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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Hilton Back to Jail; Keeping them Honest: Justice on Trial

Aired June 8, 2007 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We start in Los Angeles where this afternoon a judge told the world famous celebrity heiress, go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not get early release deals with the L.A. Sheriff's Department without my permission.
Here's CNN's Ted Rowlands.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was she handcuffed? Yes, she was cuffed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, she was cuffed.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Paris Hilton's journey back to jail started in handcuffs and a ride with sheriff deputies from her house to a waiting judge, who wanted to see her back in court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up! Then keep backing up.

ROWLANDS: Photographers and reporters literally trampled each other, trying to get a glimpse of Hilton as she left. From the air, news helicopters showed the chaos outside the house, broadcasting every second of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Geez, look at these people.

VICKY, VACATIONING NEW YORKER: I'm on vacation, and I thought I would see a little bit of this. I -- I almost got stamped over everyone, besides the -- the cars.

ROWLANDS: The media broadcast Hilton's ride through Los Angeles to the courthouse. Her parents followed behind in a black SUV, occasionally pulling alongside.

The scene was reminiscent of other only-in-California celebrity moments, including Michael Jackson's race to court in his pajamas and O.J.'s slow-speed Bronco chase.

HARVEY LEVIN, MANAGING EDITOR, TMZ.COM: It's this fascination that goes way beyond the case itself. It's just kind of an event to watch. It's interesting.

ROWLANDS: The fascination over Hilton's case grew after she was released from jail and allowed to serve her sentence at home. Many people were outraged over what they thought was preferential treatment by the sheriff. In court, the judge seemed to agree, ordering Hilton, as she sobbed, to serve the rest of her sentence behind bars.

ALLAN PARACHINI, L.A. SUPERIOR COURT SPOKESPERSON: The judge heard arguments. He heard out the county counsel's office, representing the sheriff. He heard the defense. He heard the city attorney. He ruled that he was remanding Ms. Hilton to the sheriff's custody to serve the remainder of her sentence.

ROWLANDS: Late today, the sheriff blasted the judge's decision to send Paris Hilton to jail in the first place, saying, others in her situation would never have been treated as harshly by the court. Sheriff Baca also scoffed at claims that he was somehow giving her special treatment.

LEE BACA, LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF: The only thing that I can detect is special treatment is the amount of her sentence, because, under our 10 percent early release program, she would not have served any time in our jail, or would have been directly put on home electric monitoring system. So, the special treatment, in a sense, is because -- it appears to be her celebrity status. She got more time in jail.

ROWLANDS: Baca also defended his initial decision to let Hilton serve her sentence at home, saying county doctors told him her mental condition was deteriorating. And he says now she will be in a special medical unit, indicating she may be a danger to herself.

BACA: I'm just going to keep her in a better facility for her condition, meaning one that has a more intense form of medical support. And we will watch her behavior, so that there isn't anything that is harmfully done to herself by herself, which is a great concern to me.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Joining us now is Kara Finnstrom, who was in the courtroom earlier today covering the story for us.

Kara, how did she react?

KARA FINNSTROM, LOS ANGELES MUNICIPAL COURTHOUSE: Well, she looked vulnerable. She looked frightened. She was very quiet as she came into the courtroom. And for the first hour of that hearing, she really kind of had her face down. We could see that she was sobbing. We could see her shaking a little bit. Obviously, very upset.

It was when the court, you know, actually got to the point where the judge said, you're going back to jail, that all this seemed to register with her, and she had a little bit of an emotional breakdown. She was crying. She was calling to her mother. And ultimately, the deputies surrounded her and led her out of the courtroom.

COOPER: Did she scream? FINNSTROM: She was crying -- it was kind of a crying, a screaming out for her mother, for her family. The first two room -- first two rows, rather, were family and friends. And really, she kind of directed all of this at them. And the only time, really, that she looked down from kind of at her lap during the proceedings was when she would make eye contact a couple times with her family and friends.

COOPER: And how did her family react?

FINNSTROM: Well, the mother had the biggest reaction there. Especially when Paris Hilton cried out for her mother. She, obviously, affected by all this, held on to Paris's father and was crying and sobbing as well.

COOPER: And the judge, I mean, I know he was frustrated clearly or angered with the sheriff's office. How was he toward her?

FINNSTROM: How was he to Paris? Is that what you asked?

COOPER: Yes.

FINNSTROM: He -- you know, throughout this proceeding, he was really focused on the legal part of this, what happened and why he was not in on the loop with her actually being taken and put under house arrest and out of the jail, why someone didn't pick up the phone and call him.

So all of his focus was really on that. He didn't really interact with Paris Hilton during this trial. And we didn't hear anything out of Paris Hilton until, really, that sentence or, you know, the decision for her to return to jail was read.

