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Suspect Arrested for Etan Patz's Murder; Shocking Treatment at Massachusetts School; The Great Escape

Aired May 24, 2012 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight with breaking news. Nearly 33 years to the day since 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared in Manhattan. A man has been arrested for his murder. Just a short time ago New York City Police Commission Raymond Kelly announced the arrest of Pedro Hernandez .a 51-year-old man worked as a stock clerk in a store in Manhattan back in 1979 when Etan disappeared.

Commissioner Kelly said Hernandez has confessed to choking Etan in the basement of that store and then after being questioned last night Hernandez took police officers to the scene of the alleged crime, described what happened.


RAYMOND KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Hernandez described to the detectives how he lured young Etan from the school bus stop at West Broadway and Prince Street with the promise of a soda. He then led him into the basement of the bodega, choked him there and disposed of the body by putting it into a plastic bag and placing it into the trash.


COOPER: Earlier today a law enforcement source said that Hernandez was interviewed briefly years ago in connection with the case and that his claims were being treated with skepticism, but tonight Pedro Hernandez is under arrest for the murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz 33 years ago.

CNN's Susan Candiotti has been following the story. She joins us now live along with CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin and former New York City police officer Lou Palumbo, director of the Elite Group, a private security firms.

So, Susan, what other details are the police giving about this guy Pedro Hernandez, and how this alleged murder took place?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, this case just continues to be a real stunner. What we're hearing about this man is that, as you indicated, he worked as a store clerk in this bodega and that he lured the little boy, he says, with a promise of offering him a soda drink. And he brought him to the basement and then strangled him and then put him in a trash bag and then brought this trash bag out about a block and a half away from that store.

And apparently then in the ensuing years, as you indicated, I have a law enforcement source telling me that he was briefly interviewed by the FBI. Yet police are now saying that he was not interviewed at all at that time. However, the question is, what is happening now? Because we just got a statement from the FBI.

And Anderson, this is very interesting. Despite the fact that the police are saying that he is going to be charged by the district attorney's office tomorrow with second-degree murder, the FBI is saying this case isn't over. In their statement they say the investigation into the disappearance remains active and ongoing. We remain determined to solve this case.

Does that mean that they don't buy this confession, or that it's simply because he hasn't been --

COOPER: Right.

CANDIOTTI: -- formally charged the yet that it's still open?

COOPER: Lou, what do you make of this? Because, I mean, if it's true that Hernandez did do this and left him in a garbage bag out on the street, I mean, this was a huge case in New York City at the time. I would have thought they would have searched -- I mean, if it was only a block and a half or even the garbage routes, they would have checked to see garbage had been picked up?

LOU PALUMBO, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE OFFICER: That story is a little problematic for a number of reasons. One because of the fact that we do canvass areas, number one. And number two, by the time the second day that decomposed body was sitting somewhere, even if it was in the back of a garbage truck, the wreak of smell -- I mean I've walked up on -- the expression we use, we call them dead ones. It's overwhelming. You can't miss it. I have a little bit of a problem with that.

As far as the FBI and their position, you know, I'm a little concerned as to how much pressure the police department is yielding to in trying to resolve this case, number one. And number two, have they taken into the account -- into account the emotional state of this individual? Have they had an opportunity to polygraph him? You know what is it that suddenly gave them such footing that they've charged him with murder in the second degree?

COOPER: Jeff, what do you make of this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's really weird. You know, first of all, just, you know, we both grew up in the city. This case was transfixed the city.

COOPER: Right. TOOBIN: It's every parents' nightmare. And it's just -- I mean it is -- it is hopeful to think that it's resolved, but the question of -- how he was treated 33 years ago. Was he interviewed? If he wasn't, why not? He was right in the area. And a -- you know, a bodega, a little store would be an obvious place that a little kid might be -- might be interested in. So the question of whether he was interviewed and what his status was --

COOPER: And there's conflicting reports about that because there have been some published reports saying that his family had actually contacted authorities 33 years ago based on comments that he made, and that it was his family who once again contacted authorities this time.

TOOBIN: That's right. And the question is, what made them believe him this time? You know, another, you know, thought that I think popped into a lot of heads, certainly mine today, was that lunatic who confessed to the JonBenet Ramsey case a couple of years ago and everybody took him very seriously until his story fell apart.

Is this another crazy person who, as sometimes happened, is attracted by this --

COOPER: I mean, Lou -- people buy this, people do --

PALUMBO: Absolutely. People come out of the woodwork, you know, it's a combination of not having a life or having some type of high- level of dysfunction where they want to obtain some form of notoriety regardless of how bizarre they might do it. That's why you really need to vet these people and just taking this guy on a statement of this nature, I'd really want to do some type of psychiatric profile on him to determine if he's even capable of having a conversation --

COOPER: Because there's no physical evidence.

