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North Korean Nuclear Threat; Republican Senator Changes Mind on Gay Marriage

Aired March 15, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The U.S. beefs up its missile defense system in response to nuclear threats from North Korea.

A top Republican senator changes his mind about same-sex marriage. He tells us why in an exclusive interview.

Graphic testimony in the trial of two high school football players accused of rape. Plus, why reinforced cockpit doors may not be enough to stop terrorists determined to take down a plane.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Kate Bolduan is off today. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we're following the breaking news. A small plane crash in South Florida, it happened near the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. We're told the twin engine plane was trying to return to the airport immediately after takeoff, but crashed into a nearby parking lot, setting a number of parked cars on fire.

CNN's John Zarrella is joining us on the phone right now. He has been working his sources.

What are you finding out, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, the latest information that we're hearing from our affiliate stations here in Miami is that in fact three people were on board that plane. Do not know who they are. We do not, according to authorities, know whether the plane issued any distress call, or declared an emergency.

What we do know is that it took off about 4:30 this afternoon, an hour after ago, from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport and almost immediately began to try and make an emergency return to the airport, according to authorities. But as you were reporting, it did not make it, crashing into a bunch of parked cars near a warehouse area just to the east of the airport.

It would have been taking off from what's known as Runway 8, going from west to east when that plane went down. It happened near what's known as Powerline Road. Perhaps more remarkable than anything else, Wolf, it appears there were no injuries on the ground from this incident. The video, of course, showing a lot of foam that was sprayed by the firefighting units that arrived there. A lot of the cars that were hit were engulfed immediately in flames, and, of course, just a lot of charred debris on the ground there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We just heard, by the way, John, from the fire chief all three of the fatalities were individuals on that small plane, not fatalities of individuals on the ground. Three people killed in this plane crash.

One of the eyewitnesses, Chris Duett (ph), we spoke with him a little while ago. He has some amateur video. I want to play it. And we will take a closer look. You can see the heavy plume of black smoke coming up from that crash, that plane going down near that warehouse, destroying a lot of the vehicles there, and, as we have just learned, three individuals aboard that small Piper plane dead as a result of this crash.

It's pretty scary when you see what happened there. This airport not far away, you have been telling us, John, from the major international airport in Fort Lauderdale.

ZARRELLA: That's right, Wolf. It's about five to eight miles to the north of Fort Lauderdale International Airport. We were told also, from what we are hearing, that this plane was on a local flight. What local flight means, we don't know. Where it was heading, we don't have any idea at this point.

But you were reporting all that thick black smoke. Clearly, because it was just taking off, this plane was still loaded with fuel when it crashed, so much of that black smoke, of course, from the burning of all of that fuel on board the plane, as well as the cars that were immediately engulfed in flames by that crash.

BLITZER: John Zarrella on the scene for us, as he always is, in South Florida. John, thanks very much. We will of course get more information and update our viewers as it comes in.

But let's check in with some other news happening right now, some pretty significant news, pretty scary, I should say, at the same time. The United States military is not taking any chances right now when it comes to North Korea, that country's nuclear tests and the threat of a launch, launching a nuclear strike against the United States, prompting the Obama administration, the Pentagon to strengthen a critical defense system.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is working this story for us.

All of a sudden, Chris, the Pentagon announcing some major activity out of the West Coast, fearful of what North Korea could be doing. Tell our viewers what's going on.


Pentagon officials are admitting that North Korea's new mobile ballistic missile has emerged as a threat faster than even they suspected, or expected, and they say basically that North Korea's threat has risen to the level that they now need to employ and deploy more missile interceptors.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): If a nuclear missile is ever fired at the United States, this is the best hope to stop it, 30 interceptor missiles which can be launched from ground silos in Alaska and California. Now the Pentagon is deploying up to 14 more.

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The reason we're doing what we're doing and the reason we're advancing our program here for homeland security is to not take any chances, is to stay ahead of the threat and to assure any contingency.

LAWRENCE: North Korea tested a long-range missile in December. It conducted its third nuclear test in February and just this month threatened a preemptive nuclear strike on the U.S. That caught the Pentagon's attention.

JAMES MILLER, U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: North Korea's shrill public pronouncements underscore the need for the U.S. to continue to take prudent steps to defeat any future North Korean ICBM.

