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Same-Sex Marriage Open Letter; "Stand Your Ground" Defense Rejected; Veterans Coming Home to Unemployment; Allegations of Abuse in Middle School
Aired May 12, 2012 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you for joining us here on CNN NEWSROOM.
We're going to get right to the news right now. Mitt Romney made a personal appeal today to conservative evangelicals.
Mr. Romney addressed graduates at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. He never mentioned his own Mormon faith, not directly. But he stressed common ground on issues like service, responsibility, and the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
In Chicago, jury finds Jennifer Hudson's former brother-in-law guilty of killing three family members. William Balfour shot and killed the singer's mother, her brother, and her 7-year-old nephew back in 2008. Hudson broke down in tears when the verdict was read. Illinois has no death penalty. Balfour will be sentenced to life without parole.
Protesters in Spain -- they are fed up with the country's economic nightmare. Tens of thousands marched today in Madrid and other cities. They are marking the one-year anniversary of movement against inequality and sky high unemployment.
Some civil rights leaders are commending President Barack Obama for what they call his evolution on gay marriage. In an open letter that was released just last night, they compare it to the struggle for civil rights. The president declared his support for same-sex unions earlier this week.
Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond joins me by phone.
Thank you very much for joining us.
Listen, you have been very outspoken about marriage equality. What is your personal reaction to the president's public endorsement of same- sex marriage?
JULIAN BOND, CHAIRMAN, NAACP (via telephone): I was tremendously happy to hear that he was going to do it. I always thought he felt his way. It's hard for a thinking person not to believe that equality means everybody.
It doesn't mean who you are. If you're an American citizen, you have a right to certain things. And one of them is the equality that all of us enjoy. So I knew he would do it sooner or later. I wish it had been sooner, but I'm happy as you don't know what.
LEMON: So, were you surprised that he did it before the election?
BOND: Yes, because he easily could have waited, but I think so many people who wanted him to say these words, to hear him talk about it, would have been disappointed, and that might have affected their turnout on election day.
I think those people who disagree with him are probably some people who would not have voted for him no matter what, and those were disappointed with him and who are going to vote for him, I hope they'll remember there's more at stake here in this election than this one issue. The future of the country is really at stake and Barack Obama and Mitt Romney offer contrasting views of which way the country is going to go, so it ought to be easy to make a choice.
LEMON: Well, I think it's I'm holding a -- I have a letter right here that you wrote. It's a very carefully worded letter where you talk about equal rights and you say pretty much what you have just said to me now and I have the quote here. But basically, you said everyone is entitled to equal rights.
I want to ask you about some things here that have come to light for us. Apparently, there was -- tell me if you know about this. Was there a conference call with the president and some ministers last week, about 20 pastors, and there was unanimous --
BOND: I don't know. I'm not a minister. I didn't have a conference call with the president, so I don't know anything about this.
LEMON: OK. There are people who like Ben Jealous or Isaac Farris, who's the current president of SCLC, and the current president of the NAACP. Why are they not included in this? Were they asked and said no? Or what's the deal?
BOND: I really don't know thousand answer you on that. As far as I know, the organizer of this -- the letter you're talking about was the Reverend Al Sharpton. He called me yesterday afternoon and sent me a version of the letter and then later sent me the slightly different version of the letter. I told him I preferred the different version. That was my contact with him and contact with the letter itself.
LEMON: So the NAACP, National Urban League -- was that an oversight, or do you know?
BOND: Well, I don't know what went into Reverend Sharpton's words. You know, the NAACP has no position on this issue. And when I signed it as the chairman emeritus of the NAACP, that doesn't say I'm speaking for the organization.
I'm not. I'm the chairman emeritus and I don't speak for the NAACP. We have a chairwoman who does that and does it well. President Jealous does it well. He does it well.
But we don't have a position at the NAACP, to my sorrow, on marriage equality.
LEMON: One black pastor who is supporting the president in November has said to you that this opened a civil war among black pastors. Do you agree with that?
BOND: It's only a civil war if they choose to make it -- if you think about marriage, marriage is both a civil right, that's R-I-G-H-T, and it is a religious rite, R-I-T-E.
If you believe in marriage as a civil right, you don't have to -- you understand what I mean.
LEMON: I know what you mean.
