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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Keeping Them Honest: Crime and Punishment
Aired July 27, 2007 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, and welcome to this 360 special, "Keeping Them Honest: Crime and Punishment."
You're paying for the criminal justice system. We all are. And you're counting on it to keep you safe and uphold the principles you believe in. The truth is, though, it doesn't always work that way.
Money is wasted. Bad guys go free. Decent people get hurt, and government sometimes gets away with it.
This hour is about holding people accountable.
Tonight, we will look at how a man accused of raping a child could go free, perhaps never to be tried again, because the prosecution could not find him a qualified interpreter. It only took us a few hours on the phone to find one.
And it gets worse. He might not have even needed an interpreter at all. And the evidence of that was plain to see.
Also tonight, the justice system under fire in Mississippi. A young man's death opens the door to allegations of brutality, torture, and murder. It's a 360 exclusive investigation.
Also tonight: a student murdered. Why did the university rule out foul play? What they were hiding from students and from parents and how the story finally came to light.
We begin tonight with a story that seemed utterly surreal to us when we first learned about it, an accused molester going free because the court couldn't find him a qualified interpreter.
And, the more we investigated, the stranger it got. And the more you hear tonight, the madder you will likely get. How could an accused molester go free?
Gary Tuchman tonight is "Keeping Them Honest."
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the man at the center of a legal storm, because of a bizarre technicality that is hard to believe, Mahamu Kanneh, charged with the horrifying crimes of raping and repeatedly molesting a 7-year-old girl and molesting a 1-and-a-half-year-old girl, both relatives of his.
But now the charges against the Liberian immigrant have disappeared.
JOHN MCCARTHY, MONTGOMERY COUNTY PROSECUTOR: We believe that that decision to dismiss these charges was improper.
TUCHMAN: Why were such serious charges dismissed? Because a court clerk was unable to find an interpreter fluent in the rare language known as Vai who could stay through the entire trial. A court-ordered psychiatrist told the judge an interpreter was necessary.
MCCARTHY: The bottom line is that any delays caused by an attempt to find an appropriate and qualified interpreter is not attributable to the prosecution and legally was the responsibility of the courts and should not serve as the basis for dismissing the charges against the defendant.
TUCHMAN: But Judge Katherine Savage disagreed, saying on the bench, "This is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in a long time." She cleared the charges because she says the long delay violated Kanneh's constitutional right to a speedy trial.
"Keeping Them Honest," we investigated what went wrong. An estimated 100,000 people in the world speak the West African tribal language of Vai.
The court office in Rockville, Maryland, says it worked hard to find someone anywhere in the country who could be with the suspect during the trial. Over two-and-a-half years, it couldn't successfully do so.
But, after researching about two-and-a-half hours...
(on camera): How do you say swimming in Vai?
SYLVANUS CORNEH, VAI SPEAKER: (SPEAKING VAI)
TUCHMAN (voice-over): ... we found a Vai-speaking Liberian immigrant who lives about 15 minutes away from the courthouse who would have served as an interpreter if asked.
CORNEH: I would do anything, anything at all that this government asks me to do. I am their guest.
TUCHMAN (on camera): This story strikes high on the outrage meter. But what may be more outrageous involves the question over whether Kanneh needed an interpreter to begin with, because CNN has learned that Kanneh graduated from this Maryland high school back in 2005, one of the best high schools in the state, where, most certainly, you need to know more than Vai to get by.
(voice-over): At Magruder High School, a student is not allowed to get a diploma without passing four years of English. A source in the school says Kanneh did not even find it necessary to take the English-as-a-second-language course that is offered. And there's more.
JEREMY BROWN, NEIGHBOR OF MAHAMU KANNEH: It's right there, number seven.
TUCHMAN: Jeremy Brown currently lives next door to Kanneh.
(on camera): And how long have you lived here?
BROWN: About a year.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): We wanted to talk to Kanneh about his case and his language skills, but nobody was home in apartment seven. So, we asked his neighbor this.
(on camera): Does he speak English?
TUCHMAN: And does she speak pretty good English?
TUCHMAN: So, on a scale of one to 10 of English proficiency, what would you say he had?
BROWN: Probably a seven or eight.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): No one, from the judge, to the court clerk, to Kanneh's public defender, would speak to us about the case, because prosecutors have filed an appeal. An appellate court would have the authority to make the charges reappear. But, if the appeal fails, Mahamu Kanneh will not ever go to trial on these charges.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, Rockville, Maryland.
COOPER: Well, now an exclusive series of reports from a place that may hold a very dark secret.
Our story begins in Biloxi, Mississippi. That's where we set out to look into a suspicious incident. Then we started digging. And what people say is happening is both shocking and nearly impossible to believe.
