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Can Republicans Beat President Obama?; Payroll Tax Cut Battle Continues; Jury Awards Family of Sexual Assault Victim $150 Billion; Pawn Shop Owner Buys But Does Not Plan to Sell Purple Heart; High Profile Legal Cases of 2011 Reviewed

Aired December 21, 2011 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour here, welcome back, I'm Brooke Baldwin. A couple stories, as always, we watch for you. First, this fiery standoff over your money. Also, American troops charged in another soldier's suicide.

And your safety in the skies a hot topic on Capitol Hill today.

Time to play "Reporter Roulette."

And, Kate Bolduan, we head back to you on Capitol Hill, following the volleys, if you will, in this latest effort to keep the payroll tax cut from expiring in 10 days. Last we heard, the president had reached out to the House speaker, John Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Is that the latest that you have?


We hear that the president reached out in separate calls to House Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. From the Capitol Hill perspective, from an aide the House Speaker John Boehner, in their phone call, Speaker Boehner urged the president to call on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to appoint negotiators to this kind of -- this conference that we now are talking so much about to try to hash out the differences between the House and Senate.

But as you well know, Senate Majority Leader Reid has no intention of negotiating, as he has said and he reiterated in a letter to Speaker Boehner earlier today, that he along with Speaker Boehner and along with pretty much all congressional leaders and the White House at this point, they want that one-term deal and they want to negotiate it, they say, but Senator Reid says not until they have the assurance that the tax cut will not lapse come January 1.

So they are pushing -- he is again pushing as well as the White House is to push through this two-month extension, this short-term extension. But bottom line for our viewers, what they care about rather than the back and forth you know, Brooke, is where do things stand?

Talks are not happening. There isn't any real progress because there aren't real talks happening. Both sides are very dug in up here on their positions. They all seem to want the end goal, but they're absolutely talking past each other to this point.

BALDWIN: OK. Well, let us know if that phone call manifests itself into a meeting, Kate Bolduan. We appreciate it there on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

Let's go now to the White House and President Obama's latest push to try to break this impasse over this payroll tax cut extension.

Jessica Yellin, senior White House correspondent there for us.

Jessica, we saw the president pop up in the daily briefing yesterday. what is the news today from the White House?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, well, the president has called both Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and his real message here was to Speaker Boehner urging him to pass the two-month extension.

And the message from the White House is that there simply isn't time to get that one-year deal done before the new year. And the logic is this. They believe that there are the votes to pass a one- year deal ultimately and even quickly in the new year, but it's going to take a little bit more time to work out of the details of that.

So, in the interim, just to get past the hump, they need to get this two-month extension done and there's no time for anything short of that. Beyond that, the White House maintains that anything -- what the speaker is doing right now is catering to the internal politics of his Republican caucus on Capitol Hill, instead of attending to the over -- the bigger issue, because they are persuaded that there are the votes to pass the two-month extension if the speaker will simply bring it to a vote because Democrats in the House, plus about 30 Republicans, they are convinced here at the White House, would vote to pass this.

But the speaker, in their opinion, is simply letting the more conservative group within his caucus dictate what he's doing. So the president is trying to keep up pressure on the speaker and siding with Harry Reid saying, no, the Senate is not coming back to negotiate further.

KING: So, the president is keeping the pressure on. I know at some point he's supposed to be headed on vacation to Hawaii. In the meantime, he and you are in a very rainy Washington, D.C. And apparently he took a little trip shopping I guess today to pass the time. Is that right?

YELLIN: Yes, he's home alone for Christmas with Sasha, Malia, and then Mrs. Obama in Hawaii.

So he went out to Alexandria and he picked up some Christmas gifts. If the family is watching, don't look, because I think they will know what he's getting them. I'm going to check my notes because I'm really bad at the video games. He got what is could a "Just Dance" for the Wii. And he said we're not going to get a video of him playing it because he gets an F when he does it. And do you remember that video during the 2008 campaign when he went on "The Ellen Show" and danced? We all remember that.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

YELLIN: I guess he doesn't want a reenactment of that.