BOND: I've been married twice. So I have more experience at this than most people. And I was married the first time in a civil right before a county ordinary in a small town in Georgia. Not a minister to be seen. The second time I was married, the honorable Benjamin Hooves pronounced my wife and myself husband and wife, and it was a noble occasion for both of us and a happy occasion for both of us.
So I've been through both experiences. And I was no more married the first time than I was the second.
LEMON: People may be watching this saying what's the big deal? African-Americans they believe are going to vote for President Obama for the most part, not everyone. It's not monolithic. But he has huge African-American support.
But, here's -- Mr. Bond, tomorrow is a big day in the black church. And I'm sure the administration is trying to get ahead of that and get people on message. I think on this eve leading up to Mother's Day and what happened with the president's announcement this week, it's an important day for the administration because a lot of black folks will be in church tomorrow.
Do you think there was a concerted everyone among the administration and you and the people who signed this letter to get ahead of that message and to speak to those ministers before they wrote or write their sermons?
BOND: I hope so. I'd like to hope that the administration was smart now have done this. But I don't know that that happened.
LEMON: Is that one reason that you signed on to this letter?
BOND: It's one reason I signed on to it, because I support President Obama and I supported his statement. I wasn't aware of any special strategies, although I hope there were some special strategies around this, because as I said a moment ago, this election is too important to just take a care-free attitude toward it. Anybody who stays at home is really voting for the other guy.
And if you vote for the other guy, I'm going to track you down and find out where you live and do something to you. LEMON: OK, listen, the Reverend Joseph Lowery, you know, he is a civil rights icon. He also signed on to this letter. Many people think he has changed his stance recently or just as of a couple days on same sex marriage. I spoke to him in October of last year and he had already made up his mind about gay marriage.
Take a listen and then we'll talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: You still don't believe in same-sex marriage?
REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, FMR. PRES., SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONF.: I've never said that. I said I believe in civil unions.
LOWERY: But I've grown to the point where I think they have less opposition if they talk about civil union instead of same-sex marriage. But if that's the way they want to go, I can't argue with it. If I have a right to marry whom I please, everybody ought to have a right to do the same thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: That was October 11th, 2011. He went on to say when we talked about the Bible and Leviticus and he said, I reject that as I reject the Bible's words about slavery. And he said, you have to look at the Bible holistic. He went on to say, "The truth of the matter is that God insisted that all God's children get equal rights and if you believe in equal rights, you cannot deny any of God's children any portion of rights." I said to him, 'Including gay people?" And his answer was, "Including gay people."
That's a big step and strong words from a minister and from a civil rights icon. How much weight does that hold, if any?
BOND: An enormous amount of weight, because when he speaks, he speaks with some authority. This is a man who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King's side, his counselor, his friend, who shared the experiences of the civil rights movement with him. When he speaks for a generation of civil rights fighters, all Americans ought to pay attention to him.
Those of who can't remember who he is just think back to the Obama inauguration where he just performed a wonderful, wonderful service. He's a great man and he speaks great truths.
LEMON: Is this -- people have compared this to the civil rights movement, the rights of gay rights. And many people reject that, or they've been insulted by that and say it's different. Do you think that this is the next frontier in civil rights?
BOND: I think it's an important next frontier. And I can't understand why people are insulted. I am flattered when gay and lesbian people take the music of my movement, take the songs of my movement, take the phrases and words of my movement, take the tactics of my movement and use them to win their civil rights.
I'm happy for them. I want them to have them. I want to help them as much as I can. And I can't see why I can't call their movement a civil rights movement because I was in a civil rights movement.
And I'm happy to have them join aboard. They helped me and I want to help them as much as I can.
LEMON: Julian Bond, thank you for taking the time. We appreciate it.
Tomorrow is a big day in the black church. We're going to be reporting on it. I'm sure there will be lots of sermons about this particular issue.
Again, our thanks to Julian Bond. We're going to continue to follow this story here on CNN.
And we're also going to expand it, broaden it to the church in general. Does the church need to be more inclusive? Remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? His son, their son is going to join me in a little bit.
There he is. There's Jay Bakker. He's the author of a fantastic book. He is a minister now and he talks about inclusion. What he has to say will surprise you. And enlighten you as well.
LEMON: A Florida woman claims she was only firing a warning shot to chase off her abusive husband. He wasn't hurt. But Marissa Alexander will spend 20 years in prison without parole. And by contrast, George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed teen and police waited 46 days to arrest him.
