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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Harvard Professor Profiled?; President Obama's Health Care Push

Aired July 21, 2009 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news tonight in the murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings. This is happening literally right now.

Susan Candiotti joins us live with the latest details, police with a new development in the case -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here is what is new, John.

CNN has learned, according to a source familiar with the investigation, that there was a second safe in the house, and that that safe, according to the same source, contained about $100,000. And this was believed to be the mother lode, in effect, that the suspects were after.

But, for whatever reason, the suspects were unable to get the money out of the safe. Now, this is significant, because, up until now, we know that they recovered a safe from the house that contained only some personal documents, some medication for the children, and some family heirloom jewelry, but certainly not something that many people thought would be enough to break into the house.

So, this is why this is significant new information.

KING: And, Susan, as this is just breaking tonight, you may not know the answers, but do we understand why they were unable to get to the safe?

CANDIOTTI: We don't. Still working that aspect of this new information. And, as soon as we can get it confirmed, of course, we will -- we will bring it to you.

KING: Susan, we appreciate your reporting the breaking news. We are also going to talk to the Escambia County Sheriff a little bit later in the program. We will ask him about these blockbuster developments, as well.

Susan Candiotti, thank you so much.

Now health care reform and your bottom line, if it ever gets out of Washington and into your life. President Obama has been talking about it almost nonstop, pushing hard, in part because he is hitting roadblocks put up by fellow Democrats, who can't agree on your coverage, your choices, your higher taxes, if any, and the impact on your children and your grandchildren. So, he is prodding, pressing, and cajoling, meeting today with conservative Democrats, trying to persuade them it is critical, both from a policy and political standpoint, to act now. His hopes of getting bills through the House and Senate by early August are fading, and fast. Yet, Mr. Obama insists he is upbeat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that there are those in this town who openly declare their intention to block reform.

But there are many others who are working hard to address this growing crisis. I know that there is a tendency in Washington to accentuate the differences, instead of underscoring common ground.

But make no mistake, we are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need, and we're going to get the job done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's head over to the magic wall for a closer look at the moment and why the president doesn't have quite the same sway these days.

One of factors is the president's own approval rating. It was 63 percent not long ago. But look at this. It is down now to 57 percent. Now, that is not bad. It is just down from its high. So, let's move over a little bit and try to put this into historical context.

Remember that number, 57 percent. That is from CNN poll of polls. Here is what other presidents have looked like six months into their first term, Harry Truman still way up at 82 percent, Ronald Reagan at 60 percent. George W. Bush was right in here around 57, Barack Obama now pretty low among all the presidents of the past 50 years or so, at 55 percent in the Gallup poll recently, again, not a bad number, but not where he was not long ago.

Now, how does this all play out? It does this. This is why the president is paying a price in the polls, because people are anxious again about the economy. Look back here in February. Fifty-one percent thought the economy was getting worse. That began to improve a bit. People were getting a bit more optimistic.

But now 33 percent say, in the most recent poll, that it is getting worse. Only 45 percent say about the same. Only two in 10 Americans say it is getting better. That is the president's big problem right now. And, so, that translates. How does translate into other numbers?

Look at this. How is the president handling the economy? It was 59 percent back in February, six in 10 Americans saying he was doing a good job. Now, for the first time, more Americans disapprove of how the president is handling the economy than approve of how he's handling the economy. And health care is a related issue. So, you see it trickling into the president's approval there as well. More Americans, 50 percent, now disapprove of how the president is handling the health care issue. He is still relatively solid. Seventy-four percent of Democrats approve on the health care issue.

But these numbers are significant. The president has lost Republican support. He had about -- more than this to begin with, 11 percent, but now almost nine in 10 Republicans disapprove. And the most significant number, 55 percent, a majority of independents, the voters who helped make his margin on Election Day so big, now disapprove of how he is handling the health care issue.

So, the president is in a bit of a slump. Yes, he has time, and he has big Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. But, at the moment, he also has a bit of the problem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: More on the "Raw Politics" now, reading left to right, literally, CNN political contributors...

(LAUGHTER)

KING: ... James Carville and Bill Bennett.

James, as you know, even many of the president's allies in Washington say he is paying a price for deferring too much to Congress and letting more liberal committee chairmen shape his top priorities.

In "The New York Times" today, columnist David Brooks calls it the liberal suicide march. And he says this: "Machiavelli said a leader should be feared, not loved. Obama is loved by the Democratic chairmen, but he is not feared. On health care, Obama has emphasized cost control. The chairmen flouted his priorities because they don't fear him."

True?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Everybody is kind of -- in this poker game, if you will, everybody is, you know, betting more than they can afford right now. And we will see how it works out.

But I -- I think it is something that is an observation that people want him to be more involved at this time in the legislative process. He and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who knows a -- quite a bit about the Hill, and particularly the House, have chosen to -- to not do that. We will know the wisdom of that decision this fall.

KING: And, Bill, Republicans are, without a doubt, enjoying this. But are there risks for them? Senator DeMint talks of Obama's Waterloo and how Republicans must defeat him on health care.