But he did seem frustrated. He did seem a little irritated about the fact that what he believed was his authority to decide how her sentence would be served was actually taken by someone else.

COOPER: And after she cried out, how quickly was she removed from the courtroom?

FINNSTROM: I'm sorry, I didn't hear you.

COOPER: After she cried out, how quickly was she removed from the courtroom?

FINNSTROM: Yes, that was pretty quick. You know, there were maybe 50 journalists in there. There was 10 deputies. And they quickly surrounded her. And took her out of the courtroom.

Some of the other reporters there say she was actually carried out of the courtroom. I wasn't close enough to see that, but I could see that she was upset, that she was, you know, screaming and crying as she was led out.

COOPER: Kara Finnstrom, appreciate it. Kara, thanks.

No surprise, the celebrity Web site TMZ has been following the story very closely. They've been working their sources in Hollywood and beyond.

Earlier, I spoke to Harvey Levin, the managing editor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: You think 45 days is too harsh a sentence for what she did. Why?

LEVIN: This judge was a jerk. This judge sentenced her for who she is and not what she did. And that's an abuse of power. You don't give somebody 45 days when the average person gets two.

COOPER: And -- and what is the relationship between the judge and the sheriff, Sheriff Baca, because they -- I mean, at one point today, it seemed like the sheriff was saying, point blank, they are not going to fulfill what the judge wants in picking her up.

LEVIN: Absolutely.

Oh, they are at war. I mean, what happened here, the reason this was delayed for two hours, Anderson, we're told, is that the sheriff's department just refused to pick her up at her house and take her to court. Their position was, hey, we're entitled to deal with people in custody. Don't give us orders.

And the judge said, I'm giving you an order.

And it went back and forth like that, until the sheriff caved.

COOPER: Is it common for people to be released with similar offenses to home confinement because of overcrowding?

LEVIN: Well, more -- I will do one up on that one, Anderson.

It's common to just let them out outright, that people serve two days, and they're done. I mean, that's what normally happens.

COOPER: What can you tell us about this Twin Towers facility?

LEVIN: Well, she's in the medical wing of Twin Towers. That's the -- that's the place she actually surrendered, where there is some medical attention.

And, right now, the sheriff is boxed in. I mean, he's doing the best he can do. But he's hoping that she does OK there. I'm told she is not OK by any means. And, ultimately, this is going to be appealed on Monday. We know there's going to be an appeal. And it will be up to an appellate court on whether she goes back to her home, under home confinement, or whether she has to serve out the sentence.

COOPER: But -- but, I mean, you say not OK. I mean, there are people on suicide watch in prisons. There are -- you know, they're -- they take away your belt. They take away your -- your shoelaces. They -- they -- they have you under observation.

So, it does -- I mean -- a lot of people seeing this are just saying this is kind of surreal preferential treatment.

LEVIN: It's not unhappy and miserable. We're talking about a mental problem, Anderson, that it goes beyond being depressed.

And, you know, you have to look at not just the mental illness, but you have to look at the seriousness of the offense. If you have got somebody in there on a felony, and they're going to be there for, minimum, 16 months, because it's a violent felony, say, then, in a situation like that, you got to keep them in jail. And then you do send them to the psych ward.

But, if you have got somebody in a really low-level crime, and then you end up putting them in a place where there are a bunch of lunatics, you say, is that really what you want to do, which is basically destroy this person, almost like in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"? And the sheriff is saying, I don't want to do that.

COOPER: Harvey Levin, appreciate it. Thanks, Harvey.

LEVIN: Bye, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The case that is non-celebrity celebrity and her non- jail jail sentence certainly touched a raw nerve. But tonight, it's only the beginning.

We've uncovered a number of cases that will make you wonder what's happening to justice in America. In the rest of this hour, a 360 special, "Keeping them Honest: Justice on Trial."

COOPER: Good evening. We're told we're all equal in the eyes of the law. Of course, with money and access to good attorneys, some are more equal than others.

In the hour ahead, we put "Justice on Trial." The cases you'll hear over the hour are riveting and haunting, like how forensic science in an arson case may have sealed an innocent man's fate.

We'll also take you to Texas where we confront a former priest who allegedly confessed to a murder of a beauty queen, but has never been brought to trial.

And in America, living overseas, convicted of murdering his ex- girlfriend, despite the testimony of 10 witnesses who swear he was hours away when the crime was committed.

We want to tell you about a man whose life ended in the death chamber. The question is, did he deserve to die?

CNN's Randi Kaye takes us to the scene of the crime.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two days before Christmas 1991, Cameron Todd Willingham was home with his three daughters. His wife was out shopping for presents.

EUGENIA WILLINGHAM, TODD WILLINGHAM'S STEPMOTHER: About 10:00 in the morning, the house was black. He heard someone calling "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy."

