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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

American Student Convicted of Murder in Italy; President Obama's Approval Numbers Sliding

Aired December 4, 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: You're talking about it. Everyone is talking about it, the breaking news tonight, Amanda Knox.

She went to Italy a college junior. She will stay for the next quarter-century a convicted killer. Did the evidence support a guilty verdict, or is she the victim of a justice system, a town, and an Italian media that was stacked against her? Tonight, Amanda Knox's aunt and all the facts, so you can decide what really happened for yourself.

Also, we're on the trail of a cop killer and now his alleged accomplices. Tonight, we found yet another foul-up in the string of foul-ups that allowed this man on the street to kill four police officers -- new information about how his alleged accomplice, himself a convicted double murderer on the run from fresh charges, was out on the street, too.

Plus, "Uncovering America": President Obama, his popularity sliding. We will talk about why and what it signals about the potential for a second term with David Gergen.

We begin, though, with that breaking news from Italy -- Amanda Knox found guilty of murder, the verdict for the 22-year-old American handed down earlier this evening. And we're told she was sobbing while the decision was being announced.

This is Knox tonight being led from the court to a police van. She and her former boyfriend were convicted of killing her former roommate, whose throat was cut in what was called a sadistic crime. Her family says she's innocent, a woman demonized by the Italian media, made a scapegoat by the prosecution.

Paula Newton is out -- live outside the courthouse in Perugia, Italy, joins us right there with the latest.

Paula, what happened when the verdict came down?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You know, you could really hear a pin drop in that room, the judge dispassionately saying that both were guilty, giving Amanda Knox 26 years, her former lover 25 years, for the brutal murder of Meredith Kercher.

What has been so interesting throughout this whole case, though, is watching Amanda Knox. She has been very strong, very calm, very poised. That was not the case today. Anderson, contrast that to what was going on outside the courtroom. It was a zoo. Some people here, the crowds, applauding the verdict, yelling out assassin, many people looking at that police van as it left tonight, and telling, very directly, Amanda Knox and her family what they felt about the verdict.

And, in the meantime, Amanda Knox is tonight, again, in a prison just outside this city -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Paula, I don't know if we have it. I want to try to put up this video while we continue to talk to you, the video of her father and his two other daughters leaving the courthouse and just being trailed by a mob of media, and, as you said, folks yelling things at them as they went. We will try to put that video up as we speak.

Are -- are the family speaking out tonight at all?

NEWTON: They are speaking out in form, but certainly not to the media, not in camera. This is a very private moment, though I want to tell you they did release a statement.

And here's a portion of it right now. They say: "We are extremely disappointed in the verdict rendered today against our daughter. While we always knew this was a possibility, we find it difficult to accept the verdict, when we know that she is innocent, and that the prosecution has failed to explain why there is no evidence of Amanda in the room where Meredith was so horribly and tragically murdered. It appears clear to us that the attacks on Amanda's character in much of the media and by the prosecution had a significant impact on the judges and jurors, and apparently overshadowed the lack of evidence in the prosecution's case against her."

And, really, Anderson, that sums it up here, the Amanda Knox family really believing that she was demonized from the start and she didn't have a chance at a fair trial -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, Paula, allegations of sloppy police work, little evidence, these issues are usually brought up on appeal in Italy, right?

NEWTON: Absolutely. The case is completely different in terms of the way it operates back home. Reasonable doubt is raised, usually on appeal.

That might be good news, though, for these now-convicted killers. Many times, sentences are reduced, even if the verdict itself is not overturned. Amanda's family saying members now will move here to Perugia and concentrate on that appeal.

COOPER: All right.

In a moment, we are going to talk live to Amanda Knox's aunt, as well as one of Amanda's closest friends, who's just been Skyping with Amanda's family. But, first, we want to give you some of the details about the case, the evidence, and also give you a sense of the two very different pictures the jury was given of Amanda Knox.

Here's Erica Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She has been described as the all-American girl, a smart, beautiful honor student who left Seattle to fulfill her dream of studying abroad in Italy.

She found a home in the medieval city of Perugia, and fell in love with Raffaele Sollecito, a dashing Italian engineering student. She also had a roommate, a British student, Meredith Kercher. Over time, prosecutors say Knox grew to hate Kercher, after Kercher condemned Knox's promiscuous behavior.

And, on November 1, 2007, prosecutors say that hate turned to deadly violence. The jury was told Kercher was killed as part of a perverted sex game, with Knox taunting her, as her boyfriend and another man, Rudy Guede, sexually assaulted her.

While the victim was being held down, the prosecution says Knox slit her neck with a kitchen knife. Knox, Sollecito, and Guede were all charged with murder. Guede was tried separately, convicted of the crime he is now appealing.

Throughout her sensational trial, Knox's family never wavered in their support.

CURT KNOX, FATHER OF AMANDA KNOX: She knows she had nothing to do with this. And, you know, they just can't put an innocent person behind bars for the rest of their life.