BALDWIN: I see. What else?

YELLIN: He bought some chew toys a -- a chew toy for Bo. He bought pizza for the staff here, which was nice for him, although I bet it got cold in transit.


YELLIN: And $50 Apple gift cards, so you could buy iTunes or whatever, and then Sims 3 Pets. You know what that is? It's where you go online and then you can have an interactive family online. And you add in pets with this.


BALDWIN: So those are for the girls?

YELLIN: Yes, for the girls.

Bottom line is, I think the message is, go spend money at Christmas, go out and have some fun, and he needed to get out of the house, Jay Carney said.

BALDWIN: I guess so. I guess so.

Jessica Yellin, thank you for those very important nitty-gritty shopping presidential details. We appreciate it.


BALDWIN: Jessica Yellin, our senior White House correspondent.

Now to this here next on "Reporter Roulette." More than 43 million Americans are expected to fly this holiday season. And now the government says it's making those trips even safer.

Next here on "Reporter Roulette" Brian Todd is in Washington.

Brian, big topic today on the Hill.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke, new rules about pilot fatigue.

The new rules are a result in part of that Colgan Air crash in Buffalo in 2009 that killed 50 people. It was determined that the pilot mishandled a control column of the plane, but also found that fatigue was a factor behind that crash. One of the pilots had commuted from Tampa to Newark to get on that flight. The other had come all the way from Seattle. So the new rules unveiled today are an attempt to head off that kind of pilot fatigue. The rules say pilots will have a minimum 10- hour rest period between shifts, two hours longer than they have now. That means another new factor in all of this, the opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

The new rules limits a pilot's actual time in the air each day to eight or nine hours, depending on the time of the day they start. And for the first time, the government is defining and limiting the so- called flight duty period during the day from when a pilot arrives for work to when their last flight is completed.

The new rules do not apply to cargo plane pilots because officials say it would cost that industry too much. That was also a complaint from the passenger airlines at first. They had worried about flight rescheduling and staffing. The lobby for the airlines now tells they will take another look at these rules before they come out with a final position on this, Brooke, but pretty drastic new rules for pilots. They have got to get more rest than they are getting between flight shifts these days.

BALDWIN: So, a lot of new rules and guidelines. Ultimately, when do they go into effect? Do you know?

TODD: That's another interesting factor here.

They don't go into effect for another two years.


TODD: You have got to wait that long because it just takes the airline industry too long to figure out how to kind of change its scheduling practices. It's going to take pilot training, pilot reacclimation to the flight rules.

And also it may require the pilots union to renegotiate some contracts with airlines. All of that has to play out over two years. So it's going to be at least 2013 before these rules take effect.

BALDWIN: Brian Todd, thank you in Washington.

Next on "Reporter Roulette," let's go to the Pentagon and Chris Lawrence talking about the arrests of eight soldiers charged in the death of one of their own, an Army private named Danny Chen.

Chris, it sounds like a case of bullying. This actually happened within a military unit inside of the school, right?


Private Danny Chen was a 19-year-old kid who was serving, went off to war in Afghanistan, a teenage American who signed up to serve his country and it looks like he was bullied to the point where he shot and killed himself.

The military believes that he did kill himself in a guard tower in a very remote base in Afghanistan back in October. But now these eight fellow soldiers, all higher ranking than Private Chen, have been charged with everything from dereliction of duty to negligent homicide.

Military officials don't believe they had anything to do with the actual death , but it's their conduct leading up to it, basically, that they harassed him verbally, physically, that he was abused and harassed to the point where he literally just broke -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Chris, where are the men who have been arrested now?

LAWRENCE: They have been moved to another base in Afghanistan, Brooke, ostensibly for their own protection as well. There may be some concern that other soldiers would try to take retribution for what happened to Private Chen.

You have to -- you think of a base. You say the word base and people think of these big sprawling complexes. But these remote outposts in Afghanistan, a lieutenant may be the highest ranking person on that entire base. They are very small and very isolated.

BALDWIN: Chris Lawrence, thank you.