TOOBIN: Well, Kelly confirmed that. The police commissioner confirmed at the news conference that they have nothing except for this confession. Now that may be enough. It may be an accurate confession. He may have disclosed some facts that only the killer would know, but if it's just sort of a generic confession --


COOPER: And Susan, this is obviously happening in the wake of this story made headlines about a month or so ago when there was a renewed interest, they cordoned off the whole block, they re-examined the basement in the building where the Patz family live. Did that attention that the story got a few weeks ago, did that have anything to do with Hernandez being refocused on?

CANDIOTTI: You know, that did have something to do with it. According to Commissioner Kelly and other sources that I spoke with, that publicity prompted a tipster and that person is not being described as a relative. Who reached out to police and said that this is someone that you need to talk with because this person has told me that he did something bad, and actually confessed to the crime.

And that's what prompted police to go out and interview him again, and they tracked him down in New Jersey, Anderson.

PALUMBO: Well, are they suggesting that he confessed to this crime to the individual who was the tipster?

TOOBIN: Yes, that's what Kelly said.

PALUMBO: And the other part of this dynamic is what if he decides to turn around and recant his story and he hinges it on the fact that he's not emotionally stable?

COOPER: Because there is a -- I mean if his story is true and this poor little boy was put into a bag, left out on the street, and picked up by garbage collectors and taken to a dump, there's no way of tracking that.

TOOBIN: Nothing. I mean at this point, you couldn't track down --

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: You know, a garbage collection from 33 years ago. That's why they were digging up the basement because they thought if he was buried in the basement, then you could check -- you could find DNA evidence in the basement. But if he's taken at this point it would be impossible.

PALUMBO: Now, Anderson, this whole concept that he discarded him on the curb in a plastic bag, we understand the sanitation men, you know, what the demographic is, but if they picked up a child's body, they'd know, they would handle it.

COOPER: Also, given -- I mean you cannot underestimate how big a story this was in New York City 33 years ago. I mean I remember this as a kid. This was everywhere.

TOOBIN: Everywhere.


COOPER: I mean everybody was interviewed on that entire area.

TOOBIN: And it went on for months and months and months. He was, as it's often been said, the first child put on a milk carton and that now has become standard. But, I mean, that was the degree of attention. You know, his father was and is a professional photographer. So there were all these beautiful, beautiful photographs of Etan that were everywhere. It was before the Internet, of course. But you could not be unaware of this case --


TOOBIN: -- if you lived in this part of the country.

PALUMBO: The other dynamic with this case is that children being taken off the streets of New York, this is an anomaly. This happens in California, this happens in Florida. It doesn't happen in New York. So with that --

COOPER: Because there's so many people watching and so many people around.

PALUMBO: Absolutely. Yes. And we weren't even into the camera systems we have there like Argus and all the store front cameras everyone has. The notion that a child would be taken off the street and in areas as densely populated and congested as we are is really tough to take in. It's not like California where they snatch these kids or Florida.

COOPER: So, Susan, tomorrow what happens?

CANDIOTTI: Well, tomorrow it's expected that this man will make an appearance, his very first appearance in court and maybe formally charged by the District Attorney's Office because it's really up to the prosecutors in this case to file the formal charges. That would likely prompt a grand jury to get involved as investigators continue to work through this case to see whether it winds up with an indictment.

I mean, remember what happened -- what has happened in other high profile cases such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn where he was initially arrested then eventually prosecutors backed away from the case. Some people are saying that this is a very solid case, some source I spoke with, and yet I have others who are saying that they are approaching this with a high degree of skepticism.


PALUMBO: The other thing Jeffrey pointed out earlier in the discussion that, you know, I understand that this man has been Mirandized. The other question is, has he lawyered up? You know? Through this whole process. Because that's clearly going to have some impact on admissibility of statements and so and so forth.

COOPER: Right.

PALUMBO: So there -- this is far from out of the woods as far as I can see.

COOPER: Susan Candiotti, I appreciate the reporting. Jeff Toobin and Lou Palumbo, thank you very much.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @Andersoncooper. Tweeting tonight.

The Massachusetts Senate took a step today toward outlawing well, a treatment for special needs student, kids with autism, teenagers with severe developmental disorders, violent outbursts. A center that we've been focusing -- that uses electric shocks against these young people. It's the only place in the country we know that do this. And to many people, to some people who oppose the center it looks like torture.



