Return to Transcripts main page


Family Seeks Justice 70 Years After Execution; Second Chemical Leaked Into West Virginia River; Some Colleges Help Pay Student Loans; U.S. Olympic Committee Receives Terror Threat; CNN Reporter Roughed Up By Chinese Police; Former Virginia Governor Indicted Over Gifts; RNC Chair: Christie Safe As Top GOP Governor

Aired January 22, 2014 - 14:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Bottom of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. A 14-year-old was sentenced to death by electric chair for the murder of two white girls in South Carolina. The all-white jury deliberated for all of 10 minutes. George Stinney was the youngest person executed by an American state since the 1800s.

By the way, I'm talking about a case that goes way back. This is back in 1944. But now flash forward, decades later, his family is pushing to clear his name. His family says Stinney's confession to police was coerced then his trial was a farced.

These young girls, by the way, by the names of Betty June and Mary Emma were collecting wild flowers when their skulls were crushed. Their family say justice has been served. But much of the evidence in the case has been just lost over the last years. There are no surviving eyewitnesses, no transcript of this trial.

Sunny Hostin, CNN legal analyst, let me bring you in. This case here, we know that -- so it's George Stinney's sister says her brother had an alibi because he was with her at the time the girls died. How much weight does that sister's testimony even carry, again, the case was back in 1944.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, I mean, I think people have been watching this because the case is so very old. We are talking about a case in 1944 and quite frankly, the legal landscape is so different today, Brooke, because we don't execute children today. The Supreme Court has clearly said that is something that we don't do in our society.

And so in seeking a new trial, I think the time that this happened is not necessarily on trial, but the evidence is. So In order to get this, they have to show new evidence that something happened that was not placed in front of the jury in 1944. It is I think relevant that his sister did not testify at the trial.

We know the defense put forth no case at the trial in 1944. No cross examination, no physical evidence, no witnesses and she said that she was with him all day at the time of the murder. So that is very important. I think what's also very important is that his other sister testified. His brother testified and there was a cellmate he was with in the time preceding the trial and the three months before his execution.

He told that person I didn't do it. Why am I being put to death for something I didn't do? So I think the sister's testimony and then this exonerating testimony that was given to his cellmate, I think that's pretty relevant.

BALDWIN: But again, back to this original sister's testimony that did not testify how many years ago, but this is, you know, some 70 years later. How credible is anyone's testimony that many years later?

HOSTIN: Yes, you know, often times we say as lawyers, the further away we get from the event, the less reliable the testimony is, but my understanding, of course, I haven't been in the courtroom, but my understanding from folks that have been is that she seemed very credible and she remembers very well, of course that particular day.

I think that this type of case is the type of case that needs to be scrutinized. Again, you have someone who was put to death at the age of 14, arrested the very next day after this murder and the trial as you mentioned took under three hours. They deliberated for 10 minutes and he was executed three months later.

That just is not the state of our law today. People are on death row for 20 something years. This is an interesting case. We should hear I think a verdict any day now.

BALDWIN: Sunny Hostin, we will talk about it once we hear it. Thank you very much.

We want to stay on what's happening in West Virginia. The Department of Environmental Protection just learned that a second chemical may have leaked into the Elk River. You know the story earlier this month, more than 300,000 people couldn't use their tap water, all because of this coal cleaning substance. It's called NCHM contaminated their water supply.

So now Freedom Industries is saying this stuff called PPH was also in the storage tank and suffered a beach. An official from West Virginia American Water told the newspaper in Charleston, "The Charleston Gazette," it is likely that chemical would have been removed during its water treatment process, but I can you that tests are being conducted.

"The Gazette" also reports PPH is less lethal. I don't know if that makes you feel better. Less lethal than NCHM, but it's not known what the long-term health effects are.

Not grades and not peer pressure, the biggest on most college kids today, tuition. The average private school tuition tops $30,000 for one year. No wonder students are seeking any break they possibly can. Here is a big one because some colleges are helping pay student loans after graduation and the graduate doesn't pay the money back.

