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Former Escaped Killer Caught After Two Weeks on the Run; 6,000+ Presumed Dead in Libya After Catastrophic Floods; Virginia Police Crack 1994 Murder with Help of DNA. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 13, 2023 - 15:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The manhunt that had a nation watching is over. Convicted killer Danelo Cavalcante, who was captured this morning, seen here at the Pennsylvania State Police barracks, before heading to the state prison. Two weeks ago the 34-year-old inmate escaped the Chester County prison. But this morning. Police say it was a DEA plane that picked up Cavalcante's heat signal. Officers then surrounded him. Cavalcante, they say, then tried to crawl away with the rifle that he had stolen from a homeowner not too far away. But police dogs stopped him.


LT. COL. GEORGE BIVENS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: I believe he was taken by surprise and I believe the canine played a large role in him not being able to utilize that firearm.

DEB RYAN, CHESTER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Our nightmare is finally over and the good guys won. We owe a debt of gratitude to all of the first responders for their tireless and dedicated efforts in bringing this fugitive to justice.


KEILAR: CNN's Danny Freeman is joining us now from Chester County. Danny, I can't imagine how relieved people are there in the area and also how relieved the families of the victims of Danelo Cavalcante are.

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it the amount of relief here in Chester County is really tremendous. Two minutes before I came on air, I was speaking to a woman who says that she's very familiar with the area. She said she actually rides her horse and fox hunts in this area all the time. And she said it's been nerve racking. She has a lot of friends who live well within this search perimeter, who had their home searched over the weekend.

And just the thought of having a convicted murderer on the loose in this frankly otherwise very peaceful area of Chester County. It really kept folks on Edge.

[15:35:00] And she was just talking to me saying the amount of relief again, it feels like she can breathe again. And that's the really the sentiment we've been hearing from residents in the area all day.

I'll say we, we're now at the spot right behind me, Brianna, this is where Cavalcante was picked up along Pottstown Pike. But we were up a little further on Pottstown Pike the moment that he was actually captured and we saw residents driving by honking their horns, really showing support for Pennsylvania State Police and other law enforcement agencies who were here.

We spoke with some neighbors personally a little while ago. Take a listen to what they had to say.


FREEMAN: So from your perspective, this was one of the best opportunities they had to get them.

DOUG BREWER, WORKS NEAR AREA WHERE KILLER CAPTURE: Lucky, yeah, yeah. because if you got out of here, they've been real tough. It's just kind of nice that, you know, to know that they got him and you know, we can go back to life, you know. Go back to doing our thing normally you know.

DARIEL VELEZ, LIVES NEAR AREA WHERE KILLER CAPTURE: It's definitely relieving. Especially because like I said, it started out in Westchester and made it all the way here. That's an hour away. So it's just crazy how much -- how much he traveled in a short amount of time.


FREEMAN (on camera): And then, of course, Brianna, you noted that the family of the victim of Cavalcante's murder, Deborah Brandao. The family of Brandao really expressing relief today. According to the District Attorney, they got the first call, 14 days on the run now captured -- Brianna.

KEILAR: That is something they got the first call. Danny Freeman, thank you for your report -- Boris.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: 6,000 people are reportedly dead in Libya after devastating flooding there. The desperate search and rescue effort to keep that number from rising. When we come back.



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: The humanitarian crisis in Libya is growing more dire by the minute. The death toll now stands at more than 6,000 people, following devastating flooding in the country's northeastern city of Derna. Right now, emergency teams are searching through piles of debris for survivors and bodies. Some 10,000 people are still missing. CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman has been following this. And Ben, I wonder is the assumption here that many, most of those missing have lost their lives? What's the priority right now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the priority is to find anybody, any possible survivors, but things are not looking good. Keep in mind that when those two dams broke as a result of this intense rainfall from Storm Daniel essentially sent a wall of mud, a tsunami of mud through the middle of the city. And unlike an earthquake where you might find a pocket of air somewhere in a demolished building, with mud, that's it. You're suffocated, you're dead.

And the expectation is, I mean, we're already getting unofficial reports that perhaps the death toll is 8,000 and it's probably going to continue to rise now. As a result of this death toll in a town that's very difficult to access because many of the roads and bridges were washed out, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of bodies lying around the city. They've been covered with blanket. It's but the temperatures are still high and doctors are very worried that in the absence of any sort of refrigeration, any power that there could be an outbreak of disease as a result of all those bodies lying around.

In addition to that, there's the problem that there's not any clean running water as well. So there is a real problem or threat of disease breaking out in addition to simply the fact that the infrastructure in that city has by and large collapsed -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: There's the danger of the immediate disaster. Then of course, the danger of the aftermath. Ben Wedeman, thanks so much.

And For more information about how you can help Libya flood relief efforts, please do go to -- several good options there -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Now to some of the other headlines we're watching this hour.

The CDC says that drug overdose deaths are continuing to rise with this year already on track to break new records. New data shows that more than 111,000 people died from a drug overdose in the 12-month period ending in April. That's about 1,000 more compared to the previous year. The CDC says that fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are involved in nearly 70 percent of those overdose deaths.

Also, Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah says he is not running for reelection. The 76-year-old points out that he'd be in his mid 80s when his next term ends, and he says he wants a new generation of leaders to take his place. Senator Romney obviously has been an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump.

And this popular '90s Boy Band said bye, bye, bye in the early 2000s, but last night *NSYNC made a lot of fans happy at the VMA Awards -- watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over 20 years ago, we were just kids, when we won Best Pop Video for "Bye, Bye, Bye." It was our first VMA and it meant the world to us.



SANCHEZ: Well, last night meant the world to Taylor Swift and her fans because the boy band presented her the Best Pop Award. She seemed just as shocked as her fans by the surprise reunion -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Always good to see those guys together.

