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The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper

Justice Delayed: The Story of C.J. Rice. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 24, 2024 - 20:00   ET




RICE: That's personal, that makes you feel human. It was genuine. The kind of concern that your father had for me was genuine.


TAPPER: We'll have much more of my conversation with CJ Rice tonight on "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER" at 8:00 p.m. -- Omar.

JIMENEZ: It's really going to be a powerful episode. The all-new episode of "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER" is next only on CNN.

Thank you for joining me this evening. Whether you're here for three hours, five minutes, great to see you. I'm Omar Jimenez. Good night.


CJ Rice was 17 years old when he was shot multiple times by an unknown assailant while riding his bike on a street in Philadelphia. He was badly injured with a fractured pelvis. Then just weeks after he was shot CJ was accused of shooting four people. And despite a lack of evidence, he was charged and convicted of attempted murder, sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.

CJ Rice's conviction never made sense, especially to his childhood pediatrician, Dr. Theodore Tapper, who treated CJ in the days after he was shot, and knew he was too injured to have committed this crime. Dr. Tapper couldn't let it go and he told his son, CNN's Jake Tapper, about the story.

Jake, who also grew up in Philadelphia, began investigating CJ's case and discovered a series of misstep by law enforcement and CJ's own defense attorney. Just this week after more than 12 years in prison all charges against CJ were dropped. CJ Rice is now 30 years old and a free man, thanks in large part to the efforts of Jake's father and Jake's own reporting.

Over the next hour, Jake Tapper lays out exactly how the system failed CJ and gives us a deeply personal look at how CJ survived all those years in prison through a series of letters that CJ sent to Jake's dad during his time in jail. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CJ RICE: This letter is from February 2nd, 2021. It takes a whole lot of resolve, I guess, to revisit things, sad things, and all in all, when everything is said and done, it's like, wow, kind of life just ahead.

Ever woke up. How do you sleep? (INAUDIBLE) half of nothing. Nonetheless, I can't wait to get out of this cell. I'm going to do my best and move far away from the madness. CJ.

DR. THEODORE TAPPER, C.J.'S FORMER PEDIATRICIAN: And quite often I would ride my bicycle to work and sometimes I would make house calls on my bicycle.


T. TAPPER: Not often, but once in a while. Put my black bag on the handlebars and go peddling down the street.

J. TAPPER: That's funny. I kind of remember that.

(Voice-over): This is my dad, Dr. Theodore Tapper.

You practiced here for, what, 30 years? 35?

(Voice-over): He's a pediatrician. This was his old medical office.

How many kids would you see on average on a daily basis if you have to guess?

T. TAPPER: Fifteen, 20, somewhere in that ballpark. Morning and the afternoon.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): My dad, now 83 years old, saw thousands of kids throughout his career, including a young boy by the name of CJ Rice.

Do you remember how old CJ was when you first saw him?

T. TAPPER: He was born at a hospital in South Philadelphia and somebody from our medical group saw him when he was a newborn.

J. TAPPER: But you've seen him since he was a little?

T. TAPPER: Absolutely.

CRYSTAL COOPER, MOTHER OF C. J. RICE: I had a C-section and he was a big baby. He was fun, loving, your average kid, liked to have fun, liked to go to cousin's house, like to go to the baseball games.

J. TAPPER: Do you remember your mom taking you to see my dad when he was your pediatrician?

RICE: Yes. Yes. I remember Dr. Tapper. Dr. Tapper always -- it'd be like a small piece of advice but he'd like, you know, your mom won't steer you wrong, and it might be something as simple as I wanted some candy or something.

J. TAPPER: What's it like going back and thinking about you as a little boy, and going to see my dad knowing now the role that he ended up playing?

RICE: It blows my mind every time I think about it because how can you wrap your head around that?

What's going on, Dr. Tapper?

T. TAPPER: Still got those 80 pounds of muscle back here?



RICE: What's going on?

T. TAPPER: Doing well. How are you?

RICE: Good.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): CJ was my dad's patient and then his pen-pal.

T. TAPPER: I don't if you're a pack rat.

RICE: I am.

T. TAPPER: So these are letters, original letters that you wrote me, and photocopies of letters that I wrote you.

RICE: It's crazy. I remember this. I remember it, yes.

J. TAPPER: CJ and my dad would write to each other for a total of seven years. CJ's letters are mostly handwritten, not by choice but by circumstance.