CNN's Maribel Aber joins me now with a little bit more on this. Only a small number of colleges offer this, but how does this work?

MARIBEL ABER, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. Well, first off, as you said, it's a small number of colleges in New York, Huntington University in Indiana, Spring Arbor in Michigan. What the schools are doing is they are teaming up with LRAP Foundation so LRAP acts like an insurer backing the offer.

So they are paying the grad student loan bills until the grad can afford it. It's not really a totally new idea though, Brooke. It started with law schools so now this idea is spreading. The reason is 70 percent of college seniors graduate with debt. It's a lot.

On average, you just mentioned $29,000. So this really helps defray that cost and helps new grads who frequently start with low paying jobs for schools. The attraction is, of course, that it helps to bring in more students which means more money. And you know, I remember it right now I'm still paying bills myself there -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Many of us are, but it's not every graduate who can run out and try to get some help. I mean, you have to hit a certain what, income, and that predicates whether or not you get this aid?

ABER: That's right. There is fine print. It is based on how much you make. So it all depends on the school. One example, Houghton College in New York, if you make less than $38,000 after graduation, the school will pay some of your loans. Now if you make less than say 20k, all of your loans will be paid. If you have meet other minimum requirements, of course, the graduate has to work at least 30 hours a week and it doesn't last forever once your income rises above that certain threshold --

BALDWIN: Which you hope you make it there.

ABER: You hope, but again, you don't have to pay it back. That's what everybody wants to know -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Right, right. Very well, Maribel. Thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we will have much more on our breaking news out of Israel. What Israel is calling a terror plot against the U.S. embassy? We'll tell you who is allegedly behind this.

Plus CNN's David McKenzie, our correspondent, tossed to the ground by police in China.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are manhandling us. They are manhandling me. This is a public space. I'm allowed to report.


BALDWIN: We will show what authorities did not want David covering next.


BALDWIN: I want to take you back to Russia. Keep in mind, Sochi winter Olympic Games happen just in over two weeks from now and the hunt continues for these so-called black widows. These female terrorists, many of whom, are out seeking to avenge the deaths of their husbands.

Joining me, rejoining me, Robert Pelton, author of "The World's Most Dangerous Places," and Robert, we try talking before. We had transmission issues so being totally transparent, welcome back. I remember exactly where we left off because we're talking about this region of the world where you have been talking about these militants. My question to you is where do they hide? You said to me they don't hide. Continue please.

ROBERT PELTON, AUTHOR, "THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS PLACES": Well, that entire region does not have sympathies with Russia. You know, it's ethnically diverse, linguistically diverse and there has been a war going on since 1994. It continues to this day in Chechnya and Dagestan and other regions. Not Sochi per se, but when people go there, they are probably not aware they are going into a war zone.

Secondly, the networks that they use are all out in the open. I mean, the reason they can get the black widows because they have a support group. It's very easy to bribe Russian officials. It's very easy to get things passed enemy lines. So don't assume any kind of security is going to stop an attack.

BALDWIN: So the fact that we have been reporting in the last couple of days of these so-called black widows have snuck into the so-called ring of steel around the Sochi area, knowing what you know about these people, are you surprised that they got in if they are in fact in there?

PELTON: No. When I used to talk to the rebels, I said how did you get all the way to Moscow in the middle of the war? I mean, talking about a hundred thousand troops trying to stop you. They said we ran out of money. They bribed their way through. The black widows are part of the team. They are the most media friendly part of the war. But they are driven --

BALDWIN: Hang on. What do you mean media-friendly?

PELTON: Well, the term black widow is kind of like ring of steel. You know, it's something that easy to repeat and drives fear into people's heads. But they are supported. They are driven. They are fed. They are housed and there is a much larger organization supporting them. So don't focus just on the females that are blowing themselves up. There is always many other people supporting them.

BALDWIN: So let's focus on this group and I was talking to Bob Baer yesterday, love talking to Bob, a former CIA operative. He is a security analyst for us. He was talking to me yesterday that he thinks attacks during the Olympic could happen elsewhere. So many eyes are on the ball in Sochi in terms of security, et cetera. I mean, do you think that there is a possibility that things could happen in St. Petersburg, Moscow, et cetera.

