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White House Says North Korea Has Active Nuclear Weapons Program; Illinois Governor Considering Commuting Death Setences

Aired October 16, 2002 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone. For the first time since this madness began in the Washington suburbs, we found ourselves feeling hopeful today. There was no big break, no specific reason to believe the killing would stop or, better yet, the killer would be caught, just a sense that the end game is on. The killer is getting sloppy.
Police now know just about exactly where he kneeled down on Monday night and fired the shot that killed Linda Franklin. Pretty close, a bit more than 100 feet away, and he was seen.

And while the witnesses don't exactly agree on what they saw -- something that happens in situations like this -- he was seen. He was sloppy. And in a week where hope has been sparse, there is a bit of hope to latch onto.

The other reason for hope is perhaps even less rational. People are so wary these days. It's not that people are just being more careful; we know they are. It's that they're being more watchful. They're seeing things missed before.

None of this is a fingerprint, a license plate, a name. It's just intuition, that the end game is at hand. Or maybe it's even less than intuition. Maybe it's just hope. But it is something that wasn't there yesterday. And so finally in this, something feels good.

We have a lot on the sniper tonight. Not the entire program, but quite a bit. We begin the whip with Kathleen Koch in Montgomery County, Maryland.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, no sketch of a killer today and no appearance by the Montgomery County police chief, busy, we're told, plotting strategy to catch the sniper -- Aaron.

BROWN: Kathleen, back to you at the top tonight. A busy day and evening at the White House. Our senior White House correspondent, John King, there for us tonight. John, a headline from you tonight.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, it's quite complicated. The White House tells us that North Korea is now admitting that it has an active nuclear weapons program, breaking a 1994 promise to the United States. As the administration debates what to do about that, the president's urgent focus remains on another member of what he calls the axis of evil, Iraq. BROWN: John, thank you. And a fascinating, emotional story involving the death penalty. Our Beth Nissen has been working on that. Nissen, the headline from you tonight.

BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are 158 prisoners on death row in Illinois. Governor George Ryan says he is considering commuting some and perhaps all of these prisoners' sentences from death to life in prison without parole.

BROWN: Thank you. Back to you in a little bit. Back with the rest of you in a moment as well. Also coming up tonight, someone we think can cut through a lot about what we've been hearing about this sniper and how the police are investigating, what they are doing. Former Philadelphia Police Chief John Timoney joins us.

Important stories overseas. Terror in Indonesia, the situation in Iraq and the Middle East. We'll try to get a read on all of them, and North Korea as well, from the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.

A report from Bali tonight, a place of surfers, artists and stunning tranquility. The scene of a staggering act of terror this past weekend. How life has changed.

And segment seven tonight, how life has changed as well. One family in suburban Washington trying to find its way to the new normal when terror came to town. All of that and more in the hour ahead.

We begin with the reality that police investigations are more art than science. There are witnesses to Monday's shooting, and that is good. They don't seem to agree on exactly what they saw, and that is reality. Eyewitnesses are often fuzzy, especially when they're looking at a guy with a gun.

So there is no sketch, but that doesn't mean there is no progress or new developments. There were both today on a number of fronts. But they also come with a reminder. Criminal investigations proceed at their own pace, not like clockwork, no matter how much we'd like them to.

CNN's Kathleen Koch begins our coverage again tonight.


KOCH (voice-over): It was the first time witnesses actually saw the killer shoulder a gun -- a man, they've told police, who three witnesses at that and one other crime scene say, has olive or darker colored skin. One problem: their other recollections don't match.

CAPTAIN NANCY DEMME, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE DEPT: There are a couple of people who saw, believe they saw a man shoot. Now, unfortunately, distance and darkness and perhaps adrenaline have made it -- them unable to give us a clear composite that we can disseminate.

KOCH: But investigators are moving forward on other fronts. Law enforcement sources tell CNN an undetermined number of people are under surveillance as investigators follow up on leads in the case. And partial Maryland license tags, spotted by witnesses Monday night, are being checked at the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

One witness says the weapon used Monday was an AK-74 military assault rifle, which can look like this but is easily modified. However, police warn the shooter could be switching weapons and vehicles.

Sources believe the shot was fired from just 30 yards away. A knowledgeable official says investigators probing the Falls Church shooting are looking at surveillance tapes from Home Depot and two nearby buildings.

Authorities are also checking tapes from police cruisers responding to the scene, as well as traffic cameras, for any potential clues. And they've given the public tips on what to look for if they witness a shooting.