Tell me about the first letters CJ wrote to you from prison?

T. TAPPER: He wrote me and he was very polite. You know, dear, Dr. Tapper, could you please do me a favor and see if you can get the medical records from Jeffersons Hospital.

RICE: April 8th, 2017. Dr. Tapper, hopefully as this letter reaches you, everything is good as can be given any and all circumstances.

T. TAPPER: May 2019. Dear CJ.

RICE: April 12th, 2020.

T. TAPPER: December 2021.

RICE: February 13th, 2022.

J. TAPPER: These letter from my dad, did you look forward to getting them? RICE: I did.


RICE: I did. Like a lot.

J. TAPPER: Really?

RICE: Yes, because it's a constant. So you get used to constants in jail. But most of them are demeaning or not so personal. But a letter with ink on it from somebody on the other side of the wall, that's personal, that makes you feel human. It was genuine the kind of concern that your father had for me was genuine.

T. TAPPER: He's a fantastic writer. He's very bright and when I tell people who wrote what they just finished reading they're amazed.

J. TAPPER: And he also wrote about how tough it is being a poor black kid growing up in South Philly.


RICE: At the age of 7 you make your first drug sell. Oblivious to what you're actually doing. You're just following direction is to count 13 bags. 50 percent of the individuals in my generation of whom I went to school with, play sports with, or there's some piece of growing up with are in a graveyard, prison, on parole or probation. Mir, Sha, NaNa, DaDa, Quan, Keem, they're all dead.

J. TAPPER: That must be so traumatic. I mean, growing up with all these kids you knew getting killed. It's a long list.

RICE: It's just a lot of pain. It's a lot of pain and it's a lot of misunderstanding, I should say.

T. TAPPER: He grew up walking distance from the office that I practiced in for most of the 48 years that I was in South Philadelphia.

J. TAPPER: Yes. And this is -- I mean, this is one of the reasons why you chose to practice medicine where you chose to practice medicine?


J. TAPPER: To help these kids.

T. TAPPER: Well, someone has got to do it.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): More than a decade ago, South Philadelphia was caught in the circularity of poverty and crime. My hometown was the poorest big city in America with the highest murder rate per capita in 2011. That's the year CJ turns 17. The year CJ's life changed forever.

That September CJ and his friend Tyler Linder were peddling toward Rice's home around 7:00 p.m. Soon a black Oldsmobile pulled up behind them and an arm stretched out of the car window and fired multiple shots. CJ was hit three times.

Tell me about what it felt like.

RICE: It's a shock. It's a shock. It's a stun. It's a shock. It is just one of those feeling. Me and my friend, we made it back to my mom's house.

C. COOPER: Tyler was banging on the door, saying, Miss Crystal, Miss Crustal. And I came to the window and I looked at the screen, he was like, CJ got shot. Don't say he got shot. I ran downstairs. And CJ came around the corner on a bike like this and he was holding the sign. He fell on the step. It was terrifying. I can't see the wound. I just saw the blood.

J. TAPPER: You think it was mistaken identity?

RICE: Had to have been the case of mistaken identity. Had to.

J. TAPPER: You don't know who was in the black Oldsmobile?


J. TAPPER (voice-over): CJ was shot in his abdomen, in his left flank, and his buttock.

A surgeon had to cut from your sternum down to a few inches below your navel to find and then go into your body and extract a bullet. This was closed with more than two dozen staples.


RICE: It was difficult.

J. TAPPER: What was it like after you got discharged from hospital and went home?

RICE: It was a little more difficult, even just getting up and going to the bathroom. Those 20, 30 steps might not sound like a lot, but it's taxing.

J. TAPPER: He came to see you on September 20th, 2011.

T. TAPPER: He had trouble walking two or three steps to the exam table. Sitting on the table he lowered himself to the chair very slowly.

J. TAPPER: When you saw him leave that day, he's a healthy 17-year-old kid, how did he walk?

T. TAPPER: Previously healthy 17-year-old kid.

J. TAPPER: Yes. Right.

T. TAPPER: This is not him. This is him.

J. TAPPER: Yes. And his mom is helping him? Ish? T. TAPPER: A little bit.

J. TAPPER: Wow, that's rough.

(Voice-over): 22 days after CJ was shot and just five days after he visited my dad, there was yet another shooting in South Philadelphia.

