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Balloon Boy Scare or Hoax?; Two Men Cleared of 1913 Murder

Aired October 16, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the ballooning controversy. Did a Colorado couple truly believe their son had floated away, or was it all one big hoax? My interview with the family prompts investigators to ask more questions. I will speak with the sheriff in the case, and we will review the newest evidence. Stand by for that.

Plus, an exclusive interview with the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. She says the U.S. needs to make greater demands of the leadership in Afghanistan, demands that weren't made in the Bush era. That's what she says.

And the outrage after a white justice of the peace refuses to marry an interracial couple. He says he's not a racist, but civil rights groups say he has to go.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We all watched it happened together at this time yesterday, that saucer-like balloon racing through the sky, and we feared for a while that six-year-old Falcon Heene was in it. As all of America now knows, he wasn't. He was hiding in the garage of his Colorado home.

And, just a short while ago, the sheriff said there's no evidence that Falcon's parents staged the event. But, if they did, he says authorities would want payback for the massive rescue effort. The sheriff says he's going to question the Heene family once again after seeing my interview with that family.


JIM ALDERDEN, LARIMER COUNTY, COLORADO, SHERIFF: There was an interview conducted last night, I believe, by Wolf Blitzer on CNN, were asked why he did this, he, I believe, responded, "We did it for the show" or something of that nature.

Clearly, that has raised everybody's level of skepticism again. And we feel it's incumbent upon us, as an agency, to go back to the family and attempt to re-interview them and establish whether this is in fact a hoax or if it's an actual event. We believe at this time that it's a -- a real event.


BLITZER: In just a few moments, I will be speaking live with the sheriff, Sheriff Alderden.

But, first, listen to yourself to the comment Falcon Heene, the 6-year-old, made while I was interviewing him and his dad on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE" last night.


BLITZER: And everybody else screaming for Falcon. And you said to him, "Falcon, why didn't you come out?" And Falcon said, "Hmmm, you guys said that, hmm, we did this for the show."

And you said, "Hmm."

What did he mean, we did this for the show?

RICHARD HEENE, FATHER OF FALCON: I have no idea. I think he was talking about the media. They have been asking a lot of questions. So somebody had asked him that question earlier.


BLITZER: The Heenes say they were genuinely terrified their son was in that balloon and that his safety was in danger. They flatly deny any sort of hoax.

We now have their 911 call to authorities. In this clip, the dad, Richard Heene, is talking to the dispatcher. Listen to this.


DISPATCHER: OK. How long has the 6-year-old been missing?

R. HEENE: Just a few minutes.

DISPATCHER: Was the flying saucer in the backyard?

R. HEENE: Yes.

DISPATCHER: OK. It obviously has electronics, which he can know how to work and he gets it up off the air, off the ground?

R. HEENE: No, he doesn't know how to operate...

DISPATCHER: He does not know how to operate? And so and that's gone though too, right? And you're sure that he's in that?

R. HEENE: Yeah, we looked everywhere. And then my son just said -- he verified it. He said, yes, he went inside just before it went of, because we had it tethered -- it wasn't supposed to take off.

DISPATCHER: OK. Was it running then?

R. HEENE: Well, it doesn't run. It's filled with helium. And it operates off of a million volts to move left and right, horizontal.


R. HEENE: And we were testing it to find out what effect we could get.

DISPATCHER: OK. And so it was last seen 20 minutes ago?

R. HEENE: Probably. I'm losing track of time. Probably, yes.


BLITZER: All right, let's check out a video shot by the Heene family's oldest son of the balloon flying off into the sky.

Abbi Tatton is here with that.

Abbi, we want to see this video, and you tell us what we learn from it.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, as if the story wasn't bizarre enough already, we now have home video shot by the oldest son in the backyard of the moment the craft accidentally took off. It's raising a lot of questions now. Take a look at it.








TATTON: We're going to let this loop so you can see it again. You see from this video that the father, Richard Heene, very angry. He says it was after this video was shot that he was informed by his son that his other son might be inside this craft.

He said he was angry because his wife had not properly tethered the craft, that they wanted it just to rise and hover a few feet above the ground, and not drift away. That's why he says he was so angry, this released by the Heene family to news outlets and released online.

