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THE SITUATION ROOM
New Info on Arizona Shootings; Supreme Court Examines Same-Sex Marriage
Aired March 27, 2013 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: More than two years after a mass shooting that horrified the nation, authorities have now released thousands of pages of documents about the massacre in Tucson, Arizona.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We remember that like it was yesterday.
They offer vivid details about the gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, and his rampage that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Our Brian Todd has been poring over these documents, thousands of pages. It was almost 3,000 pages.
Brian, so what have you learned?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate and Wolf, the documents shed light on some bizarre behavior on the day of the shootings by witnesses who helped subdue Jared Loughner at the scene and by Loughner himself just hours beforehand.
TODD (voice-over): Early morning, January 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner is stopped for running a red light in Tucson, Arizona. State Fish and Game Officer Alen Forney lectures Loughner on his driving. Loughner seems to break down.
"I said I'm not going to write you a citation for this," Forney says in a statement later to investigators. "And when I said that to him, his face got kind of screwed up and he started to cry." Forney asks if Loughner is OK. Loughner replies, "Yes, I'm OK. I have just had a rough time and I really thought I was going to get a ticket."
Loughner is sent on his way. Just a couple of hours later:
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He went in. He just started firing and then he ran.
TODD: Jared Lee Loughner kills six people, wounds Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others at a Safeway in Tucson.
(on camera): We're getting new details of the incident in thousands of pages of documents just released by the Pima County Sheriff's Department. A judge had kept them under seal until now, concerned that they would prevent Jared Loughner from getting a fair trial.
(voice-over): Just after the shootings, witness Joe Zamudio described how he and others subdued Loughner.
JOE ZAMUDIO, WITNESS: I put my legs behind his knees and my arm on the back of the small of his back. Another guy was stepping on his neck.
TODD: But in the new documents, Zamudio says one good Samaritan did more than that, threatening to kill Loughner with Loughner's own gun. "The other gentleman was holding the pistol. He said, I will kill you, you M-fer to the guy on the ground, saying I will kill you. I said just put it down. If I wasn't a controlled person, I might have finished him off right there."
Daniel Hernandez, an intern for Giffords, described caring for her just seconds after she was shot.
DANIEL HERNANDEZ, WITNESS: She was alert and conscious, but she wasn't able to speak. So the way that she was communicating was by grabbing my hand and just squeezing.
TODD: In the new documents, more detail from Hernandez. "Her breathing started getting shallower. There was one visible gunshot wound. It was to the head."
And the reports depict how Loughner's anguished parents had sensed he had become violent and tried to stop him. His mother, Amy Loughner, interviewing with police, says once at the suggestion of officials at Jared's school, "He had a shotgun that we took away from him."
TODD: In another account, Loughner's father, Randy, said he even tried to disable Loughner's car to prevent him from going out.
Wolf and Kate, these were very anguished parents. They tried to stop his bizarre behavior. They couldn't do it.
BOLDUAN: It does sound it from what I read in some of these documents.
But also, there's another really shocking, striking scene described in the documents. The car ride, when the police were taking Jared Loughner from the scene to the police station, right?
TODD: Another in a string of bizarre events that day. An officer who transported Loughner from the scene said that -- quote -- "While en route, he worked himself out of the seat belt and he was moving around freely in the back seat." You can assume he was cuffed, but still, that would give an officer pause if he was driving the car.
Another quote from that same officer: "Mr. Loughner also stated nobody else knew about the shooting."
This is just what happened in the back seat of the car on the way to the police station.
BOLDUAN: This is just one scene right after the horrible shooting.
BLITZER: Shocking, shocking stuff. Brian Todd, thank you.
And Pima County Sheriff's Department Captain Christopher Nanos is joining us now. He led the shooting investigation.
Captain, thanks very much for coming in.
Let's talk about these documents, extensive documents. The place we're asking about accomplices. What made you think that Loughner may have had an accomplice?
CAPT. CHRISTOPHER NANOS, PIMA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: Well, I think there were a number of things going on at the time. And, of course, just from the tactical standpoint, the responding officers were there, concerned about a couple of things.