Five days later, there's this other shooting in South Philadelphia, on South 18th Street. You were in West Philadelphia?

RICE: I was in West Philly at the time.

J. TAPPER: The night of September 25th, 2011 was unseasonably warm. Latrice Johnson came out on her stoop waiting for a food delivery. Five of her relatives, all younger around her, including her 6-year- old niece. Now, at around 9:30 Johnson says two men came up from Fernon Street right to the corner here of South 18th.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Philadelphia Fire Department.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My niece just got shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the address?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They got on hoodies. They're black.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): When we return --

All of a sudden, Latrice identifies CJ.

AMELIA MAXFIELD, ATTORNEY, THE EXONERATION PROJECT: No one ever followed up on those leads. No one interviewed those witnesses.

RICE: How can you defend me in the case and you have no knowledge of the crime scene?


RICE: Dear Dr. Tapper, the police, they swear up and down they know what was going on, but they don't. They just assume and categorize us by who we grew up with. They don't understand that is not always true that birds of a feather flock together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Philadelphia Fire Department.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My niece just got shot.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): On the night of September 25th, 2011, Latrice Johnson and three members of her family, including her 6-year-old niece, were injured in a South Philadelphia shooting.


This is what Johnson said when asked who the suspects were by a 911 dispatcher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They got on hoodies. They're black.

J. TAPPER: Attorney Amelia Maxfield works for the Exoneration Project, a legal clinic fighting for those convicted of crimes they did not commit.

MAXFIELD: She also told the first responders she didn't know who shot her, and then we learned in post-conviction investigation that through her medical records that she had told the doctors and the nurses at the hospital while she was being treated that she only heard the shooting and she didn't see it. So she told multiple people for nearly 24 hours that she couldn't identify the shooter.

J. TAPPER: After the police claimed they received an anonymous tip, a policeman presented Latrice Johnson with a photo lineup of potential shooters. She selected CJ.

She knew CJ because her son, who was also one of the victims of the shooting that night, had once been friends with him.

MAXFIELD: Yes, that's right.

J. TAPPER: They've done homework together and such.


J. TAPPER (voice-over): Among the wounded was Johnson's 23-year-old stepdaughter, La Toya Lane. Lane would identify Tyler Linder in another photo lineup. Tyler was the one riding bikes with CJ when CJ was shot.

RAYMOND DRISCOLL, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR TYLER LINDER: I didn't think there would be a trial.

J. TAPPER: Raymond Driscoll was Tyler's attorney.

DRISCOLL: Mr. Linder's mother owned a cleaning company. They had an account in Northeast Philadelphia and on the date when the shooting occurred, Tyler Linder, his mother, and his little brother were at that location. They cleaned multiple buildings at that location. The entry and exit of their vehicle was documented by video evidence from that facility.

J. TAPPER: What do you want the family of Latrice Johnson to know about that night in September 2011?

RICE: I had nothing to do with it.

J. TAPPER: You were with your godmother.

RICE: I was in the house. She wasn't there, but I was in house at the time.

J. TAPPER: Yes. You were with Gadhafi, her son?

The only, quote-unquote, "evidence" against you was Latrice Johnson who the night of the shooting, to three different police officers, did not identify you, even though she knew you and only identified you after a tip came into the police and the detective went and saw her with a photo lineup.

Since this happened in 2011, they've now changed the procedure so that the person who does the photo lineup is not investigating the case. It's double-blind. So there can't be any bias, implicit or explicit. But that's not how they did it at the time.

MAXFIELD: We don't know what was said in that room. It wasn't recorded.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): The detectives who worked on this case did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

Your mom, who worked at the district attorney's office, heard that the police were seeking you for questioning. Your godmother took you down to the police station?

RICE: Right. So I'm thinking, you know, all right, well, we could go clear this out right now. We go, we go. They didn't ask me no questions. They discharged me.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): CJ and Tyler were each charged with four counts of attempted murder.

You didn't have money to make bail. So you sat in jail.

RICE: Jail. Right.

J. TAPPER: What was your first night in jail like?

RICE: It was trying. It was trying.

J. TAPPER: You were 17.

RICE: Right.

Dear Dr. Tapper, everything falls back on my original trial attorney, specifically ineffective assistance of counsel claims and her failures to uncover the truth and facts, that now have to argue and assert all these years later.

