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NIU Gunman's State of Mind Examined; Drag Race Ends in Tragedy
Aired February 16, 2008 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Why did this man gun down five college students? Tonight, new talk of prescription medication and laptop found in a hotel room that may have been his.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there anything you guys can tell us about this computer?
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HARRIS: CNN tracks down the answers.
Meanwhile, others, still relieving the moments.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just walked in. No expression on his face but it seem like he had intent and who he was going to do.
HARRIS: Mangled cars, shoes strewn over the highway. A drag race gone horribly wrong.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This one was probably one of the worst that I've seen.
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HARRIS: How one family was literally torn apart?
Imagine spending half your life in prison for a crime you didn't commit. Then one day, you're set free.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It hasn't fully hit me at this point. I'm still waiting to wake up.
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HARRIS: The innocent in prison. It could happen to anyone. But how? And what's being done to stop it? Hear the stories of two men who lost years of their lives behind bars. And meet the people who worked so hard to set the innocent free. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. And good evening, everyone, I'm Tony Harris. Two days, two days is nowhere near enough time to dull the shock, the pain, and the loss overshadowing the campus of Northern Illinois University. That's where a young man took several lives, took his own life, and forever changed the lives of many others. Don Lemon and CNN investigative reporter, Abbie Boudreau are in the DeKalb, Illinois tonight. Still learning about the killer and his five victims.
Don, let's start with you. And Don, you have some new details this evening?
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We certainly do, Tony. As the memorial grows for the victims, so do the haunting details. Tonight, a source tells CNN Steven Kazmierczak, the shooter, stayed at a local hotel just days before the shooting. The source also says they found a laptop computer there. Also, that they found a duffel bag with ammunition. All this while troubling details emerge about the shooter's mental health.
QUESTION: Is there anything you guys can tell us about this computer?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
LEMON (voice-over): Investigators were back at the DeKalb Travelodge for a second day to speak with hotel staff about a laptop computer left behind by a guest who checked in last Monday under the name Steve. The same first name as the Northern Illinois University shooter.
Who are you guys with?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: City of DeKalb.
LEMON: But you can't tell us why you came back the second time to talk to them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not right now.
LEMON: And nothing about the computer?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing about the computer.
LEMON: The hotel manager's wife says her husband, Jay, was behind the desk when Steve arrive wearing sunglasses. Police later showed Jay a photo of Steven Kazmierczak.
RUPAL PATEL, MOTEL MANAGER'S WIFE: But we cannot recognize him.
LEMON: Why not?
PATEL: He's wearing the glasses and all those.
LEMON: But days later after the shooting, when police called asking if a guest named Steve had left behind a Toshiba laptop computer, staff checked the guest card. The last name unreadable. They sent someone to check room 105.
Who found the computer?
PATEL: Well, my maintenance guys. He said it's in there so he called the police (INAUDIBLE).
LEMON: Where is the registry where he signed his name?
PATEL: Police have it.
LEMON: Police have the registry?
LEMON: Police called in the bomb squad for a sweep and confiscated the computer and other items. But left behind were clothing, luggage and a drawer littered with two sets of unidentifiable packaged pills, energy drinks, empty water bottles and cigarette packs.
Still, police haven't found a motive and are now looking to the 27- year-old's past for clues. According to the Associated Press, Kazmierczak parents sent him to a Chicago area group home shortly after high school because he was unruly and refused to take his medication. CNN's Chicago affiliate WLS spoke with the former group home manager.
LOUISE GBADAMASHI, FORMER GROUP HOME MANAGER: He was already on medication at that time. And the problem was he wasn't taking it at home and would not follow instructions.
UNIDENTIFIED WLS REPORTER: What was his condition when he didn't take his medication?
GBADAMASHI: He was a cutter. He would cut himself and then he would let you discover it. He wouldn't tell you. He'd just like roll his sleeve up and ask you questions. And you feel like you had to complete turn around, you had to see it. I guess it was a shock value or to help him because he couldn't help himself.