COOPER: This teenager was shocked 31 times over seven hours. The school that shocked him has dodged repeated efforts to shut it down. "Keeping Them Honest" tonight with the latest.


COOPER: On "Keeping Them Honest" reporting tonight that begins with a simply trouble question in a story that we've been covering for years. Why is this private school the center for special needs students called the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts still open despite its troubling past?

Now its critics call it the shock school because despite repeated efforts by state officials to shut it down, it continues to use electric shocks to control its students. Many of whom are severely mentally handicapped, autistic, some can't even talk. Some have had very disturbing behaviors in other centers.

They come to this school from more than half a dozen states at a cost to taxpayers from those states almost a quarter million dollars a year per student.

Now I'm going to show you a video that the school tried hard to keep out of the public record. It's disturbing to watch. There's no doubt about it. But we think it's important to see. It was evidence in a case that was recently settled by the family of the young man in the video who was shocked multiple times.


COOPER: His name is Andre McCollins. He was shocked 31 times over seven hours on that particular day. He was strapped down at one point. Andre's mom said he was punished for not taking his coat off when asked. She said he was catatonic afterwards.

Now these pictures were taken at a hospital where his lawyers said he was treated for post-traumatic stress and he was burned from the shocks. For some of the students at the Judge Rotenberg Center do in fact have histories of hurting themselves or hurting people. And there are families who support the center say the skin shocks are the only treatment that's helped their children, but clearly Andre McCollins isn't one of them. His mom says he's never hurt himself and isn't aggressive. The school officials say otherwise.

In 2006 inspectors from the New York State Education Department reported that the school was using skin shocks on students, quote, "for behaviors that are not aggressive, healthy, dangerous, or destructive, such as nagging, swearing and failing to maintain a neat appearance. They would be shocked."

The report also said the skin shocks raised health and safety concerns. Now here's how the shocks work. About half the school's students wear electrodes like these attached to transmitters they carry in backpacks or fanny packs. And when they misbehave or for whatever reason the school staff delivers shocks by remote control.

Now the school has long claimed this device which is called a GED is FDA approved. It turns out it's not. As recently as two days ago the school used the word approved on its Web site. We called the FDA and they've told us they cleared an early version of the device for use in 1994 but they've never actually approved it.

In 2010, FDA inspectors found the school was using a much more powerful version of that device. They were concerned among other things by the risk of burns and as a result the FDA told the schools the device was no longer even cleared under its earlier ruling.

Under FDA rules the school would have to reapply for new clearance. We can't tell if they have. We asked the FDA if they've taken any action to stop the school from claiming the device is FDA approved or whether the school has applied for new application for clearance. FDA says it can't legally comment on an ongoing case.

In the meantime, though, the Judge Rotenberg Center has removed the FDA approved claim now from its Web site. They told us after seeing our report two days ago that they realized it was inaccurate claim part of a link to an old paper.

Now here's another lose end. In 2010 under pressure from the United Nations -- that's right, the United Nations -- and dozens of disability rights group the Department of Justice launched an investigation into this center. Two years later, there's no word on what they found or when they're going to release their findings.

When we asked them for an update today, they declined to comment other than to say it's an ongoing investigation. Now as we said Massachusetts officials have repeatedly tried, failed to shut down the school, which clearly has friends in powerful places or at least powerful lobbyists.

Last year the state adopted regulations banning the use of skin shocks and other so-called aversive therapies, but they carved out an exemption for students who are enrolled in the Judge Rotenberg Center before 2011.

Today the state Senate took the first step in turning those regulations into law extending the ban. The bill passed.

Joining me tonight, the bill's sponsor, Senator Brian Joyce and Dr. Louis Kraus, a professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center, who serves on the board of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Senator Joyce, a lot of people when they hear about this center just don't understand why in 2012 a school in the United States is allowed to electrically shock disabled students when prisoners aren't able to be shocked who are murderers, who are unruly? What do you say -- I mean how do you explain this?

BRIAN A. JOYCE, MASSACHUSETTS STATE SENATOR: I can't understand it either. Anderson, it's 2012. We're a progressive state, and this would not be allowed to the most heinous of criminals. If Osama bin Laden had been caught alive, under international law, we could not apply the same torture to him that we're now applying to innocent and disabled children in Canton, Massachusetts. It's an absolute disgrace.

COOPER: Dr. Kraus, I mean, I've talked to parents who are against this center, but I've talked to parents who say, look, this has saved my child's life. This has -- you know, they were rejected from all other places. My child was banging their head against the floor and was going to wind up dead and this has allowed my child to live. To them, what do you say?