J. TAPPER: So your mom arranges for a friend of her, Sanjai Weaver, to become your court appointed attorney. What did you think when you heard that?

RICE: I was OK with it at the time.

J. TAPPER: You knew her.

RICE: Her and my mom worked at the same -- on the same floor in the district attorney's office.

DRISCOLL: Sandjai Weaver was an experienced lawyer. She did have a busy criminal defense practice. I think she was doing this for the right reason. I think she was well-intentioned. J. TAPPER (voice-over): As a court appointed attorney, Sandjai Weaver

would make a minimal flat fee per case. CJ and his mom did not know that Weaver had filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy nine months earlier.

MAXFIELD: If you're getting paid like that, you're in a volume business and you have a lot of clients and your time is really stretched.

J. TAPPER: How many times did you talk to her when you were in prison?

RICE: Probably three or four times.

J. TAPPER: For how long?

RICE: On the phone about seven minutes and face-to-face, in person, 10, 15 minutes.

J. TAPPER: And she had a lot of files.

RICE: She had a lot of files.

J. TAPPER: So she was meeting with a lot of prisoners.

RICE: Right.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): CJ says he asked Sandjai Weaver several times to subpoena his cell phone records, but she never did.

RICE: I know that the phone would approve that I wasn't anywhere near where the crime then.


MAXFIELD: It could have bolstered his alibi defense or even provided him a real alibi.

BILL FRITZE, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, CITY OF PHILADELPHIA: His private attorney should have done more with that phone. We actually were asked to take over this investigation and look at this case as though it was a new case coming to us.

J. TAPPER: Assistant district attorney Bill Fritze, he would later re- investigate CJ's case.

FRITZE: Had she been able to come forward with that phone, the detectives could have done more. And had she spoken to the district attorney and said, hey, there's a phone that was recovered. Will you search it?

J. TAPPER: Told me about when you heard the jailhouse conversation between CJ and his mom, and he is trying to get her to get his attorney to get the cell phone records to prove he was in West Philadelphia, not in South Philly where the shooting happened.

FRITZE: That was very compelling. Usually having listened to lots of prison phone calls from a lot of different defendants, what you hear is them trying to come up with a story or make up a story. In particular, what CJ wanted was a particular phone.

J. TAPPER: When did you realize that she was not prepared?

RICE: The morning of the trial. You could tell if somebody that's prepared. They're poised. She wasn't poised. The papers were disorganized. No real notes, like she didn't study the case at all.

J. TAPPER: The prosecutor moves to introduce a theory that one of the victims of the September 25th shooting might have been the same person that shot CJ about three weeks before. The prosecution theory was that this was a retaliatory shooting because the Fifth Street Gang and the Seventh Street Gang were feuding. Is there any evidence, evidence, that CJ Rice was a member of either gang?

FRITZE: There's no evidence. CJ's co-defendant at the time provided a statement where he said that CJ hang out with people from Seventh Street, but other than that, there's no real clear connection between CJ and any groups or any of this being retaliatory between gangs.

J. TAPPER: Right. But saying that CJ hangs out with people doesn't mean he's in a gang or a criminal.

FRITZE: No, not -- no, absolutely not.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): Sandjai Weaver agreed to allow this retaliation theory to move forward, but objected to the arguments around CJ being in a gang.

Philadelphia attorney Karl Schwartz began his career as a public defender in 1983.

KARL SCHWARTZ, ATTORNEY FOR C.J. RICE: What that did for the Commonwealth is it allowed them to create in the minds of the jurors that Mr. Rice had a motive to commit this act. When the jury was told that they can accept what essentially is motive evidence, then they accepted and it was devastating to Mr. Rice's defense.

J. TAPPER: When we return.

MAXFIELD: Her testimony makes it seemed like she was identifying him from the photo.

J. TAPPER: Latrice Johnson, the prosecution's key eyewitness, and my father take the stand.

T. TAPPER: I didn't know what question she was going to ask. She didn't know what I was going to say.



T. TAPPER: I didn't know what questions she was going to ask. She didn't know what I was going to say.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): My dad, Dr. Theodore Tapper, testified on CJ's behalf.

You've testified in cases before. How was Sandjai Weaver, CJ's attorney, different from other attorneys that you've dealt with?

T. TAPPER: Virtually all the courtroom appearances are all my context with the legal system were because of medical malpractice. In every single case, without exception, I talked to the lawyer. They told me what they thought and I told them what I thought, and talk to them about what questions they were going to ask me.