First, the backdrop.
Here's CNN's Kathleen Koch.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a cool December afternoon last year, Lee Demond Smith was arrested on this corner in Biloxi, Mississippi, for a crime he said he didn't commit. Cops say he shot a man in the leg. Police brought him here to the Harrison County Jail. His mother was terrified.
LASHUN SMITH, MOTHER OF LEE SMITH: I do not sleep. I just lay and stare. KOCH: But Smith reassured his mom, swore he was innocent, and would be released soon. For the 21-year-old Smith, family was everything. He was a big brother who wrote letters to his three younger sisters about the kind of women he hoped they would be when they grew up. He washed dishes at this casino near his working-class neighborhood.
LASHUN SMITH: You know, I'm going to take care of you. He say, I'm going to get you something real nice.
KOCH: But the arrest terrified Smith's mother, Lashun. She had heard frightening stories about guards abusing inmates in the jail.
LASHUN SMITH: I'm terrified of all of the cops, all of them.
KOCH: We will come back to Lee Demond Smith's story in a moment.
But, first, you need to know what had going on in the jail, long before he ever got there.
(on camera): The Harrison County Jail has a deeply troubled history. At least four inmates have died due to unnatural circumstances since 2002. And, last year, an inmate was beaten to death in the booking room, the entire incident captured by jailhouse cameras.
(voice-over): The federal government won't release the video of that beating, citing an ongoing investigation, but these pictures show what happened to that inmate, Jessie Lee Williams. Guards beat him into a coma, and Tasered him so viciously, holes were burnt into his flesh.
Attorney Michael Crosby represents Williams' family.
MICHAEL CROSBY, ATTORNEY FOR WILLIAMS FAMILY: When they finally called the ambulance, he left unconscious. His pupils were fixed and dilated. He was, for all practical purpose, dead.
KOCH: Williams, a father of six, was soon taken off life support. Four jailers were indicted and pleaded not guilty. One has pleaded guilty, and another pleaded guilty to falsifying reports. The criminal trial is next month.
And then there are four more guards who have also pleaded guilty to abusing other inmates, among them, former deputy Preston Wills. Wills says he was not there the day of Williams' assault, but he says he witnessed and participated in many other beatings.
PRESTON WELLS, FORMER JAILER: I have seen people get punched. I have seen people get kicked. I have seen, you know, basically, just beat them -- that's about as best I can describe it -- I mean, for no reason.
CROSBY: It was not a racial issue. It was across the board. It was just an issue of people having complete power over other people who were in a compromised position, with no power. And that was it, and that was their excuse to just unleash holy terror upon them.
KOCH: Roderick Miller is a former inmate.
RODERICK MILLER, FORMER INMATE: I was punched. I was drug across a bench. I was kicked.
KOCH (on camera): Did they say anything while they were doing this?
MILLER: He repeatedly said he will kill me. He says, "I'm going to kill you."
KOCH: Did you believe him?
MILLER: Yes, I did believe him. I knew I was going to die.
KOCH (voice-over): Miller says, during his single night in jail, he was attacked by two guards, who threatened him, pummelled him, slammed him into a concrete wall, and ripped his shoulder out of its socket, all of it, he says, totally unprovoked. Miller has filed a lawsuit. The guards and the county have denied his allegations.
MILLER: There is no one in this world -- in this world -- who could ever convince me that I deserved any aspect of the beating, the torture, the brutality, and to place me in such fear of my life, that I knew I was going to die, and I was not going to see my kids, my children, my family, no one.
KOCH: Remember, this is a county jail. Most of the inmates have not been convicted of a crime, and many spend only one night here, after being arrested on minor offenses.
That's exactly what happened to this 27-year-old woman, arrested for public intoxication in 2001. This surveillance video shows her being walked into the booking room, resisting officers. A guard throws her down, face first. Later, as she kicks while held in a restraining chair, another officer takes a can of pepper spray, pries open her left eye, and shoots point blank.
She spent only one night in jail, but, when she left, she looked like this. Later, a district court would find jailers did not use excessive force, in light of the inmate's -- quote -- "behavior and combativeness."
Former jailer Preston wills was not present for this incident, but says the abuse was actually encouraged by senior officials.
(on camera): So, you were following along with the other jailers?
WILLS: Following along with the supervisors, supervisors, and the captain on down, you know?
KOCH: So, everyone knew about this and condoned it? WILLS: Yes.
KOCH (voice-over): Sheriff George Payne, who supervises the jail, would not go on camera, but issued this statement, saying -- quote -- "I, in no matter or form, condone or encourage the use of excessive force by any individual employed by the Harrison County Sheriff's Department. As always, in the event that I become aware of such allegations, the incident is thoroughly investigated and reported to the proper investigatory entity."
