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Trapped in a Dark Plane; Acquitted After 25 Years; Prince Harry's South Pole Race Canceled

Aired December 9, 2013 - 08:30   ET

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


INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Now they're still seeing flights delayed, if not canceled. Over 700 flights canceled out of Dallas-Ft. Worth already this morning just thanks to that. Here in the northeast, we're still dealing with a second system here that's starting to makes its way out. Definitely saw some icing around Virginia. But now still looking at that wintry mix kind of through the New England area. Farther south we're starting to see that sleet kind of switch over to, of course, some rain as we get some warmer air into the region.

So the next story is, yes, there's that second low and the tail end of the cold front still making its way up. So overnight tonight in through tomorrow, especially in to tomorrow afternoon, we're going to start seeing more snow, more than we saw from the first system, especially into the northeast, about one to three inches of snow still possible out there and also some rain on the tail end. Not a big rain maker, but either way we're still going to be talking about low clouds, poor visibility.

And here we go with these dangerous temperatures. We talked about this arctic air one of the other problems we've been seeing throughout the weekend. It feels like negative 30 degrees. That's the wind-chill. We have advisory out there. We're talking about the Dakotas, even in through Minnesota. And look at the current temperatures. We are talking about negative four right now in Denver as they're waking up. Negative 30 is what it feels like in through Bismarck.

Back to you guys.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Bismarck is not the place to be right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Not yet.

PEREIRA: We're sending you warm thoughts, Bismarck.

All right, imagine this. We've been taking about this all morning. Waking up after a quick flight, the only person left on a dark, cold plane, you can't get out. It actually happened to Tom Wagner. He was flying from Louisiana to California with a layover in Houston. Napped on the first leg. And when he woke up, he was in a dark plane in Houston and it took him over a half hour to get off that plane, to get out. Tom Wagner is joining us now to tell us more about his incredible story.

TOM WAGNER, WOKE UP IN DARK, EMPTY PLANE: Yes.

PEREIRA: Mr. Wagner you're kind of a sight for sore eyes, my friend.

WAGNER: Why is that?

PEREIRA: Well, I'm just imagining the whole ordeal that you went through, a half an hour locked in this cold, dark plane. When I - when I first wake up, it takes me a minute to figure out where I am. Did it occur to you that something was terribly wrong?

WAGNER: Yes. Well, I woke up and I happened to look up and the lights were out. I was like, well, what's going on here? And then I was like, I looked down the aisles and nobody was there. Then I got up and I walk around, I had to go to the bathroom, so I worked my way to the back and found it and I call my girlfriend, Debbie, I said, "listen, you've got to call the airlines and, you know, I'm locked in the plane." It's like --

PEREIRA: And she didn't really believe you at first, did she?

WAGNER: No, no, she's was like - she's telling me stop, because I play games on her once in a while, you know, joking around. And she says, "Tommy." I said, "Debbie, I'm locked in the plane. You've got to call the airline." And she started laughing. I said, "I'm serious." And she's - and she's still laughing and then she finally hung up and I guess she called the airlines and then I called my sister, because I figured I ain't going to make my next flight. And I got the same --

BOLDUAN: And you definitely didn't make that next flight.

WAGNER: No.

BOLDUAN: So, Tom, you've go to explain this to me, are you the deepest sleeper that ever lived?

WAGNER: No, I'm really not, you know. I just sleep, you know. And like I get a lot of questions like, well, didn't you feel when you landed? And I was like, well, you know, I work -- I'm a (INAUDIBLE) captain on an oil shell oil - you know, I work for the oil field industry and sleeping like bouncing around is kind of the norm.

BOLDUAN: I guess so.

PEREIRA: A little par for the course for you.

WAGNER: You know I just - yes.

BOLDUAN: So, it takes a half an hour for you to finally get out. You get out --

WAGNER: Well, when they -- yes.

BOLDUAN: And then what do you say to the gate agents?

WAGNER: Well, they were like, what are you doing on this plane? I said, oh, I was a passenger. I woke up and I was locked in the plane. You know, the workers came out first. Those are the ones who found me. And I was standing - I was going to open the door. I walked up towards the cockpit, you know, the boarding door and I put my hand on the handle and I said, no, no, I better not do that.

And a couple minutes later, the other side door started, you know, opened up, and the workers - the one worker come in and he said, "Who are you? What are you doing on this plane?" I said, dude, "I was a passenger on the plane. I fell asleep. I woke up." And then he said, "Where's your badge?" I said, "I don't work here." I said, "I was a passenger on this airplane." And he started like, no, no, no.