LAWRENCE: But as far back as the State of the Union speech President Obama said the U.S. would:

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Strengthen our own missile defense and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

LAWRENCE: But Republican congressional sources say the president's actions have been anything but firm. In 2011, the administration mothballed one Alaskan missile field, arguing intelligence showed there wasn't enough of a threat, a short-sighted move say the congressional sources. "The intel didn't change. This is right where we expected North Korea to be."

And that is in possession of a missile that could travel nearly 5,000 miles, in theory, since North Korea has never successfully launched a long-range ICBM.

STEVE PIFER, BROOKING ARMS CONTROL INITIATIVE: I think what you see is mainly a political signal to North Korea that no one is going to be intimidated by their December launch and the subsequent nuclear test.

LAWRENCE: The existing interceptors have had technological problems and haven't performed as planned. The Pentagon is testing a new missile, and won't buy the additional 14 until officials are sure they can fly.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: We spend $10 billion a year on missile defense. We have spent about $250 billion over the last few decades. We still aren't anywhere close to a system that can actually protect the United States from a determined adversary.

Yes, I'm saying we are wasting our money.


LAWRENCE: Well, the Pentagon plans to spend another $1 billion on this program, and have these 14 missile interceptors ready to go by 2017. They're also scouting locations for a potential third large site, which may be right here on the East Coast of the United States, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's all pretty scary stuff. Chris Lawrence, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper with CNN's Tom Foreman.

Tom, you're in our virtual studio over there. Tell our viewers where these missiles are.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the simple truth is, Wolf, Chris is exactly right, what this is, is a recognition by the Pentagon that wherever they are in North Korea, the capability of their missiles and their nuclear weapons is making more of a global threat. And what they're trying to do right now in the Pentagon is say let's look particularly at the specific threat and how we can stop that.

And how are they going to do that? We talked about these new deployments that Chris was talking about. First of all, you're talking about more radar bases near the ground in places like Japan, so you would be able to get more early warning of what's happening. You're talking about more missiles in Alaska and California over here, which as you can see is somewhere in what we think might be the range of their very best shot from North Korea at the time -- and it may be more in the future -- and then more warning systems out in the ocean as well.

How would all of this work? The simple truth is, if there were a launch over here in North Korea, the early warning radar systems would start signaling back to the launch systems over here, giving the coordinates. So all of this could launch, and at once, if everything worked well, you could get them to all come together and intercept the missile in the middle of its flight.

I will tell you, Wolf, missile defense people talk always about layers of defense, that it is not one shot. Ideally, they would like to hit it here with some early shots of missiles as soon as it gets off the ground. If not, they try to have shots at it here. And if not, they would try to have last-minute shots before it came to the ground over here, Wolf.

That's the plan. That's what they were beefing up today.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman working this part of the story for us. I'm sure folks in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington state, California, they're getting a little nervous hearing about these reports. We will have much more on the story coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM. Meanwhile, other news we're following, a federal appeals court said the CIA has to acknowledge the existence of any records on drone strikes aimed at people such as terror suspects overseas. The case stems from an ACLU request for the records under the Freedom of Information Act. But the CIA refused to confirm or deny it had any such records, citing national security. The court calls the denial, and I'm quoting now, "fiction."

Syrian rebels are getting a potentially critical boost in their effort to oust the president, Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. is now training hundreds of their fighters in neighboring Jordan. And the first group has just arrived back in Syria.

A rebel spokesman said they're being trained by American military and intelligence officials to use anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. The Syrian civil war is now two years old this month.

Mitt Romney reentered the political stage today with a message for an influential conservative gathering just outside Washington, D.C.

CNN's Brianna Keilar is joining us now from the scene.

Brianna, what's going on at the Conservative Political Action Conference?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today with Mitt Romney appearing here, it was almost as if he was trying to assuage some of the disappointment that many of the attendees here have expressed over the November election.

He said he hasn't lost his optimism because of the failed race, as he tried to pass the torch to a new generation of Republican leaders.


KEILAR (voice-over): On day two of this conservative conclave, just outside Washington, D.C., attendees looked back to look forward. Mitt Romney entering CPAC to a standing ovation, his first major speech since November, saying the future of the Republican Party is with Republican governors of battleground states.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These governors have shown that they're able to reach across the aisle, offer innovative solutions, and then they're willing to take the heat that you have to take to do important things.

KEILAR: He named names.

ROMNEY: People like Bob McDonnell, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Susana Martinez, Chris Christie, Brian Sandoval.

