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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Obama Begins talks in Washington, D.C.; Michael Morton Talks Wrongful Murder Conviction.

Aired December 4, 2013 - 11:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So I just want to take you back live to Washington, D.C. We've been waiting on the president. He's a little later than expected. There's someone at least at the podium ready to introduce him. He's at a place called the Town Hall Educational Arts and Recreational Campus. What's important about it, it's a place in southeast D.C. It's in one, one of the poorer neighbors. He's expected to give live remarks. Not so much to focus on Obamacare, but more so the economy and where his agenda is headed. There's a lot of stuff that hasn't made a lot of headlines lately, specifically a farm bill and also minimum wage. There's a lot of things that he's going to highlight in this address, going forward, that he would like to start getting headlines instead of perhaps the Obamacare issue. But people do expect he's going to discuss Obamacare as well.

So as he gets a hug, thanks for the wonderful introduction, let's listen in as the president gives his prepared remarks.

(APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you, everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

Please, please, have a seat.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you so much.

Well, thank you, Nira (ph), for the wonderful introduction and sharing a story that resonated with me. There were a lot of parallels in my life and probably resonated with some of you.

Over the past 10 years, the Center for American Progress has done incredible work to shape the debate over expanding opportunity for all Americans. And I could not be more grateful to Cap for not only giving me good policy ideas but also giving me a lot of staff. (LAUGHTER)

My friend, Jonathan Dustin (ph), ran my transition. My chief of staff, Dennis McDonough, did an extended Cap. You guys are obviously doing a good job training folks.

I also want to thank all the members of Congress and my administration here today for the wonderful work that they do.

I want to thank Mayor Grey and everybody here at the ARC for having me.

This center, I've been to quite a bit, and had a chance to see some of the great work that it done here. And all the nonprofits that call the ARC home that offer access everything from education to health care to a safe shelter from the streets, which means that you're harnessing the power of community to expand opportunity for folks here in D.C. And your work reflects a tradition that runs through our history, the belief that we're greater together than we are on our own. And that's what I've come here to talk about today.

Now, over the last two months, Washington's been dominated by pretty contentious debates. I think that's fair to say. And between a reckless shutdown by congressional Republicans in an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and, admittedly, poor execution on my administration's part in implementing the latest state of the new law, nobody has acquitted themselves very well the last few months. So it's not surprising that the American's people frustrations with Washington are at an all-time high. We know that people's frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles. Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It's rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. And it's rooted in the fear that their kids won't be better off than they were.

They may not follow the constant back and forth in Washington or all the policy details, but they experience in a very personal way the relentless decades-long trend that I want to spend time talking about today. And that is a dangerous and growing inequality in lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle class American's basic bargain that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead. I believe this is the defining challenge of our time, making sure our economy works for every working American. That's why I ran for president. It was the center of last year's campaign. It drives everything I do in this office. And I know I've raised this issue before. And some will ask why I raise the issue again right now. I do it because the outcomes of the debates we're having right now, whether it's health care or the budget or reforming our housing and financial systems, all of these things will have real practical implications for every American. And I am convinced that the decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real. Now, the premise that we're all created equal is the opening line in the American story. And while we don't promise equal outcomes, we've strived to deliver equal opportunity. The idea that success doesn't depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit. And with every chapter we've added to that story, we've worked hard to put those words into practice. It was Abraham Lincoln, a self-described poor man's son, who started the system of land-grant colleges all over this country so any poor man's son could go learn something new. When farms gave way to factories, a rich man's son named Teddy Roosevelt fought for an eight-hour workday, protections for workers, and busted monopolies that kept prices high and wages low. When millions lived in poverty, FDR fought for Social Security and insurance for the unemployed and minimum wage. When millions died without health insurance, LBJ fought for Medicare and Medicaid. Together, we forged a new deal, declared a war on poverty and a Great Society. We built a ladder of opportunity to climb and stretched out a safety net beneath it so that if we fell, it wouldn't be too far and we could bounce back. As a result, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known. And for the three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity.

Now, we can't look at the past through rose-colored glasses. The economy didn't always work for everyone. Racial discrimination locked millions out of poverty -- or out of opportunity. Women were too often confined to a handful of often poorly paid professions. And it was only try pain staking struggles that more women and minorities and Americans with disabilities began to win the right to more fairly and more fully participate in the economy.

BANFIELD: And as the president continues his address live in Washington, D.C., we'll watch those remarks. We'll have a full wrap- up of all of his key points being made today throughout the day on CNN, and also Wolf Blitzer always has a full wrap up on his program as well.

