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Erin Burnett Outfront

Obama Official: "We'll Send You Back"; U.S-Mexico Penetrable 1,900-Mile Border; Hamas Threaten to Strike Main Israeli Airport; NBA Star LeBron James: "I'm Coming Home"; Interview with Susan Sarandon and Sister Helen Prejean

Aired July 11, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Next breaking news, crisis in the Middle East, the Israeli government not backing down tonight from threat of all out war. Hamas issuing a new threat tonight. This time aimed at Israel's main airport.

Plus the so-called "Call Girl Killer," the woman charged in connection with a Google executive's death is now being linked to get another death. We continue our reporting on that.

And Lebron James heads home. His announcement sends shockwaves around the country. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the crisis on the border, President Obama sending a top surrogate his homeland security secretary to the U.S.-Mexico border to see the situation. Now this is a stop that a lot of people on both sides of the political aisle are saying that the president of the United States should be making. The president defended his decision saying this week that he is not interested in what he called photo ops.

The Republicans have seized on that statement today tweeting this photo of the president meeting with a student in Austin, Texas. The caption says, Girl, I'm not interested in photo ops. The tweet from House GOP, a picture says a thousand words. Now we are going to discuss the political fallout shortly and whether the president is at this point just being stubborn in his decision to not visit the border.

First, though, Ana Cabrera joins me now from Artesia, New Mexico where Secretary Jeh Johnson toured a temporary detention facility where currently 400 women and their children are. Ana was there. Ana, the president was not there. Obviously, the DHS secretary was, what did he do?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, he wants to send a message primarily to these immigrants and to the countries from which they are coming that if you come here, you will be detained and you will be deported. That is the administration's main focus right now, expedited repatriation.

And he says that a facility like this, these temporary housing facilities that are allowing them to really hammer home that message. Because once the undocumented immigrants are here, they are held here the entire time as their legal case plays out. They're not getting a court date and sent on their way.

They are held here until their fates are decided, Erin, and we learned since this facility opened back on June 27th that they already have established a group of immigrants who will be deported next week. Listen to what the secretary had to say.


SECRETARY JEH JOHNSON, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: The message has to be that our border is not open to legal migration and we are sending people back. And this is an example of that effort.


CABRERA: So again, they have a group that is going to be deported next week. They are trying to turn these case quickly. We know that the people who are staying here are video conferences with judges in order to play out those cases and the goal ultimately is to have their legal cases completed within two to four days of arrival. They say that is realistic now they have this more efficient system for processing and housing these undocumented immigrants.

BURNETT: Ana, the 400 women and children that we talked about that are behind you, what are they doing? I mean, are they -- do they have rooms in there? Are they just sitting in one central space? What are they doing?

CABRERA: It's a far cry from those detention centers we saw in Texas that were overwhelmed and overflowing there at the border. This is more like a college campus feel, Erin. We looked at their accommodations. They are staying in what looked like dorm rooms. They have bunk beds and televisions and shared bathrooms, but they are separated by gender and private.

Shower areas with a lot of toys for the children to play with. Everybody is allowed to roam free on this 3,600-acre facility campus, but they are closely monitored and again they can't leave until their cases are completed. There is schooling for the children who are here however temporarily.

Really what we were told by one ICE official is we want to treat these people with dignity and treat them humanely because this is America and that's how we treat people in America -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much. Ana Cabrera there. And the question is, when you think about the 400 women and children and you hear how she was describing they are being treated so well. The question is how many immigrants are actually coming across that border and what is the reality of the security there?

So I want to go to Tom Foreman in the virtual studio. Because Tom, you know, all of a sudden, I mean, this issue is certainly becoming exponentially bigger of a problem. But it has been going since at least last fall, so how many people?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How many people? That's a big question. Let's talk about the geography of the area. First, 1900 miles, that is roughly the length of the border here and it's far from impenetrable. We talk about this fence, the fence only covers about a third of it. Most of that is clustered off in the western half particularly near the urban areas and towns. And that's where you find 40 legal entry points.

But in terms of illegal entries, now near Nogales, there's a lot of crossing over in that area. Arizona and New Mexico, where we saw Ana just moments ago. And down at the point of Texas right down there, there are a lot of crossing over there -- Erin.

