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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Scandal Allegations, Skimpy Evidence; Pistorius Murder Investigation Continues; GOP Critical of Obama's Immigration Proposal; Clues to Murder of Olympian's Girlfriend Sought; Man Charged with Assaulting Toddler on Plane; Country Singer Mindy McCreary Dead of Apparent Suicide
Aired February 18, 2013 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.
There's breaking news tonight in the Sandy Hook massacre, a possible motive emerging, a terrifying explanation of why Adam Lanza chose the target he did.
And there is this, a face in the crowd when President Obama was speaking out against kids being gunned down in Chicago. Just hours later, her young life was forever changed.
Also tonight, we have all been there, a crowded flight, a crying baby. But no matter how bad it gets, who would ever, ever slap the baby? We're going to show you the man who allegedly did and talk to the baby's parents.
We begin with some breaking news, a potential answer, an utterly chilling one to the question, why did mass murderer Adam Lanza target Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut? Why did he pick that school to assault? Law enforcement sources telling CBS News' Bob Orr the answer may lie across the Atlantic in Norway, at the summer camp near Oslo, where a madman Anders Breivik, hunted down and killed 69 people, most of them teenagers.
Breivik, who began his rampage with a bombing in Oslo, ultimately murdered 77 people. Just ahead, two criminologists on the mind of this killer and the one who may have tried to emulate him. We will be joined by them shortly.
But let's get through some other important news. And we begin with the explosive allegations against the United States senator and the kind of real, in-person, on-the-ground reporting that doesn't always get done in such cases, in other words, "Keeping Them Honest."
The senator is the New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, who chairs the powerful Foreign Relations Committee. The allegations made by a shadowy tipster concern a Florida eye doctor friend of the senator's, a major campaign contributor who is being investigated by federal authorities.
The explosive part involves this eye doctor's alleged role in hooking the senator up with teenage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. Extraordinary charges, and they have been out there for months, that deserve extraordinary evidence. The question tonight, where is it?
360's exclusive investigation starts in the Dominican Republic.
Drew Griffin is "Keeping Them Honest."
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A rundown brothel in Santo Domingo is hardly the place for serious journalism, and yet here we are, knocking on its door and finding yet another mysterious clue leading to another closed door.
(on camera): Hello?
(voice-over): And that may be exactly what the person or persons behind these e-mails had in mind. Could it be one big slander campaign aimed at baiting a scandal-hungry press into saying or printing the name of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, teenage prostitution, and Caribbean sex parties all in one sentence?
After all, these allegations have been flatly refuted by the senator.
VINICIO CASTILLO, FRIEND OF MENENDEZ (through translator): This is incredible.
GRIFFIN: And now the senator's Dominican Republic friends are trying to take that denial a step further, demanding a full investigation to find the actual culprit who has been spreading Internet rumors for months.
CASTILLO: This is an artificial ghost created especially in order to damage Senator Menendez, Melgen, and myself.
GRIFFIN: Vinicio Castillo, a fourth-generation Dominican attorney, himself has been named as a party to the, well, parties, and says enough is enough.
CASTILLO (through translator): This crime has damaged me and my reputation and my honor. And that's why I have the right to ask an investigation to find out who is behind this crime.
GRIFFIN: The e-mails alleged teenage sex parties and the senator began circulating months ago. Even the FBI got ahold of them, but nothing could be confirmed. It appeared the matter was pretty much dropped until more e-mails began arriving. The author, someone calling himself Peter Williams, even wrote to a CNN reporter last month.
"I dare to respond only moved by seriousness of the media you represent," said the writer, "since, as you can imagine, I am deeply concerned about my security."
(on camera): CNN responded asking Peter Williams to meet us anywhere, even here to Santo Domingo, to give us proof that any of his allegations were true. We have since sent six e-mails to P. Williams. The response silence. (voice-over): We tracked down the source of the e-mails through a technical school in Santo Domingo to this Internet provider, where we were promptly escorted into an office where the company denied the e- mail came from one of its customers.
(on camera): Is there any way that you would give us the background of this man?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cannot identify right now that name and also the I.P. address is not from here for us.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The Dominican Republic's district attorney's office confirmed to CNN the office is about to investigate the source of Peter Williams and his damaging e-mails. The so-far Internet-only and unproven scandal, however, has brought more scrutiny on the very real business dealings of one of Senator Menendez's closest friends.