PEREIRA: Well, what I think I understand, too, is that they did the sweep -- the airline says that they walked through to make sure nobody was left on the plane. They somehow missed you. And, fella, you look like you're a fairly substantial man. I don't know how they could have missed you.

WAGNER: Oh, yes. I don't either. I don't -- it's funny, the best I can put it, but I mean, you know, it was like I talk to people and they're, man, I'd have freaked out.

PEREIRA: Well, yes, you stayed - you stayed calm, though, didn't you?

WAGNER: Yes. Well, I was like, you know, kind of tried to do the best to go with what I got. You know, nobody would believe me that I was talking to.

BOLDUAN: Every - so, Tom, Express Jet gave us a statement. They say that, "Express Jet is investigating to determine how this occurred. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this caused for the passenger." They paid for a hotel room. They gave you a travel voucher. Is that enough? Will you be traveling with them ever again?

WAGNER: I'm traveling back on my return flight to Louisiana. I didn't cancel my flight.

BOLDUAN: Right.

PEREIRA: And now you're at your destination and did your sister forgive you for being late?

WAGNER: Yes. Yes, she did.

PEREIRA: That's all that matters. Well, we're glad you have a --

WAGNER: Yes, it was a - it all worked out.

PEREIRA: It all worked out. You have a good attitude about it. Hopefully that's not going to happen any time soon to anyone else.

BOLDUAN: You're going to stay awake on your next flight, though, I'll you that much.

PEREIRA: Yes, you will.

WAGNER: Well, I - I'll be -- I will do that. I will definitely do that.

PEREIRA: Tom Wagner from Irvine, California, talking to us this morning and hopefully he'll have a safe and easy flight home to Louisiana. Thanks for your time today.

WAGNER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: You never -- you never want stories, it's better when you have a no story travel experience, and he's got one to tell, that's for sure.

PEREIRA: He's got a doozy.

BOLDUAN: All right, coming up next on "NEW DAY", we followed the story of Michael Morton. You remember this, a man who spent time behind bars for a crime that he did not commit. Well, it also happened to this man. So why are prosecutors standing by their original conviction?

PEREIRA: Also, we old told about Prince Harry's race to the South Pole in the South Pole. Well, it's suddenly on hold, but is the expedition really over? We'll talk about that, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Last night CNN Films aired "An Unreal Dream: The Story of Michael Morton." After spending more than two decades behind bars for a crime he did not commit, he was finally exonerated through DNA evidence. Well now we have another story of a man who was wrongfully - wrongly convicted based on questionable witness testimony. CNN's Pamela Brown is joining us with this story.

Another incredible tale.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's one of actually 2,000 people exonerated since 1989. His name is Derrick Deacon. He spent nearly 25 years behind bars. Last month it took a jury less than 10 minutes to overturn that. Today, he's free. But in a strange twist, prosecutors are standing by the case even as their tactics are coming under fire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Derrick Deacon still has a hard time enjoying his newfound freedom after spending nearly 25 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.

BROWN (on camera): Did you know the person that was killed?

DERRICK DEACON, EXONERATED OF MURDER CHARGE: No. No.

BROWN: Were you there when the crime happened?

DEACON: No. No time --

BROWN: Did you have any involvement whatsoever?

DEACON: No.

BROWN (voice-over): In 1989, Deacon was convicted for shooting 16- year-old Anthony Wynn to death at this apartment building during an alleged robbery. Prosecutors insist to this day that a handyman witnessed the men arguing and saw Deacon with a gun, but they had no forensic evidence, no eyewitness to the actual shooting.

DEACON: And (ph) being the prosecutor and all (ph) saw in a way of blame my weakness, my first weakness, the witness, a girl.

BROWN: That witness is this woman, Colleen Campbell (ph), who spoke to CNN only if we concealed her identity. She faced off with the killer on this landing. During the investigation, police asked her if the man she encountered was Deacon, known by his nickname, "Fire."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Them bring the picture of Fire and them ask me say if it is this man. I say, I tell them no. It was a young boy and he's 19, 20.

BROWN: Her description in this 1989 police report of the man she came face to face with didn't match Deacon at all. He was older and taller with a full head of hair and a beard. The defense counted on her testimony.

GLENN A. GARDER, DIRECTOR, THE EXONERATION INITIATIVE: The defense attorney at the original trial opened with the fact that Miss Campbell was going to be testifying and was going to be an exonerating witness. But the defense never knew that a week prior, the prosecution had gotten to her.

BROWN: Campbell even passed this lie detector test about her account, but she says prosecutors still pushed her to change her story and give vague testimony. She says they even threatened to have her children taken away if she didn't cooperate, claims prosecutors deny.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I go to court must give them doubt. Him say give them doubt.

BROWN: Deacon was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years to life.