So, what's the connection between these two cases? Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law which lets anyone use deadly force anytime they feel their lives are threatened.
Karen Conti, an experience trial attorney and the host of WGN Radio's "Legally Speaking." And she is in my former city Chicago.
So, Karen, Marissa Alexander tried to use "Stand Your Ground" in her defense, but it didn't work for her. Why not?
KAREN CONTI, TRIAL ATTORNEY: Well, in her case, what happened was she was threatened by her husband, apparently, and then she left the house. Then she went into the garage, got her gun and came in, apparently to get her car keys, she says, and the jury didn't believe that she was in imminent fear for her life. The jury believed that she came back in anger to try to scare him off and that those warning shots were not done in defense. They were really done kind of in a punitive way in. That regard, the "Stand Your Ground" law just didn't apply.
LEMON: When the judge sentenced Alexander on Friday, he said he had no discretion under state law. Why is that? CONTI: Well, interestingly, we have this very liberal law for gun holders, the "Stand Your Ground" law. On the other hand, Florida has this 1020 life law, which means that if you pull out a gun during any crime, that's 10 years, mandatory. If you shoot it, it's 20. If you kill somebody, it's mandatory 25.
So the judge had no discretion. She pulled out the gun and she shot it, even though she didn't aim it at anybody. That gives her 20 years without any discretion.
LEMON: OK. What should Alexander have done? What should she have done under Florida law to protect herself if she really did feel her life was in danger? What's she to do?
CONTI: Well, at that point in time, if she really felt that he was going to strangle her, kill her, which apparently he threatened, she could have stood her ground and taken out the gun right then and there and harmed him. However, she left the scene and came back.
That was the problem with why the law did not apply. And she shouldn't have done that. She can't just use a gun to shoot and scare somebody. It has to be when you really feel you're ready to be hurt and injured.
LEMON: OK. So George Zimmerman actually shot Trayvon Martin. Police hesitated. They didn't arrest him right away. They hesitated to even charge him.
Marissa Alexander didn't kill anybody and she's going to prison for 20 years do. You think this law is applied fairly?
CONTI: I don't like the law to begin with. I think it really gives people a lot of discretion. I really do believe people have a right to stand their ground in their home. But when you're outside and you have a reasonable fear of bodily harm, you can just pull out a gun without backing away.
If you come at me in a bar with a knife, should I just be able to take out a gun and shoot you? I think I should have to move back, put a chair in between and do something to stop it before I kill you. It doesn't seem right.
In this case, though, the Zimmerman case was interesting because just before he pulled out the gun, the facts are they say that Trayvon Martin was hurting him, punching him, had him on the ground. If that's true, then that law applies and is a perfect defense for Zimmerman. He thought his life was in danger, his bodily injury was going to be imminent and pulling out that gun was appropriate under Florida law -- whether you like that result or not, that's how the law gets applied.
LEMON: The governor in Florida appointed a task force to review his state's stand your ground law after the Martin shooting. If that law is stricken or it's changed, could Alexander be released? Can they go back and do something about this? Or that's done deal? CONTI: Usually those kinds of things are not retro active, although I think from a political standpoint, you might se the prosecutor stand down here and reduce charges and maybe plea bargain something that's less than what was originally charged.
LEMON: Is there -- OK, this is -- so it's over for her? She's going to have to do this. There's no one can step in and say, hey, this is a bit harsh? This is over?
CONTI: I mean, the appellate court could say that this is cruel and unusual punishment, shooting a gun in the air, 20 years. Is that a fair result? The statute could be stricken.
But right now, as it stands, that sentence is going to stick. Yes.
LEMON: Karen, thank you. Appreciate it.
CONTI: You're welcome, Don.
LEMON: All right. The son of a well-known TV evangelist -- two of them, as a matter of fact -- has some very strong words of advice for the church. He joins us live, next.
LEMON: All right. If you want to listen -- if you want to be a part of a fascinating conversation, take a seat. Jay Bakker is a pastor, but in many ways, he couldn't be more different from his dad, Jim Bakker, or his mom, the late Tammy Faye Bakker. Actually Tammy Faye was very inclusive.
Jay is the pastor of Revolution Church in New York, a ministry that welcomes anyone and everyone. He's also the author of fantastic book, it is called "Fall to Grace". I've read it cover to cover. As I was reading it, sending him comments about it.
