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Wildfires Burning in Morongo, California; Edgar Ray Killen Faces Sentencing Today; Interview With Reverend Bill Graham

Aired June 23, 2005 - 8:59   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Waking up to wildfires in the West. Thousands of acres burning, hundreds of residents forced to get out of the way. We're live right on the fire line.
Four deadly car bombs in just a matter of minutes. This as the president's top military men face a showdown over U.S. troops in Iraq. We're live in Baghdad and on Capitol Hill.

An ex-Klansman and preacher Edgar Ray Killen faces sentencing today.

Those stories ahead and much more on AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody.

Also ahead this morning, the Reverend Billy Graham back in New York City for what he says may very well be his final crusade. I spoke with the world-famous evangelist about this event, the message and his amazing career. That conversation's right ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: He gets guidance from god and orders from Mrs. Graham, right? That's basically how it goes.

S. O'BRIEN: That's right. And passes them along to presidents along the way, is kind of how it works.

M. O'BRIEN: Carol Costello here with the headlines.

Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning to all of you.

"Now in the News," the future of Iraq being discussed on Capitol Hill this morning. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld among the top officials expected to face questions such as, when will Iraq's security forces be ready to take over? Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers will also face the Senate panel. We'll have live coverage of the testimony when it begins.

The parents of a Dutch boy held in connection with the disappearance of an Alabama teenager are speaking out. The Van Der Sloots say they believe their son is innocent and that they don't know how to deal with what they call this big nightmare.

In the meantime, still no sign of Natalee Holloway. A Houston- based group is set to join the search for her on the island of Aruba tomorrow.

A California man convicted of murdering nine of his children faces sentencing today. The penalty phase of Marcus Wesson's trial was supposed to start Wednesday but was delayed at the judge's request. Wesson was convicted on nine counts of murder and 14 counts of sexually abuses his daughters and nieces. He could face the death penalty.

And the Pentagon has reportedly hired a private marketing firm to complete data on high school and college students. The new database apparently includes personal information, such as ethnicity, Social Security numbers and e-mail addresses. It's meant to help in the recruiting process, but privacy advocates say using database marketers for military recruitment is inappropriate.

Thousands of people in California are catching Mega Millions fever. The multi-state lottery is making its debut there this week. California is the 12th state to join the game, which, of course, makes the odds of winning a bit harder. But it could make the pot much bigger. So you have to look at the bright side, I guess.

Remember, you can view more CNN reports online. Just visit, click on to "Watch" to check out the most popular stories.

M. O'BRIEN: It's $500 million. Did you hear that?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: $500 million.

S. O'BRIEN: A nice round number. That's what I like about it.

COSTELLO: I'm going to go buy a ticket. You want in?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: You've got to play to win.

COSTELLO: OK. I'll be collecting your dollar shortly.

S. O'BRIEN: You got it. I'm in.

Thanks, Carol.

Well, summer fire season, unfortunately it is now underway out West. At least two big wildfires are burning at this hour. One about 20 miles outside of Palm Springs, California, the other just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. That fire is ranging in the -- raging, rather, in the Tonto National Forest. And residents there, at least 250 homes have been evacuated.

Officials say lightning strikes sparked that fire. As many as four other wildfires are burning across Arizona.

In southern California, hundreds of firefighters have been working through the night trying to battle a huge wildfire that's already charred some 5,500 acres. It is about 1,000 residents that are now -- and the town of Morongo Valley had to be evacuated, and at least seven homes there have been destroyed.

Thelma Gutierrez is in Morongo Valley for us this morning.

Thelma, I know it's early there. What does it look like this morning?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, I can tell you it's really quite amazing. Now, we were just on the show a little while ago, and you could see that the hills behind me were covered and engulfed in flames.

Take a look behind me now, and you can see that it is basically all out. I mean, we literally lost our background. But that is good news. And as you had mentioned, 5,500 acres have been charred out here.

We talked to a fire official last night, and he said that this blaze was basically 10 percent contained. But that was the last number that he had. And they are cautiously optimistic that now that the sun is out and that they're able to fly over the area, they'll be able to report that this fire is now more than 20 percent contained.

Now, all through the night, as you had mentioned, hand crews were out battling this fire, out in the rough terrain out here. They tried to create a fire line between the fire and the homes, and there were several dozen homes that were considered in jeopardy. Seven have been completely destroyed. Residents say that the fire came and it picked up so quickly that it carried the -- the embers from house to house, it ignited very quickly, and they were able to get out with just the clothes on their backs, in many cases.

Now, a thousand people have been evacuated from this area. They left voluntarily. Sixty have gone to a nearby shelter. And we talked to a fire official who said that just trying to save some of these homes was no easy feat.


