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ISIS Set New Deadline for Prisoner Swap; Marissa Alexander, Standing Her Ground; Happy Story of Twins Born in Snowstorm; Aaron Hernandez' Case; "Voices of Auschwitz: Eva Mozes Kor"; Measles in Disneyland

Aired January 28, 2015 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, thanks for joining us. Tonight a 360 executive.

Marissa Alexander who spent three years behind bars for firing when she calls a warning shot to scare off the man who she says had just been strangling her. And now she's out of jail, speaking out for the first time.

First, though, we have breaking news tonight, what appears to be a new ultimatum just in from ISIS. Now if true, it's the latest threat to behead another hostage. The surviving number -- member of a pair of Japanese hostages. He and a Jordanian captive now facing death in a matter of hours, said the group.

This comes after what Jordan's Foreign minister today admitted what has been several weeks of negotiating through back channels for their freedom. In exchange, ISIS wants the release of a failed suicide bomber in Jordanian custody, a woman.

All this raising serious questions about talking at all with a group that does not just take and kill hostages but also publicly revels in it.

Chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins us now with new information.

So what's the latest on this ultimatum? What do we know?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Anderson. This was released on an ISIS linked Twitter account which has previously released other hostage videos and audio recordings. This one an audio recording purports to be the voice of the surviving Japanese hostage, Kenji Goto.

I've listened to it, it's in English. In it he presents an odd exchange really and an ultimatum, saying that if by sunset tomorrow, Mosul time that's about 9:30 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow. If the convicted terrorist held now in Jordan, Sajida al-Rishawi, is not at the Turkish border, then the Jordanian pilot captured when his F-16 went down last month over Syria would be killed.

Again, the Jordanians saying they're not interested in any exchange until they have proof of life of that pilot which they have not received yet -- Anderson.

COOPER: The prisoner, I mean, for Jordan, this would be a hard prisoner to give up. I mean, she is a convicted terrorist. She attempted to take part in a suicide attack. And her vest just simply didn't go off.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. I covered these bombings. I'm sure you remember them, Anderson, as well in 2005. Devastating in Amman, the capital of Jordan. Dozens killed. This was an operation ordered by the then- leader of the -- of al Qaeda in Iraq, al-Zarqawi, and she -- you know, as you say, the only reason she didn't kill anybody is because her suicide vest didn't go off.

Now the Jordanian view is twofold. One, they look at this as a prisoner exchange. She is a prisoner, the pilot is a prisoner of ISIS. Two, because her vest did not go off, they say she does not have blood on her hands. So they look at this somewhat differently.

COOPER: Though 57 people I think died in that attack.

SCIUTTO: They did. Exactly. Fifty-seven dead and devastating at that time, it was a major attack. This would be a major -- if this exchange goes off, it would be a propaganda victory for ISIS to get her released.

COOPER: Yes. No doubt about it.

Jim Sciutto, appreciate the update.

Joining us now is former Navy SEAL Daniel O'Shea who coordinated the U.S. embassy's hostage working group in Baghdad during the war. Also CNN national security analyst Fran Townsend, George W. Bush's former homeland security adviser, she currently serves on the Department of Homeland Security and CIA External Advisory Boards.

So, Dan, I mean, as Jim said, obviously this would be a huge propaganda victory whether, you know, able -- not only able to get this convicted terrorist out of Jordan, out of custody, but a huge propaganda victory to be seen that ISIS negotiating with a nation state.

DANIEL O'SHEA, FORMER NAVY SEAL: Exactly that point. They're going one step further to not only establishing the Islamic state as to the caliphate but to be recognized by an Arab nation and potentially a Western nation with Japan in the mix. So it has a very strategic second order effects beyond just this prisoner swap.

COOPER: Does it surprise you how public this seems to be? I mean, not on ISIS' part but on Jordan's part?