But few are ever held responsible, says former jailer Preston Wills, because guards were taught to cover up the abuse by writing false incident reports.
(on camera): Did you think that the beatings would ever go to a point that someone would die?
WILLS: Yes, ma'am, most definitely. It was just a matter of time.
KOCH (voice-over): All of this happened before young Lee Demond Smith ever even set foot in the Harrison County Jail.
COOPER: Straight ahead, what happened when he did and the lives that would never be the same.
Plus, this: a law enforcement blunder that's become a punchline.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERIFF BERNIE GIUSTO, MULTNOMAH COUNTY, GEORGIA: We're not here because we're looking good. We're here because we're the laughing stock of this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: But it's not a joke, a multimillion dollar jail sitting empty. It's never been used, even though nearby jails are overflowing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TED WHEELER, MULTNOMAH COUNTY CHAIRMAN: As long as this facility remains unused, it will stand as a symbol of how not to govern.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Talk is cheap. Where's the action?
Also ahead, a college student found dead in her dorm room and the truth that was buried.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB DICKINSON, FATHER OF LAURA DICKINSON: A very healthy 22- year-old girl just doesn't die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: She didn't just die. She was murdered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEB DICKINSON, MOTHER OF LAURA DICKINSON: How could they just think that was OK, to not tell us?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: School officials didn't tell her parents or other students for months.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN FALLON, PRESIDENT, EASTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY: I feel pretty good about the way the university handled this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He is the school's former president, and no longer has the job. Where does the school go from here?
Coming up on this special edition of 360, "Keeping Them Honest: Crime and Punishment."
RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Randi Kaye in New York.
Back to "Keeping Them Honest: Crime and Punishment" after this 360 news and business bulletin.
What began as a police chase ended in a chopper crash that killed four people. It happened in Phoenix, two news helicopters covering the pursuit colliding -- the only saving grace, no one on the ground was hurt.
NASA's got a new mission: drying out. An agency report cites two alleged incidents in which astronauts flew while intoxicated. According to the report, they were said to be so drunk that doctors and fellow astronauts alerted superiors.
Still, they were allowed to fly. To keep it from happening today, NASA today announced it has adopted a 12-hour bottle-to- throttle policy, no booze starting 12 hours before flight time.
Stocks got pounded again today, the Dow industrials dumping another 208 points, closing at 13265, to finish 585 points lighter for the week. Meantime, the Nasdaq closed down 37, at 2562. The S&P gave back 23, to finish at 1458.
Nicole Richie will do time, four days, and serve three years' probation, this the result of a plea deal on driving stoned and on the wrong side of a highway.
And Pepsi Cola is bending to consumer groups and labeling bottles of Aquafina water to say what everyone expected: It's filtered tap water. And it's not the only one. The group pressuring Pepsi to come clean is pressuring other bottlers to do the same.
Those are the headlines -- back in a moment with Anderson and more of our 360 special report, "Keeping Them Honest: Crime and Punishment."
I'm Randi Kaye.
COOPER: A look at the "Raw Data" on death behind bars.
In 2005, the most recent numbers available, more than 4,000 inmates died in state prisons and jails across America. Illness was the biggest cause, taking 3,136 lives. Five hundred and two inmates committed suicide. At least 78 were killed.
In a Biloxi, Mississippi, jail, there are allegations being made against the guards, allegations involving excessive force, beatings, even murder.
When 21-year-old Lee Demond Smith got there, he had no idea, probably, what people were accusing the guards of doing. He spent just a few days behind bars. And that's when something happened to him, a tragedy that his family says was unspeakable and unnatural.
Once again, here's Kathleen Koch.
KOCH (voice-over): Madeline Dedeaux was a deputy and kitchen supervisor in the Harrison County Jail. She had heard inmates talk about beatings, but, last year, on January 7, she walked in on one in the booking room.
The ringleader, she says, was a veteran guard named Ryan Teel.
MADELINE DEDEAUX, FORMER JAILER: Ryan Teel was the one doing most of the blows and the hitting and the punching.
KOCH: Kasey Alves was the inmate. He was arrested that night for public intoxication.
Alves says guards jumped him for looking into a women's cell. He says he fought back, until they strapped him tightly into a restraining chair like this one. At the Harrison County Jail, it's known as the devil's chair.
KASEY ALVES, FORMER INMATE: They put a sheet around my head so tight that I couldn't breathe, you know, so I'm gasping for air, basically, and water was poured on me.
KOCH (on camera): What was the effect that this had?