That's your "Reporter Roulette" here for us on this Wednesday.

Still ahead, a college student disappears after this bizarre encounter with a strange man. Now police are reportedly asking neighbors to check their yards.

Plus, a heartbreaking moment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It means the ultimate sacrifice for your country. You know, you were wounded. You can't get much closer to the end than that.


BALDWIN: A pawnshop owner says a soldier walked in and sold his Purple Heart. Wait until you hear why when I speak with the owner live.

Also, it is the largest verdict in history, one family awarded $150 billion. We will tell you why and why they don't care actually if they never see a penny of that, how that went down.

Also, new polls suggest the Republican presidential candidates may have a big battle in the race for the White House. Be right back.



BALDWIN: Coming up next: New polls suggest Republican candidates, any of them, may have an uphill battle when it comes to the race for president. Paul Steinhauser will tell me why.

Plus, you know those diaper changing tables in public bathrooms? You better think twice before using them or even getting near them. We will tell you why next.


BALDWIN: All right moms and dads, you may want to think twice about using those baby changing tables. You know the ones in public restrooms? This informal study released by a radio station in the United Kingdom found that 92 percent of more than 100 changing tables that they tested apparently had traces of cocaine, cocaine on the surface of the changing table.

It was all part of the radio's investigative series called "Cocaine Unwrapped." The takeaway from this, if you need to change a baby's diaper in public, use a changing pad.

Now to more politics. President Obama's approval rating is up in new polls, which might be a good sign for his reelection campaign.

Let's go to Paul Steinhauser in Washington, deputy political adviser, with our America's Choice 2012 politics update.

So, President Obama, he must be happy.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think he must be happy. And those reelection guys in Chicago must be pretty happy, too, with his new numbers.

As you mentioned, Brooke, his approval rating is up, up five points from November. But also check out this number. We asked Americans, who do you have more confidence in, either the president or those Republicans in Congress to really -- well, let's actually do this number first, because you put this one up. So I will talk about this one.


STEINHAUSER: When you put something on the screen, Brooke, I will talk about it.

BALDWIN: Go with it.

STEINHAUSER: All right. This is a hypothetical.

President Obama -- let's say Mitt Romney wins the GOP nomination. Who would win? Well, look at this. Right now, at least, voters say 52-45 percent, the president would come out on top. One month ago, look at that, Romney had a four-point margin.

If you have got the other number, show that one as well and we can talk about that. And that's about confidence. Who do Americans have more confidence in? And right now our poll indicates they have a lot more confidence in the president than the Republicans in Congress when it comes to dealing with all these problems. So what's behind all this rise in the numbers, Brooke? I think part of it is what you have been talking about with Dana Bash and Kate Bolduan on Capitol Hill, that battle over extending the payroll tax cut. It really is kind of boosting the president's numbers, it seems, and maybe hurting the Republicans, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So we heard from Jay Carney in the White House daily briefing that the president has in fact reached out to both the Senate majority leader, but also the House speaker, John Boehner, on this whole back and forth, this impasse that we have been talking about so much about on television.

In the meantime, we have also learned from our intrepid White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, that in the meantime he's been out shopping. Let's just rehash that list, if we may. Paul Steinhauser, what's he buying?

STEINHAUSER: This is classic. And I heard you and Jessica talking about it. She was all over this story.

BALDWIN: She was.

STEINHAUSER: He goes to Best Buy, and not only any Best Buy, the Best Buy where I go right over there in suburban Virginia.

And you know what? This is the same shopping mall. Remember when the first lady went to that Target just two buildings away?

BALDWIN: Yes, not too long ago.

STEINHAUSER: Same shopping center.

Well, listen, we were just talking about the president's poll numbers where they are doing pretty well and he's giving himself some pretty good numbers, I guess. He doesn't feel the same way when it comes to shopping. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In case you guys were wondering, "Just Dance" for the Wii. The girls beat me every time on these various dance games. So I'm going to -- you guys will never get a picture of me doing it, because I get graded F every time.

How are you? Merry Christmas to you.


