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Citizen-Heroes at Tucson Shooting; Possible Insanity Defense; "Miracle on Husdon" Two Years Later

Aired January 15, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Heartbreak and healing in Arizona. President Obama honors the victims of the shooting massacre that struck at the heart of American democracy. I'll talk to one of the heroes in this tragedy, the congressional intern, Daniel Hernandez.

And people who know accused assassin Jared Loughner describe a troubled young man, whose behavior raised a lot of red flags. This hour, experts assess the state of mind and whether the insanity defense is a valid option.

Miracle on the Hudson: The pilot Sully Sullenberger he shares his thoughts on the lives he saved two years ago, and acts of courage and bravery in Tucson this week.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: A defining moment for the nation this week. Americans coming together to mourn the victims of a senseless tragedy and to celebrate those who managed to survive. We saw the first funerals for the six people killed when a gunman opened fire one week ago outside a Tucson supermarket where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents.

Mourners said good-bye to the youngest victim, nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green. The story of this little girl born on September 11th, 2001, touching the hearts of so many Americans and indeed people all over the world. And then there's Congresswoman Giffords, who opened her eyes for the first time just days after a bullet tore through her brain. Her doctors have described her recovery as miraculous.

President Obama visited some of the 13 survivors and their families at a Tucson hospital on Wednesday before speaking at a memorial. He served as mourner in chief much of the week, beginning with a moment of silence Monday honored here in Washington, in Arizona and even at NASA.




(PICTURES OF THE VICTIMS DISPLAYED) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility, rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame. Let's use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy. And remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.


BLITZER: One of the heroes of the Tucson shooting is Daniel Hernandez, the 20-year-old office intern who rushed to the aid of the fallen congresswoman. Hernandez spoke movingly at the memorial service without any teleprompter or notes, but with an incomparable modesty. Listen to this.


DANIEL HERNANDEZ, REP. GIFFORDS INTERN: What defines us is not the differences. It is that we are all together, we are all a family, we're all Americans. And we must recognize that the real heroes, like I mentioned, are the people who have dedicated their life to public service, whether it's direct care in nursing, or being a physician, or being a great representative like Congresswoman Giffords, or being a staffer. They are the people who we should be honoring.


BLITZER: President Obama then paid tribute to the young intern.


OBAMA: We are grateful to Daniel Hernandez. A volunteer in Gabby's office.

Daniel, I'm sorry, you may deny it, but we decided you are a hero because-


You ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive.


BLITZER: Daniel Hernandez is joining us from Tucson.

When the president of the United States calls you a hero, Daniel, what was going through your mind?

DANIEL HERNANDEZ, GIFFORDS CONGRESSIONAL AIDE: I think I was just complete -- there's really no words to describe it to be 100 percent honest. It's very humbling to have anyone refer to you as a hero especially when it's the president of the United States. I'm afraid I have to still disagree with the president of the United States, I still don't think I'm a hero. Like I've been saying for days, I think the real heroes are the people who are the public servants, the people who are the doctors, the congresswoman, herself, the staff, they are the people who dedicated their lives to public service. They're the real heroes.

BLITZER: For those viewers here in the United States and around the world who might not know, tell us what happened Saturday morning and what you did.

HERNANDEZ: On Saturday morning I was helping at an event called "Congress On Your Corner" where the congresswoman was having a chance to speak one-on-one with her constituents. I was at the end of the line helping check people in, about 30 to 40 feet away when I heard shots were fired. When I heard shots were fired my first instinct was to see how the congresswoman was doing. I assumed if there was indeed a gunman she would likely be a target because of her position.

Once that did indeed happen, and I got to where the congresswoman was, there was a few people who had been hit. I started checking for pulses, started checking to see who was still breathing. I got to two or three people, however, when I noticed the congresswoman was the one what had been most severely injured. Her brain -- her head injury was just traumatic.

So the first thing I did was pick her up off the ground because the position she was in, she was a little bit vulnerable because she was breathing in her own blood. I wanted to make sure I got her upright. So I propped her up against my chest to make sure she was in an upright position, so she could breathe. Once I did that I started applying pressure to her wound to try and stem some of the blood loss.

BLITZER: You had some training as a first responder, even though you're only 20 years old, is that right?

HERNANDEZ: Just the very basic training that you could have in first aid and triage. I did in high school a course in certified nursing assistant, as well as phlebotomy. So I just new the very basics. I never even took my certification test because I was actually interning for her congressional campaign in 2008.

