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Prosecutor: Doctor Declared Co-Pilot 'Unfit to Work'; Germanwings Co-Pilot Hid Illness From Airline; Amanda Knox Murder Conviction Overturned. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 27, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, unfit to work. Investigators find ripped-up medical leave notes in the co-pilot's apartment, including one for the day he crashed an airliner into the Alps. What illness was he hiding, and how did he keep the airline in the dark?

Co-pilot's mind. What could have motivated a young man with a love of flying living his dream of being a pilot to set the autopilot for a collision with a mountain?

Cameras in the cockpit. Investigators are basing their findings on audio recordings, but wouldn't it make sense to have visual evidence of what was actually going on inside the cockpit? Why not install cameras?

And a proxy war. The U.S. is helping to fight pro-Iran forces in one country, but it's fighting alongside pro-Iran forces in another country. Who stands to gain?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Stunning new details tonight about the co-pilot who prosecutors say intentionally crashed an airliner in the French Alps, killing everyone on board.

Based on evidence taken from the co-pilot's home, officials now say he had an illness that he concealed from the airline and that he had been declared, quote, "unfit to work" by a doctor. Ripped-up medical leave notes were found, including one for the day of the doomed flight.

The "Wall Street Journal" cites a source as saying the co-pilot was, in fact, being treated for depression by a psychiatrist and cites another source as saying he did not have a terminal illness.

As the grim recovery work continues on the French mountainside where the plane disintegrated, German airlines are now taking steps to prevent the kind of deliberate cockpit lockout that happened aboard Flight 9525. They're now mandating that two crew members must always be inside the cockpit.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests are all standing by with the late-breaking developments. But let's begin with our senior international correspondent, Nic

Robertson. He is joining us now from right near the crash scene -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're learning tonight that investigators here are bringing in biometric equipment, special biometric equipment, to measure and read the fingerprints of the victims that they are bringing off the mountain here.

The big news of the day coming in Germany as police raided an apartment lived in by Andreas Lubitz, finding in there medical records torn up, discarded by him.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Important new evidence seized from the apartment of Flight 9525 co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, including a doctor's medical leave note for the day of the crash.

CHRISTOPH KUMPA, DUSSELDORF PUBLIC PROSECUTOR: We have found a letter that indicated that he was declared by a medical doctor unfit to work.

ROBERTSON: The prosecutor's office says the doctor's notes were discovered torn up in the trash.

KUMPA: So we have reason to believe that he hid his illness from -- from the company he was working for.

ROBERTSON: Tonight, Germanwings Airline says it did not receive any sick note for Lubitz on the day of the crash. Investigators aren't saying if he was diagnosed with psychological or physical problems, but he appears to have received some kind of treatment by a doctor for a period of time.

Officials at University Medical Center in Dusseldorf say Lubitz was a patient as recently as March 10. They won't say why, because of patient confidentiality, but they're denying reports he was treated for depression.

Police are digging for more clues at Lubitz's apartment and his parents' home. They haven't found a suicide note or any evidence he had political or religious motive to kill himself and the 149 other people on board.

As more victims' relatives gather near the remote mountain crash site to confront the horror of what happened, Germanwings' parent company, Lufthansa, announced it's changing its rules to now require two crew members in the cockpit at all times.

Prosecutors say Lubitz locked the captain out of the cockpit before he intentionally brought down the plane.

The captain of the crash recovery operation tells CNN that searchers have found bodies, but very few of them are intact. Bad weather and dangerous terrain are slowing efforts to locate victims' remains, as well as the plane's second black box and the additional clues it may hold.


ROBERTSON: We're learning here -- we're learning here that there will be only two of what have been until now five helicopters flying each day, two only flying Saturday, but some progress in identifying the 150 people aboard that flight so far. We are told investigators have now identified 16 different people through DNA analysis -- Wolf.

[17:05:23] ROBERTSON: Sad, sad story indeed.

All right, Nic, thank you.