EDDA MELLAS, MOTHER OF AMANDA KNOX: There's no way that, with no evidence, they could convict her of a crime she didn't commit.

C. KNOX: Right.

HILL: The jury was told Knox admitted to police she was at the scene. Her defense team maintains, it was coerced.

AMANDA KNOX, CONVICTED OF MURDER: They called me a stupid liar. And they said that I was trying to protect someone.

HILL: The jurors were also told Knox's DNA was found on the murder weapon. But her attorneys say the evidence was contaminated by shoddy police work.

The most dramatic moment of the trial came just one day before the verdict, when Knox addressed the court.

Speaking in Italian, she said she is not, as the media has dubbed her, the devil with an angel's face. "I fear to lose myself, to have the mask of assassin forced upon me," Knox said. "I fear to be defined by someone I am not."

She pleaded for her innocence, and her mother was convinced the jury would believe her.

MELLAS: And we keep telling her that, that it's taking way longer than we ever expected, but she will get out of there. And -- and she's innocent. And they're not going to put an innocent 20-year- old in jail for 30 years.

HILL: But they did. And now Amanda Knox may spend the next 26 years behind bars.

Erica Hill, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, joining me from Seattle right now is Madison Paxton, a close friend of Amanda Knox. And with us on the phone is Amanda's aunt, Janet Huff.

Janet, how -- you've -- have you talked to Amanda's parents? How are they doing? How are you doing?

JANET HUFF, AUNT OF AMANDA KNOX: Yes.

You know, it's almost 4:00 in the morning there, and they're still up. They're still talking to media there. They're still trying to -- to get things straightened out.

It's -- it's difficult. And they're having a real hard time. But, you know, we're -- we're pushing through it.

COOPER: I mean, you can prepare for it mentally, but, when you actually have heard the verdict, what -- what went through your mind?

HUFF: I was sick. I was just sick to my stomach. I -- I was -- I really did not believe that they were going to take it this far. I honestly thought, OK, they have heard now all the evidence, or seen the lack thereof. They can't possibly convict her on this flimsy case.

The prosecution changed the motive five times during the course of the trial. You know, he just couldn't -- every time we knocked one down, he made up a new one. So, there just was no way that he could have convicted them. But, you know, we -- we didn't win out. But we will continue the fight and we will -- we will get her out on appeal.

COOPER: Madison, you visited Amanda in prison. I want to talk to you about that. But we have got to take a quick break. We will talk to you about that as soon as we come back.

We're going to have a lot more on this case with Janet and Madison.

Let us know what you think of the verdict. You can join live chat right now at AC360.com. When we come back: Was Amanda Knox, as her supporters say, marked for a guilty verdict before the trial even started? We will also talk with legal analysts and journalists who covered the case.

And later tonight, "Uncovering America": new poll numbers for President Obama, and why they're giving the White House a new reason to worry. We will have them for you. We will also see what David Gergen thinks about the results -- coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're back with our breaking news: American Amanda Knox convicted in Italy tonight of killing her roommate. The jury deliberated for 11 hours, before finding Knox guilty of murder. The court was silent when her fate was announced, silent except for Knox, who was sobbing while the verdict was being read. And, yesterday, she pleaded in Italian with the jury to find her not guilty.

Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

A. KNOX (through translator): During these days, I wrote on paper in front of me that I am afraid. I am not calm. I wrote down that I was afraid to lose myself. I fear being defined as someone I am not and by actions that I did not commit. I am afraid of having an assassin's mask forced on my skin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Amanda Knox in court yesterday, a murder convict tonight. But is she really a killer, or was the 22-year-old American the victim of a rush to judgment?

Joining us now, Amanda's good friend Madison Paxton and her aunt Janet Huff.

Madison, as I said, you visited Amanda prior in prison. What was that experience like? I mean, how was she holding up in prison? And, as we look at video, you know, of her father tonight leaving the courtroom, being chased by Italian media, being pushed around, people yelling "assassin" at him, and I guess clapping that his daughter's been convicted, what was it like for you visiting a town where there was so much resentment against your friend?

MADISON PAXTON, FRIEND OF AMANDA KNOX: Well, to start, just the act of visiting her alone was one of the strangest, most memorable experiences of my life, to have to go through prison walls to see one of the most gentle, kind, nonviolent people I have ever known. It still baffles me that that experience ever needed to happen.

In regards to what Curt went through with hearing people yell "assassin" in regards to Amanda, it breaks my heart that that happened. But, when I was in Italy, that wasn't my experience. When I was in Perugia -- I was there for all summer -- I met some of the best people I have ever met in my life, some of the most supportive, kind people who are also fighting for Amanda.

COOPER: Janet, in terms of the evidence, I mean, you were saying that they, you know, they changed several times their -- their -- the prosecutors changed their motive and -- and their view of the case.

Do you think you really have good grounds for an appeal, and on what specific issues?

HUFF: On -- on pretty much every issue that they brought up, we have grounds for appeal.

