Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Missing Balloon Boy Found Alive; Texas Governor Covering Up Execution of Innocent Man?; President Obama Keeping Promises to New Orleans?
Aired October 15, 2009 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It was breathtaking, terrifying at the same time -- a homemade balloon, a family science project thousands of feet above Colorado, a 6-year-old child believed to be on board -- yet, when the balloon landed, no child anywhere.
Tonight, we now know what happened to the boy. What -- but what really happened? Was it a publicity stunt or just as an accident, as the family says? You are going to hear directly from Falcon Heene, his dad and the whole family.
"Keeping Them Honest" tonight: Is Texas Governor Rick Perry covering up the execution of an innocent man? Is he trying to impede an investigation? He calls the man a monster -- tonight, two shockers: The defense attorney agrees his client was a monster, and a juror who voted to convict Cameron Todd Willingham has doubts and worries God may punish her for what she did.
Later: President Obama visits New Orleans. He made a lot of promises during the campaign. We wanted to know, is he keeping them? "Raw Politics" tonight.
First up: You couldn't have dreamed it up, if you tried. This afternoon, millions of American and people around the world, frankly, tuned in and saw this. Looking like a love child of a flying saucer and Jiffy Pop, it was in fact a homemade helium balloon.
We watched news helicopters chase it, as thermal winds from nearby mountains swept it from takeoff in Fort Collins, Colorado, all around the outskirts of Denver, watching with growing horror, because we first thought a child was on board, 6-year-old Falcon Heene. Then came word he might have fallen from it, then, finally, word that he had never been on board, that he had been hiding all along.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD HEENE, FATHER of FALCON: He said he was hiding in the attic, and because I yelled at him. And I am really sorry I yelled at him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got him.
R. HEENE: He scared the heck out of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Falcon's dad, Richard, who built that balloon. He's a storm-chaser, backyard inventor, musician, adventurer, and performer, for want of a better word, on the reality show "Wife Swap."
As you will see, it's not your typical family, which may explain why this is not your typical story.
Erica Hill starts the beginning.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across the country, people captivated, watching with fear and wonder, as live pictures chronicled the flight of a homemade helium balloon, possibly with a 6- year-old boy on board alone, the aircraft soaring as high as 7,000 feet.
The drama began around 11:30 a.m. local time in Fort Collins, Colorado, when the sheriff's office got word the craft was airborne. For the next two hours, it was tough to look away.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And we have just been told this thing is now down to 300 feet. Now it's at 100 feet. Let's just all take a deep breath.
HILL: Just after 1:30 local time, the giant helium balloon landed gently, about 60 miles southeast of the Heene family home. Once on the ground, confirmation 6-year-old Falcon Heene was not inside.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Authorities are searching for a box that was attached to the bottom of an experimental aircraft.
HILL: But those initial reports weren't true. Nothing was attached to the 20-foot craft while it was airborne. So, where was the boy? Had he fallen from the balloon? Or had he never been on board?
As search-and-rescue teams turned out across the area, we learned more about the Heenes. You may recognize them from the ABC show "Wife Swap." The family appeared on the show twice.
Dad Richard describes himself as a storm-chaser who loves to investigate the mysteries of science, often with wife, Mayumi, and their three sons, 10-year-old Bradford, 8-year-old and Ryo, and Falcon getting in on the action.
Richard Heene is also an avid CNN iReporter.
BRADFORD HEENE, SON OF RICHARD HEENE: We're the storm chase family. This is my brother Ryo, Falcon, and my mom shooting the camera. And we're -- we're in the middle of Hurricane Gustav.
R. HEENE: Look at that. We're right in the middle of the eye right now. HILL: In the middle of the eye, indeed. And just after 4:00 p.m. local time, this news:
JIM ALDERDEN, LARIMER COUNTY, COLORADO, SHERIFF: He's been hiding in a box, cardboard box in the attic above the garage. I guess the good news is that he is fine.
QUESTION: But his parents didn't know where he was this whole time?
ALDERDEN: No, they were -- they were besides themselves with worry. And it was real obvious from their demeanor early on that they thought he was in the balloon.
R. HEENE: Oh, my legs got weak. I couldn't even walk from one room to the next here. It...
HEENE: ... hard to even speak.
HILL: Falcon said he hid because dad yelled at him for climbing in the balloon earlier and was afraid he would get in trouble. So, why did he eventually come out of hiding? Falcon says, he got bored.
Erica Hill, CNN, New York.
COOPER: "Digging Deeper" now on the balloon and the family they launched, they are, safe to say, colorful. While this was all playing out, a video they made surfaced, including some rough language from the kids slamming traditional families who play it safe. We can't actually repeat it on the air, the word they used to describe the men in such families.
Anyway, joining us is Marc Friedland, a neighbor, also balloonist and ballooning expert Garry Haruska.
Mark, you live next door to the Heene family. Did you see the balloon take off today? Or did you see it before it took off?