Let's get a closer look at the backgrounds of the co-pilot, background of the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz. CNN's Will Ripley is joining us now live. He's just outside the apartment in Dusseldorf, Germany, where he was living. What do we know about this co-pilot, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know from neighbors and from people who encountered him in this quiet neighborhood about 20 minutes from the town center that he, by all accounts, at least on the outside, appeared to lead a normal life.

His apartment continues to be an epicenter of police activity. Just tonight we saw prosecutors and investigators bringing out more evidence after they brought out evidence earlier in the day, including those medical records that Nic was talking about in his report.

But tonight, within the last hour, we also got a brand-new piece of information from a pizza shop owner in this neighborhood, who says that Lubitz and a woman that he believes was his girlfriend were very frequent customers who were affection -- affectionate, who were coming in all the time, but then two months ago, it suddenly stopped.

Here's how he described their behavior.


RIPLEY: You saw Andreas Lubitz and who you believe was his girlfriend. You say they came in here a lot. What were they like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He was very nice, polite, friendly. Came in once or twice a week. He often came with his girlfriend, arm in arm. When I heard the news I thought no, this couldn't be him.


RIPLEY: But again, Wolf, two months ago, after they were coming in regularly getting pizza together arm in arm, it all suddenly stopped. Now keep in mind, the clinic, the medical clinic here in Dusseldorf, says that it was around two months ago in February that this 27-year- old went in to seek treatment and then returned on March 10 for a diagnosis for some type of an illness.

Now, the clinic denies that it was depression that this young man was being treated for, but the timing, stopped making appearances with his girlfriend, then started receiving treatment and then, of course, this horrible tragedy, all of these are pieces that the investigators are putting together right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very, very sensitive mission they are taking -- undertaking right now. Thanks very much, Will Ripley, for that report. We'll get back to you.

The "Wall Street Journal" has been reporting beyond what the authorities in Germany are saying publicly. The "Wall Street Journal" reporter William Boston is joining us on the phone right now from Berlin.

William, you're learning some new information about the pilot, Andreas Lubitz. Tell us what you're hearing.

WILLIAM BOSTON, REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL" (via phone): Hi, Wolf. Thanks for having me on the program.

What I've been hearing from sources I spoke to today is that the documents that the police and investigators found in Mr. Lubitz's apartment draw a picture that show that he's been in medical treatment for some time, that he's been treated for psychological problems and that he has not informed his employer, Germanwings or Lufthansa, about this situation.

BLITZER: What kind of psychological problems are you learning?

BOSTON: Well, this is where it gets a little murky, because it's not legal for most of these people to be disclosing this kind of confidential information about his medical treatments. You know, people have spoken about depression and psychological issues but have not been very specific about exactly what he was being treated for.

BLITZER: That hospital in Dusseldorf, that clinic, he was treated there recently, they are specifically saying that he wasn't being treated for depression. But you're hearing from others that he was being treated for depression. Is that right?

BOSTON: Well, there are two issues there. One is that sources tell me that he was seeing another doctor, not just at this hospital, another doctor somewhere in Rhineland. They won't be more specific than that.

And -- and people close to the investigation are skeptical about the statement from the hospital. They believe the hospital is trying to deflect attention away from itself, rather than really be up front with what Mr. Lubitz was there for.

BLITZER: I know given the sensitivities of your reporting and the laws in Germany, you can't tell us who your sources are, but are they suggesting that he was also on certain medication?

BOSTON: I was told that he was taking medication, but it was not sort of mind- or mood-altering medication that would have impeded him from operating an airplane. So this is -- the reason this is important is the investigators do not

believe that the decisions that he made inside the cockpit are the result of medication but rather, this was -- these were decisions that he made consciously.

BLITZER: The other reporting we've heard, you just heard from Will Ripley, our reporter who was there in Dusseldorf, that there's the possibility that maybe he and this girlfriend had broken up. That could have caused some depression. Are you hearing anything along those lines?

BOSTON: I -- this is one of the big question marks. You know, what we've been trying to do is to establish his state of mind, and there are lots of factors that could play -- play into that. And the girlfriend and his personal relationships, that that is one of those; and I have not gotten into that as much as into the medical issues so far. And give me time.

