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Taliban Account of Bergdahl's Time Differs; Bergdahl Family Friend Shares Story; Quebec Helicopter Prison Escape; Judge Admits Mistake, Wants Sentence Overturned; O.J. Simpson Anniversary

Aired June 9, 2014 - 12:30   ET


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But the source said the reason he wasn't able get any further, get away completely is because the Taliban controlled the whole area, that they policed him up, put him in another compound with much more security around him.

At this stage, Bergdahl would have realized, according to this source, that there was no way for him to escape. He decided to learn the local language, Pashtu, so he was able to communicate effectively with the Taliban. Indeed, by the time that he left captivity, the source says that he was able to communicate well in Pashtu with the Taliban.

But during captivity he complained about his food, that he was getting too much lamb. He didn't like the smell. He wanted some fresh fruit and vegetables, which they say they provided.

They also say that he celebrated Christmas and Easter, a real indication that he didn't and wasn't pressured into converting to Islam under the Taliban, Ashleigh.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Fascinating details, nonetheless, our Nic Robertson live for us in Doha, Qatar.

We've also learned the FBI is trying to trace three menacing e-mails that were sent to Bowe Bergdahl's parents. Bob Bergdahl in particular has come under fire for learning all that he can about Afghan and Taliban culture and even for growing his beard out, he said in solidarity with his son.

But this tweet didn't seem to help. Addressing a Taliban spokesman just three days before Bowe Bergdahl's release, Bob wrote, "I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will replay for the death of every Afghan child, amen."

The Bergdahls haven't been seen in public for more than a week, and by the way, they still haven't seen their son either, a son that they hadn't seen in more than five years.

We're going to get some insight from what they're going through right now from a family friend who also happens to be a retired Marine captain and a former State Department official in Afghanistan who retired in protest of the war. Matthew Hoh, thank you so much for being with us. Very first and foremost, do you know the details of the threats that have come in to the Bergdahl parents? What was said to them?

MATTHEW HOH, FRIEND OF BERGDAHL FAMILY: There's been multiple ones. And last week, I got a text from Bob. And he said now -- basically a text was, you know, from one friend to another, basically like, oh, geez, now they're on the phone too, and that was basically some guy --

BANFIELD: This was a voice mail --

HOH: This was a voice mail that Bob received.

BANFIELD: What was in the voice mail? What did the perpetrators say to him?

HOH: It basically said something along the lines of "you need to move," or "I know your address, you better move," or something like that.

BANFIELD: How is he taking this?

HOH: They're taking it very well. They're a very strong family. They're very -- it's funny because everyone claims that he was trying to be a Taliban impersonator or that he had converted. They're very strong Presbyterians. They attend church. They're finding a lot of solace in their faith. They're finding a lot of solace in their friendships. They're finding a lot of solace in their community.

And, also, too, they're grateful for a lot of support they are receiving. We're hearing a lot about the negative rhetoric, the vitriol, the hatred being thrown at then, but there are a lot of good people in this country who are supporting them, who do understand that, my God, if this were my child --

BANFIELD: My child, I dare say, I'd marry one of those commanders and move to Baghdad if they had my son and I could get him back, let alone grow out a beard.

HOH: We talked about this, he talked about going there and asking for his son's release. He talked about walking into Pakistan and, you know, trading himself for his son. As any father or mother would do.

BANFIELD: I said Baghdad, I meant Kabul.

HOH: Yes.

BANFIELD: Can I ask you about the briefings? There's so little information coming out publicly, understandably, about Bowe's repatriation. What about his parents? Are they getting declassified details every day about his condition, about his mental and physical state?

HOH: I don't know if it's classified. It's certainly personal and private medical information. And they are. The Department of Defense is working with them to make sure they're up to date. Sometimes, like anything else, they hear things first from Barbara Starr, because she gets a leak from somebody. But DOD is doing their best to keep them up to speed. And, again, going back to this whole motif of what would you do if it was your son or daughter --

BANFIELD: Has Bob said to you when is the soonest he'll be able to see Bowe?

HOH: They're not sure. Their attitude is what is best for Bowe. If it takes a long time, it takes a long time.

BANFIELD: But they're not going to Germany?

HOH: No, no.

BANFIELD: They will meet him in New Mexico?

HOH: Maybe Idaho, I'm not really sure, maybe some place else. But he is supposed to return from Germany to San Antonio.

BANFIELD: Matthew Hoh, thank you, appreciate you coming on. Keep coming on and letting us know when you find out more. Fascinating story. A helicopter touches down in the middle of a prison courtyard and just picks up three inmates wanting to escape. So why couldn't the guards stop this from happening? That story is next.