UNIDENTIFIED WLS REPORTER: Other than the cutting, did you ever see him violent?
GBADAMASHI: See, it's hard to tell when he's violent because his expression doesn't change. He just strikes out and you just have to really know him in his eyes. You could see it. You can't look at him like, I'm angry. You're going to know it. It's just stoic, just stoic.
LEMON: And tonight, the same DeKalb police source tells me that the gunman checked into another hotel just down the street but did not stay. Police say they did not find a note. So tonight, Tony, still no motive for these shootings. HARRIS: CNN's Don Lemon for us. Don, appreciate it. Thank you. And now, let's go to CNN investigative reporter, Abbie Boudreau. Abbie, good to see you. We understand you spoke with someone who knew the killer?
ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we did. Today we sat down with a close friend and a former professor to the gunman. He showed us an e-mail that they had written back and forth where the 27- year-old gunman said he wanted to be a social worker or an advocate to prisoners.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was future-oriented. I don't mean, future-oriented like tomorrow, what's for breakfast. But future- oriented in that he's developing along with his -- he was integrating ideas. He was integrated into his interest on corrections and working with kids and other people. I don't see any red flags in Steve's past. I've seen other people, walking time bombs. But Steve was not one.
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BOUDREAU: Tony, we'll have more of that interview throughout the day on CNN tomorrow. Back to you.
HARRIS: OK, Abbie, appreciate it, thank you.
Another community is dealing with tragedy. Eight times. Make that times eight tonight. In rural Maryland. About a half hour south of Washington, D.C., an illegal drag race drew a big after midnight crowd and then something terrible happened. Here's CNN's Kate Bolduan.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Witnesses describe an unbelievable scene.
CRYSTAL GAINES, FATHER KILLED ON MARYLAND HIGHWAY: All of a sudden, I look back and I saw this white thing coming. But it didn't have no lights, no nothing on it. So I had pulled my father and as I was pulling him the car took him away from me and flew him up in the air. And I just ran, you know. Pushed my daughter down so she wouldn't get hurt.
BOLDUAN: Crystal Gaines with her 13-year-old daughter and her father were part of the crowd gathered overnight to watch drag racing on a highway in Maryland, about 15 miles outside of D.C.
GAINES: Right now it's like -- it's like a dream to me because I can't believe this happened. You know, you see this stuff on TV. Never think it will happen to you, you know. And it happened to me, you know. That's my father over there on the ground.
BOLDUAN: Gaines' father died. One of the spectators police say were killed early Saturday morning. Hours later, the carnage was still evident on the roadway.
(on camera): Police say a white Crown Victoria was traveling here on this northbound line. But the driver was blinded by the smoke created from the drag racers' burnout. That's when the car plowed through the crowd of people standing by.
CPL. CLIFTON COPELAND, PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY POLICE: This one is probably one of the worst that I've seen. With the amount of victims that were on the scene. It was a pretty, pretty bad scene.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): Prince George's County police Corporal Clifton Copeland says this road in Maryland is unfortunately an attractive setting for street racers.
COPELAND: It's a long road, of course. As you notice, the traffic signals are fairly far apart. So it is very enticing for individuals who want to race on this road. However, it is illegal.
BOLDUAN: Police investigators are trying to piece together exactly how this gruesome accident happened. Meanwhile, Crystal Gaines and her family are left with terrifying memories and a horrific loss. Kate Bolduan, CNN, Accokeek, Maryland.
HARRIS: And parts of the south now under a tornado threat. Let's go straight to Jacqui Jeras in the CNN severe weather center.
Jacqui, good to see you.
HARRIS: Suicide bomb in Pakistan and this one is very bad. It happened Saturday in an unsettle province near the Afghan border. 37 people were killed. Nearly 100 were hurt. The bomber detonated a car in front of a political party's office while a rally was going on. It's a particularly tense time in Pakistan. Voters choose a new parliament on Monday and the targeted party office is that of assassinated Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. No claim of responsibility just yet.