MATT STRECK, CALIF. FORESTRY & FIRE PREVENTION: It's so steep behind me. It's literally like this. We have to use hand crews to climb up the side of the mountain and physically cut a line between where it's burned and unburned. Very hard to do on a steep hill like that, especially when you have the wind blowing the fire towards you.


GUTIERREZ: Now, firefighters say the difference between actually saving a home and having it burn to the ground is something that they call a defensible state. And that is when a homeowner goes in and clears 100 feet of brush and overgrowth around their home. And they say that's makes all the difference in the world. And that's probably why so many homes were able to be saved up in this area -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, that is some terrific news to be able to report this morning. Thelma, thanks very much for that update.

The big question, of course, is the wind for the folks there as the they battle the blazes. Let's get right to Chad Myers. He's at the weather center for us.


M. O'BRIEN: It is a day of reckoning for racism and segregation in the South embodied in one 80-year-old, Edgar Ray Killen. The one- time Klansman and preacher to be sentenced for manslaughter just about two hours from now.

Ed Lavandera has been following this trial all along. He joins me now from Philadelphia, Mississippi, in the courthouse.

What is the likely sentence, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, there are three counts of manslaughter. Each count carries a sentence of one year to 20 years. So at the very minimum, he could serve one year, and serve all three sentences concurrently, or the sentence could be as many as 60 years. It's up to the judge to decide. But even two days after the guilty verdict in this case, what should happen to Edgar Ray Killen is still divisive here.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): The Williams Brothers General Store is the place in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where you can buy anything, from sugar to saddles. In the 1960s, it was also one of the few places in town where African-Americans were allowed to shop.

For nearly 100 years, opinions and stories have been swapped here. The mixture of thoughts heard today symbolized the city's divide over Edgar Ray Killen.

What bothers Barbara Kirk, she says, is that Killen doesn't show remorse for his crime. She wants to hear the reputed Klansman say he's sorry.

BARBARA KIRK, NESHOBA COUNTY RESIDENT: If they're guilty, they should be punished. If I was 80 years old and was guilty, I would confess and ask for forgiveness.

LAVANDERA: Others say sending a frail, aging man to prison is cruel, even if he is guilty of orchestrating the killings of three civil rights workers.

NATHAN YARBOROUGH, NESHOBA COUNTY RESIDENT: They ought to treat an elder like they would a baby, you know. I mean, that's just like putting a baby in jail, you know?

LAVANDERA: After sentencing, Killen could end up in the same prison where Sam Bowers, a former imperial grand wizard of Mississippi's Ku Klux Klan, sits today. Bowers was convicted in another civil rights era murder. Prosecutors say it was Bowers who gave Killen the order to kill Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.

CHARLOTTE COLEMAN, NESHOBA COUNTY RESIDENT: If they gave him life, I would feel like that would be fair justice, because these three people lost their lives forever.


LAVANDERA: Edgar Ray Killen is expected here at courthouse within the next two hours. Sentencing beginning at 10:00 a.m. Central Time. We'll be able to report to you then exactly what the judge decides in this case -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. We'll be checking in with Ed Lavandera all throughout the day. Thanks very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, more details are coming out about what happened to 11-year-old Brennan Hawkins during his four days that he was lost in the Utah mountains. The Cub Scout met the media on Wednesday, and his parents are talking about the ordeal as well.


TOBY HAWKINS, FATHER: I couldn't figure out how in the world we could be missing him. Where could he be? Why can't we get any clues? You know? And it just was a very helpless feeling.

JODY HAWKINS, MOTHER: You look out there and you see all these people looking for him, but they're not finding anything. And so you knew he was close, but where was he? And why couldn't they find him? That was -- it really was difficult.

TAYLOR HAWKINS, BROTHER: When we saw him in the back of that trailer, we just -- you know, just instant joy. Just everybody just grabbed him and was just so in awe that -- of the physical shape that he was in. He was -- you know, for four days, for a little kid, as skinny as he is, to be in that -- in that good of condition is just unreal.


S. O'BRIEN: Brennan's parents also say he hasn't told them exactly how he became lost, and right now they say they're not going to push him for any details.

M. O'BRIEN: An amazing story of an unlikely reunion from the tsunami devastated region of Indonesia. Wednesday, in the Aceh province, a father and daughter reunited. What a moment.

It's been nearly six months, of course, since the deadly waves ripped through the region. The father, named Mohammed Ali -- not that one, of course -- was sure his 15-year-old daughter had been killed, along with his wife and two other children. But with the help of Indonesian welfare officials and UNICEF, father and daughter realized the dream they thought was never possible. It's hard to imagine the emotions that were running through that moment.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, you see the people just sob and hold on to each other, and it kind of brings back all that loss and just how horrible it was.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. You were there. You saw it firsthand.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, it was terrible. Terrible. What a good news -- I mean, great news story, but upsetting on its own, too.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Up next this morning, my conversation with the Reverend Billy Graham on the eve of his final, he says, U.S. crusade. Graham reflects on six decades in the ministry and politics and why he never ran for president.

