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Former NFL Star Commits Suicide in Prison; Ossoff Barely Misses a Win in Georgia House Race; Ernst: Trump "Has A Number Of Flaws"; Sanders: I Consider Myself An Independent. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- up to the back of the door of his cell so that someone conceivably couldn't get in. Now, at this point, we do not know if there was a suicide note. Authorities are not releasing that.

Massachusetts State Police are on the scene with the investigation. They tried to revive him at 3:05 while emergency personnel were on their way to the prison. They transported him to the local hospital, pronounced dead at 4:05 this morning, 4:09 this morning actually.

And we do have a statement from the Bristol District Attorney's Office, Tom Quinn. Of course, this was the office that prosecuted Aaron Hernandez in the murder of Odin Lloyd, and he is serving a life term. The quote is, "This is a shocking and sad end to a very tragic series of events that has negatively impacted a number of families."

And, John and Poppy, you know, Friday was a very good day for Aaron Hernandez. He was acquitted in a double murder, and he was emotional in court. He was ecstatic. He was appreciative, and that's quite a feat to be acquitted of a double murder. But the result was he's still in his prison cell in Massachusetts serving a life term in the murder of Odin Lloyd.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Have we heard anything, Jean, from the victim's family, the mother specifically of Odin Lloyd?

CASAREZ: Well, there are a lot of victim's families, right, because there's Odin Lloyd, there's the two victims of the shooting in 2012 from the nightclub.


CASAREZ: And at this point, they have not spoken out. But I'm sure everyone is just trying to assimilate the news right now of what exactly happened. And, you know, Aaron Hernandez, I mean, he was a football star. You know this better than I do, the Patriots.

And he was born in a very simple family. Father a custodian, mother a school secretary in Connecticut. He went to Florida, the University of Florida, became a star football player, won a national award at the University of Florida for a tight end -- first time the university had ever won that award -- dropped out of college, drafted by the Patriots in 2010, went on then in 2012 to get another contract for $40 million in total. HARLOW: Yes.

CASAREZ: And a year after that, murdered Odin Lloyd.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Always connected to trouble, though, back in Connecticut.



BERMAN: Never fully escaped a crowd that he ran with there and ultimately, again, convicted of killing Odin Lloyd.

HARLOW: Convicted murderer.

BERMAN: All right. Jean Casarez, thanks so much. Joining us now is Ben Volin, NFL reporter for "The Boston Globe" and Patrick Johnson, former warden of the Chautauqua County Jail. He's now a professor of criminal justice.

Warden, you know, let me start with you. I have to believe that Aaron Hernandez was the highest profile inmate at this correctional facility in Shirley. He was just acquitted of a trial last week. I have to believe they had their eye on him.

So how does this happen? How do you find an inmate like this dead one morning?

PATRICK JOHNSON, FORMER WARDEN, CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY JAIL: Well, correction officers are required to do supervisory visits to the housing units, and normally that's anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

And I haven't seen the policies and procedures of their prison, but I would assume that, you know, being night shift when most inmates are asleep in bed, they would have to check on the prisoners every 30 minutes. And that gives Mr. Hernandez an awful lot of time to prepare for what he was going to do that evening, you know, tying the sheet around his neck, actually, you know, putting items in front of the door to help prevent the officers from getting into the cell.

And, so, you know, this happens in correctional facilities. The inmates watch the guards, every move, as they're doing their checks, and you know, they time things up when they know the officer is not going to be around.

HARLOW: What is your reaction, Warden, to all of this, especially the odd timing, the fact that this suicide would come just after he had won an acquittal in a double murder case? And, you know, just, I mean, the bizarre timing that the Patriots are headed to the White House today.

JOHNSON: Well, I think it all adds up. You know, he went through an emotional occurrence last Friday when he was acquitted, and I think a lot of his energy and focus was on the trial. And then, you know, seeing his daughter in the court, and that was pretty emotional for him and her and he had tears in his eyes. He was happy that he was acquitted.

But in reality, he went back to prison where he was never going to come out of the prison. He was life sentenced without parole. And I think that, coupled with the fact that his former team is celebrating another Super Bowl victory, they're going to the White House, he came crashing down.