MARC FRIEDLAND, NEIGHBOR OF THE HEENE FAMILY: No -- we saw it before it took off.
COOPER: What was...
FRIEDLAND: My wife and I, we saw it, you know, maybe just five or 10 minutes before -- before it took off. The entire family was out there working together, and seemed like they were having a -- having a good time and just trying to -- they were putting -- they had canisters, I guess helium or something that they were -- they were, you know, pumping up this -- the aircraft with. And...
COOPER: And what's your understanding of what it was for?
FRIEDLAND: My understanding was that it was sort of like an experimental -- experimental aircraft.
I don't believe it was ever intended for, you know, a -- as a manned flight. It was intended as, you know, like -- as was mentioned, he's a scientist, an inventor. And -- and this is sort of part of his usual routine of, you know, he invents things and experiments. And maybe it was a weather craft or -- or something he was experimenting with to -- to, you know, be able to fly without needing, you know, the typical fuel, gasoline.
COOPER: Well, let me ask you -- let me ask -- Garry, let me ask you, what purpose could a balloon like this possibly serve?
GARRY HARUSKA, BALLOONING EXPERT: Well, this type of balloon could be used for several different things. It could be used to put scientific instruments into the air. It could be used as a centerpiece for a party.
It's basically a small Mylar kit that you can get off from the Internet. Some of the closer shots of the balloon in the air from the helicopter, you could actually see the decals on the side of the balloon that instruct the user to not inflate it near power lines, because it's conductive.
So, this is basically a kit that can you get and fill up with helium. You can launch it at parties. You can launch scientific instruments into the -- the atmosphere with it.
COOPER: Hey, guys...
HARUSKA: You can do several different things with it.
COOPER: Guys, we have got to take a quick break. I want you to stay there, because we're going to talk you to right after the break is done. We're going to continue the conversation.
Let us know what you think. Join the live chat now at -- at AC360.com. What do you think of this whole thing? And we will also hear from the Heene family shortly.
Also, what was involved in the chase, the recovery and the search for Falcon? And who actually pays the bill?
Later: Texas Governor Rick Perry calls Todd Willingham a monster and defends the trial that led to his execution. He said, talk to the people involved in the case. That's what we're doing, "Keeping Them Honest." Tonight, two people involved in the case, and what they say will surprise you.
COOPER: Well, we're talking about -- excuse me -- talking tonight the story everyone seems to be talking about, the runaway balloon, the 6-year-old boy, Falcon Heene, who wasn't on it, and the dad, Richard, who takes the family risk-taking with him.
They appeared on the reality show "Wife Swap," Richard and the kids trading mom, Mayumi, for a wife and mom more concerned about safety.
Richard apparently not responding calmly. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WIFE SWAP")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go get this. Go get that. Go do this. Go do that.
R. HEENE: Mayumi doesn't jackhammer them. She doesn't go (INAUDIBLE)
I really, really don't want to hear that (INAUDIBLE) entering into a huge negative feel. OK. Here we go. Here's how I handle this.
(R. HEENE PLAYS HARMONICA)
R. HEENE: Hey baby, come on in. Be my jackhammer. You know what I'm going to do. Hey (INAUDIBLE) I have got a broken jackhammer here, over here. I think the switch is broken. How do you turn the jackhammer off?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: You know what is really sad is, I just realized I actually saw that edition of "Wife Swap."
Anyway, back now with the neighbor Marc Friedland and balloonist Garry Haruska.
Mark, I want to play you some sound from -- from the Heenes' appearance on "LARRY KING LIVE" just a little bit ago, because we're getting a lot of e-mails from viewers who say they kind of don't buy this whole thing. And -- and I mean, the police say there is no evidence that this is some sort of publicity stunt. But what -- what a lot of the viewers pointing to is what Falcon actually when asked about why he stayed inside.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")
R. HEENE: Did you hear us calling your name at any time?
FALCON HEENE, 6 YEARS OLD: Mm-hmm.
R. HEENE: You did?
MAYUMI HEENE, MOTHER OF FALCON HEENE: You did?
R. HEENE: Well, why didn't you come out?
F. HEENE: You had said that we did this for a show.
R. HEENE: Yeah --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: What do you make of that? I mean, do you -- do you believe this was some sort of publicity stunt?
FRIEDLAND: No, I don't -- I don't believe that at all.
I -- I -- you know, my experience with them is that they're a -- you know, a conscientious, loving, you know, mom and dad. And -- and the kids are, you know, fun-loving, you know, pretty well-adjusted, you know, happy kids.
And, no, I don't buy that for a second, that this was not a true -- you know, it is what it appears to be. And what is -- that's exactly what happened, you know, just a terrible accident that -- that, you know, could have been a lot worse and ended up having a happy ending.
COOPER: Yes, it certainly -- I mean, it could have -- God knows it could have ended a lot worse. And -- and everyone is overjoyed that -- that it did have the ending that it did.
COOPER: In terms of neighbors, what are they like? I mean, are you used to them building flying machines in -- in the backyard?