M. O'BRIEN: Also, a dramatic rescue at sea to tell you about. We'll talk to a man who is supposed to be on a 30-minute ride in one of those personal watercraft, a WaveRunner. It turned into 15 hours in the ocean.

S. O'BRIEN: And again, our special series, "Surviving the Game," this morning. We talked about some of the pitfalls that kids can face in sports. But what about all the benefits?

Those stories ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. We're back after this.


S. O'BRIEN: The Reverend Billy Graham is in New York for his 417th crusade tomorrow through Sunday at Flushy Meadows Corona Park. Graham says this will be his last crusade in America and maybe his last ever. I got a chance to sit down with the world renowned preacher and asked him why he chose New York.


S. O'BRIEN: You are 86 years old.


S. O'BRIEN: Your health is not great.


S. O'BRIEN: Why do you want to do another crusade? And why do you want to do it here?

GRAHAM: Well, I was invited by some churches, and I've been here for many crusades in the past, and I always loved New York, I love the people of New York, and it's a wonderful place to see the whole world, because they're here from every ethnic background you can think of, and over 100 languages used within walking distance of Corona Park at Flushing Meadows.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think things have changed in New York City since 9/11? Was that part of the interest in coming back?

GRAHAM: Yes. In fact, I think 9/11 is the very beginning of my interest in coming back.

S. O'BRIEN: What's your message for the people of New York?

GRAHAM: The gospel of Christ. I believe that the only answer to people's problems is Christ, and I'm looking forward just to presenting the gospel. I'm going to -- I'm hopeful they stay away from all the hubbub (INAUDIBLE) of our day.

S. O'BRIEN: Why stay away from the hot button issues. It seems to me that politics and religion, especially today, are so intertwined, and many evangelists take on a political stance. So why do you want to avoid it?

GRAHAM: Because when I take and talk about those issues it divides the audience. And I want the audience to divide only on the Cross of Christ, and what Jesus can do for them, and not some other issue. And I found that many people are happy that I'm doing what I'm doing, because in the earlier years of my ministry, I talked all about every subject that was in the news at that time.

S. O'BRIEN: And that was successful, and people loved it.

GRAHAM: Well, it was and it wasn't. But since then, I've spent a lot of time in England, in Scotland, in Wales and with prime ministers and people in that part of the world, and I've learned that I don't have the answers to everything.

S. O'BRIEN: Any places you're sorry you didn't go? Where would you have liked to have gone?

GRAHAM: Well, of course I would like to go to certain countries in Africa. I've been to most of the countries. I've preached in most of them. They had different names in those days, in the '50s and '60s. And I had a lot of friends in Africa, and I saw the head of I guess every country that I went to.

S. O'BRIEN: You've mentioned heads of state you've known and, of course, here, you advised and counseled many, many...

GRAHAM: I haven't advised. I've just been a friend.

S. O'BRIEN: Spiritually advised, and spiritually been a friend to, I think it's fair to say, many presidents as well. I think they said virtually everyone since Truman was what I read.

Who did you like the best? Which president did you feel the most connected to?

GRAHAM: Well, I felt disconnected to most of them, because I didn't talk politics with them. I spent a lot of time with Mr. Johnson and a lot of time with Mr. Nixon and Eisenhower. Eisenhower thought I could help him write speeches, but -- so he invited know go with him when he was nominated president.

S. O'BRIEN: There were people who said in the '60s that you should and you could have run for president. Did you ever have political ambitions?

GRAHAM: Oh, no.

S. O'BRIEN: Never? With all the politicians and heads of state that you dealt with, never?

GRAHAM: I certainly would never run.

S. O'BRIEN: Really?

GRAHAM: None. No. They came out with headlines when I was in Houston once. I think it was "The Chronicle," that I was running for president or something like that. And so some people had called and said they'd give me their delegates at the convention, and I forget whether it was Democratic or Republican now. But my wife had seen it on television. She called and said they'll never elect a divorced man. She said...

S. O'BRIEN: That message was clear.

GRAHAM: I never even thought of it.


S. O'BRIEN: She's clearly in charge there. He spoke so lovingly and so fondly of his wife, who's now an invalid, and how they care and love each other, care for and love each other now. It's just remarkable. It was really very touching.

M. O'BRIEN: It's a remarkable family. Now, he will speak 30, 35 minutes.

S. O'BRIEN: For three days.

M. O'BRIEN: For three days. And then, of course, Franklin's there just in case.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. He'll be sort of the backup. I mea, I think it's physically very difficult.