They had no motive. There's no evidence of her whatsoever in the room where Meredith was killed. They have proof that Meredith and Amanda got along just fine. They were good friends.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Because the prosecutors were claiming that they were -- that -- that she hated Meredith.

HUFF: No, that's absolutely not true. They have text messages back and forth, even up to the day before, where they're saying, "I will see you tomorrow, XOXO."

You know, they were not enemies. They were not not liking each other. They were friends.

COOPER: We have a picture of Meredith I want to put up, because she -- this -- Amanda was also portrayed badly in the British media.

Madison, how much do you think these media portrayals in England and in Italy had to do with -- with what the jury and judges decided?

PAXTON: Well, first, I don't want to make it look like the bad portrayals were only there. They were also happening in America.

But I feel like they had so much to do with this. These people -- Amanda was being judged based on her character. It didn't seem to have almost anything to do with the evidence. When I was there, I saw -- every single day I was in court, I saw jury members sleeping through Amanda's defense.

It seems like they had already convicted her. And that means they felt like they...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You actually saw jurors sleeping?

PAXTON: Yes, literally every single day I was in court. The prosecutor sleeps. The juries sleep.

I have seen people on the stand, the president even, answering his cell phone while the trial is going on. But every time the prosecutor spoke, the jury was wide awake.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Janet, are you hoping somehow that -- I mean, I guess the U.S. government has been in contact with -- with Amanda and her family. I mean, are you hoping they're going to somehow now get more involved?

HUFF: You bet. We have already received letters from Maria Cantwell, saying that she's going to be talking to Hillary Clinton, and they are working on trying to get some things resolved, and working on the appeal process moving a little faster.

COOPER: Well, I know it's a -- just a horrific day for both of you, and I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, Janet Huff, Madison Paxton, as well. We hope to talk to you in the future.

HUFF: Thank you very much.

COOPER: My next...

PAXTON: Thank you.

COOPER: My next guests have been following the case since it began. They have very strong opinions about the verdict.

With us now, legal analyst Lisa Bloom, also Douglas Preston, a journalist and author of the book "The Monster of Florence," and from Perugia, Italy, Barbie Latza Nadeau, who is reporting on the Knox trial for the -- for "Newsweek," and as well as the Web site The Daily Beast.

Lisa, what's your take on today's verdict?

LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: My take is that the jury probably reached their verdict based on the scant evidence that they had in front of them, but, nevertheless, based on the evidence. They did have very bizarre behavior from Amanda Knox after the murder of her roommate. They had her cartwheeling in the police station, lying to the police, which she acknowledges that she did.

She put herself at the crime scene, said she heard Ms. Kercher's screams, and then she changed her story and said she wasn't even there. That's enough evidence in the American system to convict someone. And people have been convicted on that kind of evidence of just bizarre behavior after a murder here.

In my opinion, that's not enough. It's certainly not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And because she's a young female accused of sexually assaulting and murdering another young female, without any history of crime, violence, threats, attacks, or even anger, I need more than that. I need physical evidence.

And my view of the physical evidence in this case, it just was not sufficient beyond a reasonable doubt. But I have to say, I think the jury did have enough evidence in this case to convict.

COOPER: Barbie, the -- the prosecutor said that there was DNA evidence on a knife. The -- the defense said there was mishandling of the DNA evidence. What kind of mishandling are they alleging?

BARBIE LATZA NADEAU, COVERING AMANDA KNOX CASE FOR "NEWSWEEK" & THE DAILY BEAST: Well, the problem with the knife has always been the sample on the blade of the knife that was attributed to Meredith Kercher was so small that they couldn't double-test it.

And, obviously, the -- to the jury, they -- they put value on the knife anyway, even though many, many of the forensic experts said that that knife shouldn't have been valued because the DNA on the blade wasn't double-tested. But the jury obviously didn't agree with that.

COOPER: And, in terms of the appeal process, what happens now, Barbie?

NADEAU: Well, there's an automatic process here in Italy. The jury -- the -- the judge has 90 days to issue what he calls a sentence, which is (INAUDIBLE) which is the reason he gave the -- the decision he did today.

After that report is filed, then the defense has 45 days in which to file their appeal. After that, 90, plus 45 days, then the appeal has to be heard within one year.

COOPER: Doug, do you -- do you -- you believe she's innocent. Do you hold out much hope for this appeal?

DOUGLAS PRESTON, JOURNALIST/AUTHOR, "THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE": Well, a lot of my Italian sources say that she will be acquitted on appeal.

But the conviction of her now really has nothing to do with the very weak evidence presented, almost nonexistent. It has everything to do with saving the career of a very powerful prosecutor who himself is under indictment.

And what happened was that he announced to the world, prematurely, that he had found the killer, and then -- was Amanda Knox -- and, then, two weeks later, they found the real killer. And instead of being able to admit his mistake, he and his -- the police spent an entire year collecting evidence to try to prove that Amanda Knox was somehow connected with this actual killer.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Because there's another guy who's already been convicted of the murder.