One, they had one individual, Mr. Loughner himself, down on the ground and captured. And now there's still a lot of chaos out there at the shopping center, people running around and reporting different things. And of course, they're seeing people with rifles and that -- of course, those are -- we learned later, are some of our own personnel that arrives there.
So I think it's just a matter of strategy, tactical strategy to make sure that we have got everything contained and controlled before we really start saying things are safe.
BLITZER: And there was no accomplice, is that right?
NANOS: No. No, absolutely not.
BLITZER: Absolutely not. All right. We did get some new information in these documents that have just been released. Loughner's attitude while in custody, what strikes you as being most dramatic?
NANOS: You know, I don't know -- I don't believe we have released photos.
But I do know that there was a booking photo of him, or at least a photo released early on in the investigation to the media. And just looking at that photo, I think, would make everyone's hair stand up.
BLITZER: In all your years as an investigator, Captain, what surprised you most about this investigation, specifically Jared Lee Loughner?
NANOS: Well, I don't know that anything surprised me. I think the surprise was just as the entire community had the surprise, and that was that this incident occurred in our community.
I think if anything like this ever happens in your community, you're totally caught off guard, and you're completely surprised. I have been in law enforcement for 36, 37 years, and as easy as it is to say nothing surprises me, that's really far from the truth. Something like this really does surprise you. You just don't expect it.
BLITZER: Thank you for your work. Thanks for helping us better appreciate what happened. And maybe, maybe we will all learn some lessons from what happened in Tucson. Captain, thanks very much.
NANOS: Thank you very much for having me.
BOLDUAN: And another new development today in another high- profile mass shooting. The suspect in the Colorado movie theater massacre has offered to plead guilty and spend his life in prison.
But documents show the prosecutors haven't at this moment accepted James Holmes' offer, which means they may still pursue the death penalty.
And the Supreme Court now has tough decisions to make about the future of same-sex marriage in this country. While activists rallied outside, the justices heard a challenge of federal law defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Our crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, was in the courtroom again today.
Joe, you have been pulling double, triple duty. A second and final day of this hugely high-profile case. What stuck out to you today?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, this marked the second day the Supreme Court has struggled with the issue of same-sex marriage.
This time, it was about the Defense of Marriage Act, an intense session with questions about discrimination, morality, politics, the separation of powers, and no easy answers.
JOHNS (voice-over): Same-sex marriage, day two, at the Supreme Court. Edie Windsor of New York, who got hit with a tax bill for $330,000 when her wife died, was on hand to hear what the justices had to say about her case. She's cautious, but optimistic.
EDIE WINDSOR, PLAINTIFF: I felt we were very respected. And I think it's going to be good.
JOHNS: Questions from five justices made it plain that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies benefits from legally married same-sex couples, has its critics on the courts because it treats gays and lesbians differently.
RUTH BADER GINSBURG, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Two kinds of marriage, the full marriage and then the sort of skim milk marriage. JOHNS: Justice Elena Kagan tour into former Solicitor General and DOMA defender Paul Clement about what Congress was thinking when it passed the law 17 years ago.
ELENA KAGAN, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: And I'm going to quote from the House report here. It's that Congress decided to reflect and honor a collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.
JOHNS: Clement had argued the law was passed to have a one-size- fits-all rule for federal benefits in states where same-sex marriage might be recognized.
PAUL CLEMENT, ATTORNEY FOR U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The federal government has the authority to define the terms that appear in their own statutes, that in those areas they are going to have their own definition.
JOHNS: But perhaps an even larger problem for the Defense of Marriage Act was that the federal government has started regulating as many as 1,100 spousal benefits in an area of the law that has traditionally been left to the states. Justice Anthony Kennedy is seen by many as the potential swing vote.
ANTHONY KENNEDY, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: But when it has 1,100 laws, which in our society means that the federal government is intertwined with the citizen's day-to-day life, you are at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the state police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody.
JOHNS: Conservatives on the court pressed the lawyers on the political issues, repeatedly asking, what if the opposite were the case? What would happen if Congress passed a law giving spousal marriage benefits to same-sex couples?