ALVES: I had the effect of I was suffocating. I -- I thought I was going to die, actually. You know, I'm gasping for air, because the torture was -- it was horrible. It was very -- it was horrible.
KOCH: Now, you said torture.
ALVES: Yes, torture, yes, because...
KOCH: Do you -- do you believe that's what you underwent?
ALVES: Oh, yes, definitely, mental torture, physical torture. Torture.
KOCH (voice-over): Alves says he was then left for eight hours, strapped in the chair.
ALVES: The restraints were so tight, that, actually, it put welts on my shoulders. It was like a burning sensation that I was feeling.
KOCH: These photos showed the strap imprints on his thighs, ankles, shoulders and back. Alves suffered severe nerve damage and says his doctor told him he nearly died of kidney failure.
DEDEAUX: I was so upset, I left, went to my office. I cried. I prayed.
KOCH: And former deputy Madeline Dedeaux filed a report. She also says she warned her supervisor about Ryan Teel, who she says was the most violent guard.
DEDEAUX: I had talked to the major and I told her that, in my opinion, if something's not done to Teel and to -- about that incident, that eventually someone was going to get killed. He was going to eventually end up killing someone, but it needed to be done.
KOCH: But Dedeaux said nothing changed, nothing. In fact, it was just one month later that Jessie Lee Williams was beaten into a coma and died. Deputy Teel was charged with attempting to kill Williams and then cover it up. Teel has pleaded not guilty, and his attorney would not comment.
(on camera): If they had listened, do you think that Jessie Williams would be alive today?
DEDEAUX: Yes, I do. Yes, I do.
KOCH (voice-over): As for jail officials, Sheriff Payne issued a statement, saying that he is fully cooperating in all investigations related to the Williams case, and that many changes were made after his death: among them, a new warden, revised use of force and taser policies, tougher screening for new hires, additional supervisors, and expanded training programs. But former jailer, Preston Wills, insists many guards responsible for beatings still control the jail.
WILLS: There's still a lot of people in there right now that they need to get in trouble. They really do, and they need to really be looked at very closely. They don't need to be there, period.
KOCH: And all of this had happened before 21-year-old Lee Demond Smith was brought to the jail. It was ten months after Williams' deadly beating, well after those safeguards were supposedly put in place.
On his 13th day in jail, Smith's mother received some frightening calls, from families of other inmates, saying something terrible had happened.
LASHUN SMITH: They said that he was -- they saw officers covering his body with a white sheet.
KOCH: Stunned, Smith's aunt called the jail.
SHYRI SMITH, LEE SMITH'S AUNT: I wanted to know is anything wrong with my nephew. She said, "There's nothing wrong with your nephew."
And then I said, "Well, let me speak with him."
She said, "You know you can't speak to the inmate." She was so rude, and she said, "There have not been any deaths at the Harrison County jail." KOCH: Smith's mother raced to the jail, demanding answers about her son. Instead, she says she got lies.
LASHUN SMITH: When I got there, you know, they kept denying it, denying it, denying it.
KOCH: Finally, the warden came in and delivered the awful news: her son was dead.
(on camera): The death investigation report by the district attorney's office and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations states that witnesses said Lee Smith collapsed in a TV room at the jail. They say he began having seizures, became unresponsive, and then paramedics were called.
(voice-over) The county autopsy found that Lee Smith died of natural causes, of, quote, "massive recent pulmonary embolism," a blood clot in the lung. But the young man had never had any health problems.
Then, as if in confirmation of his family's worst fears, Smith's grandmother had a disturbing dream.
LUCY WILLIAMS, LEE SMITH'S GRANDMOTHER: He said, "Mama, I was murdered. They killed me." And it just ran chills all through my body. I just woke up instantly.
COOPER: Up next: questioning the autopsy, what an expert said the medical examiner missed -- the conclusion of Kathleen's investigation.
And, later, New Orleans, from Crescent City to murder central. Mayor Ray Nagin promised to make crime-fighting his number one priority. We're keeping him to his word.
"Keeping Them Honest: Crime and Punishment" -- only on 360.
COOPER: A young man walks into a jail and leaves in a body bag. What or who killed Lee Demond Smith is in dispute.
But, to his mother and his grandmother, the truth is clear. The killers, they allege, were corrections officers, guards already under a cloud of suspicion.
Now, before the break, we laid out the investigation. Would the autopsy, however, confirm their worst suspicions? We're "Keeping Them Honest."
CNN's Kathleen Koch concludes her exclusive investigation.
KOCH (voice-over): Lee Demond Smith's family was suspicious, suspicious that the 21-year-old's sudden death in the Harrison County jail may have been foul play, that the blood clot described as the cause of death by the county autopsy was a lie.
