against another person.

COOPER: So you think using that term hazing kind of puts a veneer of -- kind of lessens the horror of it?

CHAMPION: Absolutely. I have always said the word hazing is totally not fitting for what is being done to an individual, and especially for some -- what happened to my son. Hazing is not the term at all.

COOPER: You believe he was murdered. You believe he was beaten to death, assaulted, killed.

CHAMPION: According to the coroners, that is what happened.

COOPER: Mr. Chestnut, you still have a civil lawsuit pending against the company that owns the bus where the hazing took place. Is that the only group you can go after? What about going after the school?

CHRISTOPHER CHESTNUT, ATTORNEY FOR CHAMPION FAMILY: Oh, we will absolutely sue the school. Statutorily, we're required in Florida to wait six months before we sue a government entity. And the school is a government entity. So we anticipate filing a lawsuit against the school in the foreseeable future.

COOPER: And -- but also against the bus company?

CHESTNUT: Well, we have already sued the bus company, correct, and the bus driver.

COOPER: And do you have a monetary amount that you're looking for?

CHESTNUT: No.

At this time, we're just propounding discovery. We're trying to get answers. We're trying to get people locked down into statements, taking depositions, et cetera. So we're trying to figure out exactly what happened, exactly who is accountable and to what extent they are accountable. COOPER: Mrs. Champion, how -- how are you and your family getting through this? How do you deal with this?

CHAMPION: Well, we really have no choice but to try to do the best we can.

And, basically, each moment, each minute of the day, each day is a journey. And certainly this journey that we, my family and I, have been on has been a very tough journey, in lieu of everything else that, not only just losing my son, and that's my only son, in such a brutal way, but everything that surrounds the whole case has been disappointing as well. So it's hard for the family.

COOPER: Do you think authorities don't understand the impact of this, given the charges that they filed, or do you think that this is just what they could come up with in a legal framework?

CHAMPION: Well, I don't know if I can make a statement towards that, because I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know all the legal verbiage around things.

But certainly the crime that was done is just -- you definitely expect to set a statement, to set an example, to say that this is no longer accepted. And in order to do that, you have to set a real example of what has happened.

CHESTNUT: Anderson, legally, this is a six-year sentence maximum. Robert Champion has a lifetime sentence.

But there is a legislative loophole here under the statute which allows hazing to be charged, and precludes the charging of murder or felony murder here.

COOPER: Well, Christopher Chestnut, I appreciate you being with us.

And, Pam Champion, again, I'm so sorry for your loss and I appreciate your speaking tonight. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, let's dig deeper now. I want to bring in senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

You believe the prosecution has the right charge here.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, based on what I have seen of the evidence, I think this is certainly a justified charge.

Whether they could have done more strikes me as difficult. I think it would be very difficult to prove manslaughter, given the fact that this is a very chaotic scene on this bus. And they have to prove each person beyond a reasonable doubt committed the crime. And given the difficulty of assembling evidence, I just think it would be very difficult to get manslaughter. COOPER: They say that they don't even know who gave a death blow, if there was one blow in particular. They just don't have the evidence of this.

TOOBIN: I thought that was very interesting, what the prosecutor said, that they don't have that.

The hazing law makes that requirement much less tight, much less difficult for the prosecution. They simply have to show that the defendants were involved in hazing and the death was caused. If it was a manslaughter case, they would have to prove precisely how he died and who killed him.

COOPER: Is it possible, though, that now that charges have been brought, that somebody will turn state's evidence, that somebody will negotiate some sort of a deal and, therefore, a manslaughter charge could be brought if somebody saw something?

TOOBIN: During -- when you have a 13-defendant case, it is almost always the case that someone winds up pleading guilty and cooperating, often more than one person.

That could lead to further charges, but, again, it would depend whether that person could put such specific evidence in front of a grand jury to say, look, that this individual caused the injury that caused his death. That strikes me as a difficult thing.