I can tell you that it is just fueling speculation and skepticism about the authenticity of this story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what are the arguments we're hearing online, why it's fueling such skepticism?

TATTON: Well, first of all, that the video exists, that it was actually shot, and that it's out there for people to see. Second of all, when you look at this video, if you look at the craft floating away, it seems hard to imagine that there would be a child inside there.

This is getting a huge amount of buzz online. And a lot of people writing on Twitter right now, they're asking us to show it again because so many people want to see this moment of the accidental takeoff and the family's reaction.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, stand by.

We have seen that the Heene family certainly has a knack for getting on TV and the Internet, appearing on the reality TV show "Wife Swap," submitting iReports right here to CNN and many videos to YouTube. And that's certainly also helped fuel the speculation that the balloon fiasco was staged for self-promotion.

Let's talk about it with the Larimer County sheriff, Jim Alderden.

Sheriff, thanks very much for coming in. I know these are hectic hours for you.

First of all, I understand you have now had a chance to see this video of that balloon actually leaving the backyard. What's your assessment of it?

ALDERDEN: Actually, the video is very consistent with what we were told by the parent.

If you see there's two different type of ropes. It looks like there's a real light white cord which was actually the tethers that were supposed to hold this thing to the ground. When he did the countdown and pulled a different cord, that actually released a linchpin that was supposed to allow the balloon to go up to 20 feet. And supposedly these other tethers were then going to hold it. So, what we saw in the video is consistent to what we were told.

BLITZER: What you were told by the parents; is that right?

ALDERDEN: That's correct.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about the comment you made earlier. You say you want to re-question them now after what they told me last night on "LARRY KING LIVE." Explain what kind of questions you want to ask them.

ALDERDEN: Well, clearly, your interview stirred up a lot of controversy with the statement that was made by the young boy regarding, "Why did you do this?" and that, "We did it for the show."

We had interviewed the family at length yesterday. We had investigators, not just patrolmen, but seasoned investigators, on scene with the family during the course of the day. You know, the reactions of the parents and the children at different times during this episode, when they believed that the child was in the aircraft, when it landed and he wasn't there, certainly, their emotions, their non-verbal responses were very appropriate to the situation, according to the investigators that were on scene.

I can tell you, having got to the scene somewhat after the boy came out, I -- I, too, saw the parents were visibly shaken by this event and certainly seemed very credible.

That said, the statement that was made by the boy last night certainly deserves to be questioned. There's a certain amount of skepticism and we certainly want to go back and re-interview the family and try to establish the credibility with that regard.

BLITZER: And I just want to be precise. As opposed to speculation or assumptions or anything like that, do you have any evidence, any hard evidence, that this was a hoax or a staged event?

ALDERDEN: Absolutely not.

And that's the thing. You know, the -- the media, the public, they are -- they are free to speculate as to what this might be. We have to operate on facts and what can be proven. And we don't have any evidence at this time that this is anything other than what it was reported to be.

BLITZER: And if in -- but if in fact it was a hoax, then the two things that you would want to investigate would be a false report to police. That would be one of the issues that would be on the agenda. What would -- what does that entail?

ALDERDEN: That would be the primary issue. As far as any criminal conduct or liability with it, if they made a false report to authorities, that would be a class three misdemeanor under Colorado statute. That's the only thing where we see any criminal culpability in this situation. So, that's what we would be pursuing.

BLITZER: You said something intriguing earlier in the day when you met with reporters about having been in contact with child protective services, three little boys ages 6, 8, and 10 with these parents.

And I wonder if you want to explain what you were referring to, because there have been some speculation -- speculation out there that the parents have taken these boys in terms of tornado chases and into dangerous situations. So, explain what you had in mind.

ALDERDEN: Well, exactly what you stated, Wolf. We do have reports that they took these children in a potentially dangerous situation with a tornado. Certainly have the issue of what sort of danger is imposed by having these helium containers, but having this balloon in the backyard.

You know, I think it would be appropriate to involve the protect -- child protection to at least see what the family situation is and whether the children are in a safe condition. I think we just have to do that.