Friends helped raise $9,000 for an independent autopsy. It was conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. Matthias Okoye.
DR. MATTHIAS OKOYE, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: He was strangled and he was restrained while being strangled.
KOCH: Doctor Okoye's finding is scathing: asphyxia, due to neck compression and physical restraint while in police custody.
Doctor Okoye discovered hemorrhaging two inches deep on the right side of Smith's neck and showed us pictures of the wound. He also found multiple injuries on Smith's head, trunk, arms and legs.
OKOYE: That means that there must have been a struggle. There must have been an altercation, because these are minor blunt force traumatic injuries, scattered all over the body.
KOCH (on camera): So you found he was being restrained. He was strangled. So you're saying he was murdered?
OKOYE: Yes, and that is homicide.
KOCH (voice-over): But what about the county's official explanation that Smith died of a blood clot in the lungs? Dr. Okoye says the only way to prove a death because of a blood clot is to dissect the lungs. He says that never happened.
OKOYE: I was shocked, actually. Even my assistants were shocked.
KOCH: Dr. Paul McGarry, the forensic pathologist who performed that first autopsy for the county, would not return CNN's calls.
(on camera): Gary Hargrove, the Harrison County coroner, as well as two detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, were present during the first autopsy, conducted in this building. Hargrove says the lungs were dissected.
So what did you see when he opened up the lungs?
GARY HARGROVE, HARRISON COUNTY CORONER: Massive blood clots in the lungs and in the veins and stuff.
KOCH (voice-over): When CNN asked Hargrove for the photos of his autopsy, he refused. And when we offered Hargrove a copy of the second independent autopsy and photos, he wouldn't look at them or comment on the findings unless the family provided them. Fearing the county could somehow use the details to cover wrongdoing, the Smith's family lawyers advised against that.
(on camera): How do you reconcile this with what you found?
HARGROVE: All I can rely on at this point in time is the autopsy that we performed, the information that we have about the events surrounding Mr. Smith's death, what the investigation showed.
KOCH: So you saw no marks on his neck?
KOCH: No hemorrhaging?
KOCH (voice-over): The cause of the autopsy findings were so dramatically different, CNN took them to a third forensic pathologist for yet another opinion.
Dr. Howard Adelman examined both written reports, as well as more than 200 photos from the second independent autopsy.
HOWARD ADELMAN, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: The photographs are very convincing along with the description, and so I would go along with the cause of death being a strangulation.
KOCH (on camera): Are you and Dr. McGery (ph) involved in any kind of cover-up to hide a murder, the murder of Lee Smith in the Harris County jail, if indeed he was murdered there?
HARGROVE: No, we're not. I have not ever covered up a death and will not do it today or any other time. Because when it comes to that, it's time to get out of the business.
KOCH (voice-over): In fact, the sheriff's statement says the county coroner's autopsy did not reveal any foul play. Though critics wonder about the sheriff's own record supervising the jail.
MICHAEL CROSBY, ATTORNEY FOR JESSIE WILLIAMS' FAMILY: How could a sheriff be in charge of a jail for this many years and not know what's going on in his own jail?
KOCH (on camera): And it sounds like there's not an isolated act anymore. It sounds like there is a clear pattern.
CROSBY: We've been able to put together the evidence to show that it was, in fact, a pattern of abuse that took place over a long period of time.
KOCH (voice-over): Lee Damond Smith (ph) is buried not far from his Biloxi home. His family says they won't rest until they confront those who killed him.
S. SMITH: We want the world to know, the nation to know what's going on in Mississippi, so therefore, this may save someone else's son.
KOCH: Kathleen Koch, CNN, Biloxi, Mississippi.
COOPER: Kathleen's reporting raised a lot more questions. I talked about some of them with CNN's senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
COOPER: How could this go on in the county jail?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: As bad as this story is, and it's horrifying, it's actually worse. Because in 1995, the U.S. Department of Justice came in and worked out a consent decree where they were supposed to have some sort of supervision.
Yet these people keep dying, even though the U.S. Department of Justice was supposed to be looking at what's going on.
COOPER: And they recently settled a civil lawsuit in the Jesse Williams case for something like...
TOOBIN: Three million dollars.
COOPER: $3.5 million. Obviously, in a post Katrina economy for this area, that's a big blow.
TOOBIN: You know, our producer in this story, Catherine Mitchell (ph), says there are 14 lawsuits outstanding against -- against this county jail. So as immoral and horrible as this is, it's also economically a disaster for a county that obviously can't afford it. COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin, it's just unbelievable. We continue to follow the case. Jeff, thanks.