And 41 states have laws that prohibit same-sex marriage. And Chief Justice Roberts asked Edie Windsor's lawyer what caused the sea change in public opinion?
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: You don't doubt that the lobby supporting the enactment of same-sex marriage laws in different states is politically powerful, do you?
JOHNS: The court is likely to meet later this week in chambers and take a first vote, provided they don't decide to rehear the case. They would likely begin the process of crafting a decision. We're not likely to hear anything from the court on this in late June.
BOLDUAN: And it's impossible to predict the outcome of these high-profile arguments. But when you were in the courtroom for arguments yesterday, as well as when you take it in addition to today, what's your sense? Is it your sense that the justices are still looking for a way out of having to decide this? JOHNS: Well, maybe. But the one thing that seems clear is that there wasn't a lot of interest expressed in the questions about a sweeping ruling, you know, that kind of the knock the softball out of the park ruling that says, we're done with discrimination in gay marriage, period, like Brown vs. the Board of Education or something like that.
It looks like there's a real attempt to find a narrow way to decide the case. And the fight would probably go on in the rest of the country. That's the sense I have.
BLITZER: We will know at the end of June when both of these cases -- the decisions are released.
BLITZER: Joe, thanks very much.
BOLDUAN: Thanks, Joe.
BLITZER: Up next, American Airlines' merger plans have been approved. But there's a catch right now that's costing a top executive millions of dollars.
An Oscar-winning movie, "Argo," sparking a possible change from Congress. What's going on? We will explain.
BLITZER: Huge news in the airline industry. This afternoon, a judge approved the merger of American Airlines and U.S. Airways, creating the world's largest airline.
But one very controversial part of the deal didn't get approved. That would be the company's plan to give its departing CEO a golden parachute, get this, nearly $20 million in severance pay.
Lisa Sylvester, I discovered some people think that is obviously way, way too much money. What's going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: American Airlines, the parent company, filed for bankruptcy in 2011. Well, now a bankruptcy judge has approved the airline merging with U.S. Airways. That would create the largest carrier in the world.
But the judge did take issue with one part of that merger agreement, a CEO golden parachute.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): It's an $11 billion merger, bringing together American Airlines and U.S. Airways. Under the deal, the new company would service 900 destinations, with 120,000 employees.
The merger is backed by American's creditors and by the major labor unions, whose workers will see pay raises. A bankruptcy judge approved the deal, except for one part, the lavish payout to the outgoing CEO of American Airlines.
CHARISSE JONES, "USA TODAY": There's a bit of outrage. Tom Horton is leaving American Airlines in about a year, and he's going to get $20 million in stock and cash, lifetime flight privileges, an office for a couple of years. And some people are grousing.
SYLVESTER: The loudest objection has come from the trustee in this case, who in court filings said -- quote -- "The debtors are permitting the CEO and the insiders of this bankrupt company to hold this deal hostage to their self-interested self-dealing."
The trustee argues the $20 million severance package for Tom Horton, the CEO of AMR, American's parent company, isn't allowed under a 2005 bankruptcy law that aimed to curb the practice of a golden parachute for top executives of bankrupt companies. We reached out to the trustee, but she declined to comment. A spokesman for American Airlines has said -- quote -- "The arrangements are designed to motivate a strong management team during the integration process and will be paid by the new company."
But the $20 million severance package wasn't the only issue. Consumer groups worry the merger will stifle competition.
WILLIAM MCGEE, CONSUMERS UNION CONSULTANT: The stakes couldn't be higher for airline passengers facing fewer and fewer choices in a market that has become ever more concentrated.
SYLVESTER: Both American Airlines and U.S. Airways argued joining forces will help them compete globally and offer passengers more destination routes.
SYLVESTER: In 2001, there were 10 major carriers. Well, now we are down to only four.
But it wasn't the competition issue that dominated the hearing today. The primary focus was whether under the law, a CEO who is leaving a bankrupt company can walk away with $20 million in cash and stock, and for that matter, free first-class tickets for life.
