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Ann Romney Battles M.S.; Brothers Free Due to Facebook Post; Paul Ryan Stumps in Virginia; Political Motive Suspected in Shooting.
Aired August 17, 2012 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Thank you, Alina. Hello to you and thank you for the good introduction.
It's 11:00 on the East Coast. It is 8:00 a.m. on the West Coast. And let's get right to it, shall we?
We start with this, that thorn in Mitt Romney's side, the tax returns, and a new revelation in the battle over the GOP nominee's personal tax information. Mitt Romney told reporters yesterday, finally, because it's taken a while to get this information, that he paid no less than 13 percent of his income taxes for the entire past decade. Listen up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did go back and look at my taxes and, over the past ten years, I never paid less than 13 percent. I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that.
So, I paid taxes every single year. Harry Reid's charge is totally false.
I'm sure waiting for Harry to put up who it was that told him what he says they told him. I don't believe it for a minute, by the way. But every year, I paid at least 13 percent and if you add, in addition, the amount that goes to charity, why, the number gets well above 20 percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BANFIELD: Well, shortly after that, a very unusual offer came out and it came from the Obama team. You might say it's "let's make a deal."
The Obama campaign manager, Jim Messina, sent a letter to the Romney camp offering to back off, not completely, but to at least back off the cause for the release of the additional years of tax returns if he agrees to disclose five years, not ten, five years of tax information.
The letter to Mitt Romney said, in part, "If the governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more." So far, though, the Romney team has not taken them up and delving into this further with us is Paul Steinhauser.
Do we have any reaction so far, Paul, from the Romney campaign to this -- I don't think this is an olive branch. I don't know if this is what it seems to be. It seems very that this is a chess move.
PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yeah, politics here. You know, we do have a response and, Ashleigh, it seems to be like thanks, but no thanks.
Now, Jim Messina's letter, which you just showed, that came out about 6:30 a.m. Eastern time this morning. About two hours later, here's a letter from Matt Rhoades, the campaign manager for the Romney campaign, the chairman, and here's what he says.
He said -- first, he said, "Hey, Jim, thanks for the note," but he goes on to say, hey, "It's clear President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney's tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending. If Governor Romney's tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days."
So, basically, this is the Romney response that the Obama campaign is just wasting your time, talking about these trivial issues when they should be talking about the big issues, Ashleigh.
BANFIELD: Well, Paul, I really do mean chess move when I say that because why would the Obama campaign see value in pushing for only five years when they've been really hard at it on the ten years. What, politically, would be in it for them?
STEINHAUSER: They must think there's something in the years that they're asking for.
Now, let's go through the years right now. Remember, Mitt Romney has released his 2010 returns. He says -- he's put an estimate out for '11 and says, when they're completed, he got an extension. They'll be out probably in October. That'll come out, but he's said no more to anything else.
What the Obama campaign now is asking for is three more years, the three earlier years, '07, '08 and '09.
During all five of these years, basically, Mitt Romney has been a candidate for president, in the '08 campaign and now.
Ashleigh, politically, though, this is smart, as you said. This is very smart by the Obama campaign because, anytime you're talk about this story, you're not talking about the economy and jobs, things that Mitt Romney wants to talk about, so it's almost a distraction.
How do Americans feel about all this? Take a look at this. We asked, last week in a CNN/ORC national poll and you can see a pretty big majority there said, yes, we would like Mitt Romney -- he should release additional tax returns, only 36 percent saying no.
So, Ashleigh, I think, politically, this probably definitely helps the Obama campaign more than the Romney campaign.
BANFIELD: All right, Paul, stay tuned on this one. I don't think this one's going to go away either and, hopefully, you won't go away either. I've got some more questions for you later.
We're also curious. What do Americans pay in taxes? Wanted to put this graphic up for you so you could get a feel, considering that Mitt Romney has just said, I've paid no less than 13 percent in taxes for the last ten years, but then look at this.
Obama has paid 26 percent in taxes and this is, again, the average in 2010. The average American paid about 11 percent in taxes. Millionaires paying an average of 25 percent. That's fascinating stuff.