PRESTON: That's right. He's been convicted. His DNA is all over the place. His bloody fingerprints are everywhere. He did it. And he did it by himself.

But the problem is that the prosecutor couldn't admit this, because his entire career is in the balance in another case. He's under indictment for abuse of office. And if he made a catastrophic mistake like this, his career is over. So, he had to prove or show that Amanda Knox was somehow connected with this murder. That's the motive here.

COOPER: Barbie, do you believe that?

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Do you believe this has a lot to do with the prosecutor and his agenda?

NADEAU: Well -- well, actually, there are two prosecutors on this case. They were co-prosecutors. Manuela Comodi was the other prosecutor on this case.

I mean, prosecutor Mignini is also -- is under indictment, and his sentence will be heard January 22 in an unrelated case. But I don't personally think, having followed this case -- having been at every single hearing for the last 11 months, I don't think this is really an invention of the prosecution.

I think it was actually a set of circumstances that worked against Amanda Knox from the very beginning, starting with her own admission, starting with her own false confession. She said she was in the house. She said she heard the screams.

And I don't think anyone ever got past that, even though, you know, she retracted the statement. She changed her mind. But I think, even in the United States, if you say, "I was in the house when someone was murdered," and then you say, "Well, actually, I want to change my mind," you would still go to court. You would still absolutely have so go to trial.

And I think, you know, I was surprised -- I was a little bit surprised today. I thought it could have gone either way. But the -- but the jury and the judges, more the judges probably than the jury -- there were two judges on this -- on this case -- they put a lot of value in the DNA evidence. There were five spots of mixed DNA and blood found in the house. There was the knife.

There was the DNA from Raffaele Sollecito on the blood -- clasp of Meredith Kercher's bra that was cut off her body after the murder, after she was killed. The jury obviously valued that DNA evidence.

COOPER: Yes.

NADEAU: I think that that weighed more than any of the circumstantial evidence.

COOPER: I want to talk to Lisa and to Doug when we come back about -- about her behavior and about what she told police when she was first brought in. So, we will talk about that after the break. We will also talk about the appeal and look -- and look ahead for what -- what comes next.

Later, our investigation into the murders of four police officers in Washington State. We have been uncovering new information tonight about an alleged accomplice to the murders, another person who is now in custody. We found out that there was a big mistake that allowed that guy to remain free, which ultimately led him, allegedly, to be involved in helping this man, Maurice Clemmons, murder four police officers. We're "Keeping Them Honest" -- ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Amanda Knox found guilty of murder in Perugia, Italy.

Let's get back to our panel. With us again, legal analyst Lisa Bloom, Douglas Preston, author of the book "The Monster of Florence," and, from Perugia, Italy, journalist Barbie Latza Nadeau.

Lisa, what about her -- her behavior immediately after this, when she was brought in by police, the -- saying that she was in the house, she did hear screams? And -- and this cartwheel, what was this cartwheel about that people keep talking about?

BLOOM: Well, it's very damaging behavior. And I'm sure the jury took that into account.

What happened was that her boyfriend was called in for questioning by the police. Amanda went along with him. She was simply a witness at that point. And she began to be asked questions, and she began to create a story of her own.

Now, there were many, many hours of questioning over a period of days. She alleges that the police assaulted her, that they slapped her on the back of the head, that they threatened her, and, eventually, she concocted an image or a dream of what might have happened, that maybe she was there, and her boss was the killer, and that she heard the screams.

They wrote that down. That became her story. The next morning, just a few hours later, she recanted, and she wrote back to the police that she was recanting that story, and that was not her story. But that alone is very powerful evidence that the prosecution has against someone who is accused of murder, because she put herself at the crime scene, and she's had to backpedal for the last two years and explain why, it was hostile police questioning, she caved under their pressure, and so forth.

Maybe the jury didn't buy that.

COOPER: And, Doug, what about this cartwheel? People keep talking about it.

PRESTON: Well, let me talk about this interrogation.

The police first claimed that they had lost the videotape or the audiotape of the interrogation. And then they claimed that they never made one to begin with. And then they claimed that they don't even have a transcript of this interrogation.

The only thing I have seen is a two-page statement that she signed written in absolutely perfect Italian, which she was not in command of at the time. So, I don't really put a lot of -- but let me tell you about my own experience with Mignini, because, when I was writing "The Monster of Florence," he called me in for an interrogation.

I had irritated him with my theories. And he accused me of being an accessory to murder. He accused me of being -- of involvement in satanic rites and satanic sex. And he demanded that I confess to all these crimes that I had committed, and, if I didn't, that he would indict me in -- for perjury.

And, when I didn't confess to these nonexistent crimes, he did in fact indict me for perjury and suggested that I leave Italy. And, so, this is a very abusive prosecutor. He makes up theories. He's -- he's -- he's obsessed with satanic sex.

And let's not forget that his original theory of the crime was that this was a satanic killing, that -- that Meredith Kercher was murdered in a satanic rite, that -- that, somehow, Amanda Knox was a satanist.

