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NEW DAY SUNDAY

Wrongly Convicted; U.N. Inspectors Examine Key Iranian Facility; Congress on Track for Least Productive Year in Recent Memory

Aired December 8, 2013 - 06:30   ET

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


BLACKWELL: The group feared the merger would raise ticket prices, limit customer's choices. But American and U.S. Airways could complete the deal, which would create the world's biggest airline before markets open tomorrow.

PAUL: Number five, HIV has returned in two patients who hoped they had been cured of the virus. Now, researchers say the deadly virus became undetectable in both patients after bone marrow transplants. But when the patients stopped taking antiviral therapy, the virus returned. This is a significant find according to one doctor because it demonstrates that, quote, the virus may persist even when there's no evidence in the blood.

BLACKWELL: Michael Morton served 25 years in prison for the brutal murder of his wife, except he didn't do it and the evidence proved it.

PAUL: Yes, so, I know it makes a lot of people go how did an innocent man end up behind bars serving a life sentence? Well, here is the clip from the CNN film "An Unreal Dream."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MORTON, WRONGLY CONVICTED OF KILLING HIS WIFE: When I first got to Texas penitentiary, the first thing they do is they strip you naked and search you. 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At just 32 years old, life as Michael Morton knew it, was over. His wife gone. His family, gone. His dreams, gone. He was now a murderer and his reality was prison. His new life goal, to survive.

MORTON: I am probably the personification of that old axiom you remember from school about you can't prove a negative. It's just - you - how do you prove you didn't do something?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Morton was trying to prove he didn't beat his wife Christine to death an August 13th, 1986. There was no evidence placing him at the crime scene and no murder weapon. His three-year old son who witnessed the murder even told police, daddy didn't do it. But that statement and other details excluding Morton didn't come out until years later while he remained locked up. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): How rough was it inside?

MORTON: I never liked it, but I got used to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long did it take you?

MORTON: Probably 14 or 15 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 14 or 15 years?

MORTON: To get where I was used to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the first years the hardest?

MORTON: The first years are hard just because it's a shock and it's new and it's constant adjustment, constant recalibration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): Morton says life behind bars began to take away his sense of self. What he missed most was his son Eric who was growing up without him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): What did your son mean to you? Not just as a son. He had to represent things to you. Or ideas. Over the course of this journey.

MORTON: Yeah, my son, for me, he ended up being more than just my child. As I began losing pieces of myself, my reputation, my assets, most of my friends, as those things diminished, my son's importance rose just if nothing else, supply and demand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how were those visits?

MORTON: To me it was just - I'm a starving man looking at some food on the other side. And I'm just eating it up and it's great and it's wonderful. I have since found out well, he's looking at me as this guy that really doesn't exist in his life. Somebody he just sees once in a while.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As he started to grow up and wanted distance, how did you deal with that, and what ultimately did it lead to?

MORTON: He suspended the visits. And eventually when I found out that he had changed his name legally and been adopted, a few things are as powerful to a parent as the abject rejection of their child.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): Morton always maintained his innocence. And on the outside, his attorneys hadn't given up on his case.

BILL ALLISON, MICHAEL MORTON'S TRIAL ATTORNEY: I don't keep the files of all the cases I've tried. I kept Michael's file. Michael's case was different. On almost every level, particularly on emotional level with me.

JOHN RALEY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I cross-examine people for a living. I have a pretty good sense of when somebody is lying to me. Not always, but most of the time. There was nothing about this man that didn't speak to actual innocence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finally in 2004, progress. Attorneys for the Innocence Project began working with Morton and they thought they had a chance.

(on camera): You say I always thought that I would get out. What fueled the hope?

MORTON: It's difficult for me to say whether it was just faith that I knew I was right and I wasn't guilty that this would work out or just did - I didn't know how deep I was in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): Then came the breakthrough, a request for DNA testing on a piece of evidence that would eventually unravel the case against Morton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): The existence of the bandana, what could be on the bandana, what the bandana meant? What was that in your life?

MORTON: That bandana in hindsight was huge. Everything turned on that little square piece of cloth. It's only a big deal when you can step back and look at the whole picture and fight the impulse to say oh, my god. There it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Once an unreal dream, the Michael Morton story tonight at 9 P.M. Eastern right here on CNN.

PAUL: Nuclear inspections get under way in Iran. The world watches to see whether Iran is going to hold up its end of this bargain. You are up early with "NEW DAY Sunday." We're glad to see you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: Twenty minutes till the top of the hour now. U.N. inspectors got a look at one of Iran's key nuclear facilities today.

PAUL: Yes. It's the first inspection since the landmark nuclear deal, of course, reached in Geneva last month.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Reza Sayah is in Tehran. Reza, inspectors are still out in the field working now. Do we know if they - what they are seeing, if they found anything important?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we know they wanted to see this Arak heavy water reactor, Victor, and they are seeing it today. That much we know. We're hoping to get more details of this visit in the coming hours. It's important to point out that this visit by the IAEA is not part of the agreement signed last month in Geneva between Iran and the world powers. It's part of a separate agreement between Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog to boost confidence and transparency.