So, there you go. You're about at 11 percent. Mitt Romney's a wee bit above you, President Obama quite a bit above you.
So, for Mitt Romney, without question, as I just said to Paul Steinhauser, this just does not seem to be an issue that's going to go away for him. You might call it an Achilles heel.
In fact, it's not just the Democrats who are hammering him on this. A lot of conservatives, big, big conservatives, have been urging him to release his taxes. People like George Will, Michael Steele, former chairman of the RNC, and the Texas governor, Rick Perry, also has said, come on, what's the problem? You better do it. The pros are better than the cons.
They worry that by not releasing them, Mitt Romney is sending a bad message, that, perhaps, the message is, I'm very wealthy and I don't want people to really know about my personal wealth, among other things.
One man who knows a lot about personal wealth and how it's taxed and how it's sometimes it's not taxed and offshore, well, is Reuters columnist David Cay Johnston.
Oh, boy, it's good to see you again and you're the perfect person to talk to today, particularly. We don't know a whole lot about Mitt Romney's personal wealth, but for the last two years of returns that he's released, but we do know something about offshore accounts. Give me the picture of what we know so far of Mitt Romney?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, REUTERS COLUMNIST: Well, in Romney's case, we know that he had accounts in the Cayman Islands. Those are actually quite appropriate. They have to do with foreign investors and non-profit investors in his companies.
But he also filed a very unusual tax form that very few people file called an 8261 and that form makes it possible -- doesn't mean he did, but makes it possible -- that he paid no taxes for many years and, as the manager of an investment pool, Romney could defer into that pool as long as he wanted income connected with the investment pool.
So, I think that's the important issue here and I'm very surprised at the five years, Ashleigh. I've been calling on Romney to release his returns since '84 since he gave those to the McCain campaign four years ago.
You know, I think the most interesting years would be 2008 and '09 when the economy fell apart and he apparently took some big losses and the late '90s when all the big tax shelters that I was exposing back then at "The New York Times" were being sold.
BANFIELD: OK. What's critical here and I was getting the political side of this with Paul Steinhauser, these five years that the Democrats are offering in return of letting go of the demand for 10.
Within the five years, falls the year 2009 and that was the year the Obama administration granted a first-of-its-kind amnesty to wealthy Americans, promising not to publicize their names or go after them with felonies if they'd been hiding money offshore, if they just came forward and paid a big penalty and paid some of the back taxes.
So, give me a bit of a feel for this amnesty program and how successful it's been and what about -- what would have happened to you if you didn't take advantage of it?
JOHNSTON: Well, around 17,000 Americans took advantage of this opportunity and there's been a big fight going on over UBS, the Swiss banking company that was actively selling criminal tax shelters in the U.S.
They got a non-prosecution agreement and they're supposed to give 4,450 names out of 50,000. So, 50,000, they're going to release a handful. That's been fought all the way along, as well.
But the likelihood is what Romney has done is legal, not illegal, given what we know about Romney's career and he's been in politics, but that doesn't mean he may not have, in the years in question, paid taxes.
He may have been audited and had to go and pay taxes after the fact. We wouldn't know that without seeing his returns and I predict to you that the Obama campaign is going to torture Romney with this up right until the day of the election.
BANFIELD: And I want to be clear. We do not know if there is anything related to an amnesty when it comes to Mitt and Ann Romney's returns. And let me repeat that because, on another network, I even heard them calling out the word "felony," as a possibility. We're not going there. Not at all. But I do want to ask this -- go ahead.
JOHNSTON: That's correct. No, you're exactly correct. We don't know and that's the real issue. We did have a president who had criminal tax returns for which there were two indictments, Richard Nixon.
So, it's reasonable for us to ask. We want to see these returns and he gave them to McCain four years ago.
BANFIELD: OK, and I'm glad you said it's reasonable to ask because some people don't think it's reasonable to ask for this. Ann Romney does not think this is reasonable. She thinks it just provides ammo for the left wing conspiracy to go after them and just badger them about being wealthy.
But I do want to ask you, if there is something back after 2009, say, before we have the 2011 and -- or, excuse me, '10 and '11 returns of the Romneys, if there is something with regard to amnesty, does it actually show up and what does it mean about the person that took advantage of the amnesty?