In the meantime, what a story. His wife was bludgeoned to death in the home right in front of his three-year-old son and then Michael Morton was made the only suspect in the case. He was convicted and sentenced to a life in prison. Here is the worst part. He did not do it. DNA evidence exonerated Michael. And he and his attorney are going to join me live on the set to talk about an incredible journey, an incredible story, a travesty that's now become a CNN documentary. That is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Falsely accused of his wife's murder back in 1986, ripped from his precious 3-year-old son, convicted, sentenced, and basically thrown in jail for the rest of his life in a Texas prison. But after a 25-year battle, that is over. Michael Morton has been exonerated. DNA evidence pointed to the real murderer. His incredible story is being told in the CNN Film, "An Unreal Dream," and it airs tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN. He talks in vivid detail about the harsh reality of a life behind bars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL MORTON, FALSELY SENTENCED FOR WIFE'S MURDER: When I first got to the Texas penitentiary, the first thing they do is strip you naked and search you. You're given a pair of state boxers. I realized that the full gravity of the place because as I was standing in line to get my boots, I noticed the guy in front of me. I counted 13 stab wounds in his back. He had scars.

(SHOUTING)

MORTON: It really drove home for me how very serious the place was. That they weren't playing. No time to joke around. There was nothing funny about this. And everybody was deadly serious. And you better get your heart right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: I am so pleased and honored right now to be joined live by Michael Morton, on the right-hand side, and John Raley, one of the attorneys who worked pro bono, very hard on this case, vowing that he would never quit trying to get him out of prison as long as he lived.

Good thing you did, sir, because he's here now to talk to us about this.

The first thing I want to ask you about, the last comment I just heard in that piece was "deadly serious." And in this country, there is a death penalty and you very well could have spent the better part of that 25 years on death row, and you did not but for the grace of God.

MORTON: Absolutely. In fact, that was one the first things I commented on was I thanked God that mine wasn't a capital case. Because had it been, I possibly would have been executed just because of the length of time it took to turn all of this around.

BANFIELD: 25 years. And the average execution is now within about 20 years.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN RALEY, ATTORNEY FOR MORTON: Well, it's been sped up a bit in Texas.

BANFIELD: And a couple of other states as well.

John, it will profound people watching this right now what kind of evidence existed in this case that never saw the light of day because of the behavior of a prosecutor. What was the evidence that finally was unearthed that freed him?

RALEY: Well, the evidence that freed him was the DNA testing on the bloody bandanna, which we fought for seven years to obtain against the prosecutors tooth and nail in many courts. But while that was going on, we uncovered other evidence known at the time, a transcript of Michael's son seeing the monster come into the house when daddy wasn't home and hitting mommy and putting a blue suitcase on mommy after she stopped crying, which is the way they found her. And strange sightings of a blue van in the neighborhood, we now know that Norwood drove an old van. He was walking around the Morton house and casing the house and casing the house. That information was known by the prosecutor, Camp (ph), but not shared with the court or the defense lawyers, despite a court order to do so.

BANFIELD: Well, and discovery is discovery, no matter what. That's the kind of thing that must be produced, especially in a trial that could put someone away for life.

Here is what I don't understand. The prosecutor in the case, Ken Anderson, became a judge.

RALEY: Yes.

BANFIELD: Has had a nice, lustrous career for 25 years. You said the prosecutor, Camp (ph). Were there others in concert working with this prosecutor to keep this material secret?

RALEY: We know that it was known by the sheriff at the time and the sheriff's chief investigator and the prosecutor and the prosecutor's team. So everybody that was working on it. But in one telling point, pretrial, the judge looked the prosecutor in the eye -- and there's a transcript of this -- and said, do you have any information in your file that could be useful to the defense? And the answer is, no, sir.

BANFIELD: No. That's bad.

RALEY: And that's contempt of court.

BANFIELD: And he's been dealt with. He's pleaded. Not much of a punishment, I'll say that. He lost his law license and spent five days in the slammer. Five days. 25 years, Mr. Morton, to you.

So there's so much about this story that I cannot begin to cover on this program. But your son, Eric, was three when this happened. No only are you dealing with a loss of your wife. You are now looking at the possibility of seeing your son, Eric, as a baby twice a year in confine. And ultimately, he stopped coming. It was embarrassing, he said, to see my dad in jail. You've rekindled that. But you must be so angry and you must want blood or revenge of some kind. Do you?

MORTON: Now? No. I'll admit that there were years when I plotted against a lot of people. I was going to do it in different ways and different times with plausible alibis and all sorts of things like that.

BANFIELD: You mean criminal?

MORTON: Homicidal, yes.

BANFIELD: You were sitting in the can. Free man --

(CROSSTALK)

MORTON: There's a lot of anger inside. And I felt like I was justified at the time. But today and now, I understand that that sort of anger and revenge and hate isn't going to help you any. But the one thing that will work that people should and often do latch onto is transparency and accountability.