DEMME: Remember that some facts and characteristics are permanent and some are temporary. For example, people temporary characteristics would be clothing, color of clothing, hair style, facial hair, beard, mustache, glasses. Permanent would be height, build, complexion.


KOCH: And Police Chief Charles Moose was notably absent in a meeting, we were told at the podium, plotting strategy. But a source close to the investigation says apparently much of the talk there was about jurisdictional issues, and Virginia authorities complaining that information was not being shared adequately with them.

But that very same source says that overall there, everyone on this task force is working well together.

BROWN: One quick one, and then perhaps one longer one. How many -- do we have a feel for how many officers are involved in the task force now?

KOCH: You know, Nancy Demme, the officer who you saw in my story earlier, took a question on that today. And she said hundreds and hundreds of officers, suffice it to say. And she said that they are so busy on this case that she's not stopping anyone to do a head count.

But, Aaron, again, every law enforcement agency in this area and the federal government is working on the case.

BROWN: Now, just give me your impression on something. Did you notice today, in any sense, a more, I guess upbeat feeling from police officials, both on the record and on background, that they at least now have witnesses?

KOCH: I think that same optimism was even present yesterday, immediately after the Monday night shooting, as horrific as it was. But again, this killer does seem to be getting more brazen and more sloppy, taking chances. Taking risks that we hadn't seen he or they take earlier.

And so that has led them to -- authorities are having a lot more clues, a lot more evidence, better eyewitnesses. And they really think they're getting closer. But again, they can't find this killer soon enough for all of us who live here -- Aaron.

BROWN: For all of us, no matter where we live. Kathleen, thank you very much. And we'll check back with you before the program ends tonight to update the story as we go along.

Along with painting a picture of the shooter, police are trying to figure out precisely what weapon or weapons he is using. Guns leave marks on the bullets they fire, some say as unique as a person's fingerprints. Trouble is, there is no national registry of those fingerprints, not yet.

The sniper killing has raised a call to establish one. This is common sense to some people, an infringement to others. Until today, President Bush was wary of the idea. But now it looks like he is at least willing to look at it. Is that politics or a wakeup call? Here's CNN's Michael Okwu.


MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When a gun is fired, any gun, it leaves unique markings on the ammunition. For example, the firing pin released from that hole leaves microscopic marks on the primer.

(on camera): And the cartridge case is pushed back against the breach face. So what you have is, you not only have a firing pin impression in the primer, but you have breach face marks surrounding the firing pin impression.

(voice-over): As the bullet moves through the barrel, it scrapes along grooves, or rifling, produced to maximize its accuracy and velocity. We've lit this barrel so you can actually see them. Each groove contains unique, microscopic impressions, caused by the tool used to create the rifling. These in turn leave marks on the bullet, making every bullet fired distinct and potentially traceable.

Companies like Forensic Technology already keep digital records of guns and ammunition used in crimes. Gun safety advocates now want the unique markings of all guns catalogued, so that in the event of a crime those unique characteristics could be matched to a bullet fingerprint on file.

MATT BENNETT, AMERICANS FOR GUN SAFETY: You have the technology, and the infrastructure is there as well. There are more than 200 of these imaging systems that have been distributed to law enforcement around the country. They're ready to go, but we need a national law that requires that every new gun sold is submitted to this kind of test. OKWU: The idea of a national database of so-called gun fingerprints has been something the Bush administration rejected as recently as yesterday. Yet today, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said it was being looked into.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president wants this issue explored. And to that end, the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had a meeting and met yesterday afternoon with White House staff to start to discuss the various issues -- the technical issues, the feasibility issues, the pros and cons about how this could possibly be effective. Whether it could work, and whether it would not be able to work. And those are the issues we're going to explore.

OKWU: Gun shop owners are against any kind of ballistic fingerprinting.

BILL PRINTZ, POTOMAC TRADING AND COLLECTIBLES: And all anybody would have to do if they were to change that, they would just change a barrel. You take a barrel and change the barrel and roll it up in a magazine. And it'd be just like an entirely different gun.

OKWU: One of the many arguments the White House must weigh as the sniper stalks Washington suburbs.

Michael Okwu, CNN, Washington.


BROWN: We'll talk with the former Philadelphia Police Chief John Timoney about the sniper case coming up in a little bit. Later in the program we'll update the investigation as well.