DR. LOUIS KRAUS, MEMBER, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY: You know, every apparent that has an autistic spectrum child looks for a magic way to try to help them. They'll find somebody and they'll believe in them. Whether there's any scientific basis behind it or not. I find it very difficult to believe that these kids can't be helped in other programs.

I worked in a residential program who takes care of high functioning autistic children. I work in a day school that has lower functioning autistic children. I spent most of my professional career with a huge variety of autistic kids. The concept of using aversive therapy and these poor kids that have essentially no voice, is simply barbaric. These types of adverse types of treatment approaches, they were used before medications existed, before a lot of other treatments existed, before occupational therapy worked with these types of kids.

You know, at this point in time, with all that we have available to us to help these children, this is just simply wrong.

COOPER: The center says, Doctor, that, well, look, this is better -- shocking these kids is better than doping them up on psychotropic medication where they gain weight, they're at health risk long-term.

KRAUS: You know, they can use any justification that they want. First of all, it's not just medication. When you work with these children, it's working with intensive speech and language services, occupational therapy, behavioralists work out, positive behavioral plans, educational working on activities that they (INAUDIBLE). Trying to find ways for these children to be able to express themselves.

It's one of the most frustrating things for them, when they are anxious or upset about something, not being able to express yourself. Imagine having that happen and then instead of somebody trying to help you, they shock you.

The concept simply doesn't make any sense to me. We use medications, any type of medication that has a potential side effect but these are medication that are FDA approved with very specific purposes in helping kids. Some of them do have weight gain as a potential side effect, but not all of them.

COOPER: And Senator --

JOYCE: Anderson --

COOPER: Yes, go ahead.

JOYCE: If I could add, the doctor is exactly correct. This is based largely on a discredited pseudoscience from 70 or 80 years ago. It was used to cure -- and I say this in, you know, to cure homosexuality in the 1930s, to deaden hogs prior to slaughter. It is truly a barbaric practice that has not been peer reviewed by any scientific or medical entity or individual with credibility.

It's simply just a barbaric outdated practice that hasn't changed since the center opened as the Behavioral Research Institute in 1971. Your initial question was a good one, how this practice can continue in the United States in 2012 simply defies logic. We've now passed the ban in the Massachusetts state Senate. My hope and prayer is that folks will contact the Massachusetts House of Representatives and ask them to join us in this ban.

COOPER: And Doctor, I mean, I've asked the school this multiple times, but if this works so well, why are they the only one who use this? I mean, it doesn't seem like anybody else has adopted this technique.

KRAUS: Yes. There are no other programs that I am aware of that use this. I think if you took you a thousand people off the street, everybody would look and say this simply is barbaric, how can you do this?

What I can tell you is that when you look at really good programs that work with autistic kids, when you have kids that are behaviorally disrupted, when they might hit somebody, hit a teacher, you know, the first reaction teachers give, even in my own program at Easter Seals in Chicago, are usually, you know, why didn't I pick up the anxiety? What was -- upset the child up? What can we do sensory wise to potentially help the child so they'll get less anxious, be less behaviorally disruptive? What coping strategies can we teach the child?

The reason most autistic children have behavioral outbursts are because of some level of anxiety. Something as they perceive it --


COOPER: So does the shocking make the anxiety worse, in your opinion?

KRAUS: Well, exactly. The concept, the base problem is anxiety. And then they shock them? It makes no intuitive sense in the end. I mean if anything, you know, how can this not cause some type of traumatic reaction?

COOPER: The other thing is -- (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Is they have multiple electrodes on them and they don't know where the shock -- what part of the body they're going to get shocked on at any one time which seems to only add to the anxiety?

KRAUS: I mean that -- that just sounds absolutely frightening, frightening to me.

COOPER: Senator?

JOYCE: It is truly a house of horrors. It is just incomprehensible. I'm delighted that you're giving it some well deserved attention.

COOPER: Senator Brian Joyce, I appreciate you being on.

Dr. Louis Kraus, thank you very much as well.

KRAUS: Thank you. Pleasure.

COOPER: Up next, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng's first in- depth interview since his daring escape from house arrest and his departure from China. What he told me today about his detention and his future here in America.


COOPER: The blind Chinese activist's escaped from a legal detention in his own home. It plays out like a movie script. We'll talk to him tonight. He slipped past his guards, escaped into the night, now he's in the U.S., and talking to us about his ordeal next on 360.


COOPER: For the first time since arriving in this country, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng is speaking out and doing it on 360. You'll recall Mr. Chen is blind, made a daring escape from house arrest. He calls it illegal detention in his village.

This is how authorities reacted when actor Christian Bale tried to visit Mr. Chen last year accompanied by CNN's Stan Grant.


STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hollywood actor Christian Bale is used to action, but this is no movie set.

CHRISTIAN BALE, ACTOR: We're being stopped.

GRANT: Plain-clothes Chinese security who would not identify themselves determined to stop him and our crew, contacting a detained human rights activist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch, watch, watch.

GRANT (on camera): We're trying to get out of here. Once again we've been stopped. We're being stopped right here. And as you can see, they're pushing Christian here. We're just trying to leave peacefully.


COOPER: Before we play my interview with Mr. Chen, I just want to explain what you're going to see in the bottom of your screen there. You're looking at Chinese state TV where our program is broadcast live on CNN International. We're showing it to you because in the past when we have reported on Mr. Chen the Chinese government has cut off our live transmission. They've censored us.

So as you watch this interview, you can also watch to see if China will censor our broadcast yet again. There's a slight delay so that's where they're watching the Christian Bale part. There we are again.

Now Mr. Chen arrived in New York this weekend. He's here with his wife and children but he's very worried about his relatives left behind. One of his brothers, Chen Guangfu, also managed to slip out of the heavily guarded village, we understand. As we said, the Chinese government is very sensitive about all this and again as you watch this interview watch that little box at the bottom of the screen to see if the Chinese government decides to censor so that their people don't hear what Mr. Chen is going to say.

Here's the interview I gave -- I had with their Chen Guangcheng earlier today.


COOPER (voice-over): On the night of April 22nd, a blind activist in China, makes a daring escape. Chen Guangcheng, a self- taught lawyer and advocate for the poor had been a prisoner in his own home for more than 18 months.

During that time, he and his wife were periodically and savagely beaten by their Chinese guards. In his first television, Chen says he needed to find a way out.

(on camera): You were under house arrest. What was that like?

CHEN GUANGCHENG, CHINESE ACTIVIST (through translator): I want to correct one thing here. When we talk about my situation in the future, let's not use the word house arrest, but instead let's use the term illegal detention. It's hard for me to describe what it was like during the time, but my suffering was beyond imagination.

COOPER: Did you feel like there was an end to it? Did it feel like it was just going to go on and on?

GUANGCHENG: I didn't see much hope. COOPER (voice-over): Chen is known as the barefoot lawyer in China, a well known activist who became a government target after he filed a class-action lawsuit in 2005 on behalf of poor women who say they were subjected to forced abortions and sterilizations as part of China's one-child policy. Soon after filing the lawsuit, Chen was arrested and jailed for more than four years.

(on camera): You filed a class-action suit on behalf of these women. Do you know that the state would arrest you? Did you know that you would get in trouble?

GUANGCHENG: It would be dishonest of me to say I'd never thought of it, but I didn't imagine they would disregard the law so blatantly.

COOPER: Why did you begin to speak out?

GUANGCHENG: It was very natural for me. I feel it's in people's nature to want to stop evil and embrace the good. So it was really nothing special there. It was just how I reacted naturally.

COOPER: You say it's natural to want to speak out against evil, but many people remain silent.

GUANGCHENG: I only feel it's a natural reaction from my heart. My nature wouldn't allow me to sit by and disregard what was going on. I think everybody should act that way.

COOPER (voice-over): After his release, he was detained in his home. Activists, friends and journalists tried to visit him over the years, only to be violently repelled by the guards who were always outside.

Actor Christian Bale was with a CNN crew in 2011 when he tried to go to Chen's house to talk to him.

CHRISTIAN BALE, ACTOR: Why can I not go visit this man? Why can I not go visit this man? He's a free man.

COOPER: After months of planning, Chen scaled the wall around his house, slipped passed his guards and wandered through the countryside for more than 20 hours, falling down some 200 times, he says, injuring his foot. Finally, he was able to call a friend for help.

GUANGCHENG: After evading danger I was able to get out of the village and then I called my good friend in Beijing. He quickly led a team to find me and drove me to Beijing.

While in Beijing, he found me a safe place to stay temporarily, but then we started to worry about my safety because of my experience in 2005.

COOPER: Worried for his safety, Chen's friends helped him seek refuge in the U.S. embassy.

GUANGCHENG: When a group of people come together and accomplish something, they often fight for credit. But in my case, the people who went to Shandong pick me up when the news broke. They were fighting for risk instead of credit.

They were all trying to claim responsibility to make others safer. I think this shows me hope in the growth of civil society in China.

COOPER: After negotiations between the U.S. and China, Chen was finally allowed to leave Beijing, flying to America on a one-year student visa.

(on camera): I understand that on Sunday you spent time out in the sun and it was the first time you'd been able to sit in the sun for a long time.