A little bit about this facility. It's been under construction for years. Its completion date has been delayed multiple times because of a variety of problems. However, recently, especially over the past year, it's been a point of contention among Iran hawks in the U.S. Congress, in Tel Aviv. They want this facility shut down because they are concerned that it could be, in theory, a source for plutonium, which, of course, is a potential fuel for a nuclear bomb. Iran has dismissed all these concerns. Their position is that this facility is only for the production of medical isotopes. They also argue, and this is important, that even if this place is activated one day, they don't have the necessary reprocessing plant to transform nuclear waste into plutonium.

Even so, this facility has been enough of a concern that during last month's negotiations the world powers insisted on a clause in the Geneva agreement demanding Iran not to activate this facility. Iran has agreed, Victor, and now they have agreed to allow the IAEA to inspector the facility. It's part of an unprecedented and remarkable campaign to be more open. Of course there are some in Western capitals who are still suspicious of what Iran is doing, Victor.

PAUL: All right. CNN international correspondent, Reza Sayah. Reza, thank you so much. We appreciate it from Tehran this morning.

BLACKWELL: Fans are singing the praises of Massachusetts woman who landed a top spot on "Arabs Got Talent."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER GROUT (singing in Arabic)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Her name is Jennifer Grout. PAUL: Yes. 23 years old.

BLACKWELL: Yes, 23 years old. Just fell short of first place in the finals of last night's singing competition in Beirut.

PAUL: Grout barely speaks Arabic, though. She says she fell in love with Arabic music after discovering it online. So, the Boston singer was considered an underdog during the competition. She was praised, though, by the judges for shining a spotlight on traditional Arabic songs. Congratulations to her ...

BLACKWELL: Yes.

PAUL: When all is said and done.

BLACKWELL: Our executive producer tells me that she doesn't understand the language. She sings it beautifully. And to get her off the stage, they have to use hand gestures. Because when they tell her in Arabic you need to move off the stage, she has no idea what they are saying.

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL: Wow. Well, congratulations nonetheless to her.

Congress, thinking of reputation, right?

BLACKWELL: Yeah, yeah. It's not just one lawmakers would be proud of. We're going to explain this ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAUL: Good morning, D.C. What a beautiful shot there. You're looking at a high temperature of 33 degrees. And snow just in time, too, for the redskins game. So, it's going to be a little sloppy, Victor.

BLACKWELL: We find all I need over 33 degrees today?

PAUL: All I need is some warm air, that's what the music say ...

BLACKWELL: All I need is a snuggie and some hot chocolate. But that's just me.

PAUL: I'd like to see you in a snuggie.

BLACKWELL: That's not going to happen.

PAUL: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

BLACKWELL: If you think lawmakers on Capitol Hill haven't been doing much lately, well, the Congress is on track to have its least productive year in recent history. So, let's bring in CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser to find out if lawmakers are about to kick up the pace anytime soon. How about it, Paul?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Christi, Victor. With the clock ticking towards the end of the year this Congress is being labeled as ...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE CROWLEY, (D), NEW YORK, DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS VICE CHAIRMAN: The most do nothing Congress in the history of the United States.

STEINHAUSER: Less than 60 bills have been signed into law so far this year. Assuming the lawmakers don't pick up the pace next year, and that's a pretty safe bet, since 2014 is a midterm election year, this Congress will become the least productive in some four decades. That according to a CNN analysis of congressional records. It's no wonder that the approval ratings for Congress are at all-time lows. A CNN poll of polls averaging the most recent national surveys of congressional approval indicates that just ten percent give Congress a thumbs-up. Republicans blame Democrats for the gridlock.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R ) HOUSE SPEAKER: We passed nearly 150 bills in this Congress. Many of them would help our economy. They are still sitting in the United States Senate. 150 bills still sitting over in the Senate. You know, Senate Democrats and the president continue to stand in the way of America's priorities. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: And Democrats in Congress and President Obama point fingers right back at the GOP.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Instead of rooting for failure or refighting old battles, Republicans in Congress need to work with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: Most of you don't think things will improve next year. Six in ten in the recent National Journal congressional connection survey said cooperation between the White House and Republicans in Congress will be just as bad next year as it is now with nearly a quarter saying there will be even less agreement between the two parties. Not a lot to look forward to. Christi, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Paul Steinhauser for us. Thank you, Paul. Christi.