DEACON: With the suffering of state (ph) to nothing something I never do.

BROWN: In 2001, an FBI informant involved in a separate investigation, said Fire had gotten arrested for a murder he didn't commit. He blamed someone named Pablo (ph) for Wynn's murder. This new information eventually led to a retrial in 2009. Colleen Campbell testified again, this time telling jurors the man she saw definitively was not Deacon, leaving only the handyman's testimony on its own.

BROWN (on camera): The prosecution was basically relying on one chief witness.

RICK DURRY (ph), JUROR, DEACON'S RETRIAL: Yes. BROWN: How credible was his testimony?

DURRY: That is still somewhat unclear if he actually saw, if he was saying that he saw this or if he was saying that he heard it, if, you know, he was passing by or had just seen it. So, you know, it was a little bit spotty I would say.

BROWN (voice-over): Just last month, it took the new jury less than 10 minutes to acquit Deacon of the murder, finally giving him his freedom.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And the original prosecutor, Thomas Merrill, is now counsel to the NYC Health Department. He told us by e-mail that he respects the jury's acquittal, but still believes the handyman saw enough of the crime to prove Deacon's guilt. He acknowledges Campbell described a younger man but said her accounts were inconsistent. (INAUDIBLE) the Brooklyn D.A. who prosecuted the second trial refused to say anything about the case, including whether they would pursue Pablo, the man identified as the real killer

BOLDUAN: So that is still - that's still lingering out there.

BROWN: It sure is, yes.

BOLDUAN: Wow.

PEREIRA: A life ruined, a young boy dead and a family with no closure.

BROWN: Yes. Really -

BOLDUAN: No one wins in that one at all.

PEREIRA: Nope, not at all.

BROWN: No.

BOLDUAN: Pamela, thanks so much for bringing us that story.

Coming up next on "NEW DAY", Prince Harry's charity race to the South Pole, scrubbed. But that doesn't mean he's stopping. We'll explain.

But first, let's get back to Chris in South Africa.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a woman just came to me and said that the heavens are getting ready to cry for the death of Nelson Mandela. The rains may come, but they will not dampen the spirit that you see and hear here.

When we come back, we have a very special edition of "The Good Stuff" for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: Welcome back to "NEW DAY". Let's get a quick look at your top stories.

The East Coast getting slammed by ice, sleet and snow -- the storm already grounding more than 1,000 flights today. Driving not much better -- it's pretty dangerous out there. Slick roads leading to hundreds of wrecks from Missouri to the mid-Atlantic.

Some 90 world leaders past and present begin heading to South Africa today to say good-bye to anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela. Services throughout South Africa honored him during a National day of Remembrance on Sunday.

The hiker whose harrowing decision to cut off his own forearm inspiring the Oscar-nominated film "127 Hours", he's expected in court this afternoon. Aaron Ralston faces domestic violence charges.

BOLDUAN: All right. So let's talk about Prince Harry and his South Pole expedition. Feel like we've been tracking this for a little while.

PEREIRA: Yes, we have.

BOLDUAN: What's going on with it? For that, let's head to the couch.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: We were joking, hoping that our expedition to the couch is not as harrowing as Prince Harry's expedition.

Prince Harry's 200-mile race to the South Pole has been called off. The grueling expedition was meant to raise money for wounded service men and women, some of whom are participating in it. But even though the race is off the mission has just begun.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin has more in London. What do you know, Erin?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Kate. Well, this really was a safety decision; many of the participants were amputees from conflict zones. They're facing extreme conditions.

Now Harry is an active service member, he's also a patron of the sponsoring charity, "Walking with the Wounded" and while the racing portion has been called off, Prince Harry and other participants are determined to see this through.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCLAUGHLIN: Prince Harry's race to the South Pole was never going to be easy. After all the point of the trek is to show the world what injured veterans can achieve. Crossing 208 miles of dangerous terrain at temperatures of minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit, all the while pulling sleds weighing more than 165 pounds, is a dangerous proposition. Add to that the stress of a three-way international race.

The grueling trek has already seen delays due to severe weather. And now for safety reasons, organizers have called off the racing element of the expedition. PRINCE HARRY OF UNITED KINGDOM: People are going to get very, very tired and with our doctor here who I am in constant contact with, we just feel we're beginning to push people a little too hard so I've suspended the race. Everything still keeps trekking on. We're going to seize the South Pole.

MCLAUGHLIN: The Antarctic trek includes three teams of four wounded veterans from the U.K., the U.S., Canada and Australia. Many of the participants lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

PRINCE HARRY: I'm given the opportunity it mean I can actually help these guys out, whether it's creating more awareness for them or whatever, then you know, so what's minus 50, so what's 90-mile-an-hour winds. Occasionally you got to put yourself through that for a good cause.