The trustee has said that the same bankruptcy code that allows the company to restructure its debts and get out of labor contracts also restricts payments to senior executives. So we're going to see what happens from here.
BLITZER: When will we know?
SYLVESTER: There's still a number of steps they have to go through. They have to now go back to their respective boards of U.S. Airways and American Airlines now that this kind of changes the deal. Do they have to sign off of it or not? It's not a done deal altogether. The bankruptcy judge has approved, but that's one stage in a process.
BOLDUAN: And in the process forming a gigantic airline. (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.
Now to a very, very different multinational organization, where the new leader is going out of his way to appear -- not to appear powerful or distant.
BOLDUAN: In this case, we're talking about Pope Francis. He's come out from behind the bulletproof glass that's protected other popes so he can be closer to the people. The same attitude applies to where he's living apparently.
CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman explains.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Kate, Pope Francis, like his namesake, Frank Sinatra, has made it clear he's going to be pope his way.
(voice-over): The day after Francis became pope, he was shown his new official residence. He strolled from room to room, and met his staff. In a city where spacious homes are hard to come by, the papal apartment is downright palatial, with more than a dozen rooms and a stunning view.
But according to reports in the Italian press, he said it was too big and that it could accommodate 300 people. And now it's official. He's not moving in. Instead, he prefers to stay in room 201, a modest suite at the Casa Santa Marta, the residence where cardinals stayed during the conclave.
The furnishings are relatively austere, though hardly monastic. The sitting room, does, however, have a minibar. Tourist Juan Sarmiento (ph), a fellow Argentinean, is impressed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's an excellent notice that the pope is close to the people, and not close to the gold and the rich things.
WEDEMAN: German Christina Behr (ph) has a more practical interpretation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's the climate, because it's very hot in this building. In summer, the sun comes from the south directly on this flat. And I think it will be very warm there.
WEDEMAN: Officials at the Holy See are cautioning, don't jump to conclusions.
(on camera): The Vatican Press Office has put out a notice saying that they want journalists to avoid using language such as pope abandons apostolic palace or pope turns back on wealth of papal apartments, that he simply wants to be in the Vatican residence where he can be close to people, and take advantage of the services available there.
(voice-over): He's chosen to ride the bus when he could have taken his official chauffeur-driven car, and paid his own hotel bill after becoming pope. And he's wearing sensible black shoes, not the red ones, in which he's walking away from the trappings of power, if not power itself.
(on camera): Lots of changes in style. And Vatican watchers are saying, keep an eye out for changes in substance within the church after Easter -- Wolf, Kate.
BLITZER: He's impressive, the new pope.
BOLDUAN: He is. Yes. We have seen one example after another that he's really taking the job and making it his own.
BLITZER: Yes. Good for him.
BOLDUAN: Good for him.
Still ahead, we're keeping our eyes on what some experts are calling the biggest cyber-attack in history. Stay right here. We will tell you who and what may be behind the trouble.
BLITZER: All right, so imagine your home teetering, teetering right now, 400 feet from a giant landslide. Look at these pictures. We have more of these pictures coming up. We will also talk to a homeowner who's dealing with this crisis right now.
BLITZER: Happening now: why the earth moved. You're going to find out what might have caused an enormous landslide that's endangering homes right now.
BOLDUAN: You could be a victim of a historic cyber-attack. If your computer's running slow, you will want to listen up.
BLITZER: And CNN helped expose a secret graveyard. Now there's new interest in solving the mystery of boys who vanished.
BOLDUAN: I'm Kate Bolduan.
BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, more than a dozen homes in Washington state, they are sitting dangerously close -- look at this -- dangerously close to a massive hole in the earth. BOLDUAN: The pictures of this land slide are really stunning. Residents say they heard what sounded like thunder very early this morning, and then the ground simply started slipping away. One house was destroyed. But we're told, so far, thankfully, no one's been hurt.
Let's bring in our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, for more on this. Chad, these pictures are just astonishing. Any idea of how this happened?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's been a wet winter. But the past couple weeks have not been all that wet. We're talking about an island north of Seattle, Whidbey Island. This island has a lot of cliffs on all sides. And 100 feet down from the top is where all this land let go. Literally, they say now a couple football field-size worth of land has slid down.