Dr. Salomon Melgen is a big political donor to the senator, has given Senator Menendez private jet rides to the Dominican Republic, flights which the senator should have paid for, $58,000 worth. After the flights were publicly reported, Menendez quickly said it was an oversight and has since paid back the South Florida eye doctor, and there is this, a lucrative port security contract in the Dominican Republic.
It turns out the eye doctor and close friend of Senator Menendez has a controlling interest in a port security company standing to make tens of millions of dollars if the government here gives the go-ahead for a deal. Senator Menendez aides's acknowledge the senator had spoken to State Department officials about the contract and in a Senate hearing in last July when his friend's contract was in doubt, Menendez questioned why the U.S. government hadn't been more aggressive about port security in the Dominican Republic.
Critics of the deal, including the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Dominican Republic, question how a Florida eye doctor with a powerful friend in the Senate is suddenly involved in port security in the Caribbean.
WILLIAM MALAMUD, AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: I can't find anyone who is for the contract that doesn't have a direct financial interest in the contract.
GRIFFIN (on camera): It's what we would call a cash cow.
MALAMUD: The mother of all cash cows, yes. It's a sweet deal.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): But so far, none of that sweet deal is souring the reputation of Senator Menendez. He's just been named head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and until and unless the mysterious Peter Williams emerges to prove any of his outrageous allegations, the senator's political future seems secure.
BLITZER: And, Drew, you're joining us now. You couldn't get this tipster to meet you in person. Others who have investigated him couldn't even get him on the phone. Is it possible that this is just one big hoax? There is no real Peter Williams?
GRIFFIN: Well, it seems very plausible there is no Peter Williams. The question, Wolf, is who is behind this and what are the actual facts behind the allegations, specifically the prostitution allegations that person has made?
The Dominican Republic, the district attorney there office said it's going to investigate, but we checked again today. There doesn't seem to be any hot investigation going on to find it, but I will point out Pete Williams, Harrison Pete Williams, as you will recall, Wolf, involved in a scandal from the Senate, another senator from New Jersey, so this could all just be baiting the press to try to get us to investigate these cases.
BLITZER: Might be. All right, Drew, hold on for a moment.
I want to bring in the woman who first got those Williams e-mails, Melanie Sloan, director of Crew, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Melanie, you say initially you and your organization were skeptical of this tipster, but the more you dug, the more you thought there perhaps was some merit to the allegations. Explain what happened.
MELANIE SLOAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: This tipster, Pete Williams, first reached out to us back in April.
And let me also say that in his initial e-mail, he didn't mention anything about underaged prostitutes. He mentioned prostitutes. But shortly there after, he started mentioning underaged prostitution, but we were skeptical because he said he had known about these allegations, he had evidence about since his as early as 2008. And now we're talking it's the spring of 2012, shortly before Senator Menendez's reelection, when the Senate is still considered a tossup.
So we thought the timing was suspicious. Added to that, no matter how many e-mails we had back and forth, Pete Williams never agreed to speak with us by phone. He just wouldn't talk to us. He wouldn't talk to other news organizations who we eventually brought in, and as it turns out he wouldn't talk to the FBI either.
All of that really combined to suggest to me saying this is a set-up, at least on that angle, of Senator Menendez.
BLITZER: Let me bring Drew back in.
Drew, even if the prostitution allegations do turn out to be false, there's still the matter of Menendez allegedly steering that lucrative contract to his friend and donors. Is it possible the contract could still go to the company his friend owns?
GRIFFIN: Wolf, I have to tell you, that contract is really now toxic politically speaking in the Dominican Republic. I don't see how it could get approved. It would be a contract between the government of the Dominican Republic and Melgen, this big donor to the senator. The question is how much power does the senator wield down in the D.R.? No doubt about it, the senator was writing, was urging, was pushing for that contract, and for his friend, who has given him lots of money.
That, in essence, and I think Melanie Sloan would admit, is kind of icky business in Washington, but it is business in Washington. You know, politicians do favors for donors. If it was just that, I don't think we would be really talking about Senator Menendez. It's this allegation, this upping the ante with prostitutes and teenage sex that's getting all the buzz, and oh, by the way, he's also trying to help out with this business deal down there.