PAUL: All right, well, it's Sunday, so that means that you've got to get ready for the week ahead. We want to help you do that. So, let's talk about what's going on. Tuesday, Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa. We know world leaders including President Obama, former presidents George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, all going to attend. And then on Wednesday, we move on to the "Time's" person of the year being announced. As always, "Time's" editors are going to choose, you know, the person of the year who maybe had such an impact or people talked about so much. As for the online poll, we know that Egypt's defense minister came out on top followed by others such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. And yes, Miley Cyrus as well. Friday, let's talk about budget negotiation deadlines for Congress. Uh-huh. Getting it done is going to avoid another federal shutdown. We'll see if it happens. Saturday, we have the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy. One year ago a gunman opened fire in a Connecticut elementary school killing 26 people, most of them young children. Who can forget that day? I know you remember where you were at that moment that you heard about it. And Sunday, Nelson Mandela will be laid to rest, the funeral and burial is going to be on the grounds of the leader's childhood home (inaudible). They are going to erect a large tent. And everyone who attends will be basically in the hills where he used to run and play as a child.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, that (inaudible) Christi, thanks. The rock band "Heart" has now become the third major act to pull out of a show at Sea World. "Heart," the sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, we had them on the show a few months ago say the decision is based on this recent CNN film "Black Fish." A lot of viewers say the documentary shows Sea World exploits marine mammals. Now, earlier country singer Willie Nelson and comedian rock band "Barenaked Ladies," they pulled the plug on their shows also at the Florida theme park.

PAUL: Victor, we've been watching this today. And it's a coast-to- coast storm. And when this one is done it's going to have dumped snow, ice and slit from California to Maine. We're going to tell you who is going to get hit today, how long it's going to last. Top of the hour on "NEW DAY Sunday."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing)

UNIDENTIFIED MALES (singing)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we are nine direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

BLACKWELL: I was just waiting for that. I was waiving for Brick (ph) to offer that -

PAUL: That was awesome. Very nice job.

BLACKWELL: One of my favorite scenes from that movie. I can't wait to see "Anchorman 2."

PAUL: When is he going to come here?

BLACKWELL: Yeah, he's got to come.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: And he's been giving speeches. And he's doing the whole dodge ...

PAUL: I want to meet Ron Burgundy.

(LAUGHTER)

BLACKWELL: She said it.

(LAUGHTER)

BLACKWELL: Hey, you know, it can be hard -- turning to something serious here, for our younger generation to come to Sunday services. A lot of young people are leaving churches. But one church has that problem solved. Hip pastor, hip message, and an extremely hip band.

PAUL: Yeah, we are talking about the Hillsong Church. And their pastor Carl Lentz has been embraced by everyone from team pop stars to an entire NBA team. Alexandra Fields gives us an introduction now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEXANDRA FIELDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's Sunday, but this isn't your average church service. A young crowd coming to worship at Irving Plaza, a New York City concert venue where a pastor is breaking the mold.

CARL LENTZ, PASTOR, HILLSONG CHURCH: Most of the time I have a priest's collar. As you can see - I just left it outside.

FIELDS: Carl Lentz deadpans and dresses in a lot of leather. He namedrops famous friends when he explains his belief.

LENTZ: Sometimes God just does what he does. Like I don't know why Kevin Durant was born as a 7 footer.

FIELDS: And he's attracting a lot of followers to his church, Hillsong, New York City. Lentz estimates there are 5,000 worshippers every Sunday.

LENTZ: We have no idea what we're doing by the way, hashtag.

FIELDS: Speaking of hashtags, Pastor Carl is pictured all over Instagram with Justin Bieber. He says he's the unofficial chaplain for the New York Knicks. He baptizes church members in the rooftop pools of trendy hotels and check out the band.

On a recent night in Newark, New Jersey, 9,000 people came out to see Hillsong United. The music is about Jesus and it's wildly popular. Two albums released this year debuted on the billboard top 200 list, one of them at number five. The front man Joel Houston is the co- founder of Hillsong NYC.

(on camera): The people who are coming here, the people who are buying these thousands of tickets, are they coming to church or are they coming to a concert?

JOEL HOUSTON: Well, I think a lot of them probably think they are coming to a concert. We like to think of it as church.

FIELDS (voice over): The band grew out of an Australian mega church founded by Houston's parents 30 years ago. Hillsong claims to have 57,000 followers with outposts all over the world including the first one in the United States in the middle of Manhattan where mega churches haven't found a footing before.

(on camera): Why did you want to bring Hillsong to New York?

LENTZ: Our church fits here. Because we're kind of like a group of vagabonds some way like out of our depth. And New York has a lot of people like that, like working hard, dreaming big and just hoping for the best.

FIELDS (voice over): Lentz says he doesn't preach any one religion, he just wants people to find a relationship with Jesus. It's OK by him if people are drawn in because they are fans of the band or because they are hoping to see one of his celebrity friends. But he rejects the idea that his church is popular just because it seems trendy.

LENTZ: My mind of hipster, the dude that lives in Williamsburg, he's got like a cool beard and he's like effortlessly weird, but cool and they just kind of float around. That's my definition of a hipster, so I don't think that's us.

FIELD: Lentz says Hillsong is open to everyone. Given the success in New York, there are already plans to bring the Australian mega church to more American cities. Alexandra Field, CNN, New York.

PAUL: It is 7:00 on our Sunday morning. I hope it's been good to you so far. Just grab your coffee and your orange juice and sit back. We're going to get it covered for you. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: Or the snuggie. I'm Victor Blackwell, good to have you with us this morning. 7:00. 4:00 at West. New day Sunday. And, you know, everybody, well, a lot of people, are dealing with much cooler temperatures.

PAUL: As included, I think the high in Atlanta is only supposed to be 47 today. So, the question is, do you really want to go out?