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Paula Zahn Now

Veterans' Data Stolen; Experts Forecast Active Hurricane Season

Aired May 22, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us.
Here's what's happening at this moment.

New Orleans Congressman William Jefferson says he is not resigning, and won't even comment on FBI allegations that he stashed a $90,000 bribe in his home freezer. The Louisiana Democrat hasn't been charged with a crime.

A Federal Trade Commission report found no widespread price- gouging when gas prices zoomed just after Hurricane Katrina. The agency says it did find some isolated cases.

Now on to our nightly look at gas prices all over the country. We call it "Crude Awakenings." The states with today's highest gasoline prices are in red, the lowest ones in green.

The average today for unleaded regular, $2.88 a gallon. And here's a look at the up and down trends since May 1. We will continue to track gas prices as we head toward Memorial Day weekend -- busy driving season.

The brand-new work week is barely under way, but, tonight, millions of people already have two new things to worry about.

Warning number one, get ready for a busier-than-usual hurricane season. I know that's the last thing any of us wants to think about who live along the Atlantic or Gulf Coast.

But, before we get to that, there is another warning tonight. And this one affects people from cost to coast. Tonight, every living veteran since 1975 -- that is at least 25 million people -- may be at risk for identity theft. The Department of Veterans Affairs says your personal data, birth date, Social Security numbers, just what a thief needs to ruin your financial life, were on a computer disk that's been stolen.

How could that have happened?

Chief national correspondent John King has more.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The stolen Department of Veterans Affairs disk represents the largest data breach in history, personal information on 25 million living veterans, plus some of their spouses.

MARK RASCH, FORMER CYBERCRIME PROSECUTOR: Whether you're a terrorist and you want to fly on an airplane, or you want to get somebody's credit card information, or get credit, all you need is their name, their date of birth and their Social Security number, exactly the information that was stolen here.

KING: The government says the thieves may not know the value of what they have.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have no reason to believe at this time that there has been -- that the identities of these veterans have been compromised.

KING: The V.A. says a longtime employee took the data home earlier this month, a violation of government policy, and then reported it stolen during a burglary at his home.

The government says the disk has personal data on 26.5 million people in all, all 25 million living military veterans, a modest number of their spouses, and more than a million deceased veterans. The FBI is investigating, as well as the department's inspector general. The government has alerted the major credit agencies and set up a hot line, in case people like Korean War veteran Robert Armstrong see any suspicious activity.

ROBERT ARMSTRONG, KOREAN WAR VETERAN: With Social Security numbers, they can eventually get into bank accounts and that sort of thing. And I'm not real happy about that.

KING: Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig says Congress needs to look quickly at data security across the government.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R-ID), VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, it's obvious it was lax at this agency, but if it was lax there, my guess is it's everywhere else. It's just that we have not focused on it with the intensity that we should have.

KING: Cybercrime experts say the government collects too much information to begin with, and has long ignored obvious security risks.

RASCH: We can encrypt the data. We can scramble it. We can make it more difficult to access. We just don't want to, because it makes it more difficult to do our jobs.

KING: The employee who took the disk home has been placed on leave, pending the investigation.

The department won't say exactly when the theft took place, just some time this month, raising concerns in Congress about how fast the affected veterans were notified.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: Now, in most cases, Paula, officials say the thieves don't know what they have, and they end up throwing the computer or throwing the files away.

But if they do realize what they have, either from the theft itself or from all the news reports now about this stunning announcement today, cybercrime experts say they could sell some of this data. They could sit on it for weeks, months, even years.

ZAHN: I hope they're not that smart. John King, thank you. Keep us posted. Appreciate it.

Now we go on to the day's second biggest warning. The government's best weather experts say, get ready now, because they're forecasting another very active hurricane season. And it starts next week.

Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is on the story and has some pretty scary numbers for us tonight.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you live in a hurricane-prone part of the country, brace yourself.


MESERVE: Thirteen to 16 named storms -- eight to 10 are predicted to become hurricanes, with four to six of those clocking sustained winds of more than 111 miles an hour, making them Category 3 or stronger.

Forecasters blame warm sea surface temperatures and less wind shear, which ordinary disrupts hurricane formation; 2005 delivered Katrina, Rita, Wilma, 28 named storms in all, but experts caution, we shouldn't be lulled by the more modest projections for this year.