Some other news of day items first. On any other night -- how many times have we said that lately? But on any other night this might well be the lead story. President, Congress visiting foreign leader, all tied up with a very real possibility of a major war. So it's not the lead, perhaps, but it might be very soon.

Tonight, though, it's just a story of a very busy day at the White House that got busier tonight. Here again, our CNN senior White House correspondent, John King.


KING (voice-over): At first glance, a green light to Israel.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Iraq attacks Israel tomorrow, I would assume the prime minister would respond.

KING: But the two leaders sidestepped a much more delicate issue. What would Israel do if Iraq attacked during a U.S.-led military campaign? Prime Minister Sharon has said he is inclined to retaliate. Mr. Bush wants Israel to do as it did in the last Gulf War: stand down its troops and let the United States handle the fight, if there is one. BUSH: My hope is that we could achieve a disarmament of the Iraqi regime peacefully. I haven't given up on the fact that we can achieve it peacefully.

KING: This signing ceremony earlier in the day marked a victory at home -- congressional authority to use military force against Iraq. Mr. Bush used the stage to send a message to Baghdad.

BUSH: Any doubt our nation's resolve, our determination, they would be unwise to test it.

KING: And a message for those resisting the U.S. call for a tough United Nations Security Council ultimatum to Iraq.

BUSH: Those who choose to live in denial may eventually be forced to live in fear. Every nation that shares in the benefits of peace also shares in the duty of defending the peace.

KING: It has been five weeks now since the president told the United Nations he wanted action on Iraq within weeks. And the administration is losing patience with the slow pace of debate, and with continued objections from Russia and France.


KING: Keeping Israel on the sidelines is critical to the administration's efforts to build Arab support for confronting Baghdad. Progress in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would help, too. And the president said today that Israel is now committed to easing some economic restrictions on the Palestinians, as long as the United States steps in to make sure that that money is then not used to finance more terror attacks -- Aaron.

BROWN: All right, John, let's go to North Korea. Because this happened, I guess, earlier this evening. But tonight in any case, the North Koreans apparently acknowledging now they have a nuclear weapons program. This creates some problems for the administration.

KING: It certainly does. Major diplomacy now under way with the two key allies in Asia, South Korea and Japan. Administration officials tell us tonight that Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly told the North Koreans 12 days ago, when he was there, that the United States had evidence that despite North Korea's promise back in 1994 to put aside and dismantle its nuclear weapons program, that North Korea was working on a new program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

To the stunning surprise of U.S. officials, North Korea did not dispute that. It admitted it. So Mr. Kelly came home. There have been a series of urgent meetings here, culminating with a national security council meeting here at the White House yesterday. President Bush wants Japan and South Korea to take the lead. Seoul tonight called on North Korea to keep all of its commitments.

Those commitments, Aaron, include letting nuclear inspectors in to make sure the programs are dismantled. The White House says that it's unclear now how all this will play out. Mr. Bush is scheduled to meet with the leaders of Japan and South Korea later this month at the annual Asia Pacific Economic Conference.

A great deal of tension here tonight. No one suggesting any military confrontation with North Korea right now, but the administration wants this dealt with, and dealt with quickly.

BROWN: John, thank you.

Ahead on NEWSNIGHT, we'll talk about the sniper investigation with the former Philadelphia police commissioner. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.


BROWN: We like having John Timoney on the program because he always speaks his mind. We like him better because he knows what he's talking about. Mr. Timoney is the former chief of police in Philadelphia, a veteran of the New York City Police Department as well. He's now president of a security consultant. He's in Philadelphia, where he lives.

It's good to see you again, John. Thank you. Are we reading too much into the fact that -- or several facts? One is that the Monday shooting seemed a bit different? The range seemed closer, 100 feet or so, 30 yards. And then he was seen. Is he getting sloppy or is that our hope?

JOHN TIMONEY, FMR. PHILADELPHIA POLICE CHIEF: Well, you know, eventually this is going to happen, that he's going to get more brazen. We saw that Friday with the shooting, with the police officer about 50 yards away on duty.

And then again yesterday, in an enclosed garage where there wasn't much room to create distance between himself and the victim. And the more likelihood rather of being seen, the car being spotted. So he's getting brazen, careless. Who knows? We'll find out once we get him.

BROWN: If you're the cop on this, if you're the lead investigator on this, what does that tell you about the state of mind of the killer?