O'SHEA: Absolutely. I'll be frank, this very woman was part of the ransom-demand in one of the major cases, one of the big kidnapping rings that was involved in a lot of Western kidnapping including the Jill Carroll kidnapping. This very ring we've been tracking and ultimately dismantled by -- after hard effort. They had this woman, this very same woman, Sajida, was offered up as an exchange in one of the demands.

But it would never let it out. It was not publicly released. And now 10 years later, they're getting their wish. And it's also drawing a linkage and a connection between ISIS and directly back to the origin of the roots which is al Qaeda.

COOPER: And, Fran, for the U.S., obviously -- which has been critical of making deals in the past -- hard to have a leg to stand on given the prisoner exchange they did with Bowe Bergdahl.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, that's right, Anderson. I mean, look, I think the U.S. is going to make the argument that this is -- what they did was engaged with the Taliban to get one of their own back. But, of course, if you're Jordan, you're feeling the same way about the Jordanian pilot.

Look, the real problem with this is what I call the moral hazard. Once you begin to engage in these swaps, the U.S. with Taliban or Jordan with ISIS, what it does is encourage these groups to grab other citizens, not just Japanese and Jordanians in the case of ISIS. This is -- what these guys learn is they can get media attention, they can get listened to and paid attention. It's a propaganda victory.

Just the engagement in itself. And then the notion of actually a successful swap really emboldens them.

COOPER: Dan, does the change of a deadline make sense to you?

O'SHEA: Well, it's just part of the game. They're just ratcheting up the stakes here. And Miss Townsend is 100 percent right. The second order effects of the propaganda value to get this woman back who really is a heroine to the -- to this cause, the Islamist cause. And she'll be promoted as such and they're making a very hard effort to recruit more women to the cause and this is going to have that effect because she will be part of the propaganda effort in the future.

That this was successful, and it's going to be successful again in the future. So we can continue to see the slippery slope as we're losing the moral high ground to stand by, a position of no concessions, because we no longer hold that position when it comes to hostages. And so how can we ask the rest of the international community to do the same when we're not holding to the same standard?

COOPER: Fran, is there a difference with so-called prisoner exchanges? Or, I mean, is it any different than these European countries which pay to get hostages released?

TOWNSEND: Look, the engagement with them and the ceding to demand whether it's money or people is the problem and this woman in particular, as Dan is talking about, this woman is going to, if released to ISIS, is going to kill people. She -- her husband was a martyr. She was a widow. Her brother was a direct lieutenant of Zarqawi's. This woman is determined.

And you know, people may recall this 2005 bombing. You mentioned the 57 who were killed, Anderson. This was a wedding that -- her cohorts went into and detonated themselves, killing people in a hotel in Amman.

I worked these cases when I was at the White House. I mean, she is a really, really bad person. And she will kill -- she absolutely will kill.

COOPER: I remember being on the air covering this bombing in the hotel in Amman.

I mean, Fran, the U.S. said today that every country has the right and the ability to make their own decisions. Behind the scenes, though, I mean, do you think the U.S. is trying to convince Jordan not to go through with it? Because I mean, there's -- you know, Jordan is the very public face of -- you know, of part of the -- one of the few Middle Eastern countries which is actually now fighting in ISIS. It's sort of a chink in the armor if they now make a concession.

TOWNSEND: You know, Anderson, you're absolutely right. One would hope behind the scenes they are making the argument to not do this. But again, you know, you pointed out the fact that the U.S. engaged in the Bergdahl swap with the Taliban makes that a little bit difficult.

The other piece to this we have to recognize is these sort of prisoner exchanges in this region are not that unusual. Remember, Israel often will go through these large, massive negotiations and -- prisoner exchanges with Hamas, for example.

And so within this region, this is not so unusual. It's just the notion of doing it with such a brutal group. And -- and by the way, with no proof of life, we're going through this negotiation. We don't know that these hostages aren't already dead.

COOPER: That's the interesting thing, Dan. Again, that it's so public, and there hasn't been a proof of life.