MAX MAYFIELD, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: It's not all about the numbers. It just takes that one hurricane over your house to make for a bad year.

MESERVE: Particularly worrisome, the Gulf Coast, where the last storm season continues to have an impact.

DAVID PAULISON, ACTING DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Obviously, the infrastructure, particularly in Mississippi and Louisiana, to a lesser extent, Alabama and Texas, is very weak, a lot of damage.

MESERVE: In addition to stockpiling more supplies, FEMA says it has improved its delivery methods, its communications, and more. But emergency residents in the danger zone have got to better prepared, too.

CRAIG FUGATE, FLORIDA EMERGENCY MANAGER: It is no longer something that you can look to somebody else to come in and save you if you haven't done everything you can to save yourself.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: If the phone doesn't work, how do I tell you I'm there?

MESERVE: Federal, state and local governors are trying to press the preparedness message.

(on camera): But experts say much of the public isn't hearing what government is saying.

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, NATIONAL CENTER FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: I think there are a lot of people in this kind of odd state of denial, where they know that bad things happen. They have seen the images of 9/11 and of Katrina, but in some ways, people, many people, are just overwhelmed by what they have to do.

MESERVE (voice-over): Surveys say two-thirds of Americans have done nothing at all to prepare for disasters, and those storms are coming soon.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


ZAHN: And we, of course, here at CNN are gearing up to be your hurricane headquarters this season. You can find our whole list of hurricane facts, plus the lifesaving device on how to set up your own disaster plan, at

Now, tonight, even as we look ahead to the new hurricane season, a CNN investigation raises some very serious questions about something that happened in the chaotic days after Katrina. It is the fatal shooting by police officers of an unarmed retarded man. Autopsy results now show, contrary to police testimony, the man was shot in the back.

Now CNN has learned prosecutors are ready to take that case to a grand jury. The story starts at a flooded New Orleans home on the Sunday after Katrina made landfall, and ends tragically at a bridge barely two miles away.

Drew Griffin has been investigating this case for months. He has this exclusive report. He goes "Beyond the Headlines" for us tonight.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On Sunday, last September the 4th, Lance Madison said he and his younger, Ronald, were walking up the half-mile-long Danziger Bridge over the Industrial Canal, leaving their flooded home, looking for a way to evacuate.

Madison said teenagers ran up behind, shooting at them.

LANCE MADISON, BROTHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: We might have been about right here when the kids started shooting at us.

GRIFFIN: A New Orleans police team rushed to the scene in a rental truck after a report about gunshots. They opened fired on the people they saw on the bridge.

WARREN J. RILEY, NEW ORLEANS POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: Several of the people were shot, and I believe two were killed, by our officers in a running gun battle. Now, most police shoot-outs last somewhere between six and 12 seconds, and it's over with. This was a running gun battle that went on several minutes.

GRIFFIN: The first casualty, a teenager killed at the base of the bridge, another critically wounded. Three other people with them were also shot.

Lance and Ronald Madison kept running away from the gunfight, now near the top of the bridge. Ronald was 40, mentally retarded, lived at home with his mother, never charged with a crime. Lance says he saw a policeman behind them point a rifle at Ronald.

MADISON: I said he was shot about right over here, about right here.

And we kept running up the bridge here, trying to go zigzag, so they wouldn't hit us.

GRIFFIN: Lance, a former college football player, said he carried his wounded brother across the half-mile-long bridge and left him here alive, outside the rundown Friendly Inn, while Lance ran to get help, splashing through knee-deep water inside the motel courtyard.

Police say an officer encountered Ronald Madison and shot him at the motel entrance.

(on camera): You heard lots of shots?

MADISON: Yes, I did.


GRIFFIN: More than one gun?

MADISON: Yes. Two different guns, a -- it's like a handgun or a rifle or a sawed-off shotgun. It was real loud.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): A state police SWAT team tracked down Lance and took him into custody. This news photo shows Lance handcuffed in front of the motel. A few feet away lay his brother's body.

MADISON: My brother was laying right here on the ground.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Face down?

MADISON: Face down. GRIFFIN (voice-over): In a court hearing last fall, a police sergeant testified, an officer shot Ronald Madison to death at that motel when he turned toward them and reached into his waistband.

But the autopsy results obtained by CNN directly contradict that testimony. Last week, in a lawsuit filed by CNN, the New Orleans coroner, Dr. Frank Minyard, verified, this is the handwritten autopsy report prepared by his pathologist on Ronald Madison's death.