M. O'BRIEN: Sure.

S. O'BRIEN: It will take obviously a lot out of him, but his health seems pretty good.

M. O'BRIEN: He's got the walker and everything.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: He sounds great. He really does. S. O'BRIEN: Good for him.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Good job.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks.

Well, we should mention, of course, that not only that, but if you're interested this weekend, Saturday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" has got a look at the life and the influence of Billy Graham.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come, a tale of survival, an amazing rescue still to come. A young man who found himself up a creek without a paddle, no eyeglasses, didn't know which way to go, bad news. Way out there in the ocean. But he lived to tell the tale.

We'll walk you through the whole thing. You've got to stay tuned for this.


M. O'BRIEN: All right. Check out this scene from Sunday.

A young man pulled from the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii. For 15 hours, Patrick Hannon had been barely floating, just a little speck in the vast blue sea, nearly invisible to rescuers.

It all began with a half-hour ride on a WaveRunner, you know, a three-hour tour kind of thing. But a little mishap between Molokai, Lanai and Maui. It turned it into a test of survival.


M. O'BRIEN: Twenty-year-old Patrick Hannon is in San Francisco very early this morning.

Good morning, Patrick. Good to see you. How are you feeling?

PATRICK HANNON, SURVIVED 15 HOURS IN OCEAN: I'm doing all right. It's good to be with you.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, I bet. I bet. All right.

You're out there on this WaveRunner. You've had some experience riding them on lakes, but in ocean swells, it's kind of a whole different matter. You go over the swell. Suddenly, you're separated from the WaveRunner.

What happened after that?

HANNON: Well, when I was separated from it, the WaveRunner stopped after about 20 feet, thanks to the kill switch on it. Unfortunately, when I fell off, I had hit my knee and I had lost my prescription glasses out there.

So while I looked for those, and made sure my knee was OK, it had floated away a couple hundred feet instead. And I wasn't able to catch up to it, thanks to the seas and my bad leg.

M. O'BRIEN: So you're banged up a little bit and you don't see so well without your glasses, wasted a little bit of time trying to find everything. Suddenly, you were pretty far away from the WaverRunner. Obviously, the first thing you want to do is to swim toward it. But that didn't work out so well, did it?

HANNON: No. I was swimming toward it as hard as I could. And I just couldn't gain any ground on it. It was getting further and further away.

So I decided to -- I wasn't going to be able to keep up with it. So I turned around and started swimming toward shore.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. You're swimming toward shore, can't see so well. Were you headed in the right direction? Were there -- was there a rip current which made it difficult for you to swim back toward shore?

HANNON: I was headed in the right direction. I was headed towards the beach we had started from. But because of the waves and the wind pushing into my face, you know, I would be swimming about as hard as I could and barely making any headway into the water.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. And this is about the moment where I would panic. I assume there were a few moments there where you might have had the thought, oh, boy, I'm in really deep trouble. Walk us through all that.

HANNON: Well, it was really easy early on to really get panicked about it. I figured I'd be out of there in 15 or 20 minutes. So after about an hour, when I hadn't been picked up, I was -- I was pretty worried.

But fortunately, after a couple of hours the Coast Guard did an awesome job getting helicopters up there and making sure that, you know, I knew they were searching for me. So even as it got dark and I started getting worried, I knew that there were lots of people out there searching for me.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. And there's the rescue, you're being hoisted up there. And this happened after you sort of sat on your life jacket, allowing you to get a little higher in the water and wave to the C-130.

The Coast Guard did a great job in this. I'm sure you would agree on that.

HANNON: Oh, yes.

M. O'BRIEN: What was it like being hoisted aboard that helicopter after 15 hours in the water?

HANNON: To be honest, it was one of the scarier parts of the ordeal. I didn't expect it to be so nerve-racking, but I looked down and noticed myself dangling 60 feet above the water. And I'm like, oh, I've come too far to have it end like this.

So I was just -- it was really a relief to finally sit down on that helicopter and feel something solid underneath me instead of the water.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Is there a lesson learned here? And in conjunction with that, are you going to be doing any wave riding in the ocean anytime soon?

HANNON: I don't think I'll be doing any wave riding anytime soon, but the lesson I learned is that you always have that life jacket with you. There's a very, very good chance I wouldn't be sitting here today if it wasn't for that life jacket, and I owe my life to it.

M. O'BRIEN: They don't call them life jackets for nothing. All right.

HANNON: You've got that right.

M. O'BRIEN: Patrick Hannon in San Francisco. Good to see you.

HANNON: All right. Thank you very much.


Coming up, our special series "Surviving the Game." Today, a look at how playing sports can teach kids important lessons for life. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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