BLITZER: I read your report in the "Wall -- I read your report in "the Wall Street Journal." William, you wrote that his medical certification was renewed back in July of last year. What goes into a certification like that?

BOSTON: Well, what's interesting is what doesn't go into it, because it doesn't seem that there's a psychological test involved. They are tested for stress and a physical test to make sure that, you know, they can perform their jobs, but it doesn't appear that they go through a very rigorous psychological examination. And that may be one of the real weak points in that -- in that process.

BLITZER: But you are reporting that he has been -- he was being treated by a psychiatrist, right?

BOSTON: Yes. It appears that it's a neuropsychologist.

BLITZER: Neuropsychologist, not a psychiatrist. In other words, not an M.D., a Ph.D.

BOSTON: Not in the Freudian sense of, you know, down on the couch talking about his childhood but more -- it looks like there were some medical issues that were, you know, perhaps a biomedical issue involved. Like I said, it's a little difficult to get into too much detail, because sources are not -- are not providing as much detail as we'd like to know. You know, there's...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

BOSTON: I just wanted to say that there's enough information that is being shared with us to determine that he has -- that he was suffering from depression. He was in treatment, and he did not tell his employer about it.

BLITZER: All right. William Boston of the "Wall Street Journal," thanks very much for joining us.

And that's the reporting from the "Wall Street Journal." We have not here at CNN confirmed that he was, in fact, being treated for depression, but we are working our sources, as well.

Let's get some analysis of what we just did hear. Joining us, our aviation analyst, former National Transportation Safety Board managing director Peter Goelz; our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes -- he's a former FBI assistant director; Alastair Rosenschein, an aviation consultant, former airline pilot joining us from London; and the clinical psychologist, Ruth Wintersgreen, who's here with us in Washington.

I'll start with you, Ruth. What's your analysis of what we just heard from William Boston of the "Wall Street Journal"?

RUTH WINTERSGREEN, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: If I can take a moment, I'd like to say to colleagues I worked with previously in Germany -- (SPEAKING GERMAN). Great sympathy for their losses.

And speaking as a psychologist, the situation seems to become more clear in some ways but less clear in others. We're hearing about a neuropsychologist so there -- there are a multitude of possibilities. One of the things that came to my mind was perhaps he was diagnosed with something along the lines of multiple sclerosis or something not terminal but debilitating, like epilepsy.

BLITZER: What did you say?

WINTERSGREEN: Multiple sclerosis or epilepsy or had TBI, traumatic brain injury, something that would impair his work and make him lose the ability to do this career that he obviously had really worked hard.

BLITZER: Because if he was just suffering from depression, that would not necessarily cause someone to go ahead and not only kill himself but kill 149 other people.

WINTERSGREEN: Well, I think -- I think the important thing to say is very, very few people, even significantly depressed, would do something along these lines. And as a clinical psychologist, my strongest impression is that there is something organic or something really wrong with the brain when this level happens, particularly with an adult.

Sometimes teenagers, as we see in school shootings and so forth, have the disinhibition but something along these lines. My impulse is to point to something that's physically changed in the brain in some severe way, and then the anger is disinhibited.

BLITZER: I know you are a psychologist, and you served in the United States Air Force. And you've worked extensively with pilots over the years who were under obviously, under normal circumstances, a lot of stress to begin with.

[17:15:24] Please stand by. Everyone stand by. We're take a quick break. We have a lot more to dissect. New information coming in on what's going on. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Our breaking news, prosecutors now say the co-pilot of Flight 9525 was declared unfit to work by a doctor and concealed that information from his airline, ripping up medical leave notes.

[17:20:07] Reuters is now quoting a report from Germany's "Bild" newspaper that internal documents forwarded by Lufthansa's medical center reported that the co-pilot had suffered what's described as a serious depressive episode back in 2009.

We're back with our experts. Peter, this report saying back in 2009, he took time off from his pilot training, and Reuters quoting "Bild" newspaper, saying he was in psychiatric treatment for over a year. I assume Lufthansa executives would know about that, don't you think?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You would think they would. And there are a number of things that would disqualify somebody from continuing their training. Certainly, substance abuse and some sort of ongoing depression might very well disqualify them from becoming a pilot. A commercial pilot.