FRIEDLAND: Yes. Actually, that has sort of become -- I guess we have gotten used to that, to some degree. You know, I mean they -- they -- like I say, they're -- you know, they're unusual. But, you know, they're -- we find them to be good neighbors.
They have been very helpful to us. And they have helped us out in situations. And, you know, I mean, it's different, like, you know, was said before. But it's also entertaining. And, you know, they're...
COOPER: Yes, I mean, nothing -- nothing wrong with different. It's got to be...
FRIEDLAND: We're glad -- we're glad they're our neighbors. Yes.
COOPER: Yes, it's got to be interesting.
Garry, I want to play you what Richard Heene had to say about the balloon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE") R. HEENE: Well, we calculated roughly, you know, how much it could possibly hold. And so when the reality had -- that part of it had set in it, it's like, oh, my gosh, you know, he -- he could really be in this thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Isn't it even possible for a balloon this size to carry a 6-year-old boy?
HARUSKA: Well, today, as the events were happening, just rough calculations in my head -- here in Albuquerque, Craig Kennedy, one of our local personalities, was doing some stuff for CNN. And as he was doing that, I was calculating stuff in my head, trying to feed him stuff in the background.
And I came up with about 2,000 cubic feet on the balloon, which would lift roughly about 100 pounds at sea level, figuring the weight of the craft, the weight of the child starting out at 5,000 feet, the only plausible possibility that we could come up with was that, if he were attached to something on the bottom, it may have had enough lift to be skimming the trees. And if it had knocked that off, then it would have gone to the higher altitude.
But there was no way that we could figure out that that craft would be at that altitude...
HARUSKA: ... with a 50- or 40-pound boy in it.
COOPER: We have got to leave it there.
Hey, Garry Haruska, I appreciate your expertise.
And, Marc Friedland, as well, thanks so much for being on the program.
HARUSKA: Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up next: the Heene family on "LARRY KING LIVE" in their own words, including a question about what you just heard Falcon say about doing it for the show. Wolf then asked father about that. And, well, you will see the response he got.
Later, "Keeping Them Honest" on the execution of this man, the man the governor of Texas calls a monster. He was convicted of burning his kids to death, but now a half-dozen arson investigators say the evidence was wrong.
Is the governor blocking an investigation that might have found that Texas executed an innocent man? The new exclusive revelations -- when 360 continues.
COOPER: Well, they're calling him balloon boy, 6-year-old Falcon Heene, who was hiding in the attic, thankfully not on board, when a homemade helium took off from his Fort Collins, Colorado, backyard.
People around the world followed the chase on television and the search for Falcon. Several balloon boy fan pages sprang up on Facebook.
The whole family was here tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE," Wolf Blitzer interviewing them for the whole hour. Here they are in their own words, some of them emotional, including a reaction to Wolf's question about what Falcon said about doing it for the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")
R. HEENE: But, immediately, Bradford was trying to get my attention, and I didn't quite take it all in at that moment.
But, finally, he said -- and I kind of took to heart what he was saying -- he said, Falcon was inside the flying saucer. And...
R. HEENE: Falcon, did you hear us calling your name at any time?
F. HEENE: Mm-hmm.
R. HEENE: You did?
M. HEENE: You did?
R. HEENE: Well, why didn't you come out?
F. HEENE: You had said that we did this for a show.
M. HEENE: No.
R. HEENE: You didn't come out?
F. HEENE: No.
BLITZER: He said, "We did this for the show" in explaining why he didn't come out of the attic.
R. HEENE: I'm kind of appalled, after all of the feelings that I went through, up and down, that you guys are trying to suggest something else.
Once I was informed that it had touched down, they told us -- they say -- he's here, and I shouldn't be talking like this. You know, I mean -- but they said he wasn't in there. And, you know, I just kind of lost it at that point.
BLITZER: What did you think?
R. HEENE: And I thought maybe he had fallen out.
And I'm just so glad he is here, you know?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Tom Foreman has been working the story all day.
Tom, it's fascinating. We're looking at -- at the -- at live chat happening right now at AC360.com.
Almost, I mean, I'm guessing 90 percent, 95 percent of the people think this is some sort of a hoax, especially playing the not only what the little boy said, but then the reaction of the father to Wolf's question.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really?
FOREMAN: That's that's quite high.
I -- I don't know, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, of course.
FOREMAN: You know, in my experience we followed this all afternoon here. We watched the whole thing. And -- and who knows? I guess they will investigate to some degree and see if there's anything to find out about it. But, boy, what an astonishing story today, wasn't it?
This is obviously costing a lot of money.
FOREMAN: Yes, it is. Yes.
And, thank none of the other questions that comes up immediately, Anderson, when something like this happens is, what about responsibility here? Because this was a lot of money. I was looking at this, this afternoon. And it is kind of amazing, when you add it all up. We have been estimating it, the cost to taxpayers.