You know, we're going to talk politics and faith in just a minute here, Jay. But I want our viewers to get to know your story. People, of course, remember your parents and the scandal that brought down their ministry and sent your father to prison. You were a teenager when the PTL Club crashed. I remember your mom singing "We're blessed, we're blessed, we're blessed" at the end of every program. I looked forward to that.
How did that affect your life and your faith?
JAY BAKKER: I think empathy. You know what I mean? Going through that type of thing and watching -- from being from the top and then watching the church kind of turn on my family when they had their fall and seeing kind of a lack of forgiveness and restoration, it definitely made me want to live a life of more of loving people and restoring people and caring for people.
It's like seeing the whole church when you're that age, you know, just everybody seemed to work for my parents. It was a bizarre time in my life. LEMON: Is that -- it just seems so odd that -- and I'm generalizing here. But in many instances, the church we know does a lot of great works. But many times a church will stand back and separate themselves from people, or not accept people as much as you would imagine or presume the church to be an open place.
Was that surprising to you after all this happened?
BAKKER: Yes. Well, I mean, nothing really surprises me much anymore. But it was a bit surprising at first. Because to me, it's last thing the church should do. You know, from what I understand of reading the Bible, is that we should always be open to people, loving people, but instead it's like we create this roll list of who can get in the door and who can't.
LEMON: Is that why you become a minister, because of that experience?
BAKKER: That played a big part of it. A big part of it was the fact that what I was reading in the Bible wasn't lining up to what I saw the church doing to other people. Or I saw them use a little verse here and a little verse there to promote their theology of being exclusive rather than inclusive. And I felt like the message needed to be clear.
LEMON: OK. We're going to get into more of that, we're going to go in depth. We're going to talk about gay marriage. We're going to talk about other issues in the church as well.
So, Jay, after the break, I want to ask you about politics, including the current back and forth over same-sex marriage, as I said. You have a very interesting point of view on this. We want our viewers to stay connected to CNN even on the go.
Make sure you grab your mobile phone and go to CNN.com/TV. If you're on a desktop or laptop, you can also watch CNN live and you can tweet @DonLemonCNN and be a part of that organization.
LEMON: Talking politics and religion now with Jay Bakker. Jay is the pastor of Revolution Church in New York. He's the son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner. Author of "Fall to Grace."
You aim a lot of your work at young people who have turned away from their faith and who feel left out of traditional worship. Do you blame the church or do you think politics play a role in that as well?
BAKKER: I would definitely say the church and politics both play a role. It's not really just young people, I mean, it's everybody. We have so many different folks who attend our church who have just been hurt or burned out by the church or not felt welcomed or maybe in their darkest time were asked to leave the church so.
And so, we've just tried to be a place for healing for that or for people who have nothing to do with the church. I feel like we're sometimes a waiting room, either people are on their way out or on their way in.
LEMON: Let's talk about this. You welcome gay worshippers to your church and you've told me before that you don't consider being gay to be a sin. What's your reactions to the president's announcement this week about same-sex couples being allowed to marry?
BAKKER: I was extremely excited about it. I mean, I'm so happy, but I wish -- I hope we get past the point of state law and we move it to federal law. But right now, I'm just happy that the president spoke out for what I can see as the continuing of civil rights.
LEMON: And you're a straight guy. It's not that you have any dog in the fight because you're gay. You're a straight guy and you believe this.
You said to me during the commercial break after I spoke with Julian Bond and I talked about Joseph Lowery and the civil rights movement and comparing this, what did you say? You said it was an honor to be --
BAKKER: Yes. Just to be amongst those men, to be sitting here and having an interview with you, you know? Because we're not trying to -- you know, comparing civil rights, I don't want to steal civil rights, but it's a movement that we can learn from and a movement that can cause us to grow.
And so, you know, doing this type of work, I think one of the things that keeps me going is reading the writings of MLK or Gandhi or things like that, because it's so easy to get discouraged when you're working on the behalf of others.
LEMON: OK. So we talked about the black church, right? And listen, I know not all -- I'm generalizing. Not all African-Americans are going to be in church tomorrow, not all African-Americans are Christians, but a large portion of them are. And they will be going to church tomorrow for Mother's Day.
And it's interesting that this came out. The letter, the president, the administration, as Julian Bond said, would be smart to get ahead of this.
So how do you -- you're a minister -- prepare a sermon for tomorrow after what the president said and then considering the traditional believes on what the Bible says about homosexuality and about marriage?