BLITZER: What do you think about that, Tom?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I agree. If he was not able to continue training, that tells you right there he can't do everything he's supposed to be doing, much less get back in the cockpit, fly a plane later.

BLITZER: Alastair, you're a pilot. You're retired now, but you spent many years as a commercial airline pilot. Are these pilots, they're under enormous stress, as we all know, to begin with, but if they are suffering from some sort of psychological problems, very often they're afraid to even be treated for it, because they think potentially that could be a career ender. Is that right?

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION CONSULTANT: Well, yes. You're quite right. I wouldn't say they're under tremendous stresses. The stresses occur when they're going on a trip and they may have had a bust-up with their wife or their girlfriend, or if it's a female pilot, with her husband or boyfriend. And, you know, those can increase your stress levels dramatically. And being away could upset one.

But this was a short-haul pilot. He may have had psychiatric problems.

What we do know is that suicide rates amongst pilots are not totally dissimilar from the rest of the population. The question here is what sort of mindset causes someone, in this case possibly this pilot, to commit suicide and take a lot of people with them? That is something which is quite unusual and, fortunately, extremely rare. But this is a question better addressed by psychiatrists.

From a pilot's point of view, if you notice your colleagues are not acting normally, maybe they're going through a divorce and they get a bit tearful on a night stop somewhere or even during the flight, as I've seen on two occasions, then you report it. But, you know, one's colleagues are a little bit reticent to reporting their friends, their fellow pilots, because it does mean they're grounded, and they suffer a pay penalty.

BLITZER: They may suffer losing their job, potentially, as well.

Alastair, I want you to stand by. Everyone stand by. In a moment we're going live to Germany, where investigators there are removing boxes of new evidence from the co-pilot's home.

Plus, the crash investigation sparking new calls for cameras inside the cockpits of every airliner. Stay with us.


[17:27:32] BLITZER: Our breaking news as investigator remove more evidence from the home of the Flight 9525 co-pilot. Prosecutors now say they've already found evidence that he had been declared unfit to work by a doctor and had concealed the illness from the airline. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has been digging into all of

this. She's outside the co-pilot's home in Dusseldorf, Germany, right now. What's the latest you're hearing, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight at least six investigators visited Andreas Lubitz's apartment. They were in there for about an hour and a half. And they brought out a big box full of documents, more evidence.

We know that so far, authorities say a suicide note hasn't been found or anything indicating he did anything for religious or political reasons, but they did say they found a crucial clue inside his apartment.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, German investigators again searched the co-pilot's apartment, bringing out more boxes of evidence. They left without saying a word to reporters.

We know inside 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz's apartment, investigators discovered Thursday torn-up medical leave notes in his trash can, including one for the exact day authorities say Lubitz deliberately crashed Flight 9525 into the French Alps.

KUMPA: We have found a letter that indicated that he was declared by a medical doctor unfit to work.

BROWN: Tonight, Germanwings says it never received a sick note from Lubitz for the day of the flight. The German prosecutor's office says it appears Lubitz was trying to keep his condition a secret.

KUMPA: We have reason to believe that he hid his illness from -- from the company he was working for.

BROWN: German authorities would not say if the illness was physical or a mental health issue. A university clinic in Dusseldorf says Lubitz visited as recently as

March 10 in regards to the explanation of a diagnosis, but denied media reports he was being treated for depression there.

Those who knew Lubitz, seen here running a marathon in 2013, tell CNN he didn't let on anything was wrong.

JOHANNES ROSSBACH, ACQUAINTANCE OF LUBITZ: He was for me a very healthy guy. Sports. He doesn't smoke. I can't imagine that was making (ph) him ill and depressed. It doesn't sit right. So I was compliment (ph) him there.

BROWN: Lubitz's medical history and what Germanwings and

[17:30:00] parent company Lufthansa knew about it now will play an important role in the investigation.