BLITZER: That's just as a precaution, out of an abundance of precaution? Once again, you have no evidence that these...


BLITZER: ... that the parents aren't fit to raise these three little boys?

ALDERDEN: That's absolutely right, but certainly the question has been raised, given the totality of the circumstances. And, you know, it needs to be looked at and a decision made in that regard.

BLITZER: You also said earlier that, immediately after that balloon took off, he started to get on the phone. The first phone call, you said, was to the FAA. The second call was to a local TV station. And the third phone call was to 911.


BLITZER: And I wonder if -- if that sounds normal to you in a tragedy or an emergency like that?

ALDERDEN: Well, clearly, it is not a normal response.

One would expect, typically, that a parent in that situation would call 911. However, there was a logical explanation of the parent of why they thought to call the FAA, that being that the balloon was headed toward an airport.

You know, he has some expertise in that area, at least, and -- and knew that this could be going over airspace, and supposedly wanted to notify the FAA, as well as to see if the FAA could track the location of where this balloon was going.

That was his explanation. I have to report that we have not been able to confirm through the FAA that that call in fact took place. We're working on that, but we haven't been able to establish the appropriate contacts yet to verify that.

BLITZER: And what about to the local TV station? Is there a recording of that phone call?

ALDERDEN: You know, I don't have that, but I did see some other media coverage that showed somebody in the news -- newsroom, I believe, of Channel 9 that reported that.

But, again, we're trying to collect all this information. Between all of the media interviews that were done, we want to collect all of that and have time to digest it, before we proceed further.

BLITZER: Sheriff, we're going to stay in close touch. Good luck in this investigation. Appreciate your spending a few moments with us.

ALDERDEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, the sheriff from Larimer County joining us. Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Do you believe this thing is on the up-and-up?

BLITZER: I don't know. You know, I got -- I -- I have been swamped with questions, Jack. And I have to tell you, having spent some time last night for an hour interviewing the family and studying this and talking to a whole bunch of people, you know, one minute, I think this; the next minute, I think that. I am going to let this investigation go forward, see where the evidence comes up, before I decide.

I -- I suspect you have your own personal opinions.

CAFFERTY: Oh, no, no, no. I mean, I -- what, they just happened to be filming the -- in the backyard when this thing suddenly floats off in the stratosphere, and we see the guy kicking the fence, and then he calls a TV station before he calls 91 -- come on.

For those of who you think this thing is real, e-mail me, and I will make you a hell of a deal on the Brooklyn Bridge. It's only about 300 yards from here, and we can work something out.

Phony as a $3 bill.

Speaking of phonies, check this out. A white Louisiana justice of the peace has refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. Let me read you that again. A white Louisiana justice of the peace has refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple.

It is 2009. The United States has its first ever African- American president, and the state of Louisiana has some knuckle- dragging moron justice of the peace who takes it upon himself to decide who can get married.

This guy's name is Keith Bardwell of Tangipahoa Parish, which is from north of New Orleans. He insists he's not a racist and that he tries to treat everyone equally. Then he says this: "I just don't believe in mixing the races that way. I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home. I marry them. They use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else." That's a quote.

In addition to being a justice of the peace, this Bardwell clown also fancies himself a bit of a social scientist, apparently. He says the reason he refused this couple a marriage license was out of concern for any children they might have, saying that neither black, nor white society accepts biracial children, and they would suffer -- except, of course, for the one who is in the White House and is the president of the United States.

Bardwell says he has turned down about four couples during his career. And he still has a job, and Louisiana allows this kind of crap to go on?

The bride, who is white, insists this is all about discrimination and racism. And she wants Bardwell to resign.

And she's right, and he ought to be fired, yesterday. Civil rights groups are calling for him to go, too. The ACLU says the Supreme Court ruled in 1967 the government cannot tell people who they can marry. They want the state judiciary committee to investigate, the Louisiana State Judiciary. I wonder if they will.

Here's the question. What does it mean when an interracial couple is denied a marriage license in Louisiana in the year 2009?

Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Hard to believe this kind of thing still goes on in the United States of America.


BLITZER: Totally hard to believe.



BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you -- Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

President Obama is joining forces with an unlikely partner today. Stand by to find out what he and the first President Bush are hoping to accomplish.

Plus, a life-and-death question: Was an innocent man executed in Texas? The Texas governor is firing back at critics who say he's playing politics with this case.

And the syndicated radio talk show host Tom Joyner, he knows all too well about cases where people were wrongfully executed. It happened to his great-uncles. Tom is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will talk about that and how he helped clear his great-uncles' names.


BLITZER: Pretty soon, you're going to see something live here in THE SITUATION ROOM, something you have never seen in modern U.S. history, a former president of the United States, father to another former president, teaming up with the current president, who partly won the White House by criticizing the son.

Are you following what's going on? If not, we're talking about George H.W. Bush and President Obama. They are getting together in a big way in Texas. That's coming up pretty soon.

Let's get a preview of what's about to happen from our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He is joining us from College Station in Texas.

In Texas, they do everything in a big way, Dan. What can we expect?


That's right. You know, the White House tells us that the reason that President Obama is here is because he was invited by former President Herbert Walker Bush to come here because they share a commitment to public service and also a belief that volunteering in your community, giving back to your community is a core American value.

Now, the former president sent an open letter to the school newspaper here at Texas A&M. He pointed out that this is an important, big moment for this university. It will be in the spotlight. And, while there will be protesters here -- and there are a few protesters right across from the venue -- he wanted to make sure that the community would be welcoming and would also be decent.

And he went on in that letter to say -- quote -- "Our country still faces many tough challenges, and the message that will come out of our presidential forum on service, I hope, is that every American, regardless of age, has an important part to play in helping us overcome the obstacles to our common progress. This is not about politics."

Now former -- the younger former President Bush is not expected to be here, but Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will be here. He is also the former president of Texas A&M. He's not expected to speak, though, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we will have live coverage coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM of this historic moment, and you will be there for us as well.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian watching the story.

Let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield. She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Fred, what's going on?


Well, let's start with another indication, as if we needed another one, of the troubles in the economy. The federal deficit just hit an all-time high, $1.42 trillion. This is more than three times as big as last year's deficit and is the highest percentage of the U.S. economy since World War II.

The shortfall was caused by the current recession, plunging incomes. It meant Americans paid either less in taxes, as well as the government spending massive amounts on financial bailouts and stimulus for a failing economy.

And, in Pakistan, another suicide attack in what is now 11 days of anti-government violence -- in Peshawar, two men set off a massive car bomb outside a police station, while a woman detonated an explosive vest after running toward nearby military housing. Thirteen people, in all, were killed.

And according to the Centers for Disease Control, 11 children in the United States died from swine flu in the past week, raising this season's death toll to 86. In other years, only 40 or 50 children have died from the flu in an entire season, Wolf.

BLITZER: And this...

WHITFIELD: Pretty early and pretty scary.

BLITZER: ... yes, just beginning right now, and I'm worried about this.

WHITFIELD: I am, too.

BLITZER: So, let's hope that vaccine works for all these young kids...


BLITZER: ... because they are especially vulnerable to the H1N1, and pregnant women as well.

WHITFIELD: They are, indeed, all of those.

BLITZER: Thanks, Fred, Fredricka Whitfield. We are going to get back to her shortly.

A syndicated radio talk show host says two of his relatives finally have received justice, almost a century after they were wrongfully executed. Tom Joyner joins us here in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about this extraordinary case and what it means to him and his family. And Hillary Clinton reveals that the Obama administration is making certain assumptions about the disputed election in Afghanistan.

Stand by for that exclusive interview with CNN.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Was it all a hoax, a nation gripped by what appeared to be a young boy trapped in midair? Six-year-old Falcon Heene told me what he says really happened. You are going to want to hear this and the reaction.

Plus, three young people stuck in an Iranian prison, their crime, hiking in the wrong place. Now their mothers are fighting back. We're going to introduce you to some very determined women.

And will we soon be running our cars on household trash? One inventor says yes -- Brian Todd standing by with a glimpse of a possible future. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: Now the story of two men who were wrongly executed almost a century ago. The victims were the great-uncles of a nationally syndicated radio talk show host.