Bill Kristol, in the conservative "Weekly Standard," says, with the president weakened somewhat, some Republicans will see an opening to deal. but Bill Kristol advises, go for the kill. Somewhere in the ballpark of 60 percent of the personal bankruptcies in this country are because of health care costs.

Is there a risk for the Republicans in sounding so harsh?

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, there is a risk. I don't think you want to make this your only issue and make it rise or fall only on this issue.

And, besides, when -- you know, when the other side is falling apart, don't -- you know, don't get in the way. Let this thing proceed. Right now, Barack Obama, President Obama, has to deal more with Democrats than Republicans.

It is an odd thing, John. He is both at once, it seems to me, overplaying. He is flooding the zone with too many proposals, too much money, too many deficits. And, yet, when it comes to backing up his play, to take James' analogy of the poker game, it's like he is very stingy with the chips.

KING: Now, both of you have the experience to know well that six months does not a presidency make, by any means.

CARVILLE: Right.

KING: But I want to go back to the magic wall...

BENNETT: Right.

KING: ... because I want to make a point, show you some numbers that help explain the president's slipping support among independents and the growing jitters we hear from moderate and conservative Democrats.

Remember, places like Virginia and North Carolina, they were blue in the last election, traditionally red. Ohio changed from red to blue. Out here, in the Mountain West, some states did.

But now you have numbers like this factoring into the national equation: government expenditures this year up $457 billion, compared to last year, because of the recession, government revenues down $346 billion. So, you add up bigger spending, less money in the government, what you get is higher deficits and the return of the L- word, liberal, into any conversation about taxes and spending.

Does that worry you, James?

CARVILLE: Sure. Everything worries me about this point.

But there are two things that I actually feel much better than -- than -- than some Democrats. A, I think that there is a good chance that these guys are very smart and very -- very cagey and very crafty. And they will end up with something on health care. And then everybody that said they made all these mistakes and did everything wrong, and it would collapse, and they're not going to look so good.

Secondly, it is assumed and -- and widely held by Republicans that the economy is in the tank, it is not doing any better. Actually, there are some people that believe -- and they're pretty smart people -- that what we are starting to see here is a recovery. If this is the case, come a year from now, if he has the -- if he has some solid legislative achievements under his belt, and we're a year into recovery and we're starting to see some job growth here, some of these numbers are going to start looking better, and he will be in pretty good shape.

KING: It is a point worth making. The election is next year, the midterm, not this year.

But, Bill, like many presidents, the president is paying a price for the economic anxiety Americans feel. And, if you listen to the inspector general of the $750 billion TARP program -- that's the financial industry bailouts -- people...

BENNETT: Yes. Yes. Yes.

KING: ... might have pretty good reason to be worried about their tax dollars.

Listen to this sober assessment from Neil Barofsky.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEIL BAROFSKY, TROUBLED ASSET RELIEF PROGRAM SPECIAL INSPECTOR GENERAL: I think, if the goal was to remove $700 billion of toxic assets off the books of financial institutions, that clearly has not happened. If the goal was to increase lending, I think that, too, unfortunately, has not happened. If the goal was to avoid a complete systematic collapse of the financial industry, that may very well have happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What did you make of that, Bill, the fact that the inspector general says he is not even sure where all the money has gone?

BENNETT: Well, what I make of this is that the independent witnesses, if you will, John, are now weighing in. And their testimony is not helpful to President Obama.

You had Mr. Elmendorf of the Congressional Budget Office last week. You had Mr. Barofsky today with some truly frightening numbers. Look, in a way, the president asked us to suspend belief early on: We are in a deficit situation, so we are going to spend a lot of money. That was the stimulus.

It turns out, at least so far, that stimulus doesn't seem to be helping. Now we are asked to spend even more money, and not look at the details of this health care plan. Hurry up. Hurry up. Push it through. Don't look at the man behind the curtain. Just push this thing through.

It seems, not just heedless, but a little reckless. Yes, we will find out in six months or a year. But, right now, it looks as if they have bit off more than they can chew. I agree with James. They are smart. They are very good politicians, but I'm not sure they can govern.

KING: Bill Bennett, James Carville, thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And this quick program note: President Obama gives a nationally televised news conference tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern. We expect to hear a lot about the health care issue.

Then, at 9:00, "Black in America" part two, followed by a special edition of 360 at 11:00.

And let us know what you think. Weigh in at AC360.com, where the live chat is already under way.

Up next, you heard at the top about the second safe theory, but there's more breaking news, yet another blockbuster in the Billings murder. Was this, in fact, the second time the killers snuck into the Billings Florida compound? We will ask the local sheriff who has been making news almost nightly on this strange and terrible case, as it takes one new turn after another.

And you will hear a death row inmate who says he is innocent. Big deal, you say; they all say that. Well, in his case, almost all of the witnesses now agree -- when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: More now on our breaking news -- new details about the murder of Melanie and Byrd Billings, the Florida couple who adopted 13 children with special needs.

Tonight, a source is telling CNN that the suspects wanted a second safe in the home that contained -- quote -- "the mother lode." We are talking about $100,000. The source says they never got their hands on it.