If you notice on my picture here, it's a straight shot. It's a very straight shore. If you look at the pictures there, there's a peninsula sticking out. That peninsula is the dirt that came off the side of the hill, down across a roadway, over a few homes, and then out into Puget Sound itself. That home used to have about an 80-foot backyard. Now it's hard to see any backyard at all. And people are telling me that some of the ground is still moving -- Kate, Wolf.
BOLDUAN: I mean, if the ground's still moving, any idea of what to expect, when it will end or how to make it stop?
MYERS: You know, there is a fault under this island. An earthquake fault, a seismic fault. It's only, they think, has moved, shifted seven times in 17,000 years. So not a lot of shaking here.
But if you notice just how the land drops right off into the ocean, and it's been dropping off into the ocean for years and years and years. There's another slide right down the coast here where we can find it on our Google. If you slide down the coast here, all the way through there have been slides over the years, all the way up and down this island, especially on the west side where these cliffs fall right down into the sea.
BOLDUAN: All right, Chad. But Chad, stand by for just a second. Let's actually go to Washington. We're going now -- I'm joined now on the phone by Richard Barker. His home is one of these homes that are in this area. His home is very close to this landslide.
Richard, it's great to speak with you. Tell me, what are you seeing outside of your house? How close are you to this?
RICHARD BARKER, OWNS HOME NEAR LANDSLIDE (via phone): I think I'm about, oh, 500 feet south of it. And actually, we've got enough trees up that direction, not seeing a lot, other than a lot of helicopters, a lot of emergency vehicles in the area.
BOLDUAN: Are you -- I mean, you've got to be nervous. Are you planning on leaving? BARKER: Wore not planning on leaving. However, the Red Cross has told us that they'll let us know if we need to evacuate. Yes, we're feeling a little bit nervous. We've got a beautiful view, and we'd hate to see our view and our house head into the ocean.
BOLDUAN: I mean, how difficult would it be for you to evacuate at this point? How much time would you need? Because as I understand it, you're recovering from a spinal injury right now.
BARKER: You're right. And we also have a lot of stuff. It wouldn't take us long to hop in the car and drive away. To fully evacuate everything, it would probably take months.
BOLDUAN: Right. Well, we've been told that this is -- landslides are not -- I mean, they're rare, but not unusual. They've happened before in this area. Were you aware of this when you bought your home?
BARKER: We do know that we're on a cliff, and there apparently had not been any movement on the cliff for many years. And so we just thought, OK, that's something you pay for the marvelous view you have.
BOLDUAN: I want to -- Richard, hold on one second, because I'm going to bring in Chad Myers -- he's our severe weather expert -- with a question.
MYERS: Yes, Mr. Barker, now with the land has just completely opened up, no foliage at all, no roots holding any of that dirt, I suspect that dirt will continue to move and fall down into a lower space.
But the question I have for you is kind of meteorologically speaking. Have you had a wet winter there? Have you felt the ground be mushy under your feet as all, or is just this a pretty normal year?
BARKER: We've had more rain than normal, probably. And last Friday, Thursday, whatever, we did have about a 4-1/2- to 5-, 6-inch snowfall. It was very wet and is now all gone. So the ground is probably wetter than really normal.
BOLDUAN: Mr. Barker, you talk about -- you've talked about the beautiful view that you have from your home. But I mean, when you know -- when you see now the threat that you're facing, do you think the views are worth it? Any consideration of moving out?
BARKER: Not at this point. You have to be here to know what we see out the front of our house.
BOLDUAN: It does look beautiful. Albeit, unfortunately, the images we're seeing from these helicopter pictures look precarious at the moment. Richard Barker, thank you so much. And please be careful.
BARKER: Oh, we will.
BOLDUAN: All right. Thanks so much. BARKER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Good luck to all the folks out there. Those pictures, Kate, they are so, so powerful. So dramatic. Let's hope the earth stops moving out in Washington state.