BLITZER: Yes. I want to just say, Melanie, you do point out that this story, this whole issue really offers all of us a window into how Washington really works. How so?
SLOAN: Well, it's so frequent that politicians are doing huge favors for their biggest donors. This is in fact why we now have an earmark ban, because there was such a problem with appropriators, for example, making appropriations using taxpayer dollars to give gifts basically to their largest campaign donors.
And here we just have new ways members of Congress are finding to use their donors to help their biggest donors. And it's not just the port security deal. We also have Senator Menendez reaching out to Health and Human Services when there was a Medicare problem that this Melgen was facing, and he's under FBI investigation for Medicare fraud. So there are some real problems here, but I wonder if there are many senators who could withstand this kind of scrutiny because I think so many politicians are in fact given favors to campaign donors.
It's exactly why Americans are so cynical about their Congress.
BLITZER: Melanie Sloan, thank you very much. Drew Griffin, great reporting as usual. Thanks to you as well.
Up next, we will get back to the breaking news we're following this hour, a new theory on why the Newtown, Connecticut, shooter targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School. Two prominent criminologists help us get inside his twisted mind.
Later, why prosecutors could be about to upgrade murder chargers against the blade runner, Oscar Pistorius, and what newly revealed crime scene evidence could say about his girlfriend's killing.
BLITZER: More now on our breaking news. Law enforcement sources telling CBS News' Bob Orr that Adam Lanza chose Sandy Hook Elementary School because he wanted to maximize the death toll because they say he saw himself as being in competition with another mass murderer. Joining us on the phone right now, Northeast University criminologists James Alan Fox and Jack Levin. They're co-authors of "Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murderers."
Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.
James Fox, first to you. Do the details about what he was doing with his time, who he idolized surprise you at all? Or are they fairly typical for individuals like Adam Lanza?
JAMES ALAN FOX, CRIMINOLOGIST, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: No, this doesn't surprise me at all. When the question was raised, why did he go to that school, the clear answer always was that he knew when he got there that there would be a lot of victims under his gun. And he could hurt society in a most profound way. Where else could he go where so many other people would be congregated?
As far as his admiring another mass murderer, that's one of the problems when we consistently -- when we constantly talk about records. It's the largest, it's the biggest, it's the worst. What that does is it challenges other people to try to break the record. After all, why do we keep records? Records are there to be broken.
I think we should downplay that aspect of shootings.
BLITZER: Fair point.
Jack Levin, that Anders Breivik connection, if you will, you say the copycat factor doesn't necessarily lead someone to kill, but it can suggest the timing and the method. Explain.
JACK LEVIN, PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY AND CRIMINOLOGY, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: It determines, for example, the type of weapon that is used. If one killer uses a semiautomatic weapon, the next one may use a semiautomatic rifle.
Breivik himself was inspired by Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. And the Columbine massacre in 1999 inspired a number of school shootings, not only in the United States, but also in Canada, Finland, and Germany. So, you know, we can talk about the copycat factor, and it does contribute, but the causal factor for Adam Lanza was probably the same causal factor we find in most school shootings.
He was bullied severely, brutally bullied when he was in elementary school at Sandy Hook. That is a much more important causal factor than the copycat influence.
FOX: Let me add this, Wolf, in terms of how we talk about and how we cover these types of crimes. The big distinction between shedding light on a crime vs. the spotlight on a criminal, all the publicity about Sandy Hook is fine. We want to know what happened and why it happened.
But we sometimes cross that line when we focus so much on the perpetrator, making him larger than life, and making him hero for a small group of like-minded people out there who would like to follow in his bloody footsteps.
BLITZER: Yes. And I just want to point out, we did reach out to the Connecticut State Police Lieutenant Paul Vance, who is telling us this on the record on the CBS News report tonight, on this connection, alleged connection with Norway.
"All of it is speculation," Lieutenant Vance says. "There's no basis to the CBS story. We have not established a motive. It's inaccurate. I talked with CBS, told them we're dealing with a deceased shooter and trying to rebuild history. The CBS story is not accurate whatsoever."