O'SHEA: Again, they're -- they are violating that rule. You never make any negotiation in this process without the proof of life. I mean, I've brought this up in the past. To launch a -- to do a hostage mission, you have to have proof of life to do anything in the steps. So again, they're holding the world hostage by doing this, this release by the Japanese terrorists who may, you know, be the only one alive at this point.

But you don't know. She may be released and we may not get this Jordanian back in the first place. But it had just blown the whole behind-the-scenes negotiation of this world that was not so wide open, but we've kind of -- we've played our cards. And now we're -- we're going to just see more of this in the future. And I've been predicting this since last spring with the Bergdahl release. And it's coming to fruition, sadly.

COOPER: Dan, how would just logistically something like this work? I mean, they say bring her to the Turkish border by, you know, a time tomorrow, Mosul time. Would then the idea being that she gets handed over and then at some undetermined other time the other two hostages, if both are in fact alive, are handed over? Or would it -- would it have to be -- I mean, you would think it would be simultaneous. O'SHEA: Well, yes. If rational rule and laws applied here, but they

really don't. So that remains to be seen. There may be the Mexican standoff tomorrow morning when they let the girl go at the time, and then they're waiting for the Jordanian pilot to walk across the border like the Cold War swap between, you know, France's powers and the swap we did back in the day.

But again, there's no guarantees with these groups. But regardless, and Fran brought up these points, that it's still going to be a propaganda coup.

COOPER: Right.

O'SHEA: And another victory for ISIS.

COOPER: Dan O'Shea, I appreciate your expertise, Fran Townsend as well. Thanks.

Coming up next, my exclusive conversation with Marissa Alexander. She said she stood her ground against abusive husband. She might have spent decades in prison for it. She talks about the deal that she's made to secure her freedom. Details ahead.


COOPER: Well, tonight a 360 exclusive. The woman who has been through more than most of us could imagine, much of it at the hands of the criminal justice system.

Marissa Alexander is her name. You may remember her, she spent three years in a Florida prison for firing a gun, initially taking a shot which hit no one. A shot that she says she fired to stop her abusive husband from hurting her.

Now her case and her defense which rely on Florida's Stand Your Ground legal doctrine came to national attention during the trial of George Zimmerman. She won a new trial that was presented by the prosecutor with a terrifying choice -- take a plea deal that would forever mark her as a felon or take her chances on a trial and face the prospect of a 60-year sentence for the rest of her life.

Marissa Alexander took the plea deal. She's out of jail now under a kind of house arrest for another two years. You'll hear from her shortly. Her first interview since getting out. First how we got here.


COOPER (voice-over): This was Marissa Alexander back in 2012. She just been found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and would soon be sentenced to 20 years behind bars.

MARISSA ALEXANDER, JUST RELEASED FROM PRISON: This is my life I'm fighting for. This is my life. And it's my life, and it's not entertainment. It is my life. COOPER: Her legal trouble began in 2010. She says her abusive

husband, Rico Gray, was in a jealous rage over text messages on her cell phone. Gray had been arrested in the past for assaulting her. She'd locked herself in the bathroom.

ALEXANDER: He managed to get the door open. And that's when he -- he strangled me. He put his hands around my neck.

COOPER: Alexander got away and ran into the garage. But she says the garage door was stuck. She grabbed the gun she says she kept there. She explained what happened next to Gary Tuchman.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Were you thinking you might have to shoot him?

ALEXANDER: Yes, I did, if it came to that. He saw my weapon at my side. And when he saw it, he was even more upset. And that's when he threatened to kill me.

COOPER: That's when she fired what she called a warning shot into the wall.

ALEXANDER: I believe when he threatened to kill me, that's what he was going to do. And it -- had I not discharged my weapon at that point, I would not be here.

COOPER: Rico Gray fled the house with his two young children who were there at the time. Alexander was arrested but maintained she'd been standing her ground. During a court deposition, Gray said this about the shooting incident, quote, "If my kids weren't there, I knew I probably would have tried to take the gun from her. I probably would have put my hand on her."