GUANGCHENG: I hadn't been able to feel nature for a long time. On that day, I had some time to soak in the sun and feel the breeze. I have missed out for too long.

COOPER (voice-over): Chen has not sought asylum, though he's enjoying his temporary freedom, he worries for his friends and family back home.

(on camera): Your nephew has been charged with intentional homicide for defending himself against the people who broke into his house, as they were searching for you. What do you think is going to happen to him? Are they trying to punish you through him?

GUANGCHENG: You can already see what's happened to him. It's clear they want to convict him.

COOPER: Your mother is also still in China. There are reports your brother actually escaped illegal detention back in his home village. Do you worry about them as well?

GUANGCHENG: Of course, I'm very worried. You can see their retribution against my family since my escape, has continued and been intensified.

COOPER: Do you regret speaking out, given all you've been through, arrested for four years, illegally detained in your home, you and your wife? Do you regret speaking out?

GUANGCHENG: No, I have no regrets. But I also want to thank all the friends who helped me, including my family members and supporters. I'm very concerned about the safety of some of them.

COOPER (voice-over): Chen, his wife and two children have only been in the U.S. for less than a week. Whether he'll ever be able to return to China is unclear. He vows he will continue to speak out.

GUANGCHENG: I don't feel much pressure. It's just a matter of time. I've only been here for a short time. If the pressure in Shandong couldn't silence me, I don't think any other pressure will be able to silence me.


COOPER: Very interesting to see we were not censored this time in China. We're following a lot more tonight. Isha joins us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a U.N. panel says the violence in Syria has become increasingly militarized with killings and torture by government security forces and anti-government fighters. However, it says that regime forces are to blame for most of the most serious human rights violations.

Syria will be front and center tomorrow night at 8:00 and 10:00 eastern. We'll be bringing you a special report, "Arab Spring, Revolution Interrupted."

Off the coast of Mexico, Hurricane Bud has strengthened to category two storm with maximum sustained winds near 110 miles per hour. Bud is not expected to make landfall in Mexico. Instead the outer bands could dump up to six inches of rain on the country's southwest coast.

Meantime, NOAA is forecasting a near normal Atlantic hurricane season this year. Nine to 15 named storms of those it expects four to eight to develop into hurricanes and one to three major hurricanes.

Moving next to Australia's Bondai Beach, a hungry great white shark is caught on camera, stealing a smaller shark caught by fishermen as they were reeling it in.

Anderson, this close encounter reportedly happened last year, but it was recently posted online. Amazing images and the weird thing is the fishermen are more excited than scared.

COOPER: Yes, pretty incredible there. Isha, thanks very much.

New signs tonight of where the presidential race now stands in three crucial states nationwide. Who's got reason to cheer? John King runs the numbers. "Raw Politics" next.


COOPER: On 360, the Trayvon Martin case, new video of George Zimmerman and the stinging accusations he levelled against the police in another case. We'll be right back.


COOPER: "Raw Politics" tonight, a fresh look at three states that President Obama won last time. He probably needs to win at least two out of the three to stay in office.

New polling today out of Virginia, Florida, and Ohio, the results from NBC and Marist College. Giving President Obama a four-point edge in Virginia, with a three-point margin of error. The same narrow lead in Florida, the president had four points by 48 to 44, two points below the 50 percent that incumbents obviously like to see. Now in Ohio, it's a six-point edge for President Obama, but that's half his 12-point advantage back in March in the same poll. Though his job approval numbers are on the plus side in all three states, it's only by a few percentage points.

Additionally, it's a big concern for any incumbent a majority in all three of these battlegrounds telling pollsters they still believe that things in the country are on the wrong track.

We'll talk more on where the race is playing out. Let's check in with chief national correspondent, John King at the magic wall.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a handful of new state polls tell us how close this race is in terms of the electoral college fight and you have to say at least at the moment slight advantage for President Obama.

Let's take a look at what we're talking about. One of these new polls in battleground Wisconsin, again that's a very close race, but you have to say slight advantage for the president who is up in the Wisconsin public radio poll.

Another one in the state -- always battleground state of Ohio, Mitt Romney needs to win Ohio to win the White House, no question about that right now, President Obama with a slight lead there in battleground Ohio. That fight will continue.

Let's zoom to the east now in a state the president turned from red to blue four years ago, Virginia, it's a toss-up right now. This poll right here, that's within the margin of error, but you have to say perhaps a slight advantage for President Obama.

Let's drop down now to the state of Florida, you got a mixed picture here. A poll we received just yesterday, a Quinnipiac poll had Governor Romney with a slight lead. Look at these new numbers today, the president leading in the NBC/Marist poll so let's call Florida a toss-up.