STEINHAUSER: I guess, if it came to dancing, if that was the most important thing to the reelection for the president, he would not win reelection.

BALDWIN: He would be a no-go.

(CROSSTALK) STEINHAUSER: Yes, but the economy is a little more important right now in American voters' minds than dancing, I guess, so maybe he's all right for now at least.

BALDWIN: That's kind of hilarious.

You know who else we can't really get on TV dancing? I tried. Wolf Blitzer. Both of them have been on "Ellen," but I guess they don't dance when we'd like them to have a little fun.

STEINHAUSER: Keep working it with Wolf. You're going to get him to dance, I know it.

BALDWIN: I try. I try. We have a thing.

Paul Steinhauser, thank you.


BALDWIN: Now this:


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I got to the Street in '28-'28, it was much more a rich man's game, not that I was rich. But I mean, it was designed for banks, for insurance companies, or railroads, or public utilities.


BALDWIN: That man there is 106 years young. He still goes to work on Wall Street Monday through Friday. We ask him what he thinks Wall Street has become today. Poppy Harlow with that right after this quick break.


BALDWIN: He is 106 years young, has been working on Wall Street for nearly 80 years. Irving Kahn is his name. He's this veteran value investor who still goes to work each and every day.

And he sat down with Poppy Harlow to reflect on the Wall Street of both the past and the present.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wall Street 80 years ago, Irving Kahn was there.

(on camera): When were you born?

IRVING KAHN, TRADER: December 19, 1905.

HARLOW (voice-over): He rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on his 100th birthday. That was six years ago.

(on camera): How has Wall Street changed during your life?

KAHN: Well, when I got to the street in it was much more a rich man's game. Not that I was rich. But it was designed for insurance companies or railroads or utilities. It's no longer a rich man's business. It's a business for everybody.

HARLOW: Do you still watch the stock market very closely every day?

KAHN: Well, I have the Bloomberg right here. I don't watch it because I'm not a trader.

HARLOW: You're a value investor.

KAHN: Right. And I stick to the 20 odd stocks I hold.

HARLOW: Who is your idle, Irving?

KAHN: Ben Graham.

HARLOW: Ben Graham, that's Warren Buffett's idol, too.

KAHN: A lot of other people wish they could do what he did.

TOM KAHN, SON OF IRVING KAHN: He works every day.

HARLOW: What do you think is to thank for your father's longevity?

TOM KAHN: I would say the fact that he has an office to go to and a job and responsibilities is extremely important.

HARLOW: Do you think you will live to be as old as your father has so far? Do you want to?


HARLOW: You didn't always have Bloomberg terminals?

KAHN: No. I was very lucky being born in 1905. I was just in time for a lot of the new technologies -- radio, television.

HARLOW: Do you have a cell phone now?

KAHN: Yes, I do. I don't use it much except to remind myself what my number is.


HARLOW: I see.

(voice-over): But Irv doesn't think technology necessarily makes things earlier when he looks at the gadgets his grandson, Andrew, uses.

KAHN: He also has to know how to work the whatchamacallit, the -- the iBook. You have to interrupt me. Otherwise, I talk too much.



BALDWIN: Poppy Harlow, I don't know how you found him. I love that he has his cell phone number taped to his cell phone.

Did he have any, I don't know, wise words of -- financial words of wisdom for you?

HARLOW: Yes, he did.

He says he's a value investor. He doesn't trade when the market goes up and down and up and down. He says he holds about 20 stocks and he doesn't like stocks that go up or down. He likes stocks that stay pretty steady and pay a good dividend. So, he's a lot like Warren Buffett in that way, just go at it for the long haul, Brooke.

BALDWIN: And, Poppy, let me ask you about this piece of news here just in.

Bank of America is supposed to pay $335 million to settle federal claims. Can you tell me about that?

HARLOW: Yes. Sure. Sure. Sure. Sure.

And I want to reference everyone to We have got the latest on it right on our home page. But this was just announced by Attorney General Eric Holder. Bank of America, the largest bank in this country, announcing really a record settlement, $335 million between the DOJ, the Justice Department, and the bank.