BURNETT: So how many people are trying this every year?

TUCHMAN: Yes, that is exactly we get back to the basic question. How many people? Nobody actually knows how many. Look at this chart from the Department of Homeland Security as they looked at these numbers. You can see it has been falling off in terms of the number of people who have been actually apprehended or turned back near the border.

There are a lot of reasons for that including the economy here not being so good as to draw as many in recent years. But in 2011, 750,000 people turned away, but nobody thinks that's just the people they know about. The actual number is much bigger. The latest estimate is 11 million people living in this country illegally, Erin, mostly from Central America.

BURNETT: And somewhere in Central America obviously that's a big area. Where are they coming from? And they are trying to treat these immigrants well, but have a so-called expedited repatriation process. What is expedited? How long does it take for one of these people who comes in to be sent home?

TUCHMAN: Let's talk about that in a second. Let me answer your first question, where are these people from? Well, most of the people who are in this country illegally about 59 percent are from Mexico. When you move further down to El Salvador, the percentages are lower, 6 percent. If you go down to Guatemala, it's 5 percent and Honduras, 3 percent. These areas are driving this latest rush as people are convinced if they can just get here or get their kids here, they can stay.

And if you talk about this processing system to get them out, to a degree they're right because it has been clogged up. The average amount of time for processing someone has gone to around 500 days or more. That's a long time to be here. The idea of expediting it and get people out much, much quicker, is clearly, Erin, about sending a message with them.

If they can get more of those people to go home to those places and say it doesn't work, that might take some of the pressure off the border -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Tom, thank you very much. And this is obviously putting a lot of scrutiny on the president and how he has handled this crisis. Some have called this his Katrina moment. Joining me OUTFRONT, our political panel, our Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona and Matt Lewis, conservative commentator who writes for "The Daily Caller."

OK, great to have both of you with us. Maria, let me start with what Tom just said there. 500 days. That is appalling.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree. And I think the focus needs to be to try to get that to be a lot faster. And Erin, the money that President Obama has asked for this Congress is exactly to do just that. So that the processing especially of these young children and of these women can be a lot quicker.

But at the same time, make sure that they do have their due process because as you know, a lot of these kids are coming from places that they could -- their lives could be in danger if they go back. This is incredibly heart-breaking situation. As an immigrant myself and as someone who worked at INS under the Clinton administration, this really hits home.

So it is appalling to me when the president is trying to focus on solutions and Republicans are balking at what he's asked for, number one, and number two, for more than a year and a half, have refused to do anything to pass real comprehensive immigration reform, which could have mitigated a lot of this in the first place.

BURNETT: I want to ask you about that, Matt. But first, I want to get your reaction to what Ana was reporting. We saw the pictures of the dorm rooms. The facilities she is at tonight, dorm rooms, toys, schooling for the kids, a collegial experience and these people could be here for a very long time. When you see that is that something that you are glad of and proud of or do you think that conditions as good, quote/unquote, "as those are" encourage more people to come?

MATT LEWIS, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I'm proud of it. I wish we had conditions that good in Texas. I substantive agree with Jim Johnson on this. I think we have to humane in how we treat these young folks. Imagine how bad it must be in their country for their parents to send them with coyotes across Mexico in hopes for a better life. But it's we have to honor the rule of law. And I have to agree that when they're sent back hope Friday it will send a message that it's not worth taking the chance.

BURNETT: Matt, you sound like you are sitting here defending the president, a president who has said clearly, you could get killed coming here and when you do we're going to send you home. He has been humane but not soft on this issue. He has set records in terms of the number of people he has deported.

LEWIS: I think that the situation, the mess is a bipartisan problem but I think President Obama bears a lot of blame as well. Some of which is, I mean, just in terms of leadership and symbolism I believe he should have gone to the border in Texas. That's not show biz or a photo op, hat is called leadership. George Bush should have gone to Katrina immediately as far as I'm concerned.

And I think that President Obama should send the National Guard to the border immediately and that's something he has the power to do. But substantively speak we need to be humane and compassionate, but we have to send the message it's not worth taking the chance.