BLITZER: While you were doing this, while you were, in effect, potentially saving her life, was the gunman still shooting, or was that part of the episode over by then?

HERNANDEZ: I don't know if the gunman was still shooting because my only concern at the time was making sure the congresswoman was OK. I tuned everything else out, because that was my only priority when I saw the severity of her injuries.

BLITZER: How long were you propping her up, holding her removing the blood from her mouth, and dealing with her before the medical personnel showed up?

HERNANDEZ: The entire time that I was with her, it seemed like an eternity, because in that situation, two seconds seemed like an eternity. However it was a matter of minutes. When the EMTs arrived I no longer saw my job as helping with the medical aspect of it, but instead trying to take care of her emotional needs. I made sure I stayed with her and I held her hand and I let her know she wasn't on her own. I traveled with her in the ambulance while also trying to comfort her and letting her know we were going to get a hold of her husband Mark Kelly, as well as her family here in Tucson.

BLITZER: Did you ever worry about your own personal safety during those critical moments?

HERNANDEZ: I didn't even think about that. Because at the time the only concern was trying to make sure that those who had been injured were being treated, to the best of my ability. But also making sure that those who had, indeed, been hit got attention, even if it wasn't directly from me. At no point did I actually stop and think that the gunman was still active.

BLITZER: Tell us, Daniel, how this has changed your life.

HERNANDEZ: I think if anything this has really made me kind of have a passion for public service because people like Congresswoman Giffords, Gabe Zimmerman, Rob Barber, and Pam Simon have dedicated their lives to it. And unfortunately some of them have lost their lives or have been severely injured. But I think this is definitely a call to action for public service. Instead of shying away from public service I think this should be a call for people to go into public service, and doing things for the greater good.

BLITZER: So, you're going to finish at the University of Arizona. What year are you?

HERNANDEZ: I'm a junior. I'm studying political science.

BLITZER: So you'll graduate then you want to go to law school. What do you want to do? Five, 10 years from now what would you like to be doing?

HERNANDEZ: Right now I'm not thinking that far ahead. The only thing I really am concerned with is making sure we have thoughts and prayers going to those who are injured, because there are still quite a few of them who are still in the hospital. But also that our thoughts and prayers and support go to the family members of those who actually lost someone. I know that a memorial just wrapped up for one of the victims, but we need to make sure they are the focus. Once we kind of settle down from the grieving, I think I'll start thinking about that. Right now the only concern is them.

BLITZER: Start thinking about this, Daniel, if you want an internship here in the Washington Bureau of CNN this summer, we'll be happy to consider you, if you want to apply for that internship. I think I can help you.

Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: A disturbing pattern of behavior is emerging as authorities learn more about the accused gunman of the Tucson massacre. Were potential warning signs missed?

Plus, a number of heroes sprang to action in a desperate attempt to subdue the shooting suspect. What should you do if you're caught in a violent situation?

Two years since that famous miracle on the Hudson, my interview with the heroic pilot, himself, Captain Sully Sullenberger. Stay with us you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Disturbing pattern of behavior is emerging as authorities attempt to learn more about alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner. New concerns that more could have been done to prevent last weekend's deadly massacre, and fears potential warning signs may have been missed.


BLITZER: Joining us now is a psychologist Alan Lipman, he is the founder of the Center for the Study of Violence, here in Washington. And also is a lawyer in addition to being a psychologist.

I've heard you say, Alan, that you believe he's a schizophrenic. Why do you say that? What does that mean?

ALAN LIPMAN, PSYCHOLOGIST: First of all, let's get clear that the evidence is increasingly concrete that this is not someone who was driven largely by political motivations. So let's take it through a roadmap of why, with the caveat we haven't seen him in the flesh. There's such ubiquitous evidence that suggests this is someone with schizophrenia. Number one, we've looked at videos with the strange and twisted logic-

BLITZER: The YouTube videos.

LIPMAN: The YouTube videos. And people have pored over them wondering, does this show he is on the left or he's on the right? Well, it doesn't show either. What it shows the incoherence, the twisted thinking and the neologisms the coined words that are classic signs of what is called formal thought disorder, one of the hallmarks of schizophrenia. If you went into any schizophrenic unit from where I began at Yale, all the way to the hospitals here in town, you'd see writing just like this. That's number one.

BLITZER: Is that a paranoid schizophrenic? Or is there a difference?