THORSTEN ONNO BENDER, GERMAN FLIGHT DOCTOR (Through Translator): Every pilot learns during his training and I always say as an aviation doctor, if there is anything wrong with you, please contact me, please do not hide physical or psychological illnesses.


BALDWIN: It is still unclear why exactly Lubitz took time off for training back in 2008 at a facility in Arizona. The Lufthansa CEO wouldn't comment on that. He had only said that he went back, finished his training and was 100 percent ready to -- fit to fly.

Wolf, still, a lot of questions here.

BLITZER: Certainly are. And we are presumably going to be getting more answers fairly soon.

Pamela, thanks very much.

Joining us right now, once again, our aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz, our aviation analyst Miles O'Brien and Alistair Rosenschein, he's an aviation consultant, former airline pilot. Also joining us the aviation journalist Clive Irving, he's a contributor to the "Daily Beast."

Peter, how common or uncommon is it for a pilot to be deemed unfit to fly or to work?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, you mean if it's -- are you asking where he declares himself unfit or --

BLITZER: No, that a doctor declares him unfit to work.

GOELZ: It is not all that common. And the question is if a doctor did that, did he -- was he under obligation to tell anyone else or was this simply a diagnosis or a decision given to the patient and the patient was under the obligation to bring it to his employer.

BLITZER: Let me ask Alistair, he's a pilot. Are the pilots themselves required, Alistair, to report that the doctor says you're unfit to work? Are they required to say if they are taking any medication specifically, and should the doctors be required to alert the employers, the airline companies, you know what, you have a pilot who's got some serious issues?

ALISTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION CONSULTANT: Well, of course they have to report it. And I have in fact been in that position myself. And you immediately report anything that might affect your flying, taking any medication and also any mental health issues, physical issues. That is essential.

It's also very important that general practitioners, GPs, your own doctor, should report any problems that you have directly to the Aeromedical Department of their aviation authority, be it the Federal Aviation Authority, the Joint Aviation Authority or Civil Aviation Authority, whichever one is in force in the country you work in.

Obviously this hasn't happened in this case. And questions will be asked about that. But you know, pilots need to be calm and collected and they have to have their heads, you know, straight. They have to concentrate on their work. If there's anything impeding that then they have to report it. I mean that's the responsible thing to do.

BLITZER: How do you encourage, Miles, these pilots to self-report, especially if they are suffering from some sort of mental as opposed to physical ailment?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think the thing that's important here, Wolf, is that you have an honor system where self- reporting is encouraged, is mandated, but it's a two-way street. The airlines themselves have to be willing to protect this asset of theirs, their pilots. And what we have seen since deregulation is constant stress on the pilots. The airlines demanding of them, taking things back from them, making their work situation more and more difficult. This airline, Germanwings, in 2014, had all kinds of labor strife based around a series of givebacks that management insisted upon.

As long as you treat your pilots this way, in this adversarial climate, they're going to be reluctant to do the right thing.

BLITZER: Clive, I want you to weigh in on these sensitive issues. And I say this because you've written some really powerful, strong articles in the "Daily Beast" and one we'll get into in a little while about robot pilots, if you will. But go ahead and weigh in.

CLIVE IRVING, COMMENTATOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I think it's very -- it's a very uneven and patchwork system across Europe and across the United States and in other markets. And I think that if you rely on self-reporting or peer reporting, that's not going to be very effective and I think that what this incident has shown is how hard it is. Because anyone who seems to have known this chap never picked up anything and we see that it's much harder to detect a bomb in the brain than it is to detect a bomb in a suitcase or a pair of underpants. And this was really -- it's fair to call it a bomb because it's a long

way from the kind of depression that they are talking about, a clinical depression. It's a long way from a clinical depression to taking an action as drastic as this one, not just to kill yourself but to kill 149 people and destroy the plane.

Now we do know that this man was a flying enthusiast very early on. He qualified in his teens and just one wonders, I'm not a psychiatrist but one wonders about some kind of dark trauma inside him which was -- he realized, he got to the point that he realized perhaps he was not able to fly and possibly would never fly again and lose the career he dreamed of and then something cracked at that point.