COOPER: Just ahead, the city that can't get a break. The flood waters are long gone, but New Orleans is awash in murder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (voice-over): The mayor promised to stop the killing.
RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: We will put all of our resources to focus on murders and violent crimes. Everything we have.
COOPER: But murders keep rising while suspected killers walk free. What's going on beyond the finger-pointing?
Plus this, a multimillion-dollar travesty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I dare to say we're the only empty jail in the United States. Brand-new jail that's never been opened.
COOPER: Not just any jail, a fancy state of the art facility that cost taxpayers nearly $60 million. That was three years ago. It is still empty, and other jails in the county are still overflowing. What's going on? That story and more when this 360 special, "Keeping Them Honest: Crime and Punishment", continues.
COOPER: Welcome back to this 360 special, "Keeping Them Honest: Crime and Punishment". We turn now to New Orleans, a city still devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Just last year, it earned the distinction of being the murder capital of America.
Here's the raw data: 160 people were killed in New Orleans in 2006. As for this year, so far 108 people have been killed in the city.
And many felony cases just don't go to trial. Since last year, more than 3,000 cases have been dropped because of Katrina damaged evidence, unavailable witnesses and other problems.
Tonight, we're searching for accountability in New Orleans nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina. Now, the notion of "Keeping Them Honest" really emerged from the rubble of the storm. There are so many challenges, but for many, simply human safety tops the list.
Of course, New Orleans is not the only city in America facing a deadly crime wave, but Mayor Ray Nagin promised to make crime fighting a top priority. So "Keeping Them Honest" for us tonight is CNN's Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The flood waters long gone, New Orleans is drowning in murder.
(on camera) Do you feel safe here in the city now?
JEANETTE KELLY, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Not really.
KAYE (voice-over): Jeanette Kelly's boyfriend, Christopher Roberts, was shot and killed just last month on Father's Day. Police say someone stole his motorcycle and Roberts took a bullet to the chest. His killer, like too many here, got away.
KELLY: I just think that some people have lost their humanity, have no appreciation for life. And I don't know, it's a really sad reflection on our society.
KAYE: The couple had evacuated for Katrina and moved back last December with their new baby girl. They wanted to help rebuild, just like their neighbor, filmmaker Helen Hill, who was shot to death in January by an intruder who was never caught.
After her murder, Kelly says she and her boyfriend put bars on their windows and bought a gun. They thought that would keep them safe.
The week Helen Hill died, there were 11 other murders, prompting New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin to make this promise.
NAGIN: We will put all of our resources to focus on murders and violent crime. Everything we have.
KAYE: "Keeping Them Honest", we ran the numbers. In the six months since the mayor promised to make murder a priority, more than 90 people have been killed in his city.
The police force is still down 300 officers. And the justice system is a mess. Witnesses are either missing or unwilling to cooperate. Last year, nearly half the murder suspects walked free because by law, prosecutors have just 60 days to make their case before a judge. Time is simply running out.
(on camera) What's actively being done at this point to try and repair the justice system so the killing will stop?
NAGIN: Everything. Everything is being done, from more resources, more dollars, more manpower, more police officers. We've got the federal government involved.
KAYE: why then is the number of homicides going up instead of down? Who should be held accountable? Everyone is pointing fingers.
Police blame the district attorney for not prosecuting cases quickly enough. The district attorney blames police for holding onto case files and letting witnesses slip away. And the mayor, he accuses the district attorney of encouraging lawlessness and dropping charges against dangerous criminals.
(voice-over) Like this guy, Michael Anderson, who says he's innocent. District attorney Eddie Jordan just last week dropped five counts of first degree murder against him for the deaths of five teenagers. Jordan's office claimed it couldn't find a key witness. So how did police manage to the next day?
(on camera) Certainly a lot of people are pointing fingers at your office. Who do you think is at fault here?
EDDIE JORDAN, ORLEANS PARISH DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, let me say, first of all, that I am not going to take the blame for all the sins of the criminal justice system. Certainly, we have our shortcomings. But we're working on our shortcomings.
KAYE (voice-over): Jordan, who plans to reinstate charges against Anderson, refused to play the blame game and dismissed the notion of infighting. He says he's working closely with police and has successfully prosecuted dozens of criminals.
(on camera) Is New Orleans safe?
JORDAN: Yes, I do believe it's safe.
KAYE: More than 100 murders this year and you still say the city is safe?
JORDAN: A hundred murders is totally unacceptable, but it is not -- it is not the murder capital of the world, in my opinion.
KAYE: Still, the FBI says the city is on track this year to rank among the nation's most murderous. The mayor promises he's trying every crime fighting technique used around the country.