TIMONEY: Well, that he's fearless, in the sense that I don't think he worries about getting killed or getting caught. Now, that's different than he wants to get caught. He doesn't want to get caught. If he wanted to get caught, he'd hang around after he killed his victims. But he's making good at his escape.

He also understands, by the way, the dynamics of these shootings. The notion, in all of these shootings, right after them, there's a two to five-minute window of chaos where he's making good his escape. Even with the trained police officer on Friday, the first thing that officer did was run to the victim to render assistance and first aid, while this guy heads in the other direction, gets in his car and drives away. And, you know, people have said they've seen a car speeding away. I don't think he's speeding away. I think he's got enough time to make good his getaway, go in with the flow of traffic, and then just kind of blend in. And not act suspicious or drive suspiciously.

BROWN: Is that somebody who's learning as he goes, or is that somebody, would you guess -- that's all we can do here, guess -- who has some experience in matters like this?

TIMONEY: No, I think he's learning as he goes. And he notices, all of a sudden, after -- if the distance was huge in the first couple of shootings, 150 to 200 yards, he can get closer and still make good his getaway.

So I think he understands that there is this window of chaos, as people, whether they're witnesses or police officers, are trying to sort that out. And they're natural. Everybody's natural, understandable inclination is to run to the victim to help out.

BROWN: Not surprising to you, I assume, as a veteran police officer, that you have three eyewitnesses and they all tell slightly different -- in some cases, not so slightly different stories.

TIMONEY: Yes, that's typical. You know, under ideal circumstances, you try and separate witnesses at the scene of a crime, keep them separated. That's ideal.

But generally what happens is, the very first thing the police officer does is try and render first aid to the victim. Then establish a crime scene, make sure nobody walks on things. And then in the back of your mind is the notion of keeping the witnesses separated. That's usually like the last thing when the detectives get there.

So they're waiting around, you know, for an hour, hour and a half. Human nature takes over and they chat about what they saw. And it starts to blend.

BROWN: But wouldn't that lead the witnesses to come up with similar stories, as opposed to differing stories?

TIMONEY: Yes, sometimes you get that. But sometimes you also get different stories. Or if somebody really thought they saw a red van and the guy said brown, then they'll go along with the brown. So you'll see some similarities.

And others -- what often happens is, not all three witnesses will be standing in the exact same spot. You see this done in law school all the time, where they're nearby. And you re-create the crime scene and then you question. And it's amazing how people see things differently.

But the classic, there's a book by Jim Dwyer and Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, "Presumed Innocent." They've got a statistic in there under victims of sexual assault, where they see their perpetrator up close. In cases where there's an eyewitness identification that's later followed up by DNA, in 35 percent, it's an incorrect photo lineup. So that's astounding, where they see the perpetrator up close.

BROWN: It's a good thing for all of us to keep in mind. John, thanks again. It's good to see you.

TIMONEY: Aaron, good seeing you.

BROWN: John Timoney in Philadelphia tonight.

Later on NEWSNIGHT, we'll have the story of how one family in the Washington area is coping with the fear that they are facing going about the most routine parts of their lives. We'll also update the latest developments in the case as we go along.

A quick look now at some of the other stories making news around the country today. And we begin back in Philadelphia. Jury deliberations began today in the murder trial of Ira Einhorn. He's accused of killing his girlfriend 25 years ago.

In closing arguments, his lawyer called the discovery of her mummified remains in Mr. Einhorn's closet -- quote -- "just a piece of circumstantial evidence." Well, yes, but to prosecutors and perhaps jurors, a formidable one.

A federal judge in Houston today fined the accounting firm Arthur Andersen for obstruction of justice in the investigation of Enron. She also put the company on five years probation, which would bar it from auditing most companies -- a hollow sentence, in a way, considering that Andersen is now all but out of business.

And the space shuttle Atlantis undocked today in the International Space Station, and began its journey home. Atlantis scheduled to touch down Friday morning at the Cape. And we trust, safely.

Coming up on NEWSNIGHT, there's more on the sniper shooting. But after the break, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright joins us to talk about the other big headlines of the day -- the Middle East, Iraq, North Korea and more. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.


BROWN: A quick update now on the bomb blast this weekend in Bali that killed nearly 200 people, many more missing, mostly young tourists from overseas. U.S. officials say the two weeks leading up to the attacks they repeatedly passed threat information on to the Indonesian government, including the threat of attacks on western tourist sites. The most recent warning came just the day before.