LIPMAN: Well, formal thought disorder is present in all forms of schizophrenia. The next feature which is very clear, is a part of paranoid schizophrenia, and it's very important to the shooting that occurred, that is delusions. Delusions are false beliefs that are bizarre. If you look at his writings, which we've seen in Secret Service reports about such shootings, writings are very valuable indicators of state of mind. Loughner stated that he believed that his mind was being controlled. He stated that he believed that the government was listening in on him. Again, textbook demonstrations of delusions, of persecution-

BLITZER: So these are signs we should be looking for in individuals like this?

LIPMAN: If you see these writings, they are clear indicators that this person has a very high probability of suffering from a psychotic illness.

BLITZER: Is it also a clear indicator this person could become violent?

LIPMAN: Let's talk about -- you are asking the questions that are most important. Because the third indicator which is this disruptive behavior that he showed in the classroom at Pima Community College. Five times they had to call the campus police. And the behavior was not this kind of opportunistic anti-social behavior, it was strange, bizarre, so strange his algebra teacher feared if he turned his back, remember, before the shooting, that he would actually be shot by Loughner with an automatic rifle. This is someone who's having a psychotic break. And there was a witness, a friend of Loughner's, or an acquaintance, who knew him during the years of 19 to 22, the age he is now and said he underwent a radical change.

BLITZER: What makes a paranoid schizophrenic become dangerous?

LIPMAN: It isn't even a paranoid schizophrenic but it's especially a paranoid schizophrenic. Schizophrenics as a whole are not dangerous. A psychopath would be more dangerous, but a paranoid is afraid more than anything else, Wolf, that someone is out to get them.

BLITZER: Are they hearing things, people talking to them in their brain?

LIPMAN: Some have hallucinations and some have delusions. The key here and connection to Giffords, is that if someone believes the government is out to get them, in a delusional way, it's filling their mind and running through their mind, and around them, is rhetoric, which is hostile and chaotic. Research shows that it makes the symptoms worse; that because they are paranoid, and believe that people are out to get them, they believe in the threat. And in that case they act on it. And that's what I believe there is a strong chance of violence.

BLITZER: The tragedy, the tragedy here, is that with the proper medication these people can be treated and live relatively normal lives.

LIPMAN: Well, a very interesting point. Arizona, unlike many other states, has a very unique law, and the law states that any person, a faculty member, a teacher can petition the state to have a psychiatric evaluation done. No one did this. If this had been done, or if a friend, a counselor, a teacher had taken him to a-

BLITZER: A parent.

LIPMAN: A parent, had taken him to the hospital, there are antipsychotic medications that would have removed the very paranoid delusions you're talking about, or reduce them, in most cases. I tell you now, having seen these cases for 25 years, if that had occurred, we would not be talking about this tragedy today.

BLITZER: Finally, you're a lawyer, too, in addition to being a psychologist?


BLITZER: If his attorney or he pleads innocent on the grounds of insanity, does he have a case? Is he insane?

LIPMAN: Look, so that your viewers understand, there's a difference between the medical diagnosis of schizophrenia and the legal standard of insanity. Insanity is a legal word, it is a legal standard. To boil it down to its essence, it means did the person know what they were doing was wrong and know the difference between right and wrong? The question is, this is something you would have to see him to know, is he so psychotic, if indeed psychotic, and the chances are high, that he did not know that his actions were wrong? And look at his last note that he left on MySpace. He told his friends, I'm sorry. Please don't be mad at me. And that you can be sure the prosecution will use as state of mind evidence that he knew what he was doing was wrong.

BLITZER: Alan Lipman, thanks very much, useful information. I want to stress you have not seen him, you don't know him, this is all based on just your observations reading about him.

LIPMAN: Not only do you want to stress it, but I want to stress it. And I want to make clear while this information is available to us, and in schizophrenia gives us particularly useful amount of evidence, there's a strong caveat that I have not seen this individual, but nonetheless, it is compelling information we should take into account.

BLITZER: Alan, thanks very much for coming.

LIPMAN: Pleasure meeting you.


BLITZER: He helped bring down the alleged Tucson gunman even as a bullet grazed his own head. You'll meet him next and hear his remarkable story.

Plus the heroic Sully Sullenberger reflecting on that shocking Miracle on the Hudson two years later. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The slaughter in Tucson might have been even worse if not for the heroic actions of bystanders who wrestled a suspect to the ground. What should you do if you're caught in a violent situation? Our Brian Todd has been looking into that.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As he tried to reload, authorities say the suspect was tackled by two men. While this woman, a diminutive 61-year-old named Patricia Maisch made another critical move.

