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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Stanley 'Tookie' Williams Scheduled to Die at Midnight; Interview With Reverend Jesse Jackson; Hundreds of FEMA Trailer Homes Still Empty?
Aired December 12, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us.
Tonight, it seems unlikely that anything can stop the countdown to an execution and the controversy that is intensifying.
ZAHN (voice-over): The final hours -- after dozens of appeals and more than two decades on death row, a convicted killer will be put to death. But why do so many think executing Tookie Williams is a terrible mistake?
Tonight, "Eye Opener," shock and awe, grief for a soldier who became part of a community.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband was killed over in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It felt like somebody in my family had died.
ZAHN: Then outrage and fury over the truth.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I just -- I was just sick.
ZAHN: Why would a Colorado town turn against a war widow?
And lost at sea -- a young man mysteriously disappears from a dream cruise.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son boarded a Royal Caribbean ship for his honeymoon, and he never got off. We just want to know where he is. What happened to him?
ZAHN: Tonight, the growing concern over passengers who vanish at sea -- what you should know before you step aboard.
ZAHN: One of the most controversial inmates on death row is scheduled to be executed just seven hours from now in California's San Quentin Prison.
At this hour, preparations are under way for Stanley Tookie Williams to receive lethal injections. The convicted murderer of four people, co-founder of the violent Crips street gang, has spent 24 years as a condemned man.
Just a short time ago, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to block the execution. And, right now, Williams' supporters are getting ready to hold a vigil outside San Quentin to protest his execution, while hoping for a possible last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ted Rowlands has been covering this story all day long and has just filed this report.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stanley Williams says he doesn't want a last meal and doesn't want any of his family or friends to watch him die.
"I don't want anyone present for the sick and perverted spectacle" is what Williams told "The San Francisco Chronicle." According to prison officials, Williams has had several visitors throughout the day, including his attorneys. Assuming nothing changes, at just after midnight here in California, Williams will have intravenous tubes inserted into both arms, and will be given a series three injections, one to put him to sleep, one to stop his breathing, and the third to stop his heart.
VERNELL CRITTENDON, SAN QUENTIN PRISON: The lethal cocktail will be delivered. And then Stanley will have expired. And that will be the execution of Stanley Williams.
ROWLANDS: This afternoon, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied clemency for Williams, issuing a statement that said, in part, "The facts do not justify overturning the jury's verdict."
In 1981, Stanley Williams was sentenced to death for four murders that took place in 1979. Prosecutors say Williams killed 26-year-old Albert Owens, a convenience store clerk, by shooting him in the back with a shotgun after stealing about $100 from a 7/Eleven.
Williams was also convicted of murdering a couple and their daughter during a robbery at their family-owned hotel.
JOHN MONAGHAN, PROSECUTOR: My outlook is that the evidence in this case is truly overwhelming and that the murders were -- were senseless, they very brutal, and that Mr. Williams should pay the ultimate penalty for his crimes.
ROWLANDS: Williams maintains he didn't do it, something his lawyers say may have worked against him in his bid for clemency.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I first met Stanley, I said, if you did this, you should confess to it, because it will help. And he said, if my innocence will cost me my life, so be it.
ROWLANDS: Williams does admit to a life of violent crime as a co-founder of the notorious Crips street gang, which he says he regret. STANLEY "TOOKIE" WILLIAMS, CONVICTED MURDERER: I believe that they should not hold my past against me.
ROWLANDS: Supporters, including a number of celebrities, say that, for the last decade, Williams has used his influence as a former gang member to persuade children to stay out of trouble.
He's written or co-authored nine children's books on that theme. But others, including the stepmother of Albert Owens, the murdered convenience store clerk, say that he should die.
LORA OWENS, STEPMOTHER OF VICTIM OF STANLEY TOOKIE WILLIAMS: I believe Albert deserves justice. And, for that justice, Tookie Williams was convicted in a court of law, and he was given the sentence of death. I believe Albert deserves the justice of that sentence being carried out.
ROWLANDS: Ms. Owens plans to attend the execution and witness it, as a tribute to her stepson and her ex-husband.
Meanwhile, in about an hour, Stanley Williams will be moved to a cell adjacent to the death chamber. On the outside, his lawyers continue to fight for his life. On the table in front of Governor Schwarzenegger is another petition for clemency. There is also a petition for a stay in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. His lawyers continue to fight in the hours leading up to his scheduled execution -- Paula.
ZAHN: Ted, describe to us exactly what's going on behind you. We see people nestled up pretty closely.
ROWLANDS: Well, outside here, the crowd is gathering, a lot of protesters, people against the death penalty and people specifically against the execution of Tookie Williams.