That's what he's saying on the record. He does say they're investigating all sorts of suggestions. They're looking at all sorts of potential motives right now. Is it possible, James Fox, that absorbing all this information, absorbing information about someone like Breivik, for example, might actually lead someone to leave those fantasies in the realm of fantasy, rather than act on them?
FOX: I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. By learning everything we can about him, would it satisfy someone? I doubt it.
BLITZER: In other words, if someone was really obsessed with Breivik and had a lot of fantasies, would he necessarily or she necessarily act out those fantasies and start killing people?
FOX: Well, all the other characteristics would have be there.
If someone is satisfied with their life, if they're mentally healthy and things are going well, sure, they can be fascinated with a mass murderer, but they're not going to follow in that person's footsteps. It would require someone who is isolated, angry, frustrated, and wants to wreak havoc on the world.
If he starts being fascinated with a mass murderer that is highlighted in the news, then he might indeed use this as a precipitating event.
BLITZER: You know, publicity doesn't make someone into a mass murderer.
LEVIN: ... another killer, an infamous killer to set off this killer.
There have been school shooters who were inspired by Shakespeare, by short stories by Stephen King, just about anything, a motion picture. And Jamie is right. It's not the attention that we give these killers. It's the excessive attention. And what we should stop doing is making celebrities out of these monsters.
They don't deserve it, but it's what they crave. They want the attention of the world on them. They want to be in the spotlight, and that's one thing we shouldn't do.
FOX: And the spotlight also adds insult to injury when it comes to the victims and their families.
BLITZER: Yes. I think a lot of people totally, totally agree with both of you guys.
Jack Levin, James Alan Fox, thanks very much to both of you for joining us.
BLITZER: As always, for more on the story, go to CNN.com.
Also tonight, just days ago, she took a stand against gun violence by standing with President Obama in Chicago. Today, she's mourning the loss of her sister, killed in the city's epidemic of shootings -- the latest on the tragedy straight ahead.
And we also have new information coming in on that crippled Carnival Triumph cruise ship -- what the U.S. Coast Guard is now saying about the cause of the fire that left thousands of passengers stranded at sea.
BLITZER: If you have been following A.C. 360's reporting on all of the teenagers being murdered in Chicago, you have already heard the words enough is enough. You hear it after each kid is gunned down, but we all heard it the loudest after a 15-year-old girl, Hadiya Pendleton, was shot dead just days after performing at the inauguration festivities for President Obama in Washington.
The cries of enough is enough grew so loud, that President Obama visited his hometown to address this epidemic, to add his voice, and in the audience right there behind the president was 14-year-old Destini Warren. She came because like so many others, she was tired of losing classmates, neighbors, friends.
Sadly though, tonight, Destini Warren has lost far more. Sadder still, she's not alone. In the world she lives in, the world she and so many others are trying hard to change, it seems tragically that enough is never enough.
The report from Ted Rowlands.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hey, Chicago.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No one listening to President Obama had any reason to think they were anything but part of the solution to the problem of gun violence plaguing the city of Chicago, least of all, Destini Warren, but just a few hours later, she was involved in the worst possible way. When her sister, 18-year-old Janay, was shot and killed in this alley in North Chicago.
HERBERT MCFARLANE, FATHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: All this gun violence that's going on out here, you never think it will be your child. This is the hardest thing for me in my life.
LEASJA HAMMOC, COUSIN OF JANAY: It hurts because, like, that was like my sister. We did everything together. We were supposed to go prom shopping the next morning.
ROWLANDS: Family members say Janay wasn't the intended target of the gunman. The same was apparently true in the murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton. Her parents also attended that same speech by the president in Chicago. He said this to say about Hadiya's death.
OBAMA: What happened to Hadiya is not unique.
ROWLANDS: The Pendletons say they are heartbroken to find out that another Chicago family is now dealing with the loss of a child.
CLEOPATRA PENDLETON, MOTHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: Just knowing how devastated this mother actually was just because I can relate now, my heart it just feels totally different. It's just -- I was devastated for her.