Indonesia is one of a handful of diplomatic issues we want to talk about tonight. There is Iraq, the president signing the war resolution today, the crisis in the Middle East, and now tonight, North Korea. We're lucky to have someone who can speak with vast experience on them all.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright joins us. It's nice to see her. She's in Washington tonight.

Let's start with North Korea, since that broke tonight. I thought you guys solved this back in '94, and took care of that nuclear weapons program then.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, we did have a framework agreement. We were working to try to corral the North Koreans on a series of issues. We always knew and continue to believe that North Korea is a dangerous place, and that it is very important to engage them in a way to try to get verifiable agreements.

This is a very serious development. And I think that it's very important for the administration to deal with it in a calm and deliberate way, and to deal with it through -- with the help of the South Koreans and Japanese, as I understand that they are doing.

And that there has to be a diplomatic way to continue to deal with this, but recognizing that this is a very serious issue.

BROWN: And obviously, North Korea's not the only country that has nuclear weapons out there. Do we have much, does the United States have much leverage with North Korea?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that they clearly want a lot of things, in terms of diplomatic recognition, assistance with their economy, a whole host of things. But it is important for them not to think that they can use their leverage to try to develop any kinds of programs that are contrary to the nonproliferation treaty or the framework agreement.

And it would be, I believe, important to have discussions with them, and to try to pursue this in a very serious and considered way. And realizing that we always thought that they were very dangerous, which is why we engaged with them.

BROWN: I want to talk about Iraq for a bit. It had seemed to me that the administration makes an assumption, here -- and I'm short- handing this, obviously -- that if the United States does, in fact, go to war with Iraq, that in a sense, Arab countries will almost welcome it.

They'll almost be celebrating the fact that Saddam is gone. That is an important assumption in their plan. Is it a realistic assumption, from your view?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that it's overstating it, if that is really their assumption. Because, first of all, the Arab countries are not monolithic. They each have a different reaction. They all have different segments of their own population, which may feel that this is an inappropriate way to act.

And I think the thing, Aaron, that we have to keep in mind, if the administration goes forward with this, which there is every indication that it will, that in effect, we will be seeing American troops occupying Baghdad, which has had a great cultural significance in the Muslim religion. And they will obviously also have to secure the oil fields so that they are not blown up. And that also will resonate through the Arab world.

And what has always concerned me about any foreign policy decision are the unintended consequences. And I hope very much that the administration is taking all those into consideration, because this will reverberate.

BROWN: The administration, I think it was on Friday, was very dismissive of "The New York Times" story, that there is a plan for a rather lengthy..........

BROWN: The administration, I think it was on Friday, was very dismissive of the "New York Times" story that there is a plan for rather lengthy and, to my reading, sophisticated occupation of Iraq after a war.

I'm curious if you thought that -- they were being disingenuous in the way they dismissed it?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the administration, President Bush, has, in fact, explained very well the why we have to do something about Iraq. I don't think he's explained very well the when. Why we have to do it right now. And the what, which is what you're talking about -- is what happens the day after and how complex that will really be.

And I think that -- this is where I'm concerned is that they -- dismissive I think is the right word. That they are not seeing it in its full blown problem of what it will be like for the United States, probably mainly alone, to occupy a country of this size with a very disparate population.

And one of the reasons that I think it's essential to have more international support is so that if and when this happens, and it is a complex plan, that it has the support of other countries that can help us physically as well as financially.

BROWN: Madam Secretary, it's always good to hear you. In the universe of voices that ought to be heard on these issues, yours is one that we always enjoy listening to and we appreciate your time tonight.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you, Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on a couple of issues. You just heard her talk about the situation in Indonesia. And we'll be doing more on that as we go along.

We'll be right back.


BROWN: Coming up on NEWSNIGHT: paradise lost. At a tropical resort, the scene of the worst terrorist attack since September 11.

The changes in Bali when we return.


BROWN: A homecoming today in Australia, one of many happening across the country there this past week. One that is tragically, horribly incomplete.

Members of a football club arrived home without seven of their teammates, victims of the blast in Bali over the weekend. At least half the victims are from Australia.

In case you're having trouble grasping just what this is like for Australia especially, think of it in this way. Imagine an enormous explosion ripping through Florida's most popular club during spring break.

Bali was a care-free tourist spot, peaceful compared to the rest of Indonesia. At least it was until this weekend. So truly this is a story of paradise lost.