It shows five gunshot wounds in the upper back. Three exited through his chest. None of the shots entered his body from the front. Then there's this, a sketch drawn by New York state police pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who examined the body at the request of the family's lawyer.

You can see two wounds in the right shoulder and the five in the back. Baden told CNN -- quote -- "Clearly, he was shot from behind."

We told New Orleans police chief Warren Riley about the autopsy findings.

(on camera): Now we understand that Ronald Madison was shot in the back five times.

RILEY: Those are things I can't comment on, no one can comment on, until the investigation is concluded.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Riley rejected a CNN request to interview the police officers involved.

(on camera): Are you concerned about your officers' actions at that bridge at this point?

RILEY: Well, I have to wait on the conclusion of the investigation. Certainly, we do not condone or officers overreacting, even in the most chaotic time. And we don't know that they overreacted. From the radio transmissions, it sounds like their lives were in danger.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Yet, no gun was found on Ronald Madison's body. Lance Madison was unarmed when placed under arrest. He since has been released, though the investigation continues.

At last fall's hearing, the sergeant said one officer did see Lance throw a gun into the Industrial Canal. Lance denies he had any weapon.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Did you have a gun?

MADISON: No. I had no gun at all.

GRIFFIN: Did your brother have a gun?

MADISON: No, he didn't.

GRIFFIN: Did you guys pretend to have guns? MADISON: No, we did not.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In a hearing on CNN's lawsuit last week, an assistant prosecutor testified the Danziger Bridge shootings have been assigned to a grand jury, although testimony has not yet begun.

The CNN lawyer asked, "What you are investigating in that case is whether any of the police officers may be indicted for homicide; is that correct?"

Prosecutor Dustin Davis answered: "That's partially correct. We are also looking at Mr. Madison's involvement in the incident."

At the end of our interview, Chief Riley conceded, the two brothers may have been uninvolved with the group on the bridge.

RILEY: I don't know if those young men were innocent or not. I really don't know if they were with that group or not. I really don't know.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Yes.


GRIFFIN: It has been eight months since the shootings on this bridge, Paula, and police have yet to send their report to prosecutors, though the police chief and the New Orleans district attorney's office tell us they expect this case to be in the hands of a grand jury some time this summer -- Paula.

ZAHN: And I know you will continue to watch this closely for us.

Drew Griffin, thank you so much.

We now move on to our countdown of the top 10 stories on -- 19 million of you logging on to our Web site today, give or take 10 or 20 less than that.

At number 10, in Afghanistan, U.S. airstrikes kill up to 80 suspected Taliban fighters. But Afghan officials say several civilians were also killed. U.S. commanders say coalition forces only targeted the militants' hideouts.

Number nine -- "The Da Vinci Code" number one at the box office. It took in $232 million worldwide, including $77 million right here in our country. The film had the best opening weekend of the year so far.

Numbers eight and seven just ahead, along with the tragic stumble of an elite star athlete, as millions around the world cheered him on.


ZAHN (voice-over): It happened so far, the end of a Triple Crown contender's thrilling career. Now his life-and-death drama captures the heart of a nation. Can Barbaro be saved? And the "Eye Opener" -- meet the real medium, the woman behind the TV drama. Allison DuBois claims she can talk to the dead. Does she really solve crimes? Wait until you hear what law enforcement has to say about that -- all that and much more just ahead.




ZAHN: Remember the Dixie Chicks? They went from top of the country music charts to off the radar after their lead singer criticized President Bush? What are they singing about now? And are they turning up the political heat once again? And are any of you out there ready to listen to them?

First, though, here's what's happening at this moment -- new details tonight about the killing of a Mexican driver last week at the border near San Diego. According to court documents, a passenger says the driver had stopped and actually raised his hands above his head before he was shot. Police say the driver was suspected of smuggling human beings into the country and refused orders to stop.

Meanwhile, Mexico's President Vicente Fox is lobbying for a way to allow Mexican workers to enter the U.S. legally. Tomorrow, he will visit Salt Lake City. And, then, later on this week, he will go to Seattle, Yakima, Washington, as well as Sacramento, all four cities who depend on immigrant labor.

And the Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that police did not need a search warrant to enter a home in Utah, because they saw a fight going on through a window.