ROWLANDS: The Pendletons say they called the McFarlane family to offer their condolences and support. Janay McFarlane's parents say their daughter talked about Hadiya Pendleton's murder a few days before she herself was killed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was like, momma, that's sad. I feel so bad for that little girl. Every time she saw kids on TV, she was like, momma, that's so sad, I feel so bad for these people that got to leave their kids.
ROWLANDS: Janay had a three-month-son who will now grow up without a mother. Her parents say they will raise him and try their best to keep him safe.
(on camera): Sadly, Janay was not the only teenager to lose her life after the president' speech last week; 18-year-old Frances Colon, who had just seen the president's helicopter flying over Chicago, was shot and killed at a Chicago convenience store. She was an 18-year-old high school senior. Her parents say she was headed to college and wanted to some day become a lawyer.
Ted Rowlands, CNN, Chicago.
BLITZER: A horrible situation in Chicago right now.
There's a lot more happening tonight.
CNN's Susan Hendricks is joining us now with a 360 bulletin -- Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Coast Guard is blaming a fuel line leak for the fire that crippled the Carnival Triumph cruise ship. Investigators say it started when the hose filled with oil came in contact with a hot surface. The fire disabled the ship and left passengers for five days with little power or plumbing. Get ready to dig deeper into your wallet next time you stop to gas up your car. According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded is now $3.57. That is a 43-cent jump from a month ago.
And some lucky bidders are celebrating this President's Day by picking up some coveted pieces from Camelot. The estate of John F. Kennedy's special assistant and longtime friend David Powers went up for auction. One of the highlights, the former president's Air Force One bomber jacket seen here. It took in nearly $630,000 -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Susan, thanks.
In "Raw Politics," swift reaction from Republicans tonight to President Obama's immigration proposal that was leaked over the weekend. His plan includes a possible eight-year path to permanent residency for most of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Immediately, Republicans voiced their opposition. Senator Marco Rubio called the plan dead on arrival. So why the leak and why the backlash?
Here with the behind-the-scenes breakdown, our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.
A lot of tough talk, Jessica, from Republicans. Why exactly are they so mad about this?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Partly, Wolf, because this is a surprise. The Republicans didn't know the president was moving the White House bill on a separate track. They thought it was on deep freeze while the Senate works out a compromise, so they think there's really only one reason the president would ready his own plan. He's preparing for the Senate to fail, so they're mad.
Also, this is unusual. The Obama White House rarely writes its own legislation. So this new strategy is unnerving some in both parties.
Now, the White House insists this is just a back-up plan, and they also tell me that they didn't leak the draft, and they think that the leak is unfortunate.
BLITZER: But were there really any surprises in this draft?
YELLIN: No, great question. The answer is no surprises at all. The details from the leaked draft are no different from the plan that's been posted on the White House Web site for the last two years.
So then the question is, why are the Republicans so outraged? Part of the answer is it's just smart politics. To get something done on immigration, Republicans need to distance themselves from the president, who you know is wildly unpopular with their base. So blasting this leak helps them get the distance -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica, thank you. More on what authorities found at the Blade Runner crime scene. That's coming up.
And music fans everywhere mourning the loss of singer Mindy McCready. She rose to fame with her chart=topping songs, but more recently, her personal problems took the spotlight. Dr. Drew Pinsky joins us.
BLITZER: "Crime & Punishment." Right now, Olympian-turned-murder suspect Oscar Pistorius is sitting in a jail cell, accused of killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, but tomorrow, he will return to court for a bail hearing where prosecutors say they tend to upgrade the charge to premeditated murder.
Police are refusing to discuss a possible motive in the case, but we are receiving new reports about the crime scene that may shed some light on Steenkamp's killing. Robyn Curnow has the latest.
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A beautiful girl, a beach, and a reality TV show which shows contestant Reeva Steenkamp's romantic side.
REEVA STEENKAMP, MURDER VICTIM: You fall in love with being in love with life.
CURNOW: She died just days before this aired, and it will continue to run on South African television for the next nine weeks.
Meanwhile, her boyfriend, the double amputee and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, spent the past few days in this jail, charged with her murder. A charge strongly denied by Pistorius and his family. This is his uncle flanked by her sister, who struggled to keep herself together as they make a brief statement to the media.
ARNOLD PISTORIUS, UNCLE OF OSCAR: As you can imagine, our entire family is devastated. We are in a state of total shock.