When asked what he meant about putting his hand on her, he responded, "probably hit her. I got five baby mamas, and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one."

But later at a court hearing on her Stand Your Ground defense, Gray changed his story, saying he lied repeatedly to protect his wife, claiming he did not threaten to kill her and testified, quote, "I begged and pleaded for my life when she had the gun."

Alexander was offered a plea deal, three years in prison, but she refused. She went on trial and was convicted and sentenced to 20 years for three charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

ALEXANDER: You would do everything to get on the right side of the law. And it is a law, and it does not apply to you, then where do you go from there?

COOPER: A new legal team picked up Alexander's case after her conviction. And in 2013, fought and won her a new trial. But the victory were short-lived.

Florida State Attorney Angela Corey said this time around if Alexander was found guilty, they'd be seeking a sentenced of 60 years instead of the 20 she was then serving. Corey's office then offered her another plea deal if she didn't go to trial. Three years behind bars and two years under house arrest. Just yesterday, she served her last day in prison.

ANGELA COREY, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY: And that concludes the hearing.

COOPER: With time already served, Marissa Alexander was able to walk away but now begins her house arrest.


COOPER: Marissa Alexander joins us now.

Marissa, first of all, I mean, how does it feel to be out of prison finally?

ALEXANDER: Relief. Absolute relief. I'm excited, I'm happy, I'm grateful. Those are just many of the emotions that I feel. So that's how I feel to be out finally.

COOPER: You haven't given an interview since 2012. At this point, what do you want people to know about -- about what happened to you?

ALEXANDER: I think that it's just one of those things that it's unfortunate, but I can see that I'm -- I mean I'm out now. I'm looking forward to the future. So I don't really look back to what has happened. It wasn't easy, but I'm much stronger. And I am in a better place than I was. So I'm just looking forward to moving forward.

COOPER: Now I want to ask you a little bit about your case. I mean, you tried repeatedly and failed to use Stand Your Ground as a defense. At this point, do you still believe you were standing your ground? You still believe that?

ALEXANDER: Knowing that -- I mean, knowing what I know now, I don't really feel any different about it. But I guess it's just really at the end of the day it doesn't matter. You know what I mean? I think that now that I'm out, I can't go back and change what wasn't decided or has been decided. I'm grateful that I'm out now and I can just put all that to bed.

COOPER: I know you were offered a three-year plea deal before your original trial. You wanted to take your case to trial. Do you regret that decision at all? That's a tough decision to make.

ALEXANDER: Not -- it is. I mean, going to trial is not easy. I don't regret it. You know, it wasn't -- it wasn't -- it wasn't a decision that came lightly. But I believed in my innocence. So that's the reason why I took it to trial. And not only that, the three years, you know, I didn't want to take charges for the children. And didn't feel -- I just didn't want to do that. So that is the reason why the original plea I did not -- I did not accept it.

COOPER: When you heard, first of all, the sentence of 20 years, I mean, what goes through your mind in that case? You had just had a baby.

ALEXANDER: You know, you can't even digest something like that. I can't tell you that I did, and when I did it was extremely difficult. I don't -- I don't believe I ever really accepted that sentence. I believe I was going to fight. But it's just not something you can ever really digest.

COOPER: So what made you decide that second time, at the time of the retrial, to take the plea deal? Because essentially it was the same one they offered you before. Three years in prison.


COOPER: What was the -- what was just a thought process on saying, you know what, I'm going to take this plea deal this time?

ALEXANDER: Well, for me, it ultimately boiled it down to -- because I needed to guarantee my children that I would be home. And I mean, that is the primary reason why I made that decision.

COOPER: You know, obviously some of your supporters, people believe in you, believe that race, that sexism played a role in your incarceration. Do you believe that?