Right now, 50/50 is the best doctors can say about the chance that Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro will survive, after breaking his leg at the Preakness this weekend. Tonight, the horse is recovering from a very complicated operation to repair his shattered leg, broken in some 20 different places on the bone.

In a moment, we are going to hear from the surgeon who operated on Barbaro.

First, though, Jason Carroll on the misstep that destroyed a horse's promising career and still threatens his life tonight.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This 3-year-old colt named Barbaro was a rising star, good-looking, strong, and very fast.

ANNOUNCER: Barbaro wins by seven!

CARROLL: Just a few weeks ago, he won the Kentucky derby, and Barbaro could have done something that hasn't been done since Affirmed did it in 1978.

ANNOUNCER: Affirmed has got a nose in front as they come on to the wire!

CARROLL: Capture the Triple Crown, winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes.

On Saturday, Barbaro was favored to win the Preakness. But in a world where everything is measured in seconds, the dream ended in one agonizing moment.

ANNOUNCER: Barbaro -- Barbaro, I believe he's being pulled up!

CARROLL: At the start of the race, Barbaro broke his leg. The cause is still unclear. He limped off the track, his hind leg clearly hurt. Doctors say his bone was shattered in more than 20 pieces. Veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center for large animals operated for hours to repair it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just amazing to see him walk like that. And the first thing, he went in and started eating hay, so, they did a terrific job.

CARROLL: Barbaro looked alert after his surgery, but his condition is still uncertain.

(on camera): At horse farms all over the country, like this one in Long Island, New York, owners and trainers are really pulling for Barbaro's full recovery.

Horse owner Joe Lostritto is back on his farm after the Preakness. His horse, Platinum Couple, was next to Barbaro when he was injured.

JOE LOSTRITTO, HORSE OWNER: My heart dropped. You cannot describe the moment. It's like you lost all your breath. You know, it just -- you cannot describe it.

CARROLL: Lostritto and his family know the pain of putting down a horse injured in a race. It happened to them twice. They believe Barbaro will pull through.

LEIGH BERKOWITZ, HORSE OWNER: He was committed to winning all his races, and I think he's a strong-minded animal, and I think he will make it.

CARROLL: A champion who faces his toughest challenge.

Jason Carroll, CNN, Long Island, New York.


ZAHN: And, a little bit earlier on, I spoke with the surgeon who operated on Barbaro, Dr. Dean Richardson of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.


ZAHN: How's Barbaro doing tonight?

DR. DEAN RICHARDSON, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOL OF VETERINARY MEDICINE: Barbaro is still doing well today. He's eating well, and basically we can't really ask for anything more at this point.

ZAHN: I know that you have given Barbaro a 50/50 chance of survival. What is the greatest risk he faces?

RICHARDSON: Well, there's three -- they're all about equal. There's three major risks for this type of a situation.

The first major risk is infection. A second complication that we see is that the metal that's used to repair the limb can actually break. One thing that we deal with frequently in horses that's unique to horses is that they can have problems in their weight-bearing limbs. So, he has -- he has got a fracture in his right hind limb. They can have very serious problems in their left hind foot as a consequence of excessive weight-bearing on that limb.

ZAHN: And, Doctor, how long will it before you know he's out of the woods?

RICHARDSON: It will -- again, it's -- it will probably be a few months before we know that he's -- quote, unquote -- "out of the woods."

I always explain to owners that good things on this sort of situation happen over months. Bad things can happen in minutes.

ZAHN: We know that when a horse is injured as severely as Barbaro was, they're usually euthanized right at the track. Explain to our audience tonight why it was so important to the owners of this horse to take a chance at this risky surgery and recuperation.

RICHARDSON: Obviously, this is a very, very remarkably talented and valuable horse, so they willing to give him a shot. It's not putting the horse through -- I mean, if you saw this horse tonight, he's standing there eating, looking perfectly normal in the stall, other than he's wearing a cast on his right hind limb. So, they don't feel that it's putting the horse through an undue amount to try to save his life.

ZAHN: What is the best you can hope for when it comes to his recovery?

RICHARDSON: Well, the -- oh, the best we can hope for, without any success, is to make him a successful breeding stallion, get him to the point where he can breed mares and live in a pasture and a barn.

He is never going to be a racehorse, but he should -- if everything went well, he would be able to go out every day into a grassy paddock and enjoy life.