Here's Atika Shubert.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bali is the island of the gods. Paradise of beaches and exotic Hindu temples struck down by terrorism.

Throughout the day, they come here to mourn, to see the destruction as forensics teams comb the rubble, still searching for clues and more bodies.

Some have lost friends, others simply offer condolences. This Balinese woman dropped her friends here that Saturday night. Minutes later, they were killed in the blast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have from Australia and Guam and (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But now, no, I don't see him her any more. I don't believe. I don't believe.

SHUBERT: The Balinese are shattered. While much of the focus has been on the death toll of foreign tourists, the Balinese have also lost loved ones.

Most of the injured have been evacuated except for locals who must be content with Bali's small and ill equipped hospitals.

Bali's economic future, so dependent on tourism, is in tatters. Businesses here try to pick up the pieces. The stores remain open, but few customers come. Taxi drivers still wake up early and bless their cars before plying the streets, but few expect any fares.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a big problem, yeah, because all people in Bali, many tourists come in Bali. No tourist, makes things crazy for me. For me, for family, for people in Bali.

SHUBERT: The beaches, usually packed are close to empty. Those that are here watch the waves in sad contemplation.

Everyone here asks the same questions. How could this happen in a land of peace and tranquility? How could the island of Bali become paradise lost.

Atika Shubert, CNN, Bali.


BROWN: A few other quick items before we go to break, starting in Jamaica. Jimmy carter is there.

The Nobel laureate came to monitor elections, which took place today after fairly violent campaign. About 20 people killed since it began. Jamaican government today sent more than 11,000 troops to polling places to try and keep the peace.

A string of package bombs went off in Karachi, Pakistan all addressed to law enforcement agencies involved in the war on terrorism. At least nine people hurt in the explosions.

And to Egypt now. Andrew Carnegie, eat your heart out. The new Library of Alexandra has opened-- Alexandria, on the site of the old one which was founded, oh, about 2,300 years ago. Back then the city was considered the Harvard of the Middle East. It has a world class library today.

Ahead on NEWSNIGHT, back to the sniper story. We spend one day with one family in Maryland trying to go about the normal routines of life.

Up next: a governor struggles with the death penalty. A most extraordinary story out of Illinois.



BROWN: Among other things, the sniper story is one of those stories that test people who believe they are absolutely against the death penalty.

Would you oppose it for someone who's murdered nine people and terrorized tens of thousands? Your head might say oppose it. What is your heart telling you?

There are, of course, also cases that test people on the other side. Maybe when you find out through perhaps DNA evidence that an innocent man came close, very close to being executed, do you think twice about your support of the death penalty?

For Illinois' governor, this is not a hypothetical. He is reviewing all death row cases after he came to the conclusion the system in Illinois was far from fool proof. In the process, he has enraged prosecutors and victims' families, all to prevent the possibility of another innocent death, one this time at the hands of the state.

Here's CNN's Beth Nissen.


NISSEN (voice-over): For weeks, Illinois Governor George Ryan has been engrossed in true crime stories, reading case summaries on each of the state's 158 death row inmates.

GEORGE RYAN (R), GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: We sat there while the guy died and then set the body on fire and left. Now, what do you do with a guy like this?

NISSEN: Ryan declared a moratorium on all executions in the state of Illinois.

RYAN: I can't support a system which, in its administration, has proven to be so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare: the state's taking of innocent life

NISSEN: Ryan has done the math. Since Illinois reinstated the death penalty in 1977, 12 inmates have been executed, but 13 others have been freed, been exonerated or had their convictions reversed.

RYAN: How can you take the ultimate penalty and be only right half the time? That's pretty startling.

NISSEN: Not all capital cases were so flawed. After long deliberation, Ryan himself signed the death warrant for Andrew Korkaralis (ph), a murderer prosecutors called monstrous.

RYAN: In my mind, I was convinced that Andrew Korkaralis was guilty and that he had a fair trial, so we executed him.

NISSEN: But the anguish of deciding Korkaralis' fate was a turning point for Ryan, a Republican long on record as a supporter of the death penalty.

RYAN: It's an awesome responsibility that you can say that somebody can live or die. It's terrible -- I mean, it's just an awesome responsibility.

And I'm not sure that any one person ought to have that.

NISSEN: No one person does, say many prosecutors and critics of the governor.

KEVIN LYONS, STATE'S ATTORNEY, PEORIA, ILLINOIS: The people on death row are there because 12 people made a conscious, difficult decision to put them there.