I mean, these are crazy theories.

COOPER: Wow. Those are the kind of theories that swept America like 20 years ago. I guess now it's -- it's hitting Italy.

Barbie, I want to read you a part of the statement released today by Amanda Knox's parents. They said -- I quote -- "It appears clear to us that the attacks on Amanda's character in much of the media and by the prosecution had a significant impact on the judges and jurors, and apparently overshadowed the lack of evidence in the prosecution's case against her."

Do you agree? I mean, how much, do you think, did the attacks on Amanda's character impact the outcome of this case?

NADEAU: Well, I mean, the attacks on Amanda's character were very strong, but most of them were sort of harvested from her own social Web sites and her social networking pages and her own nicknames. She nicknamed herself "Foxy Knoxy" on her MySpace page. That was her log-in name.

A lot of these things were taken advantage of by the local press and the British press, and the American press, to a certain extent. Whether -- you know, it painted a character profile of Amanda Knox that I think did work against her, in conjunction with the fact that she said she was in the house, in conjunction with the DNA evidence.

I think -- but I think she has a pretty good chance on appeal to at least knock several years off the -- the sentence, if not overturn it. It happens all the time here in Italy, that a case is -- you get a conviction during the first level, and then it's appealed on the second level.

COOPER: Right.

NADEAU: That is not an anomaly here in Italy. COOPER: Lisa, what do you -- what...

BLOOM: And, Anderson...

COOPER: Do you think she would have been convicted had she been tried here in America?

BLOOM: Oh, very likely.

There's a woman named Cynthia Sommer in San Diego who was convicted on this kind of evidence, just crazy behavior after her husband's death. She was convicted of killing him. There was no forensic evidence. Ultimately, she was exonerated, after a couple of years.

I have seen it many times. And all the outrage that we have for Amanda Knox, which I think is appropriate, I hope we would apply in our own country as well, when people are convicted based on statements they made to the police under harsh interrogations or based on very scant DNA evidence, because it happens all the time here. You just don't see the outrage because they're not pretty young girls. But it certainly happens very, very frequently.

COOPER: We have got to leave it there. We will continue following it.

Lisa Bloom, Doug Preston, Barbie Latza Nadeau, appreciate all your time tonight. Thank you.

Ahead: a tragic end to a celebration at a Russian nightclub. At least 100 people are dead, all friends and relatives of the owners. We will tell you what happened.

Plus, former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and his wife escape unhurt from a fatal three-vehicle crash. It happened in a heartbeat on a busy highway in New York -- details next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: A very close call for former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw and his wife. He was involved in a three-vehicle crash today on a busy highway. One of the drivers was killed. We'll tell you how it happened.

First, more from Erica Hill. She joins us with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, an explosion at a nightclub in central Russia has killed more than 100 people, injured 140. Eighty- five are in critical condition. Those numbers coming from Russian officials who say the blast was not a terrorist attack but rather caused by a faulty fireworks display.

More than 1,000 troops, most of them U.S. Marines, today launching a major offensive in southern Afghanistan. It is aimed at disrupting Taliban supply and communication lines and also clearing mines and roadside bombs. That mission comes three days, of course, after President Obama announced a troop surge.

And Slim-Fast is recalling 10 million cans of its ready-to-drink products because of possible bacterial contamination. The recall applies to all Slim-Fast weight loss drinks served in cans, regardless of flavor, lot code, or "best by" dates. Unilever said customers -- consumers, rather, should discard the products and contact the company immediately for a refund.

Southwest Airlines Flight 441 took off from Chicago today with 123 passengers and landed with 124. A passenger on the Salt Lake City-bound plane went into labor over Colorado.

COOPER: Wow.

HILL: Yes. A doctor and two nurses luckily were on board. They helped deliver the newborn while the flight was diverted to Denver. We're told mom and baby are doing just fine.

COOPER: Wow. Good for them. That's amazing.

HILL: It gives everybody else on the flight a lot to talk about.

COOPER: That's right, exactly. "We're going to be disrupting the food service today."

All right, a lot more to talk about tonight, both here and online. Join the live chat at AC360.com.

Up next, what's behind President Obama's drop in the polls? See which vital group of voters seems to be cooling on him and why it matters so much to his presidency.

And later, we're "Keeping Them Honest." Another stunning revelation to tell you about in the case of the guy who killed four police officers. How his alleged accomplice, a double murderer, was out on the street because of this single piece of paper. The single piece of paper which never made to it the right place. We'll explain, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: It's been a busy and at times bumpy week for President Obama. Of course, first came the fallout from the White House security breach at the state dinner. Then his high-stakes Afghanistan speech and his job summit. And now a drop in his approval ratings.

In the latest CNN/Opinion Research poll, 48 percent, less than half, said they approve of President Obama's performance, while 50 percent disapprove. The question is, how significant is this shift? Some folks will say, "Look, it's just one poll."

In "Uncovering America" tonight, let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gergen.