ZAHN: Well, we wish you and your whole team a lot of luck. We know you have got a lot of challenges ahead.


RICHARDSON: Yes, we do. Thank you very much.


ZAHN: And, still ahead, the woman who inspired the TV hit "Medium." She says she's psychic. What does she really do for police? Does it actually help? Hear what the police have to say about all that.

Right now, though number eight on countdown -- Grand Ole Opry legend Billy Walker was killed in a car crash in Alabama yesterday. His wife and two band members also died in that accident. Walker was known for his hits "Cross the Brazos at Waco" and "Charlie's Shoes." He was 77 years old.

Number seven, the director of the World Health Organization died today after undergoing surgery for a blood clot in his brain. He was 61 years old. Dr. Lee Jong-Wook led the agency's battle against the spread of SARS and bird flu.

We will have numbers six and five when we come back.


ZAHN: Tonight, the Federal Mine Safety Administration has just launched an investigation into that explosion that killed five Kentucky coal miners over the weekend.

A sixth miner who survived says his emergency air supply ran out in just five minutes. He and the five who died were using the same kind of breathing gear used by the 12 miners who died in the Sago tragedy in West Virginia back in January.

And that, of course, is raising some new questions tonight about the safety of the people who work in our nation's mines in this year alone, a year that has already seen 31 deaths.

Sumi Das has filed this report from Holmes Mill, Kentucky.


SUMI DAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three of the five miners killed in the eastern Kentucky mining explosion likely survived the initial blast, but later died of carbon monoxide poisoning, that according to the Harlan County coroner, Philip Bianchi.

That's little comfort to Tilda Thomas, whose husband, Harris, was among the three initial survivors.

TILDA THOMAS, WIDOW OF VICTIM: I think of all I'm going to have to do with without him. I've just been with him since I was 16, the only man in my life I've ever known. DAS: Two of the miners are thought to have died as a direct result of the explosion. A sixth miner Paul Ledford, nicknamed "Smiley," survived the accident.

The cause of the explosion is not yet known. But state officials say they're looking into the mine's methane level. It appears some of the miners used or tried to use self-contained rescue devices after the blast.

Paris Thomas' brother-in-law also works in the mining industry, though not at the Darby Mine. He says the emergency breathing devices for miners are insufficient.

RUSSELL TAYLOR, BROTHER-IN-LAW OF VICTIM: I think they need to be improved. One hour is not long enough. If a man works an eight- hour shift, he should be able to last eight hours.

DAS: Russell Taylor says the mine where he works has taken steps to improve safety. But he questions why the government isn't doing more.

TAYLOR: If they had to do what we had to do, the laws would change real fast.

DAS (on-camera): Do you think they are dragging their feet a little bit?

TAYLOR: I think they are dragging their feet because they don't want to spend a dollar.


ZAHN: That was Sumi Das reporting for us tonight.

And just a little bit earlier on, I spoke with someone who is calling for tougher federal mine safety laws. Representative George Miller of California, he happens to be the senior Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, which oversees worker health and safety.


ZAHN: Congressman, welcome. Glad to have you with us tonight.


ZAHN: What we're hearing tonight from the lone survivor's family is absolutely outrageous. They say he told them that his emergency oxygen supply ran out in five minutes. He then passed out for two and a half hours, and when he came to, literally crawled on his belly to find fresh air. Whose fault is that?

MILLER: Well, I think that's the fault of the federal government. We now have a number of things that we can do to change the experience both in preventing an explosion in the mine and prevent an accident in the mine, but also for those miners who survived the initial explosion, there's now communications equipment that is available. Clearly, they need better oxygen equipment and oxygen for a longer period of time.

ZAHN: But let me get this straight. The Darby Mine has had 254 safety violations since 2001. And since May 1st alone, it's been cited three times for allowing illegal accumulation of combustible materials underground. Why hasn't this mine been held accountable? It can't be just the feds.

MILLER: Well, Paula, unfortunately, that's what's taken place here. The fact of the matter is when the Bush administration came to Washington, D.C., in 2000, there were regulations ready to be put on the books that dealt with oxygen supply, that dealt with mine safety, that dealt with communications equipment, that dealt with how mines are operated and the detection of buildup of gases and dust.

So all of this was there to be done. The bush administration withdrew those regulations, put their cronies and their friends from the industry in charge of it, said that the mines could voluntary enforce the law, and then they just left it alone. And now we've had a series of accidents that betray that policy.