And look at these numbers here, because it's pretty impressive. We start off with the police over here. In two counties that were involved in the chase, we're told, in both counties, there were more than 100 people involved, mostly firemen and police officers. The man who finally caught this balloon, for example -- Do you remember seeing this video right here? -- this was a plainclothes deputy police officer.
At about $24 an hour, which is the rate up there, for four hours, that is almost $19,000 in salary. You add in some folks who joined over here from the FAA, from local airports, you are going to bump it up another $5,000 or. Then you bring in some helicopters here from the military. That's going to go even at a good rate of, say, $500 an hour.
You're now approaching about $28,000 for what happened today, Anderson. That's quite a trip, isn't it?
COOPER: Considering this was a guy who was keeping a balloon in the backyard, every time something like this happens, some people say, you know, it was negligent; the family ought to help pay.
What do rescuers actually say?
FOREMAN: You know, by and large, they say absolutely no way.
Why? Because they really don't want people waiting any time when they think they're going to have trouble. They want to get out there and get on the search right away, because, if you wait, it makes the job harder. It reduces their chances of success.
Look at what happened today. Every 20 minutes that this balloon flew, the potential search area got bigger and bigger and bigger, so that, in the end, it was more than 100 square miles. That's true with a lost hiker, a boater, a mountain climber. But there is also this and this is the surprise.
The National Association For Search & Rescue says, the vast majority of rescues, unlike this one, are done by volunteers, who willingly help their communities. They want nothing to do with payments. They know that taxpayers get upset.
But listen to Howard Paul with that group out in Colorado.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD PAUL, SPOKESPERSON, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR SEARCH & RESCUE: What they don't understand is that, in 90 percent of those cases, the manpower costs nothing, and, in fact, is the largest portion of the value of the search-and-rescue mission.
So, in that regard, it really becomes a bargain for the taxpayers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: As a result, Anderson, only four states right now currently have any provision for charging people who have been rescued to help pay for the costs later on, when they're safe and sound Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Tom, appreciate that. Thanks very much.
Erica, you have been reading the blog, the live chat. I mean, there's no evidence that there this was any kind of...
COOPER: ... of hoax at this point. And the investigators so far say, look, there's no evidence of that. The family is clearly gets upset at the very notion of that.
But it's interesting. A lot of viewers simply don't believe it, although arguing in favor of the family is the idea that those kids, I mean, just you can't based something based on what a little boy who has had a very rough day might say.
HILL: You can't. He is 6 years old. It's important to remember that.
And there were some other things that were discussed both by the family when they came out and talked to reporters earlier today, and that came up a little bit with Wolf when he was in for Larry tonight.
One of the things that stuck out to me is, the father said, when they first came out and talked to the press, well, yes, we have videotape of him crawling into this box, and then apparently he got out, but they didn't see him do that initially, because we tape everything. We tape all of our experiments.
So, in one respect, you think, OK, well, if they tape everything, sure. Maybe they do plan to use it later for something. But it was interesting how agitated the father got, especially at the very end, as Wolf tried to clarify one final time. He really seemed to just be angry.
COOPER: Yes. To argue the flip side, it's been a rough day for them. And who knows...
COOPER: ... you know, how people react.
HILL: An emotional day, absolutely.
COOPER: No doubt. So, anyway, no doubt there will be more of this tomorrow.
Next tonight: Texas governor under fire. Is he trying to block the investigation into the execution of a man convicted of killing his kids? Tonight, one of the jurors has a shocking admission. We're "Keeping Them Honest."
And President Obama made his trip to New Orleans since taking office. But is the speed of recovery keeping up with promises that were made? Candy Crowley has tonight's "Raw Politics."
COOPER: Later in the program: the extraordinary story of a woman who was clinically dead for three hours. She was as cold as ice after being trapped in a mountain stream, but doctors brought her back to life, an amazing example of cheating death from our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta's new book..
First, Erica Hill joins us with the 360 news and bulletin Erica.
HILL: Anderson, as the U.S. pledges millions to help Pakistan fight extremists, militants today launching another string of attacks, this time, leaving at least 37 people dead -- President Obama, of course, today signing that legislation, which gives the Pakistani government an extra $7.5 billion, money aimed in part at combating extremism.
A 360 follow tonight -- the deaths of two people during a recent sweat lodge ceremony now being investigated as homicide, not an accident. Self-help expert James Arthur Ray, who organized the retreat, is the primary focus of this probe. Investigators are apparently looking at how the sweat lodge was built and also at the fact that people have fallen ill at previous sweat ceremonies led by Ray.
The first hard data from the government today on how the president's $787 billion stimulus program is working. Businesses reported creating or saving more than 30,000 jobs in the first month of the program. Those jobs, though, are linked to less than $16 billion in federal contracts. The construction industry showed the strongest number. States in the South and Southwest saw the biggest boost.
In Eastern Louisiana, civil rights advocates calling for a justice of the peace to resign, after he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple Keith Bardwell, the justice here, told a local paper he was concerned for the children who may be born of the relationship and that, in his experience, most interracial marriages don't last.