ALEXANDER: I could go into it, but it wouldn't do me any good right now. I can tell you that I'm primary focused right now, the energy and effort I put forward to is just really moving forward and not spending a lot of time on the negative aspect of it. It can get really draining. So I really look forward to the future about it. I just kind of don't spend any time in that area.

COOPER: As I mentioned, you gave birth to a baby girl just about a week before this whole ordeal started for you. She's now 4 and a half.


COOPER: I mean, to finally be able to be with her, what is that like?

ALEXANDER: When I left Rihanna, she was six months old. When I was able to connect with her again, she was 2 years old. That is the time when I was able to finally see her, sit her in my lap. I -- outside a glimpse of pictures of her, I didn't -- I didn't get a chance to see her. So to see -- you can imagine just unbelievable joy to be able to see her. And then when I came home on bond to be able to connect and bond with her, and I mean, we're in love.

So I'm grateful to be able to have, you know, the relationship that we have. And she knows that I'm her mom and that I'm not going anywhere. So --

COOPER: What's next for you? What do you hope to do?

ALEXANDER: Well, I mean, to be honest with you, I've been -- I've been looking forward to just being able to close this book, not even a chapter, I want the book closed. (LAUGHTER)

And I just want a whole new book.

COOPER: Marissa, it's really -- it's a pleasure to talk to you. And I'm so happy to talk to you out and -- and I wish you nothing but good things for you and your family. Thank you so much.

ALEXANDER: I thank you very much for covering my story and taking the time to speak with me.

Anderson, thank you very much.


COOPER: She's amazingly optimistic. Having heard that, I want to get some legal perspective now on the choice that confronted Marissa Alexander. The question is, what would you do at home? As well the fight over Stand Your Ground that continues in the state.

Senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin joins us.

I mean, why would Angela Corey suddenly say, OK, if we're going to go to trial you face 60 years, remain for 60 years in jail as supposed to the 20-year sentenced you already got.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Because Angela Corey is incompetent, because she's vicious, because she is a disgrace to prosecutors around the country.

COOPER: Really?

TOOBIN: I mean, this is one of the most --

COOPER: Because she's a partisan attorney.

TOOBIN: Appalling examples of prosecutorial abuse I have ever seen. The harassment, the endless pursuit of this woman is just a blot on Florida and our whole country.

COOPER: I mean, what makes it particularly, you know, and why I think it captures so many of these people's focus is during the George Zimmerman trial where obviously Stand Your Ground was an issue that was raised, it seems to be a completely different interpretation of Stand Your Ground.

TOOBIN: Well, that's right. And, you know, I don't know motive. You know I can't tell you why Angela Corey -- you know, pursued her so obsessively. And I don't really -- you know. I think it's important to know what you know. All I know is what she did. All I know is what the facts are. And the facts are is that this woman had a very legitimate defense.

This guy was a monster. He had a history of abuse of women and that she would be pursued this way is just sickening. COOPER: It's interesting because the statute, the Stand Your Ground,

was actually amended subsequently, basically to allow for warning shots and that you wouldn't necessarily be prosecuted for -- for that. But it wasn't -- it wasn't retroactive.

TOOBIN: Well, fortunately, this case has prompted a lot of outrage in Florida and around the country. And that change in the law is one -- is one effect of this. It was too late for her to -- too late to help her.

COOPER: It's got to be such a -- I mean, a gut-wrenching decision. To decide to take a plea, serve another 65 days in jail and then you get out, you have a record then, you're under house arrest for another two years. Or maintain you innocence and risk 60 years.

TOOBIN: It's a heart-breaking dilemma. But one thing tipped this case. You know, Angela Corey was not even negotiating as far as I can tell in good faith. But her lawyers, including Faith Gay of Quinn Emanuel, they worked in pro bono on this case, they got a ruling from the trial judge that they could introduce evidence of all the abuse that -- that Gray had imposed on other women. So that's the trial's setting that it was going to happen.