We do expect that the crowds will grow considerably. A lot of the folks here are gathered around, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who will be joining us in just a minute here, too, watching.
But it's safe to say that this will be attended by hundreds of people before the night is out, as -- as we approach midnight.
ZAHN: Ted Rowlands, thanks so much, reporting from outside San Quentin State Prison in California.
And, just a short while ago, I spoke with Tookie Williams' lead attorney, John Harris, who is at San Quentin.
ZAHN: So, John, what is your client's state of mind as he faces his execution just hours from now?
JOHN HARRIS, LEAD ATTORNEY FOR STANLEY "TOOKIE" WILLIAMS: Paula, I saw Stanley.
Stanley is at peace. Stanley knows that we're still fighting. Stanley knows that we have a pending motion for the U.S. Supreme Court and that we put a request in to for Governor Schwarzenegger for an emergency stay based on three new witnesses who have come forward with exculpatory evidence. So, he is at peace, but we are fighting. And he knows it.
ZAHN: You say he is at peace. He has had a lot of time to think about his potential execution. Can you share with us some of what he has said to you, his attorneys?
HARRIS: Well, Stanley is a man who, 10 years ago, found peace in life.
He has spent his time reaching out to kids with the message of peace, with the message of discipline, with the message of purpose. Stanley is approaching this moment in that way, as a man who as -- he is a spiritual man, and he understands what -- that the governor has made his decision.
And Stanley -- the only way to put it is, Stanley has an inner peace about him which is just simply remarkable.
ZAHN: How do you think he will spend those final six hours when he's led into that special death watch cell next to the execution chamber?
HARRIS: I believe Stanley will spend that time thinking. He may well do some reading. There will be people who are -- have phone -- telephone access to him. And they will talk with him. And I'm sure Stanley will spend some time praying.
ZAHN: What do you say to the folks that say, this is justice served? A jury found him guilty. The federal appeals court isn't stopping his execution and, so far tonight, neither is the governor of California.
HARRIS: Well, this is what I say.
Our petition was based on Stanley's personal redemption, on his personal redemption, his good works, and the impact of those good works on thousands and thousands of kids. The governor appears to have come to the conclusion that, because Stanley would not confess to the crimes, that he is not personally redeemed.
We asked the governor to meet with Stanley Williams. I have spent hours with Stanley Williams. He's a remarkable man. If the governor had met with Stanley Williams, I do not think he would be questioning his redemption.
And with respect to the crimes, the conviction was based on informant testimony. There was no physical evidence. Three people have come forward this week, two of whom have come forward with evidence that the informants fabricated their testimony.
ZAHN: And, finally tonight, Mr. Harris, what do you think the chances are that this execution will be stopped?
HARRIS: I think the -- I think, when three exculpatory witnesses come forward in the last week and give sworn statements that the government's two main witnesses were fabricating, that there's no question that the execution should be stopped.
ZAHN: John Harris, thank you very much for your time tonight. We really appreciate it.
HARRIS: Thank you.
ZAHN: And Reverend Jesse Jackson also met with Tookie Williams today. The civil rights leader also spoke with Governor Schwarzenegger's staff in support of Williams' plea for clemency.
Jesse Jackson joins me now from outside San Quentin.
Mr. Jackson, thanks so much for joining us.
REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: You're very welcome.
ZAHN: What is the last thing Tookie Williams told you just earlier today?
JACKSON: The last thing we did was to have prayer again.
I met with him twice today. And he wants those who feel a sense of pain and letdown tonight to not recycle their pain with any kind of street frustration. Somehow, he feels a renewed sense of his legacy as a -- as a social transformer. And he feels that any kind of degrading action in reaction to this would some sense -- in some sense, undermine the strength of the new status he has now really as a -- kind of a transformed person.
ZAHN: Reverend Jackson, does he understand the pain that so many family members are feeling tonight, particularly those who want to be witnesses to his execution?
JACKSON: Well, you know, that sense of pain is understandable. The one question is, is the pain aimed at the right person?
ZAHN: But does he understand...
JACKSON: You know -- you know how...
ZAHN: ... how these families are feeling tonight? Does he have any compassion for them?
JACKSON: Yes. But -- yes, I have great compassion for them.
But when you don't have physical evidence or fingerprints or you don't have blood proof or eyewitnesses and use jail informants as your source, those questions are there. On the other hand, clemency is not dependent upon guilt or innocence, but upon the social value that one has created while in the jail cell. Do we pursue redemption or do we pursue -- and rehabilitation -- or do we pursue punishment and torture?
ZAHN: All right. But, Reverend Jackson...
JACKSON: Somehow, his value...
ZAHN: ... let -- let me just have you react quickly to what Governor Schwarzenegger had to say today. He said, without an apology, without atonement for these senseless killings, there is no redemption.