BANFIELD: Well, Romney would have filed amended returns called 1040Xs if there had been either amnesty or an audit and there would be a closing agreement, if there was an audit. And That would be very, very real and probably very damaging to Romney if there was such a circumstance.
And Romney can be absolutely saying the truth, I paid at least 13 percent every year, but he may not have paid it in that year. He may have been audited and had to go pay it after the fact and we simply don't know.
I mean, clearly, they have made a decision in the Romney campaign that releasing these returns is more damaging than not releasing them.
And, by the way, you know, Dick Cheney released his returns for many years. Nothing there, absolutely nothing in Dick Cheney's tax returns. I went over them very thoroughly. There was stuff about investments, but not about his taxes.
George W. Bush released years of returns. Obama has. So, clearly, there's something they're worried about that will be interpreted and would be, as Ann Romney put it, ammunition.
BANFIELD: And let me add to that list. Mitt Romney's father released years of tax returns, as well.
You know, there's a reason that you won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about tax code and that's because you're very good at this. David, thank you very much.
JOHNSTON: Thank you, Ashleigh.
BANFIELD: All right, so, I want to let you know and I'm going to repeat this again. We do not know anything about whether the Romneys have taken any advantage of any kind of amnesty program.
There have been three offerings of the amnesty program, 2009, 2010 and 2011. No, 2009, 2001, 2012. So, we do not know and that is extraordinarily important.
But we did want to know, so we did reach out. We reached out to the Romney campaign about the 2009 amnesty program. We wanted to know if he had taken advantage of it. We asked that very question of the campaign.
To be completely fair, we've done this within the last couple of hours since we got information about the offering that came from the Obama administration of the "give us five years and we won't badger you over 10," so they haven't had a lot of time to get back to us, but we certainly have not had any response from the campaign about this.
And my thanks, again, to David Cay Johnston for helping us navigate a tricky topic.
I want to switch gears to the shooting in Washington, D.C. that we've been following. That suspect in that shooting has been charged and he's been undergoing a mental investigation while sitting in a jail cell.
The building manager who overpowered him says that he yelled the words, "I hate your politics," allegedly, before drawing his handgun and shooting at the Family Research Council offices.
Our Sandra Endo is live in Washington right now with this.
So, clearly, it appears, if the allegations are true, that there may have been a political bone to pick with the Family Research Council.
I want to add that there were 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his backpack as well as a gun. We all know that the Chick-fil-A president has come out against gay marriage, so clearly there was possibly some political connection, but what more are we hearing about this man?
SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that political connection, Ashleigh, that you're talking about is certainly an angle investigators are looking into, but so far, there is no official word yet of a possible motive.
The criminal complaint did include comments from the suspect's parents, who said their son, 28-year-old Floyd Corkins has, quote, "strong opinions" with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner.
We also know he volunteered at a local LGBT community center here in D.C. and, as you mentioned, Ashleigh, the head of Chick-fil-A has been vocal about same-sex marriage, a view the Family Research Council also shares.
But again, no official word on motive. Ashleigh?
BANFIELD: So, Sandra, we know there's a custody hearing -- while he remains in custody, there will be a hearing August 24th. What's the hearing going to be about?
ENDO: Now, this is just the start of the long legal process that's involved surrounding this case and the hearing next Friday will be a detention hearing to see if Corkins will remain in custody
And there will likely be a formal indictment filed in the near future, as well, and he's facing a federal firearms violation and assault with intent to kill, so he faces a maximum of 40 years in prison, if convicted on both charges.
BANFIELD: All right, Sandra, thank you very much for that.
Also want to add what Sandra just said and that is that there's a big, blame-game thing going on between the Family Research Council and the Southern Poverty Law Center on who is indirectly to blame for this shooting.
That's the political talk about it. We're going to talk more about this with our legal contributor, Paul Callan, who may have something very fascinating to tell you about when it comes to somebody who you think is doing something, politically, and later you find out something entirely different.
Back in a moment.
BANFIELD: South Africa is in a state of shock today after one of the deadliest police killings of civilians since the end of white apartheid rule in that country.