David, so given where he started this year what does it say to you now that he has the approval of less than half the country? DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this was a pretty big shift down, Anderson. He went down 7 points in just one month in the CNN poll.

But what's most striking about the survey on his approval rating is the biggest drop; 18-point drop came among non-college educated whites.

COOPER: What does that tell you?

GERGEN: High school -- well, that essentially says, these are the people who are having a really hard time finding jobs or are losing jobs. And it says that the economy has become a serious drag on the president's approval.

There's a -- Nate Silver, who is a major figure in the blogging analyst community, pointed out a couple of weeks ago that, if you look at all the polls over the last -- since Obama took office, there's been a steady gap of about 5 to 6 percent between his approval rating and his approval rating on handling the economy. He's always about -- and his approval rating on handling the economy is always about 5 or 6 percent lower, but it's been steadily going down, and it's been pulling his overall approval down.

COOPER: So it's not so much about Afghanistan, which was obviously a big story this week, and liberal Democrat dissatisfaction with him sending in more troops. It's really about money, the bad situation a lot of folks are still in?

GERGEN: Absolutely, Anderson. This poll was taken in the two nights right after the Tuesday night speech. And actually, on Afghanistan, the president got about 60 percent saying they approved of his plan. And that -- but it didn't stop his overall slide.

What I think is also important there, Anderson, is CNN and its own release on this said. There were two other presidents who were below 50 percent in their first year. One was Bill Clinton, and the other was Ronald Reagan.

COOPER: Well, let me ask you about that.

GERGEN: Yes.

COOPER: Sorry, because you -- you worked in White Houses for President Clinton, but you also worked for Republican presidents. When you're sitting in the White House, and you get these poll numbers, and you see this 7 percent drop in a month, what do you do? How big a deal is this?

GERGEN: Well, you certainly celebrate the small blip in the right direction for unemployment numbers today, from 10.2 to 10. You also work with the Democrats to try to -- on the Hill to try to push a jobs stimulus program. That's why he had a jobs summit.

You know, frankly, I think that the White House had that jobs summit Thursday and his trip to Allentown on jobs today to come right up against that unemployment number that was coming out today. They were really worried that it was going to go a lot higher. So they got good news with that.

But you also have to hold steady. And I know President Obama believes this, that President Reagan went through a rough couple of years in the beginning on his presidency with the economy. But then the economy came back.

And the bad news for President Reagan, as for Bill Clinton when they went down, was that their party lost a substantial number of seats in the next off-year elections just a year later. But both presidents came back to win pretty sturdy re-election victories.

So if you're sitting in the White House, you just have to hope that history repeats itself. But you'd like to sort of nudge it along if you can.

COOPER: Yes, as fast as possible, I guess. David Gergen, thanks. David, have a good weekend.

Coming up next, new details from a story that we've been covering. Four police officers dead in Washington because a man who should have been locked up, that guy, Maurice Clemmons, slipped through the cracks.

Well, tonight, police say it turns out he had help from another violent criminal, a double murderer who slipped through almost the exact same cracks. Who could have stopped him? Well, we're "Keeping Them Honest."

And posh prison. Roman Polanski's house arrest may not be much punishment at all. We'll show you pictures of his place, ahead.

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COOPER: We want to get you up to date on the latest in the murder of those four police officers in Washington state. Now, we've been investigating how the killer, this man Maurice Clemmons, was even out on the streets and not locked up.

Well, tonight we're learning the guy who allegedly helped Clemmons escape, this guy -- his name is Darcus Allen -- turns out he's a double murderer also out on bail -- get this -- also from Arkansas, who also could have been arrested if only the police in Washington had access to this document.

Now, this is an arrest warrant from the state of Arkansas. But Washington cops didn't have this, because Arkansas messed up. They didn't put it into the national database.

Now, according to court documents Darcus Allen drove Maurice Clemmons to and from the murder scene. He's charged with helping Clemmons elude police. But authorities say he could shortly face murder charges, as well. Now the parolee We're going to have more on him in just a second, as well as his connection to Maurice Clemmons, the shooter. Clemmons was freed from prison in Arkansas nine years ago. He went to Washington state where this spring he was arrested on felony charges including child rape. The state of Arkansas dropped the ball and Washington authorities had no choice but to grant bail.

Something similar happened with this other guy, Darcus Allen. Allen served time in Arkansas with Clemmons. He isn't an ordinary felon, he's a double murder accused of another violent crime, wanted in the state of Arkansas but on the streets in Washington. How did that happen? How did he get out on the streets in Washington? We've been checking into his record.

Here, now take a look at this. In 1990, Marcus Allen was involved in the killing of two people while robbing a liquor store in Little Rock, Arkansas. Now the parole -- he served time. The parole board turns him down three times before releasing him in 2005 because he didn't have good behavior in prison.

Last year, however, he goes back -- while he was on probation, or he goes back on probation after four DWI convictions. Then this spring, Allen allegedly robbed a bank in Little Rock. So police in Arkansas issued this warrant for his arrest. But it didn't get entered into the national database, like we said, because the local detective, who's name is Alma Glasscock, didn't think that Allen had fled the state. But he had.