KAYE: The Willingham home in Corsicana, Texas, was on fire. 1- year-old twins Kameron and Karmon and 2-year-old Amber were trapped.

E. WILLINGHAM: He tried to go into their room. It was down a hall. And he burned his hand on the door facing.

KAYE: Willingham never reached his baby girls. All three of them died. Willingham, who escaped, told family and police he desperately tried to save his daughters.

But Doug Fogg and other fire investigators found evidence they say proved otherwise.

DOUG FOGG, RET. ASST. CORSICANA FIRE CHIEF: Pour patterns on the floor, they told me, that, hey, you know, something -- good possibility something was introduced here.

KAYE (on camera): Such as an accelerant?

FOGG: Such as an accelerant.

KAYE (voice-over): Willingham, then 23, who had a history of trouble with the law, was charged with setting the fire, convicted of arson homicide and sentenced to death.

But what if Fogg and the others got it wrong?

JOHN LENTINI, ARSON EXPERT: It happens all the time. There's maybe, you know, 75,000 suspicious fires every year. That's 75,000 chances to get it wrong.

KAYE: John Lentini is a fire investigator and a forensic scientist. He's analyzed more than 2,500 fire scenes and conducted large-scale experiments like this one at Eastern Kentucky University to better understand the science behind how a fire moves and why.

Lentini says for too long, investigators have relied on folklore, not fact, untested myths instead of science.

LENTINI: They haven't had any science training at all since high school. And they go back to their fire department, and they teach the myths to the next guy coming up.

KAYE: Lentini was asked by the Innocence Project to review the Willingham case. He calls the findings by Fogg and the other fire investigators B.S. -- bad science.

Among them, something called crazed glass.

(on camera): The myth has been that crazed glass, glass with webbing or cracking in the middle of it, has been caused by rapid heating. For years, that has led investigators to determine fires were arson. But now science proves that it's not rapid heating that causes the glass to craze, it's actually rapid cooling.

(voice-over): At this Maryland lab, Lentini heated up glass, then quickly cooled it by spraying it with water. The same way a fireman's hose would cool a window.

(on camera): Let's take it off and see if we spray some water on it, which is what you find is actually what causes the crazing.

LENTINI: Yes, this is crazed over here.

KAYE: I can see in there the pattern.

LENTINI: Yes.

KAYE: And that didn't happen until you put the water on it, which is completely opposite of what investigators have been saying all these years.

LENTINI: Right.

KAYE (voice-over): Lentini, with the help of Fire Investigator Doug Carpenter, also debunked one of the greatest arson myths about temperature.

The fire on the right is burning with gasoline, a common accelerant. The other is just burning wood. Take a look at the temperatures. Nearly identical.

DOUG CARPENTER, FIRE INVESTIGATOR: It's a common myth that higher temperatures are produced by gasoline than other types of common materials. And that just is not true.

KAYE (on camera): Which would lead investigators to say that the gasoline fire would be arson just because the temperature's higher, but really this shows that that's not the case?

CARPENTER: That is correct. So you've come to an unreliable conclusion.

KAYE (voice-over): This video was taken by Investigator Fogg after the Willingham fire.

FOGG: Burn patterns, unusual to a normal fire burned.

KAYE: Willingham was convicted after Fogg and the others noticed what they believed were pour patterns on the floor, irregular burn marks that show where an accelerant was poured.

But Lentini says science proves these pour patterns were really caused by a recently accepted phenomenon called flash-over, the point when a fire in a room becomes a room on fire.

LENTINI: They didn't understand flash-over. They didn't understand that in an accidental fire, you can burn the floor. And if you go into a fire thinking that the floor isn't supposed to burn unless it has help, and you see a burned floor, then you're going to jump to the conclusion that it's arson already.

KAYE: Fires were always believed to burn upward, but Lentini has proven they can burn downward during flash-over. The floor lights, tables, even chairs burst into flames as gases, with nowhere to turn, spread downward.

In the Willingham case, investigators concluded three separate fires had been set. But Lentini says it was flash-over. He set this compartment fire to help illustrate flash-over. We watched as the carpet began to smoke, then ignited without ever being lit directly.

(on camera): So flash-over causes some of the same patterns and gives off some of the same indicators that an arson fire would?

CARPENTER: That's correct. You could set two fires in this compartment, one with gasoline and one with some accidental scenario and come out with the same pattern.

KAYE (voice-over): In the end, Lentini and his team claim to have debunked more than 20 arson indicators cited in the Willingham case.

(on camera): What is your response to them saying there weren't pour patterns, there weren't points of origin, flash-over caused all of this. The entire room was on fire?

FOGG: I would really disagree with them and tell them that they should have been there when we were fighting the fire. They should have been there as we dug it out.

KAYE: You stand by your findings?