BURNETT: Maria, to Matt's point, why not go to the border. Let's just be honest, presidents do things for photo ops all the time. The president has gone to Afghanistan and Iraq and given press conferences in primetime. He had done that for the visual power of it. Why fight doing it now? When people on both sides of the aisle are saying go to the border.

CARDONA: I actually do think he should go and I hope that he will. But he didn't necessarily have to go last week when the focus was all on Governor Perry saying he should go and the focus would have been political and it takes a lot of resources when the president travels and at that moment and we're in that moment right now every resource at the border needs to be focused on taking care of these children.

I'm glad I'm hearing matt saying what he is saying. I hope he talks to his Republican colleagues to say instead of sending out stupid tweets and making stupid lawsuits on this president, show some leadership and work with the president to get this solved. I think the American people deserve that.

BURNETT: We're going to leave it there. Thanks to both of you. Interesting argument for why the president maybe shouldn't have gone to the border. The first I've heard that, pretty convincing.

Up next, breaking news, American Airlines afraid that commercial planes should could be caught in the cross fire in Israel. Wolf Blitzer is in the scene in Jerusalem and going to talk about how dangerous that situation is.

Plus new allegations against the price prostitute link to a Google executive's death. Police are believing that a prostitute could be linked to multiple additional deaths.

And one year after George Zimmerman was found not guilty, CNN talks to the child's most controversial witness.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: George Zimmerman not a man. That still a little boy with a grown body.



BURNETT: Breaking news, U.S. airlines say they are now monitoring the situation in Israel. Hamas militants warning airlines not to fly into the country's main airport in Tel Aviv, threatening air strikes from Gaza. Israel says that Hamas has fired 570 rockets this week. And this comes -- this is the aftermath of a strike in Rafa.

So far, Palestinian officials say more than 150 Palestinians have lost their lives. Israel says this is a strike on a weapons storage facility that the Palestinians had that they say was concealed inside a school for girls in Gaza. This is something that Israel accuses Hamas all the time of putting targets amidst women and children.

Wolf Blitzer is in Jerusalem tonight. I want to start off with these threats on the airport, you have been in the country a couple of days and talking to people. What are people saying and what are you hearing about the threats on U.S. Airlines flying into the country.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": It's not just U.S. Airliners but airliners from around the world. When we were flying in we were told that there were new procedures that the pilots were taking to come in a different route. Israeli officials say that the commercial airplanes that are coming in are safe right now but it's they are trying to make sure that the threats don't materialize. I saw firsthand what is going on when I went down to the Gaza border.


BLITZER: At many moment here in Israel, a rocket attack siren could go off.

(on camera): You can hear the sirens have just gone off. We are being told to get to a shelter. We had to drop everything to get to safety and an anxious wait for the all clear before coming out to see if anyone was hurt or killed. Earlier, a rocket slammed into this gas station and a huge fire broke out, still smoldering when we arrived.

YORAM LEVI: There was a rocket that directly hit behind me.

BLITZER: Did it hit the truck?

LEVI: No. Where you see now the tractor.


LEVI: And of course because of the fire, started from the truck and 11 cars were burnt.

BLITZER: How much warning is there?

LEVI: Maximum 1 minute. Maximum. Usually it's less.

BLITZER (voice-over): Sirens went off in Tel Aviv as well, where at least one rocket was intercepted. And now, Hamas militants are vowing they plan to target Ben-Gurion International Airport. According to the Israeli Defense Forces, around 100 rockets were fired at Israel today. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed air strikes on Gaza will continue until quiet is restored.

Those strikes are responsible to 100 deaths according to Palestinian authorities. This video posted online is showing the three story house of a family where five people were reported killed in their sleep. Others injured were rushed into ambulances. The emergency rooms are overwhelmed and patients are being treated on the floor.

In a video statement overnight, the military wing of Hamas blamed Israel for starting the clash and claimed they used only a small portion of their arsenal and could fight for weeks. Adding to the dangers? A threat from a new direction. Overnight a rocket was fired from Lebanon into Israel, raising the spectre of a two-front war.

AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: I suspect this isn't a second front. If it were to be it would essentially fulfill one of Israel's worst nightmares and that is Hamas and Hezbollah able to reach the entire country with their weapons.


BLITZER: There are some efforts underway behind the scenes right now to achieve a ceasefire. I know the government of Qatar is deeply involved. But a lot of folks in Israel and the Palestinians are not hopeful that a ceasefire is going to emerge any time soon. I suspect that this situation is about to get a whole lot worse.

BURNETT: Wolf Blitzer, thank you very much. As you hear Wolf saying it could get worse or about to get worse. Ben Wedeman now is in Gaza City tonight. Ben, what is the story where you are?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's getting a lot worse. It's already worse here in Gaza where we have a death toll at this point, Erin, of about 113 according to our sources. Keeping in mind of course that the Palestinians don't have an iron dome system to stop the Israeli rockets from coming in, for civilians there are no air raid sirens to warn people of incoming air raids. There's no bunkers. There's no bomb shelter, there's nowhere to hide.

And we saw what happens with that in a neighborhood north of here where a three-story home was hit by a missile. We don't know why it was targeted by a missile. But the result was some of the shrapnel from that missile to off half the head of a four-year-old boy. That -- and we saw some video when his father was taken to the hospital, absolutely devastated as his dead son lay on the bed.

Afterwards when we were there we saw some of the children clearly traumatized by what they had seen. One man came rushing by us with his three children in tow. I said where are you going? He said I'm getting out of here. I don't want my children to die in a rocket attack as well. Some people in that part of the Gaza strip, which is just north of here and we're hearing study thumps as naval bombardment is happening in that area.

They have been warned by the Israelis through phone calls to leave the entire area. You're talking about 100,000 people told to get up and go. We were there this afternoon and of course, they say even if we wanted to go, we have nowhere to go. You cannot get out of Gaza. The Egyptian border is closed for all, but the victims of the recent fighting. So there's no escape from Gaza -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Ben, thank you.

Still to come, new revelations about the call girl killer charged in the death of a Google executive. Why police believe she could be linked to the death of a nightclub owner.

And a look ahead to the next World Cup. I'll visit the 2022 host city, Doha, Qatar. We'll be back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: The world will be watching Brazil this weekend. The World Cup comes to an end. And some people are looking towards the 2022 World Cup when it will be held in the Qatar, capital of Doha. I was there a few weeks ago and we visited one of the city's biggest achievements.


BURNETT (voice-over): It's one of the newest cities on earth. Fifteen years ago almost none of these buildings were here. Across the bay is a brand new monument to the past.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You is this skyline here which is modern Doha and right over there you have the past.

BURNETT: Exactly, the past.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we're right at the center between the past and the future and we try to build those connections as we go along.

BURNETT: She is building the connections at the Museum of Islamic Art. It is built by I.M. Pei whom the Qatari royal family lured out of retirement to create what he calls a piece of sculpture. It is roughly 380,000 square feet, standing on its own island to ensure no buildings would ever over shadow it.

In just six years the museum has built the largest collection of Islamic art in the world including manuscripts, ceramics, ivory and precious stones. The exhibits date back as early as the 7th Century and collected from three continents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a living art and doesn't end with a period of time. Every collection or kind of material requires certain conservation methods and attention.

BURNETT: What do they do in the conservation lab?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If there is a carpet that needs to be preserved they work on it. If there is a ceramic piece that needs restoration work it's done. Every day is a new day, every piece has its own requirements.

BURNETT: It's a full-time staff that works on the technology of saving the art?


BURNETT: Each piece of art is carefully inspected and kept in a temperature controlled setting to protect from the heat. Since becoming the share person, she has been name to the "Time" 100 list of most influential people. She has a budget 30 time more than the New York museum of art and she has been preserving the past for the people of the future. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This past is something that will always be here and be protected. And we get ideas of how to create new bridges between our past, present and our future.


BURNETT: And still to come, new revelations about the high end prostitute charged in the death of a Google executive. Why she may be involved with another death?

And one of the world's greatest basketball players makes a major announcement. The reaction to Lebron James.


