Return to Transcripts main page


"Glee" Pays Tribute To Cory Monteith; Mystery Rolled Up In A Gym Mat; "The Bravest Girl In the World"; Debt Ceiling Vote Could Be Today; Starbucks CEO Fed Up With Gridlock

Aired October 11, 2013 - 14:30   ET




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone wants to talk about how he died, too, but who cares. One moment in his whole life, I cared more about how he lived and anyone who has a problem with that should remember that he was my brother.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: This very popular show "Glee" and never explained how Finn Hudson died in last night's tribute episode. Finn was played by the late actor, Cory Monteith, who died from an accidental overdose of heroin and alcohol. That was back in July. The show's tribute included emotional songs focused on the grieving process. The most powerful moment was when Finn's girlfriend played his Monteith's real life love, Lea Michele, sang her sad farewell. Here it is. Listen.

Can you imagine Lea Michele having to do that? Her boyfriend on the show and in real life, Cory Monteith, was just 31 years old.

Mystery is heaped upon mystery in the bizarre death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson. His body was found in a rolled up gym mat inside his high school in Valdosta, Georgia. Johnson's death was originally ruled an accident, but his parents don't believe it. They had his body exhumed and paid for a second independent examination, which came to a very different conclusion and revealed horrific new details.

As CNN's Victor Blackwell has uncovered in his exclusive reports from Valdosta, Georgia, Kendrick Johnson's organs were missing. His body had been stuffed with old newspaper. And today, only on CNN, Victor confronts the man who has the power to get to the bottom of this tragic mystery.



(voice-over): This is Lowndes County coroner, Bill Watson. He can order something the family of Kendrick Johnson desperately wants, but he hasn't agreed to give it to them. BILL WATSON, LOWNDES COUNTY, GEORGIA CORONER: I would like for you to leave my office.

BLACKWELL: We'll come back to this conversation in a moment, but first, for more than seven months, eight hours a day, six days a week, this has been the scene in front of the Lowndes County Judicial Center in downtown Valdosta, Georgia, Kenneth and Jacqueline Johnson, supporters, signs, and a question, who killed Kendrick Johnson?

JACQUELYN JOHNSON, MOTHER: We want answers. We're not leaving until we get answers.

BLACKWELL: They have never believed the theory from Lowndes County Sheriff's investigators that their 17-year-old son climbed onto a rolled gym mat in school in January to grab a shoe at the center of one, fell into one, got stuck upside down, and was accidentally suffocated.

KENNETH JOHNSON, FATHER: We are mostly concerned about what happened to Kendrick. What they know about what happened to Kendrick, and why they're not telling us the truth.

BLACKWELL: The Johnsons exhumed Kendrick's body and in a second autopsy they paid for, found that Kendrick died as a result of a blunt force trauma to the neck. Not an accident, a homicide.

KENNETH JOHNSON: It was a cover-up.

BLACKWELL: With opposing theories on the cause of death from competing pathologists, who can get to the bottom of how Kendrick dies? Bill Watson can, by ordering what's called a coroner's inquest. Watson has the power to empanel a jury of five and one alternate to listen to testimony, review evidence, and then deliberate and determine how Kendrick Johnson died, an answer his parents sorely want.

In March, the family's attorney sent Watson this letter as a formal request that a coroner's inquest be convened immediately. In mid- April, the attorney received a response from Watson saying he was precluded by statute from empanelling a coroner's jury because the investigation was not complete.

This petition requesting a coroner's inquest was submitted to the District Attorney with more than 400 signatures. We spoke with Watson in May after the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office had closed its case. Here's what he said about launching a coroner's inquest for the Johnsons.

WATSON: If they requested one and they don't feel that this is sufficient, then, you know, I'm elected to do what is best served to the people who elected me. I made a promise and took an oath to the effect that if I was selected, I would stand up and speak for those who can't speak for themselves. And that's what I've done since January 11th.

BLACKWELL (on camera): Would you open the inquiry? WATSON: Yes, sir, I will. I have nothing to -- there's nothing to hide.

KENNETH JOHNSON: He's already said he would give us one and we want one. And why wouldn't he give us one?

BLACKWELL: So this month, five months after that interview, we went to visit Watson. And that takes us back to where we began.

(on camera): Mr. Watson? Victor Blackwell, CNN. Are you going to order an inquest into the case of Kendrick Johnson?

WATSON: I'm not commenting on anything. I would like for you to leave my office.

BLACKWELL: You told me in May that you would order an inquest. What changed your mind?

WATSON: No, I didn't tell you that.

BLACKWELL: Yes, you told me that on tape, sir, if the people wanted one, you would order one. Are you going to order an inquest into the case of Kendrick Johnson?

WATSON: I'm not commenting on anything.