PATRICIA MAISCH, GRABBED AMMO MAGAZINE FROM SHOOTER: He was laying right next to me, so I was able to just kneel up and was able to take the magazine away from him. He pulled it out of his pocket and it was on the ground. He dropped it. And I was able to get it before he did.

TODD: Experts say it's clear those actions saved lives. We asked them about the best way to minimize casualties in those crucial moments.

(On camera): What do you do in a public area if you're in a chaotic shooting situation? I'm here with Bill Pickle, former Senate sergeant at arms and was special agent in charge of the Vice Presidential Protective Division of the U.S. Secret Service, he guarded Vice President Al Gore for a number of years.

Bill, let's say we are in this open plaza, there could be a shooter over by where these trees are, or beyond them. What's the best instinct? To drop and roll maybe, take cover behind a pillar here. And then take off? What do you do?

WILLIAM PICKLE, FMR. SECRET SERVICE SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: I think you answered part of it, it's instinctive. Everyone reacts differently. But if you're out in an area like this, and you hear a shot, or some type of violent action, the most immediate reaction is you freeze then you want to flee. You either want to take cover and/or flee.

Someone without any type of training to handle those situations, it's best to leave the area as quickly as possible. Don't stay there and make yourself a target.

TODD: What about protecting yourself with your own gun? In the wake of the Tucson shootings, at least two members of Congress say they'll start packing when they return to their home districts.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R) UTAH: I was a concealed carry permit holder before I was in Congress. I've continued with that practice and will probably make it even more regular in my routine moving forward. It's just a personal security thing for me. I think it's a smart thing.

TODD: And Democratic Congressman Heath Schuler is encouraging his staffers to get their own concealed carry permits.

PICKLE: You are going to have to make sure that they have gun safety, firearms training, and they have to have some kind of training in how to handle stressful or dangerous situations. That's a tall order for a young staff person.

TODD: Congressman Schuler and Jason Chaffetz both say they have received threats in the recent past. Chaffetz is planning to introduce legislation call for legislation for U.S. Marshals to protect members of Congress when they return to their home districts. Contacted by CNN, an official with the Marshals would not comment on that, other than to say that would require significant funding. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: When the bullets flew in Tucson, everyday citizens became heroes. A retired U.S. Army colonel tells me how he helped subdue the shooting suspect.

Could Jared Loughner successfully plead insanity? I'll talk about his legal prospects with a Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.



OBAMA: Already we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health system. And much-


OBAMA: Much of this process of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-governance. But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world, at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do. It's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Retired U.S. Army Colonel Bill Badger is one of the everyday citizens who turned into heroes at Congresswoman Giffords' ill-fated event outside that Tucson supermarket.


COL. BILL BADGER, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): I went down and registered and was standing in line and it was less than two minutes after I've stood in line, why, shots were fired, and it was just one shot right after the other, just bang, bang, bang, bang.

As soon as I heard the first one, I thought somebody had threw a bunch of fire crackers, but then I could see that he actually was shooting a gun and that was a gun. And he'd already shot the congresswoman, Judge Roll, and a little 9-year-old girl and then he was shooting right down the line.

He was not walking. He was just aiming at the people that were sitting in the 12 chairs. I could see that as -- you could see some of them he was hitting, they were falling, others were diving for the ground and I was at the end of the row of chairs, so I knew I better hit the ground.

I turned to my left and went to hit the ground and I heard, felt this terrible sting right in the back of my head and I knew that I had been hit, but I went right on down to the ground and he fired approximately, you know, 18 to 20 shots and stopped shooting.

When he stopped shooting, I stood up and when I stood up, I didn't realize that this individual was walking right in front of me within a foot of stepping on my toes and he was going to my left. And he just got past me when some other individual that was there to meet with the congresswoman took one of the chairs that they had been sitting on, folded it, and hit him over the back of the head.

Actually he saw it coming. He ducked. It hit him right on the shoulders, but when he did that, his left hand flew out. His gun was in the right hand and I had the opportunity to grab his left wrist and I grabbed his left wrist and with my right hand I hit him right, you know, between the shoulder blades and he was going down. At the same time that this was going on, there was a woman that, she was sure she was going to be shot because he was walking right toward her with the gun.

