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At This Hour

Hurricane Fiona Slams the Turks and Caicos; Florida Governor Says Migrants Signed "Consent Forms," Flights Were "Voluntary"; Judge Vacates Murder Conviction of Adnan Syed. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, catastrophic damage. Puerto Rico just battered by rain and flooding and Fiona is now a major hurricane.

And a major twist: a judge tosses out the murder conviction for the man featured in the "Serial" podcast.

And for the first time a national task force is recommending anxiety screenings for a majority of Americans. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Hurricane Fiona is where we're going to start today. Lashing Turks and Caicos, intensifying to a category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hours. Puerto Rico's governor called the damage catastrophic.

Some cities seeing nearly three feet of rain. Look at this. Most of the island remains without power and a electrical grid with a very checkered past and a bad history. It could be a while before it is restored.

At least two deaths have been reported so far in Puerto Rico, which is still struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Maria hit five years ago today. Crews have rescued more than a thousand people but officials fear more could be trapped by the floodwaters. The storm killed at least one person in the Dominican Republic.


BOLDUAN: Let's go to Puerto Rico now. More than 1 million customers are without power. It seems clear it is going to be another long rebuilding effort. CNN's Leyla Santiago has the latest from San Juan.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rain is continuing to come down in Puerto Rico in some parts of the island and most families have woken up without power and water today.

Many people wondering how long it will take to restore what was an island-wide power outage here. And government officials saying it could take days. But really there is no guarantee.

And the timing of this, today marks five years since Hurricane Maria just devastated this island, leaving many without power for months and, in some cases, up to 11 months to nearly a year.

And that is tied to the fear and anxiety among the people in Puerto Rico, who see the images like what you see -- the flooding, the mudslides, all of the flashbacks that they are getting from this. More than a thousand people have had to be evacuated.

And emergency crews are telling us they plan to get right back out there to get into areas where they haven't gotten into yet.

But as long as the rain continues to come down and the runoff from the mountains as well as parts of the interior continue, it will make it very difficult for crews to be able to work. So the question will be, how long will they be able to -- or how long will it take them to respond to the aftermath of hurricane Fiona.


BOLDUAN: Leyla, thank you so much.

And for more information on how you could help those affected by hurricane Fiona, go to

I want to turn now to the battle over immigration.


BOLDUAN: In a very real way we're seeing this play out all over the country. A Texas sheriff is launching a criminal investigation into the flights arranged by Florida governor Ron DeSantis, taking nearly 50 migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard last week.

The sheriff in Texas said that he believes that these migrants were lured under false pretenses. CNN's Gloria Pazmino is tracking this now.

What is the sheriff now investigating?

GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right. He's opening up an investigation into what he said were activities from these people that were in Florida, trying to lure these migrants all the way to Martha's Vineyard; tricking them, according to the sheriff, Sheriff Javier Salazar of Bexar County, saying they were lured to these hotels.

Eventually sent to Martha's Vineyard. He said the people were taken advantage of and he believes there is possible criminality. Listen to the sheriff describing what he believes went on here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHERIFF JAVIER SALAZAR, BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS: I believe that they were preyed upon. Somebody came from out of state, preyed upon these people, lured them with promises of a better life -- which is what they were absolutely looking for -- and with the knowledge that they were going to cling to whatever hope they could be offered for a better life, to just be exploited and hoodwinked into making this trip to Florida and then onward to Martha's Vineyard for what I believe to be nothing more than political posturing.


PAZMINO: So certainly this is all going to be part of the investigation going forward. Kate, whether or not people broke the law here, how they actually lured these migrants and what, if any, culpability or responsibility some of these states may have to bear.

BOLDUAN: What laws were broken if any. Talk about the amount of money. There is new reporting about how much money has been spent with these flights.

PAZMINO: We've been looking into how much the different states, Florida and Texas, have been spending to pay for this. So far, we know that, in Florida, $950,000 spent so far to charter some these airlines.

And Texas has spent $12 million on their busing efforts. Some of this is taxpayer money. So there are questions about whether that is a right use of these taxpayer dollars, these tax resources and if these two governors are in the right to be spending the money in this way.

