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Interview With Nancy Powers

Aired May 28, 2003 - 19:01   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: An accused serial killer is back in Louisiana this evening. Thirty-four-year-old Derrick Todd Lee, a name you've probably gotten to know quite well over the last 24 hours, has waived extradition just hours over his arrest last night in Atlanta.
He was put aboard a plane and rushed to Baton Rouge. Ed Lavandera picks up the story there.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Derrick Todd Lee did not fight extradition from Georgia Wednesday morning. He was privately escorted back to Baton Rouge on a government jet Wednesday afternoon.

CHIEF PAT ENGLADE, BATON ROUGE POLICE: This is truly a great moment for the state of Louisiana and for the United States. This is a serial killer that is off the streets now.

LAVANDERA: Prosecutors will now begin compiling evidence collected by the task force over the past 10 months so it can be presented to a grand jury. That's expected to take up to three weeks.

Lee didn't appear on the serial killer investigation radar until Sunday, when his DNA was matched with DNA taken from the five serial killer crime scenes. Ten months of investigative work came down to a two-day manhunt.

ENGLADE: We had a jigsaw puzzle, but didn't know what the picture looked like. Until this weekend. And it took us two days to get him. That's outstanding. It's extraordinary.

LAVANDERA: Investigators believe Lee murdered five women in the Baton Rouge area, starting in September of 2001. But they believe he could be involved in a string of other crimes, including several other murders dating back to 1992.

So investigators are working on building a complex timeline, tracking all of Derrick Lee's movements for the last 10 years.

Victims' family members are celebrating the news of Lee's capture, but they're wary of what lies ahead.

STERLING COLOMB, VICTIM'S FATHER: He has a long way to go until this guy goes to trial. And I hope it's not to late to go to trial, because if you go back to the cases of what this guy did, according to his record, he should have not been on the streets.

LAVANDERA: As a sign of unity, all of the members of the Baton Rouge serial killer task force appeared on stage to celebrate Lee's arrest. There were pictures and smiles among the group.

There were also sharp words for the people who criticized how the task force handled this investigation.

MAYOR BOBBY SIMPSON, BATON ROUGE: Everything that can be done and should be done in an investigation of this type has been done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I think that we're truly unduly criticized. Yes, sir.


LAVANDERA: A big round of applause broke out on that stage when the mayor of Baton Rouge mentioned those words. The chief of police here in Baton Rouge, Pat Englade, who had been at the center of much of the controversy and much of the criticism focused on of the investigation says he plans from stepping down from being police chief in this town, saying after this case, it's probably just time to retire. We'll have more information on that further on down the road.

But we're standing out in front of one of the jail or one of the jails here in Baton Rouge. And we understand that the serial killer suspect, Derrick Todd Lee, will be returned here shortly.

He arrived here about four hours in Baton Rouge, coming off that government plane and he's been questioned by investigators for most of this afternoon. He'll spend the night in the jail you see behind me -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Ed Lavandera, thanks very much. We are focusing a lot on this story this evening, though.

While police say they have DNA evidence linking Todd Lee to five killings, as you've heard in Ed's report, Lee also is a suspect in other cases, including the 1998 disappearance of Randy Brewer. She was a 28-year-old nurse with a 3-year-old son. She disappeared from her home in Zachary, Louisiana, and her body has never been found.

Brewer's mother, Nancy Powers, joins us from Fort Myers Florida.

Nancy, thank you so much for being with us tonight. Your thoughts on hearing of the arrest of Mr. Lee?

NANCY POWERS, MOTHER OF POSSIBLE LEE VICTIM: Well, I certainly think that the arrest is commendable. I'm not excited. This man was well known to us. He was a suspect with an established record in 1992.

COOPER: That is...

POWERS: And my daughter's... COOPER: That is what is so remarkable about your story and the story of your daughter's disappearance in that shortly after she disappeared in May in 1998, the police told you about this man.

POWERS: We were presented with a profile of Derrick Todd Lee weeks after her murder. We sat in the Zachary Police Department. Her family and her close friends, all of us women, and they told us about a broad profile of him, his M.O., associates that he hung out with, how he seemed to evade the police.

COOPER: Why couldn't they arrest him at that time?

POWERS: That's a very good question. As I understand it, in 1999, they made an arrest, and I was told at that time he's under -- he's been arrested. He's in prison. We will shake him down. We'll do whatever it takes to get him to admit to this murder. There was no one else murdered at that time.

COOPER: But there had...

POWERS: And then all of a sudden...

COOPER: I'm sorry, there had been another murder in that same subdivision that your daughter lived in all the way back in 1992. When you heard that, did you feel there was a connection between your daughter's disappearance and this other...

POWERS: They felt -- they felt there was a connection. There was a story that we got -- eventually got onto TV that "America's Most Wanted" handled, and they drew the connection between the two slayings and the slashing that had occurred in a graveyard right behind my daughter's property.

And it was a connection that had been established by the Zachary Police Department early on when the first murder was committed and then the slashing occurred. They drew a comparison and they knew there were very close similarities between the murder of Connie Warner in 1992 and my daughter's murder in 1998.

COOPER: Well, Nancy, I know now that this man, Derrick Todd Lee, is in custody, I know you're going to be following this very closely, hoping that he will say something that will give you some information about your daughter.

We appreciate you joining us, Nancy powers. Thank you very much.

We should also not that CNN contacted the Zachary, Louisiana, police for a response to Nancy Powers' comments. Our calls were not returned.

Last night's arrest of Derrick Todd Lee was, the climax to a long investigation.

Martin Savidge takes a look now at the suspect, his apparent efforts to avoid authorities and the events leading up to his capture.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Derrick Todd Lee, ladies man? Lady killer?

For three weeks, the prime suspect in the brutal serial murders of five Baton Rouge area women, charmed, befriended and talked his way into the lives of others, staying one step ahead of the manhunt trying to find him.

(on camera) May 5th, acting on a tip, author in Zachary, Louisiana, questioned Lee on two unsolved murders. He voluntarily gives them a sample of his DNA. It would be a critical point for police and the apparent breaking point for Lee.

RICHARD MECUM, U.S. MARSHALL: At that point Mr. Lee became very nervous and he left the area.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Authorities say he began criss-crossing the country by bus, Louisiana to Chicago, leaving his wife and two kids behind and back again, then round trip to Louisiana and back. Settling in at this hotel May 19, acting nothing like a man on the run. Starting a Bible study.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he's a good preacher.

SAVIDGE: Grilling chicken.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We cooked; his fingerprints are here.

SAVIDGE: And seeking out women. When he wasn't working on making friends, Lee was making money, pulling down a paycheck, doing construction work.

(on camera) How much did you know about him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not much, you know, he was a nice guy. That's all.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Lee may have been running, but he wasn't a wanted man. That didn't happen until Sunday, May 25, when his DNA matched evidence from the five women killed in Baton Rouge. Authorities went public the next day.

Authorities knew who Lee was, they just didn't know where he was.

They catch another break, one from the office of the Atlanta Hotel. He calls a girl in Baton Rouge, as the police are in her home.

The next day, authorities in Atlanta make a public appeal.

MECUM: We feel that he is still here in Atlanta. We need information from people who may have seen or spotted him.

SAVIDGE: Seven and a half hours later Derrick Todd Lee is arrested behind this tire shop in southwest Atlanta after police receive a phone tip. Lee was in the company of a woman. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was just saying that he was just tired and he was ready to get away from here.

SAVIDGE: Some who met Lee say he had a way with women. And that's exactly what the police in Baton Rouge believe, as well.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Atlanta.



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