Police armed with automatic weapons opened fire yesterday on a small group of striking mine workers, mine workers who were protesting while holding machetes and spears and, some witnesses say, possibly even handguns.
Here's what happened when police started firing and we have to warn you that the images you're about to see are extraordinarily graphic and quite disturbing.
Absolutely remarkable video coming out of South Africa and it took 12 hours of virtual silence, official silence, about the scenes that you are seeing play out before the police chief even confirmed that 34 people were dead and 78 people were wounded.
The headlines in that country read "bloodbath," "killing field," "mine slaughter," just some of the newspapers and how they're covering the story, overseas today.
And let me just show you, even "The New York Times" has it as its front page photograph and "The Wall Street Journal," as well, right here just above the fold. So, clearly, an international story, an American story as well.
Our Errol Barnett is monitoring these developments in Johannesburg. What on Earth could have prompted the police to open fire on people like this, Errol?
ERROL BARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they simply say they were fired upon first, Ashleigh, and let me show you just a few of the headlines you mentioned. This is "The Times" newspaper, the headline, "killing field," showing the graphic image, as well as this newspaper, "The Star," "cops go in for the kill."
So this national and international pressure has forced the national police force here to conduct a press conference and address all of these questions that have been asked by media. Why did this take place?
And they say they're completely justified. Two police officers earlier this week, Ashleigh, were killed at the hand of these mine workers holding machetes. They were literally chopped to death. Absolutely horrific.
And, so, some are saying that the cops were so frightened they could see the potential of what these mine workers could do, so they fired after being fired upon yesterday.
And it's gone all the way to the top of political leadership here. The president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, cut short his international trip to a regional conference so he could tour the mine and ask his own questions.
BANFIELD: Unbelievable. Obviously, there's going to be a lot more developments on this and we hope you'll bring them to us. Errol Barnett, thank you very much.
BANFIELD: You know, say what you will about the punk rock band Pussy Riot, but one thing is for sure. They have guts.
They staged a scathing protest song in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. The target of this was a critical message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The refrain of their song, "Mother Mary, please drive Putin away."
You could probably do that in the United States. You might face something, but would you be locked up like that? Russian officials were none too pleased with these ladies and they charged them with hooliganism, officially.
Hooliganism, it's what it's called and, today, a judge has found all three members of the punk rock band guilty and then went ahead and sentenced them to two years in prison.
This trial has sparked outright concern not only in Russia, but right around the world about freedom of speech in Russia.
Phil Black is outside the courthouse and he joins us now live.
Two years in prison? Are they kidding?
PHIL BLACK, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, they're not, Ashleigh. According to Pussy Riot supporters, understandably, they think that's pretty steep, especially keeping in mind that that punk fare they performed in Moscow's cathedral lasted for around 30 seconds. They only got through one verse and one chorus before being thrown out.
Having said that, it could have been a lot worse. Under the law, they could have been sentenced to seven years. The prosecutor in the case actually asked that they receive a three-year sentence. So, they got less than that.
They've already been in custody for five months since they were arrested and through the duration of this trial, so that will count against time served and it's possible it could be reduced further on appeal.
So, it's certainly a big chunk, but it could have been worse, Ashleigh
BANFIELD: OK, we're having a bit of problems with your signal, but I think we got the gist of it. Phil Black, thank you.
You know, Madonna also protested with her performance in Moscow and wore that mask during her concert, specifically referencing this band.
And one more point, as well, about this verdict today, protests in support of the band today are planned here in New York City, as well as in Paris and London and other cities, as well.
I want to switch gears now and take you to Alaska, not just Alaska, but the national parks there where wildlife and history abounds. It's also where our CNN photojournalist Ferre Dollar went for today's "Travel Insider."
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
FERRE DOLLAR, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST (voiceover): It has twice the size of Texas, fewer than 1 million human residents and has only one area code, but Alaska's got great national parks and we visited two of them.
Getting there, planes, trains, no automobiles. The Alaskan railroad will take you to the doorstep of Denali National Park and it's not just another train ride. It is a front row seat to Alaska's wild frontier.