A board in South Carolina has now cleared their names.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Tom Joyner. He's the radio talk show host, the host of "Tom" -- "The Tom Joyner Morning Show."

Tom, thanks very much for coming in.

TOM JOYNER, RADIO HOST: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about your great-uncles. I believe this is the first time there's been a posthumous pardon in the state of South Carolina.

First of all, give us the background. What happened?


The year is 1913. It's South Carolina. Segregation and Jim Crow is in full effect.

My great-uncles were farmers in Blackstock, Chester County, South Carolina. They owned 130 acres, and they were going along, doing their job. Everything's fine. Then, suddenly, they were accused of murdering a Confederate soldier, an old -- old Confederate soldier in 1913.

And they were convicted. They were given one day to get the trial -- to prepare for the trial. They were given one day. They were convicted, and they were executed.

When I found out from Dr. Henry Louis "Skip" Gates -- he did my genealogy for his "African-American Lives" piece.

BLITZER: He's the famed -- he's the famed Harvard Law professor.

JOYNER: Yes, the same one.

Dr. Henry Louis "Skip" Gates revealed my genealogy on his show. And he said that my grandmother had two brothers who were -- who were electrocuted for a crime they didn't commit, and, in his genealogy study, found out -- found out who did it, why they did it. And -- and -- and so I went into action after that.

BLITZER: All right.

JOYNER: That was two years ago. And, this week, we got their pardon posthumously. BLITZER: And -- and how did you do it? I mean, it's not -- as I say, this is the first time there's been a pardon for an execution in South Carolina. Is that right?

JOYNER: Yes. Yes. That's what I understand. This is the first time.

BLITZER: So, how did you convince the -- the -- the Board of Pardons and Paroles to go ahead and pardon your great-uncles?

JOYNER: Well, it seems -- it seems that there were some good white people in this -- in this segregated part of South Carolina, and that they petitioned the governor to -- to release my uncles, because they felt the trial wasn't fair.

And people that signed this petition included the -- a former juror, one of the jurors in the -- in the case, an ex-sheriff, a magistrate, a former mayor, some business merchants. And they knew -- they knew who did it and why they did it.

They did it to they -- they -- they convicted my uncles to protect the legacy and -- the legacy and reputation f this old Confederate soldier who was having an affair with a black prostitute. And it seems that the pimp of the prostitute was trying to rob the old man and killed him. And they cut a deal with the pimp.

He blamed my uncles, and then he went on to tell people who -- that he really did it. And my investigation brought up all these affidavits and depositions that were at the capital.

BLITZER: So what's the most important lesson you've learned from this whole experience?

JOYNER: That racism in America needs to be repaired before we could move forward, and this is a step in the right direction. My uncles were victims and in the Jim Crow South. And I think the lesson here is that if we can repair racism, we can't change history, but we can bring closure to an era, and then we could move forward from there.

BLITZER: Good work on dealing with your great-uncles.

Let me ask you a contemporary question about Rush Limbaugh and the decision now to get him off that bid to try to be a part owner of the St. Louis Rams. A lot of people were upset on both sides of this, but where do you, Tom Joyner, come down on Rush Limbaugh and his desire to be an owner of the St. Louis Rams?

JOYNER: You know, if he takes the St. Louis Rams on, it might be good for him. It might be good for Rush, because right now the Rams aren't very good and ticket sales aren't very good. And it's just -- you know, all that evil that he conjures up every day might be just a good thing for him. I wish he could get into that business, because I don't think that's a very good business to be getting into right now.

BLITZER: So you think he'd just lose a whole bunch of money if he bought the St. Louis...

JOYNER: I think he'll just lose a whole bunch of money. You know?

BLITZER: Well, you know what? He been dumped from the team, from the group trying to buy the St. Louis Rams, so that's not going to happen.


BLITZER: The St. Louis Rams are going to have to turn around if they want to turn around without Rush Limbaugh as one of the owners.


BLITZER: Hey, Tom, thanks very much for coming in. Good work.

JOYNER: Thank you very much, Wolf.


BLITZER: Allegations of fraud in the presidential election in Afghanistan. They are now weighing on the president's war council, including the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. She talks about the vote's possible impact on the U.S. strategy in an exclusive interview with our own Jill Dougherty.