PELTON: Absolutely. The word audacious should be used to describe what the Chechnyans do. They used to attack the front of the column of tanks and then run to the sewers and attacked at the back and then run up to a building and attack the middle. They are fearless. They are audacious. They are fast and they are creative. So the very fact that they made a public announcement that they will do a live --

BALDWIN: Months ahead of time.

PELTON: Means that you might be looking over here, but they'll be over there. But the bottom line is they have severely damaged the credibility of Putin who wants to restore a sense of stability and control to the region. It just remains to see if there is going to be any casualties.

BALDWIN: Putin says we've got this. We will cross our fingers that nothing happens, but we are also realistic as well. Robert Young Pelton, always a pleasure to have you on. Thank you so much.

PELTON: Thank you. Thank you.


MCKENZIE: This is not illegal what we are doing. We are reporters. We are reporting in a public space.


BALDWIN: That's my colleague. David McKenzie, one of our correspondents getting roughed up, shoved into a van. Our camera was broken for reporting outside a courthouse in Beijing. Right now, China is prosecuting an activist for fighting public corruption and as you can see, it really doesn't want the outside world to know a thing about that. Here is David McKenzie's shocking report.


MCKENZIE: We are heading towards a court in Beijing where a prominent activist goes on trial today. This is a public space. There is no need to shout at me. The name of the activist is (inaudible). The reason he is on trial is because he had a gathering of people several times and he was one of the founders of the New Citizen's Movement. That is why there all these police surrounding me here. We will try to look at the entrance of the court which is just here.

Sorry, you can't stop me.

(voice-over): Soon the situation violently escalated. Police in plain clothes and men targeting us, taking away our phones and ID and breaking the camera.

(on camera): They are physically manhandling us. They are physically manhandling me. This is a public space. I am allowed to report. We are reporters and reporting in a public space. You can't manhandle us like this. (voice-over): Other international journalists were roughed up during the trial and one policeman told me they were following orders.

(on camera): They moved us from the van into the police car.

(voice-over): A government spokesman said they will investigate the incident, but that without law and order, there will be, quote, "chaos" in China.

(on camera): The police and the plain clothes guys drove us to a street corner away several blocks away from the court and dumped us on the side of the street. We would be shooting with our camera, but they entirely tore off the front section of the view finder so that Charlie can't use it.

This rarely shows how much China wants to manage the message, but in doing so, the irony is they betrayed some of the strong arm tactics they used against journalists including us. Obviously, it is often far worse for Chinese nationals. David McKenzie, CNN, Beijing.


BALDWIN: David, to you and your crew, thank you in Beijing for us.

Coming up, just in during an interview with CNN, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus sharing his opinion on whether Governor Chris Christie should step down from the RGA, the Republican Governors Association. There are some calling for him to resign.

Plus from designer clothes to Rolex watches to iPhones, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife indicted on federal charges for allegedly taking thousands of dollars of gifts, gifts he says were personal generosity. He said he has done nothing illegal. Federal investigators disagree. We are back after this.


BALDWIN: How quickly things can change. Bob McDonnell, 18 months ago, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, had a spot on Mitt Romney's short list of potential running mates. He was tantalizingly close to becoming vice president and who knows where that could have led.

Now Bob McDonnell wants to stay out of prison. He has been indicted. Both he and his wife are accused of taking gifts, lots of gifts from a wealthy Virginia businessman. Here is Bob McDonnell whose term as governor has just run out.


BOB MCDONNELL (R), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: I never promised and Mr. Williams and his company never received any government benefit of any kind from me or from my administration. Not one penny of taxpayer money went to him or to Star Scientific during our administration. Not one penny.


BALDWIN: OK, so there is the former governor. Here's Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst joining me now. We will run through the some of the information and show you some of the information on the gifts allegedly taken by the McDonnells. But as we look at all of this, tell me what strikes you the most.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I have to say what was he thinking? What were they thinking? You know, as you run through a list of small ball gifts and you run through some loans, you know, there is such a thing as an appearance of impropriety even if there is no impropriety as the ex-governor maintains.