What's so disturbing is this summer Allen was arrested in Washington state for driving without a license and allegedly lying to cops. And the Washington cop who pulled him over checked this national database, but of course, there wasn't any entry in the national database because the police in Arkansas forgot to do that. So Allen wasn't caught when he was pulled over in Washington. And he went on to be involved, allegedly, in the murder of four cops.

Now, we reached out to the Little Rock Police Department. They acknowledge Detective Glasscock made a mistake. They also revealed that it went unnoticed because she had left. Her military unit was called to active duty.

All right. Let's dig deeper now with Detective Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department; also Lou Palumbo, formerly of the New York City Police Department, and CNN's Joe Johns.

Ed, how on earth does something like this happen, that an arrest warrant doesn't get entered into a national database?

DET. ED TROYER, SPOKESMAN, PIERCE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: Well, it's up to the agency to put the warrant into the national database, and if it's not there, then we wouldn't know it's there. We'd have arrested him before. And if that warrant would have been there, we would have had to put a hold on him and shipped him back.

COOPER: Lou, that's got to be, for a police officer, incredibly frustrating to know that you had somebody in custody, but you had to let them go because someone else in another state made a mistake. LOU PALUMBO, FORMERLY OF NYPD: Well, there's another issue attached to this, as well. And that has to do with the safety of the officer that has him in custody. In other words, as this gentleman pointed out, there isn't a warrant in the system that should be there.

So what you're actually doing in reality is encountering someone who could be wanted for something very serious without you knowing it and subsequently put yourself at risk.

The other nuances to this are just consistent with the mediocrity in this judicial system.

COOPER: Joe, we now know about Darcus Allen -- this guy Darcus Allen. Pretty clear the disconnect between Washington and Arkansas law enforcement. But it's not just isolated to Maurice Clemmons or even Darcus Allen. Do we have any sense how often stuff like this goes on?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, a lot of people have been asking whether this was about falling through the cracks, and there are people out in Washington state right now who are questioning that premise.

They're asking whether this was a conscious choice by Arkansas. Whether, in fact, this was not negligence, whether they decided, hey, these guys are bad guys, they're troublemakers, and we don't want them in our state.

So this is the kind of thing that has gone on in law enforcement, too. Sort of dumping criminals in other states and saying, "They're your problem now."

COOPER: Ed, these probable cause documents from which we're learning about all this, according to them Maurice Clemmons told multiple people, including Darcus Allen, that he planned to kill as many people as he could, including police officers, including children and people at an intersection. Does it shock you that no one, none of his friends, recorded him?

TROYER: Well, it's interesting. Not only does it shock us that nobody reported him, but this is the same group of people that tried to hide him, hide him out, cover up, get him money, perform medical aid after he killed the four police officers, left him armed, out, and moved him around amongst family members. And that's why we have seven of them in jail. I can't believe that after that happened that none of them stood up and did anything.

COOPER: Lou, how often does somebody fall through the cracks, Lou?

PALUMBO: Unfortunately, too often. We continuously talk about these cases. As we had the case in California -- excuse me, California recently -- with I believe it was Jaycee Dugard and the young girl he held captive for 18 years, right under our noses.

You don't even have to cross the state line, as is what happened here between Arkansas and the state of Washington. It's happening in your own state.

COOPER: And Joe, there are at least -- I mean, as Ed was saying, at least six people, including family members, accused of helping Maurice Clemmons elude capture. It's remarkable that all these folks were willing to do this. I mean, buy bandages for him after he'd been shot. They knew he'd been involved in the shooting.

JOHNS: Yes, and what's even more remarkable is that everybody knows that, when you've been involved in a shooting involving one police officer, you are going to have a big problem. That the police are going to be everywhere. They're going to be all over you.

So it's just pretty remarkable that you have this situation where people were getting medicine for this guy, transporting him around, hiding him, saying he's family, when the fact of the matter is people were pretty sure he was going to end up getting locked up, at the very least.

COOPER: Ed Troyer, it's good to have you on the program again. We'll keep on the story. Joe Johns, Lou Palumbo as well, thanks.

TROYER: All right. Thank you.

COOPER: With all we've seen, it certainly pays to know if your state has a parolee problem. You can go to AC360.com right now to see how many ex-cons your state takes in so you can make sure local authorities are doing their jobs.

We've been "Keeping Them Honest" is another tragedy: the deaths of three people during a sweat lodge ceremony run by this guy: remember self-help salesman James Arthur Ray, who's still out there making money.

Now, we've uncovered details of one more death connected to his program: a woman who paid nearly $4,000 in participate in one of his workshops. She's told to wander the streets as a homeless person, and then she ended up dead. We investigate that on Monday.

Next tonight, though, a tragic crash. Former news anchor Tom Brokaw involved in a car accident today. He's OK; his wife's OK. But one person in the crash is dead. The details on that, ahead.