KEILAR: He mentioned his former running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, but not Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, or primary opponent Rick Santorum, who appeared to be making their pitches for the 2016 race.

While Romney talked about reaching across the aisle, Santorum warned a rapt audience of changing too much.

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: For those in our movement who want to abandon our country's moral underpinnings so we can win, permit me to paraphrase a great teacher and ask, what does it profit a movement to gain the country and lose its own soul?

KEILAR: But even party stalwarts like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say it's time for new messengers to carry the Republican message.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Don't tell me Democrats are the party of the future when their presidential ticket for 2016 is shaping up to look like a rerun of "The Golden Girls."


MCCONNELL: You know, we have got Rand Paul, we have got Marco Rubio, we have got Paul Ryan and a slew of smart, young and energetic governors ready to take America into the future.



KEILAR: Now, Wolf, the big act tonight is Jeb Bush. He will be keynoting this dinner. A lot of Republicans would like to see him throw his hat in the ring for 2016.

He did not throw his hat in the ring for the straw poll here, which a lot of folks pay attention to here at CPAC. He actually requested of the organizers to not be a part of it, saying it's too soon to be talking about 2016, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna on the scene for us, CPAC, thanks very much.

By the way, a new CNN show is starting on Monday, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER." It begins Monday afternoon 4:00 p.m. Eastern. You can watch our show at our new start time. That will be 5:00 p.m. Eastern starting Monday. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" from 4:00 to 5:00 -- THE SITUATION ROOM will be on from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

A stunning reversal on a hot-button issue -- a conservative Republican senator says he now supports same-sex marriage. And former Vice President Dick Cheney actually helped him play a role in that. The CNN exclusive interview is coming up.

Plus, a 9/11 widow says reinforced cockpit doors aren't enough to protect us in the air.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If the secondary barrier were installed on Victor's airplane, we wouldn't be talking today. We would have a safe aircraft. And no one -- and 2,973 people would not have died that day.



BLITZER: A dramatic turnaround by a leading conservative when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio now says he supports marriage rights for same-sex couples and for a very, very personal reason.

He spoke about it exclusively with our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator Portman, thank you for inviting us here today.

And you invited us to make an announcement.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Well, yes. Thank you for coming.

I am announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about. It has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry.

And during my career in the House and also the last couple years here in the Senate, I have taken a position against gay marriage, rooted in part in my faith and my faith tradition.

And I had a very personal experience, which is my son came to Jane, my wife, and I, told us that he was gay, and that it was not a choice and that he -- you know, that's just part of who he is and he had been that way ever since he could remember. And that launched an interesting process for me, which was kind of rethinking my position, you know, talking to my pastor and other religious leaders, and going through a process of, at the end, changing my position on the issue.

I -- I now believe that people ought to have the right to get married.

BASH: Talk a little bit more about the moment that your son came out to you and your wife.

PORTMAN: Well, my son is very close to me and my wife. And he -- he had worked on the campaign and so we got even closer during the campaign. He came to me as a college freshman and said, you know, after the campaign was over, after I was already elected to the Senate, that, you know, he wanted to tell us that there is something about him we didn't know, as well as we thought we knew him. And it hasn't, of course, changed our view at all of him.

BASH: What was your reaction when he told you?

PORTMAN: Love, support, you know, 110 percent.

BASH: Surprise?

PORTMAN: Surprise. Yes.

BASH: You had no idea?

PORTMAN: No idea, yes.

BASH: Did he ask you to change your position on gay marriage and gay issues?

PORTMAN: Not initially. In fact, I wasn't thinking about policy or, you know, positions. I was just thinking about him as my son and someone who I love very much and am very proud of. So, that was not an initial discussion. But over time, yes, we started talking about that more, and he was helpful as you can imagine and giving me some of his perspective on it and information about it. He's a very bright kid.

BASH: Did he push you?

PORTMAN: No, not really. I mean, I think he's happy and, you know, proud that we've come to this point. But he let it be my decision just as, you know, it's going to be his decision as to the role he plays going forward in this whole issue. He's, you know, I think, again, happy that I have ended up where I have, but he is a private guy. He's like most college kids, normal college kid who doesn't want to necessarily be out front on this issue but it's part of who he is.

BASH: Does he -- he obviously knows that you're doing this. How does he feel about you deciding to take the political plunge like this and make an announcement that you're flipping your position on this issue?