BLACKWELL: Why have you, sir, changed your mind? You told me on tape you would order an inquest, but then you -- what has changed?

WATSON: That's the way it is.

KENNETH JOHNSON: Pressure from the sheriff's department. And the system here in Lowndes County, that's why he's not going to do it now, but we surely want a coroner's inquest.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): The sheriff's office won't discuss that case, and the Johnson's would be the first to get one during Watson's time as coroner.

(on camera): Can you tell me at least what is a coroner's inquest?

WATSON: I would rather you look it up.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Inquests are rare in Lowndes County. There have been fewer than a half dozen here since 1985.

(on camera): What has changed, sir?

WATSON: Thank you.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Watson would not answer that question, but the Johnsons promise one thing will not change, their fight for an answer. They'll continue to sit in front of the courthouse with their supporters and their signs and their questions.

JACQUELINE JOHNSON: If they want us to leave, they're going to give us answers. We're not going nowhere.


LEMON: They're not going anywhere. You saw the protests, the family is involved in. Next, Victor Blackwell tells us they have a new plan to get justice for their son.


LEMON: We've been looking in depth into the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson's whose body was found in a rolled up gym mat in his school in Valdosta, Georgia. CNN's Victor Blackwell has been doing this reporting. He's in Valdosta and covering exclusive new details for us. Victor, how important is an inquest into this young man's death?

BLACKWELL: It's more than semantics, Don. If this jury that is empanelled determines that Kendrick actually died as the result of homicide, the official cause of death on Kendrick's death certificate would be changed from accidental to homicide. That would be forwarded on to the district attorney in Lowndes County and that could start the ball rolling for another official investigation, maybe a grand jury, and then going after the person who is guilty of that homicide.

And I can also tell you that the attorney for this family, this new effort to try to get that coroner's inquest, they're going to file a lawsuit as early as Tuesday to implore the district attorney to try to force the coroner's hand. It's up to the coroner's discretion to do this. He says to know all the information about the body and the newspaper and the potential evidence and the surveillance camera and not order this inquest is an abuse of this discretion. That at least is their argument.

LEMON: So you talked a little bit in that argument about surveillance. There is surveillance video from the gym around the time Kendrick died. What haven't we seen?

BLACKWELL: Well, they have given us seven stills. It's a small detail, but a camera that takes stills when there's movement. There is no actual streaming video. At least that's what we're told by Lowndes County schools. They have released seven stills of Kendrick walking into the gym, nothing before and nothing after.

Now we've asked for more photographs, but we have been told that those photographs are academic record. At least they consider them to be educational record, and under Georgia law, educational record is exempt from open records request. That begs the question, if the family gave us permission to have all the pictures of Kendrick, and they sent us just the pictures of Kendrick alone, what are the pictures showing before and after those seven frames?

LEMON: Great reporting. Victor Blackwell, can't wait to see how you follow up on this. Thank you, appreciate that.

The Taliban shot her, but she survived, and her message is inspiring the world. Yet, she didn't win the Nobel Peace Prize today. Up next, our Christiane Amanpour is going to join me live to talk about her powerful interview with Malala. Don't miss it.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI, PAKISTANI YOUTH ACTIVIST: We all know that the terrorists are afraid of the power of women as well. So now, at this time, we realize, yes, education is important, because it was snatched from us.


LEMON: Not even a bullet to the head could stop one 16-year-old girl from speaking her true cause, her cause for herself. Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban just a year ago for promoting women's rights, but she never backed away from the spotlight. After her recovery, she continued to share her story and be a visible advocate for every child's right to an education.

Yesterday, she spoke with CNN's Christiane Amanpour and described the moment a Taliban gunman came looking for her.


YOUSAFZAI: He asked who is Malala? He did not give me time to answer his question, and my friend told me, my best friend, at that time, just pushed it with force, and you did not say anything. And then the next few seconds, he fired three bullets. One bullet hit me in the left side of my forehead, just above here, and it went down through my neck and into my shoulder.

And I think I was hit by only one bullet and it also affected my ear drum, so now I have problem in listening as well. It also cut down my facial, but still, if I look at it, it's a miracle. My brain is saved. My spinal cord is saved. Everything is fine, I'm alive, and I still can talk, I can smile, so I thank God for that.

Before the terrorism, we were going to school. It was just a normal life, and getting a bag and doing homework daily and being good and getting high marks. We could not understand what we are doing, why are we going to school, but later on when the terrorists came and this stopped us from going to school, I got the evidence, and they showed me proof that yes, the terrorists are afraid of education.

They're afraid of the power of education. And if a woman gets education, she becomes more powerful, and we all know that the terrorists are afraid of the power of women as well. Now, at that time, we realized, yes, education is important, because it was snatched from us. So I would like to tell everyone in U.K. and America and the developed countries, developed countries where education is available to them, go to school and realize its importance before it is snatched from you as we have suffered from the situation.