COOPER: The civil case that they have already filed against the bus company, the driver, also they're going to file against the school, do you have any doubt that that will be successful?

TOOBIN: Well, it seems like -- certainly, against the university, it seems like an almost slam-dunk civil case. When you look at how much hazing has gone on at the university for so long, and the university, for whatever reason, failed to stop it, that looks like a very -- a lawsuit that's very likely to produce a very large damage award.

COOPER: And then is it up for the jury to come up with the damages?

TOOBIN: Yes, in Florida, it is. But they get some guidance from the jury -- from the judge and from the law, but this could be an enormous verdict, given how much warning this university had that hazing was a problem, particularly with the band.

COOPER: Right. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much.

Obviously, we will continue to follow this.

Let us know what you think about these charges. Are they the right charges? Let us. We're on Facebook, Google+. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper.

Up next: the apparent suicide of an NFL great, Junior Seau, and questions about whether it was connected to brain injuries he may have sustained on the field or something else. 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta joins us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, the death of another NFL star is once again raising serious concerns about life-altering and sometimes life-ending brain injuries some players suffer.

This morning at his home north of San Diego, police say the 12- time Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau put a gun to his chest and then pulled the trigger. His death, they say, is being investigated as a suicide.

The loss is sending shockwaves through the teams he played on, and especially in the San Diego area, where he was a community icon. This afternoon, his mother tried to speak to reporters, but was understandably overcome by loss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LUISA SEAU, MOTHER OF JUNIOR SEAU: He never say something for me. Junior, why you never telling me? (INAUDIBLE) And I pray to God, take me. Take me. Leave my son alone.

Thank you. Thank you so much for everybody. God bless you guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, as we mentioned, Seau's apparent suicide is the only -- is only the latest in a string of retired players taking their own lives, some of whom showed signs of dementia that many experts now suspect could be career-related.

In a moment we will talk to Dr. Sanjay Gupta about it. He's investigated this phenomenon a lot, but first the very latest from Paul Vercammen -- Paul.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Anderson, just a short time ago, I did talk to a police lieutenant about that, was there some sort of note possibly left that indicated that he might have killed himself with a gunshot to the chest, Junior Seau, and was there a note that might have said, I'm doing so, so there can be research done on my brain?

And she said they have not heard that yet, but there certainly was a lot of buzz around here today about that possibility. You can see right behind me this is the home of Junior Seau. And so many people along this stretch known as the Strand in Oceanside have come up and left flowers. You can see a gentleman down there right now kneeling in front of Junior Seau's house.

This is where he had this sort of idyllic life. He lived in this home. He would walk across the Strand every day, not more than let's say just a few yards and he would go off to the ocean and they all knew around here as someone who really enjoyed surfing. So this is where Junior Seau had spent his life in the last few years. I don't know if you can tell because the tide is high, but they put together a makeshift cross out of rocks here to honor Junior Seau. When you talk to people in the neighborhood, they talk about how friendly he was, that he seemed to have everything. He would stop and talk to people here about the surf, about, you know, just enjoying life in Oceanside.

He was from Oceanside. He played his high school football here, Anderson. And this whole community today has been absolutely rocked. And they're all wondering why, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it's a question everyone asks in the wake of a suicide.

It's hard to know if it was related to anything he experienced because of playing football, but he had had struggles in recent years. In 2010, I understand he drove himself off a California cliff. Is there much known about that incident?

VERCAMMEN: Yes, there is.

What happened was is Junior at the time had a 25-year-old live-in girlfriend. There was an arrest of Junior for spousal battery, as they put it, here in Oceanside. He bailed himself out and then later, nearby in Carlsbad, he did drive off a cliff.

And there's two versions of this. His former teammates will say, well, we talked to Junior and he said he fell asleep at the wheel. The other side of that is, did he do so deliberately and was he trying to commit suicide? When authorities found him, he was conscious and talking and he made no mention of an intent to kill himself at that point, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Paul Vercammen, appreciate the latest.