Imagine spending years, even decades behind bars. Now, imagine you're there for a crime you didn't commit. Tonight, we highlight the people working to prevent just that scenario. It's our special report, "Liberty and Justice for All?" That's next.
HARRIS: We are going to focus most of the remaining time in this hour to the criminal justice system and the growing number of exonerations. We are talking about people, let's call them what they are, victims, arrested, prosecuted and convicted of crimes they did not commit. They often spend years in prison. Some on death row.
Now, before you think, this is going to be a total slam of the justice system. Let me assure you we are not naive. Prisons are filled with people who actually committed the crimes they were convicted of. And we should all applaud the role of police and prosecutors as fierce advocates for victims. But with the advent of DNA testing more prisoners are being freed after wrongful convictions. And innocence projects are springing up all over the country.
Are wrongful convictions a bigger problem than we think? Are coerced convictions still rampant? And can the system be improved? So a lot to talk about here. Let's get started.
You know, there's really no way of knowing just how many people right now are sitting in prison for crimes they didn't commit. Let's look at the numbers so far. 212 people have had their convictions overturned because of DNA exonerations in the United States. 15 of them served time on death row. People coast to coast have literally gotten new leases on life. You can see from the blue on this map, exonerations have been won in 31 states.
The states with the most cases overturned because of DNA evidence are in dark blue -- New York, Illinois, and Texas. Texas leads with 30 cases. You know, it all started with a couple of tenacious attorneys and it became a long fight. But the battle is far from over.
HARRIS (voice-over): Innocent people arrested, convicted, and sent to prison for crimes they didn't commit. Victims of a broken justice system.
MADELINE DELONE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INNOCENCE PROJECT: We needed something to be in the criminal justice system, accused of something that you didn't do.
HARRIS: Madeline Delone is executive director of the National Innocence Project in New York. She oversees the organization that helps revolutionize the use of DNA evidence in criminal cases. Attorneys Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck of O.J. Simpson trial fame co-founded the project over a decade ago.
DELONE: Almost all our clients were accused of rapes or murders, sometimes both. But these are people who continue to fight because they knew that one day, somehow, the truth would come out. And for them, you know, the miracle was DNA.
HARRIS: The project began as an effort to exonerate convicted prisoners whose innocence could be proven through DNA testing. It's a nonprofit organization. The cases are worked on by lawyers, a lot of them volunteers, and students.
ALISON BRILL, STUDENT, CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW: It's interesting working at a clinic because you actually get to witness the lawyering that went on to bring our clients to the Innocence Project
HARRIS: Alison Brill and Adam Shane are students at Cardozo School of Law. They're getting a real hard look at some of the roadblocks their clients experience in trying to prove their innocence. ADAM SHANE, STUDENT, CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW: If the liberty of our clients so often depends on whether or not someone who we're talking to on the phone chooses to cooperate with us or not.
HARRIS: To date, the Innocence network collectively has used DNA evidence to help exonerate over 200 people. Some of those had spent time on death row.
HARRIS: So, how did these people end up falsely convicted in the first place? The Innocence Project says the majority of their cases, witnesses mistakenly identified them. The project has found mistaken eyewitness testimony was a factor in 77 percent of all the cases. Out of those, 48 percent involved cross-racial witness identification. The Innocence Project says studies show people are less able to recognize faces of a different race than their own.
We have introduced you to the problem. Now we will look at solutions. And we will hear about the early days of the Innocence Project.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we first started this project, we couldn't even get into court.
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HARRIS: 200-plus exonerations later, the project is still going strong. Also, if DNA evidence can clear the innocent, why isn't it used more often? Why isn't it used in every case? We take a look.
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BARRY SCHECK, LAWYER: In so many of these instances, the evidence is lost or destroyed. So it's really a small percentage of the cases that we get to the lab.