(on camera) Does that sound like crime fighting is a top priority to you?
KELLY: No. I wouldn't -- like I said, I wouldn't presume to know what they're doing, but it does seem out of control.
KAYE (voice-over): People wonder how long it will take, how many will have to die before Mayor Nagin makes good on his promise.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New Orleans.
COOPER: Ahead tonight, a multi-million-dollar jail complete with fancy sculpture garden in a place where criminals go free because of overcrowding.. Why then has this jail sat empty for years?
And next, the university said it wasn't a case of foul play, yet a student was murdered in her dorm room. How is that not foul play? "Keeping Them Honest: Crime and Punishment" continues.
COOPER: Welcome back to "Keeping Them Honest: Crime and Punishment". Here's the raw data on campus crime. According to the latest statistics, from the Department of Education, in 2004, there were 14 murders on colleges and universities in America. Nearly 3,000 forcible sex offenses and more than 30,000 burglaries.
Hard numbers to consider when you send your child away to college. Even more shocking is what happened to a young woman at a large university who died in her dorm room.
Now, school officials told students that no foul play was suspected. They said the same thing to the girl's family. That wasn't the truth, though. The truth was that she was raped and murdered. Now many want to know why the facts were kept secret for so long.
Once again, Randi Kaye is "Keeping Them Honest".
KAYE (voice-over): Last December, Laura Dickinson, a healthy, athletic 22-year-old, was found dead in her dorm room.
BOB DICKINSON, FATHER OF MURDERED STUDENT: A very healthy 22- year-old girl just doesn't die.
KAYE: And yet, he says, school officials led them to believe she died of natural causes. And though skeptical, Laura's family would bury their daughter, unaware officials at Eastern Michigan University had actually been burying the truth.
(on camera) Do you remember having some conversations with university officials at all about how your daughter died? And do you remember what they told you?
DEB DICKINSON, MOTHER OF MURDERED STUDENT: The only thing they said was there was no evidence of foul play.
KAYE (voice-over): The university stuck to that story for more than two months. No foul play. But in fact, campus police were investigating Laura's death, as a murder, even though no one told Bob and Deb Dickinson or students still on campus.
What they didn't know was that Laura had been found on the floor of her room, naked from the waist down, legs spread, a pillow over her face, semen on her leg.
The medical examiner's scene report obtained by CNN clearly states "foul play suspected." And this lab report from the state police suggests murder. So why weren't the Dickinsons told what really happened?
(on camera) You think as her parents, you had a right to know that she may have been murdered?
D. DICKINSON: Yes. Yes. KAYE: If campus police were investigating this as a murder, why wouldn't the university warn students and faculty? Instead, the day after Laura's body was discovered, university officials posted this message on the school's web site. It reads, in part, "At this point, there is no reason to suspect foul play. We are fully confident in the safety and security of our campus environment."
In the more than two months that passed between the body being discovered and a suspect being arrested, this message was never updated.
(voice-over) Turns out police had identified their suspect within three days of finding the body: 20-year-old Orange Taylor, a student at the school. Incredibly, university and campus police kept silent.
It wasn't until Taylor was arrested February 23 that her family and students heard the truth: Laura died from asphyxiation.
Taylor is charged with murder and rape. He denies the charges.
These are pictures of him entering her dorm about 4:30 a.m. The day she was killed. Here, he's in the stairwell just across the hall from her room, about 90 minutes later. Police now admit his DNA matches the semen on her leg.
After the arrest, students demanded answers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you don't know for sure, then don't say. Or if you do know, don't lie.
KAYE: The school started damage control.
JOHN FALLON, UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: I feel pretty good about the way the university handled this.
KAYE: That was EMU president John Fallon five months ago. It was announced his contract has been terminated.
"Keeping Them Honest", spoke to Thomas Sidlick, the president of the school's board of regents, who told us it was time to move on, that they wanted a new vision for the school.
THOMAS SIDLICK, CHAIR, EMU BOARD OF REGENTS: There's no question about it. It's going to hurt the reputation, but we want to make the university stronger.
KAYE: And the fallout did not stop there. Earlier this year, the school's board of regents ordered an independent investigation. It found the school violated federal law, because it failed to timely and properly warn the campus community.
It also found both the university and campus police may have made a conscientious decision to label the investigation as a death investigation, not a homicide.
And it was because of this report, Sidlick says, that the school's vice president of student affairs and the head of public safety also left their jobs, under a mutual agreement.
(on camera) Do you feel, Deb, that you were lied to? That you were misled?
D. DICKINSON: I'm sure they don't think that I was lied to, because they may say that I didn't ask all the questions. But they knew that they told us nothing to find out this horrible thing that happened to our daughter. How could they just think that was OK to not tell us?