Because of the possibilities in this tragedy, we want to dig deeper. I want to bring in 360 M.D. and neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, several NFL players have committed suicide in recent years, and brain-related injuries they sustained while playing have been blamed. Is it impossible to know what was going on in Junior Seau's mind at this point, but is it possible that past head traumas could have played a role in Seau's taking his own life?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think we have enough evidence to say yes, because you're starting to see a pattern of exactly what you're describing here, Anderson, this idea that the previous blows to the head, trauma, for example, sustained on a football field can accumulate over time and lead to something known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE.

A lot more people know this term than even a couple of years ago. It's a dementia-like illness. And people have memory loss. They may have depression. They may have anger. Those are sort of the cardinal symptoms. What's so striking here, Anderson, and you alluded to this, is that just like Dave Duerson -- you remember, you and I talked about him last year, in 2011 -- he shot himself in the chest as well.

That's a very unusual way, a rare way for one to commit suicide. And this is hard to talk about, but in Duerson's case, he had left that note that Paul was sort of alluding to saying, I shot myself in the chest, I would like my brain to be studied.

Duerson's brain was studied, and, in fact, he did have exactly what he was concerned about, CTE. That was confirmed when they studied his brain. So there's a lot of parallels here with what happened with Junior Seau and Dave Duerson and lots of other players as well, Anderson.

COOPER: It is -- it is a rare way to kill yourself and a strange thing to do unless you do want somebody to be studying your brain, I guess, to try to preserve your brain.

GUPTA: Right.

COOPER: How many concussions does someone have to sustain before getting some kind of permanent damage to the brain?

GUPTA: Well, let me preface by saying, look, what we're talking about, Anderson, is very new science. So it's being sort of studied right now, so there's not an exact answer to that.

But there's two beats that I should point out. One is that there are some people who just appear to be much more susceptible to concussions. We're not entirely sure why in the scientific community, but people who have just multiple concussions from hits to the head that wouldn't cause concussions in other players.

But even more to the point, I did a little bit of homework on Junior Seau's career today. He wasn't known as someone who had a lot of concussions in career. He had leg injuries. He had other injuries. But what is particularly concerning to researchers are what are known as subconcussive hits, the kind of hit the player gets right back on the field, thinks nothing of it.

Those subconcussive hits can accumulate. And that's what they are really worried about in terms of its link again to this chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

COOPER: We have got a Digital Dashboard question from J.P. Nicandro.

He asks -- quote -- "How common are chronic traumatic neurological illnesses in the NFL?"

How common is it?

GUPTA: Well, I will tell you, Anderson and J.P., I visited the lab, the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston, where they have been doing this research now for a few years.

They examined brains of lots of different people, different athletes, but specifically with regard to NFL players. There have been 19 brains examined and 18 of them had evidence of this chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

COOPER: Wow.

GUPTA: So it's virtually all of them. And, in fact, one more thing, Anderson, the youngest person that they have seen that had chronic traumatic encephalopathy was a 17-year-old by the name of Nathan Stiles.

COOPER: Wow.

GUPTA: His family talked to me about this. But it seems that what we're talking about here starts very early as a result of those head blows.

COOPER: And depression, how common is that in former NFL players? And it could be depression caused by other things, stopping your career that you have been focused on your whole life, trying to come up with a new way of living, but how common is depression?

GUPTA: Well, it's hard to know because so many people don't talk about it, as is often the case with so much mental illness generally speaking in all facets of our society.

But with regard to CTE, this is what we're talking about here, it is one of the cardinal symptoms, Anderson. So depression, anger, memory loss, it's a triad of symptoms. And doctors have seen that triad so convincingly that they can almost, you know, guess with pretty consistent reliability that that person has CTE. You can only diagnose CTE upon someone's death, but it's a cardinal symptom of this.

COOPER: Obviously, more investigation will be done on his death.