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HARRIS: Celebrity lawyer Barry Scheck there talking about the challenge of even gathering DNA evidence. Much less using it to try to prove a man or woman who was falsely accused. Tonight, we're looking at not only on individual cases of DNA exoneration, but the impact each one has on our legal system. Here's CNN's Randi Kaye to help us decode the double helix.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): DNA is your own personal bar code. Every cell in our body contains a copy of our own DNA. Only identical twins have the same genetic code. (voice-over): To determine a match, scientists first look for a sample of DNA on fabric. This demonstration shows how ultraviolet light highlights it.
LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: This may very well be semen. Semen is known to fluoresce when it's in the dried state.
KAYE: That DNA is then cut from the fabric so the extraction can begin.
KOBILINSKY: We would add the specimen of interest to a tube. Containing this KELEX (ph) resin.
KAYE: The resin extracts and isolates the DNA. When the sample is heated up in this shaking water bag, Professor Kobilinsky gets a printout of how many nanograms of DNA he has.
KOBILINSKY: A nanogram is a billionth of a gram of DNA. It's a very tiny amount of DNA, you really can't see it with the naked eye.
KAYE: Tiny but key.
KOBILINSKY: Tiny but key.
KAYE: Next, something called a Thermal Cycler is able to multiply the sample.
KOBILINSKY: Literally making billions of copies by running 30 cycles of temperature changes.
KAYE: And then finally answers from this genetic analyzer.
KOBILINSKY: There is a very thin capillary here and the samples are obtained from vials in this box. They're sucked into this needle. Travel through the capillary. Are detected with a special camera. A laser beam hits the specimens. And the software does the rest.
KAYE: And then you get a snapshot basically of the profile?
KAYE: Then just send it to the computer?
KAYE: And then you can see what the profile actually looks like. And if they match, case is over.
KOBILINSKY: Case is closed.
KAYE: This is what a profile looks like on paper. If the profiles are identical, the DNA is a match. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEOTAPE) HARRIS: So now put this DNA technology to good use. Who are the guys that started the Innocence Project? The organization that fights for innocent people? Co-founders Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld are Civil Rights attorneys. CNN's Allan Chernoff sat down with them.
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ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You must have seen a major problem in our judicial system back then when you started this.
BARRY SCHECK, CO-FOUNDER, INNOCENCE PROJECT: Well, we knew from the very beginning because we were involved with DNA technology when it first came into the courts. That it had the potential to exonerate the innocent and identify people who really committed crimes. And our advantage was is that we actually did know this would become important and that the exonerations would become important.
And by far, the most significant aspect of it is learning the lessons from each wrongful conviction and trying to fix mistaken eyewitness identification, false confessions, bad forensic work, prosecutorial misconduct, the use of jailhouse stitches, bad defense lawyers. We know the causes.
PETER NEUFELD, CO-FOUNDER, INNOCENCE PROJECT: One of the most incredible concerns for us is that DNA can only take care of a small minority of the cases, because most cases don't have biological evidence for testing. So there's still police using poor procedures to make identifications. There's still coercing and fabricating confessions. There's still relying on jailhouse informants. There's still police and prosecutorial misconduct. There's still incompetent defense lawyers out there. And there still racism in the criminal justice system.
None of those things have gone away yet. But what we hope to do through this DNA exonerations is to shine a bright light on those problems, to finally get people to implement change.
SCHECK: One of the really unique developments that's changing the consciousness of prosecutors and everyone in the system is that we now have data banks. So what happens in a lot of these cases is that the DNA testing is done and all of a sudden it gets a hit in the data bank to someone who had gone out and committed a whole series of crimes while the innocent person was in jail.
And you know, that's one that really gets the attention of prosecutors and the citizenry and really helps us bring change. And we've had that in many cases.
CHERNOFF: What sort of changes has the Innocence Project brought about in policy around the nation?
SCHECK: We now have more than 40 states that have post- conviction DNA testing legislation. Because when we first started this project, we couldn't even get into court. Because there were statutes of limitations that didn't permit newly discovered evidence of innocence, much less DNA testing into evidence to vacate convictions. But there were now statutes on improving eyewitness identification.