PORTMAN: Well, he is on spring break right now, so he was here with me for a few days this week just hanging out and going to meetings with me and so on. So he knows what I'm doing. And he's back home now.

But, you know, again, I think he's happy that I'm doing it. He also realizes this will probably put a little more focus on our family and that isn't necessarily something we're comfortable with, but I felt it was important for me to come forward and talk about this, one, because I have made my decision. Second, because this court case is coming up and I anticipate I will be getting a lot of questions from members of the media about what my position is as will other members of the House and the Senate. And I wanted to be absolutely clear and not mislead anybody.

So he didn't dictate the timing but the timing in a way is a combination of both coming to a change of heart on it, a change of decision, and feeling comfortable about that. And, second, the fact that I think this discussions going to be one that we're going to be having here in the Congress after the oral arguments at the end of this month and up to the decision and beyond.

BASH: You say you'll support that. Changing your position is one thing and, certainly, a big deal. But, then, are you going to take it to the next level and be activist on it? Are you going to go home to Ohio and say let's change this state law and get rid of the ban on gay marriage? Which is probably one of the -- one of the most sweeping in the country.

PORTMAN: Well, people are going to know my position. But as you know, I have never really been involved in this issue one way or the other. I have voted consistent with again my beliefs at the time.

BASH: But does your son and the new experience with your son change that? Will you be active on it?

PORTMAN: You know, I'm kind of an economic policy wonk. That's why I got in this business. That's what I have always focused on. So, how to get the economy going, get jobs back.

And I spent, you know, hours this week in the budget committee. I will be going back soon. The budget is on the floor next week. And those will continue to be the issues that I will put my primary focus on.

BASH: And what do you say to a gay constituent in Ohio who says, I'm so glad he changed his position but why did it take him learning that he has a gay son? Why didn't he as my representative care about my rights before, before that?

PORTMAN: Well, I would say that, you know, I have had a change of heart based upon a personal experience. That's certainly true. Dick Cheney I think had a similar experience. I have talked to him, by the way, about this.

And, you know, it wasn't an issue I had given much thought to prior to that. Maybe I should have, but the reason I got into public service was because of my concern on the economic and budget issues. That's always been my focus.

BASH: You just walked into the very last question I promise I will ask which was going to be about Dick Cheney. You said you did talk to him. Did you call him for advice because he had a situation very similar?

PORTMAN: Yes. I mean, I spoke to him personally -- I actually met with him.

BASH: What did he tell you?

PORTMAN: Rob, do what's in your heart. You know? I mean, he was -- he was a good person to talk to because he also was surprised by the news and in that case, you know, his wonderful daughter who he loves very much, and it forced him to rethink the issue, too, and over time, he changed his view on it.

And I followed his advice. You know, I followed my heart. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Really nice guy, too.

You know, Dana, when he was being vetted as a possible Romney vice presidential running mate, he came clean. He told them all this stuff. He told Romney and the vetters.

BASH: That's right, because I asked him the question, if he knew about his son being gay two years ago, did he tell Mitt Romney? And his answer was yes, he told Romney's entire senior campaign team. He had to because they had to know everything about him.

And then I asked, well, maybe do you think that's why you weren't picked? And he said, no, because he asked, and Romney told him that. But when you think about the politics of it, they were already past the primary season. They were already into the general election. So, you might also argue that perhaps it could have been a benefit for the Romney campaign.

BLITZER: In a general election.

BASH: In a general election for the Romney campaign to be able to sort of reach out to constituencies other than white heterosexual males, of course, about the only constituency that they ended up winning.

BLITZER: Good point.

Dana, excellent interview. Thanks very much for doing it, Dana Bash doing a wonderful job for us.

They were considered heroes on the football field. Now they're defendants accused of a terrible crime. Coming up, we have details how the trial is tearing one Ohio community very much apart right now.


BLITZER: A shocking case and a community divided. So, what really happened on a night of a teenage partying rampage? It's the subject of a high-profile rape trial that is under way right now.

A 9/11 widow demands changes on airplanes. She says one thing could have saved her husband's life and thousands of others.

And adopted at the age of 32. One man's deepest childhood wish finally comes true.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Graphic and disturbing testimony today in a closely watched rape trial. Two high school football players are accused of assaulting a 16-year-old girl who was drunk and claims she has no memory of that night. It's happening right now in Steubenville, Ohio. We're going to go there live in just a moment.