BURNETT: Surprising new twist tonight in the case of a high-end prostitute who's now been linked to two deaths. Investigators are looking into the background of Alix Tichelman, saying that she left a digital trail that suggests she is a callous and calculated killer. Living a California father of five to die on his yacht after injecting him with a lethal dose of heroine. And just months earlier, his former boyfriend, Dean Riopelle, also turned up dead from an overdose.


DISPATCH: Tell me what I have done.

ALIX TICHELMAN: I don't know. I think my boyfriend overdosed or something. Like, he won't respond and he is just laying on the ground. And I don't know.


BURNETT: Alan Vine was friends with Riopelle. He joins me now OUTFRONT.

So, Alan, you thought your friend dean died of a heart attack, right?

ALAN VINE, FRIEND OF DEAN RIOPELLE: That's exactly how I thought he died.

BURNETT: And so, then, you heard, they did the autopsy, you heard he died from a heroin overdose. What was your reaction when you first heard?

VINE: Well, I was completely shocked at for and then it was absolutely no way until a million years would he ever dream of going down that road and using such a drug. Just no way. Dean would never, ever do that.

BURNETT: And why are you so sure about that?

VINE: Well, back when me and dean used to play music together, I used to smoke weed and, you know, I used to party a little bit and he was always saying, dude, that's not the way to go. You need to do right, be health conscious. And, you know, just -- it's not the way to go, and he always preached that to me.

And when I heard he died of a heroin overdose I was immediately, no freakin' way did he die of a heroin overdose. Absolutely not.

BURNETT: So, you totally -- you don't believe that. And now, you actually met her, Alix Tichelman, at one point with him, right? I mean, what did you think of her? What was your impression?

VINE: When I first saw her, I thought she was a pretty girl. And then we hung out a while. And I delivered Dean a monkey, I brought him up a monkey from Miami to Tampa. And when I first met her, she seemed kind of immature, all about herself and kind of just really shallow, to be honest with you.

BURNETT: And so you met -- you said delivering a monkey. An animal, right?

VINE: Yes, it was Capuchin monkey. Dean used to raise monkeys and he offered me money to come up to Tampa to drive a monkey up there for him and I did. That's when I met Alix.

And I went up there with my girlfriend. And I met Dean, and we had a really nice chat and we decided that we were going to go out to dinner. But when I came back in the room with Dean after taking care of some business for him to take care of me for bringing the monkey up to him, my girlfriend felt a little weird and she told me she felt uncomfortable and that she didn't want to go have dinner with him.

So, we decided to drive back to Miami. And something never sat right about her with me or my girlfriend. It just -- especially after what I heard happened in San Jose. I couldn't believe my ears.

BURNETT: And so, bottom line, Alan, do you think that your friend's death was criminal?

VINE: You put two and two together and you get four. I think absolutely that she definitely had something to do with it, because like I said, Dean would never go down that road. Ever in a million years.

BURNETT: All right. Alan, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Now, you've heard what Alan Vine had to say about his friend who was dating Alix Tichelman. I want to bring in Steve Clark now, deputy police chief of Santa Cruz Police Department.

Good to have you with us again, sir.

Now, you just heard Alan Vine --


BURNETT: -- say his friend Dean Riopelle would never do heroin. He said, look, I had been living with that life and my friend always said, why are you doing that? Don't do that. That he was not into that at all.

Does this sound similar to what you learned about the death of the Google executive?

CLARK: Yes, definitely you can see parallels between the two stories here. You have individuals who are likely inexperienced at using this kind of a drug. And they're brought into it because of their relationship with Ms. Tichelman. And so, definitely parallels as I'm listening to his story and the background on his friend Dean, and those are exactly the kinds of things that have caused the Milton Police Department to take a second look at this.

We're excited to be working with them and sharing information on our cases. We both have an interest in moving forward and gathering as much information just like this to help paint an entire picture.

As you hear each one of these comments, you can kind of see the pieces of the puzzle falling into place here and showing us a picture.

BURNETT: So, I know you have her computers. You've been looking at her online history. Have you found anything?

CLARK: Yes, we have. You know, part of our investigation involves the search warrant that we served. We did get computer information. We were able to look at things like Google searches. We were able to look at information that she has posted on different Web sites.