NISSEN: Kevin Lyons is one of many prosecutors who say the moratorium and the clemency considerations subvert the will of juries and state law.

Lyons prosecuted two of the death row cases the governor may commute.

LYONS: Did they do it? Are they the ones? Is it a close call? No, they did it. No doubt.

NISSEN: Lyons prosecuted the case of Jimmy Ray Pittsenberger (ph), sentenced to death for the 1987 murders of three people, including Claude (ph) and Alta Brown (ph), a 62-year-old couple shot in the kitchen of their own home.

Pittsenberger confessed to the murder on videotape, giving gruesome details, confirmed by DNA and physical evidence.

Sandy Sheffert is the Browns' daughter.

SANDY SHEFFERT, DAUGHTER OF MURDER VICTIMS: He is a murderer, plain and simple. I don't understand why his sentence would need to be commuted down. Justice is seeing Jimmy Ray Pittsenberger receive the maximum sentence possible under the law and to see that sentence carried out.

Right now, I feel very betrayed by the governor.

NISSEN: By law, the governor can independently decide whether Pittsenberger and other death row inmates get lethal injections or life in prison without parole.

Ryan will be following the clemency hearings, but he is not bound by them.

You have the power to change sentences from death to life?

RYAN: Awesome power.

NISSEN: Do you plan to empty death row before you leave the governor's office?

RYAN: It would be an option that I'm going to consider, frankly -- is to commute all sentences.

NISSEN: The governor is not seeking re-election and has only until January to make life and death decision for those on death row.

Beth Nissen, CNN, Chicago.


BROWN: These clemency hearings began this week. By all accounts, we've heard of a number of them, they have been wrenching for the families of some of the victims.

Today, relatives of a murdered 3-year-old turned out to vent their anger. Yesterday, a man whose parents were tortured, killed 20 years ago spoke out. Some prosecutors have been passing out yellow ribbons to the families to help make their point.

Joining us now from Chicago, someone who's been reporting the story for "The Chicago Tribune," Steve Mills.

Steve, good to see you.


BROWN: Where is this -- where is the state on this? Where are the residents of the state of Illinois? Are they confused? Are they angry? Are they at all supportive of the governor? Where are they?

MILLS: I think they're all of those thins. A recent poll showed feelings about half and half for commuting all the sentences or keeping them the way they are as death sentences. So I think state is fairly well torn about the issue.

Very well aware of the problems with the death penalty that we've had, but at the same time, committed to fixing them in some way but also, I think, struggling with what to do with the men on death row now.

BROWN: And these clemency hearings that are going on, are they getting -- well, first of all, are they -- I know they're in public. Are they being televised? Are there cameras there? Are people seeing them? And -- one would presume being moved by them.

MILLS: They are public hearings. They're being carried on -- not live on TV, but the news programs and the papers are covering them extensively.

And people are discussing them in the streets. I mean, it's a very big issue here right now.

BROWN: Is it an absolute power the governor has? Is there any way for anyone, if they were so inclined, to try and stop him from literally, if he were so inclined, emptying death row.

MILLS: In Illinois, the governor's powers to grant clemency are very broad. Other states, they're more restricted. But in Illinois, Governor Ryan and the next governor can do pretty much what he wants.

BROWN: And is there an expectation of what the governor will do? Has he tipped his hand more than he did at least in the interview that we did with him?

MILLS: Well, he said a number of things over the last several months since he first started talking about this. More often than not he has thrown out the possibility of commuting all of the death sentences, a blanket commutation.

I think that's very possible. There's a lot of pressure on him now not to do that. Prosecutors, victims' families. But he's -- in the face of that, he is still considering that option and very open about it. BROWN: What preceded this? Was a commission was assembled and came up with recommendations on how capital cases ought to be handled in the state of Illinois. And there were a number of those recommendation. Where is that now?

MILLS: That commission came together and released 85 recommendations. They have not been acted upon yet. The governor has sent them to the legislature. And the legislature will be back in session November.

I think a key issue here is what the legislature does. I think the governor is very closely watching what they do. And if they don't act, I think it's possibly more likely that he'll do something.

BROWN: And obviously, we can't -- we're not going to go through 85 of them, but are there a couple, three or four, that stand out in your mind as either particularly important or as particularly controversial?

MILLS: One of the most controversial is limiting the eligibility factors. Illinois has more eligibility factors than almost any other state in the country. And the commission has recommended trimming that from, I think, 20 or 21 to five.