COOPER: Up next tonight: A Texas juror who sent a man to his death now has doubts over her decision. Was this man, Todd Cameron Todd Willingham, innocent? Our exclusive interviews with the juror and Willingham's defense attorney, who says something you might be surprised about. That's next.
And, later, President Obama's trip to New Orleans, pledging progress and coming under fire for not doing enough to help the city recover. He responds -- when 360 continues.
COOPER: Tonight, we have two exclusive interviews in a death penalty case that is attracting worldwide attention. It also has the governor of Texas denying charges his state executed an innocent man.
Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death in 2005. But more than a half a dozen forensic experts believe the fire that killed his three girls was not, in fact, arson.
We've been reporting on this explosive story for months, looking for answers and trying to "Keep Them Honest." Now we have two people who played central roles in the Willingham trial: his defense attorney and one of the jurors that convicted him. And as you'll see, the juror is coming forward with a stunning admission.
Randi Kaye joins us with the latest in this developing story.
You spoke with one of the jurors from the trial today. What did she say?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, as you know, it has been 17 years since Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of arson/homicide. And to this day, juror Durenda McCoskey (ph) told me by phone she still wonders if he was really guilty.
And she said something that, quite frankly, floored many of us here at 360. Listen to this. She said her family was, quote, good friends with Douglas Fogg. Fogg was one of the lead investigators on the case, a key witness for the prosecution. He determined the fire that killed Willingham's three little girls was arson and that Willingham had set it. That helped send Willingham to Death Row.
So if the juror knew this lead investigator, should she have been seated on that jury.? She told me, quote, "I told them," meaning the prosecution and the defense, "I knew Mr. Fogg, but they didn't care." Too late for Todd Willingham now. But today lawyers told us, Anderson, that it certainly would have been grounds for a mistrial.
COOPER: Did she talk about whether or not she's having second thoughts over the years?
KAYE: It's been really hard for her, very difficult time for her all these years. She told me, quote, "I don't sleep at night because of a lot of this. I have gone back and forth in my mind, trying to think of anything that we missed."
She went on to say, quote, "I've got to stand in front of my God one day and explain what I did."
When I told the juror that arson science has changed over the years and that at least half a dozen forensic experts now say the fire was not arson, not intentionally set, she said, quote, "I don't like the fact that years later, someone is saying, maybe we made a mistake."
And she got so upset. She got off the phone. She told me she needed some time to process all this.
COOPER: You know, there was also a lot of claims that this man made a Death Row confession to another prisoner. Another prisoner came forward with that story.
KAYE: Right. Actually, we got -- we got this affidavit today. And this is the first time we've actually seen this. Willingham's ex- wife told her family that, during her visit on Death Row, just days before the execution, Willingham confessed to killing his kids. The affidavit says he told her, quote, "He had set the fire because he knew that she was going to leave him. He figured if he did this, she would stay with him and she could get her tubes untied. They could start another family."
I do want to point out here that Willingham said just before he was executed, "I'm an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit." And that's a direct quote.
COOPER: We've asked Governor Perry to come on this program. He's defended his decision again today to replace four members of the panel, which was looking into these allegations that this was a botched execution.
KAYE: Right. This is a state panel trying to get to the bottom of what really happened here. And Governor Perry spoke with reporters at a Texas high school today and once again blasted a report by the state's hand picked expert which found that arson in this case was, quote, "inconclusive."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: If you look at the bulk of Mr. Beyler's remarks over the last days and weeks, you will see a very politically driven agenda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: Governor Perry suggested the report is propaganda for the anti-death penalty movement. When I asked that expert, Dr. Craig Beyler, who the governor was talking about the governor's comments, he called them, quote, "strange and clueless."
Yesterday Dr. Beyler called on the commissioners appointed by the governor to resign and insist those he removed be reinstated. The governor did not address that today. He did say the commission's work will go on.
But I will tell you, Anderson, I checked. And there is no date yet set on the calendar for this commission to continue its work and meet again on this case.
COOPER: I should also point out to our viewers, I misspoke. I said he was executed in 2005. He was executed in 2004.
A juror has doubts, as you just heard from Randi. More than half a dozen experts say the arson evidence Willingham was convicted on was not accurate. There are a lot of people who believe he was guilty and justice was serve when he was executed.
Joining me now is David Martin, Willingham's defense attorney at trial. He says Willingham was a man without a conscience.
Also with us, Steve Mills, an investigative reporter for "The Chicago Tribune," who's been following this case since 2004. Focused a lot of attention on it.
David, you always believed that your client was guilty. Now over half dozen experts have come forward to say that there is it no way the fire was arson. You still say he was guilty. Why?
DAVID MARTIN, WILLINGHAM'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Anderson, excuse my informal attire. We've been out checking cows. But it is nice to be with you. And tell me your question again.