BANFIELD: So this is one from the unbelievable file. This has happened again, a daring and brazen prisoner escape by helicopter near Quebec City in Canada. And now a massive manhunt is under way for three, dangerous men who pulled off this stunning jailbreak.

CNN's Alexandra Field has more.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A daring jailbreak out of a Canadian prison in Quebec where three prisoners managed to escape with the help of a helicopter, believe it or not, it's the second time in just over a year they've seen a brazen helicopter jail escape.

According to police, around 7:45 Saturday night the three inmates fled the jail climbing into a green-colored helicopter that briefly touched down in the prison courtyard and quickly took off heading west, possibly toward Montreal.

SGT. GREGORY GOMEZ DEL PRADO, NATIONAL POLICE OF QUEBEC: There's a massive hunt with our partners, not only in Quebec, but also in Canada and the States, so everybody is giving a hand to find them as quickly as possible.

FIELD: Two of the escaped inmates were arrested in a drug bust in 2010 and were awaiting trial.

Police aren't revealing too many details about the investigation for fear the escapees are monitoring the media. Not only does it sound like a scene ripped from the pages of a television script, but this latest dramatic escape mirrors one that unfolded in Saint Jerome Prison, also in Quebec, just 15 months ago.

When two men posing as tourists hijacked a helicopter and forced the pilot at gun-point to swing down and hoist up two inmates with rope in broad daylight. Within a few hours, police had those escapees and hijackers in custody.


BANFIELD: Our Alexandra Field for us. Quebec's guards can't use firearms unless their own lives are in danger, so all they could do was report the breakout was happening. Deadly force may not, in this instance, have been an option.

Here's something you don't hear every day, a judge saying that he was biased and made a decision for the wrong reason. And now a verdict could be handed down and actually overturned. We've got the story directly from the judge, but not before you know this, going to break -- think about it -- there was a man imprisoned for years and years based on this mistake.

Details are next.


BANFIELD: Here's something I can safely say from years of working the court beat that does not happen in the justice system very often. A retired New York judge is admitting that he made a mistake.

He's holding himself accountable for a guilty verdict in a murder case that he handed down almost 15 years ago, which, by the math, means someone's been sitting in prison for 15 years. The judge is now asking for that conviction to be tossed out. Ad tomorrow a brand-new judge might just make that decision and might just release that person.

But wait. CNN's Jean Casarez reports on this very unusual case.


FRANK BARBARO, RETIRED JUDGE: I realized I made a mistake.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Retired judge Frank Barbaro wants to right a wrong. He says he unfairly convicted a white man of murder in 1999 because he saw the man as a bigot.

CASAREZ (on camera): Did you believe at the time that Donald Kagan was a racist?

BARBARO: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. That's what I believed.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Kagan, now 40, was accused of intentionally killing Wavell Wint, a 23-year-old young black father in 1998. In lieu of a jury trial, Kagan chose to have his case heard in New York Supreme Court before Justice Frank Barbaro, who would be both judge and jury.

BARBARO: So he decided he'd get a fair shake with me.

CASAREZ (on camera): It was here, at this Cineplex in Brooklyn. Evidence presented in court showed that Kagan came to the movies with an unlicensed loaded gun. Wint, the victim, came with his friends to the very same show and, according to testimony, had been drinking. After the show let out, the two crossed paths and got into a fight. Words were exchanged and then at one point Kagan pulled out his gun. Wint's friends tried to pull Wint away. They couldn't. Witnesses heard Kagan say, "you don't want any of this." Wint didn't back away. The two men began to struggle for the gun, and then two shots.

CASAREZ (voice-over): The two bullets struck Wint in the chest and abdomen. Barbaro rejected Kagan's claim of self-defense and found him guilty of murder and criminal possession of a weapon.

BARBARO: I couldn't get out of my mind the look on the lawyer's face when I said I found him guilty and the - and the defendant to understand, like he was pleading to me. He was saying, look, it just happened. It just happened.

CASAREZ: Kagan was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. But as Barbaro kept presiding over a full docket of cases, this one haunted him.

BARBARO: This struck me because it was connected to the question of race.

CASAREZ: He began to question his verdict.

CASAREZ (on camera): This was a very well-reasoned opinion.

BARBARO: Yes, based on the testimony that came in, with the lens of my background. In other words, Kagan was a racist. But I was wrong. He was fearful.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Judge Barbaro picked up the phone to call the convicted murder's attorney.