JACKSON: But his point is that, if you apologize for a killing you didn't admit, you admit something that you did not do, therefore, you lie for clemency.
I can't help but think -- I was in Nelson Mandela's office about a month ago. There's a big picture of him and Governor Schwarzenegger on the wall in his -- in his museum. Now, why is Governor Schwarzenegger congratulating Mandela? Because, after 27 years in jail, he chose redemption over revenge. So, he took a picture with Mandela. He didn't get the lesson. Somehow, we have got to break the cycle of violence and pain...
ZAHN: All right.
JACKSON: ... and go another way.
ZAHN: Jesse Jackson, we have got to leave it there this evening. Thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate your viewpoint.
My next guest spent nearly a decade on death row in Illinois for a crime he did not commit. In 1995, Rolando Cruz was acquitted of murdering a young girl. His case set in motion events that eventually cleared Illinois's death row of all 167 inmates.
Yet, Rolando Cruz thinks Tookie Williams should be executed.
Thanks so much for joining us tonight, sir.
Why do you think Tookie Williams should die?
ROLANDO CRUZ, SPENT 12 YEARS ON DEATH ROW: Well, I believe that if he, in fact did commit the crime, he should pay for it, I mean, because there's a big difference between being factually innocent and just being (AUDIO GAP) innocent.
And there's no reason -- I mean, from everything that I have learned from this case, there's no reason at all that he should be receiving clemency.
ZAHN: But, Rolando, for almost 25 years now, he has maintained his innocence, as you did in your own case. There -- isn't there just a shadow of a doubt that perhaps he could be innocent?
CRUZ: Yes. There's always a shadow of a doubt that anyone can be innocent. But you have to have some facts.
We have had facts to prove our innocence all along. From the very beginning, all the way from back in 1985, we had the facts supporting us that we were innocent. And it was just a matter of us getting it out and the court acknowledging it. Then the court did acknowledge it. It was just a difference between us just claiming it and us proving it. And we did prove it.
ZAHN: Would it make any difference to you had Tookie Williams apologized for a crime he says he did not commit?
CRUZ: To me, there's not a difference. No, an apology doesn't matter I mean, not -- not in my view.
ZAHN: And what about the time spent in prison? You have been in death row. You know how wretched the conditions are.
I mean, I -- there -- it's -- it's horrible in there. But, I mean, you're going to sit there and try to say, because -- from what I understood, because of the books that he wrote and everything, that that's redemption. That's not redemption.
ZAHN: Rolando Cruz, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I know you have some very strong feelings about this, having spent a lot of time on death row. Again, good of you to drop by.
CRUZ: Thank you.
ZAHN: When we come back, President Bush surprised a few people today, as he continued his campaign to win back support for the war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I got a little extra time on my hands. So, I thought I might answer some questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: What they asked and how he answered -- still ahead.
And, a little bit later on, with tens of thousands of Katrina victims still homeless tonight, there is yet a new outrage. Why are hundreds of FEMA trailer homes still completely empty?
ZAHN: Well, the countdown is on tonight to Iraq's elections.
On this coming Thursday, Iraqis will vote on a new government. It is a major milestone for them and for President Bush, who is fighting to win back support for the war. Today, he went to Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the Constitution debated, for the third in a series of speeches he hopes will turn around public opinion.
Here is White House correspondent Dana Bash.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 38 minutes, the president mixed optimism with realism, casting the Iraqi elections as a first, but critical step that could allow some U.S. troops to come home.
At what appeared to be the end, a sip of water and a surprise.
BUSH: I thought I might answer some questions.
QUESTION: I would like to know why you and others in your administration invoke 9/11 as justification for the invasion of Iraq.
QUESTION: ...when no respected journalist or other Middle Eastern experts confirm that such a link existed?
BASH: To that, an unapologetic president said the attacks taught him to ignore no threats.
BUSH: And I made a tough decision. And knowing what I know today, I would make the decision again.
BASH: This was the third of four speeches designed to boost support for the war and for the president. A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows the president's approval rating is now 42 percent, up four points since last month. And how he's handling in Iraq in particular is up slightly as well, from 35 percent last month to 39 percent now.
Taking questions was a new twist, an answer to critics, even within his own party, who say Mr. Bush can appear arrogant, insulated and unwilling to face tough questions about the war. Asked about Iraqi deaths, Mr. Bush cited what aides later called an unofficial number.
BUSH: I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis.
BASH: Unsolicited, he added the U.S. casualty figure he is criticized for avoiding.
BUSH: We have lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq.
BASH: The president said he came to Philadelphia to speak about democracy in Iraq because it's the first place of the U.S. Constitution.