CURNOW: Investigators who have been combing through his home in this high-security complex are starting to piece together what they think happened early on Valentine's Day.
It was in this bedroom that Steenkamp may have expected to stay the night. According to an official close to the investigation, her overnight bag and an iPad was found in here.
Pistorius invited CNN into his room in 2008 when these pictures were taken, and CNN is also being told that Steenkamp was shot four times through a bathroom door, and authorities say afterwards, Pistorius carried her down these stairs while she was still alive.
Questions still remain over reports of a bloody cricket bat found at the scene. Was it used to attack Steenkamp? Did she use it to protect herself? Or did Oscar use it to break down the door after the shooting?
And there are reports by local media that police have found steroids at the house, which authorities have not commented on to CNN.
As the legal process all of Oscar's future races have been canceled. He was scheduled to run in Australia, Brazil, the U.S., the U.K., and Russia.
And while Pistorius is in court on Tuesday for a bail hearing, Reeva's family says there will be a memorial service for her as producers of her reality show released this farewell message from her, meant to be for the cast, but which now have become her last words. Her last good-bye.
STEENKAMP: I take home with me so many amazing memories, things that are in here and here that I'm going to treasure forever. I'm going to miss you all so much. I love you very, very much.
BLITZER: Let's dig deeper right now. Joining me from Johannesburg, South Africa, Robyn Curnow.
There are reports that security guards found Pistorius desperately trying to revive Steenkamp, but what more can you tell us about that, Robyn?
CURNOW: Well, there's still a lot of doubts as to what exactly happened that night. Although that is indeed one of the reports, and I think there were quite a lot of people at one stage who made their way into that house. And we do know, according to officials close to the investigation, that Oscar had carried her down those stairs. I've been in the house. They're white tiled stairs.
We also know from other sources that there was a lot of blood. And that's why police seem to think they know that she was alive at that time because they was -- she was bleeding so heavily as she was carrying her down. So the thought that he was trying to revive her at the bottom of the stairs, it's highly plausible, absolutely.
BLITZER: The other question involves Pistorius reportedly making a call at, what, 4 a.m. on the night that Steenkamp died. What do we know about that? What's that all about?
CURNOW: Well, I think the key thing is that he seems to have made a number of phone calls, according to various local media reports. The one phone call he didn't make was to the police, which of course, was quite crucial in my account with him in the court. This is another report in a local paper saying he made a call to his father at 3 a.m. in the morning.
We also know that his friend said he had been called, as well as perhaps a next-door neighbor in this complex. So it seems that Oscar was calling. Who he called and when still uncertain.
But really, we're only going to get a clear idea in the next day or two during this bail or bond hearing, as you say, and of course, the trial, which might only start taking place in a year's time.
BLITZER: Lots of unanswered questions in this mystery that's unfolding right now. Thanks very much, Robyn, for that.
And coming up, a man charged with assault after allegedly hitting a toddler on the plane. We're going to hear from the little boy's parents, who say the man called him a racial slur twice and hit him in the face.
Also ahead, the tragic death of country singer Mindy McCready just a month after her boyfriend apparently committed suicide himself. McCready went on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" to address her addiction issues. We'll get his thoughts on her death when 360 continues.
BLITZER: It's a case that's hard to believe. A man has been charged with assault for allegedly slapping a crying 19-month-old boy on a plane. The boy's mother said the man, Joe Rickey Hundley, called her adopted son a racial slur twice. We're going to hear from her in just a moment.
Hundley's lawyer says he's not a racist and that he's being unfairly portrayed.
Gary Tuchman has more.
JESSICA BENNETT, MOTHER OF ASSAULTED TODDLER: Twinkle, twinkle.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jonah Bennett is 19 months old. His parents say he's a happy toddler. But like many small children on planes, he was a bit unhappy as this Delta flight from Minneapolis went to land in Atlanta. He was traveling with his mom, Jessica Bennett, who tried to comfort him.
JESSICA BENNETT: Jonah started to cry because the plane was going down.
TUCHMAN: Jonah's mom was sitting with her son in seat 28b. Next to them in the window seat in 28a, was this man, Joe Rickey Hundley of Idaho.