Police say the suspects were caught on this surveillance video as they broke into the home. There's also this bombshell revelation, that the suspects allegedly performed a dry run of the crime at the victims' house.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan joins us now from Pensacola for the latest on the investigation.

And, Sheriff, help us understand this, a source familiar with the investigation telling us there was a second safe in the house containing cash, $100,000. Can you confirm that for us, sir, and tell us about it?

DAVID MORGAN, ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF: I cannot. I can only confirm the items that we have recovered -- or that -- excuse me -- that we know have -- were removed from the Billings home. And that was a small -- mid-sized safe and a black briefcase. KING: Are you ruling -- you are saying there was not a second case, or that you just can't confirm that, sir?

MORGAN: I'm saying, sir, that I'm not at liberty to address that issue.

KING: OK.

Can you help us at all in the idea -- you have talked in the past that there could be more details that were not made public. Was there an amount of cash somewhere in the house, or did they think, at least, there was a large amount of cash in the house?

MORGAN: I could only repeat to you what has been reported in local -- local papers, and that is unconfirmed by the Escambia County Sheriff's Office.

KING: All right, sir, I understand that. You're in the middle of an investigation.

Let's move on. And what can you tell us about this alleged dry run that the suspects staged of the attack, and how were you able to get that informs?

MORGAN: Again, that information has been reported in the local papers.

We know for a fact that this group trained for at least 30 days in some wooded area in the Santa Rosa County area, and also in and around the home of Gonzalez Sr. We have confirmed that through other interviews and various sources. So, we know that they trained for some time.

It has been alleged, but we are not willing at this time to release and confirm that, that they did, in fact, make a dry run. But, again, we won't address that issue at this time.

KING: Can you tell us -- you say you won't address -- you say a dry run, you don't want to confirm it. They trained in the woods. Can you help us just understand a bit more because of the interest in this case about what happened at that property?

MORGAN: Well, yes, sir.

And, again, if -- if one views the videotapes and reads the testimony that has been released to date and through some of our press conferences, as we have stated from the beginning, contrary to some -- some folks on some of the talk shows, this was a well-planned and well-executed home invasion.

So, it is obvious that these individuals trained together for an extended period of time. And, by that, I mean at least weeks together. Their entry into the home is indicative of that. They entered the front and back of the home at the same time, with five individuals immediately entering -- entering the home. They were on the property for less than 10 minutes. And the actual time inside the home was just a little over four minutes. So, it is obvious to anyone that has -- that has read this case, reviewed this case, listened to our press conferences, that it was a well- executed and well-planned and well-trained-for operation.

KING: You have used the term humdinger, saying that, when people understand all of the information about this case, all of the facts, it will be one humdinger of a case.

Can you help me, sir, at all understand, in that -- is that the level of training they had for this, or is that about the $100,000 that they thought was in the house?

MORGAN: It's -- it is the entire scope of this case.

I have compared this case to the Clutter family murder in Kansas, which, of course, was written by Truman Capote, "In Cold Blood," and then the Tate-LaBianca murders in California.

When you look at the number of peoples involved -- people involved in those cases and the conspirators, if you will, we have exceeded those numbers. And the numbers, sadly, look like they are going to grow. We have three more persons of interest that we're looking at.

We're looking for an individual that we believe was -- was remiss in shutting that alarm system. So, this case continues. And, today, as we are reviewing case files, we find that there are some other individuals that we need to go back and re-interview.

So, while we have three persons of interest, this case is far from over.

KING: Well, far from over, sir. I only have a little bit of time left.

Tell me, then, what is the most significant piece of new information that crossed your desk today?

MORGAN: Well, it's the persons of interest. We are very confident that we are near an arrest.

KING: Sheriff -- Sheriff Morgan, thanks again so much in Escambia County tonight.

MORGAN: Thank you, sir.

KING: And we will keep checking in. There's a great deal of interest in this. Thank you, sir.

And still ahead: a Harvard professor arrested while trying to get into his own home. He says it is because he is black. Police tell a different story. What really happened?

Plus, a man on death row for killing a cop, but did he do it? Now, almost two decades later, new information that could change everything -- witnesses recanting their stories and jurors changing their minds.

Gary Tuchman investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Did you think he did the shooting?

TANYA JOHNSON, WITNESS: Yes, sir.

TUCHMAN: Did you ask him?

JOHNSON: No. But the way he was acting...

(CROSSTALK)

TUCHMAN: How come?

(CROSSTALK)

TUCHMAN: How come you are talking to me? I admire the fact that you are.

JOHNSON: Because I don't want to see this innocent man get killed for something he didn't even do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: He spent nearly 18 years on death row, but is Troy Davis a cop-killer or an innocent man? Gary Tuchman investigates coming up.

First, Erica Hill joins us with a 360 bulletin -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, seven suicide bombers dressed as women targeted police officers in Afghanistan today. While police did shoot and kill four of those attackers, three other blew themselves up, killing three officers. Officials blame the Taliban.