Sanjay, I appreciate the reporting. Thanks.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Stunning allegations tonight from Chinese -- the Chinese activist who left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing today. He had taken refuge there after escaping house arrest. He says U.S. officials pressured him to leave the embassy and that he now fears for his life and his family's life -- details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight on 360 "World View": conflicting reports about how and why a Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng, left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing today. He says he was coerced to leave. U.S. and Chinese diplomats had been negotiating for several days to work out a deal.

Now, Chen took refuge at the embassy, you may remember, after escaping house arrest in Eastern China just days before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was due to visit Beijing for scheduled talks. She arrived last night.

U.S. officials say that Chinese officials assured them that Chen, who was under house arrest for 18 months, would be treated humanely while he remains in China. But Chen says he left the embassy only after U.S. officials encouraged him to do so.

Today, he told CNN, and I quote, "The embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised to have people stay with me in the hospital. This afternoon as soon as I checked into the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone."

Chen is being treated at a hospital for injuries he sustained during his escape from home confinement. He also told CNN he feels his life and his family's lives would be in danger if they stayed in China. And he made this plea. He said, "I would like to say to President Obama, please do everything you can to get our whole family out."

The State Department says Chen never sought political asylum while at the embassy.

Joining me now is CNN's Stan Grant and Jill Dougherty.

Stan, you spoke to Chen. He told you he was disappointed in the U.S. government. Why? What did he say went on?

STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, this has been an extraordinary story. On the one hand you have the U.S., on the other China. In the middle you have this blind activist, Chen Guangcheng.

Now, when he walked out of the U.S. embassy after being holed up there for six days, he was all smiles. He was hugging officials. He wanted to go to the hospital. He was telling officials that he wanted to stay in China.

But between leaving the embassy and speaking to us at 3 a.m. Thursday morning here in Beijing, a lot had happened. He contacted his wife. His wife had told him about threats that had been made to her and their family.

She said after officials and guards discovered that he'd fled house arrest, they came and took her. They tied her up for two days of interrogation. They beat her with sticks and threatened to beat her to death. They said to her, "If your husband doesn't leave the embassy, then you are going to suffer the consequences. We are waiting for you with weapons back home."

That soured his view. He now doesn't believe that the U.S. had given him the full picture. He says he was being urged to leave. He felt secure in the deal the U.S. and China had worked out.

He also says, though, Anderson, he was cut off from information, and he wasn't being told the full story about what the consequences may be. Right now he feels stranded, no longer with the protection of the United States and alone in a hospital bed and fearing for his life, Anderson.

COOPER: But Jill, the U.S. is saying that he never talked about leaving China, that he was always talking about staying in China and continuing his studies there, continuing his work there, right?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Precisely. In fact, that's the main point that they made, which is when he came to the embassy, he said, "I want to continue my work. I am not interested in coming to the United States. I want to stay here."

And that in fact, in an interview I did with a senior administration official, he pointed out that they had asked him several times, at least three times, "Do you want to leave of your own volition? Look, we have this deal. Are you comfortable?" And he said yes.

And then also they point out that he never actually asked for asylum.

So their point is, he left. There was a deal.

And the main question, Anderson, is they are, the United States, is really throwing its faith on the Chinese government that they will carry out this agreement between the government and Mr. Chen. And that is a big if. They are probably holding their breath, hoping that this will turn out.

COOPER: Just an interesting side note. You know, we're viewed right now on CNN International, which is seen around the world, CNN China. China just blocked us out in China. They just blocked our broadcast on CNN International right now as we were speaking. So clearly, this is a very sensitive issue they don't want people there to know about.

So Jill, where does this go next? I mean, he's now in hospital. His wife is there. He can't leave China, I assume. What's going to happen?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I guess you'd have to in a way ask him, would he want to officially ask to be allowed to leave, ask for asylum, ask for some way of getting out to the United States. That would be one thing.

But look at the other picture. Here you have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in China, in Beijing at this very important meeting. It's really like a summit. It's a strategic and economic dialogue on all aspects of the relationship between the United States and China.