And we'll meet mothers on a mission to free their children being held right now in Iran. The hike that went horribly wrong.

And what if we could turn trash into oil? An inventor reveals his solution to America's dependence on foreign fuel. The idea may be not as earth friendly as it seems.


BLITZER: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certainly a major player in the president's war council as he struggles with a new battle plan in Afghanistan. The secretary sat down for an exclusive interview today with our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, and Jill is joining us now live with more on this interview.

Jill, how did it go?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, basically the secretary told me that the writing is on the wall. In spite of all of those allegations of corruption and fraud, Hamid Karzai is the Afghan leader that this administration is going to have to deal with.


DOUGHERTY: The Afghan ambassador says that that commission is likely to order a runoff election. Should President Barack Obama wait for the results of that runoff election before he makes his decision on troops for Afghanistan?

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Jill, first let me say we're not positive what the election commission will recommend, but clearly whatever their recommendation is I believe should be followed. And if that requires a second round, that is what should happen.

I think that the president is well aware of all the permutations of what can happen in the election. It is likely that they will find that President Karzai got very close to the 50-plus-one percent. So, I think that one can conclude that the likelihood of him winning a second round is probably pretty high.

But I think the ballots have been print, and certainly the military, through NATO and through our own troops, is looking at how you would secure such a second round. But I think that we have taken into account every possible outcome as we have engaged in our strategic analysis. And I think the president is expecting to make a decision on his own timetable when he is absolutely comfortable with what he believes is in the best interest of the United States.

DOUGHERTY: Could that runoff election be carried out, do you think, if it happens within a month? And what if it's stretched on into the spring? Could Afghanistan survive without a legitimate government until then?

CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. First of all, I think it could be carried out since, as I said, the ballots are printed and certainly some planning has been done. It could absolutely be carried out within the next few weeks, before the snows come.

We have problems in the south, as you know, because of the intimidation from the Taliban and al Qaeda at every turn trying to prevent people from participating, but I think it could be, but we won't know. We have to wait until the decision is made, because certainly I don't want to prejudge or preempt whatever the election commission itself is going to determine.

But I also think that the decision that the president has to make is looking at how we can have a different and more effective relationship with the Afghan government, whoever is the final victor, but not only with the government in Kabul, but with governors throughout the country, with what they call subnational, regional, local leaders. And there's been a lot of thought given as to how we would do that.

DOUGHERTY: But the decisions in the administration right now, looking at President Karzai, there are numerous allegations of corruption, fraud, et cetera. Is he really damaged goods? Because after all, the administration says they need a reliable partner, that the whole strategy is pinned on having a reliable partner.

Is he a reliable partner?

CLINTON: Well, I think that -- let's wait and see how this election turns out. Let's determine what the winner, assuming it is President Karzai, commits to do it, and the measures of accountability that can be put into place to more effectively guarantee the outcomes that we're seeking. I think, unfortunately, over the last eight years there wasn't the kind of expectation that should have been set for what the United States and the international community expected to be delivered, but we're going to change that, and we are in the process of working through the best ways to do that.


DOUGHERTY: So, Wolf, you've got kind of two tracks there. As you can hear, Clinton saying that the U.S. will not only deal with Hamid Karzai, the center of government in Afghanistan, but they are also going to deal with the regional and local leaders. So maybe it's kind of an insurance policy politically.

BLITZER: She was giving us some hints in the direction she thinks this should move, but I think one of the most significant points she makes -- and Jill, I assume you agree -- she says it's about time that the U.S. considered Afghanistan alongside Pakistan. You can't just think of one without the other because Afghanistan and Pakistan are totally related.

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely. And she says that that is one thing that they came up with when they started this review, one of the key differences between this administration's viewpoint and the previous administration.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty over at the State Department.

I want to alert our viewers, in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour, we're going to have more of Jill's exclusive interview with the secretary of state, including some of the political questions she asked the secretary, especially involving her own future. What does Hillary Clinton want to do in the years to come?

Stand by. That will be coming up in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

Did Texas execute an innocent man? The governor says no, but there's increasing evidence that it happened.