BARBARO: I was uncomfortable about doing it, but I knew I had to do it. From his reaction, I think he was shocked because there was silence on the phone.

CASAREZ (on camera): Did you ever think once though during that time, as you were coming to this point, that, oh, I just, I'll let it be. I won't say anything.


CASAREZ: Did you --

BARBARO: No. No. I see it as doing the right thing.

KENNETH THOMPSON, KINGS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We're supposed to take this decision, take the testimony of the trial, throw it out the window.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was not an easy decision for Justice Barbaro to make.

CASAREZ (voice-over): The defense filed a motion to overturn the verdict and a ruling is expected from a new judge. For a judge to argue he was wrong is almost unheard of. Barbaro himself came to testify in December and face the man he sent to prison.

BARBARO: I tried to go over to him after the hearing. I get chills when I think about it. And he looked at me - but, so angry.

CASAREZ: And after all those years, the family of victim Wavell Wint, who had a four-year-old son when he was killed, came back to the courtroom outraged that Kagan's conviction could be reversed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) fear. My son grew up without a father. He pulled out the gun and murdered that man.

BARBARO: What I did to Kagan was a travesty. I didn't do a travesty to the kids. And justice is a very strange person. Justice calls it like they see it.


BANFIELD: And Jean Casarez joins me live now with this.

So, is there a chance that he could be let out tomorrow? And, by the way, this epiphany was realized and adjudicated in December, six months ago. Why has he been (INAUDIBLE) this long (ph)?

CASAREZ: And it began even before that, because the judge really told the defense attorney --

BANFIELD: Right. But he's still behind bars. Why so long?

CASAREZ: He's still behind bars, in prison, upstate New York. And tomorrow there's a huge hearing. Everyone is going to be there. The judge is supposed to render the decision. We just got off the phone with the court. They say she may have more questions that she wants to ask of both sides. There may not be a decision tomorrow.

BANFIELD: So he still stays behind bars, even though now everybody involved effectively has said it was a mistake. Good job (INAUDIBLE).

CASAREZ: The prosecution is fighting to keep that verdict.

BANFIELD: Of course. All right, well, it's remarkable. Join us tomorrow, to tell us what happens in the New York court -

CASAREZ: I'd love to.

BANFIELD: Camera in the New York court, by the way.


BANFIELD: Wow, that's a first.

CASAREZ: I know.

BANFIELD: Jean Casarez, thank you for that.

Do you remember where you were 20 years ago when that hit the television set? And there's a pretty good chance you were one of the millions upon millions upon millions who were glued to find out where O.J. was going and how this was going to end. Twenty years ago. It's an anniversary. We're going to take a look back at the murders, the trial and everything in between, next.


BANFIELD: So if you are old enough to watch TV in 1994, you may never forget the sight of a white Ford Bronco that was leading a fleet of Los Angeles Police cars on a two-hour live police chase. It was like none that had ever been seen before. At least not in the movies anyway. It was O.J. Simpson who was in that car. And, of course, his friend Al Cowlings behind the wheel. And this was a surreal journey that captivated the nation 20 years ago this month.

I'll let that sink in, 20 years ago. CNN's Kyra Phillips has gone to the archives and has also uncovered some fresh information for a special report airing tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Here's a quick preview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 911, what are you reporting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is - this is A.C. I have O.J. in the car.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): O.J. Simpson on the run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Los Angeles Police Department, right now, is searching for Mr. Simpson.

PHILLIPS: And on the edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's still alive. He's got a gun to his head.

PHILLIPS (on camera): Was that gun loaded?

DET. TOM LANGE, LOS ANGELES POLICE (RET.): Oh, yes. It was a real gun, real bullets.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): And real drama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going through Orange County.

PHILLIPS: News helicopters hovering above, as the Bronco drives past stunned onlookers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People were jamming on their brakes, jumping out of their cars, sometimes in the middle of the freeway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Think about everybody else, all right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't do it, you know, on a freeway. I couldn't do it at a field. I want to do it at a grave. I want to do it at my house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not going to do anything. Too many people love you. You got the whole world. Don't throw it away.

PHILLIPS: Two bodies butchered. One of them, O.J.'s ex-wife.

LANGE: Slash, stabbed, everything else. Nicole was nearly decapitated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was deliberate. This was vicious.

PHILLIPS: If you watch the O.J. Simpson case unfold, and I did as a TV reporter for KCBS in L.A., it's a moment in time you could never forget. Two decades later --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember it as if it was yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's as raw and painful as it was 20 years ago.