And all of that, again, helps to paint a picture of who this person was and what her role was in terms of her relationships with these individuals and how it certainly is starting to sound an awful lot like she brought them into this world of drug use along with the prostitution.

BURNETT: Yes. Quickly before we go, I know she said she had over 200 clients. Have you been able to get in touch of any others? Any other strange situation in there?

CLARK: You know, we have been working with that. As you can imagine, there are different motivations and different reasons where people might not want to work with us on that.


CLARK: But, you know, we're not going to be on intent on embarrassing anybody or exposing anybody. We just want to investigate the case. We want to give the information to our D.A. and let him go to town and do what he does best, which is take this matter into court and make Alix Tichelman responsible.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you, sir. Good to talk to you again.

Well, it was a major dilemma, Miami or Cleveland. For weeks, NBA star LeBron James held two cities hostage as he weighed his next move.

Today, the pictures say it all. Celebrations in Ohio after King James, as he's known there, announced he is returning to Cleveland, a city he left in the cold when he signed with the Heat four years ago.

Tonight, Miami is wasting no time, already defacing the NBA great. Wow, talk about class and sportsmanship, guys.

Anyway, Rachel Nichols has covered and interviewed LeBron James since he was in high school. She knows him well, and she's OUTFRONT.


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: Even if you don't know what you're going to do, what have you learned from the last time you switched teams that will inform how you handle things this time?

LEBRON JAMES, NBA PLAYER: You learn from your mistakes. If I'm in that position again, I'll be able to handle it much better.

NICHOLS (voice-over): That was LeBron James before the free agency circus that has consumed the NBA these past weeks. At the time, he promised me this decision wouldn't be anything like the decision in 2010. Back then, there was the television special that earned the scorn of the nation.

JAMES: In this fall, I'm going to take my talent to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.

NICHOLS: And broke hearts all over Cleveland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is terrible. This is the worst thing that could ever happen to Cleveland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope he never wins anything in Miami.

NICHOLS: But four years and two NBA titles later, a much more mature LeBron stuck to the approach he promised. Instead of the TV extravaganza, a 952-word essay published in "Sports Illustrated", and remember those predictions of titles he made back when he came to Miami?

JAMES: Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven.

NICHOLS: This time, LeBron was much more modest, writing, quote, "I'm not promising a championship. We're not ready, no way."

He also spoke from the heart. Comparing his stint in Miami to going to college, noting, quote, "These past four years helped raise me to who I am."

It's a concept he had spoken to me about earlier. How even though he was already 25 years old when he joined the Heat, it was his first time truly away from home.

JAMES: Even though I played for Cleveland for seven years, I still live in was in Akron. So, I was in Akron for 25 straight years and that's all I know. I didn't know how difficult it was to learn a new streets, learn new culture, learn new people, be around different things that I hadn't been around. And those were very challenging for me.

NICHOLS: Now, he says, that growing up process is what made him finally understand his attachment and his responsibilities to the place he grew up. Cleveland fans haven't celebrated a championship in any major sport in 50 years and his loyalty to them earned praise from many corners, even the White House.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's a pretty powerful statement about the value of a place that you consider home.

NICHOLS: Yes, this time around, things are different. Back in 2010, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert posted a now infamous public letter to LeBron on the team's Web site, calling his departure, quote, "a cowardly betrayal" and "shocking act of disloyalty."

On Friday, well, Gilbert tweeted, "My 8-year-old son says, 'Daddy does this mean I can finally wear my LeBron jersey again', yes, it does, son," he wrote. Yes, it does.

For CNN, I'm Rachel Nichols.


BURNETT: And still OUTFRONT, it's been one year since George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. Tonight, an exclusive interview with the trial's most controversial witness OUTFRONT.

And does America's justice system only act when white people are killed?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When people of color are killed in this country, though they're over 50 percent about a homicide, it's hardly a blip on the radar screen.



BURNETT: Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, a trial that captivated the nation and sparked heated debates over race and guns. After more than 16 hours of deliberation over two days, a Florida jury declared Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Martin, of course, was unarmed, Zimmerman admitted shooting him, but he claimed he did it in self well, technically, because he feared for his life.