Meanwhile, a massive cyber attack is creating ripple effects across the Internet. It may be the reason why your Web surfing is going slowly. Tom Foreman standing by to join us in a minute. He'll explain what's going on.
BOLDUAN: If you've been upset because your computer or possibly Netflix is running too slow, well, this time it may not be your machine's fault.
BLITZER: It may not be your machine's fault. Because the Internet's been gummed up by what's being called the biggest cyber attack in history, and it's because of one of your least favorite things. We're talking about spam.
BOLDUAN: I hate spam.
BLITZER: Tom Foreman is in our virtual studio to show us what's happening. What is happening, Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What is happening, Wolf, is that a small dispute is expanding far beyond what anybody thinks it ought to do, and that's where the problem is coming from.
It involves two companies. Let's start with the first one. It's called Spamhaus. Spamhaus is a company that is an Internet spam watchdog. It creates spam data filters, for 1.4 billion users. What does that mean? It basically comes up with a way the computers out there can watch for all this stuff that you don't want showing up in your e-mail system if you're an business or an individual, because it slows things down.
Spamhaus is looking around, and they focus their attention on this company in the Netherlands called CyberBunker. It's a Web hosting service, and Spamhaus blacklisted all of the clients of CyberBunker's, because essentially, it said this company is hosting too many people who are sending out too much of this.
That is what started this war between these two companies. I don't want to get into the details of who's right or wrong, because frankly I think there's too much we don't know about the whole fight.
But what we do know is this: as they have waged this war against each other, it has expanded to the point that many people are worried that a lot of companies are involved who shouldn't be involved -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tell our viewers why we should care about what's going on between these two countries in Europe. FOREMAN: Well, there's these two companies. The reason you should care is the very thing you said at the beginning. If it only involved CyberBunker over here and Spamhaus over there, and it were limited to that, that would be one thing. But imagine this to be the Internet. And everyone is connected to it. The problem is, as they have waged war against each other, it spilled over, so that many more people are beginning to see these effects of slower Internet access, or perhaps having problems of not being able to get to certain sites.
It's not really clear how wide the effect is. But we do know that companies that have nothing to do with the disputes and want nothing to do with the dispute are saying that they are suffering some kind of consequences from this.
Now, right now, I will say it is isolated to Europe as far as we can tell. The world is essentially divided into five Internet continents, if you want to describe it this way. And right now, this problem seems to be, in terms of computers, limited to Europe, Russia, this area up here in red. All the other ones don't seem to have it, at least not unless they have direct dealings with these two companies.
Well, what scares people, Wolf, is that the way that this battle is being waged right now, is attacking some of the essential ways in which the Internet communicates with itself. It's kind of like if you had a war where people blew up all the interstate highways across the country. The war could be short, but the consequences could last a long time, and the economic consequences could go far beyond the battlefield -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly a little cyber battle going on. Tom, good explanation. Thank you.
Now, in just a minute, we're going to take you to a long- forgotten cemetery. It's deep in the woods of Florida. And its secrets have attracted the interest of a United States senator.
BLITZER: A United States senator is now taking an interest in a story we highlighted right here on CNN. Of one secret graveyard in a closed-down reform school in Florida. It could be the final resting place for a group of boys who mysteriously disappeared nearly a century ago.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us in the Florida Panhandle.
What's going on, Ed?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, Wolf, you know, for many years, what happened at this Dozier Reform School for Boys in the Florida Panhandle were allegations of abuse, mistreatment. Very stunning stories.
There's this cemetery that's been here for decades and decades, unmarked graves. But then it turns out that we don't really know who's buried here.
And then last year, a team of anthropologists came to this ground and not only discovered that there were bodies buried in this cemetery, but also lost away in these woods, and that now has many people asking for these bodies around here to be exhumed. And many people are hoping that those exhumations will offer clues as to what happened here long ago.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Tucked away deep in these Florida woods is a cemetery time forgot. Dozens of boys are buried here in unmarked graves. They were sent to the Dozier Reform School for Boys in Mariana, Florida, decades ago. It's a place haunted by allegations of abuse, violence and even murder. Some were never seen again.