J. TAPPER: And Sandjai?

T. TAPPER: Nothing.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): Latrice Johnson, the sole witness who identified CJ, testified that the shooters were standing upright and ran from the crime scene.

RICE: There's no way that I was standing straight up because of the way that I had a hunch. There's no way I was straight. I couldn't even take a full stride. I wasn't physically capable of doing that.

J. TAPPER: Remember, CJ himself had been shot three times just 17 days before. One bullet had fractured his pelvis. Though no one in the courtroom knew he had a fractured pelvis since that information was in his hospital records.

And the medical records that you've got years later were not introduced at trial?

T. TAPPER: Not introduced to trial.

J. TAPPER: My dad was his pediatrician, saw him a few days before the shooting, said that CJ could barely walk, much less run. She calls my dad. He testifies, the amount of pain that I saw him with and the inability to stand and get onto and off the table in my office on the 20th of September makes me very dubious as to whether he could walk, standing up straight, let alone run with any degree of speed five days after I saw him.

It's just my dad's word. There's no pictures of his staples all up and down his torso. No surgeon's notes. Nothing.

MAXFIELD: Had she gotten CJ's full medical records she would've known and your dad would've known that he had pneumonia while he was hospitalized, and then also he suffered a comminuted fracture of his pelvis, which is a complex fracture that can take longer to heal than a simple fracture.


Those are important facts that were never in front of the jury.

J. TAPPER: Did you tell him to take the pain medication?

T. TAPPER: I suggest that he might feel a little bit better if he took one or two occasionally.

RICE: I told him, I'm like the first time that I said that I didn't like the way they feel. I hadn't taken them again.

J. TAPPER: How do they make you feel?

RICE: I'm spaced out.

T. TAPPER: He certainly expressed that he didn't like the way the Percocets made him feel so he wasn't going to take anymore.

J. TAPPER: Did Sandjai Weaver have any knowledge of your conversation with CJ about why he was not taking painkillers?


J. TAPPER: The prosecutor basically tried to undermine your testimony by saying you have no idea if he was capable of the shooting because you have no idea if he was taking painkillers, but Sandjai didn't come back and say but you didn't think he was on Percocets because of the conversation you had.

T. TAPPER: Correct.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): When Latrice Johnson testified Sandjai Weaver neglected to point out key inconsistencies. For instance, Johnson said that the shooter had braids, quote, "hanging right on the side."

So CJ's arrest photo --

MAXFIELD: Yes. And this photo was taken on the 27th, not even two days after the shooting. He does have braids but they are cornrows to his head.

J. TAPPER: And this is important.

FRITZE: It was actually the African-American people in my office, the analysts that look at it, that said that's no way, there's no way that this fresh and done, and there's no way that they would have been able to do it in two days.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): Detectives had used this photo when they asked Latrice Johnson to identify CJ, but this photo is from March 2011, six months before the shooting. Taken after a juvenile drug case.

MAXFIELD: And so her testimony, given these two photos, makes it seem like she was identifying him from the photo, right. And not from memory.

The crime scene map clearly shows that there are two vehicles parked between where she was sitting and where the shooter was, and that the shooter fired most of the bullets from behind those cars on the corner.

J. TAPPER: Johnson testified that the shooters were 20 feet away, but if you look where the shooters were all the way over here, this is more like 60 feet away. 20 feet away is actually right around here.

(Voice-over): When cross-examining Latrice Johnson, Sandjai Weaver admitted to her lack of knowledge about the crime scene.

She says, sorry, Miss Johnson, I'm not familiar with your area.

RICE: And when I heard that I was like, you didn't go to the crime scene? How can you defend me in a case and you have no knowledge of the crime scene?

MAXFIELD: She also testified that there was a light above the shooter, a streetlamp, and there wasn't. Had Sandjai visited the crime scene, she would have known all of those things. If she had even just internalized the police's crime scene map that was provided in discovery.

J. TAPPER: The 911 calls from the night of the shooting, they were never submitted as evidence. Should they have been? What would they have shown?

MAXFIELD: As it turns out, there were two uninvolved witnesses who called 911, both of them reported only seeing one shooter. One of these witnesses described the shooter as wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt, and that obviously conflicts with the description we got from Latrice. As far as we know, no one ever followed up on those leads. No one interviewed those witnesses.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): In the year and a half leading up to the trial, Sandjai Weaver also failed to collect any alibi statements, making it seem as though CJ had no alibi at all.