There's a statute -- two statutes on videotaping interrogation, and there's Federal legislation about crime lab oversight that is of extreme importance. So we've had a legislative program on the state level and on the Federal level, and innocence agenda that is going to transform criminal justice in this country, because we're just getting started.
NEUFELD: Probably the most satisfying feeling is to walk into a prison after you've gotten the DNA results and take somebody by the hand who's been there for 15, 20, or 25 years. And walk them out into the light of day and see them embrace their mothers and fathers if they're still alive or other members of their family. That feeling is as good as it gets.
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HARRIS: As good as it gets. OK, follow me on this one. We know you did it. We have witnesses. Tell us what happened and you can go home. Your friend already told us you did it. Just a few lines police officers have used in the interrogation room. We're talking about dirty tricks here.
Also, say you're wrongly convicted and you manage to be exonerated. What then?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't get angry at what happened to me because if I did, that would be like giving them the rest of my life and they took enough from me.
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HARRIS: Getting back into the free world. Our special report continues.
HARRIS: More on the Innocence Project in just a moment. First, the latest on tonight's top stories. A duffel bag glued shut supposedly filled with ammunition. A laptop with no hard drive. A police source tells CNN they're just two of the items found at this hotel room near Northern Illinois University. Police tell us Steve Kazmierczak apparently stayed there. The man who went on a campus shooting rampage, Thursday, killing five students and then himself.
Today, university officials announced classes will resume February 25th. And they're planning a memorial service to honor the victims the day before.
Two days before Pakistan's parliamentary election, a suicide car bomber sent this message. Tonight, 37 people are dead, nearly 100 others are wounded. The Interior Ministry says it is just the latest attempt to scare people from voting on Monday. The bomber apparently targeted an office of the opposition Pakistan People's Party once headed by assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto.
American flags wave in Kosovo as the tiny Balkan Province prepares to break free from Serbia. A declaration of independence is expected to come within hours. Serb leaders have promised diplomatic and economic retribution if it goes ahead. However, the U.S. and most of the European Union States are preparing to recognize Kosovo's independence. The EU also just signed off on sending 2,000 troops to help with administration and policing.
Storm threat in the south. Winter blast in the north. Jacqui Jeras busy tonight in the CNN severe weather center.
HARRIS: That will make Rob Marciano a happy man. He's been down there all week. 80 degrees and sunshine.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The people in Wisconsin are jealous.
HARRIS: That's right. All right, Jacqui, thank you.
16 years in prison, convicted of raping and murdering a classmate. But he didn't do it. And thanks to the Innocence Project, he is free. But as he will tell you, freedom wasn't easy. Our special report "Liberty and Justice For All?" continues.
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HOLMES: That sounds good. Also, at NASCAR's premier race. We're live from Daytona 500. "CNN's SUNDAY MORNING" starts 10:00 Eastern.
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JEFFREY SCOTT HORNOFF, FORMER DETECTIVE: Being a police officer, I cooperated because I thought the state police investigators would handle the investigation the way I would have. When I used to read people their rights, one of the first things I would say to them after they waived their rights and they agreed to speak was, if you didn't do this crime, I don't want you to admit to it.
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HARRIS: That was Jeffrey Scott Hornoff, a former detective. His story of being wrongfully convicted is featured in the documentary "After Innocence." There are all too many of those stories out there like Jeffrey Deskovic. He was freed from prison for a crime he did not commit. But nothing could prepare him for the new challenge he faced, adjusting to the free world. Here's CNN's Allan Chernoff.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeffrey Deskovic spent more than a decade in prison for the rape and murder of a classmate. It was a crime he did not commit.
JEFFREY DESKOVIC, WRONGFULLY CONVICTED: I was in prison for about 16 years for murder and rape, which I was innocent of. That was half of my life.
CHERNOFF: Today, Deskovic is a free man.
DESKOVIC: It hasn't fully hit me at this point. I'm still waiting to wake up, actually.