BAKKER: Well, I hope people will use this as a point to realize that we've got to start working towards equality. Religion isn't an excuse to be a tyrant. We shouldn't use our religion as an excuse to make people believe what we believe.
I hope it will be something about inclusion. I hope we'll remember people like Jay Jones, who I talked to you about earlier, who took his own life because he was bullied about being gay. So, you know, we've got all these problems that people are having to pay -- all these consequences that kids are paying for this anti-gay rhetoric. And I really hope that people in the church will stop it and not use this as a point for more rhetoric.
LEMON: What about Leviticus? Marriage is between a man and a woman. It's an abomination for a man to sleep with man or woman to sleep with woman.
BAKKER: Yes. Leviticus, they're going to use Romans, they're going to use all these verses. But the fact is that they are not talking about what me and you understand as being gay and lesbian, transgender now.
You know, people always say they talk about shellfish or things like that as well. You know, but Leviticus is old covenant. And as far as what we read in the new testament, that has more to do with worshipping other gods or prostitution in ministry.
LEMON: Jay Bakker, thank you. I wish I could spend more time with you, but we appreciate you.
BAKKER: Thanks for having me.
LEMON: Thank you very much. Thank you.
BAKKER: You're welcome.
LEMON: Hundreds of U.S. veterans are returning home only to face the harsh reality of unemployment. Actor and veteran J.R. Martinez is teaming up with CNN to bring you their stories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J.R. MARTINEZ, ACTOR: When I was asked to be a part of this documentary, I absolutely said yes right off the bat. Because it's important to raise awareness about guys coming home. And how difficult it is for them to be able to find employment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been watching you for the whole year, the whole time you knocked it out of the park over there and we're so proud of you and glad to have you home. So let me hear one big Georgia hooh -
SPEC. DAMON BOYD, 877TH ENGINEER COMPANY: Coming home and finding work, that's what on everybody's mind right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A federal law called (INAUDIBLE) protects the jobs of National Guard soldiers. Those who had jobs before they left can go back to them. But half the soldiers of the 877th are coming home unemployed.
MAJ. PAMELA ELLISON, NATIONAL GUARD BUREAU: When you left your job, you were supposed to let them know that you were going for military service. Did you all do that?
Some of our soldiers are going on multiple deployments because they don't have employment in the civilian sector. Others, where they work is going out of business so the protections that are in place aren't applicable. Sometimes they are getting terminated against the protections that are in place.
You have to return to work under (INAUDIBLE) guidelines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of them are young and they don't have transferable skills. Some of them don't know how to turn a military resume into a civilian resume.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of certifications and stuff from the military don't transfer. You could have thousands and thousands of road hours as a truck driver in the National Guard and you don't have a license to drive civilian.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you're about to go into is no different from a combat zone. Now think about that. You're going home and it says it's no different than a combat zone.
ELLISON: The 877th out of the Georgia National Guard is not unique in their challenges. We are seeing that units that are coming back are experiencing similar rates of half or more than half of their unit being unemployed. It's never been critical like it is now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Allegations of beating and torture, and this is in the classroom. Parents were shocked to hear violent details of what investigators say happened to their special needs children inside an Atlanta area school. But no criminal charges have ever been filed in a case of abuse that began eight years ago.
Julie Peterson talked with the parents and in an exclusive interview, the school employee who triggered the school district investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It said she rubbed her breast and buttocks in Jake's face. When I read that, I just - I about died.
JUDY MARSHALL, MOTHER OF JAKE: But apparently that was going on with all the kids, because it came out in my hearing.
JULIE PETERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Judy Marshall and Lisa Williams's friendship has roots in a shared anguish, each has a son, a special needs son abused by their middle school special needs teacher Melanie Pickens.
MARSHALL: I never in my wildest imagination would have ever thought anything like this would have been going on in a public school.
PETERSON: Judy's son Jake is 20.
MARSHALL: (INAUDIBLE) and autism.
PETERSON: Lisa's son 19-year-old Alex has cerebral palsy. According to court documents released in February, between 2004 and 2007, the boys were frequently abused by Melanie Pickens at Hopewell Middle School outside Atlanta. Neither Jake nor Alex had the verbal ability to tell anyone they were being hurt. Their parents knew nothing.