But first some background from CNN's Lisa Sylvester.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a case that has riveted and divided a community. Two Steubenville, Ohio, high- school football players on trial for raping a 16-year-old during a night of parties in August.

In this picture, the accused, 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond on the left and 17-year-old Trent Mays on the right, carrying the alleged victim by her hands and feet. Prosecutors say she was too drunk to consent. The defense says they are innocent.

The case has taken on a life of its own on social media. In this video from Deadspin, teens talk about the alleged crime in a vulgar fashion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if that was your daughter?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if it was?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that was my daughter, I wouldn't care. I'd just let her be dead.

SYLVESTER: Thursday in court, a computer expert read hundreds of text messages from up to 17 different cell phones. One from the alleged victim said, quote, "I think I was drugged. I have no memory after I left."

Another sent from Mays' phone said, "Yes, dude, she was like a dead body. I just needed some sexual attention." In other messages he denied having sex with the victim but did say there was sexual activity between the two.

The defense questioned who really sent the messages.

The case has prompted protests and touched many in the community. Both the local prosecutor and judge recused themselves because of connection to the people involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was born and raised here. It is a good town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has it divided the town?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it has.

SYLVESTER: Some see the football players as getting special treatment where others see the alleged victim as targeting the team or outsiders, stirring up trouble.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Want to warn you: today's testimony in that trial today was very, very graphic. CNN's Poppy Harlow is on the scene for us right now. She's in Steubenville, Ohio.

So what happened in court today, Poppy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been an explosive day in court. And we're hours from testimony today ending, Wolf. Right now on the stand a forensic scientist from the state of Ohio testifying about DNA evidence that was found.

But I will tell you, the key witnesses today have all been put on the stand by the prosecution. Three teenage boys, all of them friends both co-defendants in this case. All of them testifying to seeing with their own eyes these two boys raping this 16-year-old girl on that night in August.

The first witness to take the stand this morning, saying he saw the rape occur in a car, saying that he saw Trent Mays perform a sexual act on this girl that in the state of Ohio is illegal.

Then moving to the house that they went to after they were in the car, the second witness saying that in the basement, he saw the girl lying naked on the floor. And that he saw Ma'lik Richmond doing the same, performing an illegal sexual act on this girl while she was not moving.

The third witness coming forward, saying he also witnessed Ma'lik Richmond doing that and admitting to prosecutors that he took a picture of it. A picture of this girl who he also said was his friend, Wolf.

Very disturbing watching these young boys testify. They were very, very upset, distraught, on the stand for hours. But this is the key to the prosecution's case, because although pictures were taken of the naked girl, a video that one of the witnesses said he took of what happened in the car, he then said he deleted it. So there is not that video. It all rests on testimony, Wolf.

BLITZER: Poppy Harlow is on the scene for us. Thanks very, very much.

Up next, a bizarre and tragic medical mystery. A man dies after receiving a transplanted kidney tainted with rabies. How could this happen, right here in the United States of America? How many other people are at risk right now?


Doctors are closely monitoring three transplant patients after another patient who received a kidney from the same donor died of rabies. This is extremely rare. Here's CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Organ transplants, usually a life-saving operation. But in this case, a deadly one.

In 2011, a man in Florida died and his kidneys, liver and heart were donated to four patients: in Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Maryland. No one knew he had rabies.

The Maryland patient who received a kidney died last month, tests confirming the victim contracted rabies from the donor. Now the three other patients, who currently show no signs of rabies, are under treatment to make sure they don't die, too.

This has happened before. In 2004, four people, including 18- year-old Joshua Hightower, died after receiving organs and tissues from a donor who also had rabies.

JENNIFER HIGHTOWER, JOSHUA HIGHTOWER'S MOTHER: What do you mean, like some foreign branch of rabies or some kind that is, you know, uncommon or rare? I said, "Or the kind that you vaccinate your dog every year for?"

And he said, "Jennifer, the kind you vaccinate your dog every year for."

COHEN: In that case, a bat had bitten the donor, and the virus spread through the blood stream. All the organs were transplanted; all the recipients died.

In this recent case, there were red flags. Doctors knew the donor had encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, and behavior changes. Doctors tested for other causes of encephalitis, but not for rabies.

DR. LLOYD RATNER, TRANSPLANT SURGEON: There's thousands and thousands of potential pathogens out there that organ donors could be infected with. Rabies is so uncommon, the screening tests for rabies are not universally available.