CHERNOFF: In January 2006, the Innocence Project convinced prosecutors to take another look at DNA evidence. New testing technology cleared Deskovic of the 1989 crime, identifying the real killer, and releasing Deskovic into a world he no longer knew.
DESKOVIC: It was difficult not having the structure. I mean, the idea that I had to schedule the activities that I was going to do that day, in order to make progress on my goals, as opposed to the schedule already being set to me. Kind of like the structure of the prison. That was very disorienting to me.
CHERNOFF: Besides acclimating to a new and busy world, Deskovic had to learn to interact socially. Something he had not done since he was 18 years old. He is now 34.
DESKOVIC: Other people did not have their lives disrupted. I mean, they went to high school, they went to a high school prom, and they finished their education in most cases. They've been on their way in their career. They have a social life.
CHERNOFF: Deskovic says he's not bitter about losing all those years to prison. He now makes a life and career giving speeches, creating public awareness about wrongful convictions.
DESKOVIC: I don't get angry at what happened to me because if I did, that would be like giving them the rest of my life and they took enough from me. Instead, I take the energy that I otherwise would feel and that's what drives me in my quest, in my life-long struggle against wrongful convictions.
CHERNOFF: Jeffrey Deskovic has turned his message into a chance of normalcy, writing for his local newspaper "The Westchester Guardian."
RICHARD BLASSBERG, WESTCHESTER GUARDIAN: Jeffrey's a gift to the problem of prosecutorial misconduct.
CHERNOFF: Deskovic says his job allows him to spread his word and have a place in society.
DESKOVIC: I get a lot of meaning out of writing for "The Westchester Guardian" because they have a readership of 50,000 to 60,000 people. And that's reaching a lot more people than what I ever could through speaking at an event.
CHERNOFF: Looking forward, Jeffrey Deskovic wants to transform his negative experiences into a positive life. He has aspirations of going to law school to continue helping the wrongfully accused.
DESKOVIC: I can take what happens to me and turn it into a positive. Without that, I don't think that I would be able to make any sense out of what happened to me.
CHERNOFF: Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.
HARRIS: You know, it happened to Jeff Deskovic and he's not the only one. Coerced confessions or, as some call it, dirty tricks in the interrogation room. Joining me now is former FBI special agent Don Clark.
Don, great to see you, my friend.
DON CLARK, FORMER FBI AGENT: Good to see you, Tony.
HARRIS: You know, I don't want this to be heavy-handed with you because I salute, and I know you do, the work of law enforcement and prosecutors as powerful advocates for victims in this country. I am -- and I'm going to give you a moment to speak on that, here shortly, but I am sort of curious as to how it is people get wrongly convicted. Are coerced confessions, in some cases fabricated confessions, still a problem to be overcome?
CLARK: Well, Tony, all of the above, when you see somebody gets wrongfully convicted. But let me just say right from the beginning and something you quoted earlier, the prisons are not filled with innocent people.
HARRIS: There you go.
CLARK: However, one innocent person that goes to prison, that's one too many. And the question is, what happens to get a person there? Now, keep in mind, DNA commonly used has really only started, maybe 10 or 12 years ago, where we've really been using it. So they've gotten it right an awful lot of times.
But having said that, Tony, when you get shoddy police work, when you get pressures perhaps put on by prosecutors, when you get pressures put on perhaps by politicians, or other types of entities to clean up crime and to do a lot of things, I think it puts pressure on police to step outside of the bounds. There's no excuse for it, but they step outside of the bounds and try to make it happen.
HARRIS: Hey, Don, cases where biological evidence is available, should DNA testing be mandatory to apprehend the person responsible for the crime, and, in the cases where necessary exonerate the innocent?
CLARK: Well, you know --
HARRIS: Mandatory is the question.
CLARK: Yes. You know, to me, that's a no-brainer. I mean, I can't imagine that if biological information is available there, that you would not use DNA testing. There's absolutely no reason for that. I don't know, as you said, I don't know of any law on the books that says you've got to use it. But why not use it? Because that's probably your best proof that you're going to get. You know, we call best evidence. That's right.