FOGG: Oh, yes.

KAYE: Do you worry at all that you might have helped convict an innocent man based on outdated indicators?

FOGG: No.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: One expert is certain a killer was brought to justice. Another has his doubts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): Good police work or bad science?

KAYE: In your opinion, based on your scientific findings, was Todd Willingham innocent?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. He did not light that fire.

COOPER: Reexamining an arson that ended with an execution. Also tonight, paradise lost. An American convicted of murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can swear that he was here Tuesday at noon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He was there in his office.

COOPER: Fighting for freedom and to clear his name. When "Keeping them Honest: Justice on Trial" continues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. Tonight we are keeping the justice system honest, putting justice on trial.

Before the break, we took you behind the scenes of an arson, one that killed three children and put their father on death row.

Now, the clues left from the flames have fueled the debate over whether the condemned man was guilty or not.

CNN's Randi Kaye continues her in-depth report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE (voice-over): On a cool December morning in 1991, Cameron Todd Willingham told police he did all he could to save his three little girls from a fire in their home. One-year-old twins Kameron and Karmon and 2-year-old Amber all died.

Willingham escaped with minor burns, only to be charged with homicide by arson, convicted and sentenced to die.

(on camera): What motive would your son have had to take the lives of his three kids?

E. WILLINGHAM: There was never a motive.

KAYE (voice-over): But fire investigators analyzed the scene say Willingham, who had a history of domestic violence and drinking, set the fire that killed his girls. In fact, they found what they believed were more than 20 indicators the fire at Willingham's home was arson.

But in the years since, four leading fire experts, including John Lentini, claim to have debunked those findings, which they say were based on old and unreliable arson myths.

LENTINI: Total B.S., bad science.

KAYE (on camera): So you're telling me that some of these people that have been convicted of arsons, possibly spending time in prison, maybe even on Death Row, are there because of somebody's opinion? LENTINI: Yes.

KAYE (voice-over): Forensic Scientist and Fire Investigator John Lentini has worked for decades to pump science into arson investigations. And in the 1980s, along with dozens of other investigators, devised a new science-based strategy for investigating fires.

If investigators don't understand science, Lentini says, they can't possibly understand fire.

(on camera): In your opinion, based on your scientific findings, was Todd Willingham innocent?

LENTINI: Yes. He did not light that fire.

KAYE: Still, Texas Governor Rick Perry, after receiving new evidence debunking the original findings, went ahead with Willingham's execution. The governor would not comment on the case for this story.

E. WILLINGHAM: They tell me that it was too old, it had been too long, that you've -- if -- you know, you've got 30 days to present new evidence in the state of Texas.

KAYE (on camera): Is that a good enough explanation for you?

E. WILLINGHAM: No, no. I think if someone -- if it had been 20 years and they found something, at least a shred of evidence, they shouldn't go ahead and kill someone.

KAYE (voice-over): Cameron Todd Willingham died February 17, 2004 by lethal injection.

(on camera): So did the state of Texas wrongly execute an innocent man?

LENTINI: They did.

KAYE: You have no doubt?

LENTINI: I have no doubt. They had absolutely no proof that that was a set fire.

KAYE (voice-over): Former Corsicana, Texas, Assistant Fire Chief Doug Fogg helped convict Willingham with his determination of arson.

(on camera): You stand by your findings?

FOGG: Oh, yes.

KAYE: You still believe -- you still believe, after all these years, that Willingham...

FOGG: I still believe it was a set fire.

KAYE (voice-over): So does the man who prosecuted him. John Howard Jackson calls some of Lentini's conclusions silly. He says the experts' review raises some questions, but he has no doubt Willingham is guilty.

(on camera): Why, if he was offered life in prison, did he not take it?

E. WILLINGHAM: He said that he was ready for the needle right then, rather than admit that he could do something like that to his children. He said, no, I'll never admit to something that I did not do."

KAYE (voice-over): What does Doug Fogg think of the new science- based arson techniques?

FOGG: In reality, it's not new science. It's just people are probably using it more than what they did in the past.

KAYE (on camera): See, now they might say that arson investigators or fire investigators like yourself just maybe don't want to admit that they've been getting it wrong all of these years.

FOGG: They can say whatever they want to, you know. It's their opinion, and they're entitled to it.

KAYE: It wasn't until 1992 that a guide detailing the groundbreaking new strategy was published. Immediately, it was met with fierce resistance. The majority of investigators rejected it.

In fact, it took about 10 years for the International Association of Arson Investigators to endorse it.

(voice-over): The science is now considered the gold standard of fire investigation by the International Association of Arson Investigators and is taught around the country.

(on camera): How many innocent people wrongly convicted of arson do you expect might be behind bars?