You know, there are apparently e-mails in which caution was raised by staffers about this, Brooke. I think you have to kind of scratch your head and say in this day and age, why would you do something like that because even if the governor is right, there is the appearance of access that has been paid for.

You know, clearly someone wanted to boost the prestige of his business and was looking to the governor to help him do that, and we don't want --

BALDWIN: We are talking -- I'm going to jump in, but we are talking designer clothing and I saw some Rolex watches with an engravement, 71st Virginia governor and golf paraphernalia, et cetera, et cetera.

BORGER: Right. You know, that kind of small stuff in combination of loans. Look, we have to say here the governor said that he has done nothing wrong and no taxpayer money was involved. Then you are running this list and you see the address and the jacket clearly for his wife, you know, all kinds of stuff that a lot of it is timing, a sweatshirt.

But the reason people don't trust the government anymore is because they believe that it's easy to buy access if you have got money. When you look at something like this and let's forget the legality of it and talk about people's faith in their government and elected officials. You have got to say come on.

This is a politician with, you know, real prominence and as you pointed out earlier was on a list potentially to be Mitt Romney's running mate so it is a big fall from grace.

BALDWIN: Let's turn the corner and talk about trouble surrounding Chris Christie who is hoping not to succumb to a two-way fall from grace, to use your phrase. Last night, top Tea Party leaning Republican came out on CNN, called on Chris Christie to relinquish his chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association. But just a little while ago, the head of the RNC talked to our own Dana Bash and said forget that. Chris Christie is staying. Here he was.


REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Not at all. I don't know of a better governor right now to lead that effort that this is powerhouse across the country. I have seen him into rooms and I've seen him turn crowds on and his job is to raise a lot of money for the RGA. He can do that. I'm sure the RGA is very proud to have him.


BALDWIN: So that was Dana talking to Reince Priebus, two questions out of that. One, Gloria, is Chris Christie safe in the job and two, how does being the top Republican governor, how does that help a possible candidacy down the road?

BORGER: First of all, I have to say he is safe in the job at least for now. Nothing has been proven. Christie has denied any connection to the whole George Washington Bridge controversy. He is clearly somebody as the chairman of the RNC points out who can raise a lot of money.

Now how does this help him in a future presidential bid? A, he is raising a lot money for a lot of people and collecting a lot of chits, look at the governor's races that he is going to deal with in key battle ground states, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, for example. We know how important those states are. He is going to collect chits. It's very helpful for him. Raises his profile in good way as opposed to the way it's been raise likely -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Gloria Borger, thank you so much.


BALDWIN: Coming up, we are getting more information on a breaking news, security forces arrest an apparent terror cell in Israel planning multiple attacks including one at the U.S. embassy. We are live in Jerusalem for that.

Plus President Obama making news about his recent comments about marijuana, he says marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, but what does a former drug policy chief think about that? We are asking him. Stay right here.


BALDWIN: Paying off the big debt by selling out and a break dancing kid . Today's "CNN Pop."


BALDWIN (voice-over): He is the college senior whose goal is to sell out. International business major, Alex Benda, has $30,000 in student loan debt and he hopes to pay it off by selling ad space on his graduation cap. Can't afford the full $300 for a one inch square ad? Well, the University of Michigan Flint student said you have options?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One dollar gets you a high five if I ever meet you.

BALDWIN: All right, "Full House" fans, you know that sitcom ended back in 1995. But now Danny, Joey and Uncle Jessie are reuniting for the first time for a Super Bowl ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say it's time we get our own places?

BALDWIN: The internet has vote and if it's up to them, this kid takes first place on "India's Got Talent." He is only 8 years of age, but he is wowing everyone with his break dancing and back flips and splits.

Take me out to the ball game will mean take off your bring. Opening day for the Seattle Mariners will see fans walking through metal detectors at Safeco Field. Major League Baseball will require metal detectors at all ballparks come 2015. And that's today's "CNN Pop."