HARRIS: You know, I expect you to answer yes to all of this. But maybe you won't. I'm wondering, should all interrogations be videotaped? One, should there be better oversight of crime labs? Let's make that two, are people wrongly convicted because of racism in the system? Three.
CLARK: OK. I'm going to go with two out of three of those.
CLARK: And certainly, wrongly convicted because of racism. Racism, we have to be realistic, plays a part in a lot of things. But that's not always the case. Because when you see some of these people who have been wrongly convicted, they're not a particular race. They go across the spectrum. So, you can't necessarily blame racism on that. If that may have been the case, but I say that you can't necessarily blame it on it, Tony.
HARRIS: Don, great to see you. Thanks for your time this evening.
CLARK: All right. Nice to see you.
HARRIS: Good to see you, my friend. Really being able to put your life back together after missing a big chunk of it -- that says a lot about the human spirit. One person who exemplifies that is Ronald Taylor. He tells us his story in just a moment.
And it is an election year. Shouldn't you know where your candidate stands on justice in the United States? We'll tell you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time I go for a job, it says in the last ten years, have you ever been convicted of a crime? It doesn't say, have you ever been wrongfully accused of a crime? So, my record not being expunged, yes, that damages me for trying to get my life back in order and getting a good job.
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HARRIS: So, how much could someone pay you, after your life is taken away by being locked away. Accused of horrific crimes, only to be told later, oops, we made a mistake, you're free to go, have a nice life.
Our David Mattingly spoke to one man. And I'll tell you, his perspective might just surprise you.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One of Ronald Taylor's greatest pleasures is getting behind the wheel with no particular destination in mind and just driving.
RONALD TAYLOR, WRONGLY CONVICTED: Just the ability to move like you want to move, you know what I'm saying. And do what you want to do, without anybody having anything to say about it.
MATTINGLY: It's one of those little freedoms many of us probably take for granted. But every care-free mile for Taylor is cause for celebration. In 1993, he was sent to a Texas prison for a rape he didn't commit. It took 14 years before DNA tests finally proved authorities locked up the wrong man. But don't expect to hear Taylor complain.
MATTINGLY (on-camera): How does somebody lose 14 years of their freedom and not come out of that without some bitterness?
TAYLOR: I mean, most of the people I know now didn't have nothing to do with me going to prison. You know what I'm saying? I'm not bitter. I'm not even bitter at the people that did, you know. They did what they had to do.
MATTINGLY: And what Taylor says he had to do was do time by never looking back, never giving in to despair, and never giving up. They were his three rules for life behind bars that he says are now paying dividends as he works to put his new life together.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Taylor is just one of at least 30 innocent Texas inmates freed by DNA since 1994. But few have rebounded so quickly. After just four months and with the help of the "Innocence Project," Taylor has a steady job. He's making payments on a new truck and he got married.
MATTINGLY (on-camera): Well, as a woman in love, tell me what it is about your man that is so special. Am I embarrassing you?
JEANETTE BROWN, TAYLOR'S WIFE: Yes. MATTINGLY (voice-over): On December 30th, Ronald Taylor married the former Jeanette Brown in a private family ceremony. The two met more than 20 years ago but Taylor didn't pop the question until he was in prison.
TAYLOR: Finding a good woman to love can make all the difference in a man's life.
MATTINGLY: The two kept their love alive through hundreds of encouraging letters.
MATTINGLY (on-camera): You had every reason just to drop him. Just to go on with your own life. You had every reason to believe he was guilty. Why didn't you?
BROWN: Because I love him and I know he didn't do that. He wouldn't do that.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): It's this kind of faith in his innocence from friends and family that Taylor says got him through the tough times. Now in the best of times, faith in himself keeps Taylor going.
MATTINGLY (on-camera): Did you learn something about yourself in prison?
TAYLOR: That I can pretty much do anything I want to do. Pretty much. That I'm pretty much in control. Yes.