And the United States needs China's help. Needs to work on things like trade, economics, Iran, North Korea, Syria, you name it. So this timing is really bad for the administration.

COOPER: Right.

Jill Dougherty, Stan Grant, appreciate the reporting. Not easy circumstances to be reporting on. Stay safe, and we'll continue to follow the story.

Coming up, a pastor in North Carolina -- I don't think you all heard this -- delivers a message in a sermon, saying that if -- to fathers, if their little boy shows signs of, in his words, "having a limp wrist," that their dad should crack those wrists, their dad should punch them.

Now he's apologizing, sort of, saying well, he didn't mean to offend anyone. We'll play you the sermon. You can decide for yourself. We're "Keeping Them Honest," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report now. A Fayetteville, North Carolina, pastor's sermon has gone viral online, triggering a lot of outrage and forcing him to issue a retraction of sorts.

Sean Harris is the senior pastor of Berean Baptist Church. He gave a fiery 55-minute sermon denouncing same-sex marriage ahead of next week's vote in North Carolina to outlaw such marriages and all civil unions.

Now, in the course of his sermon, he told fathers in his congregation if their young sons acted effeminately, they should give them, quote, "a good punch." If they have a limp wrist, he told fathers to, quote, "crack that wrist." He told parents if their girls are butch, they should be reined in, as well.

Here's some of what he said to his congregation during his sermon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HARRIS, PASTOR, BEREAN BAPTIST CHURCH: So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he's 4 years old, and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, "Man up, son. Get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that's what boys do," you get out the camera and start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female, and then you upload it to YouTube, and everybody laughs about it.

The next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed. Can I make it any clearer?

Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. "Man up." Give him a good punch. OK? "You're not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male, and you're going to be a male."

And when your daughter starts acting too butch, you rein her in, and you say, "Oh, no. Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you're going to act like a girl and walk like a girl, talk like a girl and smell like a girl. And that means you're going to be beautiful. You're going to be attractive. You're going to dress yourself up."

Say can I take charge like this as a parent? Yes, you can. You're authorized. I just gave you a special dispensation this morning to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, Pastor Harris has now issued a retraction of sorts on his church's Web site. There's also an audio version. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: The purpose of this document is to issue an official statement of retraction of any and all words that suggest that child abuse is appropriate for any and all types of behaviors, including but not limited to effeminacy and sexual immorality of all types.

I should not have said what I said about cracking or punching and a particular bias toward outward attraction of girls. Nor should I have used the words "special dispensation."

I did not say that children should be squashed. I have never suggested children or those in the LGBT lifestyle should be beaten, punched, abused either physically or psychologically in any form or fashion. I apologize to anyone I have unintentionally offended.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, Harris also says he does not apologize for saying homosexuality is an abomination to God.

As for the punching and cracking wrists, he says he was not being literal.

"Keeping Them Honest" though, he says in that new segment, the one you just heard that he has, quote, "never suggested children or those in the LGBT lifestyle should be beaten, punched, abused physically or psychologically in any form or fashion." That, however, is just frankly not true.

You just heard him in his sermon say they should be punched. Fathers should punch -- give their kids -- boys a good punch. That they should crack their limp wrists.

His church's teaching does not -- does condone, I should say, physical punishment of children. On his church's Web site, under the heading "contemporary issues," there's a section on disciplining section which reads, quote, "Parents should consider their responsibility to be the instrument of discipline in their child's life. At times this may include appropriate and reasonable physical means employed upon the fleshy portion of the child's buttocks. But this method is to be viewed as correction rather than punishment and that this correction will result in the child's physical and spiritual betterment."

The church's Web site, however, makes no mention of punching children or cracking their limp wrists.

I want to talk about this now with CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin; also, Rev. Dr. Cindi Love. She's executive director of a group called Soul Force, a group that advocates for LGBT acceptance in the religious community.