It was verdict that triggered protests across the country. Many Americans watched this glued to their television set for nearly four weeks of testimony, including a witness who captivated almost everyone. Trayvon Martin's friend, Rachel Jeantel.

David Mattingly caught up with her and spoke with her.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rachel Jeantel was on the phone with Trayvon Martin when his fatal encounter with George Zimmerman begun.

A year ago, we watched as she made no secret of her feelings during a combative cross-examination by the defense in Zimmerman's murder trial.

Today, I find her working hard to put the past behind her and to deal with lingering regret.

(on camera): Were you blaming yourself when George Zimmerman went free?


MATTINGLY: Did you think you should have said something different this -- or acted differently?

JEANTEL: Yes, act different.

MATTINGLY: You think the jurors didn't take your seriously?

JEANTEL: Yes. They judge how they talk, how they look, how they dress.

MATTINGLY: And they were judging you?


MATTINGLY (voice-over): And that was the beginning of an astonishing turnaround in Rachel Jeantel's life.

(on camera): What sort of issues did she have to deal with?

RON VEREEN, ATTORNEY: Post-traumatic stress. She was suffering from post-traumatic stress.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Ron Vereen is a Miami attorney who organized a support group he calls The Village, providing Rachel with counseling to deal with the grief of losing her long time friend, and intense tutoring to overcome problems in school.

No one knew at the time. But when 19-year-old Rachel took the stand, she was barely able to read and write beyond the level of a third grader. She often pushed back when tutoring took four to six hours a day.

(on camera): During the trial I saw what happens when someone gets on your bad side. I don't know if I would ever want to be on your bad side.

JEANTEL: No, you don't want to cross the road.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But her tutors didn't give up and neither did Rachel. These photos taken in May mark the moment their work paid off. Rachel donned a cap and gown and collected her high school diploma.

VEREEN: She credits what has taken place since, what happened to courtroom, to Trayvon Martin, all the good things. The fact that she's graduated, she says, well, I kept my word to Trayvon that I would do this.

MATTINGLY: She's also keeping a promise to herself, by having the last word for people who criticized the way she talked and acted on the witness stand.

(on camera): They are implying that you're not very smart.

JEANTEL: Yes. You can't say. You can't judge a book by a cover.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): She's had to do a lot of growing up and learning how to take responsibility for her actions.

Rachel Jeantel says she believes George Zimmerman should do the same.

(on camera): What would you say to George Zimmerman right now?

JEANTEL: You know he did wrong. He got to man up, too. You're not a man, George Zimmerman not a man. That's still a little boy with a grown body.

MATTINGLY: She still has a lot of work of her own ahead of her. More growing, more torturing and plans to go to college.

There are several careers Rachel Jeantel's got in mind, but after her experience, there is one line of work she can definitely rule out.

(on camera): Let's set the record straight, I'll ask you straight out.

JEANTEL: Straight out.

MATTINGLY: Do you want to be an attorney?




BURNETT: She has a real sense of humor -- you know, it's funny. I obviously remember her being interviewed at the time by Piers and it was a great interview but you got a sense of her person in that interview, David, that you did, of who she was.

What is she going to do next? What do you think?

MATTINGLY: Well, she has some career plans. She'd like to go into fashion design in some respects in the future. She's also planning to go to college. She's got a lot of work left to do before she can do that, of course, but that is in her plan. Radio host Tom Joyner is going to pay for it if she's willing to do the work and goes to a predominantly black or historically black institution. But there is still quite a bit left for her to do and work on herself before she can quite get there.

Also, as for her opinion about George Zimmerman, that's not going to change any time in the future. We reached out to Zimmerman's attorneys, both his civil attorneys and criminal attorneys for possible comment about her opinions of him, but there was no response.

BURNETT: And I'm glad you brought up that Tom Joyner had said he would pay for her to go to college, and that that she's really trying to seize on that. I think that's pretty special.

But what about George Zimmerman. I mean, since the verdict, our viewers are aware, right? He's been stopped several times for speeding tickets, for gun charges, Department of Justice investigation still into the case, personal problems, as well, which were pretty sorted. His wife has now filed for divorce.

Where is George Zimmerman?