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I believe we need a change in direction.
BASH: Five blocks away, hawkish Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha repeated his "bring the troops home" message, which helped escalate the Iraq political debate. And Democrats in Washington called the president's rhetoric wishy-washy, lacking clarity.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: We must tell the Iraqis that we have done our part. We have done more than our part. Now it's up to you to get your political house in order.
BASH: The increased Democratic criticism adds to the delicate balance facing Mr. Bush, both to raise expectations, predicting Iraqi elections will be reported as a Mideast turning point, but also to lower them for anyone who might think this week's votes means U.S. troops are no longer necessary.
BUSH: This week, elections won't be perfect, and a successful vote is not the end of the process.
BASH: Mr. Bush acknowledged in that speech that the major concern in this week's election is Sunni involvement, Sunni reaction. The administration has been working hard to increase participation among the Sunnis.
But, Paula, they are well aware here, Paula, that a backlash in that particular sector could really flame the insurgency, because, of course, that sector supports the insurgency more than -- more than any other in Iraq -- Paula.
ZAHN: Let's come back to the domestic picture for just a moment. You talked about the president's approval ratings rising a little.
But the -- the fact remains that an overwhelming number of Americans disapprove of the way the president is handling the war. Does the White House think that number will budge?
BASH: Well, that is what this is all about, for sure. They hope it will budge.
You know, when you talk to people behind the scenes today, they are really hoping for stories to start playing out about the beginning of President Bush's comeback. But that is the number they are watching. You're right. So many Americans not only don't approve of the war, but also don't think he has a plan. And that is exactly what these speeches are about.
They're hoping that, once they're done, once the elections come, that, perhaps, that number will begin to change, too -- Paula.
ZAHN: And one more speech for the president this week. And I know you will be there. I look forward to your report.
BASH: Thank you.
ZAHN: Dana Bash, thanks so much.
Coming up next, for months, some Colorado radio listeners followed the triumphs and tragedy of a young woman in the military. They ended up getting a very big surprise. You will, too. And it will probably leave you outraged.
And a little bit later on, tens of thousands of Americans are making plans to escape the wintry weather on luxury cruise ships. But what's behind the surprising number of passengers who simply vanish?
ZAHN: Tonight, we begin a segment called the "Eye Opener." Tonight's story will probably shock, maybe even outrage you. It is about the people in a Colorado town who poured their hearts out to a young patriotic young woman in the military, after she told a very compelling story on a local radio station. Well, it ended with a bitter surprise. And a lot of people are feeling very exploited.
Here is Sean Callebs with tonight's "Eye Opener."
ROBERT SR. JOHN, RADIO PERSONALITY: I'm just here, I'm looking for funny stuff.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, when are you going to do the redneck church?
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To Grand Junction, Colorado, they are simply Robert and Libby, radio personalities who often take phone calls, including one they got months ago from Amber Kenney, a young woman from Grand Junction who said she was off to join the army and begin boot camp.
JOHN: Sounded very friendly to us. And we thought, you know, we could adopt this one as a soldier, adopt a soldier, because we've always wanted to do that, want our station to do that. And then follow her.
CALLEBS: It was the beginning between a six month relationship between the community and Amber, who was merely a voice on the radio. Libby heard it from listeners all the time.
LIBBY JACKSON, RADIO PERSONALITY: Oh, tell Amber hi for us.
CALLEBS: While she said she was in boot camp, Amber's calls were broadcast to Grand Junction all the time, for a period six months. The community was really falling for this patriotic woman, and her husband, Jonathan, who listeners learned was already serving in Iraq.
Then, in February, there is day Iraqis went to the polls, a dreaded phone call for all to hear.
SARAH KENNEY, CALLER: Have you guys heard the news?
JACKSON: No, what?
KENNEY: My husband was killed over in Iraq, in active duty.
JACKSON: Amber, no!
JOHN: When? When? When? When?
KENNEY: I heard Saturday afternoon.
JACKSON: Oh, my gosh.
JACKSON: Oh, Amber.
And I was sickened. I thought it was like -- it felt like somebody in my family had died.
CALLEBS: Amber told the station, because Jonathan died, she had been discharged from the service and was back in Grand Junction. Robert and Libby said the town of 45,000, that got to know Amber over six months, now rallied around her, sympathetic calls, offers of assistance. Homefront Heroes, a veteran support group, was eager to pitch in.
Phylis Derby started the organization and says Amber described her husband's heroic death.
PHYLIS DERBY, HOMEFRONT HEROES: He died saving an Iraqi child. And they were moving children out of the area and he got caught in the crossfire.