BARRY SCHECK, CO-DIRECTOR, THE INNOCENCE PROJECT: There are hundreds of people at least whose cases have to be re-examined.

KAYE (voice-over): Eugenia Willingham knows science won't bring her son back, but hopes it helps save others.

(on camera): Tell me about this picture.

E. WILLINGHAM: That is spreading his ashes on his children's grave. That was his -- one of his last wishes.

KAYE: So, do you believe that your son is with his three babies, as he called them?

E. WILLINGHAM: Yes. I feel like they're -- they're happy. He -- he told me that God would be his final judge. And he said he didn't feel like it would turn out the same way that it did here.

KAYE (voice-over): Eugenia says her son may have finally found what he fought 12 long years for -- vindication.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Ardmore, Oklahoma.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: "Justice on Trial" continues with the alleged sins of a father. We catch up with a former priest who police believe murdered a woman inside a church building. But he's never been put on trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the day before Easter 1960, Irene Garza disappeared. The apparent abduction of the 25-year-old schoolteacher frightened the community of McAllen, Texas.

Police still hold the evidence discovered during the search, which includes Irene's petticoat, her handbag. Five days after she disappeared, her body was found in a canal. Her death certificate declares, she had been raped, beaten on the head, and suffocated.

(on camera): Do you think you know who committed this murder?

JUAN TREVINO, MCALLEN POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Who do you think committed this murder?

TREVINO: John Feit.

TUCHMAN: Is there any doubt in your mind?

TREVINO: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to "Keeping them Honest: Justice on Trial."

In Texas, a cold case is red hot again. It's about a former beauty queen whose life came to a brutal end. There is another figure, however, at the center of this unsolved mystery, a former priest, who some believe may have the darkest of sins to hide.

CNN's Gary Tuchman investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is John Feit. He's a retiree in Arizona, married, children, former Catholic priest, still involved in Catholic charities. By all accounts, he's done much to help the unfortunate.

(on camera): My name is Gary Tuchman with CNN. I wanted to ask you about Irene Garza.

JOHN FEIT, FORMER PRIEST: Yes? TUCHMAN (voice-over): But it's Irene Garza who keeps making John Feit's life complicated, Irene Garza, who has been in a grave for 47 years.

LYNDA DE LA VINA, IRENE GARZA'S COUSIN: Irene was my first cousin. My mother and her mother were sisters.

TUCHMAN: Irene's parents have passed away, but Lynda De La Vina and Noemi Sigler are both cousins.

NOEMI SIGLER, IRENE GARZA'S COUISIN: She was kind. She was a loyal daughter to her parents. She was very involved with the church. She was a staunch Catholic.

DE LA VINA: She was Ms. South Texas. She was the first Hispanic drum majorette in McAllen High School. She was the Bronco Queen. She was somebody to look up to, because she went to college. She finished college. She was successful in many ways.

TUCHMAN: On the day before Easter 1960, Irene Garza disappeared. The apparent abduction of the 25-year-old schoolteacher frightened the community of McAllen, Texas.

Police still hold the evidence discovered during the search, which includes Irene's petticoat, her handbag. Five days after she disappeared, her body was found in a canal. Her death certificate declares, she had been raped, beaten on the head, and suffocated.

DE LA VINA: Everybody showed up from McAllen at the funeral. It was probably one of the hugest funerals I have ever seen.

TUCHMAN: Juan Trevino is with the McAllen Police Department's cold case squad.

(on camera): Do you think you know who committed this murder?

JUAN TREVINO, MCALLEN POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Who do you think committed this murder?

TREVINO: John Feit.

TUCHMAN: Is there any doubt in your mind?

TREVINO: No.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Officer Trevino has tried to interview Feit, but the former priest has refused to talk.

The opinion about Feit is shared by the Texas Rangers and also the victim's family.

(on camera): Who killed your cousin?

DE LA VINA: John Feit. TUCHMAN: Of all the pieces of evidence in this case, this is one of the most key. This is a 1950s-era Kodak slide viewer. It was found near Irene Garza's body. Police say this slide viewer was owned by John Feit.

(voice-over): Sonny Miller was an investigator with the McAllen Police Department.

SONNY MILLER, RETIRED POLICE INVESTIGATOR: It could have been lying under her body in the car, and, when he pulled her out of the car to throw her in the canal, it just went with -- hung on her dress.

SIGLER: I believe there's a cover-up.

TUCHMAN: The family believes the district attorney back then and the one now protected Feit in order to protect the church.

Today's DA denies that.

RENE GUERRA, HIDALGO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I don't know why people don't want to let Irene Garza rest in peace, to be honest with you.

TUCHMAN: John Feit has always been considered the primary suspect by police. The night Irene Garza disappeared, she had come to this church in downtown McAllen.

In a statement to police shortly after the murder, Feit said he took her to one of the offices in the rectory. Feit said, she discussed a personal problem of hers with me.