From the Denali depot, a shuttle bus travels the lone 90-mile road to get you to the visitor's center, a handful of lodges, campsites and various trailheads so you can hit the back country.
A delightful ride with a group of national park and outdoor enthusiasts lets you sit back and enjoy the 6 million acres.
It is hard to take a bad picture here. Denali is Alaska's third- largest national park, but nearly three times larger than Yellowstone.
The centerpiece is Mt. McKinley. Towering some 20,300-feet, it is the highest peak in the United States. Denali means "the great one," named by the natives of Alaska, an apt description for this majestic park.
Do you really want to feel like a professional wildlife photographer? Katmai National Park, encompassing nearly 5 million acres, is unmatched.
It is accessible only by chartered air taxi or boat.
Holiday Bear Camp offers day- and multi-day-trips with experienced guides who provide safe access to areas like you've only seen in wildlife documentaries.
An eco-friendly camp reliant on solar and wind power provides comfort and home-cooked meals.
Heavily populated by brown bears, fox, moose and a few scenic volcanoes, this park is a dream vacation destination for photographers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Ferre Dollar for "Travel Insider."
BANFIELD: Live pictures as we await Paul Ryan to take the mike. He is just outside of Richmond, Virginia. We are waiting for the vice presidential hopeful to make some remarks in just a couple of minutes. The guidance says this is all going to be about you, folks. Stronger middle class. And you can bet there may be a couple of hit that is the president is going to take in Paul Ryan's remarks, especially the remarks about if you got a business, you didn't build that. That's the criticism. That's the phrase, stand alone, that the conservatives have been hammering the president with. But they don't tell you what came before the phrase. Roads, bridges. If you had a business, you didn't build those, is what I think the president meant to say. But anyway, it's become a political hot spot. And that is the thought, there's going to be some talk about this in this crowded room today. We're going to check in on when it starts.
Meantime, Ann Romney has been at Mitt Romney's side throughout this campaign. And now, she's revealing that the stress and the strain have resulted in a flare up of her multiple sclerosis, especially in the spring.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE MITT ROMNEY: I had just a little one, but enough to give me a scare. It happened in March, right at the primary time. It was such a crazy time. And I didn't want to have anyone worrying about me, especially Mitt. I didn't tell anyone. But I knew I had to quit.
UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: What were you feeling?
ROMNEY: I started feeling tingling and numbness coming back and I started to get dizzy, you call the M.S. fog, the real foggy brain. So that -- it's just a reminder that I can't keep that pace up.
The next president of the United States, my husband, Mitt Romney.
BANFIELD: Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is live with me from Atlanta.
Give me a bit of a background for those who don't know just what is M.S. and what does it do to you?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Here's a little M.S. 101. We have nerve cells and those nerve cells are covered by a sheathe called the myelin sheathe. When folks have M.S. that gets inflamed. It mean inflammation anywhere along the brain, the spinal cord, the optic nerve. It can result in, as Mrs. Romney mentioned, M.S. fog, causing cognitive issues, but even more commonly pain, difficulty moving, fatigue, those kinds of symptoms.
BANFIELD: So, what about the stress Mrs. Romney mentioned because, without question, they have been under a lot of stress. A campaign is brutal and this has been a particularly brutal period in the campaign. Does that really have an effect on M.S.?
COHEN: When scientists try to study can stress cause an M.S. flare up, the answer is no. They don't see there's a one-to-one cause and effect there. But M.S. patients, like Mrs. Romney, will say, gee, I was under a lot of stress, pushing my body much too much, and I got a flare up. In that case, doctors will say is listen to your body and if you need to slow down, slow down. But they also say you don't want to necessarily get rid of the stress entirely because getting rid of the stress can cause more problems. Imagine, if she threw in the towel and said I'm going to stay home for the duration, be in the bed, sit in a chair, not going to do this. That could cause even more problems. That could be depressing to stay home when really she wanted to be out on the campaign trial.
COHEN: So there's a balancing act and it sounds like that's what she's doing.
BANFIELD: I'll tell you one thing, M.S. or no M.S., I don't have it and I was on the Bush campaign in 2000 and I was so exhausted that "The New York Times" or some newspaper said that I couldn't remember Colin Powell's name and was fudging it or muddling it on the air. I don't even remember that. The exhaustion alone, I'll give her that, that's hell. It's really hard, especially if you're sick.