COOPER: Well, you know, about half dozen fire experts around the country have looked at this case now and say that, you know, the evidence that was used, the arson evidence that was used simply is not accurate. That at the time people thought it was accurate.
But there was already growing evidence that, you know, arson investigations, they've evolved, they've learned a lot. And what they knew then wasn't the case. Wasn't accurate.
MARTIN: No. That's not what I glean from these reports here, Anderson. I've got Craig Beyler's report here that I've read thoroughly. And I've dog-eared several pages. This is one of the least objective reports I've ever read.
COOPER: Do you think he's biased?
MARTIN: Let me give you an example.
MARTIN: Well, look -- look, here, page 49. I mean, Ramon Vasquez (ph) was one of the most competent experts I ever cross- examined. He was a straight shooter and an honest guy.
Look at what Beyler says: "This is supposed to be a scientific report. I've been a trial lawyer 25 years and for the last 20 doing nothing but complex business litigation. I have hired hundreds of experts. If a guy told me this, look, returning to his mysticism he states -- referring to Mr. Vazquez, this is absurd, I wouldn't hire a guy like this.
Here -- look, here's another page. Remarkably, he gleaned human intent from the physical evidence. Of course, in a criminal investigation, an arson investigation, you glean intent from the physical evidence.
COOPER: Well, let me interrupt, through. Because what a lot of people are saying is that the way evidence was interpreted back then...
MARTIN: A lot of people...
COOPER: Well, six different investigators.
Let me bring you into something, Steve. Let me bring you into this case. You've been investigating this case. Do you believe Willingham was given a fair trial? And his defense team did all they could and that the evidence was accurate?
STEVE MILLS, INVESTIGATOR REPORTER, CHICAGO TRIBUNE.
Well, I think the key issue here is the forensic evidence. And what we found when we investigated this in 2004 was that scientific advances in fire investigations has shown that indicators that they used back then no longer were valid. That they knew better in, you know, shortly after the fire, in fact. Those advances were in place and being distributed around the country to fire investigators. They used old wives tales and folklore rather than the real science that was at hand at the time.
COOPER: David, what about that?
MARTIN: That is absurd. Let me tell you something...
COOPER: You say -- you say you couldn't find an expert to refute the testimony of the expert you...
MARTIN: Hey, let me tell you what we did. Rob Dunn and I, who tried this case with me, we went and bought carpet. We bought lighter fluid. We poured the lighter fluid on the carpet. We set it on fire. And when it finished burning, it looked just exactly like the carpet did in Todd Willingham's house.
COOPER: But I mean, you were his defense attorney. Did you go out seeking people who believed him? Did you go out seeking experts who would argue or disagree with the prosecution?
MARTIN: Let me tell you, no. Here's a gross misconception about defense -- criminal defense trial lawyers. When a client tells you his story, you don't just stupidly accept everything he says.
The role of the defense attorney is to test the state's evidence. Vigorously cross examine their witnesses, and can they prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt? If they cannot, even if the person is guilty, he is found not guilty. That's the role of the defense attorney.
COOPER: David, let me ask you this, if there are six -- if there are six experts who have come forward saying the evidence was faulty, why couldn't you have put one of them on the stand?
MARTIN: That is not the case. That is not what has happened at all. I've read this report. I've looked at all of evidence. Not one single person that you cite has ever said this is what caused the fire.
I was in the house. I talked to the cops. I talked to the firemen who were there very first on the scene. I looked at the pictures. When you walk through that house, the children's bedroom was set aflame, obviously, by an accelerant.
COOPER: David, I've got to tell you, you sound -- you sound like the sheriff you once were and not a defense attorney.
COOPER: No, I don't. I wasn't a sheriff. I was a defense attorney. I represented hundreds of criminal defendants. I won lots of criminal cases. I've been a trial lawyer for 25 years.
COOPER: OK, Steve, let me bring you in. Steve, let me bring you in. MILLS: Sure. In fact, Mr. Martin and Mr. Dunn did contact a fire expert up in Dallas. And that expert thought that Mr. Vazquez and Mr. Fogg were correct. We tracked him down when we did our investigation. He had great regret that he had done that. He understood now that the science had changed, had advanced, and he made a big mistake.
MARTIN: Absolutely wrong.
COOPER: Go ahead, Steve.
MARTIN: This is ridiculous. This is absurd. Look, let me tell you something. You take lighter fluid, anybody in the audience, you pour it on a carpet and you set it on fire, it looks just like those pictures. There was no question whatsoever that he was guilty.
But, look, the defense lawyer doesn't have to believe the client. You test the state's evidence. You read the record. We tried that case vigorously. Was it nine appellate courts that looked at it?
COOPER: All right.
MARTIN: This is an absurdity and Mr. Beyler's report, I've read it in its entirety, and this is not a clear-eyed, objective report.
COOPER: Steve, what do you make -- what do you make -- Steve, what do you think of these arson investigators who have come forward, of Beyler and the others?
MILLS: I think it's close to eight or nine investigators have looked at this. Fire scientists have looked that since. And all of them have...