So still ahead. This is an almost 30-year-old cold case cracked wide open due to advances in DNA analysis and some very good detective work. We're going to take you inside this case.



KEILAR: An almost 30-year-old cold case cracked wide open due to advances in DNA analysis and some very good detective work. Back in 1994 37-year-old Robin Lawrence was stabbed to death in her suburban Virginia home, not far from Washington, DC. While her two-year-old daughter, who was unharmed but left alone, was in the other room. Police collected DNA at the time but they could not find the killer until now.

Detectives revisiting this cold case used that DNA to find blood relatives and come up with a sketch of what the suspect may have looked like. And you see the sketch here alongside two photos of the suspect when he was younger. And this led to Virginia detectives to the New York home of Stephen Smerk, who has now been charged with second degree murder.

Kevin Davis is with us now. He is the chief of the Fairfax County Police Department. Chief, thank you so much for being with us. Obviously, a terrible case, but good news that there's an ending here. Explain how these, detective tracked Smerk down with DNA and how this sketch played a role.

CHIEF KEVIN DAVIS, FAIRFAX COUNTY POLICE: Well, thank you for having me, Brianna. That sketch is amazing. And that sketch was not drawn by an artist. It was generated by genetic research genealogy. It's an amazing tool.

We've solved several cases in the past couple of years based on familial matches. We collected a really good DNA sample back in 1994. So we had a DNA profile that literally sat in a national database. And almost 30 years later, a relative of Stephen Smerk was hit upon. So we knew that we didn't have our killer necessarily, but we had someone related to our killer. And that's when our cold case detectives decided to take a trip up to Niskayuna, New York.

KEILAR: And explain that. So that leads to a sketch. How do you find the person to then go to his house? DAVIS: You look at who that person is related to and you see if that

person is employed or lives near where the crime scene was committed. So we had a pretty good idea that we were in the ballpark for a potential suspect. But we had no idea that within an hour and a half of making contact with Stephen Smerk that he would be literally confessing full -- a full confession to Fairfax County detectives. It was -- it was. Amazing.

KEILAR: It's really amazing. They showed up, asked him for a swab and he gave it to him, right? They gave it to him.

DAVIS: And that's kind of a red flag to immediately consent without asking any questions. He didn't ask any questions whatsoever. He immediately consented. Our detectives told him that they were investigating a 1994 murder in Fairfax County. And without question, Brianna, he gave the sample. An hour and a half later, when our detectives were back at their hotel, he called one of our detectives and said, I want to talk about what I did.

KEILAR: This is a brutal murder. This was a brutal murder and this suspect, too, has confessed, seems to have lived a -- it seems a pretty normal life since then. Did you learn anything from him about this?

DAVIS: It -- that too is amazing. There's a there's many extraordinary things about this case. He's been married for many years and he has two high school aged children and seemingly lives an ordinary life as an IT professional. Has never encountered law enforcement. Has never been arrested. That's a bit unusual. He's 51 years old and all I can imagine is he's been living with what he did since 1994 and he fully confessed to our detectives in great detail.

KEILAR: Without giving very good reason for this is what's clear. This isn't a very clear motive. This case, I mean, we think of this case, we think of the Gilgo Beach murders this summer, where police used DNA evidence and then just some very good detective work revisiting those cold cases. Are we going to see a host of cases like this coming from all over the country?

DAVIS: I think Brianna, we're already seeing it. And right now I'm thinking about renaming cold case to simply unsolved murders because they're waiting to be solved. And with genetic genealogy, research and analysis, and the familial matches that we're making left and right in our profession, it allows us to get to or closer and closer to persons who do and commit the ultimate crime of murder. Our victims can't speak for themselves, so we have to do that work on their behalf.

KEILAR: And they still have family members, you know, who want answers. It's so, so important. Chief, thanks so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

DAVIS: Thanks Brianna.


SCIUTTO: Still ahead. Champagne problems no more. You could love Taylor Swift ever more with a new gig as the Taylor Swift reporter for the nation's biggest newspaper chain. Imagine that.



KEILAR: Are you ready for it? I've always wanted to say that this is very exciting for me. So Gennette is hiring a reporter solely focused on Taylor Swift. The nations --

SCIUTTO: Brianna just applied for it.

KEILAR: I'm going to see, you know, what does it pay? I have some questions. To the. nation's largest newspaper chain is looking for someone who knows the singer and her influence all too well. Quote:

An energetic writer, photographer, and social media pro who can quench an undeniable thirst for all things Taylor Swift with a steady stream of content across multiple platforms.

SCIUTTO: Sounds a little like Brianna.


SCIUTTO: The pay range -- or Boris -- $21 to $50.00 an hour.

KEILAR: Ah. Mm-hmm. That's arranged.

SCIUTTO: However, the posting has met with some bad blood because Gannett axed hundreds of jobs last year to cut costs.

SANCHEZ: For the record, I would be a Hagadone reporter, not necessarily Taylor Swift. Not really my bag. Nevertheless, if the Swift shift sounds like a wild dream to you, Gannett has a blank space for you to write down your name.

SCIUTTO: Oh well delivered.

SANCHEZ: I'm told that that is a lyric, but I know nothing about Taylor Swift. I'm sorry, I don't.


KEILAR: Look it says -- does it sound like your wildest dream?

SANCHEZ: Oh, cause that's a lyric!

KEILAR: That's a lyric.

SANCHEZ: See I botched that.


SCIUTTO: Do you get?

KEILAR: Yes, but that's OK.

SCIUTTO: Because it's a question.

TAPPER: That is a good question.

KEILAR: I think so, yes.

SCIUTTO: We should check that out.

KEILAR: Yes. Do you get to cover the international tour? I have a producer who is asking. I hope the answer is no or she might leave me.

All right, "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.