[17:35:22] BLITZER: That's a lot of suspicion out there along those lines.

Clive, everyone else, stand by. We have much more information coming in, including how cameras in the airliner cockpits could make it easier to solve the mystery of this crash and others.

Also breaking now, new airstrikes in Iraq and Yemen. New questions on whose side the United States is on, whether it's actually helping Iran.


[17:40:22] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, crews at the scene of the Germanwings airliner crash are set to be making good progress despite dangerous terrain and windy conditions as they search for the lost parts of the plane's flight data recorder. Other investigators are sifting through the co-pilot's home for clues about the illness that led a doctor to declare him unfit to work.

The crash is renewing calls for one technical fix that could solve many of the mysteries from this crash and other crashes.

Let's go straight to Brian Todd. He is working this part of the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, safety experts are calling for cameras to be installed in cockpits. A mechanical eye inside the cockpit they say could deter pilots from reckless behavior, capture any potential threats and help investigators after a crash.

A key question tonight, could a camera have made any difference in the Germanwings crash?


TODD (voice-over): Andreas Lubitz had locked himself alone in the cockpit as the captain pounded on the door. Tonight, safety experts are calling for a bold move to avoid another disaster. Cameras in the cockpit.

JIM HALL, FORMER NTSB CHAIRMAN: The cameras would not be on the face of either of the pilot or the co-pilot. They would focus on the instruments and on the manipulations that are made.

TODD: Former NTSB chairman Jim Hall says cameras in the cockpit would be a deterrent to bad behavior and careless piloting and would be a key investigative tool.

What could cameras trained on the control panel detect?

LYNN SPENCER, FORMER COMMERCIAL AIRLINE PILOT: You could see the instruments, you can see what they are seeing on their instrument panels, on their screens. You can see what they are doing with their hands.

TODD: Cameras on the instruments wouldn't necessarily give investigators much help in the Germanwings crash probe. They already know how that plane went down technically. But former commercial pilot Lynn Spencer says cameras trained on pilots' faces could catch certain moments that cockpit voice and flight data recorders might miss.

SPENCER: Was the pilot choking? Is the pilot having a seizure?

TODD: The technology is already on the market. But one manufacturer told us no airlines have bought their cameras.

Cameras are already used to monitor key missions like today's launch to the International Space Station. They are used to watch some train operators, taxi drivers, and bus drivers, including this one, caught looking at his phone, then crashing.

Cockpit video could even be live streamed back to controllers on the ground in real time, although the expense of installing and streaming thousands of live cameras could be prohibitive.

Spencer says cockpit cameras could have provided key evidence in some of the most infamous disasters in aviation, including 9/11.

SPENCER: If we had had cameras in the cockpits on 9/11 we would have been able to see how the hijackers took over the cockpit. How they killed the pilots. How they tried to manipulate the controls.

TODD: The top pilots union in America is staunchly against the idea. In a statement to CNN, it says cockpit video, quote, "is subject to misinterpretation and may in fact lead investigators away from accurate conclusions."


TODD: The pilots union officials are also worried about a video leaking. They say voice data recorder clips have become public in past cases, especially overseas, and no pilot wants their final moments to be posted all over the Internet. As one pilot famously said, I don't want my spouse, children and grandchildren and a million strangers to be able to watch me die -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, stand by. We're getting some breaking news on a decision involving the Amanda Knox trial in Rome. Stand by. We'll take a quick break, we'll have that for you right after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We've got breaking news. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

[17:45:04] Judges at Italy's Supreme Court, they have just announced their verdict as far as a potential retrial of Amanda -- American Amanda Knox in the murder of her one-time roommate, Meredith Kercher.

Our CNN contributor Barbie Nadeau is joining us on the phone right now from Rome.

What's the verdict, Barbie?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (via phone): Well, the High Court (INAUDIBLE) (INAUDIBLE) decided to overturn the murder convictions and we had assumed that would come with an automatic retrial in the appellate level again but we understand from the court, what they read today, is they are throwing it out entirely. There will not be a retrial. Amanda Knox and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are free. The case is close, it's over and justice as far as the Italian court system has ruled is done at this point. The case is over.

