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Autopsy Shows Michael Brown Shot Six Times; U.S. And Kurds Fight for Key Iraqi Dam; Ukraine Says It's Gaining on Rebels

Aired August 18, 2014 - 07:30   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Talks aimed at ending the fighting in Eastern Ukraine taking place in Berlin, Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers sitting down with their counterparts from Germany and France. All of this follows a weekend of heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists. Ukraine's military reportedly made big gains in the rebel-held city of Luhansk.

A powerful earthquake this morning shook Western Iran and has left at least 250 people injured and also they are now cut off from water, power and phone lines in one city.

Officials near the border with Iraq tells state media the magnitude 6.2 quake caused heavy damage in the rural areas around the city. There are reports that many homes have been destroyed in several villages. We'll update you when we can.

Pope Francis is wrapping up his first trip to Asia with a challenge to North and South Korea, find peace. The pope closing his trip with a mass of reconciliation in Seoul.

In a poignant moment, he greeted seven women, many of them in wheelchairs, who were used as sex slaves during World War II. They gave him a butterfly pin, which he then wore during mass, a very beautiful moment.

A friend of the man who inspired the viral ice bucket challenge died Saturday just after raising $100,000 to fight ALS. The 27-year-old Cory Griffin was pronounced dead following a diving accident on Nantucket Island.

He was celebrating the money he had raised in honor of his friend Pete Frates, an ALS patient who came up with this fundraising challenge that then went and continues to go viral. They are shocked and saddened by this tragic death, such a young man.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Unbelievably horrible.

PEREIRA: The ice bucket challenge continues. They're really making headway.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I can't tell you how many friends I see on Facebook, on Twitter, doing this all over the world, China, Europe. You name it. It's really gone global.

PEREIRA: A pause in that celebration given the fact that the guy that made this all happen has died, so young.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next on NEW DAY, the anger over the shooting death of Michael Brown intensifying as details of a private autopsy are revealed. Forensic pathologists will join us and break down what the findings tell us about Brown's final moments.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY, the National Guard is headed to Ferguson, Missouri, after more clashes on the streets overnight. This as the results from a private autopsy requested by Michael Brown's family reveals the unarmed teenager was shot six times, twice in the head.

Brown's family and attorneys will be speaking about those results a little later this morning. We're going to speak with an expert in just a moment as folks really begin to start to piece together how these results match up with eyewitness accounts.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bless his soul, police shot this boy outside my apartment.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Six, that's at least how many times 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot according to an independent autopsy requested by his family. The preliminary autopsy results indicate that Brown was shot twice in the head, four times in the right arm and that all bullets entered from the front.

One bullet that entered the top of his skull indicates he was bending forward when it hit him, causing a fatal injury. Also, no gunpowder found on Brown's body suggesting he was not shot at close range. This autopsy is one of three that will be performed.

The state as well as the Department of Justice will also have their own examinations. Police say Brown was walking in the middle of the street with a friend when stopped. Police have suggested he was the instigator, physically assaulting the police officer inside his cruiser, struggling to take his gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of those individuals at the time came in as the officer was exiting his police car, allegedly pushed the police officer back into the car where he physically assaulted the police officer.

BOLDUAN: But Michael Brown's friend with him that day, Dorian Johnson, says Officer Darren Wilson grabbed Brown, who was trying to get away, not fighting for the gun.

DORIAN JOHNSON, MICHAEL BROWN'S FRIEND: At that time he reached out the window with his left arm, he grabbed on to my friend, Big Mike's throat and he's trying to pull him into the vehicle.

BOLDUAN: Some witness accounts say Brown was running from the officer and appeared to be surrendering, his hands in the air at the time he was shot and killed.

JOHNSON: I see the officer proceeding, after my friend, Big Mike with his gun drawn and fired a second shot. That struck my friend Big Mike. At that time he turned around with his hands up, beginning to tell the officer that he was unarmed and to tell him to stop shooting. But at that time, the officer was firing several more shots into my friend and he hit the ground and died.

BOLDUAN: Tiffany Mitchell watched the shooting from a distance, then captured this video in the moments after the fatal shots.

TIFFANY MITCHELL, WITNESS: The officer gets out of his vehicle and pursues Michael as he's shooting his weapon. Michael jerks his body as if he was hit, he turns around, faces the officer, puts his hands up. The officer continues to shoot him until he goes down to the ground.


BOLDUAN: All right, let's discuss this more. Joining us now forensic pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht. Doctor, it's great to have you. Thank you very much.


BOLDUAN: There's a lot more we know this morning, but I think that also means there's a lot more that we do not know, from the results and the reports that we have of this preliminary autopsy requested by the family, and there's a diagram provided to CNN of the gunshot wounds. What do, from your perspective, what does this answer? What questions? What does this definitively tell you?

WECHT: Based upon what I have read and seen thus far, it appears that the two shots that struck Michael Brown in the head had to have been fired while he was falling forward. He was 6'3", I do not know the height of Officer Wilson.

To my knowledge he's not a 6'8" guy that would have been shooting downward, in order for a bullet to be moving downward in the head of a 6'3" guy, obviously that head has to be in a crouched position. One shot reportedly entered the top of the head. I do not know where it exited.