BANFIELD: You know, we are a very prosecutorial society in this country. There are very few people who look at a courtroom picture and say, I'll bet that guy is innocent, despite the fact that that's what our justice system is based on. And I guess there's no one who can explain what that feels like more than you, to be a guy who is sitting in a place where, quite frankly, the majority of those defendants are guilty. What's it like to be the only man in the room to know the truth? Other than the guy who is cheating at the other table?

MORTON: Well, it was doubly strange. Because several years before this, I actually sat on a felony jury and I sent somebody to prison, and he was clearly guilty. But this was surreal on more levels than I can count.

BANFIELD: Are you sure about your verdict now?

MORTON: Of the --

BANFIELD: When you --

MORTON: Of the jury? Yes.

BANFIELD: I did not know you sat on a jury. I did not know that.

(CROSSTALK)

MORTON: Well, there are a lot of little things. In a documentary or in interviews, there's a lot you can't -- you just don't have the time to bring up.

BANFIELD: Are you angry are the jurors who sent you away?

MORTON: No. Not at all. Because they were cheated as much as anybody else because they didn't have all their information.

BANFIELD: What do you have to say to Judge Anderson, former Prosecutor Anderson, who did this?

MORTON: I actually wanted to meet with him at the end of his jail sentence and see if he would at least let me come in and visit him. But you said -- he actually didn't do five days. He did closer to 3.5 or 4.

BANFIELD: Really? On a 10-day sentence?

MORTON: So when I -- yeah. So when I tried to get in touch with him, he was already gone.

BANFIELD: Has he -- look, he has acknowledged the wrongdoing of the system. He has not acknowledged his own wrongdoing here.

John, is there a civil case that you could mount? Do you want to mount a civil case? The bar is so high on prosecutorial misconduct. In this case, could you win?

RALEY: You know there's prosecutorial immunity and that's one of the things we had to deal with --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Not for when they do really naughty things.

RALEY: Yes, there's that argument that the activity was criminal.

BANFIELD: That's pretty naughty.

RALEY: Right, right. You mentioned that -- the jail time. I want to emphasize that this is truly historic. We're not aware of very many, if any, examples where a prosecutor served jail time for concealing evidence. We think that will send a message.

The other thing about this case that we all need to grasp is that this could happen to you, Ashleigh. This could happen to me. It could happen to anyone in your viewing audience. Michael is a normal guy.

BANFIELD: One of the things I read about you is that, you know, it's hard for people to understand sometimes that people are innocent and maybe the police don't always have your back. The system doesn't always have your back if you just tell the truth. This is why you have the right to remain silent. It doesn't show evidence of guilt if you take the right to remain silent and retain counsel right away, because there are people like you, who people assume right away are guilty.

You lost 25 years. I can only apologize from whomever's watching right now, from us to you. Thank God you're here, first of all.

MORTON: Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: Thank God you're here. Thank God it wasn't a death penalty case.

Good luck.

MORTON: Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: Good luck with your life and your son, Eric, as well.

Thank you both. Appreciate it.

Michael Morton and John Raley joining me live.

By the way, you have to catch this story tonight, "The Unreal Dream," tomorrow night -- beg your pardon -- Thursday, 9:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN. Thursday, 9:00 p.m. eastern. Set your Tivo, folks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: The National Football League is slapping Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin with a $100,000 fine. All of this after Tomlin apparently stepped on the field during the Steelers-Ravens game played on Thanksgiving night. Got a lot of headlines. Coach stepped towards the field as Ravens players running a kick return back. In a statement, Tomlin said he takes full responsibility for his actions and does accept the penalty, as well.

We touched on this earlier, and happening right now off the Florida Everglades National Park, the image on your screen, a rescue effort. About 30 pilot whales are trapped in very shallow water. Live pictures from WSVN, our affiliate down there, shows there's an urgent attempt to get this massive pod to safety some way. Look at them on the screen. It's tragic when you think they're in a couple feet of water. A spokeswoman says four of the whales that might have been in the pod are closer to the beach and high and dry and have not survived. They are working hard to try to somehow corral those whales into deeper water and save their lives. We're hoping they're successful in that an effort.

Thanks so much for watching, everyone. It's been good to have you with us. AROUND THE WORLD starts right after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A truck filled with a dangerous radioactive substance is stolen in Mexico. Now the U.S. and the International Atomic Energy Agency are concerned about dirty bombs.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Internationally famous chef, Nigella Lawson, makes an unexpected and rather startling confession in court.

WHITFIELD: And the pope tells a crowd that he had lots of odd jobs in miss life, including working as a club bouncer.

Welcome to around the world. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Suzanne Malveaux.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.

WHITFIELD: We start in Mexico where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is helping in the search for a stolen truck carrying radioactive material.