Jeff, legally is he in any peril of -- I mean, if some father in his congregation goes and punches his son or cracks his son's wrist, is he in any way liable?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think so. You know, we've dealt with this in many different contexts. If someone does something bad after hearing something or seeing a movie -- remember "Natural Born Killers," the Oliver Stone movie or Marilyn Manson music -- people then went out and did bad things, in all those cases, civil or criminally, it's been -- the cases have been tossed out.

COOPER: Even if he says you have a special religious dispensation to do this?

TOOBIN: You know, I don't think a civil case -- or a criminal case based on that would succeed. Obviously, as far as we know, it hasn't happened yet, and we certainly hope it hasn't happened.

But I think the chain of causation is simply too tenuous. It's too difficult to prove that that really would be the cause that any court would allow a civil or criminal judgment in that case.

COOPER: Reverend, when you hear a pastor saying something like this during a fiery 55-minute sermon, and he says he was speaking extemporaneously, that he didn't really mean it, what do you think?

REV. DR. CINDI LOVE, SOUL FORCE: I think those of us who are ministers are called to a really high ethical standard of what we speak to and about in our congregations. And I was just listening to that as you played it back.

And I was thinking if I had heard those words and I were a young child, I would have felt that the perceived authority of my church, someone like my dad, was saying it was OK to punch or crack the wrist of another child who appeared to be effeminate.

COOPER: Does it -- does it depress you that people in the congregation were saying, "Amen," seemed to be following along?

LOVE: Yes. I listened to that earlier. And I thought we focused a lot on the minister in this case. And in fact, what was chilling to me was hearing the members of the congregation laugh and say "amen" and really sort of be in concert with what the minister was saying.

COOPER: The pastor has cited numerous biblical passages to back up his beliefs. I mean, Reverend, how do you square that with your understanding of the gospel?

LOVE: I don't. I think that the thing that I would say is Jesus wouldn't have preached that sermon. And Jesus has to be the lens through which we view scripture if we call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ.

And I think the -- what he was suggesting to his congregation and to parents doesn't resemble anything that I see in scripture ever spoken to or modeled by Jesus Christ. And we're called to an ethical standard, as members of the body of Christ, to project Jesus, not our own particular biases around things that we find distasteful.

COOPER: The backdrop, Jeff, for this is the ballot drive in North Carolina to ban same-sex marriage, also civil unions, also domestic -- any kind of domestic partnership benefits for the partners or children.

TOOBIN: Right. And it's a very -- it's a very big referendum because, as you say, it's not just about same-sex marriage, which has lost in every state that it has been on the ballot. Even, of course, as we know Proposition 8 in California.

But this goes much farther than that and, as you say, would eliminate any kind of state recognition of same-sex relationships, even civil unions. So it would be a big step backward for the gay community and people who support the gay community.

So this is -- they're very high stakes. It is -- it looks like the anti-gay position is winning in the polls, although it is somewhat close.

COOPER: It's interesting, Reverend Love, I mean, your organization tries to work within the community of faith...

LOVE: Yes.

COOPER: ... to -- to change minds. Do you feel like -- I mean, I'm sure at times you feel like it is an uphill battle. Do you feel progress is being made for your position? Or do you feel that things are getting worse?

LOVE: I think we're going through a period of time right now in some parts of the country where there's sort of a backlash. There's an enormous investment on the parts of the most conservative and fundamentalist denominations to roll back on marriage equality, for example, and to sort of, to use the minister's words, to man up inside the fundamentalist church on the issues of same-sex marriage.

But what is true is that the American public, in majority, now have moved to a place of -- if we don't want to say blessing, at least saying that they are going to be accepting of civil unions and same- sex relationships being sanctified.

COOPER: Very briefly, do you believe this pastor's apology and what would you say to him?

LOVE: Well, we're all called to be accountable for our actions, and I appreciate that he apologized.