That got Angela Corey's office to negotiate down to essentially time served and this kind of house arrest. People should know, it's not house arrest like people remembered Junior Soprano from --

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: "The Sopranos." It's -- she can go to school. She's studying to be a paralegal. She can go to church. She can do -- you know have medical appointments. So she is not totally confined to her house, but she's not free either. So she's got these years --

COOPER: To her supporters who say, look, race played a role or sexism played a role on this, that if it was a guy who would fire just a warning shot against another guy or if it was a white person who fired a warning shot against African-American, what do you say?

TOOBIN: I don't know. But it's very suggestive of that interpretation.

COOPER: Well, as I said we wish her the best with her new life. And I find it fascinating that having gotten a glimpse of the legal system like that she wants to help others going through the legal system by becoming a paralegal as we mentioned.

TOOBIN: I think she's -- she knows a lot of law already.


COOPER: No doubt about it.

Jeff, thanks very much. Jeffrey Toobin.

Still ahead tonight, coastal New England barely began digging out and now they're facing a new storm less than 48 hours away.

Plus, this just an amazing story. Twins, born five weeks early in the thick of the blizzard, in the midst of the blizzard. One day we didn't even wait to get to the hospital with dramatic birth story ahead.


COOPER: Well, tonight New England is being told to brace for a new winter storm less than 48 hours away even as it's still digging out from record snowfall. This was the scene across much of coastal New England today. The National Weather Service says the same kind of storm system that dumped all that snow, could drop as much as eight more inches of snow on some of the worst hit areas. Take a look at a time-lapse video of a deck in Berlin, Massachusetts, being buried yesterday. First you see it, and then basically you don't. The storm derailed countless plans for a lot of people, a lot of travelers. Some things can't or won't be stopped including twins who were determined to be born. It's an amazing story. Randi Kaye has it tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Gabrielle Lee and this is Aliya Sariah. My angels.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Twins born Monday night. While that may not sound newsworthy to you, keep in mind, their mom Paticia Strickland, went into labor as parts of the northeast were getting pounded by a blizzard. Paticia lives in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the storm dumped nearly three feet of snow.

(on camera): So, how bad was the weather at that point?

PATICIA STRICKLAND, DELIVERED TWINS DURING BLIZZARD: Oh, my goodness, the snow was going everywhere -- up, you know, it was in your hair, you know, under my dress, everywhere.

KAYE (voice over): Paticia wasn't due for another five weeks, but the contractions were so strong by about 9:00 p.m. Monday night, she was having trouble breathing and she had a big problem.

STRICKLAND: Our car was under snow. So there was no driving. There was nothing. There was no cabs.

KAYE: So, her boyfriend called an ambulance. A travel ban was in effect except for emergency vehicles.

STRICKLAND: One of the paramedics' guys slipped on the ice outside my house. I didn't think -- I didn't know if we were going to -- make it to hospital on time.

KAYE: And she was right. Her water broke just minutes after she got in the ambulance.

STRICKLAND: I got another big urge to push, and I felt my son right there like breached, and I couldn't help myself but to continue pushing. My last push, he was out on the (INAUDIBLE) between my legs.

KAYE: While Paticia pushed, the paramedics jumped into action. She remembers one of them catching her son's head as he was born, and cutting the umbilical cord, all right here in the ambulance.

Baby Gabriel was perfect, born at 9:24 p.m. Monday.

Paticia just hoped to make it to the hospital before his little sister pushed her way out, too. Two minutes later she was in the OR at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

STRICKLAND: She came out, like everything was so perfect.

KAYE: Baby Alia was born 11 minutes after Gabriel, both weighing about four pounds and two ounces. Both babies were born within 40 minutes of Paticia going into labor.

STRICKLAND: Hi, angel! Hi, MY Aliyah.

KAYE (on camera): So, how does it feel to have him in your arms?

STRICKLAND: It feels so wonderful. I just want to squeeze them. Oh, my goodness.