In Iran, new clashes between security forces and protesters -- sources and witnesses telling CNN 200 to 300 protesters tried to gather in a major square in Tehran, and were met by 400 to 500 security forces. It is unclear how many arrests were actually made.

Now, meantime, there is dramatic new video of what appears to be security forces, one in uniform, the other in a suit, firing their guns at protesters. We want to point out here -- and it is very important -- CNN cannot confirm when this video was taken.

Try this again.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate voting to block expansion of the controversial and expensive F-22 fighter jet program. Now, that vote, of course, gives the White House and the Pentagon a key victory, blow for congressional supporters of the F-22.

And, at this moment, millions of people across Asia gathering to see the longest total solar eclipse of the century. You are looking right now at a live picture from India. The eclipse will last a full six minutes, 39 seconds. And you are lucky that we are showing it to you tonight, John, because there won't be another one like this until 2232.

KING: I will see you then.

And I hope you feel a little better. You all right over there?

HILL: I'm going to try to get rid of the tickle between now and then.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Get rid of the tickle -- the ill-timed tickle.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: Thanks.

KING: All right, Erica, thanks. You take care of yourself.

Straight ahead tonight: the professor, the police, and allegations of racial profiling. Or were they just doing their job? The nation is talking about it, even fighting over the facts. We will try to cut through the noise and get to the heart of the question.

And, later, we will show you what happens when you mix White House formal with country casual and what it sounds like -- tonight on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Tonight's "Nation Divided" report is about two ways of seeing the same situation. But it begins with seeing Henry Louis Gates, distinguished scholar and Harvard professor, in a way you would never expect to see him, in handcuffs.

He was arrested last Thursday, after somebody reported seeing two black men breaking into his home. Those two men happened to be professor Gates and his driver. The police came, words were exchanged, and Gates ended up in those handcuffs. Today, the charges were dropped, but a massive public debate is going strong.

Was the professor a victim of police profiling? Were the cops just doing their job? What they would do whether the man was black or white.

Here is Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The controversy at Cambridge involving Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates begins with two different version of events, Gates' version and the police version. The question is whether what happened to Gates was motivated by race or just a run-of-the-mill confrontation that got out of hand.

KELLY DOWNES, LEGAL ADVISER, CAMBRIDGE POLICE DEPARTMENT: I think that what went wrong, personally, was that you had two human beings that were reacting to a set of circumstances. And, unfortunately, at the time, cooler heads did not prevail.

JOHNS (on camera): What seems clear is that Gates, a 58-year-old man who walks with a cane, had been out of the country on business and returned home here with a chauffeur.

The front door was jammed, so he and a driver went round through the back, then returned here to try to force it. A woman in the neighborhood saw what was going on and mistook it for a crime in progress, calling police, reporting two African-American men with backpacks trying to force their way in. By the time police arrived here, Gates was already inside.

(voice-over): This is where the stories start to differ just a bit.

At the front door, the officer asked Gates for proof that he lived here. He started walking through the house toward the kitchen, where his wallet us with. The police officer followed him. Gates' lawyer says Gates provided the officer with both his driver's license, as well as a university I.D.

The police report says Gates became belligerent, though he eventually gave the officer his university I.D. That officer, who is white, said Gates accused him of being a racist. According to the police report, when the officer asked Gates to step outside, Gates said, "Yes, I will speak with your momma outside."

Gates' lawyer, Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, confirms Gates used some strong language.

CHARLES OGLETREE, ATTORNEY FOR PROFESSOR GATES: The question here was, "Why are you doing this? Is it because I'm a black man and you are a white police officer? Why is this happening to me? I live here."

JOHNS: Gates was arrested and spent several hours in police custody, before posting $40 bond on a disorderly conduct charge. He is well-known in the neighborhood, and there are a lot of different opinions, some supporting the police...

MICHAEL SCHAFFER, NEIGHBOR: I would be glad if somebody called the police if somebody was breaking into my house.

JOHNS: ... but some blaming the police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know that it is necessarily typical, but it's certainly something that occurs with too great -- great a frequency.

JOHNS: An old debate about race and the police playing out on the academic high ground at one of the nation's top universities.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Joe Johns joins us now.

Joe, is it all over? What next?

JOHNS: Oh, it is not necessarily all over. Among other things, Gates is considering a documentary on racial profiling. He is also considering his legal options. And we are also told tonight he is demanding an apology from that police officer. So, there is a lot to be said about this case -- John.

KING: Joe Johns for us in Cambridge -- Joe, thanks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: "Digging Deeper" now with a police chief who has also been a powerful advocate of better police-community relations. Ronald Davis spent 19 years on the Oakland, California, police force. He is now chief of police for the city of East Palo Alto.

So, you also were head of the police academy when you were in Oakland. How do you train officers for the sensitivity of operating in the African-American community?

RONALD DAVIS, EAST PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA, POLICE CHIEF: Well, I think you teach them to be sensitive to all communities. But I think you teach them to understand that -- that they may be influenced by their biases, make them aware of the stereotypes that they may bring to the job, that the job may teach them.