That will certainly be part of the investigation. But it looks like they're making these payments and, from what we know, these flights and these busing, the busing will continue.

BOLDUAN: It will not be ending right now or any time soon. Thank you very much for your reporting.

So joining me now is Massachusetts state senator Julian Cyr, a Democrat whose district includes Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod, where the migrants are being sheltered.

Thank you so much. You've been calling for a federal investigation into this.

What do you make of this county sheriff in Texas now getting involved?

JULIAN CYR (D-MA), STATE SENATOR: Well, thank you so much for having me. And I think it is encouraging to see authorities in Texas asking some of the same serious questions that we have here in Massachusetts.

I've spoken with these Venezuelan immigrants, both on Martha's Vineyard and visited them yesterday on Cape Cod in the shelter that we've set up here. And it is really apparent they feel they were lied to, deceived.

One woman used the term "kidnapped" to describe their experience. So it really raises significant concerns.

The other piece I think is very important that folks realize, none of these individuals were in any violation of immigration law. They had presented themselves to immigration authorities, seeking asylum.

These are Venezuelans, fleeing a brutal Communist dictatorship and proceeding through the asylum process. And there is real question about whether or not this transport interfered with due process for immigration.

BOLDUAN: You visited Joint Base Cape Cod, where the migrants are staying.

Talk about what you saw when you were there.

CYR: It is quite an impressive humanitarian mission, using several dormitories that we have on the base. We have actually used these facilities in the past to help migrants a number of years ago, helping unaccompanied minors, who in coordination came to Massachusetts with the Obama administration.

And so there is a whole suite of resources. We spent some time in the mess hall, the cafeteria, where, yes, there is meals but also social services. Several of the housing related agencies in the region are helping them to find placement.

There is unimpeded access to attorneys. Each and every one of these individuals and families has an attorney that is working on their individual case. And this is voluntary.

We actually had two members of group that departed yesterday for New York City to meet up with family members that they were planning to sort of -- planning to meet anyway before being inadvertently rerouted to Massachusetts through this political stunt.

BOLDUAN: So State Senator, you said that your conversations with the migrants, they feel lied to and deceived and one described that she felt like she had been kidnapped. I want to play what governor Ron DeSantis said last night defending his moves.



GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They all signed consent forms to go. And then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha's Vineyard. It had the numbers for different services on Martha's Vineyard.

So it was clearly voluntary. And all of the other nonsense you're hearing is just not true.

And why wouldn't they want to go, given where they were?


BOLDUAN: What do you say to that?

CYR: Well, I mean, to have consent -- and you needed informed consent and no one that we've spoken with knew they were going to Massachusetts. I've seen the pamphlet which was hastily created. And it appears someone Googled random organizations and agencies on Martha's Vineyard.

There was no advanced contact to anybody on Martha's Vineyard, let alone in Massachusetts about this transport. So, look, I understand that border communities have significant capacity concerns as it relates to immigration, to the influx of migrants that we continue to see at the border.

But this wasn't about having nonborder communities pitch in in this effort. This wasn't about helping vulnerable families seek a better life. This is about using human beings as part of a political stunt. And that is just inhumane and it is shameful.

BOLDUAN: Still, governor DeSantis received a standing ovation from Republican voters at a rally in Kansas this weekend as he was talking about the southern border crisis and making a nod to the flights that he arranged.

Clearly he's taking advantage of what he sees as a political win. You're a Democrat, you do not agree with him I would just assume on a wide range of issues, specifically this one.

So tell me from your perspective, how can you or anyone move this important issue out of politics and to somewhere where there could be an actual solution?

CYR: Well, we've stayed focused on providing support and care, for providing dignity and respect and compassion to these families, who found themselves on Martha's Vineyard and now on Cape Cod.

And in Massachusetts, this is not a partisan issue. The group of legislators that went to Joint Base Cape Cod Yesterday, this is a bipartisan delegation. You've heard from our Republican governor and Democrats from across the state condemning this.