Police also talked with a different priest who worked with Feit. Father Joseph O'Brien told authorities he noticed Father Feit's hands were injured. One hand had two or three scratches on it. The other was injured more seriously. One finger was swollen. And the rest of the hand had small cuts.

Interest in Feit intensified when police found out that the month before, another woman had been attacked at another church in a nearby town. The 20-year-old college student told police she went into the empty church and knelt at the communion rail, and it was there she was attacked by a man with dark hair and horn-rimmed glasses.

She said she bit the man's fingers until she drew blood, and ran away. The next day, Tilly Sanchez, who was a secretary in the church, says she put a bandage on John Feit's finger.

(on camera): What did you say to him?

TILLY SANCHEZ, FORMER CHURCH SECRETARY: Who bit you? Who bite you, your hand? And, of course, he -- you know, he -- he said, no, nobody bite me.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Sanchez told police about what she saw, and later told them about a phone call she received.

(on camera): And who did you think it was?

SANCHEZ: Father Feit, Father John Feit.

TUCHMAN: And what did he say?

SANCHEZ: He said, you're next. You're next, honey.

TUCHMAN: You're next?

SANCHEZ: You're next.

And I said, what?

And he say, you are next.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Feit would fail lie-detector tests regarding the murder and the church assault.

In the polygraph report, Feit is quoted as saying, "Your machine is probably functioning correctly," but added, "I have a vague respiration and a bad heart. That's probably the explanation."

Feit ended up going to trial on the assault case, the jury voting 9-3 for conviction. But, because it wasn't unanimous, it was declared a mistrial. Rather than go through a second trial, Feit made a deal. He pleaded no contest, paid a $500 fine, and, while waiting to see if a murder charge might be filed, spent time with this man.

(on camera): So, you were a monk?

DALE TACHENY, FORMER MONK: I was a monk, yes, sir.

TUCHMAN: Dale Tacheny was living in this monastery in Ava, Missouri, a life of solitude and piety. The Assumption Abbey Monastery still exists in a new building, the monks waking up every day at 3:15 a.m., spending their day in solemn contemplation and prayer.

But not all the faithful have come here on their own. In 1963, the Dale Tacheny says, the head of the monastery took him aside and said:

TACHENY: I have a priest in the guest house who committed a murder of a woman.

TUCHMAN: That priest, he says, is the same person who put this signature in the monastery guest book, John Feit.

We caught up with Feit in Arizona.

(on camera): What do -- what do you know about her murder? Did you -- did you commit the murder of Irene Garza?

FEIT: Interesting question. The answer is no.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But he did have more to say. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Coming up, the story continues. John Feit's alleged confession.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): Who killed Irene?

FEIT: Is it true? Yes, it's true.

COOPER: what a former priest said then, and what he's saying now.

TUCHMAN: Do you think the McAllen police headline would say you're the main suspect?

COOPER: And later, he went to Nicaragua to surf and have fun. He ended up in prison for murder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a guilty verdict.

COOPER: So why do so many people believe he is innocent? When "Justice on Trial" continues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER (on camera): A young woman is murdered. Her case remains open. But for police in Texas, one suspect has always been on their radar, a former priest named John Feit. Once again, here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The Assumption Abbey Monastery in Southern Missouri has been around for 57 years. When murder suspect John Feit was sent there in 1963, Monk Dale Tacheny says he was told to counsel him, because the church could deal with Feit better than the justice system.

(on camera): And what did he say? Do you remember what he said to you at first?

DALE TACHENY, FORMER MONK: Well, I knew about the murder. So I asked him. He would respond to questions that I would ask him. Is it true?

Yes, it's true.

Well, what did you do? How did it come about?

Well, he heard the woman's confession in the priest house and, after the confession, he then subdued her and took part of her clothes off from the waist on up and then fondled her breasts. TUCHMAN: The former monk says he didn't badger Feit about details, but says the priest told him he put something over the woman's head.

TACHENY: Before he left, he put Irene in the bathtub, and as he was closing the door of the bathroom, he heard her saying, I can't breathe. I can't breathe. But he left any way.

TUCHMAN (on camera): During his say here in Missouri at the monastery, John Feit went on a mission of sorts. Dale Tacheny says Feit was sent on a most unusual field trip, to churches in other cities, to see if he could go out in society and not attack women.

Feit was apparently successful. And after about six months living with the monks, he was permitted to leave and go on with his life.

(voice-over): Eight years later, Feit left the priesthood. Former Monk Tacheny says Feit was never remorseful or concerned.

TACHENY: I asked him one time, why are you here and not in prison?

And he said, I was protected by the church authorities and I believe I was protected by the legal authorities and by the confessional secrecy.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But Dale Tacheny didn't tell police any of this until just a few years ago, when he says the guilt became too much about what he was concealing.