You teach them the value of positive police and community relations, and that they are a critical component of their success. And you teach them that professional policing demands ethical policing, and that they should be held to a higher standard -- standard of actually serving all of our communities.

KING: If -- I know you don't want to talk specifically about this case, but, from the accounts we have received, this appears not to be in doubt, that you had a situation where the professor was deeply offended that he was being questioned on his own property.

You have a police officer who believed his professionalism was being questioned by the professor. Is there a way in training that you can put in a circuit breaker, if you will, for when the officer realizes this is getting a bit of out of control; I need to somehow -- you know, we don't get a pause button in life. But how can we have a circuit breaker? How can you train for that?

DAVIS: Well, I think, first, you have to make people aware of the impact that their actions may have, even legal actions. And -- and that's one of the bigger challenges. The legality of the stop is one issue, but the impact of the stop may be another issue. And I think there's a point in time in which officers have to realize that their impact, that the ability to detain somebody, to -- to restrict their freedom is pretty powerful, and it should be really used judiciously and respectfully.

And, so, there should be a pause button once facts are -- are determined, once it is clear that there is no threat, there is no crime, and there is really nothing even wrong with apologizing.

KING: We were talking about this in the newsroom today. And, on the one hand, you have people who say, witness is walking by a house, see men kicking in the door. They call the police. The officer responding says, I'm responding to a witness report of a break-in.

But some African-Americans in the office say, wait a minute, you don't understand the sensitivity here that African-Americans have in their dealings with the police department, especially in their own neighborhood, and, in this case, in their own home.

Help us understand that better, sir.

DAVIS: Yes, I mean, there's two perspectives. One, on one hand, you do want community members to get involved. That is one of the big challenges as a chief. You try to tell community members, hey, make the call if things are suspicious.

On the other hand, as an African-American, you -- you are always going to have the question, am I suspicious because of my behavior, or am I suspicious because of my race? And would that phone call be made if I were not African-American?" And our history. We cannot deny our history. Our history with police community relations is not that positive.

KING: And help us understand. Where is the distinction? Where do you draw the line between criminal profiling that is an accepted practice and racial profiling which would not be, in most cases?

DAVIS: You know, there is a simple phrase we have, John, is that race is a descriptor, not a predictor. When you use race to describe someone who has committed a crime, that's an appropriate use of race. When you use race to predict crime, in other word, the belief that minorities are more likely to commit crime, the belief that, if I'm African-American, I may not belong in a certain neighborhood. You're trying to predict crime, and that means you have biases, stereotypes and disparate outcomes. So race as a descriptor not a predictor.

KING: Chief, thanks so much for your time and your insights tonight.

DAVIS: Thank you, John.

KING: As you've been seeing, this is a story not just with competing interpretations, but also disputed facts. There's a lot more online at AC360.com, including the complete Cambridge police report. You can decide for yourself what you want to make of it. We'd like to know also what you think about Professor Gates' arrest. Join the chat now, underway at AC360.com.

Next right here, did police get the wrong man? He's on Death Row, awaiting execution as those who testified against him say he's innocent. Why are they talking now? The latest from this explosive case, ahead.

Plus, profiting from pot. Should cash-hungry states and cities raise money by taxing medical marijuana? As we show you a pot dispensary, live tonight in Oakland, California, what do you think? That story coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: They helped send him to Death Row. Now nearly 20 years later, they want to set him free. In a stunning turn of events, many of the key witnesses who helped convict a man of killing a cop now believe in his innocence.

The Georgia case attracted worldwide attention. Does the condemned inmate deserve to die or was he framed? Tonight we'll let you be the jury. Gary Tuchman has an up-close look at the case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's anything but a routine question.

(on camera) How scared are you of possibly being executed?

(voice-over) But it's relevant, because the man I'm talking to, Troy Davis, may soon be a dead man. A jury only took a few hours to decide he was guilty of murdering a police officer in Savannah, Georgia, a few more hours to decide to send him to Death Row. Brenda Forrest was one of the jurors.

BRENDA FORREST, JURY AT TROY DAVIS'S TRIAL: All of the witnesses, they were able to, you know, I.D. him as the person who actually did it.

TUCHMAN: The primary reason he was convicted: the witness testimony. The slain police officer's wife agrees.

JOAN MACPHAIL, WIDOW OF OFFICE MARK MACPHAIL: They were just so adamant about what they saw, when they saw it.

TUCHMAN: But this is how the juror feels now.

FORREST: If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on Death Row. The verdict would be "not guilty."

TUCHMAN: What she knows now is this: almost all of the prosecution's star witnesses have changed their stories, some saying police pressured them to say Troy Davis did it.

Darrell Collins is one of the prosecution witnesses who signed a police statement implicating Troy Davis.

DARRELL COLLINS, WITNESS AT TROY DAVIS' STATION: I told them over and over I didn't see this happen. They put what they wanted to put in that statement.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Twenty years ago this summer, Savannah police officer Mike MacPhail was working an off-duty job here. He was providing security at night for this bus station and for this Burger King restaurant that is out of business.