CALLEBS: But Amber's story had holes in it. Libby and Phylis scanned the Department of Defense Web site. Not a word about Jonathan Kenney. And when Amber says her husband's body was being flown to Iowa, no mention in the local newspapers. Amber left this message with Derby after a reporter called the Iowa funeral homes, looking for confirmation of the soldier's death.
KENNEY: He's not going to find that funeral home because the funeral home that he's at is not listed, and the family owns and they do not want to be contacted by any media.
CALLEBS: Libby spent a weekend questioning herself and the emotional investment in Amber's story.
JACKSON: And then I came to work the next morning and got the newspaper. And opened it up and said woman's story of lost soldier may be a hoax. And I just -- I was just sick. I mean, sick.
CALLEBS: It was all a big lie.
JACKSON: We dragged everybody in this, you know? People are going to quit giving to Homefront Heroes. What are we going to do?
CALLEBS: We couldn't get Amber, whose real name is Sarah Kenney, to speak with us. Her family says she has a job now, but wouldn't say what and that Kenney is doing well and working to put this behind her.
(on camera): The people in Grand Junction were furious that they'd been duped. The county prosecutor says he got dozens of angry calls from people who wanted Sarah Kenney punished. The DA thought her actions were unforgivable, even immoral, but did this big lie constitute a criminal act?
PETE HAUTZINGER, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Originally when it first broke, it wasn't clear what her motivation was.
CALLEBS (voice-over): District Attorney Pete Hautzinger charged Kenney with criminal impersonation. That's usually associated with underage drinkers or impersonating an officer, a stretch, he thought, but Sarah Kenney had received no money, so he was in unchartered territory. Hautzinger wouldn't have to test his case in court. Serving as her own attorney, Kenney pleaded guilty to a felony, never explaining why she had lied.
HAUTZINGER: She had some good things going for her. I give her a lot of credit for having fallen on her sword and taken full responsibility for what she did.
CALLEBS: People tell us they hardly ever see her out. And while people window shop, Kenny is on probation for four years and has to undergo counseling. Kenny did apologize, but no one who embraced her then wants anything to do with Sarah Kenny now.
DERBY: My gut reaction was, why would you do this? Why would you lie?
JACKSON: She's just a liar. I mean, she didn't try to steal anything. She didn't -- well, she did break everybody's heart.
CALLEBS: It took a while for Robert and Libby to actually trust callers again, but they did, eventually even adopting troops. But before these pictures went up on the wall, the two made sure these guys were the real thing.
ZAHN: And tonight, it is still not clear why Sarah Kenny did what she admitted doing. Sean Callebs reporting for us.
Still ahead, a story that sounds like it comes right out of a "CSI" script. Forensic teams in New Orleans working overtime, investigating more than a dozen violent deaths still unsolved months after Hurricane Katrina hit.
Also, outrage tonight because hundreds of FEMA trailer homes are still sitting empty while thousands of Katrina victims still wait for housing.
ZAHN: Our next story sounds like it could be right out of a T.V. murder mystery. But unfortunately it's real and it involves a forensic experts who are examining the bodies of those who died during Hurricane Katrina. They are making some shocking discoveries. Dozens of people may not have died of natural causes during the storm. In fact, they may have been victims of crime. Ed Lavandera has the details.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For weeks, forensic scientists have been using the tools of the trade to explain how hundreds of New Orleans area residents died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you have to do a little detective work as you delve deeper into what we're looking at.
LAVANDERA: But 21 of those deaths are still a mystery. A closer look shows that some of the victims may have been murdered. Some bodies were found with gunshot wounds, stab markings and crushing blows to the head. But the New Orleans coroner, Dr. Frank Minyard says an arsenal of forensic lab tools hasn't been able to prove these victims are crime victims.
DR. FRANK MINYARD, ORLEANS PARISH CORONER: All of the modern CSI techniques, if you will, you know, even CSI is going to have a hard time with this. It's just impossible to do anything really out of this world, so to speak, on these people, because they're so badly decomposed.
LAVANDERA (on camera): Figuring out which of these 21 cases is a crime is just part of the challenge. After that, investigators have to figure out how to prosecute. And the worry is that these possible crime scenes were washed away by Hurricane Katrina.
(voice-over) And with them, the telling clues that experts like Dr. Minyard need to determine if someone was murdered.
MINYARD: I mean, the blood splatter on the wall is a big help for us in a house, telling about what happened. And there's no wall, there's no blood splatter. There's nothing.
LAVANDERA: The New Orleans district attorney says at least four of the 21 mysterious deaths are murders. Right now, prosecutors are working out of a building that used to be a bar, waiting for the investigative details. But Eddie Jordan says some of these cases may never be solved.