MATTINGLY: David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.
HARRIS: You know, Ron Taylor's story is compelling but sadly not unique. Just ask Jessica Sanders, producer and director of "After Innocence." It is an emotionally-charged film that follows wrongfully convicted men freed after decades in prison, and their struggle to transition back into society. We talked earlier this evening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSICA SANDERS, PRODUCER/DIRECTOR: They are so positive despite spending decades in prison. And what I found is that there's something within them, that they have a sense of hope. And oftentimes they have family members who believe in them, who are on the outside who visit them. And that's what really sustains them.
And there's, you know, some glare of hope, but also the work of the Innocence Project, who are amazing attorneys and a lot of law students that are working on behalf of innocent people and that's what gives people hope. And because of now, you know, 215 cases that have been exonerated. They know that there are great people out there who are working on behalf of justice. HARRIS: So you spent years in prison for a crime you didn't commit. You would think at the end of that process, you're exonerated, you're freed, and there's a nice check waiting for you to at least ease you back into society. Is that the case?
SANDERS: Unfortunately, no. I think there is a misconception that you -- you know, you're wrongfully convicted, you get out, you get millions of dollars. And in fact, innocent people get treated worse than guilty people. And they don't get social services. They still have criminal records.
(INAUDIBLE) spent ten years in Philadelphia prison for a rape he didn't commit. He still has a rape conviction. So, he can't get a job. He hasn't received a dollar from the state because Pennsylvania doesn't have any compensation. So only about I think 15 states have compensation legislation. So you really -- you get out and you get nothing. And, you know, you went in when 19, you came out and you're 45, and you don't have any education, you don't have any history of work, you don't have a family. So it's really tough.
HARRIS: Jessica, thanks for your time. Thanks for the film. And we look forward to seeing your next film.
SANDERS: OK. Thank you so much, Tony. Take care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: You know, since it's the election season, we want to know what the presidential candidates have to say on our subject. You will hear from the contenders vying for the White House.
You're in to CNN NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: And as we wrap up this discussion tonight on liberty and justice, what about those men and that woman who want to be your next president? How would they approach crime and punishment in their White House? We pick through the recent debates for this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The criminal justice system is not color blind. It does not work for all people equally. And that is why it's critical to have a president who sends a signal that we are going to have a system of justice that is not just us, but is everybody.
And you know, this is something that I've got a track record working on at the state level, where a lot of the criminal justice issues come up. That's why I passed racial profiling legislation at the state level. That's why I passed legislation to make sure that we didn't have wrongful convictions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Obama. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In order to tackle this problem, we have to do all of these things. Number one, we do have to go after racial profiling. I've supported legislation to try to tackle that. Number two, we have to go after mandatory minimums.
Mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate, but it's been too widely used. And it is using now a discriminatory impact. Three, we need diversion like drug courts. Nonviolent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons. They need to be diverted from our prison system. And ultimately, we need an attorney general and a system of justice that truly does treat people equally.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got to quit locking up all the people that we're mad at and lock up the people that we're really afraid of. The people who are sexual predators and violent offenders. But the nonsense of three strikes and you're out has created a system that is overrun with people and the cost is choking us. I would go for more drug courts and for a lot less incarceration of drug-addicted people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: You know, we didn't include Republican Senator John McCain in that clip. But here's his position on capital punishment. He supports expanding the Federal death penalty and the limits on appeals.
You know, at the end of the day, all we want is a criminal justice system that we can trust. Even the best system in the world, and ours certainly is can be improved. DNA testing is a tool and we can more widely use it to apprehend the guilty and exonerate the innocent.
And speaking of the exonerees, right now, the average time from conviction to exoneration is more than 11 years. And because of that kind of gap, it is difficult for many to find work. Too many states don't offer compensation to the wrongly imprisoned. And in the states that do, we don't have the time to tell you how difficult a process it is getting a check. Let's help these people, not stigmatize them further.
I'm Tony Harris. Thanks for joining me.
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