There was a homeless man in this parking lot. He was being harassed, intimidated. He yelled for help. The officer ran over, and seconds later, Officer Mark MacPhail was shot and killed. It was tragic, horrifying and chaotic. And two decades later it all still is.

The man who admitted to harassing the homeless person went to police the next day and told them he saw Troy Davis shoot the officer. Wanted posters went up all over Savannah. A reward offered to catch the so-called dangerous cop killer. Racial tensions enflamed.

After the shooting, Troy Davis was in Atlanta four hours away, his sister says scared for his life.

MARTINA DAVIS-CORREIA, SISTER OF TROY DAVIS: So my brother decided to turn himself in. They already had a shoot-to-kill order on him.

TUCHMAN: This man, Derek Johnson, a pastor, got in touch with Davis. He volunteered to pick him up and drive him back to Savannah to surrender. He says Troy Davis insisted he was innocent. The pastor, who has never told the story to a reporter before, was stunned the D.A.'s office never interviewed him.

(on camera) You're with this man for hours, and you're bringing him into Savannah, into police custody. He never interviewed you?

DAVIS-CORREIA: Never talked to me.

TUCHMAN: Never asked you a question?

DAVIS-CORREIA: Nothing.

TUCHMAN: If he admitted to the crime, he didn't admit to the crime?

DAVIS-CORREIA: Nothing. This is the one case nobody wanted to know. I don't think now looking back anybody cared.

TUCHMAN: The pastor is one of many who now believe facts be damned, Troy Davis was going to be arrested for murder.

As for Savannah police, they have always said their witness interviews were taken properly. No coercion. And prosecutors have stood by the conviction. But a number of witnesses have signed affidavits changing their original testimony. Dorothy Ferrell is one of them, a former prison inmate. She writes, "I was scared that if I didn't cooperate with the detective, that he might find a way to have me locked up again. So I told the detective that Troy Davis was the shooter, even though the truth was that I didn't see who shot the officer."

And a witness named Jeffrey Sapp now writes, "The police came and talked to me and put a lot of pressure on me to say Troy did this. They made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear. And then there's this woman, who says she purposely left out testimony.

(on camera) Sylvester Coles came up to you after the shooting and said, "Will you hold my gun"?

TANYA JOHNSON, WITNESS AT TROY DAVIS'S TRIAL: Yes.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Sylvester Coles, he's the man who admitted harassing the homeless person, the man who fingered Troy Davis. We talked to Tonya Johnson near her old home, across the street from the crime scene.

JOHNSON: He opened the screen door.

TUCHMAN (on camera): This screen door here?

JOHNSON: This screen door here which this was not here. It was like wood. This was tore out. He opened the door, sat the gun here and shut the door back.

TUCHMAN: And you, did you think he did the shooting?

JOHNSON: Yes, sir.

TUCHMAN: Did you ask him?

JOHNSON: No. I was scared. I was scared of him.

TUCHMAN: You were scared to ask him?

JOHNSON: Yes, sir. Still scared.

TUCHMAN: Today you're scared of him?

JOHNSON: Yes, I am.

TUCHMAN: Is he still here in town?

JOHNSON: Yes, sir.

TUCHMAN: A free man. Do you see him on occasion?

JOHNSON: Yes.

TUCHMAN: You're scared of him?

JOHNSON: Yes, sir.

TUCHMAN: How come you're talking to me? I admire the fact that you are.

JOHNSON: Because I don't want to see this innocent man get killed for something he didn't even do.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): During the trial Davis' attorneys tried to convince jurors Coles was the killer. We tried to find Sylvester Coles to give him a chance to have his say. We talked to family members but couldn't track him down.

MACPHAIL: I don't that believe Red Coles is the one that killed Mark at all.

TUCHMAN: Officer MacPhail's wife Joan, who had a 2-year-old daughter and newborn son when her husband was killed, looks at Sylvester "Red" Coles in a very different light.

MACPHAIL: Sylvester came forward, and he didn't have to. I also know that Troy ran, and he didn't have to. If he were innocent, he should have come forward.

TUCHMAN: And what does she think about people like Tanya Johnson with her new information?

MACPHAIL: Five minutes of fame.

TUCHMAN: Pope Benedict has asked for Davis' sentence to be commuted. Jimmy Carter and even death penalty supporter and former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr had asked for the case to be reopened.

Troy Davis has been hours away from execution three times, only to have the case reviewed. It has now reached the U.S. Supreme Court. If the justices decide to not review the case, Troy Davis could go to the death chamber within days.

But remember when I asked him if he thought he would be executed? Troy Davis said no. He told me he has faith in the justice system, a view that ironically is shared by the widow of the murdered police officer.

MACPHAIL: We believe in this justice system. We have to believe in this justice system.

TUCHMAN: But she is still waiting for an execution.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: So Gary Tuchman, if the Supreme Court says no, is that the end?

TUCHMAN: Not necessarily. The district attorney in the local county in Georgia where the crime happened, Chatham County, Georgia, could order a new investigation. Now you might say, well, it hasn't been over the last 20 years, so why would that happen? Well, it appears the crux is a new district attorney in town, the first African-American district attorney in county history.