JESSICA BENNETT: He was just being rude and belligerent, and I felt very uncomfortable.
TUCHMAN: The mom said she thought Hundley had been drinking. In court documents, Bennett said, as Jonah cried, Hundley told her to "shut that 'N'-word baby up."
JESSICA BENNETT: I could not believe that he would say something like that to a baby or about a baby.
TUCHMAN: And then it allegedly got violent. Hundley is accused of slapping Jonah across the face with an open hand, scratching him below his eye.
JESSICA BENNETT: I felt like I was in a different world. I was shaking.
TUCHMAN: Hundley has been charged with assault on a minor, which carries a possible prison sentence of one year.
An attorney for Hundley says the public should not rush to judgment, telling CNN, "This is a difficult situation, but there are procedures to follow in the law that Mr. Hundley is cooperating with."
Hundley's employer, though, has apparently heard enough. AGC Aerospace and Defense says the allegations are offensive and disturbing. In a statement, the company said, "As of Sunday, the executive [Hundley] is no longer employed with the company."
JESSICA BENNETT: I think I'll be replaying it the whole time. Very traumatic.
TUCHMAN: A court date for Hundley, which will be in Atlanta, has not yet been set.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.
BLITZER: And joining me now, Jonah's parents, Jessica and Josh Bennett.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Jessica, just take us through, in your own words, what happened. You say Hundley was combative from the get-go?
JESSICA BENNETT: I boarded the plane early on just to get all of our things settled and everything. And he was already on the plane, putting his luggage up. And I kind of introduced myself and said that that we were going to be sitting next to him. And right away, he was obviously not happy with that. And it just kind of set the mood from there for us.
I could also smell alcohol on him heavily, and I could see in his eyes, they were -- they were glossed over, and he was clearly intoxicated before the flight took off.
BLITZER: You actually spent the majority of the flight, I take it, standing in the back of the plane with your son, right?
JESSICA BENNETT: I did. He made me feel very uncomfortable at the beginning, because he was complaining, saying that Jonah was too big to be a lap -- a lap baby, and he was turning my light on every time I would turn it off, so I just wanted to avoid anything else. So I just removed us from the situation, and we went and stood back by the bathrooms for a good duration of the flight.
BLITZER: Did you -- did you complain at any time to one of the flight attendants? If you did, did they offer you another seat?
JESSICA BENNETT: Nothing was ever offered, no, and I didn't exactly complain, but they had asked if the reason why I was back there was because of his behavior, and I said yes.
BLITZER: So tell us what happened when you returned to your seat near the end of the flight.
JESSICA BENNETT: The plane at this point is descending, and Jonah is getting upset and crying. And he's getting more upset, and I can't soothe him, so he -- this was the first actual interaction that he had with me because all his comments so far were very passive. So he looked directly at me and shook his head, and he was just disgusted. And that's when he said, "F'ing 'N.'"
BLITZER: To your little baby?
JESSICA BENNETT: Yes. To my baby.
BLITZER: And then what happened after that?
JESSICA BENNETT: That's when I asked him, "What did you say to me?" And he -- it was like he just had a fit of rage at this point and just sloppily fell onto my face, and then pushed his mouth into my ear and said those words to me again but even louder and more hateful.
So I immediately pushed him off of me. And I must have screamed, because the passengers had reacted right away. And three of them stood up. And at that point is when he hit Jonah.
BLITZER: What a horrible, horrible encounter.
Josh, what was your first reaction when you heard what happened to your wife and your son?
JOSH BENNETT, FATHER OF ASSAULTED TODDLER: My first reaction was, "Are they OK?" And then it was immediately followed up by rage. Anger, helplessness.
BLITZER: It's a pretty shocking development.
Jessica, Hundley's employer has now fired him. He's also charged with assault. Could get up to a year prison sentence, if guilty. With that be enough for you?
JESSICA BENNETT: No. No, it's not.
BLITZER: What do you want?
JESSICA BENNETT: I -- I don't know. I mean, I just want -- the worst punishment that he could get, I want that.
BLITZER: Bottom line, how is Jonah doing right now?
JESSICA BENNETT: Good. He's a baby. He's -- he's resilient, and he's a happy, happy kid. He's definitely shown the effects of what happened. He's standoffish with people.