PHILLIPS: An extraordinary story of celebrity and murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw perhaps the falling of an American hero.


BANFIELD: And Kyra joins me live now.

It's so incredible to look at those pictures. I feel like it was -

PHILLIPS: Do you remember where you were 20 years ago?

BANFIELD: You bet I do.

PHILLIPS: Where were you?

BANFIELD: I was on the telephone with an American news director thinking, wow, y'all cover the news real different than we do up in Canada. I was moving to the United States to start my career.

PHILLIPS: It changed the game. It changed the game from that live coverage, listening to that back and forth with Detective Tom Lange and Al Cowlings, who was driving the car, and O.J. Simpson, who was in the back with a loaded gun, you know, apparently headed to his dead wife's grave site. I mean, wait until you hear that conversation again between these two. It's pretty fascinating.

BANFIELD: When you were going through the archives, you kind of feel like this was the trial of the century. It launched careers. It launched the Johnnie Cochrans. It launched --

PHILLIPS: Oh, it turned everybody into celebrities. BANFIELD: Did it ever. Star Jones and Johnnie Cochran and Jack Ford

and so many people. But at the same time, it felt as though no stone was left unturned. There was not one detail that we didn't know about this whole situation, the trial, the circumstance, the crime. But there is more. There's stuff that has never been talked about.

PHILLIPS: That's true. And I go back many, many years, two decades with a lot of my sources. And one of whom I called and I said, do you have a contact to A.C. Cowlings? This is the guy that so many people want to sit down, talk to and ask direct questions. It's been such a long time.

So I got a phone number. Dialed it. And let me tell you, it took about 10 minutes for him to get past the anger of chewing me out. Leave me alone. I have nothing to say.


PHILLIPS: I don't want to talk about this. Just for a second, A.C., just, can you tell me -- he wanted to cut me off. He said, I just want to be left alone. I'm an old man. I'm not going to talk. I'm never going to talk. It's interesting. He is one individual that did not become a -- didn't write a book, didn't become an analyst, didn't do a TV show.

BANFIELD: Didn't become a Kato Kaelin.

PHILLIPS: Yes. He's in our special as well. It was very interesting to connect with him 20 years later. Wait till you see what he's up to.

BANFIELD: It's still like a name in our vernacular. You say the - you know, say, oh, what a Kato reference (ph). (INAUDIBLE).

PHILLIPS: You remember the famous houseguest. And one thing he did want to make clear was, I was so misunderstood all those years. It's pretty interesting. He even has a piece that came out in the "L.A. Times."

BANFIELD: I think he's right. I think he was misunderstood. It was a fascinating case, a fascinating trial, and a fascinating look at American jurisprudence and how it changed.

And, by the way, you're great at these documentaries. Your Valdes (ph) piece was incredible. I can't wait for this one tomorrow.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Thanks, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: I appreciate it. You know I love the in-depth stuff. Thanks, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Well, and you're -- you're just awesome at it. Kyra's special is "O.J.'s Wild Ride, 20 Years After the Chase." It's tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m., right here on CNN. We also want to take a moment to congratulate Bryan Cranston. The Emmy

winning actor picked up his first ever Tony last night for best actor in the play "All The Way," which also won the Tony for best play. Nicely done. Cranston portrayed Lyndon Johnson, Lyndon Baines Johnson, like no one will ever be able to again. It was just a week ago he was here talking about his now Tony Award winning role. Have a peek.


BRYAN CRANSTON, ACTOR, "ALL THE WAY": As a southerner, I've had to bite my tongue on this issue my entire life until my mouth was full of blood. Well, not anymore. I mean what the hell's the point of being president if you can't do what you know is right.

BANFIELD: OK, first and foremost, we're going to talk "Breaking Bad" off the bat, but that clip that we just showed, I was there. I've seen the play. You are LBJ. It's freakish. It's incredible. Remarkable.

CRANSTON: Well, I share some of the qualities, the facial features that every man wants, squinty eyes, thin lips, a lot of wrinkles. It's a joy.


BANFIELD: Yes, that's what happens when you buy a dress in two colors. Congratulations, Bryan. No one more deserving.

Thanks for watching, everybody. "Wolf" starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, Bowe Bergdahl is still in a hospital in Germany. Officials say he's continuing to improve, but he's not ready to travel back to the United States, at least not yet. And he hasn't yet talked to his parents either.

Also right now, Las Vegas Police are investigating a brutal shooting spree.