Another shot we are told went in the right eye area, exited from the jaw and re-entered above the clavicle, collar bone on the right side. So here you have a clear downward trajectory of entrance, exit and re- entrance.

Clearly that head had to have been down in this kind of a position. The arms, it's more difficult to ascertain. I've only seen four shots depicted on the right arm, and I do not know where the exit wounds were. Supposedly three bullets were recovered in the first autopsy.

One must keep in mind that the arms can be in various kinds of positions, flexion, extension, lateral, medial movements and so on. Also in terms of any shooting, remember the person being shot is highly unlikely to be standing there as an immobile target.

That person is ducking, bending, twisting, juking, jumping, falling and what have you. So that all has to be reconstructed. Supposedly then a shot fired while the officer was in the car. That car needs to be thoroughly examined, and gunpowder residue must be looked for in the area from, which the officer is shot.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about the question of gunpowder residue because from the report so far, this forensic pathologist says there was no gunpowder residue found on Michael Brown's body. However, he notes that he did not have access to Michael Brown's clothes. How key is that?

WECHT: Well, the clothing obviously must be examined to see if there is any gunpowder residue on the clothing. But I believe the clothing was rather flimsy, typical summer attire for a young boy.

It's highly likely that if the shots had been fired at relatively close range, gunpowder would have made its way through just a little t-shirt if indeed it was some kind of a flimsy garment.

With a handgun, we'll see stippling, taking a black pen coming down on white paper and that little bit of punctate blackening, that's what we call stippling. Gunpowder residue is the actually carboneous material.

The burning fragments that come out from the muzzle of the gun and come onto the skin and they deposit, depending on how close it is, you may actually have black soot.

A handgun you will not get it beyond 24 inches, usually not beyond 18 inches. Once it goes beyond that, then you have a problem. You can't say that it was 28 or 35 or 43 or 92 inches. There's no way then to determine what the range would have been except to say that it was a distance shot, beyond the 18, 24 inches.

That is important, too, to try to reconstruct and see where the officer was, why he continued to shoot from that distance.

BOLDUAN: Also, Doctor, from your perspective then, if we have some definitive answers, as you say, what is the biggest question in your mind as a forensic pathologist that you don't see in this report that you think is important?

WECHT: Well, any forensic pathologist doesn't function in a vacuum in a case like this. You have to get reports and you have to do reconstruction. You have to go to the scene and then play it out with people as the actors.

Then the ballistics studies have to be done using a prototype of that gun to see what would be deposited in terms of gunpowder residue and stippling. Then you have to see what the different stories are from the various people and put it all together.

One thing you can be sure of, that once somebody is struck in the head twice, it's highly unlikely they are going to continue to move. So most probably you can reconstruct to this point and say that the shots that struck Michael Brown in the arm hit him first in whatever sequence.

And that's not going to be possible I think to determine what the sequence of those four shots are. Then the two head shots toppled him and they would have been fatal.

And I repeat, for shots like that to have a downward trajectory in a man the size of Michael Brown, that body had to have been lurching forward. Somebody is going to say, well, could he not have been charging like a bull? It's possible, highly unlikely.

I think he was falling to the ground having been struck and as he was falling those shots were fired giving you the downward trajectory.

BOLDUAN: Let me also ask you on the question of those gunshots, from this preliminary report, they say the gunshots, the entry wounds -- the gunshots were from the front is what it suggests.

I was looking back over the eyewitness reports that, as the witnesses have spoken onto the media so far. All three of them at one point or another in their recounting of what they saw said they believed that Michael Brown had been shot from behind.

If this autopsy report doesn't suggest that, could that still be the case? Is that still a possibility even though we don't see it here?

WECHT: Well, clearly one can determine that no shots were struck in the back, at least as far as we are told thus far. As far as the arm is concerned, I will repeat what I said before, that I'll show you, look, supine and prone and so on, do you get the idea?

When you're running, when you're running and your arms are flailing, what is the exact position of the arms when the bullets hit you? So that's a difficult reconstruction to make.

And the fact that the shots are reportedly from the front, that's based upon what the pathologist sees when the body is in front of you. We talk about the anatomic position, the body facing you, lying on the autopsy table face up, palms up.

That's when we talk right and left, front to back. That has nothing to do with the actual dynamics of how the shooting occurred in terms of the position, especially someone who is fleeing, someone who perceives themselves about to be shot or hears a shot and is moving and twisting and turning.

And I repeat again, the arms you can see move in many different directions.

BOLDUAN: That's an important -- I think a very important perspective as many people are trying to piece together what can be learned from that preliminary autopsy report. Dr. Cyril Wecht, thank you very much for your time this morning. We really appreciate it.

We're going to have much more on the violence in Ferguson, Missouri. That's going to be coming up.

But also coming up next, the U.S. is launching more air strikes against ISIS positions in Iraq, but is the offense working against the militants?


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. U.S. airstrikes are helping to loosen the grip of ISIS on a key dam in Mosul in Northern Iraq. The strikes are helping Kurdish forces on the ground retake at least part of the dam.