LEMON: It's unbelievable to watch her. Christiane Amanpour is here. She's an amazing young woman. Hopefully she has a bright future. What did she tell you about her hopes for the future?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think she does have a bright future, but I don't think we should forget at all what danger she's in. The Taliban continue to threaten her life and there are people who simply don't want what she is advocating for, the simple fact of education for girls.

So she said, though, she would like to go into politics. She had never thought that before she was attacked. And she would like to be, maybe, a prime minister, and her role model and hero was Pakistan's only female Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. It's happened before.

Benazir Bhutto, although she was killed by the Taliban, it's a hard road for a woman in Pakistan right now, but she has such grit and determination that if she survives, I believe she'll have a very bright future.

LEMON: We can see a lot of more of this on CNN. We could see Christiane on Anderson's show later at 10 p.m. Eastern.

AMANPOUR: Not tonight.

LEMON: But on CNN International, which airs at what time?

AMANPOUR: That's every day at 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern, and of course, this one will be on CNN here in the United States on Sunday at 7:00.

LEMON: Thank you very much. We're going to repeat that. Thank you very much, Christiane. On Sunday, 7:00, you can see "The Bravest Girl In The World," right here on CNN, 7:00 Eastern. Make sure to tune in. Our thanks to Christiane Amanpour.

Coming up, as Wall Street reacts to a potential deal on the debt ceiling, the CEO of Starbucks is pretty upset and said this so-called deal is fool's gold. We'll hear from him next.

Plus, any moment, the White House expected to hold its press briefing. Keep in mind, the president's meeting with Republicans just ended a short time ago. Are we any closer to a deal? We shall see.


LEMON: I'm Don Lemon, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us. Government shutdown day 11 and then there's that October 17th deadline. You know the one when the government starts defaulting on its debts. It's still looming. That is unless both sides can agree to extend the debt ceiling, but the offer by White House Republicans to push it back by six weeks carries a big caveat, and that's the government would stay partially closed. Sources tell CNN a House vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling could come as early as today and we're watching it closely for you.

Meantime, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz ticked off today. He wants Washington lawmakers to get their act together and resolve the fiscal crisis. Schultz will circulate a petition at thousands of Starbucks all across the U.S. It calls for lawmakers to reopen the government and pay dents on time. CNN's Poppy Harlow talked with Schultz.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What do you think the consequences are if we do not reach a long-term debt ceiling deal? What does that mean?

HOWARD SCHULTZ, CEO, STARBUCKS: Well, the consequences are dire, our standing in the world, the fracturing of consumer confidence, the psyche of the American people, small and large businesses across the country will be significantly affected. No one will be immune and what's so perverse is this is not something that has been invented. This is something that is self-induced.

This is something that is just political. We have to bury the hatchet in terms of our political differences, have civil discourse, and let people get in a room and commit to themselves they're not going to leave the room until they solve the problem for the American people.


LEMON: Well, earlier this week, Schultz called on his fellow chief executives to weigh in on the government shutdown. We'll see what happens.

Coming up here on CNN, a carjacker follows a driver into his home, demanding his keys. All caught on video. What should you do in this situation? We're going to discuss.

Plus, we'll play all the interesting moments from today's conservative summit, from Ted Cruz being heckled to this comment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.



LEMON: Welcome back, everyone. Each week here on CNN, we name a CNN hero, someone doing remarkable work in their community. Here are some finalists.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN'S "AC360": I'm Anderson Cooper. All year, we have been introducing you to everyday people who are changing the world. We call them "CNN Heroes." Well, now we announce the top ten "CNN Heroes" for 2013. In random order, the honorees are --

Dale Beatty lost his legs in Iraq. Now he's modified or helped provide homes to more than two dozen disabled veterans.

Dr. Laura Stachel uses solar power to help health care workers deliver babies safely.

Danielle Gletow, she is fairy godmother for foster children making their often simple wishes come true.

Kakenya Ntaiya opened the first primary school for girls in her Kenya village.

Tawanda Jones' drill team provides discipline and inspiration to children in one of nation's poorest cities.

Chad Pregracke is keeping America's rivers clean by removing garbage from waterways across the U.S.

Estelle Pyfrom poured her savings into a mobile computer lab that serves low income children and adults.

Richard Nares lost his son to leukemia. Now he's helping low income children get to their cancer treatments.

Dr. George Gwelle travels into the jungles of Cameroon nearly every weekend bringing free surgery to those in need.

And Robin Emmons provides fresh produce to underserved residents in her community. Congratulations to the top ten "CNN Heroes" of 2013. Tell us who inspires you the most, go to to vote once a day, every day for the "CNN Hero of the Year."