SEN. BILL NELSON (R), FLORIDA: This would indicate that there is a burial site there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's correct, yes.
LAVANDERA: But this hidden spot is no longer forgotten. For more than four years, CNN has documented the allegations of former students and their family members.
NELSON: This is something that this might be another part of our sordid past.
LAVANDERA: Now Florida officials could soon begin digging up that past. And this cemetery could hold the clues.
Many families are asking for the bodies buried here to be exhumed, all because of the work of Dr. Erin Kimmerle and a team of anthropologists from the University of South Florida.
For years state officials said 31 boys were buried in this tiny cemetery on the school grounds. But using high-tech equipment, Dr. Kimmerle's team found evidence of at least 19 more bodies buried in this area. Their research of school records also revealed the bodies of another 22 boys who died at the school were never accounted for.
The research has bolstered the suspicions some families of those children have harbored for decades.
Prior to this new research, a state investigation in 2009 determined there was no evidence of criminal activity connected with any of the deaths, or abusive treatment of the now closed-down facility. Some former students called that investigation a whitewash.
(on camera): Do you think they rushed to bury the bodies to hide something?
OVELL KRELL, SISTER OF FORMER STUDENT: Mm-hmm. I'm pretty dead certain of that, yes.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ovell Krell's brother, Owen Smith, was sent here in 1940. She was told Owen ran away and died of pneumonia. His body was found under a house not far from the school.
KRELL: They just came, claimed the body, put it in the vehicle and left. Within two -- two hours they had him buried.
LAVANDERA: Ovell's family says there was never an investigation into how he died and that no one ever investigated the most shocking part of all: how another student described Owen's death.
KRELL: He started running out across the field, and the boys said they put him in a car and he looked back, and the last he saw was about three men shooting at him with rifles.
LAVANDERA (on camera): Shooting at your brother?
LAVANDERA (voice-over): The story still haunts Owen Smith's family. Ovell said the school superintendent promised the family he'd have a headstone placed on the grave.
(on camera): You never saw a headstone?
KRELL: There was no headstones anywhere.
LAVANDERA: So this is where you want to have your brother buried?
KRELL: Yes. This is my mother and dad.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ovell Krell has no idea where her brother is buried today. If he's found, she says she'd like to bury him here with their parents.
KRELL: It was hard for me, because me and my brother were like twins. You know, we played our music together. We sang together. I mean, we just did everything together. And when he -- this happened to him, half my life ended right there, you know? And I never got it back.
LAVANDERA: Wolf, we're now waiting on a local judge here in the Florida Panhandle to decide whether or not to sign off on those exhumation orders. No question a great deal of -- a great many people are anticipating and looking forward to that happening.
As far as any kind of prosecutions as to, if there was ever any evidence discovered here of murders that took place, prosecutors around here said any kind of prosecution is very unlikely at this point. Many of the people who worked on these grounds and at this now closed school have long passed away.
But Senator Nelson of Florida is trying to get the funding needed to exhume these bodies and also for that anthropological team to be able to go through and identify the remains, if they are exhumed from the ground here. So it is a story that a great many people here in the Florida area are paying a lot of attention to -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good (ph) story. We'll see if Senator Nelson and the others get what they want. Let's find out more. Amazing report.
BOLDUAN: Amazing story, especially when you hear the story of the family and how long it's been since they've had any answer about what actually happened to their loved ones. Hopefully, they'll finally get some closure on exactly what happened.
BLITZER: Let's hope.
Still ahead, the movie won -- the movie "Argo" won big at the Academy Awards, and now it may help win something else: payback for former hostages. That story ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The actions of high Iran have shocked the civilized world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over 60 American citizens continue to be held as hostages.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we're going to go, we need to go now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: The Oscar-winning film "Argo" is renewing interest in a painful chapter of American history, the Iran hostage crisis. The movie focused on six U.S. diplomats who escaped Iran back in 1979. But 52 other Americans, I'm sure you remember, were held captive for 444 days.
BLITZER: I remember very vividly those days. Now there's a new move to compensate those hostages more than three decades later. Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
Because a lot of folks are asking why has it taken so long?