This is over Countrywide Financial. You may know that company. They may have issued your mortgage. They were purchased by Bank of America in 2008 and this settlement is over fair lending practices. This is the largest fair practice lending settlement in the history of this country, according to Eric Holder.

Attorney General Eric Holder said that a federal probe found that discrimination -- there was discrimination against some 200,000 qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers between 2004 and 2008.

I also do have a statement that came to us in the last few minutes from Bank of America. I want to read you the beginning of that. That says, "We reached this settlement to resolve issues about Countrywide's alleged historic practices that occurred before Bank of America acquired the company. Bank of America's practices are not at issue."

But again, if you go to, you've got the whole story there. But I think bottom line, a $335 million settlement announced by Attorney General Eric Holder between the DOJ and Bank of America. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Poppy Harlow, thank you so much.

Coming up next, new developments in the hate crime case that is shocking one community. Why you may be surprised to hear who is accused of attacking these Amish people by cutting their hair and their beards.

Plus, a boy is molested, set on fire, and then dies years later. But he reveals the name of his abuser on his death bed. Find out why his family was just awarded $150 billion but likely will not see a penny of that. Casey Jordan is standing by "On the Case" with us today, next.


BALDWIN: "On the Case" today, a Texas jury awards a grieving family $150 billion, "billion" with a "b." To tell the story, I have to give you the heads up that the images that you will see are graphic. But that massive award goes to family of Robby Middleton. He was doused with gasoline and set on fire as an eight-year-old and then died 12 years later. He died in 2010. Criminologist Casey Jordan is "On the Case." Casey, I know that the family's lawyer -- he's gotten the largest award ever to be given out. But at the same time, he doesn't expect to see a dime of the money. Why is that?

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST: Well, it is a largely symbolic gesture, and the jury knows this. Again, the defendant, Mr. Collins, he's already in prison on an unrelated sexual assault charge. So the idea of collecting that $150 billion, with a "b," is extremely remote.

However, one of the many functions of civil law is to send a message to actually express public outrage. And this case, the plaintiffs argued, really merited that level of outrage. This child at the age of eight they allege was sexually assaulted by Mr. Collins. Robby Middleton suffered for more than 12 years with burns over 99 percent of his body and eventually died from those injuries, a rare form of skin cancer which was a direct result of being burned. Those photos are so compelling that the jury wanted to make a statement. The attorney asked them to deliver the largest verdict in a civil case on record, $150 billion. It will outpace even the tobacco company judgment, and that will let everyone know that this child did not die in vain.

BALDWIN: Days before he died, I know Robby in his hospital bed, finally, that's when he uttered the name of the person he said committed this horrific crime. His name is Don Collins. As you mentioned, he's never been prosecuted. So my question is how can Collins be found liable in civil court but not be prosecuted in criminal?

JORDAN: People are very often confused and usually a criminal case conviction will come before a civil case conviction because that verdict of guilty will often add to the preponderance of evidence in the civil case.

But there isn't a rule that says one has to come before the other even though logically that's how it usually happens. In this the case, the family of Robby Middleton has intentionally done this to put pressure on the D.A. the statute of limitations has run. Mr. Collins, the accused here, could never be tried for the sexual assault nor the burning at this point because it's past seven years.

However, because Robby Middleton died directly from the injuries suffered from that burning incident, they're trying to say the D.A. should reopen this case and pursue Mr. Don Collins for the murder of their child, and they think if this jury is any indication, the test market, maybe a criminal case jury would do the exact same thing and return a guilty verdict.

JORDAN: I know that's what Robby's mother is hoping for. I'll never forget this story in the interview. I talked to her back in May, and Colleen told me she's hoping that this case will lead to civil charges. Here's what she said.


COLLEEN MIDDLETON, VICTIM'S MOTHER: I want to make sure that I can move ahead with a clear conscience knowing that I did everything I possibly could to stop these people from injuring another child like they did Robert.


BALDWIN: So Don Collins, he's serving time for the sexual assault of another eight-year-old child. Casey, what are the chances that he will face criminal charges here?