EDDIE JORDAN, NEW ORLEANS DISTRICT ATTORNEY: If you don't have a clue as to whether the person died as a result of killing -- a homicide and you don't have any information about witnesses or any physical evidence to support a claim that a particular individual committed that crime, then there really is no case.
MINYARD: Look, people get away with murder all the time. They don't need Katrina to help them. Quite a few of these cases are going to end up as circuses in court because it's going to be very difficult to pin down 100 percent anything about any of these cases.
LAVANDERA: Even with such sophisticated crime investigating techniques, finding truth and justice in the remains of a disaster is proving to be an elusive search. Ed Lavandera, CNN, New Orleans.
ZAHN: There's another thing investigators want us to keep in mind. They stray that just because a bullet was found in a victim's body doesn't necessarily mean that foul play was involved. They say it's possible that some of the victims might have been so desperate, they committed suicide.
There is another outrage out of New Orleans tonight. More than three months after Katrina, more than 40,000 families are still living in hotels. FEMA had been threatening to stop paying the bills.
Well today, a federal judge today gave those families until the beginning of February to find someplace else to live. But where? Well, families complained FEMA is not helping, which is strange because it appears that FEMA is sitting on hundreds and hundreds of empty trailers. Susan Roesgen has been working that story all day long and has just filed this report.
CHARLENE CONRAD, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: As long as he's with me -- he's my rock.
SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wayne and Charlene Conrad just wanted to live again in their own home. So, they are, sort of. After weeks of waiting for a FEMA trailer that has never arrived, they decided to buy a tent and put it up in what's left of their living room.
(on camera): I like the do not disturb sign.
CONRAD: Yes, how do you like that?
ROESGEN (voice-over): This is where the master bed is, just barely big enough for the two of them. The house has no power, except in the kitchen. That's where they boil the water to help each other take a shower.
CONRAD: Pours it over me, I suds up, then when it's time to get the soap off, he pours it off me again. So that's how we take our bath.
ROESGEN: Charlene and Wayne have tried to make living here as nice as possible for themselves, and for another couple, long-time friends who set up a tent in the Conrad's house too. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Outdoor life is not my thing.
ROESGEN: Both couples are waiting for FEMA trailers.
CONRAD: You call and you call and you call and you call, and it's busy. Finally, somebody does answer, it's a recording. You've got to press this button. I don't know what to do. I really, truly don't. All we're asking is that we get a trailer.
ROESGEN: If Charlene would like to see some FEMA housing, she could go to Arkansas. These are mobile homes purchased by FEMA for Katrina victims that haven't been distributed to anyone. And one of these wouldn't fit in the Conrad's driveway anyway.
But a smaller travel trailer would, and even more incredible to some people in St. Bernard, 1,400 travel trailers are sitting in their own backyard, empty. The parish ordered them from a private contractor just days after the hurricane. But they're not being used because FEMA hasn't given the parish the money to pay for them.
LARRY INGARGIOLA, ST. BERNARD PARISH: They won't pay for the trailers. If they don't pay for the trailers, I can't put the trailers out.
ROESGEN: Parish Homeland Security Chief Larry Ingargiola says he talks to FEMA reps three and four times a day and can't get FEMA to fork over the money.
FEMA says it's not to blame.
A FEMA spokeswoman in Washington, Nicol Andrews, says, we agree that it's time that people forced from their homes more than three months ago have a place to call home. So far, she says, FEMA has provided rental assistance for more than 500,000 families and housed more than 40,000 in travel trailers.
INGARGIOLA: We are ready for the trailers in St. Bernard. We are ready.
ROESGEN: People in St. Bernard are trying to come back. A few people have FEMA trailers, but 15 to 20,000 don't. That includes the Conrads, still waiting for a trailer sleeping in a tent camped out in their living room instead.
Susan Roesgen, CNN, St. Bernard Parish.
ZAHN: And First Lady Laura Bush today weighed in on rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast. She said reconstructing levees and bringing back several thousand displaced residents was a long-term project. And added the president stood by his pledge to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
Still ahead tonight, the startling number of people who simply vanish from cruise ships at sea. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to save, along with my family, at least one family from the torture and torment that we go through on a daily basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Families demanding answers. But what should you know before you book a cruise?
And still ahead tonight, an actor who starred in "The Sopranos" and a "A Bronx Tale" now may face murder charges in a shoot out with a cop who ended up dying.
ZAHN: It's the time of year when a lot of people start planning winter escapes, especially a voyage to get away from it all. Over 11 million have booked cruises so far this year. And the last thing they're probably thinking about is crime on the high seas.
But tonight, there's growing concern over security and crime aboard some cruise ships triggered by the baffling disappearance of a number of passengers this year.