Ed Lavandera has the story.

And it's like something from another time. A justice of the peace refusing to marry a black man to a white woman, but it's happening today. Soledad O'Brien will report.


BLITZER: In recent years scientific advances have caused a wave of overturned convictions of death row inmates. But death penalty supporters consistently argue there's no reason to believe anyone has been wrongly executed. Now in Texas, could forensic evidence prove that theory wrong? This involves the case of a man who some say was wrongly executed five years ago.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has more -- Ed. ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is the question that will not go away. Did the state of Texas execute an innocent man on Governor Rick Perry's watch? Now the governor is attacking the critics.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Governor Rick Perry says Cameron Todd Willingham deserved to die for intentionally burning down his house 18 years ago and killing his three children trapped inside.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: This was a very heinous crime that was committed by an individual who has been described by his own defense attorney as a monster.

LAVANDERA: Willingham's conviction was largely based on the testimony of the original arson investigators in Corsicana, Texas, and Perry refused to stay the execution. But since Willingham's execution in 2004, severally highly respected arson experts have determined the fire that killed Willingham's three children was not the work of an arsonist and that the Corsicana investigators had a poor understanding of fire science.

Perry has ridiculed those arson researchers as latter-day supposed experts and says they have it wrong.

PERRY: Those are all very clear indications that this is this is a politically-driven agenda by a group of people.

LAVANDERA: Now Governor Perry, who is running for re-election next year, is accused of playing politics with the Texas Forensics Commission, a state panel investigating the forensic evidence used to convict Willingham. Perry abruptly removed three members of the commission just days before a scathing report was to be released publicly. It essentially suggests the governor might have allowed an innocent man to be executed. Perry said he removed them because their terms had ended.

The report was written by Dr. Craig Byler, who has kept quiet until now. He says Governor Perry has exerted political influence over the commission's investigation and that he has behaved unethically. Two of the removed commission members tell CNN they were booted at a crucial moment in the investigation and had asked Governor Perry to continue their work.

ELIZABETH GILBERT, WILLINGHAM FRIEND: When I went to visit him, I assumed he was guilty. He was convicted.

LAVANDERA: Elizabeth Gilbert is a death penalty opponent who befriended Willingham, exchanged hundreds of letters with him. She also found the first arson expert to cast doubt on Willingham's conviction.

GILBERT: He probably woke up, the house was on fire, and ran out. And that was the crime. LAVANDERA: Governor Perry says the commission will continue its work, but all meetings have been canceled and the governor isn't backing down from painting Willingham as an evil man.

DAVID MARTIN, WILLINGHAM TRIAL ATTORNEY: The guy was guilty with a capital "G."

LAVANDERA: That's Willingham's own trial attorney. David Martin says the evidence of guilt was overwhelming.

MARTIN: Somebody poured accelerant in the baby's room and in the front hallway so they couldn't get out the door. They threw a match in there and set it on fire. He killed the kids.

LAVANDERA: That's the theory that Dr. Byler's report says is flawed. Willingham and his wife Stacy did have a stormy relationship. Governor Perry says Willingham tried to punch her in the stomach when she was pregnant to force an abortion. Willingham's stepmother says those words offend her.

EUGENA WILLINGHAM, WILLINGHAM'S STEPMOTHER: My son was not a monster. I take offense in that. He was a loving father. He and his wife did have a stormy relationship, but he didn't try to beat her into an abortion.


LAVANDERA: Cameron Willingham went to his death publicly professing his innocence, but this affidavit quoting Willingham's brother-in-law suggests Willingham confessed to his wife Stacy. It was provided to us by the prosecutor's office in Corsicana, an office which has been criticized for its handling of the investigation.

The affidavit says that Willingham killed his children because he was afraid his wife was going to divorce him. Despite our efforts to reach his wife Stacy, we have not been able to confirm this with her, and so far she has remained silent about the controversy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera in our Dallas bureau.

Thank you.

The death penalty has always been controversial, but stories like the one we just heard are adding fuel to the debate. Here are some of the raw numbers.