JORDAN: Well, it's important to realize that the publicity will put pressure on the D.A. to look at the possibility of bringing murder charges against Don Collins. But remember, the preponderance of evidence is a much lower standard to get a verdict in a civil case. It's much different than a criminal case, which has to be guilty beyond one reasonable doubt.

The deathbed confession or naming of his attacker is extremely important evidence, but, remember, Mr. Collins' attorneys would never be able to cross examine that witness since he's unavailable. There's all sorts of issues that the prosecutors need to look at as to whether they can actually get a guilty verdict in a case against Mr. Collins. But even if they never do, I'm sure the idea that at least one jury agreed that Collins was responsible for the wrongful death of Robby Middleton means a lot to this family. And the amount of verdict really does send a message.

BALDWIN: I want to move onto the case of the feds have now expanded their case against members of a breakaway Amish sect accused of hate crimes. Five additional people have been accused of the beard at the haircutting attacks in the Amish community on fellow. Why are these attacks, Casey, considered a hate crime?

JORDAN: Well, because the James -- sorry. Matthew Shepherd- James Bird act passed two years ago makes crimes against the bias focus of any sort of crime focused on somebody because of their age, race, gender, and including their religious creed. And in this particular case, this is fascinating, because the Amish community usually takes care of law and issues itself. It does not report these crimes to local police. And local police in Ohio are like, if I have no victim that wants to press charges, what can we do about it?

This act allows the FBI and federal investigators, it gives them a great deal of power to go in there and investigate and prosecute crimes based on hatred or bias. And in this particular case this breakaway sect is humiliating and allegedly assaulting these men and women, shaving their beards, cutting off their hair because of religious disputes between them. They are different sorts of Amish, if you would. And these are the sorts of assaults you would not think would rise to the level of criminal prosecution. At the local level they really haven't. It sends a huge message that we're not going to put up with this activity.

BALDWIN: Casey Jordan, thank you, "On the Case" for us today.

Coming up, a pawnshop owner says a soldier walks into his store, needs some cash for Christmas, sells his Purple Heart. I'm go to speak live with the owner of this pawnshop about the conversation he had with the soldier and the other surprising items lately have been trying to sell them. Don't miss that interview.


BALDWIN: A soldier who nearly sacrificed his own life in Afghanistan makes another sacrifice to get some holiday cash. He pawned his Purple Heart recently in Michigan. On the phone with me is Bryan Vandenbosch, the owner of this pawnshop. Bryan, I get a ring, I get a guitar to make ends meet, but a Purple Heart? Can you just take me back to when this man walks into the store and offers this up to you?

BRYAN VANDENBOSCH, OWNER, A-Z OUTLET: Well, it was roughly he about a week ago or a week prior to that, just after Thanksgiving, probably fell short of cash until payday. He asked me if I wanted to by a Purple Heart. I said, if you want to bring it in, I will take a look at it. I asked if he wants to get it back. He said, I have two of them. It's OK. I said, if you want to come back, it will always be here for you. It's never been for sale. I guess the sentiment from a lot of people is that I put it up for sale. I put it on display in the case.

BALDWIN: So you're not selling it?


BALDWIN: It's on display. Why aren't you selling it? What are you waiting for?

VANDENBOSCH: I'm not waiting for anything. In fact, it was just on display. It was never up for sale at all.

BALDWIN: Because what are you ultimately hoping? First of all, let me just go back. Was he hesitant at all? Did you say, why are you giving me this amazing Purple Heart? Hold on to it? Was that part of the conversation?

VANDENBOSCH: No. That had nothing to do with it whatsoever. I said, are you sure you want to sell it? He said, yes, no problem. He has two Purple Hearts. I said, if you ever want it, you can always get it back. There was never a statement that he was reluctant to do it by any means because he had another one. I said, don't you want it did I display on your uniform? You're only allowed to display one Purple Heart on your uniform.

BALDWIN: May I ask what you gave for the Purple Heart?

VANDENBOSCH: I don't give out that information. I appreciate you asking though.