But what is real is that we are called to reconciliation. And I believe that, whether he intended to or not, he has now done harm within his own congregation into the broader community, even with the implication that very young children who have what appear to be effeminate behaviors should be physically punished. He has his work cut out for him to restore and reconcile that within his own congregation. And an apology doesn't do that. That's only the first step.

COOPER: Reverend Love, I appreciate you being on.

Jeff Toobin as well.

New testimony in the John Edwards trial coming up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ISHA SESAY, CNNI ANCHOR: I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 Bulletin."

Newt Gingrich officially ended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination today. Gingrich won only two states, Georgia and South Carolina, in the long GOP primary season. His campaign is millions of dollars in debt.

Dramatic testimony today in the John Edwards trial about his late wife, Elizabeth. A former Edwards aide testified about an incident after a "National Enquirer" report came out about Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter. The aide said Elizabeth broke down in an airport hangar in North Carolina and started ripping her clothes off in anger.

During testimony, the Edwards' daughter, Kate, walked out, reportedly wiping away tears.

In a report released today, the humanitarian group Human Rights Watch accuses the Syrian government of war crimes. It says that while the so-called cease-fire was being negotiated, the Assad regime systematically detained and killed people. Opposition groups say at least 30 died today in continuing violence.

And one of four versions of Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" was sold at auction tonight at Sotheby's in New York. The record- breaking sale price, $119.9 million -- Anderson.

COOPER: Hey, coming up, the story about the tannest person you've ever seen in your life. "The RidicuList" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we're adding burning questions about a story from Nutley, New Jersey.

A woman was in court today to plead "not guilty" to charges that she let her 6-year-old daughter get in a tanning booth. In New Jersey, you cannot artificially tan if you're under the age of 14, which is precisely why they don't have a junior high version of "Jersey Shore."

Now, the little girl is fine. She apparently had a sunburn a while back, which her mom comes from playing outside, but apparently the girl told the school nurse that she went tanning with Mommy. And that's when the whole thing blew up. The mom says it's all a big misunderstanding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICIA KRENTCIL, MOTHER ACCUSED OF TAKING DAUGHTER TO TANNING BOOTH: I tan. She doesn't tan. It's called a tanning booth. A tanning room. I'm in the booth. She's in the room. That's all there is to it. She doesn't go in there. You know, she's my little girl. I'm not going to bring my little daughter into a 90-degree bed.

Nothing is wrong with her. And this whole thing has been blown out of proportion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: How is that real? I mean, I'm not even that concerned about the little girl. I'm concerned about the mom. I mean, I know I'm so pale I'm almost see-through, but there is no way she can be that tan. There must have been something going on with the lighting in that shot, right?

Let's take a look from a different interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRENTCIL: I've been tanning my whole life, going to the beach, tanning salons, and so forth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: She's been tanning her whole life? Wow! That surprises me.

All right, I'm going to say it. Somebody power up the Starship Enterprise, because that lady is boldly going where no tan has gone before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRENTCIL: There's no room, A. B, I would never permit it. C, it didn't happen. She's 6 years old. Yes, she does go tanning with mommy, but not in the booth. The whole thing is preposterous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: She's talking about her daughter. I don't care. I can't even pay attention to what she's saying. It's like the tanning Olympics. She took the bronze, there's no doubt about it.

The woman says she didn't put her child in the tanning booth itself which we all hope is true, because that's just a horrible concept. Unless you're a writer for that show, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Then by all means proceed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you make D.B. a star?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I'm sorry to say, but in today's commercial world there's just no room for another white baby actor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So let me get this straight. You want to put your baby into a tanning bed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. That's against the law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want to jam you up here. We just want to put him in there for a couple of minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just to get a base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, a base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm feeling compelled to call the authorities.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess the road to stardom is paved with hard knocks and orange (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So yes, you don't put a child in a tanning bed, but let's just get one more look at the mom. See, there are tan lines and then there are fine lines like the ones separating the SPF from the WTF on "The RidicuList."

OK. That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.