ZAHN: Do Democrats bear any responsibility for any of this legislation that has been proposed but not enacted?

MILLER: This is another chapter in the long, sorry history of Congress over the last five years, simply abandoning its oversight responsibility on matters that are very important. This is turning into just an outrageous scandal, in terms of the risks that it portends for these men's lives as they go to work every day.


ZAHN: That was Representative George Miller on this weekend's deadly mine explosion in Kentucky.

You're about to meet a very interesting woman, who calls herself a secretary to the dead. Not only is she serious, she is the inspiration for the crime fighting psychic of the TV series "Medium." Exactly what does she do specifically for the cops? And what do they have to say about her so-called help?

Plus, they're still singing and they are still very angry about the way they were treated. Are the Dixie Chicks's fans ready to forgive and forget?

First, No. 6 in our countdown, we mentioned it at the top of the hour, the National Hurricanes Center's prediction of 10 storms this year. Four to six of them could reach Category 3 or higher. Hurricane season just 11 days away.

No. 5, the seven-year-old who today became one of the youngest people to swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco. Second grader Braxton Bilbrey made the 1.4-mile swim in about 47 minutes. Check that out. Congratulations. We'll be back.


ZAHN: Coming up in this half hour, the country singers who are caught in a political landslide. Are the Dixie Chicks still outraged by President Bush? Just wait until you hear some of their latest album, which debuts tomorrow.

Then at the top of the hour, "LARRY KING LIVE," the inside story and the red-hot political issues that have tempers boiling in Washington.

Here's what's happening at this moment.

With the new hurricane season just days away, a new CNN poll shows only 12 percent of Americans are very confident at all that the federal government and FEMA are ready to help in a disaster.

Pictures like this of stranded pets after Hurricane Katrina have moved bipartisan hearts tonight. The House will soon vote on a measure to require pets to be considered in any future evacuation plans. An estimated 600,000 animals died or were abandoned after Katrina.

And for the third time New York organized crime boss John Gotti Jr. is expected to be arraigned tomorrow on charges of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy to murder and other charges related to the shooting of a radio talk show host. Gotti's two previous trials both ended in a deadlock.

Eleven million Americans sit down in front of the TV set every week and they watch a show about a psychic, who helps solve crimes. It is fiction of course. But you may not know that "Medium" is based on a real person. Her name, as in the show, is Allison DuBois, and she claims to be a psychic and to have helped police along the way. But how many of us really buy into the idea of psychic powers?

Well, DuBois has plenty of critics including some in law enforcement. And right now you're about to hear her response in tonight's "Eye Opener."


ZAHN (voice over): Every week, television's Allison DuBois from the NBC's show "Medium" wakes up from a dream riddled with clues to solve that week's criminal investigation. As TV's only psychic crime- fighter, Allison can talk with the dead and also tap into the minds of the bad guys to find out their motive, providing crucial information to her boss, who just happens to be the Phoenix district attorney.

As far-fetched as the story sounds, the program is inspired by an actual person.

(on-camera): How, Allison, do you describe what you do?

ALLISON DUBOIS, AUTHOR: Not to be abrasive, but I'm a secretary to the dead. I take notes and I pass them on. I'm a bridge. ZAHN (voice-over): This is the real Allison DuBois, a self- described medium and psychic profiler. Just like the T.V. show, she's married to an aerospace engineer named Joe and they have three daughters.

DuBois writes about her life and the connection she says she's made with the dead in her books "We Are Their Heaven" and "Don't Kiss Them Good-Bye."

(on camera): When you're getting what you think is a communication from a spirit, are you hearing that spirit? Are you seeing a dead person?


ZAHN: What's going on?

DUBOIS: I'm hearing it, I'm seeing it. Sometimes you're smelling cigars, so I'll know that they smoked cigars. Sometimes I'm feeling like a punch to a chest, because that's what a heart attack feels like. So that's how they let me know that's how they died.

ZAHN (voice-over): Her first psychic connection, DuBois says, was when she was six years old, and her great-grandfather appeared at the foot of her bed after his funeral.

DUBOIS: He said tell your mom I'm not in pain anymore and that I'm still with her.

ZAHN: DuBois claims she's been able to communicate with the dead ever since. Six years ago she discovered her knack for psychic profiling while interning at the Maricopa County attorney's office in Phoenix.