I've had people all the way across the country from one side to the other side, they offered to pay for it, they have done this, they have done that, which is fantastic. I appreciate their sentiment on trying to pay for it. And that doesn't have anything to do with it. I basically helped him and that's what it basically came down to.

BALDWIN: So you feel like you handed him some money, thus helping him, that's why he came into your store to begin with. You're hanging on to the Purple Heart just for him.

VANDENBOSCH: If he comes back, fantastic, he gets his Purple Heart back. If he doesn't, it will be waiting here for him if he ever decides to come back. It's OK.

BALDWIN: As we wait, and certainly a lot of people are interested in the store and want to make sure this man gets his Purple Heart back, I understand that given these times recently you have had other people come in your store trying to pawn other precious items, such as --

VANDENBOSCH: It just depends. We've had people with leaving their kids behind because they are financially stressed. One lady hit her child in the face right in front of me. I had to step in. I was like, ma'am, if you're financially stressed just leave your son for now. I'll take him home with me.

BALDWIN: Hang on a second. People have wanted to leave their children with you?

VANDENBOSCH: I've had incidents where they've left their children behind, yes.

BALDWIN: OK. What else?

VANDENBOSCH: It's just the type of business I run. I do the service for the community. I'm able to be self-employed. I'm able to help people which -- I feel good about being able to help people. There are a lot of items that I buy that aren't worth anything as a resale item. But I help people get gas so they can go to work, pay their landlord, get food on the table. It's just part of the business. I just try to help people as best I possibly can.

BALDWIN: I think we lost him.

VANDENBOSCH: I'm still here.

BALDWIN: You are there. OK, I'm going to let you go. Please keep us posted if in fact this soldier comes back and would like --

VANDENBOSCH: I'm sure he will be back to get his Purple Heart. I'm not concerned about that. I wish everybody a Merry Christmas and god bless all of you and I appreciate the concern from everybody.

BALDWIN: Bryan, thank you.

VANDENBOSCH: Thank you. Have a great Christmas.

BALDWIN: Thank you. Same to you.


BALDWIN: Many across the country are still stranded after that monster blizzard, but now the storm is on the move. Find out who will be impacted by that. Plus, this --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The jury finds the defendant not guilty.

BALDWIN: The verdict only further enraged a public convinced he was a cold-blooded killer.



BALDWIN: From Casey Anthony's stunning verdict to Amanda Knox's freedom, you will see how some of the year's biggest legal stories unfolded live on CNN. We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: As the year here is coming to a close, CNN is taking a look back at 2011. It was a year filled with cameras and reporters both inside and outside many a courtroom across the country and around the world. Randi Kaye takes a look at the legal dramas that defined 2011.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 2011 was the year of legal drama, and none grabbed the country's attention more than the Casey Anthony trial. Anthony, 25, was accused of suffocating her two-year-old daughter, dumping her body, and embarking on a month-long party spree. Spectators fought for seats. Millions more watched it all play out on television.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury find the defendant not guilty.

KAYE: The verdict only further enraged a public convinced she was a cold-blooded killer.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She got away with this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The devil is dancing tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: O.J. number two. That's what you're hearing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Conrad Murray caused the death of Michael Jackson.

KAYE: In Los Angeles, all eyes were on Conrad Murray, the cardiologist on trial for killing the king of pop. His defense team argued Michael Jackson injected himself with a deadly dose of the anesthetic Propofol. The jury didn't agree. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years in jail.

In what's becoming another Hollywood tragedy, actress Lindsay Lohan continued to battle addictions. After violating probation following a conviction for stealing a necklace, Lohan was ordered to work at the L.A. county morgue.

Sex, violence, and corruption may sound like the makings of a Hollywood movie, but it was the core of Amanda Knox's murder trial in Perugia, Italy. In 2009 Knox was convicted of killing her roommate, Meredith Kercher, whose body was found half-naked, her throat slashed.

But after four years in an Italian prison and still so many unanswered questions, the 24-year-old walked free.

AMANDA KNOX: Thank you to everyone who has believed in me, who has defended me.