BLITZER: A complete victory for Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. Is this a big surprise over there, Barbie?

NADEAU: It is a big surprise, because -- especially because we had understood from all of the precedents of the Court of Cassation that if they overturned this conviction there would be another appellate trial. That's how this generally works. It is not the normal procedure for the Court of Cassation for the Supreme Court in Italy to just simply annul a verdict and not send it back to the appellate level.

So that is a surprise. But I think that they just found too much reasonable doubt in terms of all of these verdicts, the acquittal, the conviction, the throwing out of the acquittal, throwing out of the conviction, all of these back and forths for the last eight years, there has been too much reasonable doubt.

We will know in about 45 days when the court issues their reasoning exactly why they chose to acquit Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, but it took them hours and hours more than we anticipated to deliberate this decision and it certainly comes down to the fact that this case has just gone, you know, through so many different levels and so many different outcomes and (INAUDIBLE) obviously playing a big role here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Amanda Knox completely vindicated, completely free at this point, no longer has to worry about possible extradition to Italy. The court there deciding she is clearly not guilty. What was the mood like in the courtroom, Barbie? NADEAU: Well, there's a lot of tension. Of course, nobody was here.

You know, Raffaele Sollecito, who was here this morning, had decided to go back to his home Puli (ph). He wasn't there so we didn't have any of the key players there. It was just lawyers and journalists. But you know we expected a verdict about five hours ago, that's what we had been told. And that every hour that lingered, that judges of five -- judges that were deliberating this case stayed in the chambers, certainly meant the case was -- it's complicated.

It underscores how complicated this case was. And there are obviously a lot of back and forth. Again, though, their motivation is really a clear picture of what they found wrong in this case. But Amanda Knox obviously can breathe a sigh of relief. This case over for her now, she is a free woman, she can travel anywhere. She is free to go.

Raffaele Sollecito no doubt breathing a sigh of relief. He would have been the one to go to jail first had they upheld the conviction.

BLITZER: She spent time in prison over there. She potentially could go back to Italy now if she wants to.

Stand by, Barbie. I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Just to remind our viewers, Jeffrey, what was going on, back in December 2009, she was found guilty of murder, sexual assault, slander, sentenced to 26 years in prison. Two years later, 2011, the court threw out the convictions of her and her former boyfriend, declaring them innocent of murder, freeing them immediately after spending nearly four years in prison.

Then in 2013, Italy's highest court vacated that acquittal and said she has to stand trial once again. January 2014, the court reaffirmed the initial 2009 murder, sexual assault convictions. Now the Supreme Court of Italy says they are overturning that conviction. She and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, they are free.

It's a sort of complicated system they've got over there. Double jeopardy, triple jeopardy. It's a very different system in Italy than they have here in the United States.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's not only a different system of how many levels, but it's different in that at each step, there is a kind of trial. Here, we have one trial and then there are appeals based on the paper record. But in those trials, they had new evidence at each stage of the process, but the result now really is the final result.

Amanda Knox is no longer under any threat of imprisonment or extradition or anything like that. And perhaps more importantly, Raffaele Sollecito, he might have been in jail tonight if the verdict did come out the other way. He, who is of course still in Italy, is also free to go.

BLITZER: If the Supreme Court in Italy had gone the other way and upheld the conviction, was the United States, which has extradition treaty agreements with Italy, was the United States bound to force her to go back to Italy, assuming she had been convicted of murder? [17:50:07] TOOBIN: You know, that is a legal question that would have

turned this eight-year legal saga into probably a 10-year legal saga if not longer. Yes, it's true we do have a non-extradition treaty. Yes, it's true that it covers homicide. But there are also provisions that say if someone has been subjected to double jeopardy, they do not have to extradited and her lawyers would have argued to the State Department which handles extradition that this would have amounted to double jeopardy because of all these trials.

Also if the State Department had ruled against her, there would have been the possibility that she could have gone to court for what's called a writ of habeas corpus and that could have -- legal fight could have gone on so yes, it was a possibility for extradition but it would have meant probably years more of legal fighting.