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is amazing. I don't think -- I didn't realize that all of those hostages were never compensated. They've been fighting for all this time. But now the fact that this movie has come out, they've gotten a little help from Hollywood in getting what they want.
CARTER: Actions of Iran...
BASH (voice-over): It won an Academy Award and made people forget "Gigli" when they think "Ben Affleck."
BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: Hello.
BASH: And now "Argo" may even pull off another feat: help move legislation through Congress.
This frustrated foreign service officer on the phone as the U.S. Embassy in Iran was under assault was portraying John Limbert.
(on camera): I'm guessing that really happened?
JOHN LIMBERT, FORMER U.S. HOSTAGE IN IRAN: Pretty much, yes. That part of it was quite real.
BASH: And this room has a lot of -- a lot of memories, huh?
LIMBERT: It does. It does.
BASH (voice-over): Keepsakes on Limbert's walls constantly remind him of his harrowing 444 days as a hostage in Iran, not that he'd ever forget.
But for most in America, the Iran hostage crisis some 34 years ago was a distant memory, until "Argo" brought it all back.
Unlike the six Americans who hid with the Canadian ambassador, the focus of "Argo," Limbert was one of the 52 Americans held and tortured by Iranians for 14 months.
LIMBERT: I had a gun to my head. I had -- was in solitary for nine months.
BASH: He says the mock executions in the movie were very real.
LIMBERT: They came in at 2 in the morning, pulled us out and took us together to a new place and lined us up against -- lined us up against the wall and started chambering rounds into their -- started chambering rounds into their guns. Yelling orders. Yelling orders. We didn't know what was going to happen.
BASH (on camera): At that point did you think you were...
LIMBERT: I thought we were gone.
BASH (voice-over): When Limbert and his fellow hostages were finally freed, they learned the U.S. government gave up something big in return. As part of the 1981 Algiers Accords, the hostages were barred from suing Iran in U.S. court for compensation. Decades of challenges to the Algiers Accords have gone nowhere.
SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: Hannah (ph), how are you doing?
BASH: Now, Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson is pushing legislation to get former hostages financial reward in a different way: putting a surcharge on fines against companies that violate sanctions against Iran, and using that money to create a compensation fund.
Isakson says the popularity of "Argo" is helping.
ISAKSON: A lot of people have seen it. They understand the abject horror that these people went through. Hopefully, it will give us the impetus and the momentum to see to it that, after all these many years, they're actually compensated for their treatment.
BASH: His bill would allow hostages to get $10,000 a day for each day of captivity, $4.4 million total for each hostage. Isakson argues finally compensating the hostages is critical to send a message to Iran and to U.S. personnel in harm's way all around the world, especially after four were killed at the U.S. consulate in Libya.
ISAKSON: They need to also know that, if they get violated, if they are captured, if they are tortured, that we'll have their back.
LIMBERT: This is me with the dorky glasses. You see the dorky glasses?
BASH (on camera): They were very cool in the '70s.
BASH (voice-over): Even after John Limbert was held captive for 14 months, he returned to the foreign service for the rest of his career. He now has a comfortable life. He says he is not fighting for the money but for justice.
LIMBERT: It's about accounting for it. To hold people responsible for what they did. Because the message so far, frankly, has been to the Islamic republic, you got away with it.
BASH: Now this bill to help get Limbert and other former hostages that justice still needs to go through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It still is kind of in its infancy. But the idea does appear to have momentum, and that is definitely something new. He told me that before the movie "Argo" came out, people wouldn't listen to them. And that -- and that changed.
BLITZER: Does the State Department have a position on this?
BASH: They definitely say that they are going to stick to what the Algiers Accord, meaning that they agreed that the U.S., nobody can -- can sue Iran. But they said they're looking at this legislation.
BOLDUAN: They say it's in its infancy. But do you think this actually could go through?
BASH: It is entirely possible. It is now bipartisan. And, of course that, needs to happen before anything can get through.
BLITZER: Good idea from Senator Isakson. Thanks very much.
BASH: Thank you.
BLITZER: That's it for us. Thanks very much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.