So obviously, we wanted to interview the guy. He wouldn't talk to us. We don't know his viewpoint at all. But there are a lot of people for and against an exoneration, who are either hopeful or fearful that he may be more flexible because he's an African-American. But we should tell you, John, nothing is going to happen this summer. The Supreme Court is on vacation. They come back, as you know, first Monday of October.

KING: And Gary, one quick one. The D.A. wouldn't talk to you because this might come before him, and he's just...?

TUCHMAN: Not sure why he won't talk. He's being very cautious with this case and will not -- we have no idea what his opinion is.

KING: Fascinating report. Gary Tuchman, thank you so much.

And for more on Gary's story, including behind-the-scenes photos from this report, log on to AC360.com.

Tomorrow night the CNN primetime event begins "Black in America II" Soledad O'Brien brings you the new stories, the new struggles. Trust me: it will get you talking. That's tomorrow at 9 Eastern and Thursday at 8.

Up next, profiting from pot: how taxing the green that could help one California city get out of the red.

And they're going a little bit country at the White House. The first family welcoming the stars of country and bluegrass, including Allison Krause. The celebration coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You might know medical marijuana is legal in California, but could it be the answer to the state's budget woes? Tonight, voters in Oakland are deciding if medical marijuana dispensaries should pay more in taxes to help solve the city's cash crunch. If passed, Oakland would be the first city in the country to tax marijuana directly. Dan Simon, live in Oakland with the details -- Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sean, we are at the Harborside (ph) Medical Center. This is actually the largest medical cannabis dispensary in Oakland. You can see some of the patients behind us now. They're actually winding down here.

But in front of me you can see the display cabinet here. It looks just like what you might see at a normal store. You can see the various strains of marijuana: Super Jack, Purple Erkel. Above here, you can see the medical edibles. You've got cookies and brownies.

This place will actually do $20 million in sales. Of course, they pay taxes on all of that. But the guy who is running this place says he wants to pay more.

(voice-over)

SIMON (voice-over): From this vantage point it resembles a bank; except the green isn't cash. But it could be a cash crop for the city of Oakland.

(on camera) How much more in taxes would you have to pay?

STEVE DEANGELO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HARBORSIDE HEALTH CENTER: I will pay between $350,000 and $400,000 in additional taxes ever year as a result of the excise tax.

SIMON (voice-over): Most business operators wouldn't be too thrilled about that. But Steve Deangelo says he and his lawyer came up with the idea to help Oakland with its money shortage. The city is more than 80 million in the hole.

DEANGELO: So we think it's appropriate to take some of our excess funds and circulate them back to the community in its time of need.

SIMON: So out of that came measure "F," approved unanimously by Oakland's city council to let voters decide in balloting by mail whether medical cannabis should have its own special tax. To city leaders, it's an absolute no-brainer.

REBECCA KAPLAN, OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Given that this -- the medical cannabis dispensaries are something that was legalized in California, why not have the revenue from it?

SIMON: To be clear, the revenue wouldn't be hugely significant: up to $1 million annually for the city. But the dispensaries also have another agenda.

(on camera) How much of this is also about you and other dispensaries wanting to be seen as good neighbors and legitimate businesses?

DEANGELO: A lot of it is about that. We very much want to be accepted as a part of the community. We believe that we are a positive force within the community, and we're always looking for opportunities to demonstrate that to our fellow citizens.

SIMON: And they hope that could lead to greater acceptance of medical marijuana anywhere.

No formal opposition has emerged. But some drug fighters say it sends the wrong message.

PAUL CHABOT, COALITION FOR A DRUG FREE CALIFORNIA: The taxation of a federally unlawful drug is just not something that the community should accept.

SIMON: But California has made marijuana legal, at least for medical purposes and, as communities around the state suffer revenue shortages, it's clear the debate will continue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: And here we are in the plant section of Harborside. You can see they sell live plants for people to take home. This is called Great (ph) Punch.

In terms of the election, John, the polls, it's actually a mail- in ballot, but the election ends at the top of the hour. At this point, we are told about 50,000 people have cast their ballots. That's about a 24 percent turnout. And it is widely expected to pass.

And with that, as one dispensary operator put it, and I want to make sure I quote him accurately, he says we are, quote, "moving toward being accepted like Budweiser beer" -- John.

KING: That is an interesting way to put it. So, Dan, assuming this goes through, is this a unique case, or are other cities interested in a pot tax?

SIMON: Well, you look at a city like Los Angeles, John, there are more than 600 cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles. There are more places to buy marijuana there than there are, actually, McDonald's and Starbucks. So it's not surprising that the city council there is also looking at taxing medical cannabis. They see big dollars with this.

And also, Sacramento, of course. We've been talking all day about the state's budget woes. There is a state assemblyman there from San Francisco who has actually proposed a bill to tax and regulate marijuana, just like you would alcohol. And according to some estimates, that might bring the state as much as $1 billion a year, John.

KING: I can't say I ever thought I'd hear the sentence, "More places to buy marijuana than Starbucks and McDonald's."