COHEN: For anybody, so when you have a chronic illness like she does, you have to listen to your body. And it sounds like that's what she did.
BANFIELD: Elizabeth Cohen, love you.
COHEN: Thanks. Love you, too. BANFIELD: Thank you.
And for more information on M.S., you can go to the web site, cdc.gov. Great information there as well.
In Columbia, did you know that nearly one in five teenage girls are pregnant or already are mothers? Many are of them are still children themselves. This week's CNN hero is carving out brighter futures for these girls, the young girls and their kids. Meet Catalina Escobar.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
CATALINA ESCOBAR, CNN HERO: Teen pregnancy is a very big issue. When you go to the slum's., it is unbelievable what you see. Many of my girls live here.
You see these girls. They're babies holding babies.
About 10 years ago, I was volunteering at this maternity hospital and I was holding this baby, and he passed away with me. His teen mother failed to raise the money to cover treatment. Four days later, my own son passed away in an accident. I realized I didn't want any mother to feel the same grief I went through.
My name is Catalina Escobar, and I'm helping teen moms get a healthy and productive life for them and their babies.
When we first started the maternity hospital, we were reduced dramatically the infant mortality rate. But the real problem was bigger than that. My girls end up being pregnant because they don't have sexual education and many of my girls are sexually abused.
When my girls come, they drop their babies in the day care center. We have different workshops so they can develop their skills.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
ESCOBAR: We are changing the lives of these girls. If you give them the right tools, they're capable of moving forward.
BANFIELD: Two Michigan brothers are in the headlines after spending nearly 25 years behind bars -- they are no longer behind bars. They're free for now and it may all be because of a Facebook posting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BANFIELD: And here they come. This was how their first moments of freedom played out on Monday.
Raymond and Thomas Highers walking out of prison, free on bond. They had been convicted of first-degree murder of a suspected drug dealer back in 1987, but a judge decided to throw out the convictions, get rid of them and order a whole new trial for these brothers. Turns out, there are some new witness accounts that cast a lot of doubt on their guilt. And in a bizarre twist, a Facebook post led to those witnesses coming forward, witnesses that say oh, those killers, they weren't white. They were black. That's a big difference in eyewitness accounts.
I spoke with those brothers in an exclusive interview on "Out Front."
RAYMOND HIGHERS, MURDER CONVICTION OVERTURNED: Happy, elated. Last few days have been like a whirlwind of some activity but just meeting new family and getting to know everybody once again.
BANFIELD: So, it's a very odd story when we hear the new witnesses saying, clearly, you two are white and the people who committed this crime they say could have been four or five black guys who jumped a fence and committed this crime. How on earth did you get embroiled in this and do you know any of these black suspects?
HIGHERS: Absolutely not. We got embroiled in it by just being in the neighborhood that night basically.
BANFIELD: Here's how it started. Robert Carney was a drug dealer -- called Big Bob. Back in 1987 on June 26th, he was shot to death. In 1993, there was a man named John Heelshire (ph) and John told his roommate, Kevin Zelanuski (ph), that he was there when Carney was killed. He witnessed it. He tells Kevin that he and a high school buddy had gone up to Carney's house looking for some weed, when four or five black guys hopped a fence, put a gun to his head, told him to get out, scram. Fast forward to 2009, Kevin sees a Facebook posting, pretty random, that says something to the effect of, "It's too bad that the Highers brothers are in prison for life." Kevin tracked down John and Kevin said you've got to come forward.
Do you guys think this is a case of mistaken identity?
THOMAS HIGHERS, MURDER CONVICTION OVERTURNED: Yeah, that's exactly what happened.
THOMAS HIGHERS: They were there and -- they were more or less victims themselves of the crime and was told at gunpoint to leave. And they ran back to their car, got in and drove away and we were mistaken for them two young white men. BANFIELD: Thomas, I'd like you to weigh in on this really honestly. Facing what you were facing 25 years ago, knowing what was going down in that courtroom, did you or your brother ever consider a plea bargain to get the time down and just do the deal, even though you say you're innocent?