But is the U.S. help too late to stabilize Iraq? Want to discuss now with former U.S. ambassador to NATO, he's Nicholas Burns. He's also now with the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard. Thank you for joining us, Ambassador Burns.


SCIUTTO: So I was reading your editorial, which came out of your conversations with former secretaries of state, Rice and Albright, as well as former Defense Secretary Bob Gates.

And you all seem to agree that the combination of the crisis in Iraq and Syria and Ukraine is really the defining moment of the Obama presidency. And I just wonder, do you think that the policy response from the White House is up to that challenge? Is it meeting the challenge?

BURNS: Well, those are my words in a "Boston Globe" op-ed last week, Jim. I think this is the most important period for Obama's foreign policy, President Obama's foreign policy.

In Iraq, if the ISIS -- if the ISIS, Islamic State advance cannot be halted, there is the possibility, of course, that Iraq will be further weakened. It could disintegrate. That would have profound implications for the rest of the Middle East and of course, for United States interests.

And of course in Russia, President Putin is drawing new lines in Ukraine, he's dividing Europe. He's continuing to supply the Ukrainian rebels, the Russian separatist rebels, I should say in Ukraine, with military hardware.

So these are, I think, the two most important tests for president Obama's foreign policy in his presidency.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you because you referenced this in your editorial and you and I talked about this before, there is a perception of U.S. disengagement and lack of influence in both of these conflicts. Do you think that's fair?

BURNS: I think there is a general perception, a narrative, if you will, across the world that the United States is no longer acting with as much self-confidence and energy and leadership as it has in the past. The president does have an opportunity in these two crises to counteract that. And I think particularly in Iraq, where the fighting has gone better in recent days for the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces against the Islamic State, the United States is stepping up its actions.

The U.S. airstrikes over the weekend were pivotal according to all the news reports in pushing back the ISIS fighters and with Prime Minister Maliki's resignation, there is now an opportunity for the United States to give much more military assistance to the Iraqi government.

And to have the Sunni leaders play a bigger role in supporting that government. So I think the United States does have an opportunity to do better in Iraq and to reinforce the Iraqi state.

And in Russia, of course, the real test is whether the sanctions put forward by the United States and European Union can persuade President Putin, that the price is too high for him to continue arming and funding these separatists.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about Ukraine there and I do want to get back to Iraq. Talking about Ukraine, to this point, the administration strategy has been to gradually raise the costs on Russia, to deter them from further military action in Ukraine.

While those costs have gone up, though, there has been further military action in Ukraine. There has been escalation, not de- escalation. In fact, the Ukrainian president has called the most recent action an invasion. U.S. Not going that far.

But is U.S. policy working in Ukraine? It doesn't seem to be deterring the Russian president.

BURNS: Well, there was a major development over the weekend, Jim, and that is that the Ukrainian government retook control of the center of Luhansk. There are lots of reports that some of the Russian ethnic leaders who have been leading the insurgency in Eastern Ukraine have left and gone back to Russia over the last several days.

It does look like the momentum is with the Ukrainian government in reasserting sovereignty in Eastern Ukraine, retaking some of the key checkpoints in Donetsk and Luhansk. And that way I think the president's policy has been the right policy.

He has not introduced American military forces and I think there would be very little public support for that. But he has now pushed the Europeans to do more on sanctions.

And the president has an opportunity at the NATO summit in just two weeks' time to reinforce the NATO allies that are on the front lines of the conflict, Romania and Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It may be we're beginning to see President Obama's policy is working in Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about Iraq. You have these airstrikes over the weekend around Mosul helping apparently to retake the dam. The president said there is military action there granted from the air not the ground, it will take months, not weeks.

The Iraqi military hasn't proven up to the task. Do the American people, do our viewers have to prepare for the U.S. military to be involved in Iraq for the long haul going forward?

BURNS: Well, I think President Obama has been clear that this is not going to be a repetition of the Iraq war when we had 150,000 American troops in Iraq, when we fought a ground war.

The president said he's going to use air power to try to knock back the Islamic State fighters, assist both the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to retake the city of Mosul and they essentially retook Mosul Dam this morning.

A very important spot, 30 miles west of Mosul. Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq. And so if the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces can take it from the Islamic State, that will be a major victory.

I don't think we'll see a repetition of what the United States did from 2003 to 2008 in Iraq, but it is very important that the U.S. use its air power to try to strike at the Islamic State forces.

They're a threat, not only to Iraq, but to Syria. And they're also a threat to the United States and Europe because there are thousands of fighters there, many hundreds of whom may have western passports.

We don't want to see them infiltrated to our society, trained as terrorists. There are good reasons why the president has done what he's done, but I think are limits -- he imposes limits on the scale of the American effort.

SCIUTTO: I'm glad you mentioned that threat to the U.S. more than 100 U.S. intelligence officials say, American fighters among ISIS, the concern that they come home and carry out attacks as well.

Thanks very much, Ambassador Nick Burns joining us from Rhode Island. Always great to have you on the air.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, another night of clashes in Ferguson, Missouri. The governor sending in the National Guard. The very latest from Don Lemon, who is on the ground in Ferguson right after this.