So here in Massachusetts, this is not a partisan issue. We remain really focused on providing these people with support and dignity and respect and treating them as human beings, which they are.

And if there is a broader conversation about how nonborder states could help out, it has to be done in coordination, not just these political stunts trying to seek a gotcha moment with human beings just seeking a better life.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Coming up, Donald Trump's legal team requested a special master. They got one and now they don't seem to be on board with how that special master wants to run things. That is next.




BOLDUAN: Today, the special master will meet for the first time with Donald Trump's legal team and Justice Department prosecutors as he begins the independent outside review of the documents found during the FBI search of the former president's home.

Yet Donald Trump doesn't seem on board with how that special master wants to run things here, even though Donald Trump was the one to first request a special master step in. Katelyn Polantz is live in Washington.

Can you lay out what is going on here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they wanted this special master, this particular special master, judge Raymond Dearie of the federal court in Brooklyn.

But now that he has indicated what he wants to do with the process, now that he's the special master, the Trump team has concerns about how that could potentially be moving forward.

First of all, they seem to be a little concerned with the speed at which he wants to approach things, that judge Dearie does want them to work through all of these documents within a little bit over two weeks. That is pretty quick. They're already trying to pump the brakes on that.

And also they are expressing concern over judge Dearie wanting them to nail down whether or not Donald Trump declassified these more than 100 records that are marked as such, that were taken out of Mar-a-Lago.

That fact could be very crucial in a criminal case, if it were to be charged by the Justice Department. And last night the Trump team did indicate in a filing that they were unwilling to say that they might not want to say yet whether or not Trump declassified the documents.

That may be something they want to disclose for a defense if there were an indictment at a later date. So they are indicating that they want to tread very carefully here with this special master.

We'll have to see exactly how much judge Dearie is going to press them on these particular points. And he will be in court with the Trump lawyers and with the Justice Department at 2:00 pm today, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Very interesting. Katelyn, thank you so much for laying that out.

Now to a wild twist, this, as you see right there, this is Adnan Syed. He's walking out of a courthouse, freed after a judge vacated his murder conviction in the death of his former high school girlfriend. He's spent 23 years behind bars and maintained he's innocent

throughout. His case was featured in the podcast, "Serial." Alexandria Field joins me with more on this.

The story is remarkable; this twist now just as remarkable.

How did this all happen?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is absolutely stunning. But Adnan Syed has maintained his innocence for more than 20 years.


FIELD: But this time it was the prosecution that asked them to vacate the sentence after a reinvestigation of the case, which led the state to believe there were glaring failures in the initial prosecution.

Prosecutors are saying this is not a declaration of their belief in his innocence; instead, it is reflective of the fact that they no longer have confidence in the integrity of the conviction.

Prosecutors will now determine whether or not to take him to a new trial. That decision will hinge on the impending results of new DNA testing. If they don't pursue a new trial, they could dismiss all charges.

The developments of the last 24 hours leaving the family of Hae Min Lee in a state of shock, confusion and profound disappointment. Here is what their attorney had to say.


STEVE KELLY, HAE MIN LEE FAMILY ATTORNEY: You don't shut a family like this out of the process and ram a deal like this down their throat and that is what happened yesterday. This family was railroaded and excluded. This was a done deal. It made for good press. But it was devastating to this family.


FIELD: The attorney said the family was not given adequate time to oppose or even fully understand the motion that led to Adnan Syed's release. Her brother did tearfully address the court during the hearing. And at that time he reminded all those that were listening, for him, this is not a podcast; this is real life.

BOLDUAN: It is very true. And it is an important reminder in all of this. It is great to see you, Alex. Thank you for that.

Joining me now is CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan.

The journalist who covered this case for the podcast, she put it this way.

"Syed's case contains about every crime problem the system can cough up, from questionable interview methods, keeping crucial evidence from the defense, slightly junky science," as she put it, "extreme prison sentences," even how difficult it is to get your case back before a court if you've been convicted.

How badly do you think that this case would have had to have been handled for this judge to make this move?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It has to have been handled in a very, very bad manner. He's been in prison for 23 years. It is a very, very serious case. It is a homicide case.