But in 2007, another Hopewell teacher Susan Tallant did something that changed the course. Tallant says she saw Pickens screaming at children, and even isolating them in empty rooms, strapped into chairs. Tallant says she asked her colleagues for advice. They discouraged her from taking it to principal Francis Boyd.
SUSAN TALLANT, FMR. SPECIAL NEEDS TEACHER: I could say something to the higher ups, but nothing would ever get done.
PETERSON: But one day, Tallant found Jake alone in a room covered in feces.
TALLANT: He had defecated and actually done it everywhere, all over him, all over the chair he was sitting in, all over the floor.
PETERSON: Tallant had had enough.
TALLANT: You know, this can't keep going on. I said this isn't right.
PETERSON (on camera): Susan Tallant's written complaint triggered a formal investigation by the Fulton County school district. Three years of abuse towards student Jake Marshall by Teacher Pickens was revealed. In the report that was commissioned by the district.
(voice-over): The Fulton county school district put Principal Boyd in a new position that allowed her to use up her paid and unpaid leave and then retire the next year with her pension. Boyd's certificate to teach in Georgia was eventually surrendered. At the time she denied violating the code of ethics in any way. As for Pickens, she immediately resigned following the 2007 investigation and her certification was revoked.
Four years later, in an a separate court case, Pickens denied abusing Jake Marshall. Neither Pickens, Boyd, nor their lawyers were willing to comment for this report.
PETERSON (on camera): Though the Marshall and Williams complaints have been dealt with, there are unanswered questions. Why no criminal prosecution of teacher Melanie Pickens? Why were so many teachers afraid to report the abuse to principal Francis Boyd? And how high up the school system's administrative ladder does the evidence of misconduct go?
(voice-over): Parents of students in Pickens' class say at the time of the district's personnel changes, they still were told nothing by the school. The Marshalls say they slowly began to figure it out though after they were interviewed for the investigation.
From there, the Marshalls say they began a long two-year quest to obtain documents and records from the district. Jake Marshall's parents eventually obtained a copy of the Pickens' investigation report. They were appalled to learn what had happened to their son and other youngsters in Jake's class. Hitting, screaming, vulgar language, and being strapped in a chair isolated and alone in darkened school rooms.
The Marshalls filed a complaint, accusing Fulton County School District of knowing about the abuse for years and covering it up. Marshall says her family reached a confidential settlement with the school district in 2009. She then reached out to Lisa Williams, mother of Alex, letting her know about the abuse that occurred in their son's class. It was the Williams family's turn to be appalled.
LISA WILLIAMS, MOTHER OF ALEX: I read it, I called Judy and I said what do we do? We've got to call the police. And she kind of laughed and said "Been there, done that. They're not going to do anything."
PETERSON: Alex Williams is gentle and sweet, despite the tough cards he's been dealt.
WILLIAMS: Alex, we're going to get something to eat, OK?
PETERSON: His mother remembers the day when she asked her husband Doug, a pediatrician to, read the investigation report.
WILLIAMS: For me, I think one of the hardest things was getting him to read the investigation. Because he - I mean, that's what he does. He takes care of children. And so to read an investigation about what happened to Alex, he didn't want to.
PETERSON: Their son was mentioned throughout. They read that Melanie Pickens slammed Alex into lockers face first nearly every single day. Alex was yelled at, hit and even knocked over on to the concrete sidewalk. They recalled that at the time, back in 2006 through 2010, they had noticed disturbing changes in their son. For one thing, he stopped using the toilet. They couldn't figure out why he was going backwards developmentally.
DOUG WILLIAMS, FATHER OF ALEX: I thought he had something going on. We kept searching for it. Unfortunately, we found out it was the abuse and the PTSD that was really causing all of his regression and symptoms. The Williams say that at least 19 administrators and teachers saw Melanie Pickens abuse her students over the years. And the court found Principal Boyd created an air of intimidation for her staff, with teachers afraid they'd lose their jobs if they made reports about Pickens' conduct.
The Williams filed an administrative claim against the school system for what happened to Alex. The court found that the school had not provided Alex the free and appropriate public education that he was entitled to by law. The school district was ordered to pay for special educational services and therapies for five years to help Alex make up for lost ground in.
In recently released court documents, Principal Boyd claims she reported Pickens' conduct to a social worker and to the school system's personnel department in 2004. Three years before Susan Tallant forced an investigation. Boyd says a representative of the school's personnel department told her not to fire Pickens. (END VIDEOTAPE)
LEMON: A look at what's next for this school and the investigation.