DUBOIS: It was my job to sort the crime scene photos. And while I was sorting it, I started seeing flashes of things that were happening before the person was killed.

ZAHN: Soon after, DuBois decided to pursue a career as a psychic profiler. One of the first cases that DuBois says she worked on, which also became the pilot episode for "Medium," was the abduction of a six-year-old girl in Texas.

DUBOIS: Where she was abducted from, I was taken right to that house.

ZAHN: DuBois says she was contacted by the Tarrant County sheriff's office in conjunction with the Texas rangers. Law enforcement had convicted a man for kidnapping the girl, but had not been able to find the child's remains.

DUBOIS: And they drove me by the car that he had switched into after he had abducted the child.

ZAHN: This is the first time DuBois has shared her notes about the case, information she says she gave to the Texas rangers to help them find the body.

DUBOIS: I put there was horseback riding near back stables. And then I put the horses get spooked in the areas of this child's remains. I also kept seeing small planes, so there had to be a landing strip nearby.

ZAHN: DuBois says she also told investigators that the remains of the child would be found within five years of the girl's disappearance. The child's remains were found four years and nine months after her abduction. Authorities say on the side of a horseback riding trail, in an area next to a military air base. DuBois points to these elements, among others as proof she was able to give useful information to the rangers.

But despite DuBois's claims, the Texas rangers deny ever having worked with her.

(on camera): We couldn't find one single person within the Texas rangers who would even admit to having talked with you. They said never happened.

DUBOIS: I know. The last thing they wanted was for it to be made national or world news where they have to answer for it.

ZAHN (voice-over): But a member of the Tarrant County sheriff's office did confirm part of DuBois's story. Sergeant Bobby Adabere (ph) told us that he not only met with DuBois about the case, but that he was put in contact with her through the Texas rangers.

DUBOIS: I wasn't lying I guess is what it tells you.

ZAHN (on camera): But Sergeant Adabere (ph) also downplayed your efforts. He ended up saying that any information you gave him was pretty darn generic and wasn't that helpful.

DUBOIS: Well that's interesting because he went on the news and said that the information was impressive.

JOE NICKELL, PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR: Much of what passes for psychic evidence today, where psychics are touted as having helped police solve crimes, is a trick we call retrofitting.

ZAHN (voice-over): Joe Nickell is a professional skeptic. He says psychics claim credit after the fact.

NICKELL: It works something like this. I say, I see -- I see the No. 7. I see water. Then a psychic says, I mentioned water and the body was found near a pond or a lake or a creek. In other words, there are multiple ways we can fit what was said to make it look like it's accurate.

ZAHN: Despite the criticism, DuBois insists that what she does is neither a trick nor is it guesswork.

DUBOIS: When I work a case, I take the first name of the victim, I write it on a piece of paper and I write any impressions that I get connected with it, like motive. Was it for money? Was it pedophilia?

ZAHN (on camera): How do you get inside the mind of a perpetrator of a crime?

DUBOIS: The best that I can figure is that when I'm connecting with the name of the victim, there's such a big impression left on them energy-wise, that I'm able to actually use them as a bridge to the person who killed them.

ZAHN: You've got to understand when we hear these stories...


ZAHN: ... It's very difficult to believe that you've actually made these connections. You understand that, right?

DUBOIS: Of course. People were very skeptical of DNA when that came out, so maybe people just haven't caught up to where some of are right now as far as intuition.

ZAHN (voice-over): While skeptics discount her story, the writers of "Medium" keep asking for more.

GLENN CARON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, MEDIUM: I've never tried to suggest to the audience that what you're watching is a document or the pure truth of the life of Allison DuBois, but it is inspired by her particular circumstance and her particular search of the situation.

DUBOIS: Thank you so much, because I will need your energy.

ZAHN: For DuBois, what's important is that the show and her books might open people's minds.

DUBOIS: I'm trying to put a normal face on medium ship, and not make it seem so crystal ball, 30 cats, anybody can have abilities. And we should all try and understand what we have while we're here and use it to enrich our lives.


ZAHN: We've got one more thing to add here. We did speak with another well-placed law enforcement official in Phoenix who said DuBois's information has helped on at least a half dozen cases. Her employer, though, wouldn't allow us to identify her, but this is exactly what she told us. "DuBois has been specific enough in details that it seems impossible that she would know this information any other way."