TACHENY: I told the people down in McAllen that I was sorry, that I was part of the cover-up for all these years.

TUCHMAN: Around the same time, Father John O'Brien, who had told police four decades earlier Feit had that hand injury, also started feeling guilty. He, too, told police that John Feit killed Irene Garza. Irene's cousin tape recorded a phone conversation she had with Father O'Brien.

FATHER JOHN O'BRIEN, PRIEST: I think he took that cord and bound her with it.

NOEMI SIGLER, IRENE'S COUSIN: OK. Oh, my goodness. And when in the world did he ever tell you that he killed Irene? Do you know?

O'BRIEN: Well, I sort of tricked him to be honest with you.

SIGLER: At the church?

O'BRIEN: Yes. I told him, I said, how can I help you if I don't know the truth?

SIGLER: Yes.

O'BRIEN: So he told me the truth, and that was that. TUCHMAN: Father O'Brien then continued.

O'BRIEN: I kept hitting him with questions.

SIGLER: Yes.

O'BRIEN: And he kept saying this prayer in his prayer book. Then finally he got tired of my questions and he came at me. And I said, oh, this is great.

I said, one more step, I said, buddy, you're dead.

SIGLER: You're -- he came at you physically?

O'BRIEN: Yes. He knew he was going to lose so then he went right back to the prayer book.

TUCHMAN: After more than 40 years, the case was active again. Police had the testimony of two religious men. They were anxious for D.A. Rene Guerra to bring what they regarded as a powerfully persuasive case to the grand jury. The D.A. tells us he's a tough law and order man.

RENE GUERRA, HIDALGO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I wanted the person who perpetrated the crime to be found and hung, because I believed in hanging back then. I still believe in hanging and other things that we can to do people that are guilty of capital murder.

TUCHMAN: But Guerra sees the evidence in this case much differently. Father O'Brien, he says, was not a credible witness.

GUERRA: I felt that Father O'Brien was in a delicate state of mind and physical health.

TUCHMAN: And he feels the former monk has been fed information.

GUERRA: I think that he was desperate to be a witness. And I don't think he can be a witness. He got all the information from the police, from the cause of death to the place, everything. He got it from the Texas Rangers.

TUCHMAN: Police vigorously defend their investigation.

(on camera): Do you think Dale Tacheny, the monk, the former monk, is a good witness?

CHIEF VICTOR RODRIGUEZ, MCALLEN POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes.

TUCHMAN: And did you think Father O'Brien was a good witness?

RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely.

TUCHMAN: Strong witness in this case?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): And remember that slide viewer that even the D.A. acknowledges was bought by John Feit?

GUERRA: That would be one piece of evidence that -- that the person that was connected to the death of Irene Garza was connected to the church. Now, who put it there?

TUCHMAN: The D.A. did not want to go to the grand jury.

GUERRA: From my view, the case was not tryable. But if I -- if I made that decision, I would still be crucified in the press. I would be crucified in the national media.

TUCHMAN: So the case did go to the grand jury, but Guerra decided it wasn't necessary for the former monk or Father O'Brien to testify in person. Instead, police tapes of interviews were played.

He also did not call John Feit to testify. As a matter of fact, the D.A. says he has not been interested in talking to Feit about the case at all.

GUERRA: If I make him a target, he's got the right to tell me to go to hell.

TUCHMAN: The grand jury did not indict John Feit, and just over one year later Father O'Brien died.

Irene Garza's family is angry at what they regard as a halfhearted prosecution effort.

DE LA VINA: I still -- I believe fundamentally it's because it's a church issue.

GUERRA: There's no truth. That's not true.

TUCHMAN: Police said John Feit said more to us than he has to them.

(on camera): Do you think the monk, Dale Tacheny, lied? Do you think the McAllen police are lying when they say you're the main suspect?

FEIT: I think I'm an investigative lead.

TUCHMAN: OK, but can you stop for one second, sir?

FEIT: No, I can't.

TUCHMAN: OK. But do you think Dale Tacheny, the monk, is lying? Did you -- he says you told him you committed the murder.

FEIT: I think he's demented.

TUCHMAN: What about the priest, Father O'Brien. He says you committed the murder, too. And he knew you very well, sir.

FEIT: (speaking Latin)

TUCHMAN: What does that mean, sir?

FEIT: Look it up.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): It was Latin, a reference to the late Father O'Brien. Feit said, "Only speak good of the dead."

They speak good of Feit at the Society of St. Vincent DePaul in Phoenix, where Feit helps the poor, the hungry and the sick. The administrators did not want to go on camera, but in a statement told us, "His many years of tireless service to the neediest in our community are in direct contrast to how he is being portrayed in this story. Our heart and prayers go out to the family and friends of Irene Garza."