COHEN: Only labs in Georgia, New York and California are able to test for the disease in humans, according to the CDC. A doctor at the CDC told CNN today, perhaps there needs to be a change in policy so that when someone has encephalitis they are tested for rabies before organs can be donated so that a life-saving operation doesn't kill someone once again.

(on camera): In a sad coincidence, both the donor and the recipient are military men. The donor was just 20 years old. He'd moved to Pensacola to train to be an aviation mechanic, and the recipient was an Army veteran -- Wolf.


BLITZER: What a sad, sad story that is, indeed. Hope they can fix this down the road so it doesn't happen again. Thanks very much, Elizabeth. It's a place where just taking a walk can be dangerous, especially if you're African-American. Our special investigations unit is taking a closer look at fatal hit-and-runs that were virtually ignored by law enforcement.


BLITZER: An African-American man killed in a hit-and-run in rural Mississippi, and law enforcement barely took action. Drew Griffin of CNN's special investigations unit first reported the story.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Garrett Burdette was 41. He walked wherever he went. In rural Panola County, that can be dangerous, especially if you are black.

In November of 2009, Burdette's body was found on this site. The autopsy revealed multiple injuries consistent with being hit by a vehicle. For three years there's been nothing more than this simple one-page incidents report about what happened. No one in the Panola County Sheriff's Department ever bothered to do anything else.

(on camera): Did they ever come up and down these streets handing out fliers? Knocking on doors? Asking people if they'd seen anything?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, not over this way.

GRIFFIN: Do you know of any activity that way?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no one said anything.

GRIFFIN: So how do you know they're investigating?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, they had put it on the paper, you know, when they found him dead. And then they had put on there, and then they wrote it in the newspaper. They said they was -- it was still being investigated.


BLITZER: Drew's joining us now live.

Drew, you came across this story while you were actually investigating the hit-and-run of another black man in this very same county. So here's the question: what's going on down there?

GRIFFIN: Boy, we'd like to find out. We were -- last summer, a black man, a 61-year-old Sunday schoolteacher, Wolf, was run over and killed by white three teens. That appears to be deliberate. The driver is charged with murder.

Days later four black boys, young boys told us they were nearly run off the road by two white men in a Jeep. And it was while we were down there investigating those two incidents that we came across the story of Ruby Burdette. And we couldn't believe it, Wolf. Three years ago her son is found dead on the side of the road, obvious hit-and-run, obvious accident, and the police have done zero, Wolf, zero to find out why.

BLITZER: The mother, Ruby Burdette, she's been holding out hope for some time that there could be an actual investigation. According to your reporting there never really was an investigation at all. So here's the question on this one: did the police explain why?

GRIFFIN: The sheriff of Panola County refuses to speak with CNN. In fact, was hostile to CNN. On this case, on the case of the black man killed last summer, on the case of the four boys who report almost being run off the road.

But we do know, Wolf, that the sheriff is listening. And tonight, we're going to tell you that there is going to be, or appears to be the beginning of an investigation to find out what happened to Ruby's son, albeit three years after that investigation should have started -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see if they come up with some answers. Amazing reporting from you and your team, Drew. Thanks very, very much.

As he mentioned, Drew will be back with much more on this story. He'll join Anderson Cooper on "AC 360" later tonight. That's at 8 p.m. Eastern.

When we come back, the TSA's new knife policy has one 9/11 widow pushing for more protection in the skies. You'll find out what she says is now needed. That's next.


BLITZER: Just ahead: Adopted, guess when? At the age of 32. We have details on a longtime wish finally being fulfilled.


BLITZER: Despite opposition from pilots, flight attendants and so many passengers out there, the TSA seems determined to press ahead with a new policy of allowing small knives on planes. But there's now new resistance from someone who knows all too well just how dangerous knives on planes can be.

Here's Renee Marsh, who's been investigating this part of the story for us. Renee, what do you see?

RENEE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, the TSA's new knife policy has this 9/11 widow say, "How dare they?" She says that the new policy will endanger pilots like her late husband, and now she's on Capitol Hill, pushing to make it a requirement that all planes have a secondary barrier when the cockpit door is open in flight.


MARSH (voice-over): After September 11, the FAA mandated reinforced cockpit doors, called one of the most effective ways to protect pilots. But what happens when the doors are open? Nine- eleven widow Ellen Saracini knows the worst-case scenario.