MCLAUGHLIN: In 2011 Harry's attempt to the north pole was called off because of the royal wedding. He broke a toe preparing for this trip but never considered pulling out proof of how important completing this expedition is to the fourth in line to the throne.

ROYA NIKKHAH, JOURNALIST: I think what he would be very disappointed at is if they actually have to stop the expedition completely in the next couple of weeks.

MCLAUGHLIN: Despite the dangerous conditions, Prince Harry suggested his brother wished he was along for the adventure.

PRINCE HARRY: I think he's just quite jealous I managed to get away from a screaming child.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: I spoke to the spokesperson for Walking With the Wounded this morning and she told me that they have about another 50 miles to go. They're expected to reach the South Pole on Friday. So if all goes according to plan, Prince Harry should be home in time for the holidays -- Michaela and Kate?

BOLDUAN: Chris is with us as well. Thanks so much, Erin. Amazing to think about what they're doing.

PEREIRA: And I imagine that after completing that they'll feel like there's nothing they can't achieve.

BOLDUAN: Right. We would argue there's nothing you can achieve already with what you've done for your country.

PEREIRA: Yes.

BOLDUAN: All right. We're going to take a break. And right after that, we're going to head straight back to South Africa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to "NEW DAY", everyone. Let's get back to South Africa for a very special edition of "The Good Stuff" -- Chris.

PEREIRA: Seems appropriate.

CUOMO: Hey, Kate. You know, look, we're surrounded by these demonstrations of unusual humanity that we like to capture in "The Good Stuff". And when you're talking about South Africa you talk about complexity. Nelson Mandela was a complex figure politically and personally. The situation down here is very complex and still continuing to develop.

Their reaction to Nelson Mandela's passing is complex. While there's an echo the world over of respecting the message of reconciliation and strength in the face of adversity, there's also pushback as we see and yet and yet and yet when you think about Nelson Mandela and his passing most commonly you think about the memorial. Tomorrow's setting up to be an epic display of world power and people coming together.

He didn't want statues. He didn't want his words on a wall. He said that his memorial would be the people, and what we saw today -- I want to show you one photo that really grabbed it -- for all the tribal wear and the different people and tribal sects coming together here look at the picture of these children on the shoulders of their parents, OK?

As simple a photo as a white kid on a white man's shoulders and a black kid on a black parent's shoulders, side by side, it may seem so casual and ordinary. And that's the beauty of it when you set it against the backdrop of what the apartheid culture was. That's why I wanted to single it out as "The Good Stuff" and certainly it is the realization of the dream of Nelson Mandela on this day and hopefully many going forward.

It seems like a simple image, Kate, Michaela, but you know, with what has been lived through down here the idea that they are really mourning together, that the sense of loss and the sense of responsibility is black and white as one is really something that's remarkable and certainly "The Good Stuff".

BOLDUAN: We've been commenting kind of throughout the show, Chris, you've been really bringing kind of the sights and the sounds and the celebration going on behind you, on the ground, the big celebration, the big event, the big memorial is tomorrow. What has it been like so far being able to witness this incredible moment in history?

CUOMO: You know it's unusual. One of the privileges of this job that we do is being able to bear witness to history. And it's nice when history is not in its darkest moments, and to realize how profound apartheid was, just how bad it was, for them to come to this point where they celebrate this man together is a beautiful thing and it's great to be here and I really look forward to tomorrow. A hundred world leaders represented there, it's going to be amazing.

PEREIRA: You'll be our eyes and ears on the ground. We can't wait to share that with you tomorrow, Chris Cuomo. Soak it all in for us, brother, soak it all in. BOLDUAN: See you soon, Chris. Have fun. We'll see you.

CUOMO: Will do.

BOLDUAN: We'll talk to you tomorrow.

That's it for us. Let's go now to John Berman in for Carol Costello in the "NEWSROOM" -- hey John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, great to see you guys. Happy Monday, everyone. A frustrating morning up and down the East Coast.

"NEWSROOM" starts right now.

Good morning everyone. I'm John Berman. Carol Costello is off today.

The calendar says we're still 12 days away from the official start of winter. Try telling that to the folks here in the northeast and across much of the country. Look at this picture from St. Louis, a storm system that has dumped plenty of ice and snow from Texas to Pennsylvania, has killed at least seven people. It is expected to keep causing problems today.

This is already making for a very messy commute in the mid-Atlantic states and the northeast. This is a live look from the White House. Federal buildings in Washington will open two hours late today because of the weather.

On the road, heavy snow and ice have led to downright treacherous conditions.