KAYE (voice over): For now, Gabriel and Aliyah are being kept in these special incubators to help keep them warm while they grow.


KAYE: And when they grow up, they're sure to have quite a story to tell.


COOPER: Yeah, that's for sure. Randi joins us now from UMass Memorial Medical Center. Beautiful little babies there. How is everybody doing?

KAYE: Everybody's doing really well, Anderson. Paticia, the mother, went home today. The two little ones are here at this hospital behind me, they're probably going to be here another week. She's really anxious to get them home, Anderson, because she has three more children at home, including, believe it or not, a one-year-old. So, she's anxious for all of them to meet. And one other final note, they weren't the only babies that were born here at this hospital during that blizzard Monday night. We are told six other babies were born in that same time period from 4:00 p.m. to midnight, on Monday night, including, Anderson, another set of twins.

COOPER: Wow, that's incredible. Randi, thanks very much. Great report.

Just ahead tonight, former New England Patriots superstar Aaron Hernandez back on trial for murder starting tomorrow. How strong is the case against him, next?


COOPER: And a crime and punishment report tonight, barring another blizzard, former NFL player Aaron Hernandez goes on trial for murder tomorrow in Boston. Just days before his former teammates head to the Super Bowl. The New England Patriots dropped their star tight end after he was charged in the 2013 shooting death of another athlete. Two top team officials are on the state's list of potential witnesses. Now just three years ago, Hernandez seemed unstoppable. His star was rising. Tonight, it is a very different story. Susan Candiotti has the latest.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The last time the New England Patriots played in the Super Bowl in 2012, Aaron Hernandez was on the field. This time, he's sidelined. On trial for murder, pleading not guilty. If his former bosses, team owner Bob Kraft and coach Bill Belichick, take the stand, they're expected to testify about their conversations with their superstar. The timing's critical. Just days after the bullet-riddled body of semi pro-player Odin Lloyd is found, Hernandez returns to the Patriots' Gillette Stadium. The media watching.

A law enforcement source says Kraft and Belichick talked face to face with Hernandez. Kraft alleging, Hernandez flat out denies he had anything to do with Lloyd's murder. And the source says Hernandez also tells the coach the same thing -- he wasn't there. Former teammate, Patriots' wide receiver, Matt Slater trying to make sense of it.

MATTHEW SLATER, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS WIDE RECEIVER: As well as the families involved in the situation. And a lot of people were definitely affected by the situation. So, they're all in my prayers.

CANDIOTTI: At first, it seems there's a mountain of circumstantial evidence against the star-tight end who's pleaded not guilty. 18 months later, the case isn't the same.


CANDIOTTI: Shrunk thanks to a defense team scoring some victories. Arguably the biggest, a text message from Lloyd to his sister about who he was with sent minutes before he was killed. Lloyd writes, "NFL, just so you know." A judge ruling it's inadmissible, not enough proof Lloyd thought he was going to die.

MCCANN: If the jury believes that Aaron Hernandez was with Odin Lloyd right before Odin Lloyd was killed, it's not a big leap to conclude Aaron Hernandez was involved in the murder of Odin Lloyd.

CANDIOTTI: Yet, prosecutors say they have surveillance videos of the victim getting into a car with Hernandez and co-defendants Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz who have also pleaded not guilty to murder. Video of that same car driving into an industrial park, and later, Hernandez back home less than a mile away holding what prosecutors say is the alleged murder weapon. But it was never found.

MCCANN: There's no murder weapon. Or a witness that's credible would testify that Aaron Hernandez did it. There is no such witness.

CANDIOTTI: The judge also blocking any mention Hernandez is indicted for two more murders in Boston. Prosecution witness Alexander Bradley can't say he's suing Hernandez for allegedly shooting him in the face a few months before Lloyd's murder. Will the state overcome any weaknesses?

MCCANN: So, there still is a good amount of circumstantial evidence against Aaron Hernandez. It just isn't the slam-dunk case that it seemed to be.