But when he got, you know, right before he got to her, when he was right in front of me, why, he took the clip, another clip out of his pocket and she reached up and grabbed the clip and threw it to the ground. This happened at exactly the same time we were taking the individual to the ground.

And so when he hit the ground, his gun was laying about six inches in front of his left hand. And another individual that was there to see the congresswoman reached down and grabbed the gun to take it away from him, to get it away so he couldn't get it. And as soon as he picked the gun up, why, I said, drop the gun, drop it quick, because I was afraid that some law enforcement person would see this individual holding this gun and would shoot him.

As soon as I told him to drop it, he dropped it. The real hero here is the individual that picked up the chair and hit him. And the other individual who helped me take this individual down to the ground.

BLITZER: Did he say anything, the gunman, during the time you pounced on top of him and were holding him down?

BADGER: The only thing he said was, I asked him, I said, what in the world would you do something like this for? And he didn't answer me. I had my left hand, I was choking him. The other individual had his knee on the back of his neck.

About that time, the other individual put a lot more weight on his neck and pushed his face right into the sidewalk. And he hollered, ow, ow, ow, ow. That's the only thing he said.

BLITZER: Did you realize at the time that you, yourself, had been hit by one of these bullets in the back of your head?

BADGER: I knew that I had been hit, but I didn't know how serious it was. And while I was holding the individual down, we had to hold him from five to ten minutes before the first deputy got there with the handcuffs to take the individual. And while I was holding him down, why, there was a mass amount of blood running, you know, down the side of my face, you know, down my arm, all over him and all over the sidewalk. And I really didn't realize that it was coming from me until this woman who had knocked the clip out of his hand said, you're wounded bad, Bill -- she didn't say Bill because at that time she didn't know my name.

She said, you're wounded bad. She ran into the Safeway, got some paper towels and water and brought it back out and then put it on the back of my head and started, you know, treating the back of my head.

BLITZER: So how seriously injured, how seriously wounded are you right now?

BADGER: Well, the wound is about three inches long. It's about a half inch across and about a quarter inch deep.

BLITZER: Do you -- what's the prognosis for you? What are the doctors saying about your recovery, the healing of this wound?

BADGER: They took me in the ambulance and took me to St. Mary's Hospital, and right away they did an MRI and a CAT scan and the doctor, everybody very professional there, too, Dr. Brown, she read the MRI and she said there was no damage, you know, to the brain or to the inside of the scalp.

BLITZER: Colonel, how are you dealing with this? What are you feeling? What's going through your mind?

BADGER: Well, you know, as far as the head is concerned, it's just numb. You know, I'm taking quite a few aspirins for any pain. But the first 24 hours, the adrenaline was running so much that it, you know, I was pretty steady the first 24 hours. I'm a little bit more nervous now than I was then.

BLITZER: Colonel, do you own or carry a gun?

BADGER: No. I've got a 21-year-old son, and when he was born, my wife made me get rid of my .38. I had one up until that time, but you know, if I could say something right now that something is drastically wrong with what's going on in our United States right now.

And when an individual is turned down to get into the military and then is able to go out and buy a .9 millimeter Glock pistol and he had one of the -- or his clips were the extended clips that were limited to law enforcement only, and you know, somebody has to put a stop to that.

BLITZER: Colonel Bill Badger, retired U.S. Army. Thanks so much, not only for joining us, much more importantly thanks for doing what you did Saturday morning in Tucson. We appreciate it very much.

BADGER: Wolf, thank you. Keep up the great work.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: To avoid a potential death penalty, will the shooting suspect's lawyer use an insanity defense? I'll speak about that and more with a Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.

Two years after the miracle on the Hudson, Captain Sully Sullenberger joins us to talk about his own heroic flight and the heroism showed by everyday citizens in Tucson.


BLITZER: If he's found guilty the alleged Tucson shooter could ultimately face the death penalty and that will loom heavily over the type of defense his lawyers will mount.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Professor Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School. Alan, thanks very much for coming in. Based on what you know, and it's very, very early in this process right now, is he likely to be executed or get life without the possibility of parole or something else?

PROF. ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, I think it's very likely they'll seek the death penalty because it gives the prosecution the advantage in jury selection to have jurors ex-cruise excluded who are opposed to the death penalty. This is a very serious crime so politically they'll be motivated to seek death penalty.