MATTINGLY: Well, he's had a great deal of difficulty staying out of the limelight with his legal problems, but according to his brother, he's still essentially homeless moving from friend to friend, sleeping on their coach. He's unemployed. He's in the process of a divorce and he's over a million dollars in debt because of his legal fees.

So, his status really hasn't changed much in the last year. There is also that lingering investigation, federal investigation on civil rights charges. I checked with the federal government today. That investigation is still on going.

BURNETT: David Mattingly, thank you very much.

And now this question, does race determine if a murderer gets the death penalty? My interview with actress and activist Susan Sarandon is next.


BURNETT: Two decades ago, Susan Sarandon starred an anti-death penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean in a film "Dean Man Walking", and I had the opportunity to actually speak with them both about their ongoing fight, still going on against the death penalty in America.


BURNETT: Susan, you've know Sister Prejean for 20 years a long time, and a special relationship.

SUSAN SARANDON, ACTRESS: Flew by like that.

BURNETT: Why is she one out driving reasons why you are so passionate about the death penalty? SARANDON: Even if you say you're against the death penalty, you

should understand the victim's side and what she went through was very important, before you understand both sides before you make a decision and the specifics of it, what this CNN series showed was how broken the system is. So, wherever you come down what you feel about capital punishment, you want it to be not arbitrary and capricious as what it is now.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: I think we've met and the reason we've clicked is that we both have the same passion.

SARANDON: Thank you.

PREJEAN: Really, when you read the book and you remember you called me, and then we went to a Cajun restaurant to eat and hatched the film. And you're the one who said, you know, we need another kind of film on the death penalty because the way the films are done, you know, the whole thing is -- are they guilty, innocent, guilty, innocent -- all the energy goes there and found out they are guilty so the movie ends with execution, end of the movie.


PREJEAN: Justice is done.

BURNETT: Afterthought in a sense.

PREJEAN: What is the story underneath it of what does it mean to really delve into giving our government the power, the option to decide that some of us citizens have done such a terrible crime they should die and to get into that. I didn't know what I was getting into.

SARANDON: It's a question not deserves to die but who deserves to kill? It's really what you're examining.


SARANDON: What -- does it say about a society that kills like this because we are just the only nation besides Japan in the industrialized world that has the death penalty? So, what does it say about us when our system of justice is so faulted and those that end up on death row because of the inequity of having the money to have a good lawyer and everything else, rich people, white people do not end up on death row very easily. So --

PREJEAN: Or white people who do end up on death row, it's almost everybody's poor and it's almost always because you killed a white person. That's where the race. It's the race of the victim that's the most telling thing, because when people of color are killed in this country, though they are over 50 percent of the homicides, it's hardly a blip on the radar screen.


PREJEAN: Because you really have to be outraged over the death, really see a victim killed as a value to the society so that you seek an ultimate penalty that takes years.

BURNETT: I mean, incredible racism there, but I wonder when people feel so strongly about this as you know -- I know you talk about people feeling, whether it's arbitrary or capricious in terms of their point of view, but you always -- I'm sure you've done so much in your life, try to put yourself in the position, well, what if it happened to me? What if something horrendous and unspeakable happened to somebody that I loved?

SARANDON: Well, I've -- I mean, of course, you feel that way, you want revenge. But that's different as an individual than a society and I talked to many mothers who lost a child to a horrible murder and feel that they -- in respect for the person that they have lost, they don't want to live their life in hatred. That this act and you see so many gestures of someone forgiving and because of the love they have for this person, because of the memory they have for this person.

But unfortunately, very often we equate how much we love somebody by how much we want revenge for that death and that's a very difficult equation because, inevitably, when someone witnesses an execution that they feel is going to somehow make them feel better about the child or the husband or the grandmother that they lost, and then it's over too fast, too little, too whatever because it can't bring your child back. It can't bring your spouse back, and it becomes very unsatisfying.

So, it doesn't provide the healing that you hoped.


BURNETT: Pretty incredible answer there from Susan Sarandon.

And, "Death Row Stories" airs Sunday night at 10:00 Eastern. It's outstanding. We hope you'll watch it.

Anderson starts now.