There's been a lot of passion over that issue. Prosecutors are very opposed to it.

BROWN: Steve, thanks for your efforts and thanks for your reporting on this. We've been reading it over the last weeks. We appreciate it. Thank you.

MILLS: Thank you very much.

BROWN: Steve Mills of "The Chicago Tribune."

It is one of those stories if you're a reporter, it is a dream story. It has it all: big issue and lots of emotion.

Still ahead on NEWSNIGHT, we'll have the latest on the sniper story, plus one family's effort to go about daily life when there is a sniper on the loose.

This is NEWSNIGHT from New York.


BROWN: Quick update for those of you who may have joined us late on progress or lack thereof in the sniper investigation.

CNN's Kathleen Koch is on duty in Montgomery County, Maryland -- Kathleen.

KOCH: Aaron, a sense of momentum building here. More witnesses with better information coming forward after that Monday night shooting in Falls Church, Virginia. They got a good look at a van, a light-colored Chevy Astro van with a silver ladder rack. Some of them saw the shooter -- an olive skinned man, they say -- shoulder a gun.

Now, so many leads because for the very first time, the shooter didn't keep his distance, shooting his victim, authorities say, from just 30 yards away. Now, that may be sloppy. That's what some experts are saying. But still he or they managed to melt away into the traffic and get away. Calls are pouring into the consolidated tip line, 69,000 since it was set up late last week.

As a result of those leads, authorities do have some people of interest under surveillance, but they won't call them suspects. They're trying to match partial plates that some of the witnesses did see at that Falls Church scene, but a very uneasy sense of relief, Aaron, we do mark something of a milestone today, two weekdays in a row without a sniper shooting -- back to you.

BROWN: It's a strange thing that gives us joy in an odd way. Thank you very much, Kathleen Koch, who's done yeoman's duty out in Montgomery County.

Finally from us tonight, routine because that's what the story seems to be about in many ways. It was a routine assignment for one. Take one family in the Washington area, spend the day with them. No great investigative piece, no exciting pictures, just a slice of life, but a slice of life in a time when the little things of life seem so different, when a trip to school or to the dry cleaners carries with it just enough anxiety so that you feel it in your stomach. Not so much that you don't go, but just enough to know it's there. So it is a story about routine, because around Washington, it is routine that the sniper has attacked as well.


BROWN (voice-over): It's 8:30, and the morning routine is on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's cooking, sweetheart.

BROWN: But the conversation is not so routine, not all of it. This is a family filled with worry, all of them. Worry about today, and all of their tomorrows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The real question is, is this the future now for the kids, in terms of -- well, the safety, it was nice that we had growing up as children, but reality is that you've got to prepare now for the uncertainty of terrorism, uncertainty of domestic violence, more so than before.

BROWN: Todd and Lauren (ph) have asked that we not use their last names, or the town they live in. The kind of request that gets made in days like these.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's terrible. It's absolutely terrible, and especially going on as long as it's gone on. You think, oh, one or two days, OK. Not so bad, they'll catch this guy, and that will be the end of it. Now we're going on to week number two, and it's very tiring and stressful.

BROWN: In lots of small ways, life is different. For Brenna (ph), no more bus rides to school. Most of the kids are driven these days, and that means no more helping the little kids off the bus. A small job missed.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I have been there for like almost two months now, and so I have got to feel like -- I have gotten to know people that come there, so I just go, Good morning, how was your morning?

BROWN: Near empty buses are just one sign. Since the sniper attacks began, the school has been virtually locked down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once they pass this threshold here, they are back into learning. They're back into that mode that this is school. This is safe. This is my teacher. We're safe here, and they continue on. There's a real difference between, I feel outside this door, versus inside the door.

BROWN: With her children safely inside the school, Lauren (ph) heads out to run errands. This too, though, is the new normal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't go to my normal shopping places. I try to go to the out of the way ones, because I think OK, that's not near the Beltway or not near 495 or whatever. But, yes. It's terrible. It is very frightening.

BROWN: No one in the family is cowering and no one feels exactly safe. And most of all no one is sure that life, this idyllic suburban life, will ever be quite the same again.


BROWN: And that's our report for tonight. Good to have you with us. We hope you will join us again tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern time. Until then, I am Aaron Brown in New York. Good night for all of us.


Program; Illinois Governor Considering Commuting Death Setences>

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