MARTIN: Dude, name them. Name them. Besides Beyler. Name them.
MILLER: Gerald Hearst (ph), John Lentini (ph)...
MARTIN: Who are they?
MILLER: John Dehan (ph)...
MARTIN: OK. What -- did anybody ever say here's what caused the fire?
The kids' room was set on fire. The front hallway was set on fire. There's a refrigerator in front of the back door.
Look, the night after these kids died, he's down at the mudhole, which is the Mustang Club. He brought all the people that contributed to him I don't know how much money because his kids had died, he's buying a new dart board. He's buying a new pair of boots. He's buying rounds for the house.
COOPER: OK. MARTIN: That's what we're faced with in the trial of this case. That is the evidence that the jury hears. And that is indicative of guilt. And that's why they found him guilty, I think, in less than 30 minutes.
MARTIN: But what?
MILLS: I don't think anybody is nominating him for husband of the year. But that's not what he was executed for.
MARTIN: Well, you're way off topic. You are way off topic.
COOPER: No, no, but David -- David, you're...
MARTIN: We're talking about the evidence presented.
COOPER: David, you brought in evidence, the fact that he was buying drinks for somebody. He could be a jerk and respond badly to something. That doesn't make him guilty.
MARTIN: No, no, no. You just wait just a minute. Wait a minute, he told four different stories. Now, look you represent -- I was appointed to represent him.
MARTIN: And when I try a case, criminal case, civil case, I test the state's evidence. I thoroughly, vigorously cross-examine.
COOPER: David, what do you make of the fact of what Steve mentioned, that he's talked to the guy, the investigator you talked to, who at the time supported the evidence.
MARTIN: Well, I -- I haven't seen that.
COOPER: You what?
MILLS: In fact there -- in fact, there...
MARTIN: Give me the guy's phone number and let me call him.
MILLS: Officials from the fire marshal's office also agree that the science has changed. Nearly every -- nearly every reputable fire scientist around the country agrees with this.
Now they don't say what caused the fire. They can't tell at this point. It's too late. The evidence has been destroyed. But what they point out is that the indicators that the investigators used at the time, Vazquez and Fogg...
MARTIN: The indicators? Look, you pour lighter fluid on a carpet and you set it on fire, it looks just like... COOPER: David, David, you're not an investigator. You're not an arson expert. So the idea that you want to say...
MARTIN: No, I am an investigator. I'm the trial lawyer. I'm the trial lawyer. I put on the evidence. I investigate. I talk to the witnesses. I examine the evidence. I dig the thing to the very bottom of the case and I present...
COOPER: Why did your client then try to get you off the case and try to get another attorney?
MARTIN: That's absurd. When did he ever try to get me off the case? That is ridiculous.
COOPER: Didn't he ultimately get another attorney?
MARTIN: No. If he'd wanted another attorney, the county of Navarro, Texas, would have paid for another lawyer.
COOPER: Well, Steve, he did get another lawyer, didn't he?
MILLS: He had another lawyer on appeal.
COOPER: On appeal.
MILLS: On his final appeal.
MARTIN: Well, yes, he had another lawyer on appeal. I'm not the appellate lawyer. I'm the trial lawyer. I tried the case.
COOPER: All right. We're -- we went over time. But it was a great discussion. I appreciate both of you guys coming on. David Martin and Steve Mills. We'll continue to follow it. We do appreciate both your expertise. Thank you.
MARTIN: Let me know.
COOPER: So what do you think about this new information? What do you think about the discussion you just heard? Join the live chat right now at AC360.com. We'd love to hear from you.
Still ahead, President Obama visiting New Orleans to see how progress is going. He also takes on his critics who say he's not doing enough to help rebuild the city. Did he send the right message? Was four hours enough to spend on the ground? We'll be right back.
COOPER: Tonight, a 360 follow on a story we've been covering for more than five years, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.
President Obama visited New Orleans today for the first time since taking office. He was there to discuss the recovery effort. He pledged to make it a priority when he took office. Some say he's not acting fast enough. And addressed his critics today at a town hall. President Obama spent less than four hours in New Orleans before heading to San Francisco for a Democratic national fund-raiser. He took heat for that.
Candy Crowley joins me now.
Candy, a lot of folks in New Orleans criticized the president for spending such a short amount of time there. Has he ignored New Orleans?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, there are those down there who say he has. And not so much substantively but symbolically. It's interesting to me, because this is a president who totally understands the power of his presence.
And what they're saying, I talked to a lot of people who are in Louisiana and those who have been in and out who said, "Listen, here's the problem. This is a president who said he would make the Gulf Coast region that was hit by Katrina a priority. He came for four hours and sees a couple places and doesn't see sort of the breadth of -- he doesn't go to Mississippi. He doesn't see other coastal towns that were hurt. So he doesn't see the breadth of what's going on."