LEMON: We've been telling you about horrific allegations against a former teach at an Atlanta area school. Court documents say special needs children endured physical abuse and other mistreatment at the hands of that teacher. Julie Peterson continues that story.
PETERSON (voice-over): The Fulton County school system has a new superintendent, Robert Avossa. He's been on the job less than a year.
DR. ROBERT AVOSSA, SUPT., FULTON COUNTY SCHOOLS: When you look at the behavior that's alleged of the former teacher and principal, it's inexcusable. And I'm upset about it deeply.
PETERSON (on camera): Do you think that then Principal Francis Boyd and Melanie Pickens should be charged with a crime?
AVOSSA: I'll leave that to the experts in the field, whether that's the D.A.'s office or the police department.
PETERSON (voice-over): The D.A.'s office tells us it is waiting for the school police to collect additional investigation. And now parents of other non-verbal students in Melanie Pickens class are piecing together what happened from details released in the Williams case. They're making sense of behavior changes they saw at the time.
SHAYNE LEE, MOTHER OF GARRETT: Scratching himself to the point of bleeding. You know, pulling his hair out. Just terrible self-injury behaviors because he didn't know what else to do with the frustration.
WILLIAMS: They all regressed potty training. They all started isolating themselves in their room.
LEE: It just breaks you down. It's just - how gut-wrenching it is, and you kept sending them back day after day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) that she cannot speak. She can't tell us what she went through, so that in itself is a pain.
PETERSON: For (INAUDIBLE) daughter and her classmates were taught in an area called G hall at Hopewell. Court documents say that then Principal Francis Boyd rarely spoke to the G hall students. She had little concern for them and even once said she didn't know why these children were in school because they "can't really do anything." But Hopewell Middle School has a new principal Lenora Patterson, who says she enjoys spending time on G hall.
LENORA PATTERSON, PRINCIPAL, HOPEWELL MIDDLE SCHOOL: When I come on this hallway, I feel like a rock star because I know all the kids. I have lunch with them sometimes. PETERSON: Patterson started her job last year and says things are different from the days when Francis Boyd was in charge. She has a message for concerned parents.
PATTERSON: Come visit us. Because when you walk on this hallway, when you walk into any of our classrooms, you can feel the nurturing, the concern, the regard, not just for special needs kids, but all kids.
PETERSON: But this leaves open the question of how to deal with what happened between 2004 and 2007. Attorney Chris Vance represents the Marshall and Williams families. She says even with all the changes, the new principal, the new superintendent and Melanie Pickens long gone, there's still a larger issue at play, one that taints the entire school system.
CHRIS VANCE, ATTORNEY FOR WILLIAMS AND MARSHALL FAMILIES: It's a mindset. That these kids don't matter. They can't tell their moms and dads, so we don't care. These parents still don't know all that happened to their children.
MARSHALL: It may take a lifetime for us to get these kids back to where they were.
PETERSON: These parents are reeling as they discover on their own exactly about the free public education their kids received.
LEE: It might have been monetarily free, but I think the children have paid the highest price for that free public education. A very, very high price. Their little minds were already just hanging on, you know. It took everything they could do to cope on a daily basis. And then to put that on top of that. They've paid the ultimate price.
PETERSON: And they're demanding charges be filed.
WILLIAMS: If the teachers are allowed - and there are criminal charges brought, they're going to end up in a school system somewhere else. That's the scary part.
PETERSON: In court documents, Pickens denies she abused pupils at Hopewell Middle School and Boyd states that she actually reported Pickens' conduct to a social worker and the school's personnel department, but was told not to fire Pickens. Neither Pickens nor Boyd has applied to have the Georgia teaching certificate reinstated.
Boyd, we've learned is back in the classroom in another state, an adjunct professor of education at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
(on camera): Fulton County district attorney Paul Howard's office and the school police seem to be going back and forth on the matter. The flip-flop nature of things between the D.A. and the school has been evident as we've reached the story. Back on March 7th, we were told contradictory things.
First, the school district telling CNN their school police investigation was done. And had been turned over to the D.A. but that same day, the D.A. contradicted this, telling us the Fulton County school police in fact were not yet done investigating and there had been a miscommunication. We've since been told the school's still collecting information on the case to provide to the D.A. eight years after the substantiated abuse began.