(on camera): Mr. Feit, can I ask you, why won't you talk to the police when they come? They said you wouldn't say anything to them.

FEIT: Bold-faced lie.

TUCHMAN: Do you think everybody is lying, the police, the Texas Rangers, the former monk, the priest who you worked with for so long? That's a lot of liars. Why do you think there would be such a big conspiracy against you? Sir?

(voice-over): Feit did not answer that question.

Before we left the district attorney, we asked him if he thinks he'll ever bring a murderer to justice in this case.

GUERRA: I don't believe that this case will be solved unless you have a deathbed confession by a killer.

TUCHMAN: If that killer is John Feit, don't count on any confession coming from him.

(on camera): Sir, this family has suffered for almost five decades. Anything you want to say to them? Anything you want to say to the family, sir?

(voice-over): Because as the years have gone on, John Feit has been fairly masterful at keeping his mouth shut.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Phoenix.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: From a former priest under a cloud of suspicion to an American locked behind bars in Nicaragua. Coming up, the case of Eric Volz, sentenced for murder, but he says he has the proof to show he wasn't the killer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Last November, Volz's ex-girlfriend, Doris Jimenez, just 25 years old, is found dead, strangled in the clothing store she owned here. The murder of this beautiful young woman was a sensation. Police would quickly charge four men with the crime. One was Eric Volz.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to "Keeping them Honest: Justice on Trial."

You know, a lot of people put up web pages these days of themselves. Eric Volz is one of them. For his profile, Eric says he's 28, single and innocent of murder. But for officials in another country, he's guilty, even though he says he has the perfect alibi.

CNN's Rick Sanchez reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was like a lynch mob. Angry Nicaraguans have been waiting for this moment. And 27-year-old American Eric Volz was at the white, hot center.

Volz had come to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, two years earlier to surf and to start a magazine aimed at bridging the divide between Nicaraguans and Americans.

Then, last November, Volz's ex-girlfriend, Doris Jimenez, just 25 years old, is found dead, strangled in the clothing store she owned here.

The murder of this beautiful, young woman was a sensation. Police would quickly charge four men with the crime. One was American Eric Volz.

But Eric says he was two hours away from the victim at the time of the murder and provided testimony from 10 witnesses who back him up.

(On camera): You can swear that he was here Tuesday at noon?

He was there in his office, you say, you saw him. He was wearing shorts.

He was wearing shorts at noon?

With Eric Volz on trial, his life hanging in the balance there in that courtroom, the mob here on the street was getting even more tense.

And the message that they seemed to be sending to the judge was clear. We want the gringo convicted.

(voice-over): Outside, the chanting, viva Nicaragua and death to the gringo.

Inside the courthouse, Volz's lawyers present witnesses. They provide cell phone records. Even this time-stamped instant message conversation Eric says he had with a colleague in Atlanta. That's Volz's screen name, epmagazineeric. He's swapping messages from about 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 in of the afternoon, covering the time just before noon when Jimenez was killed.

Outside, the mob grows more agitated. Police fire rubber bullets to hold them back.

Leading the mob, Jimenez's mother, Mercedes. Like prosecutors, she believes Eric Volz was obsessed with her daughter and jealous that she was dating others.

Tell me what evidence you think there is.

(on camera): So he had a big scratch on the back of his shoulder?

MERCEDES ALVARADO, DORIS JIMENEZ'S MOTHER: Yes.

SANCHEZ: Fingernails?

ALVARADO: Yes.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Volz did have marks on his shoulder at the time of his arrest. This photograph was taken the day after Jimenez's funeral.

Volz told police the marks came from carrying her coffin. In fact, they do correspond to the correct shoulder.

The prosecutor says those marks could only have come from fingernails though. She also says Eric had blood under his fingernails at the time of his arrest. But she admits they never proved it.

She also says Eric was spotted near the crime scene.

Nelson Dangla (ph) testified he saw Eric just after the time police believe Jimenez was killed. But Dangla (ph) was one of the men originally arrested for Jimenez's murder. And in exchange for his testimony, he was given full immunity.

No one in Eric's family is prepared for what comes next. This is Volz's mother, telling his father the outcome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a guilty verdict.

SANCHEZ: Volz was found guilty of murdering Doris Jimenez. He was also found guilty of raping her, even though police never concluded that she had been raped.

He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. But despite a formal trial, no one seems certain justice was served.

Rick Sanchez, CNN, Managua, Nicaragua.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Eric Volz continues to maintain his innocence, hoping his appeals will lead to freedom.

You know, the cases that we showed you tonight were very different, but at their core, they all shared the same question. Was justice served or not? For some like Eric Volz, the answer to that question may mean freedom. For others caught up in the system, it's already too late.

I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for watching.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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