THOMAS HIGHERS: No. Never. It never entered or mind. Something was asked to our attorneys at the time and they didn't even consider it. It was, there was no doubt being raised we wasn't going to do that, so when they told us there was a plea, we said absolutely not.
BANFIELD: It's not over for the Highers brothers, not yet any way. The prosecutors were not happy this happened. They want that conviction reinstated. They've actually appealed the judge's decision to let these guys out. But if they lose that appeal, they will get a new trial. In fact, they're headed back to court for a pretrial hearing on August 29th.
BANFIELD: We told you before, we're looking live. That's Governor Bob McDonald (ph) walking off the stage. Paul Ryan walking onto the stage in Glenallen, Virginia, at the high school where we've been awaiting the vice presidential candidate as he gives comments today. The GOP tells us it is expected to focus on the middle class, stronger middle class.
Let's listen in to Paul Ryan.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
RYAN: Thank you.
I'm not going to repeat what she said.
It is great to be here in Glenallen, home of the Wildcats.
RYAN: I tell you. You know, my buddy, Eric Cantor, I think his kids went to high school here.
RYAN: I got to tell you, that is a leader. I mean, he literally is our leader in the House of Representatives, our majority leader. And thank you for sending this great leader to Congress from Richmond area. We really appreciate it. Thank you so much for that.
(APPLAUSE) RYAN: Here's what it comes down to, we have a big choice to make. At least we have a big choice to make. And it's not too late to get this right. We can stay on the path that we are on, the path that President Obama has continued us down, which is a nation further in debt, in doubt, a nation going into decline, or we can get it right, reapply our principle, get us back on the right track, revive this economy and get the American idea back on track so we can save this country's greatness.
RYAN: It's a clear choice.
RYAN: You see, politicians, President Obama and too many politicians in Washington have been more worried about their next election than they've been worried about the next generation.
RYAN: We cannot continue to reward the politics of the past. And we won't do that. We will lead. We will take on the tough issues. We want to earn your support. We want to deserve victory. So that when we do this, next year, we will do all the things we need to do to get people back to work to get this economy growing to get this debt paid off and leave our children a better country.
RYAN: That's what it is.
RYAN: Now, undoubtedly, President Obama inherited a difficult situation when he came into office. The problem is, he made things much worse.
RYAN: And he's not changing tune. He's going in the same direction. So really what we have here is we have a president who's run out of ideas. And therefore, we have a president who has decided that his campaign's going to be based on frustration and anger. Hope and change has now become attack and blame.
We're not going to fall for that this year, are we?
RYAN: No. We're going to be offering solutions. We're going to be offering ideas to get this economy growing. Specifically, you see it right there on the wall, the Romney plan for a stronger middle class, a specific agenda to get higher tack home pay, more jobs in this economy. It's an agenda with an agenda with a goal of creating 12 million jobs in the first four years and that is 345,000 jobs right here in Virginia.
RYAN: Grow our economy, reignite opportunity. There is no reason to grow the economy at 4 percent instead of the stalemate we have right now. But it is going to take leadership, and it is going to take decision-making and it's going take a plan. Number one, this is so true in Virginia, as it is in so many parts of America, we have a lot of energy in the country. Let's use this energy in this country.
RYAN: Energy independence. All of --
(END LIVE FEED)
BANFIELD: All right. We want to scoot away from the live comments in a moment, but if you want to continue following Paul Ryan's live comments go to CNN.com, because you can follow everything that we do live from the desktop or the mobile phone and even an app on the iPhone for CNN. You can watch that.
But for the analysis of this, our political editor, Paul Steinhauser.
The GOP said he would focus on the stronger middle-class and I tried to figure out, OK, makes sense, great message, but the hammering is on Obama-care and Medi-scare. Did this speech topic surprise you?
PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: No, it is the theme for some time, and Mitt Romney has been saying a lot of the same words that you have heard Paul Ryan saying, and Mitt Romney saying I can do a better job tor the middle-class, and President Obama's policies have made it worse for the middle-class.