Parents say it's just one more example of what they call the run- around they've dealt with for years as they try to get to the bottom of exactly what happened to their children in Melanie Pickens' classroom and why so many years later no charges have been filed.
Julie Peterson, CNN, Atlanta.
LEMON: All right, Julie, thank you very much.
A struggling student refuses to accept being labeled. As a result she is getting As and Bs without medication.
LEMON: When Georgia high school student Michelle Davis was told she had ADHD, she refused to accept that as an excuse. Now she has become a high school success story. In tonight's "Perry's Principles," CNN education contributor Steve Perry finds out how Davis and her mother changed the odds.
STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR (on camera): You struggled in school. Where and - like in what ways?
MICHELLE DAVIS, STUDENT, MCEACHERN HIGH SCHOOL: When I was younger, I was labeled with a learning disability. So of course that affected reading and spelling. I always felt like, you know, I'm a normal kid. Yes, it might have took me a little longer to get one word or something like that. But when I got it I got it.
PERRY: When you say you were labeled, what does that mean to you?
DAVIS: I feel like it was the easier way to just say oh, she has a disability. You know, it wasn't like we're not just going to give her some extra time or we're not going to just try to help her. It hurt. But I actually looked at it more as like I'm going to prove y'all wrong.
ROBYN OLIVO, MOTHER: When a child is labeled and they feel like they can't keep up with the other kids. And at the time she was labeled all she got was ADHD, just give her some medicine. Medicine, she's not going (INAUDIBLE) and I fought. I asked to evaluate her. I went to her doctor. I did as much as I could financially to get her tutoring outside. But when I couldn't I held the teachers accountable. (INAUDIBLE) to meet. (INAUDIBLE) We've got to meet again. I held the teachers accountable. I noticed her grades went from Cs and a B maybe to As and Bs. PERRY: What's the reason your grades went up?
DAVIS: At the time, I'm not trying to say like I just did extra. I don't know, just the classes that I enjoyed.
PERRY: You're connected with the classes more this year?
PERRY: Then you did something really big. You decided to apply to the Disney Dreamers Academy.
DAVIS: Yes. I think I put on my application like maybe a week or two before it was due. I really didn't think I would get it. Honestly.
PERRY: Why not?
DAVIS: I didn't think I had an interesting story.
PERRY: And then 4,000 people applied.
DAVIS: Right. And I was one of the 100 that was selected.
Disney Dreamers Academy is a program for teenagers where you take workshops and learn about your different careers. It's really helped me gain more experience in the things that I aspire to do in life and meeting people that work in the fields that I want to take up, learning what they had to do to get there.
DAVIS: Hello, I'm Michelle Davis.
PERRY: So Michelle, what's next for you?
DAVIS: I want to go to college, of course.
PERRY: So the girl who was in special ed, the one who couldn't read, that one is going to college?
PERRY: That's all right.
LEMON: And I have a quick note for you. For those of you heading out the door, you can continue watching CNN from your mobile phone or if you're at work you can also watch CNN live from your desktop. Just go to cnn.com/tv.
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LEMON: Here are the headlines right now. Mitt Romney made a direct and personal appeal today to Christian conservatives. He addressed graduates at Liberty University, where he drew a clear distinction with President Obama and reaffirmed his view that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman.
After decades a former Los Angeles police detective is going to prison for a deadly love triangle. A judge sentenced Stephanie Lazarus to 27 years in prison. Lazarus was convicted of murdering her ex- boyfriend's wife in a jealous rage back in 1986. The case was cold for years until DNA tests matched a bite mark to Lazarus.
In Florida a millionaire has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for DUI manslaughter. A jury in Palm Beach County found polo magnate John Goodman guilty of being drunk when he caused the death of 23-year-old Scott Wilson. The "Sun Sentinel" newspaper reports Goodman's family is putting together $7 million to get him out on bond while his attorneys appeal that verdict.
King James has a new crown as the third NBA most valuable player award for Lebron James. All that in just four seasons. He is the first player since Michael Jordan to win three MVP titles. James says his main goal this year is still to win his first NBA championship. We'll see. We'll see. Congratulations.
I'm Don Lemon at the CNN World headquarters in Atlanta. I'm going to see you back here at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. We have a very special show for you. We want you to be a part of it. @donlemoncnn, you can tweet me and be a part of our conversation. "CNN PRESENTS" begins right now.