Well it doesn't take much psychic ability to find out what happened to the Dixie Chicks. Will country music fans every forgive them for criticizing President Bush and are they backing down now? Will their new album find a new audience?

Now, No. 4 on our countdown, William Jefferson, a Louisiana congressman at the center of a bribery probe says he won't resign. This weekend the FBI raided Jefferson's Capitol Hill office and investigators say he stashed $90,000 in bribe money in his freezer. Jefferson hasn't been charged and denies any wrongdoing.

No. 3, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright says President Bush's discussions about his faith and its influence on his foreign policy may have alienated some Muslims around the world. No. 2 on our list up next.


ZAHN: Well, right now, millions of dollars and one of the hottest careers in country music are on the line. The outspoken Dixie Chicks release a new album at midnight tonight that already has some fans in a rage.

As you know, the Chicks were country superstars until their lead singer criticized the president three years ago. Well, polls show that most Americans are also critical of the president now, but apparently not in the world of country music. And the Dixie Chicks may be adding more fuel to the fire as we hear now from entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.


SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Those may be fighting words, but any political message in the new Dixie Chicks's album is between the lines.

CHRIS WILLMAN, AUTHOR, "REDNECKS & BLUENECKS": It's not a political album, but it is political by inference, in that they're directly and indirectly addressing their own situation, and through being defensive and defiant about it. And through that I think you can read into the fact that they still feel the same way or worse about Bush and the war and all the things that got them into the trouble they are talking about on the album.

VARGAS: "Taking the Long Way" is the Texas trio's first CD since 2003, since before the U.S. invasion of Iraq when lead singer Natalie Maines told London concert goers she was, quote, "embarrassed to be from the same state as George Bush."

NATALIE MAINES, LEAD SINGER, DIXIE CHICKS: My apology was for the words that I used but not for the motivation the words and for my beliefs.

VARGAS: Despite that semi-apology, the fallout in the conservative country community was immediate. Some called the Chicks unpatriotic, treasonous even. People picketed their shows, and radio stations refused to play their music.

But with the president's approval rating at an all-time low, some are rethinking Nashville's harsh treatment of the Dixie Chicks.

VINCE GILL, RECORDING ARTIST: I have a big problem with what they did to the Dixie Chicks. You know, I don't think that their political stance should in any way have their career taken away from them. You know, that's just wrong. VARGAS: Sony Music isn't taking any chances with the new release. Wal-Mart, and iTunes are all selling the disc at a discount. Throw in high profile appearances, and the Chicks could end up with a No. 1 album, despite a whole new batch of strong opinions from Maines in a "Time Magazine" cover story.

WILLMAN: She said, I don't respect Bush. It's part of her so- called apology was that you have to respect the office, no matter who's in it. Now she's say that doesn't matter, I don't respect him at all.

VARGAS: Dixie Chicks's opinions might have lost them a lot of their old fans, but just may gain them a lot of new ones.

Sibila Vargas, CNN, Hollywood.


ZAHN: And so far two singles released from the Dixie Chicks's new album aren't burning up the country charts. "Not Ready to Make Nice" peaked at No. 36. While "Everybody Knows" stands at No. 50.

Time right now to take a quick biz break. Stocks dropped and then bounced back today, not quite into positive territory though. The Dow ended the day 18 points lower. The Nasdaq lost 21 points. The S& P lost nearly five.

Yahoo! was one of the first hot tech stocks today. The stock gained more than two percent after a report in Barron's called the Internet search company Yahoo! undervalued.

And mortgage giant Fannie Mae is expected to face several hundred million dollars of fines tomorrow. The Associated Press records a settlement has been reached over allegations that its executives manipulated accounting to collect millions in bonuses.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts at the top of the hour. Tonight, members of the best political team on TV join Larry with the scoop on Washington's fight over illegal immigration, domestic spying and much more.

No. 2 on our countdown tonight, a new suspect in the Natalee Holloway case will be released from jail tomorrow. Guido Wever has been indicted in the Netherlands for murder. He says he's innocent. Natalee Holloway vanished a year ago in Aruba.

Top story in the countdown straight out of this break.


ZAHN: No. 1 on our countdown, we covered it just a few minutes ago. Singles from the Dixie Chicks's new CD are getting the cold shoulder from a lot of country radio D.J.s, three years after Natalie Maines's criticism of President Bush.