And actually, that weekend, I was in town for a funeral for my aunt, and just being around family, even that he would recognize, he was very scared, and all he wanted was me. So he was just very traumatized.
BLITZER: Well, he clearly is a sweet little boy, a nice little boy, and I'm really sorry, what happened to you and your son on that flight. Thanks for sharing it. Hopefully, people will watch and will all learn from this, and this will never happen again. It shouldn't happen to any mother and child on any flight ever.
JESSICA BENNETT: That's right.
BLITZER: Jessica and Josh Bennett, thanks very much.
JESSICA BENNETT: Thank you.
JOSH BENNETT: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, the country singer Mindy McCready is dead from an apparent suicide. She struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues. She appeared on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew." I'll speak with Drew. That's next.
BLITZER: A tragic end to a tragic life for country singer Mindy McCready. She was found dead on the porch of her home in Arkansas from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the same place where her boyfriend was found dead of an apparent suicide just a month ago.
Police say McCready also shot and killed her late boyfriend's dog before shooting herself. McCready leaves behind two sons, a 6-year- old and a 10-month-old.
In her 37 years, McCready endured a lot of turbulence, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and multiple suicide attempts.
In the days before her death, McCready was reportedly working on a song called "I'll See You Yesterday", a song she didn't write but planned to turn into a video to help people deal with suicide. Here's a bit of that song.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MINDY MCCREADY, COUNTRY SINGER (singing): Never know it's going to be the day to see you yesterday. That's the place we can be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: McCready appeared on the VH1 show "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" seeking treatment for her addiction. Dr. Drew is joining us now. Dr. Drew, thanks very much. You reached out to Mindy McCready only a few weeks ago after her boyfriend's death. So what was that conversation like? How was she doing at that point?
DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN ANCHOR: She was shattered at that point. She had been doing well. She regained custody of her children. She had a stable relationship. Things were improving. He died. At that point, things completely unraveled for her.
The second hit is when she lost custody of the children, and we -- on the heels of that, almost immediately, the suicidal gesture.
The real tragedy in all of this, though, is when I spoke to her, she had profound fear of how people were going to judge and stigmatize her if she took care of herself and went to a hospital, which is very clear to me she needed. She ultimately agreed to do it, and she did, but left after only 24 hours. And my suspicion is she did so because of the fear of the stigma.
And by the way, a lot of my conversation with her was about how to keep it confidential, that she was entitled to confidential care, particularly in a mental health facility, and lo and behold, the press got out with it and attacked her. She left. She's dead because of it.
BLITZER: This is a woman, as you know, who for years had been facing an enormous amount of challenges and struggles -- addiction, mental illness -- all just adding up, Dr. Drew.
PINSKY: Yes, absolutely. I hope people will learn from this. I know Mindy was a lovely woman, and she would want this message to get out, that these things are serious. They are -- carry the same prognosis as many other medical conditions. And it's time we begin treating diseases above the neck the same as we treat diseases below the neck.
That is to say brain diseases that cause behavioral problems and addiction and depression are medical problems that have a medical treatment and that they don't -- if they go unattended, they can be fatal.
BLITZER: For people who might be facing a similar situation, might be struggling but are afraid of the stigma attached to mental illness, what do you want to say to them?
BLITZER: What I just want to say, Wolf, is please don't -- please don't let you be -- don't be another statistic because of people's backwards attitudes about your condition.
And for those who love and are around those individuals struggling with this, don't do this alone. Don't try to help that person on your own. If somebody has an imminent thought of hurting themselves, that is a medical emergency as serious as if they had chest pain or shortness of breath or became unconsciousness. Enlist the help of an emergency room, a mental or medical health professional or law enforcement if you need to. Do not go alone. And in more chronic situations, this is really, Wolf, what we've been seeing over and over again in these stories like Newtown and Arizona with the kid that killed his parents. Ninety percent of the stories I report on are kids -- people when serious ongoing mental-health issues that go unaddressed, or who don't want to address it.
Remember, if a doctor tells you, you should get a conservatorship over a child or an adult child with mental illness, do it, because the consequences of not doing so can be profound.
BLITZER: Great advice. Dr. Drew, thanks very much.
That does it for us for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.