Whether they get it or not will depend on the nature of the jury. The jury, ironically, may be somewhat more sympathetic in Arizona because Arizona has such a strong gun culture that some jurors might think, gee, we don't want to blame this on guns, we don't want to blame this on the rhetoric, maybe we just blame it on the fact he's insane or at least crazy enough so he doesn't get the death penalty. He has a very good lawyer. The lawyer has to play all those angles.

BLITZER: But getting the insanity defense to work, you have to show that this individual could not differentiate between right and wrong. And at least based on his initial appearance in court, he seemed to answer the judge's questions. He seemed cogent. He seemed relatively reasonable, at least during that 15-minute appearance.

DERSHOWITZ: Well, many insane people, and seriously mentally ill people seem very reasonable, but it's a very daunting defense to raise. He has to show he didn't understand the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his act and he has the burden of proving it by clear and convincing evidence, very, very hard to mount this successful defense after the Henkley acquittal for the shooting of Ronald Reagan.

Much easier to get mental illness as a mitigating factor to reduce the death penalty to life imprisonment and that maybe the strategy the lawyer tries. The lawyer may also try to raise an insanity defense, knowing that she'll lose in order to soften the jury up for the possibility of a mitigation on capital punishment.

BLITZER: Listen to one of his classmates at that community college speaks about him. I'll play the clip. Listen to this.


DON COOROUGH, FORMER CLASSMATE OF LOUGHNER'S: The first time I was really struck by him was because he used inappropriate reactions to people's emotional content. He would laugh at things that were sad. He just didn't seem to be aware of what was going on.


BLITZER: And another one of his professors at Pima Community College said someone whose brains were scrambled, his thoughts were unrelated to anything in our world. He was always looking away, not out of the window, but like someone watching a scene play out in his mind. That makes it sound like this was a very disturbed individual.

DERSHOWITZ: The problem is, being disturbed, or being seriously mentally ill, does not constitute an insanity defense under the federal statute. The statute specifically says that serious mental illness alone without the incapacity to understand the nature and quality of wrongfulness of the conduct is not a defense.

So the drafters went out of their way to say no matter how sick you are and mentally ill you are, you don't get a defense unless you demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that your mental illness affected your inability, your ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of your conduct.

And the fact that he planned it, the fact that he seemed reasonable will have a great influence on the jury under the instruction they'll get relating to insanity. So I think it's very uphill for him to be able to succeed on an insanity defense. But I think he has a reasonable chance of being able to succeed on mental illness as a mitigating factor.

BLITZER: Is it possible he might plead guilty and just beg for mercy to the court? Is that at all realistic? And would the prosecution, the federal prosecutors in this case accept a guilty plea for something less than the death sentence?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, you don't plead guilty to the death sentence. You plead guilty only to the crime. If he were to want to plead guilty, the prosecutors would have no choice, but to accept that. But then there'd be a trial essentially on whether he gets the death penalty.

You know, his lawyer may want him to plead guilty. That may be a good tactic. He may not want to plead guilty. There's a recent case in the Supreme Court where a defendant didn't want to plead guilty and essentially the lawyer said, he did it, he did it, don't doubt he did it, but just spare him the death penalty then he took it to the Supreme Court saying his lawyer hadn't done a good job. That's OK. The lawyer can really concede that he did it and just plead for mercy. That's OK.

BLITZER: Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School. Thanks very much for helping us. DERSHOWITZ: Thank you very much.


BLITZER: If anyone knows a thing or two about heroism it's the pilot who gave us the miracle on the Hudson landing two years ago. Sully Sullenberger tells me what it takes to save lives whether in the cockpit or in a shooting scene like the one in Tucson.


BLITZER: Two years ago today, we all watched what could have been a tragedy turned into just the opposite. During a dire emergency, the captain miraculously managed to land U.S. Airways Flight 1549 safely on the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 people onboard.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the former U.S. Airways pilot, Captain Sully Sullenberger. Thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Two years later, after the miracle on the Hudson that we all remember, we saw what happened in Tucson over the weekend. I'm sure you were watching closely. You saw acts of heroism. What was going through your mind as you were watching and listening?

SULLENBERGER: Well, what happened in Tucson is tragic and disturbing and my family's best wishes go out to all the families of the victims of that shooting. And I am very fortunate that on January 15th, 2009, we had a very good outcome. And I'm hoping for the full recovery of everyone who was hurt in Tucson and my condolences to those who lost loved ones.