Why do we look at these? Well, they factor big into the race to 270. Let's look, here's where I put the race right now. The president has 217. Those are the blue states, solid Obama or leaning Obama.

Mitt Romney has about 206. Those are the red states, solid Republican or leaning Republican. The yellow, those are the battlegrounds, where the states we just went through.

Let's say we got Wisconsin poll is right, the Ohio poll is right, and that Virginia poll is right. Look at that, puts the president within striking distance.

So then you have Florida toss up, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada. A lot of people say this one actually should lean blue.

If that were the case, the president would cross the line. Let's just leave it a toss-up for now. What it shows you is this is a very tight race, about 160 days left. It's going to come down, Anderson, to these six or eight states.

COOPER: Wow, John, thanks very much.

Joining us tonight is Bill Burton, the senior strategist of the pro-Obama "Super PAC, Priorities USA" and also former George W. Bush press secretary, Ari Fleischer.

So Bill, obviously all poll numbers out there just a snapshot in time. There's going to be plenty of movement between now and November. But Romney has closed the gap significantly in Florida, Ohio, Virginia since March, back then the president led all three by between I think eight and 17 points. How concerned are you about the numbers?

BILL BURTON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I would say very concerned. I mean, you know, we're on what you would call the pollar coaster, right now. These polls are going to go up and down, but I think for the most part, they're going to be very, very tight.

Republicans have consolidated behind Romney pretty quickly and I think that what you're seeing is the makings of a very close race. So you know, I look at the polls and I think, yes, it's going to be a very close race and it's going to come down to a very tough fight on the economy.

COOPER: Ari, that being said, the president does seem to have had the majority in most of these battleground states.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY FOR PRESIDENT G.W. BUSH: Kudos to Bill, that's a very frank acknowledgement. He's a good analyst. I think he's reading it right.

But, Anderson, at this stage in the campaign, you don't focus on today's polls. You'll try to look ahead to the long-term trend. The long-term trend is we're locked in on a close race.

Incumbents typically have the advantage. It would be very rare for a challenger to be defeating an incumbent leading in the polls at this early stage.

What you look at is the challenger is that the incumbent, President Obama is below 50. That's a point of vulnerability. If you look at for Mitt Romney is, can he increasingly close the gap with his numbers from low 40's up.

The other thing you look at are the polls of registered voters or likely voters and at this stage, they're all of registered voters, which puts a slight bias in the polling toward the Democrats.

Once they switch to likely voters, it's going to give a boost to Mitt Romney's numbers in all history, in all likelihood.

COOPER: Bill, the majority of voters in these states still think things are on the wrong track according to today's polls. How much of an issue is it? I mean, is it any use to the president if things are getting better if they're not getting better fast enough to change that number?

BURTON: I think it's an issue. I think that the environment in which this race is happening is going to matter a lot to the outcome.

COOPER: The economy, whether or not it gets better.

BURTON: Right, exactly. On the economy, on the jobs number, on economic growth, on gas prices, all those things will have an impact on the outcome of this race, but I think that ultimately people are going to go into the voting booth, not voting on how they feel about this moment.

But what's the difference between the visions of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama and who is best to lead our country right now. I don't think regardless of the situation, people are going to go into the voting booth and say thank you to any elected official.

I think they say, what's next? So that's the big question that I think voters are asking. You know, what's the real difference between the president and Governor Romney?

COOPER: Ari, can President Obama avoid this being referendum on his term? Can he make it as many Democrats say they would like to make it a choice between, you know, picking between these two guys?

FLEISCHER: He can't avoid it, but that's what good campaigning comes down to. We'll have to see who puts together a better campaign, Governor Romney or President Obama.

If you're the president, you want to make it all about Mitt Romney. I think that's why they're going so hard after Bain. They wanted to discredit Governor Romney before he gets any momentum underneath it.

If you're Governor Romney, you want to make it a referendum about how bad the economy is it's a throw of bombs out type of election. We saw that election in 1980 with Jimmy Carter. We saw it largely in 1990 and 2006 and 2008 with my old boss, George Bush and the Republicans.

Saw it again in 2010, against President Obama, that's what you look for. Anderson, the other thing I think people should look for, outside the campaigns, there are six more unemployment reports between now and November coming out the first Friday of each month and there are two GDP reports about growth and the economy. Those are the biggest external factors that are going to drive this election.

COOPER: Bill, you're going to be looking to put ads on the air in some of these swing states, where do you think you need to put your money? Where's the tightest race right now where ads could be effective?