And Sarah Palin defending those who question President Obama's citizenship. And launching attacks against her former running mate's campaign. Hear what she had to say, ahead.

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COOPER: Well, she hoped to be commander in chief, settled for secretary of state. But for Hillary Clinton it is mother of the bride that may be the most personal and proudest title she's going to hold right now.

Her daughter Chelsea, of course, is engaged to be married to a 31-year-old banker. For Mrs. Clinton the upcoming nuptials have given her a break from world affairs and a chance to get ready for the wedding. She spoke to John Roberts at the NATO summit in Belgium. Here's Secretary Clinton in her own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I am officially an MOTB, a mother of the bride. I'm very excited about it.

It's for me particularly an extraordinary moment to see how happy my daughter is and to have such a wonderful young man who will become my son-in-law. But it's daunting to be trying to plan a wedding.

Madeline Albright called me the other night, and she said, "When I was secretary of state and had not a minute to myself, I had to plan a wedding, so if you need any advice, just call me."

And I said, "I'll be calling."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Wishing them the best.

There's a lot more going on tonight. Erica Hill has a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

HILL: Anderson, director Roman Polanski has traded jail cell for his luxury chalet in the Swiss Alps. He's under house arrest there, pending extradition to the U.S. He was released after posting $4.5 million bail. The filmmaker was arrested in September on a U.S. warrant stemming from a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old girl three decades ago.

Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw and his wife escaping injury in a three-vehicle accident in New York this afternoon. One woman, though, was killed.

The Brokaws say the woman lost control of her SUV when a spool of wire fell from a vehicle onto the highway. They say she then hit a postal truck that the Brokaws hit from behind. The woman was thrown from her vehicle and died.

Sarah Palin is not letting go of questions about President Obama's U.S. citizenship. In an interview today with conservative radio host Rusty Humphreys, she said people have a right to question the legitimacy of Mr. Obama's birth certificate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I think the public rightfully is still making it an issue. I don't have a problem with that. I don't know if I would have to bother to make it an issue, because I think there are enough members of the electorate that want answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you -- do you think it's a fair question to be looking at?

PALIN: I think it's a fair question just like I think past associations and past voting records, all of that is fair game.

You know, I got to tell you too, I think our campaign, the McCain-Palin campaign, didn't do a good enough job in that area. We didn't call out Obama and some of his associates on their records and what their beliefs were and perhaps what their future plans were. And I don't think that that was fair to voters to not have done our jobs as candidates and as a campaign to bring to light a lot of the things that now we're seeing made manifest in the administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: And from Hungary, two homeless brothers have been living in a cave, now about to inherit nearly $7 billion from their long-lost German grandmother who recently died.

They'll going to share that money with their sister, who lives here in the U.S. This according to Hungarian and British media reports.

One of the brothers told Hungarian TV, Anderson, quote, "No woman would ever look at us living in a cave. With money maybe we can find a partner and finally have a normal life."

COOPER: Wow. Seven billion dollars?

HILL: Yes. Apparently their mother was sort of estranged, and they thought she had come from money but they didn't really know anything. And then they were tracked down.

COOPER: I don't know. I'm not sure I buy it.

HILL: Well, they're currently getting all their documentation together. So perhaps...

COOPER: According to Hungarian media reports. So...

HILL: Well, touche, Mr. Cooper.

COOPER: I don't know.

All right, you know, we'll see. I'm sure -- maybe they're accurate. I don't know.

HILL: Yes. Good luck backpedaling on that one.

COOPER: All right. No longer allowed into Hungary.

All right. Our "Shot" tonight covers -- And I love Hungary.

HILL: Not so far for you.

COOPER: Right, exactly.

Here's "The Shot." It covers both American institutions, baseball, and Tom Foreman. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Love the sound!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Nice.

HILL: Look at that.

COOPER: The mighty Tom Foreman at-bat. It's the CNN Washington bureau's holiday party tonight. They're holding it at the ballpark. Washington Nationals park. And apparently, Tom's had a few and he's just...

HILL: Are you saying -- wait, wait, are you saying he couldn't do that without having a few? Because I don't believe that.

COOPER: I don't think he could do it if he had a few.

HILL: Oh, OK.

I would like to say, we couldn't find the picture, but there was an episode here in the New York bureau when Tom was visiting recently when, for the price of a quarter, he bet that he could jump from the floor, standing on two feet, onto the top of a desk.

COOPER: Did he do it?

HILL: It didn't go very well for Tom. He had a large gash in his leg, and yet he still went on to do his story that night.

COOPER: Wow.

HILL: And I believe he has a large scar to prove it. We set up a triage area, actually, near that desk.

COOPER: And he would do that all for a quarter?

HILL: For a quarter, that's the best part. Isn't it?

COOPER: Wow, yes. All right. Erica, have a great weekend. We'll see you all on Monday.

At the top of the hour, the latest on Amanda Knox, the American student in Italy convicted of murder. We'll be right back.

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