But more than that, they say it isn't just that he spent four hours. They say it's his first time. What do they need most? When I asked them, they said we need people who might invest in the region, who might move down to the region, who might open a business in the region to believe that the region will come back and be better. That all of the problems which made Katrina so much worse than it had to be will be resolved.
And so when a president comes down, he sort of increases that confidence. Because you can say, well, the president is committed to. This he's behind this. So that's why they're disappointed.
And Senator Mary Landrieu, who's a Democrat from Louisiana, said that she wished he had spent more time on the ground. She said this prior to his arriving.
But she said she didn't think people were angry with him, that mostly she thought they were frustrated, and certainly, you hear it a little of that at a town-hall meeting down there.
COOPER: When Hurricane Katrina happened, you know, a little more than four years ago, there are obviously a lot of improvements. In many ways the city is back in terms of tourism. More restaurants are open than before the storm. In terms of attention from this administration, though, they've been sending a lot of folks down there. Have they made significant improvements in the last eight months or so?
CROWLEY: I think significant goes a bit far for at least how it's viewed down there. But I will say that, again, it wasn't the substance of what the president was doing. It was more that just the need to come down there and say, "Listen, I'm behind you." And one of the things they do hear complaints about, still, is the amount of red tape. And the president did set up a special panel to try to cut through some of that red tape when people want funds. But it's still not -- it still goes quite slowly, as you heard today at a town-hall meeting.
COOPER: All right. Candy Crowley, appreciate it. Thanks, Candy.
Coming up next, cheating death. A ski accident. A woman trapped under ice. No heartbeat for three hours. Yet, she escaped death. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has her remarkable story.
COOPER: So is there life after death? For a new breed of doctors, the answer is yes. And they're making it happen with extraordinary events in science and medicine. Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta writes about it in his electrifying new book, "Cheating Death." The doctors and medical miracles that are savings lives against all odds.
The book is filled with really remarkable stories about how people had beaten the odds and literally escaped death. We're going to talk to Sanjay in a moment. But first, he takes us north to the Arctic Circle for a look at a remarkable case of the coldest patient ever to live.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anna Bagenholm, a medical doctor, was skiing. She arrived by helicopter at the University Hospital of North Norway after a ski accident. She was clinically dead. You see, Bagenholm's heart had stopped. She hadn't taken a breath in more than two hours, and she was cold. Her core body temperature: just 56 degrees.
DR. MADS GILBERT, UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL OF NORTH NORWAY: She had completely dilated pupils. She is actually waxy white. She's wet. She is ice cold when I touch her skin. And she looks absolutely dead. No signs of life whatsoever. And the decision was made, we will not declare her dead until she is warm.
GUPTA: Warm and dead. Why? Because cold drastically lowers the brain and the body's need for oxygen.
(on camera) Is too much cold bad?
GILBERT: Too much cold is a double-edged sword. It can kill you and it can save you. It's amazing. It will kill you if you're heart stops from cold before your brain is cold. To put it very simply.
It will protect you if you get cold enough before you have a cardiac arrest so that your organs do not need oxygen.
GUPTA (voice-over): She had been trapped under ice in a mountain stream for 80 minutes. Doctors began to rewarm her blood. But take a look at this. What you're looking at is Anna's heart.
GILBERT: You saw some little shivering and suddenly, suddenly -- it contracts. And there was a pulse. And a second contraction.
"Ah," everybody goes like that. And we had really tearful eyes, all of us, because it was a moment of victory.
GUPTA: She would be paralyzed for months after the accident. The cold, it turns out, is devastating to her nerves. Her full recovery would take years.
But now, Dr. Anna Bagenholm is a doctor, a radiologist at the very same hospital where doctors refused to accept that she was dead.
(on camera) How close did you come to dying?
ANNA BAGENHOLM, HYPOTHERMIA SURVIVOR: I -- I was dead.
GUPTA: You died?
BAGENHOLM: I was actually not -- not in the manner of law, I wasn't dead, because my brain was still -- was working. But my heart stopped. But if you ask a child, they would say I was dead for like three hours. And if you ask a doctor, they had to say I was not dead, because I wasn't brain dead.
GUPTA: But you were clinically dead?
BAGENHOLM: I was clinically dead.
GUPTA: But you're here. You're here.
COOPER: Unbelievable what they can do. That was Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We're going to have the next installment of his series, "Cheating Death" tomorrow night. I was up late last night reading his book. It's a good read. You should get it.
Coming up at the top of the hour, the balloon chase of a 6-year- old who's safe tonight. The amazing, some say unbelievable story now being talked about around the world.
COOPER: It was breathtaking, terrifying at the same time. A homemade balloon, a family science project, thousands of feet above Colorado. A 6-year-old child believed to be onboard. Yet, when the balloon landed, no child anywhere.
Tonight, we now know what happened to the boy. What -- but what really happened? Was it a publicity stunt or just an accident, as the family says? You're going to hear directly from Falcon Heene, his dad, and the whole family. "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, is Texas Governor Rick Perry covering up the execution of an innocent man?