ELLEN SARACINI, WIDOW OF UNITED FLIGHT 175 PILOT: The reason why is because there was a breach of the cockpit. And so I'm here today to stand for Victor, because he does not have a voice anymore.

MARSH: Her husband was captain of United Airline Flight 175 when hijackers using small knives overpowered the flight crew and flew the plane into the World Trade Center.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Nice to meet you. How are you?

MARSH: Saracini is on Capitol Hill, pushing for more protection in the skies. With the TSA set to allow small knives on board within weeks, she says Congress needs to mandate all airplanes have this, a secondary barrier to add protection when the cockpit door is open and pilots leave for the bathroom or to get a meal.

SARACINI: Studies have shown that it takes three to five seconds to breach a cockpit. And once inside, it's two seconds and the cockpit is taken over.

HEIDI OVERDORF (ph), UNITED AIRLINES PILOT: I've been flying with United since 1997.

MARSH: Pilot Heidi Overdorf (ph) says these doors give the crew extra time to react. Right now, airlines use a food cart and a flight attendant to protect the cockpit. Airlines believe their current security procedures are sufficient. But for this pilot and her union, it's not enough.

OVERDORF (ph): When they have tested, you know, which is more effective, again, the secondary barrier wins out every time.

MARSH: But the International Air Transport Association disagrees.

PERRY FLINT, INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: There are procedures in place for entrance and exit from the cockpit. The doors themselves are very strong. And as long as the procedures are followed, then there should not be any issue.

SARACINI: If the secondary barrier were installed on Victor's airplane, we wouldn't -- we wouldn't be talking today. We would have a safe aircraft, and no one -- and 2,973 people would not have died that day.


MARSH: Saracini and the pilots union say that they believe they can get bipartisan support for a law that would make these barriers mandatory, especially in light of that new TSA knife policy. BLITZER: I remember those box cutters that were used on those planes on 9/11. So police are nervous.

MARSH: Yes. Especially her, because she has a personal story tied to this, as well.

BLITZER: Can't blame her. Thanks for that report, Renee.

CNN's Erin Burnett is going "OUTFRONT" tonight on forced spending cuts and so much more. She's joining us now with a preview. Erin, what's coming up?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, Wolf, we're going to talk about the forced spending cuts. The president made a joke in Illinois about chairs. That there weren't going to be enough chairs for people to come here and speak because of the forced spending cuts. He got laughter from the audience, although the look in his face wasn't really laughing. Obviously, stark contrast to what he said before. So we're going to talk about that with the White House tonight.

Plus, the Eyephone, spelled E-Y-E, Wolf. We're talking about that new Samsung, where everyone says literally if you scroll with your eye -- sorry, I'm trying to do it -- then it would move, which terrified me, because I thought the next step was mind reading. Anyway, we're going to review the phone and see if that feature actually works.

And we're going to talk about the biggest move in plastic surgery in a long time. It's called the Milton. It's a new nose. That's in tonight's essay. A lot of people pick on me, Wolf, online saying I have a big nose. You know what? I do and I'm going to stick with it. So we will have that full story.

BLITZER: Nobody picks on you about that.

BURNETT: It's all right. You know what? You know how Twitter is.

BLITZER: Yes. Don't even pay attention to them.

BURNETT: All right. Have a good weekend.

BLITZER: Most women would die to have a nose like yours. Beautiful.

BURNETT: You're so nice.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, a story you don't want to miss. It could be proof that, when it comes to love and family, it's never too late.


BLITZER: A 32-year-old California man was reunited with his former foster mom. When Maurice Griffin was 13 years old, the pair was split up in a dispute over the system involving spanking. They lost touch but found each other through social media in 2007. Their goal now: to complete an adoption both wanted almost 20 years ago.


LISA GODBOLD, FOSTER MOTHER: I just feel like this makes it official. And we don't have to keep explaining it now.

MAURICE GRIFFIN, FORMER FOSTER CHILD: I didn't fight for all those years to not finish this. I didn't fight for no reason. That's why it has to happen.


BLITZER: There's happy news to report. Our Paul Vercammen tells us that about an hour ago, a judge in the juvenile court in San Diego finalized Griffin's adoption. After hugs all around, they left the courthouse, officially mother and son.

Don't forget our new schedule starting on Monday. Jake Tapper -- "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER." That will begin at 4 p.m. Eastern. THE SITUATION ROOM will begin at 5 p.m. Eastern, go to 7 p.m. Eastern. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.