SIMON: Yes.

KING: Dan Simon for us tonight. Dan, a fascinating story. Thank you so much.

And can America afford to make pot legal? Can we afford not to? Join us for "America's High: The Case for and Against Pot," an "AC 360" special Friday night at 10 p.m.

Next, an outrageous story. ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, the victim of a peeping tom, videotaped while she was naked in her hotel room. The details and Andrews' response, ahead.

And a down-home evening at the White House. President Obama and first lady Michelle on a country and bluegrass music, an event -- you see it right there, featuring Allison Krause.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Erica Hill joins us with a "360 Bulletin." HILL: Police ready with riot gear in Paris, Texas. White and black supremacists exchanging cries of black power and white power. Clashes and protests over murder charges against white men in the dragging death of an African-American man, charges that were dismissed last month. Two protesters were arrested today for disorderly conduct.

Rape allegations today against Super Bowl champ, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. A woman seeking $500,000 in damages from the Steelers MVP and from the hotel in Lake Tahoe where she says she was raped. The woman claims Roethlisberger assaulted her at his room during a celebrity golf tournament last summer. His lawyer today sharply denied those allegations.

ESPN reporter Erin Andrews pursuing both civil and criminal penalties, according to her lawyer, against the person or person who made a video of her naked in her hotel room. It was apparently shot through the key hole. That video made it online. And just a warning if you're thinking of tracking it down, many of the video links are viruses, which is maybe what you deserve if you're trying to find that.

And departing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's legal woes, it turns out, not over yet. The one-time GOP vice-presidential candidate says she was stepping down in part because of both the time and money needed to fight a string of ethics complaints. Well, a preliminary report now finds the legal defense fund Governor Palin set up to deal with those allegations may actually be a violation of state ethics laws.

And a star-studded musical event at the White House with some of the best-known names in country music. The president and first lady tonight hosting Allison Krause, Brad Paisley and Charlie Pride, the latest event in the White House series celebrating the arts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: A little taste for you there, John.

KING: It's one of those "it's good to be king" or "good to be president" moments, I guess. You get to bring everybody into the house.

HILL: I think they have a few of those at the White House. I'm going out on a limb.

KING: Yes, they do. More than a few, more than a few.

All right. Here we go, our "Beat 360" winners. It's our daily chance to show up our staffers by coming up with a better caption to the picture. Tonight's picture, President Obama framed by a ladder while delivering remarks about health-care reform in the White House Rose Garden.

Joey is the staff winner tonight. This caption, this is a pretty good one: "For instance, if that guy fell off that ladder, it might be six months before he could see a doctor in Canada."

HILL: I love it. Joey, I've missed your captions.

KING: Joey's good. But, but our winner is Karen, and I think she topped it: "Sorry, guy. But the prompter is going to be way too high up there."

(SOUND EFFECT: DRUM BEAT)

HILL: I'm going to call it a tie.

KING: Well, Karen, your T-shirt -- sorry, sorry. Call it a tie. Your "360" T-shirt on the way.

Next on 360, "The Shot." More than car trouble. Watch the baboon barrage, and you'll see just why they were let loose.

And at the top of the hour, serious news. President Obama's health-care push. The plan under attack and in danger of falling apart. We'll bring you the latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: All right, Erica Hill, been a while since we've been together for a shot. And this one, a road hazard to remember. Look at this: baboons, baboons, loads of them. Oh, come on. Let's get to the baboons.

HILL: Yes. It's dramatic animal video.

KING: Swarming around and on top of a car in England. Look at that. Wow.

HILL: It's crazy.

KING: Yes. Wow. OK. They didn't pack very well either. This happened in a safari park.

HILL: Not when the baboons got there.

KING: Intentional. This is not an accident. This is intentional. Park officials set the camera to document how these enterprising mammals -- that's what we call them, enterprising mammals -- rip into rooftop luggage carriers. Let that be a lesson to you.

HILL: Right, so the moral of the story is, if you're driving through an animal park with a rooftop luggage carrier, you may want to think twice about said luggage carrier.

KING: When you see the baboons speed up, I think.

HILL: Yes.

KING: They're cute.

HILL: Interesting.

KING: Here you go. This is what I learned covering politics. This is unusual that I know this. Ready? They live to be about 30, and they travel in what do they call it -- is it a pack? Is it a gaggle?

HILL: A gaggle like the press corps?

KING: A troupe. Troupe.

HILL: A troupe, really?

KING: A troupe of baboons.

HILL: A troupe like a Brownie troop. They sell cookies?

KING: That was an eager troop of baboons.

All right. Another quick reminder: the president's news conference tomorrow at 8, followed by "Black in America." Then at 11 Eastern, a special edition of "AC 360." Anderson back in the chair.

Coming up at the top of the hour, breaking news. Striking new developments in the murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings. What are sources telling us about what else was in the home that we didn't know about? That and more when "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Breaking news tonight in the murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings. This is happening literally right now. Susan Candiotti joins us live with the latest details, police with a new development in the case -- Susan.

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