KAYE (voice-over): It wasn't OK. But even the family admits, not knowing their daughter had been murdered was easier to handle than the truth.
Randi Kaye, CNN, Ypsilanti, Michigan.
COOPER: Coming up, a jail fancy enough to have the latest of everything, everything, that is, except inmates. What's up with that?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (voice-over): Taxpayers spent nearly $60 million to build it. That was more than three years ago. A jail with space for more than 500 inmates in a county where jails are overflowing.
SHERIFF BERNIE GIUSTO, MULTNOMAH COUNTY: We're not here because we're looking good. We're here because we're the laughing stock of this country.
COOPER: But it's not a joke. Not to the taxpayers who are still paying the bills.
Also ahead a story that is off the charts on the outrage meter. The charges were dropped against an accused molester, because the court said it couldn't find an interpreter. We found one in less than three hours. But did the suspect even need one? Look what else we found.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Does he speak English?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
TUCHMAN: And does he speak pretty good English?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
COOPER: That's what a neighbor says and that's why we're "Keeping Them Honest", when this 360 special continues.
COOPER: So with all those prisoners and the crime now plaguing big cities, you'd think any place lucky enough to have a brand new jail would be ahead of the game. Well, think again. And come with us now to Portland, Oregon.
We first told you about this story more than a year ago. Back then, there were promises made to open the fancy new jail there and get it running. Empty promises, it turns out.
"Keeping Them Honest" tonight, we're asking why. Here's CNN's Dan Simon.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a sleek modern design. The beautiful lawns and the sculpture belie what it really is, a county jail. But it's also something more, a huge embarrassment. And so far, a waste of money.
GIUSTO: We're not here because we're looking good. We're here because we're the laughing stock of this country.
SIMON: That's what the sheriff who controls the jail told us a year ago. The problem then was the jail was empty. No inmates, none. And today, well, zip, nada, no change.
For the sheriff, still frustrating.
GIUSTO: I dare to say that we're the only empty jail, brand-new jail in the United States, brand-new jail that's never been opened.
SIMON: It's a $59 million state of the art facility to incarcerate 525 inmates. It was built to ease chronic jail overcrowding in the Portland area. But it has never opened, even though it was completed -- get this -- more than three years ago.
So far, it's been used for a Boy Scout overnight to learn about law enforcement and as an occasional training facility for the sheriff's deputies.
As for taxpayers in Portland, the whole mess makes them feel like a punching bag.
NANCY MUIR, CONCERNED CITIZEN: We have a great facility for the sheriff's department to do some training, but Gold's Gym is down the street.
SIMON: Here's what happened. Since the jail was built, the local economy soured and tax revenue shrank. And the county just doesn't have the money, $20 million a year, to run the jail. And to add insult to injury, even having the jail standing there doing nothing is costly.
(on camera) There may not be any inmates here, but the lawn sure looks nice. It costs county taxpayers more than $300,000 a year just to maintain the jail and its grounds.
And then there's the $600,000 spent on artwork at the jail, $100,000 alone just for this sculpture. (voice-over) But "Keeping Them Honest", we checked on that inmate overcrowding problem. What we found: since the jail has been completed and sat empty, more than 8,500 criminals in the Portland area have been released because of overcrowding.
In fact, over the last year with county finances only getting tighter, the sheriff actually lost another 114 jail beds. It's a vicious cycle. Authorities say the early release of criminals means more crime.
In one case, it proved fatal. A deranged man arrested for trespassing and drinking in public was let out, only to get into a fight and kill a total stranger. Those stories of released inmates only makes people here angrier and angrier.
TED WHEELER, MULTNOMAH COUNTY CHAIRMAN: As long as this facility remains unused, it will stand as a symbol of how not to govern.
SIMON: But Ted Wheeler, the new county board chairman, says he might be able to fix it.
WHEELER: The jail hangs over county government like Damocles' sword.
SIMON: But with county money tight, he must ask voters to agree to a tax levy. Even if approved, best case, the jail could open in 2009, five years after it was finished.
You could say it's turned out to be nothing more than a field of dreams: if you build it, they will come. Eventually.
Dan Simon, CNN, Portland, Oregon.
COOPER: Just ahead, a story so outrageous it is hard to believe. An alleged molester accused of preying on small children is free tonight because the court says it couldn't find him an interpreter. We found one in less than three hours. Here's the real outrage: the suspect may not have even needed an interpreter.
Also ahead, the grisly secrets we uncovered at a Mississippi jail. Horrific allegations of beatings, torture even murder. We're "Keeping Them Honest", next on 360.
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