He allegedly strangled his girlfriend to death and then buried her with the help of a friend. But when they went and re-examined the evidence, and this is interesting because the prosecutor and the prosecutor's office re-examined the evidence to see if he deserved to be given a sentence reduction.

In doing so, they found out, number one, that the entire case really came down to a friend of his, whose name was Wilde (ph), said that he had been shown the body in the trunk of Syed's car at time of trial.

The jury was hesitant about believing him because he specified two different locations as the first location where he saw the body -- and, of course, wouldn't you remember very much exactly where you first saw a dead body.

In any event, that confusion troubled the jury. But prosecutors came in with cell phone evidence. They used the towers and they triangulate and they can show where your cell phone was at a particular time.

That triangulation showed that Syed was in the vicinity of where the crime allegedly committed. When they re-examined that cell phone information, they realized it was junk science and that it was totally unreliable. Finally, they came up with two more potential suspects in the case. So a lot of reasons to reverse the conviction.

BOLDUAN: And the kicker about all of this is that most of what the state presented, to ask the judge to reconsider this conviction, was known about, was known back when this was originally investigated. Science has advanced and DNA science and such.

But the additional -- potential additional suspects could have been known back then. I want to play what Sarah Koenig, the journalist following this case for the podcast, what she said on a new episode of the podcast this morning. Listen to this.



SARAH KOENIG, PODCAST HOST (voice-over): Yesterday, there was a lot of talk about fairness. But most of what the state put in that motion to vacate, all the actual evidence was either known or knowable to cops and prosecutors back in 1999.

So even on a day when the government publicly recognizes its own mistakes, it is hard to feel cheered about a triumph of fairness because we've built a system that takes more than 20 years to self- correct. And that is just this one case.


BOLDUAN: She's speaking to the bigger systemic issues.

What do you think of that?

CALLAN: Well, she has a point in this case especially. The two suspects that they now say that they have additional suspects, they knew of those suspects, police did and prosecutors did. But they didn't turn it over to the defense.

Now that is an egregious Brady violation. And I think that is the primary reason that prosecutors said, hey, we've got to let him out and relook at this case to see if we could retry it.


CALLAN: But there are a whole bunch of other problems. His criminal defense attorney was disbarred for misrepresenting clients in a case. One of the major investigating detectives in the case was charged with misconduct in the way he gathered evidence in other murder cases.

So everything that you look at in this case, there is a problem.

BOLDUAN: He's out now. The judge now has given prosecutors 30 days, I believe it is, to move ahead with a new trial or to drop charges altogether. Let's play for everyone what the state's attorney said about that.


MARILYN MOSBY, BALTIMORE CITY STATE'S ATTORNEY: We're not yet declaring, not yet declaring Adnan Syed as innocent. But we are declaring that, in interest of fairness and justice, he is entitled to a new trial.


BOLDUAN: What do you think is going to happen?

CALLAN: I don't think there will be a new trial. Occasionally -- and more than just occasionally, frequently in cases like this, a new trial will be ordered. I've seen 20-year-old cases that were retried. They're hard to win because the evidence is not as available and as fresh as when you try it shortly after a homicide.

But here there were so many problems with the case. It is unsalvageable. And even if they thought he was guilty, prosecutors and police have so botched the gathering of evidence that I don't think they could ever --


BOLDUAN: -- I think this is the hardest question of all.

How does Adnan Syed ever be made whole again, 23 years behind bars?

CALLAN: There is a mechanism to bring a case for wrongful conviction. My law firm is one of many that handles such cases. And I've seen and handled cases where there are multimillion-dollar awards to people wrongfully incarcerated.

But they could never get their life back. Can you imagine 23 years in prison? He was 17 when he was picked up by the police. So his life has really been wiped out. I don't care how much money --

BOLDUAN: Money does not give you that back. That is for sure. Thank you, Paul.

Coming up for us, Russia triggers a plan to formally annex occupied regions in Eastern Ukraine. The first referendum vote could happen on Friday. The latest from Ukraine in a live report next.