The way that your alibi witnesses were presented, first, Sandjai called Deania, your godmother, who was actually not there at the time of the shooting.

RICE: What's the point of calling?

J. TAPPER: What's the point of calling her? Then she called Gadhafi Malone, your godmother's son. And he was there but he had never publicly said before that he was with you.

RICE: They made it like I was lying.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): Tyler Linder was found not guilty on all charges.

DRISCOLL: Everyone associated with the case me included let out a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, when they got to Mr. Rice, the first verdict that was announced was guilty. And so is every other one.

C. COOPPER: I was devastated. I didn't believe it. I was in disbelief. Like, how could this happen?

J. TAPPER: The judge sentenced you to 30 to 60 years, which is a very harsh penalty for a shooting in which nobody was seriously injured, much less killed. [20:35:12]

RICE: March 2nd, 2018, Dear Dr. Tapper, hopefully this letter finds you well. As for me I'm just taking the situation one day at a time. May 18th, 2018. Optimism plus resilience, plus persistence, that's the way I look at things. It's only but for so long to true facts and the truth can be suppressed. Well, until next time, Dr. Tapper. CJ.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): Next.

LARRY KRASNER, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, CITY OF PHILADELPHIA: It is a system that picks on poor people and it picks on black people.

J. TAPPER: What was daily life like in prison?



RICE: Dated April 8th, 2017. I've literally become numb from being treated inhumane and subjected to the attitudes of these DOC employees. It's very bewildering of me how do these institutions be termed as corrections, while to the contrary, if you are respectful, articulate, and humble, you receive belligerently condescending conduct from the individuals who have authority over you.

J. TAPPER: What did you miss the most when you were in prison?

RICE: Family.

J. TAPPER: Yes, your mom?

RICE: Mom, little cousin, my grandma. The small, smaller thing.

C. COOPER: To have your child taken away from you as a teenager and not to be able to be apparent to them, and just see them and knowing that they're OK is heartbreaking to just have your child snatched away from you. We always hear what happens in prison and see it depicted on television what happens in prison. And you just wonder what's going on and are they OK?

J. TAPPER: What was daily life like in prison?

RICE: Just like being locked away and like, you ever seen the movie "The Maze Runner"? It's just like that. The attendance would be there, CO's, they get to say whatever they want, do whatever they want with no reprisal, no -- you can file a grievance, but the grievance is sort of kind of futile. It was terrible, to be honest.

J. TAPPER: And you read a lot.

RICE: Read a lot, wrote a lot.

J. TAPPER: You helped other prisoners get their GEDs.

RICE: Right. J. TAPPER: You counseled them. What made you do that?

RICE: Because for me personally education is a must. So I can help this guy learn something, I'm going to help him.

November 9th, 2017. Dear Dr. Tapper, how's everything going? Good hopefully. As for me, I'm OK. I remain diligently working I told myself, I'm out of here by the time I turned 26 or when I'm 26, I'll go to school to pass the bar exam, and become a licensed practitioner.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): CJ Rice would spend more than a dozen years behind bars. He explored every legal avenue to get out.

MAXFIELD: There are over 1.2 million people in prison at this moment in the United States.

J. TAPPER: Do we have any idea how many are estimated to be innocent but be in prison anyway?

MAXFIELD: We don't know for sure, but studies estimate that number to be around 4 percent to 6 percent of the total prison population, which would be somewhere around 50,000 people.

SCHWARTZ: What is the great disappointment to me is that this legal system does not work as hard as it could to minimize that number. And in fact has worked during my professional career in the exact opposite direction.

KRASNER: We should all want a system that is accurate.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

KRASNER: What I saw for the first 30 years of my career when I was a defense attorney over and over and over, it was about winning. It was about assuming and presuming that whenever the detectives believed was true. It was about frankly not carrying too much whether the defendant was actually guilty because, as I heard many prosecutors say, well, if you didn't do this, he did something else. And that of course was fundamentally about viewing a certain category of people as being sub- human.

J. TAPPER: Since you became district attorney, there have been 44 exonerations of 43 people. The vast majority of those that your office has exonerated are black. What does that say about the system?