Our Deborah Feyerick has been investigating and this is what she's found out.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): When Royal Caribbean's jewel of the sea returned to south Florida Sunday, 59- year-old Jill Begora (ph) was no longer on board. She had vanished without a trace the day before while vacationing with her husband.
Another mystery disappearance, George Smith. Five months ago he was honeymooning also on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
MAUREEN SMITH, SON DISAPPEARED FROM CRUISE SHIP: We have lived a nightmare for the last five months. My son boarded a Royal Caribbean ship for his honeymoon and he never got off, and we want to know why.
FEYERICK: His family believes he was murdered. Royal Caribbean tells CNN, we do not know what happened to George Smith. Only that he tragically disappeared from a cruise.
The Smith family said today they're suing Royal Caribbean.
BREE SMITH, BROTHER DISAPPEARED FROM CRUISE SHIP: We want to force Royal Caribbean into accountability.
FEYERICK: The Smiths are also asking Congress for tough new laws, hoping to stop what happened to them from happening again, but it does happen more often than you might think.
Chris Caldwell (ph) was with his fiance enjoying the final night of their cruise when he vanished. His sister Shannon still in shock.
(on-camera): Is it crazy for you that here is somebody who is so full of life and now he just disappeared, he just vanished and there's no answers?
SHANNON NOWLAN, BROTHER DISAPPEARED FROM CRUISE SHIP: There's no answers. And, you know, it's really amazing.
FEYERICK (voice over): The trade group that represents major cruise lines says 10 to 12 people have gone overboard in the last year and a half.
MICHAEL CRYE, INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF CRUISE LINES: I think you need to keep this in perspective. Ten to 12 people out of maybe 15 million who cruised in that same time frame is something less than one person goes missing for every million people.
FEYERICK: But for Shannon and others going through the same thing, that's not the point.
NOWLAN: That's not very high statistically. But we're not talking about cattle here. We're talking about my brother. We're talking about somebody's sister. We're talking about somebody's mom and dad, niece, nephew, uncle, aunt.
FEYERICK: No one saw Chris Caldwell fall overboard. And investigators have few clues. Part of the reason? No surveillance cameras monitor the railings. Cruise ships aren't required by law to have them.
CRYE: I can tell you that it would be -- require an investment of literally millions of dollars to have those types of security cameras installed and monitored. And it isn't a significant enough problem to justify that kind of an expense.
FEYERICK: The cruise industry is a $25 billion business. Lawyer James Walker says some of that money should be spent on cameras to alert the crew when someone falls overboard. And his concerns go further than just surveillance.
JAMES WALKER, MARITIME ATTORNEY: They don't warn the public. They don't want the public to know that there are risks in going on a cruise. Because, of course, they're in the business of selling dream vacations.
CRYE: The record of the cruise industry is one of the best in the entire world. It is the safest form of transportation that there is in the United States.
FEYERICK: Yet when people do vanish in or near U.S. waters, search and rescue teams are called to help.
(on-camera): When you're doing 14 miles, are the chances pretty good you're going to find somebody or does it really depend?
LIEUTENANT KIM GUEDRY, U.S. COAST GUARD: It's really dependent on the time that we receive the report until the time we start searching given that information.
FEYERICK (voice over): Fourteen miles, remember that's how far Chris Caldwell was from shore when he vanished. It took hours to search the ship then notify the coast guard.
NOWLAN: On Saturday evening, the coast guard called me and told me that they were calling off the search and that basically no one could have survived as long as they had been looking in the water so that he was presumed dead at that point.
FEYERICK: So, what happened to Chris Caldwell? A bartender who spoke to authorities said Caldwell was in the casino acting loud and drunk. That description has haunted Shannon and her family.
NOWLAN: If a bartender reported to someone that he was belligerent and very heavily drinking, then why didn't they escort him back to his room?
FEYERICK: That begs the question, who is ultimately responsible when someone is lost at sea?
CRYE: You can't treat adult as children. You have to give them the benefit of the doubt. You cannot tell them what to do and guard against any eventuality. So, otherwise, you would be taking away from the experience of the cruise itself.
FEYERICK: When her brother disappeared, Shannon was eight months pregnant.
(on camera): He knew you were having this baby and he never got a chance to meet that baby.
NOWLAN: That's really hard. Because she is the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me, and I would really like to share that with him.
FEYERICK (voice-over): A small number lost at sea, but a number to those who love them no less significant.
Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: And as Deborah just mentioned, this has caught the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In fact, tomorrow, a congressional subcommittee holds hearings focusing on cruise ship disappearances and crimes involving passengers.
Coming up on nine minutes before the hour. Still ahead tonight, real-world trouble for an actor you know from "The Sopranos." He could face murder charges in the killing of a New York police officer.