BURTON: Well, I'd say two things. First just a quick point on what Ari just said. It's interesting to have Ari Fleischer on because his former boss, President Bush ran a race in 2004 that was very much about who the challenger was and how important it was to define Senator Kerry and make that what the race was all about. On the map overall --

COOPER: And they did a pretty good job of that.

BURTON: I mean, they won so you can't deny they made some good decisions. I was on Senator Kerry's campaign. He's an awesome guy, but it was a tough race to lose.

On the map, I would say that, you know, the map is big, but it's getting a little bit smaller. I think you look at the states that President Obama won that Senator Kerry didn't win in 2004. That's where you start with those nine states.

Then you add in, you know, watch Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan as states that could get competitive. You know, right now we're up in Colorado -- Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Virginia. We think that those are very close states.

We think there are other states that are very close as well. Iowa and New Hampshire obviously going to be tough battlegrounds, but I think, you know, it's early and people are just starting to engage.

So as people get more information about the race, we're going to see where those swing voters go in those states and see if those states really do stay competitive?

COOPER: Bill Burton, appreciate you being on. Ari Fleischer as well, thanks.

BURTON: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, there's new video in the Trayvon Martin case and new word tonight of the confrontation that Zimmerman had last year with police. Why he accused the police chief of a cover up in the beating of an African-American homeless man. That's next.


COOPER: A busy night tonight. A lot happening. Isha's back with the "360 News and Business" Bulletin -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, new video tonight in the Trayvon Martin case. It shows George Zimmerman at police headquarters in Sanford, Florida, three days after the killing.

Also today, we learned that back in January of 2011, Zimmerman spoke out at a hearing and accused the police chief at that time of engaging in a cover-up in the case of a black homeless man who was beaten by an officer's son.

The public is getting its first blow by blow account of Robert Champion's death. He is the Florida A&M drum major who died after enduring a brutal hazing. Page after page of witness interviews released today detailed Champion's beating done witnesses say by band mates with their fists, drum sticks and percussion mallets.

On the home front, mortgage interest rates have hit a record low, just 3.78 percent on a 30-year loan. And Anderson, Hines may soon be able to change his tune from anticipation to slipping and sliding away.

An MIT engineer has come up with and the FDA has approved a slippery, non-toxic coating called Liqui Glide. Here it is. It makes ketchup and other slow foods just slide out of the bottle.

COOPER: It's so cool. I can't believe it hasn't been invented up until now.

SESAY: Kind of looks unappetizing if you ask me.

COOPER: Yes, but those -- the guys who is invented it are probably going to make a gazillion dollars.

SESAY: And you and I will still be here 10 years from now.

COOPER: With our old ketchup bottles. I think it's cool.

Time for the shot, Isha, as you know, we're obsessed with animals sleeping on this program. We've had a sleeping baby bear, which I love. Who could forget the snoring dormouse? That's what my cameraman sounds like when we're on trips together.

SESAY: Nice. He'll appreciate that.

COOPER: And we all have to sleep in one room and that's how he snores. Tonight, we bring you the chick falling asleep on the cat. We had to speed up the video a bit because it took 45 seconds for the chick to fall asleep. The cat doesn't seem to care the tasty meal fall asleep right on him.

SESAY: The cat is a vegetarian.

COOPER: I don't know what the point of the video. I just think it's cute.

Coming up, why computers will never replace copy editors. It is a typo worthy of "The Ridiculist" next.


COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." Tonight, we are adding a Texas size of typo that's a true reminder that spelling does count. At the University of Texas in Austin, there was a lovely program that was distributed for commencement ceremony for one of the graduate schools.

The program entitled "Unlimited Possibilities." Just one problem, as we take a closer look at the bottom of the program, it says Lyndon B. Johnson School of Pubic Affairs. So the school has issued a pubic apology, but I guess no one is a big fan of pubic speaking because they did it on Twitter. Quote, our deepest apologies to our 2012 graduates for the egregious typo in our commencement program. We are working to distribute new programs. Listen, everyone makes mistakes.

At least they didn't also forget the "l" in the LBJ school. See the problem is a computer spell check isn't going to catch a mistake like pubic versus public. It actually happens all the time.

Back in March, a media advisory went out for the Rick Santorum campaign announcing his pubic schedule and a billboard in Indiana implored all who saw it to check out the 15 best things about pubic schools.

So I guess, if you study hard in pubic schools, you can one day get your graduate degree at the school of pubic affairs and then before you know it, you're in charge of a presidential candidate's pubic schedule all because somebody forgot the letter "L." It is the best proof there is that all it takes is one letter to change the world or the word as the case maybe.

That's it for us. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" is next.