KRASNER: Well, it is a system that without question disproportionately picks on poor people and it picks on black people and it picks on brown people. That's what it does. That's what it's always done.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): CJ would advocate for his innocence for years behind bars. For a while, my dad was one of the only ones listening.

Over the years what are all the avenues that you explored to try to get CJ's case reconsidered?

[20:45:06] T. TAPPER: Well, Sandjai Weaver very soon dropped out of the picture and then he had a different lawyer who I worked with a little bit for the first level appeal and then that one didn't go anywhere. The second level appeal to Superior Court, it happens that I know two of the people who sit on Superior Court and I said, how often do you overturn the Lower Court ruling? And they said, we affirm that 90 percent, 95 percent of the time. We just rule the same way that the trial judge rules.

J. TAPPER: The appeals process, it doesn't seem designed to make sure that justice was done. That's my impression.

RICE: I was denied five times in a Pennsylvania court. They could have corrected it five times. Your father, we kept the correspondence going. That was like an extra -- it was like an extra driving force behind me. I didn't -- I wasn't alone in a sense.

T. TAPPER: May 2019, Dear CJ, I just finished reading "Picking Cotton" about a wrongful conviction for rape that eventually was reversed. Powerful book. If you ever get a chance to read it. From "Picking Cotton," "Conquered, they can never be whose spirits and whose souls are free." Hope this information is helpful not that you asked for it. Stay strong and free as ever. Ted.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): CJ's lawyer at the time thought that press attention might hurt his chances. But in 2020, my dad would finally let me start investigating CJ's case.

After years of you telling me about CJ and these letters, I started to say to you, why don't you let me cover this. Why don't -- this sounds like a real injustice. It sounds like Sandjai Weaver was a horrible attorney. It sounds like your testimony should have been weighted much more than it was. It took years, but finally, you let me do it.

T. TAPPER: Yes. It finally got to the point where we, CJ and I, that team of two was exhausting all of the legal avenues.

J. TAPPER: It took me a couple of years, but we did a very thorough story for "The Atlantic." And then I covered that story on CNN.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The cover story of "The Atlantic's" November issue out today, CNN's own Jake Tapper telling the story here of CJ Rice.

J. TAPPER: And it is the most unjust case like this I've ever seen.

And then you and I also went on "CBS This Morning" and talk to Gayle King and her team.

GAYLE KING, CBS THIS MORNING HOST: You said what happened after the case is not open for argument. What do you mean by that?

J. TAPPER: The idea that he had legal representation worthy of the name there's no dispute about that. He did not.

Did you think at all that any of this was going to have any positive impact?

T. TAPPER: Well, that was my hope.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): When we return.

DON VERILY, FORMER U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: I think the impact of that article was undeniable.

J. TAPPER: The path to freedom.

KRASNER: There was some reinvestigation.

J. TAPPER: Do you have any idea who did do the shooting?



RICE: His letter from February 13th, 2022. What if you stop and ask someone, what is time. How important is it to you? We know that DC's is changed and the sun and the moon rises and sets all in a frame set in time. But do we really understand? Like truly understand what time is. How can one truly know whether time is on our side or if time is working against us?

J. TAPPER (voice-over): I wrote about CJ's case in October 2022.

Did you ever get a copy of "The Atlantic" when you're in prison?

RICE: They put it up in a law library.

J. TAPPER: What was it like seeing your face on the cover of a magazine?

RICE: It was mind-blowing. It was mind-blowing.

J. TAPPER: How did you first get involved?

MAXFIELD: We were in the process of screening his application and working his case up when your article came out. And at that time Karl Schwartz reached out to us.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): Amelia Maxfield, then with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, and CJ's new lawyer, Karl Schwartz, teamed up.

T. TAPPER: I happened to talk to someone who had written a book recently about the death penalty. And he said, what you really need is a good habeas corpus lawyer and it happens that one of my closest friends is a habeas corpus lawyer. And maybe you should give him a call.

SCHWARTZ: When I dove into the case, it had all of the typical, you know, earmarks of a conviction that raised serious, serious questions about its reliability.

VERILY: We came in just to provide extra firepower. J. TAPPER: After I sent him a copy of "The Atlantic" story, former

U.S. solicitor general Don Verily Junior also joined CJ's legal team.

VERILY: When we met with the district attorney's office, one of the things that did come up in that meeting we had with him was the article. What the article did very, very effectively was pull together all of the evidence into one compelling narrative story. I think the impact of that article was undeniable.