You also heard Paul Ryan use a new tactic and theme from the Romney campaign, talking about the Obama campaign and anger and hate. That is something that we have heard in the last week now. So, yes, these are, I guess they are the standard, the new standard stump speech.
But Ashleigh, the key here is location, location, location. That event right now, that is happening in suburban Richmond, Virginia, a big swing area in Virginia. Later today, Paul Ryan has another campaign event in suburban Washington, D.C., so that's no surprise at all.
And remember, Virginia -- Barack Obama was the first Democrat to win Virginia in a presidential election four years ago, the first since 1964. Virginia is a crucially important state. The Romney campaign thinks they can grab it back, and the polls indicate it is very close in Virginia -- Ashleigh?
BANFIELD: OK. Paul, thank you so much. Also Paul Ryan and Paul Steinhauser, he will be speaking at 3:45, later on today, so continue watching CNN, because you will get that comment as well live. I think he is headed to northern Virginia with another rally at a suburban Washington high school at 3:45 eastern time.
Back in a moment.
BANFIELD: "I hate your politics," that's exactly what Floyd Corkins said right before he shot a security guard and again the allegations, at that Family Resource Council offices on Wednesday. Tony Perkins, the president of that group, is blaming another group, the Southern Poverty Law Center. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Corkins was given license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has been reckless in labeling organizations hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy. But I believe that the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BANFIELD: Those are fight words and the Southern Poverty Law Center is not backing down. They responded saying, quote, "Perkins' accusation is outrageous. And Family Research Council and its allies on the religious right are saying, in effect, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a Democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of the criticisms should be the targets of criminal violence."
The two groups do have a past. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate and bigotry, did put the Family Research Council on its hate watch list back in 2010, saying it had spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people.
Fro their part, police, in their investigation, found a .9 millimeter handgun, they found more ammo and they found 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches in the backpack. Remember the Chick-fil-A CEO came out against gay marriage and then all of this. Could it be political? Sure.
In the meantime, our legal contributor, Paul Callan, is here.
If we are talking politics and if it's true to drive this man to what he did, is it hate crime or domestic terror? What do the statutes say?
PAUL CALLAN, LEGAL ANALYST & CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, domestic terror is an act of violence that tries to move the government on a policy question in a particular direction. It is a vague definition. Hate crimes, if it is directed to the politics or gender or the religion or the sexual orientation, it is a hate crime. In the end, we all try to characterize these criminals depending where we stand politically as being on the side of our political opponents.
BANFIELD: And we do it very quickly.
CALLAN: Immediately. Whoever this deranged crazy person is who has opened fire is then sought to be put up with the Tea Party, the Republican Party, the Democratic left wing, whatever your opposition group is.
BANFIELD: And sometimes legitimately so. Look, in the case of Eric Rudolph. In 1996 and 1998, he set off a whole bunch of bombs and killed two people. He was motivated by Christian ideology and against abortion and sentenced to four consecutive life sentences. That being said, we know that this man's allegation that he shot the security guard at the research center, he's under psychiatric evaluation. And that brings me to think about someone named John Hinkley Jr. John Hinkley, for anybody under 40, he shot Ronald Reagan. And I think that the first things thought of was that it was a political assassination. Was it?
CALLAN: Not at all. As a matter of fact, Hinkley later when interviewed by psychiatrists said he shot Reagan as gift to the actress, Jodie Foster. So what appeared to be an attack on conservativism's greatest symbol, was, in fact, some crazed love act for a Hollywood actress. When you look into these cases, it demonstrates why it is so dangerous to politicize the crimes early on because, in the end, they may have nothing to do with politics, but a deranged mind.
BANFIELD: I'll give more recent than Hinkley and that's Jared Loughner. Last year -- he has pleaded guilty to shooting 13 people and hurting them, and shooting six people and killing them, including our Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. And there were thoughts that he is deranged, but he has pleaded guilty and he's facing a life in prison. So I'm glad you pointed that out that we don't know right away.
BANFIELD: Paul Callan, thank you.
CALLAN: Nice being with you.
BANFIELD: Good to see you.
Thank you for watching.
NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL starting right away. Have yourself a wonderful weekend. See you later tonight on "Erin Burnett."