TOOBIN: Now it's just over.

BLITZER: Certainly was. The double jeopardy issue is a major as far as the U.S. She had been acquitted and then on appeal she would have been convicted. In the U.S. once you are acquitted, you are acquitted. You don't suffer from double jeopardy. In Italy, they have a different legal system.

Barbie, what was the mood there in Italy among the Italian public? Did they think she was guilty or innocent?

NADEAU: Well, you know, I think it's -- it goes back and forth. It's really quite divided here because of the Raffaele Sollecito factor obviously. You know, they've got an Italian here. They're sort of cheering for the home boy, let's say. They are not as concerned with Amanda Knox than they are with Raffaele Sollecito, all the way through.

I think one of the big concerns, though, was always going to be if they had upheld this conviction whether or not Amanda Knox is going to come back -- Raffaelle Sollecito, then be the one person that's -- actually, let's take up with step back. There's another person in jail for this crime, Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast native who was convicted of the crime in 2008 right away in a fast track trial. He is serving a 16-year sentence reduced on appeal. He is in jail. He is nearing the halfway point of his jail term.

But it would have been if Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito would have also been convicted and found definitively culpable of the murder, then only Raffaelle Sollecito and Rudy Guede were in prison. I think it would have been a huge injustice here in Italy that the Americans would be the one that would be left free.

We should note, though, that she still does have one charge against her. She's found guilty of slandering Patrick Lumumba who was a man she falsely accused under an interrogation of the murder. That conviction still holds. She served her time for that. She served four years in prison. Those four years are what the court last year decided she should serve. She owns Patrick Lumumba some 45,000 euro in damages for that.

So that is one -- you know, the detail I suppose she's got to work out yet. So that conviction still holds. But obviously, there's no time to serve for that. There's damages to pay. And it will be interesting to see how that aspect of the trial played out as well of the story. Plays out as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you have been covering this from the very beginning, Barbie. And let's just remind our viewers that Amanda Knox who is now 27 years old, she's from Seattle. Back in 2009, she was convicted of killing Meredith Kercher who was then her roommate. They shared an apartment in the Italian university town of Perugia. Meredith Kercher's family, correct me if I'm wrong, do they still believe that she is guilty, that she was involved in the murder of their daughter?

NADEAU: Yes, absolutely, they do. They believed in the first conviction. And in fact, their lawyer who was present in the court today sees this as a big, you know, a disappointed. Sees this as a failure. They don't believe that Rudy Guede acted alone in the murder of their daughter and sister. They have said last week that they hoped that if the high court upholds this conviction that they would bring Amanda Knox back to Italy to serve her time.

It's a very troubling time for them. Obviously, though, now that the case is over, perhaps they, too, can find some closure, sort of move forward. The case is over. They have had to live through the eight years of court cases and battles in which Amanda Knox really overshadowed their daughter as a perceived victim of this saga.

So they -- you know, their pain in no way obviously over. But at least this case is over. They wouldn't have to watch another court case. Whether they are happy or not with the verdict, I'm sure for them at least maybe they can start the long process it must be for them to actually be able to move on from this horrific thing.

BLITZER: Yes. Just to recap, the Supreme Court of Italy has overturned the earlier decision to convict Meredith -- to convict Amanda Knox in the murder of Meredith Kercher. Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, they are now free. They are -- this case, as far as they are concerned, is now over.

We'll have more on this story coming up later. But there's other breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

[17:55:04] We are getting some new clues right now in the flight -- in the flight 9525 crash investigation as more evidence is removed from the home of the co-pilot. What illness was he hiding from the airline? Why did a doctor declare him unfit to work?

More of the breaking news when we come back.


BLITZER: Happening now, co-pilot's secret. We have new details on the medical condition Andreas Lubitz kept hidden from his bosses, covering the day he crashed Flight 9525 into the French Alps. Why wasn't he grounded?

Search setbacks. Tonight new dangers at the crash site. Why it could take weeks to recover victims and find the missing black box. We're live at the scene.