J. TAPPER: Together, they would file what's called a habeas corpus petition in December 2022. Two months after my "Atlantic" article was published.

SCHWARTZ: Habeas corpus literally is defined as show me the body. It's a way for a person who's been convicted and sentenced to jail in state court to apply to the federal district court for relief.


VERILY: And we really focused on the ineffective assistance of counsel that he was denied his right under the Sixth Amendment to an effective lawyer. This was a case where the Constitution clearly had been violated.

J. TAPPER: It took months, but eventually the habeas petition was granted, although CJ was not free yet.

T. TAPPER: Dear CJ, you already know the good news about the habeas petition. They ruled in your favor. Now begins yet another period of having patience. How much longer? Nobody can give anything except the rough estimate. October of 2023, Dear CJ, waiting and waiting, even though we know we feel certainly the eventual outcome. The firm release date cannot come too soon.

J. TAPPER: CJ did not have adequate legal representations. And today a judge agreed.

(Voice-over): In November 2023, CJ's conviction was overturned. His fate now in the hands of the Philadelphia district attorney's office.

In November of 2023, the conviction was overturned, and the judge ordered your office to decide whether to retry him or free him within the next 180 days. What was your office doing during that period after November 2023?

KRASNER: Well, there was a lot of careful discussion about it. Obviously significant work had gone into our position even before that date. And then there was some reinvestigation. It all pointed to this case lacks integrity. We should not try it again.

J. TAPPER (voice-over): Sandjai Weaver, CJ's trial attorney, died in 2019. The district attorney's office and CNN were unable to reach Latrice Johnson, who said CJ was the shooter.

Do you have any idea who did do the shooting?


J. TAPPER: Is it just too long ago?

FRITZE: We're in a city that has experienced a monumental amount of shootings. It's hard enough for the police department to keep up with the shootings and homicides that occur every day.

J. TAPPER: I'm outside the Criminal Justice Center in downtown Philadelphia.

(Voice-over): March 18th, 2024.

Judge James Eisenhower granted the motion offered by the District Attorney Larry Krasner to drop all charges against CJ Rice.

MAXFIELD: We're relieved, excited for CJ. We're really happy with this outcome.

SCHWARTZ: His nightmare is finally over and he can go about rebuilding his life.

J. TAPPER: I'm proud of you. I'm proud of you.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that I think CJ is out because of my dad. My dad took up this case when nobody was paying attention to it, not me, not Karl, not you.

MAXFIELD: He did and CJ did. They did it together.

J. TAPPER: Hey, man.

RICE: What's up, Jake? What's going on?

J. TAPPER: How about it?

RICE: It's good to see you.

J. TAPPER: I can't believe I'm seeing you face-to-face and not just on a computer?

RICE: I know, right?

J. TAPPER: Oh, man. So these are the studios.

This is CJ Rice. This is Ira, one of my floor directors. Wolf Blitzer and Kristin Fisher. You know this story I did about CJ Rice, the guy who was in prison unjustly? This the CJ Rice. Wolf Blitzer, Kristin Fisher.


J. TAPPER: Yes. So this is my office, and the posters are all people who ran for president and lost. That's the theme.

RICE: Stories. J. TAPPER: Yes. Yes. Yes. How's it feel to be out?

RICE: It feels amazing. I feel all of a sudden as free man, that's -- can't put it into words.

T. TAPPER: It's so great to see you out here.

RICE: That's a great move yesterday. Great move yesterday.

Sometimes I do think, what can I take from it all? What's the lesson that can be learned? How did things come full circle the way that they did?

T. TAPPER: That's a wonderful attitude. I wish I had it for me. I'm glad you have it for you.

RICE: The simple things in life mean the most. Oh, man, look at the ocean. The tide is getting bigger and bigger it's going to touch my feet. This day, this morning, this very moment, the South feels inexplicably different.

Damn. I don't know if I'm doing this right. You noticed the contraction.

This feels like the picturesque moment straight out of a movie. So how can I feel in these moments? I can be first and foremost grateful and humble. This was by no means an easy feat.


COOPER: The video you just saw of CJ was the first time he ever went to the beach. It's the first in many steps forward for CJ and his new life. And as you heard in the hour, he plans to go back to school to study law.

Thanks for watching THE WHOLE STORY. I'll see you next Sunday.