Thirty-five states currently allow the death penalty. Since it was reinstated in 1976, more than 1,100 people have been executed in the United States and 3,300 are currently awaiting execution.

Meanwhile, at least 138 people have been released from death row because of evidence of innocence. This year, New Mexico abolished the death penalty, and legislation to ban executions was introduced in 10 other states.

It's a hair-raising thought. Could the disgraced former governor of Illinois get fired again by none other than Donald Trump?

And the political odd couple. The former president George H. W. Bush teaming up with the current president, Barack Obama. They have a special message for the country, and we're standing by for their live event.

You'll see it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Incredible story today around which revolves this question: What does it mean when an interracial couple is denied a marriage license in Louisiana in the year 2009? That would be, like, right now.

Bud says: "I lived with a black woman for six years. Even though we ended up going our separate ways, mainly due to the fact that she wanted to get marry and have children and I had already been there and done that, I loved her then and still do. People are people and you can't always choose who you fall in love with. Mr. Bardwell should be put to sleep."

Rula writes: "It means one justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish is living in the past. That's all. Let's not generalize Louisiana, folks."

C.C. writes: "I agree with the judge. The children will suffer. I have a child who wants to date a black girl and I flat-out refuse to let him do it. I was raised not to date outside my race, and I don't want him to do it either."

Michael: "Bobby Jindal, where are you? You want to show true leadership? Step up, or continue losing credibility and kiss your political career bye-bye."

Steve in Las Vegas writes: "Justice Bardwell, the cleaners called. Your Klan robes are ready."

Julie writes: "In defense of the state of Louisiana, my husband and I got 'interracially' married in Terrebonne Parish 35 years ago. And, oh yes, it's still lasting."

Dan writes: "It means Jimmy Carter knows what he's talking about concerning the continuing influence of racism."

Don in Massachusetts says: "Geez, I wonder if Louisiana knows we landed on the moon."

And Stacy in Florida writes: "What's the problem? He said he has piles of black friends and they use the bathroom in his house. It's good of him to look out for those biracial children. You never know how they might turn out. You know, grow up, go to Harvard, and become president of the United States."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog. We're getting a ton of mail. You might enjoy reading through some of this.

Not a lot of people defending the justice of the peace

BLITZER: Yes, that's what I was going to say, Jack. I assume almost everyone thinks this justice of the peace is totally out of touch.

CAFFERTY: Well, as they should rightfully think. I mean, overwhelmingly. Nobody is saying this is great -- and he's done this, what, three or four times before?

The problem is people like this, in places like that, are allowed to continue to spread this venom and continue to do their jobs and exercise their racist attitudes towards people like this couple. He's done this four times in the past and he's still got a job. Just wrong.

BLITZER: Yes. Hard to believe what's going on.

All right, Jack. Thanks very much. Good question.

Three young people stuck in an Iranian prison. Their crime, hiking in the wrong place. Now their mothers are fighting back, and we're going to introduce you to some very determined women.

And the 911 tapes in the escaped balloon story. We'll play more of them for you.

Here's the question that so many people around the country today are asking: Was it all a hoax, or was it real?


BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at The Associated Press, pictures likely to be to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Portugal, spectators duck as the action gets a little too close during a golf tournament.

In France, farmers dump produce in front of a government building to protect falling food prices.

In Los Angeles, the Dodgers manager Joe Torre thinks before answering during a news conference prior to game two of the National League Championships.

And in India, check it out. A child plays with a sparkler during a Festival of Lights.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

On our "Political Ticker," new signs that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is gearing up for a tough re-election bid next year. The senior senator from Nevada begins airing two commercials in local markets today over a year before the election, and he was joined by the vice president, Joe Biden, at a fund-raiser in Reno this morning. Polls show Reid is trailing both his Republican rivals and he has only a 38 percent approval rating amongst state voters.

Guess who could be going head-to-head with Donald Trump this season on "The Apprentice?" Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. "People" magazine reports that the disgraced Blagojevich was spotted on the set of the hit show along with celebrities Sharon Osbourne and Darryl Strawberry. NBC, however, is not confirming the cast.

This summer, Blagojevich's wife Patti appeared on the network's reality series "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here."

For the latest political news any time, you can always check out