But first, some of the hour's top stories from Erica Hill at Headline News -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Paula, we begin tonight in northeastern Afghanistan, where a strong earthquake in an area shaken by a massive quake just two months ago, has hit. That 6.7 quake reported to have triggered some landslides in the area, and also shook neighboring Pakistan.
Firefighters in London are still trying to extinguish as many as 10 oil storage tanks after an explosion on Sunday at an oil depot north of the city. The explosion shattered windows in the area and injured 43 people. Fire officials say they are, though, making progress.
The Guantanamo Bay Naval base was the target of protests today by American activists who say detainees are not being treated humanely. Dozens of detainees are on a hunger strike to protest treatment the military insists is humane.
And in Oklahoma, a sudden eruption of gas geysers has officials baffled. Now, most of the leaks are in rural areas along a creek in King Fisher, Oklahoma. A break in an underground gas line has been ruled out, but the concern here, Paula, is those geysers may contaminate well water.
That's a look at the headlines at this hour. Back over to you.
ZAHN: Well, one thing for sure, Erica, they're certainly going to get a lot of attention. Appreciate it. Thanks so much.
When we come back, a face you may know from TV and the movies. An actor who had a major role on "The Sopranos," now he is suspected in the murder of a New York City police officer. Please stay with us.
ZAHN: I want to tell you now about a case of life imitating art, this time with a tragic ending. It involves a lucky break for an actor named Lillo Brancato, and the beginning of a promising movie and TV career. But in the end, fame and glory in the acting world collided with life in the streets, and a killing of a New York police officer. David Haffenreffer has the story.
DAVID HAFFENREFFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lillo Brancato's movie career began here, with amazing luck at this New York City beach. With the kind of break seemingly all actors pray for, a casting director spotted him walking in the sand and knew he'd be perfect to star opposite Robert De Niro in the 1993 movie "A Bronx Tale."
LILLO BRANCATO, JR., ACTOR: What better life? We don't even own a car. We ain't got money. We ain't go nothing.
HAFFENREFFER: What impressed the casting director, so the story goes, was Brancato's ability to do impressions, like this one he did of Joe Pesci in "Raging Bull."
BRANCATO: (INAUDIBLE) Joe Moose? That's right. He's a heavyweight. You're a middleweight. You can't fight him. You know what, Joey? I'm better than them.
HAFFENREFFER: But it was his work as a dramatic actor in "A Bronx Tale" that earned him praise and critical acclaim. Brancato played De Niro's son in a story about a teenager torn between two competing role models, a local mobster and his own father.
ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: I just saw you driving Sonny's car. I don't want you driving his car around. I don't like that.
BRANCATO: Dad, I'm not in the mood to hear this.
DE NIRO: I don't care if you're not in the mood to hear it.
HAFFENREFFER: Brancato took the success from "A Bronx Tale" and ran with it all the way to Hollywood. The actor went on to appear in other notable roles. He was in the movie "Crimson Tide," had a small part in a music video starring Alicia Keys and Usher, and enjoyed a recurring role in the HBO mega-hit "The Sopranos."
Brancato's character was eventually executed by fictional mob boss Tony Soprano. Now, Brancato is fighting for his real life inside the Jacobi Medical Center.
This weekend, Brancato was allegedly involved in a shooting that killed a New York City police officer. Police say the actor and another man broke into a Bronx apartment building, allegedly looking for drugs, when a gunfight erupted. The off-duty officer, Daniel Enchautegui, had just been off-duty a couple of hours when he approached the scene.
Now, Brancato stands to be arraigned in his hospital bed later this week and is expected to face murder charges.
In a statement released to CNN, Robert De Niro, who hasn't spoken to Brancato in years, says: "This is deeply disturbing news, a tragedy beyond comprehension. I join others in extending my deepest sympathy to Officer Enchautegui's family. The sense of loss if one we all feel."
Today, Brancato's family declined interview requests, coming to their Westchester County home's front door to tell us only that they had nothing to say. Their front yard still lined with Christmas decorations. A neighbor, a retired cop himself, recalled Brancato as a friendly neighbor.
FRANK SARDO, NEIGHBOR: Used to see him, he says, "If I ever make it big in the movies," he said, "I'm going to buy you all new (INAUDIBLE).
HAFFENREFFER: This is not Brancato's first brush with police. He's already facing three pending criminal cases, ranging from disorderly conduct to heroin possession.
David Haffenreffer, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: And tonight, a wake is being held for that same slain police officer you just heard about. Coming up, "LARRY KING LIVE." He's next with the latest on the scheduled execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, just hours from now. He'll also be talking with the widow of legendary comedian Richard Pryor, who died over the weekend.
Thanks so much for being with us tonight. We'll be back same place tomorrow night.
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