BLITZER: I ask the question because you're a genuine American hero. You saved the lives of your crew and your passengers by what you did, but we also saw genuine heroes in Tucson as well. Are these heroes? Do they just respond naturally? Are they created? Do they work at it? Talk about heroism in a situation like this.

SULLENBERGER: That's a great question. It's one a dressed briefly in my book. You know, I thought for a long time that people often choose early in their lives what kind of people they're going to try to be.

And I think people learn some kind of empathy and some degree of intention to intervene when it's necessary. And I'm really gratified to see that there were people who actively tried to save others and obviously they were somewhat successful in doing that and wrestling the shooter to the ground and stopping the carnage.

BLITZER: People just react, almost without even thinking. They react heroically. I think that's the nature of these situations. Let's talk two years later after your heroism, what you did on the Hudson, is aviation security, commercial aviation security any better today than it was two years ago based on what you know?

SULLENBERGER: Well, we're working very hard throughout the industry as operators, as regulators and as practioners to keep on making it safer. And what we're trying to do is keep our promise to our passengers that we will always do for them the best that we know how to do.

And so we need to keep learning from all the experiences and I think what happened to Flight 1549 has been well investigated by the NTSB and I think it's something that's going to be studied for years to come. I was very proud of what my crew and I were able to accomplish that day.

I think with the passage of time, having been greater appreciation for all the things that went right. I'll be doing our jobs. Everyone involved did their jobs exceptionally well that day.

BLITZER: What is the single most important lesson you learned over the past two years?

SULLENBERGER: I think -- every time I receive a communication from anyone who is on the airplane, and I got a lot of Christmas cards from passengers.

When I look at the photographs that they send of their families and I see the faces of their children or their spouse or their extended families, it makes very real what happened that day and what didn't happen that day.

And it just brings back a renewed sense of gratitude. I think it reminds us all of what a precious and fleeting commodity life is.

BLITZER: So you're in touch with the passengers and the crew members, the people who were on that plane two years later? You still talk to them? You deal with them?

SULLENBERGER: You know, I said early on in one of the first reunions I think we're going to be joined forever because of this remarkable, traumatic event that has joined us together in our minds and our hearts.

We do keep in touch and we share a very special bond. In fact, some of the passengers keep track of each other by their seat assignments. They'll say I was in 12-D or 8-E or 25-F. Of course, they had somewhat different experiences depending on whether they're in the front or back of the airplane, but we do keep in touch.

BLITZER: How's your life changed over the last two years?

SULLENBERGER: My goodness. I think for everyone on the airplane and their families, this was an instantly life changing event. I mean, it changed our lives in every way completely, probably forever.

And my family and I had to very quickly learn a new way of living our new lives. It was hard at first. The learning curve was unbelievably steep, but we managed to rise to the occasion and grow and it's also been a source of many wonderful opportunities including a chance to have a greater voice about things that I cared about for a long time, aviation safety, the state of the airline piloting profession and other things.

BLITZER: So do you wake up every morning differently over these past two years than you used to wake up when you were an active commercial airline pilot?

SULLENBERGER: Yes. I don't wake up quite as tired. I'm not gone quite as much and I have a renewed focus on spending as much time with my family as I can especially with kids still in school. I don't want to miss any more of their lives than I already have.

But, yes, I feel like I have a new job, a renewed sense of purpose taking my life in a bit of a different direction. And I think for my first officer and myself, when it became obvious to us this was a big story, to be a big story that would last for a long time, we felt an intense obligation to do as much good as we could in every way we could for as long as we could while we had this attention focused on us.

And we've had some success along with the pilots' associations and especially the families of the victims of the Buffalo crash from two years ago just a month after Flight 1549 we have been very active on Capitol Hill. We improved pilot experience levels, especially for regional carriers and we're working to improve pilot fatigue issues and others.

BLITZER: Thanks so much for everything you're doing, Captain Sullenberger. Thanks especially for what you did two years ago. We appreciate it.

SULLENBERGER: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: A man paddle his surfboard through Australia's devastating floods. Just one of our "Hotshots." That's coming up.


BLITZER: Here's a look at "Hotshots" coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

In India, look at this, a worker spreads out chili peppers to dry at a market. In Australia, a man paddles his surfboard down a flooded street. In Switzerland, fighter jets practice flying in formation. And in Qatar, a young soccer fan cheers for Japan in the Asian cup. "Hotshots" pictures worth a thousand words.

That's it for me. Thanks so much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. And at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.