KAYE: "News of the World's" drama played out before parliament. One of the oldest and bestselling newspapers in Britain was forced to shut down after accusations reporters illegally tapped phone messages of nearly 6,000 people, including a 13-year-old murder victim, politicians, the royal family, and celebrities.

HUGH GRANT, ACTOR: When a story is been obtained by hacking the phone of a murdered schoolgirl or the family of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, I don't find that lovable and naughty. I find that cowardly and bullying and shocking.

KAYE: "News of the World" honcho Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, were grilled by parliament over the scandal, then forced to pay millions in compensation.

Back in the U.S. we saw a French leader's future crumble in a New York courthouse. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, once hailed as the future president of France, resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund after being accused of raping a hotel housekeeper. The charge was later dropped. The former leader of a 10,000-member fundamentalist Mormon sect wasn't so lucky. Warren Jeffs was convicted of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old and 15-year-old girl he claimed were his, quote, "spiritual wives."

In Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner, a diagnosed schizophrenic, gunned down Congresswoman Gabbie Giffords in a Safeway parking lot. Giffords was shot in the head but managed to survive, surprising everyone by regaining her ability to speak. Loughner was declared incompetent to stand trial in 2011, but may face the death penalty in the future.

Troy Davis lost his fight on death row, though he maintained his innocence until the end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This night, the state of Georgia legally lynched a good, a brave, and indeed an innocent man.

KAYE: Davis was put to death for the 1989 murder of an off duty Savannah police officer although seven of the nine witnesses against him have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Even world figures like Pope Benedict and President Jimmy Carter had urged the execution be halted.

Also staring down death row, Joshua Komisarjevsky was convicted of the 2007 brutal murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters. Hawke-Petit was raped and strangled by Komisarjevsky accomplice Steven Hayes, who was sentenced to death in 2010. Michaela, just 11, was sexually molested, then left along with her sister to die in a fire set by the man.

Jaycee Dugard was fortunate enough to escape her abductors. Just 11-years-old when kidnapped in 1991, Dugard gave birth to two children during her 18 years in captivity. The father of those children, one of her abductors, Phillip Garrido. Phillip and his wife, Nancy, were convicted this year on charges of abduction and rape.

And 2011 was the year that saw Bryan David Mitchell sentenced to life in federal prison for the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in Utah. Mitchell took Smart from her bed in the middle of the night and raped her repeatedly during her nine month captivity.

Legal dramas and historic court cases that defined 2011 but will be remembered long after the calendar turns.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Atlanta.


BALDWIN: Randi Kaye, thank you.

Coming up next, as many of you get ready to hit the roads and skies, big storms may put a curveball in those plans. Alexandra Steele is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BALDWIN: Before we go, we have to get a quick check of the weather. Alexandra Steele, so many eyes on the forecast. And so what, two bad areas?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, METEOROLOGIST: Two hot spots, rain and snow, different areas. A boon for skiers in the Rockies, but it may just be trouble getting to the airports and getting on the roads. This is tonight and tomorrow. So what we have in Wyoming and Colorado, we're going to see this snow.

But as we head further south, Denver, Colorado gets about four to six inches, finishes tomorrow afternoon. Then this blizzard with 24 inches of snow, more for New Mexico, Albuquerque right in the bull's eye of that.

Farther east, right now, about two and a half hour delays at Newark and Philadelphia because of rain and low ceilings. This is this afternoon. Here comes the rain. We're going to have a bit of a break. So if you're flying tomorrow out of Boston, New York, Washington, you'll be fine. But here comes the swamp of moisture. Chicago, down toward Raleigh, we're going to watch this rain move in. No snow other than by Friday morning in northern New England and northern New York you could pick up in terms of accumulations, not much, maybe less than an inch, but it will be snow. So good skiers in the green and white mountains, Vermont, it's going to be nice up there.

BALDWIN: Very nice. Alexandra, thank you so much. And thank you so much for watching. I'm Brooke Baldwin here at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. And now we go to Washington. Wolf Blitzer, "THE SITUATION ROOM" starts right now.