And, you know, I've seen this before where the inmates are kind of on a high because something good has happened. But the reality of also going back to prison and being there for life or for a very long period of time takes an emotional toll, and they feel kind of hopeless and helpless and they end their lives.

[09:05:00] BERMAN: And this was for life without the possibility of parole.

Ben Volin, you know, how have the Patriots handled this really over the years and right up until this morning? I mean, Bill Belichick was asked about the acquittal from last week, and he called the whole Aaron Hernandez episode which, at this point now, dates back years, a tragedy.

BEN VOLIN, NATIONAL NFL REPORTER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Yes, certainly. The Patriots have really kind of washed their hands clean of Aaron Hernandez ever since we saw him getting hauled away in handcuffs in June 2013.

And at that point, when the Patriots released him literally minutes after that image, they didn't know that he would be charged with murder. They thought it would be accessory or he was just a part of it. They didn't realize that, in the murder of Odin Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez was kind of the ringleader of that whole episode.

They had a program where you could trade in your Hernandez jersey and get another jersey from the Patriots pro shop. They pretty much erased any history, any existence of him ever being here. He was with the team for three years, had a really nice start to his career, scored 19 touchdowns in three seasons. He was a great young player, signed this $40 million contract, had the whole world ahead of him. Belichick would have made him a star.

He should be out there right now teaming with Rob Gronkowski and helping win Super Bowls. Instead, here he is locked in prison for life at age 23. So the Patriots today, they said that they don't really have any statement today as they head to the White House, but they have certainly washed their hands clean of Aaron Hernandez.

HARLOW: Well, Ben, just important to note, because of his own actions, because he committed a murder. He is not on, you know, the field today because of what he did. Just overall, when you woke up to the news this morning, what was your initial thought?

VOLIN: I was shocked because as the Warden -- I mean, just last week, just Friday, he was acquitted. And even though it was a very great chance of him never seeing the light of day again, he still had a glimmer of hope now that maybe his attorney could help overturn the conviction of the Odin Lloyd murder. And you know, there was just like that little glimmer of hope after winning last week's trial, so I was shocked to hear the news this morning and really saddened.

I know Aaron Hernandez did some really heinous things in killing Odin Lloyd, and he was involved in the other double murder. Whether he pulled the trigger or not, that's still left to be determined, but he was involved in this other one.

So he did some terrible things, but like I said, a guy who had his whole life in front of him, a $40 million contract, a superstar athletic career, most tragically a daughter who is still now four years old. She was seven months old when Aaron was hauled away. She's going to grow up without a father, without the means that he could have provided as a professional athlete.

His fiance who sat by him day after day in court, month after month, all the families involved, the two victims in the double murder who haven't gotten closure. There won't be a conviction in the murder of their two sons. They were dragged through this lengthy court process, and now they wake up to find that Aaron Hernandez he kills himself right afterwards. So just sadness on so many levels, and it affected so many different people.

HARLOW: Right, the murder of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Thank you very much, Ben Volin, Patrick Johnson, for joining us. Again, Hernandez's victim in that 2013 murder is Odin Lloyd. He would have been 31 years old.

Well, this morning, President Trump is taking credit for a Republican victory even though the GOP didn't win and the Democrat got more than double the votes of his nearest challenger. But what matters?

You see, Jon Ossoff's 48.1 percent falls short of a simple majority, so he is headed to a runoff against a single Republican, Karen Handel. And suddenly, Ossoff faces an even longer set of odds in a district held by the GOP since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

BERMAN: So, overnight, the current President wrote, "Dems failed in Kansas and are now failing in Georgia. Great job Karen Handel! It is now Hollywood versus Georgia on June 20th."

Let's go to CNN's Jason Carroll in the heart of Georgia Sixth. Jason, you know, 48 percent is not 50.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he came up a little bit short. But at the end of the day, John and Poppy, both sides are really claiming victory in this election. But the reality is, with most things, the truth lies somewhere in between. I mean, we look at what happened with Jon Ossoff here. Going forward, he faces a much steeper hill to climb in that runoff election on June 20th.

But at the end of the day, he was still able to get a little bit more than 48 percent of the vote in a largely Republican district. So that is something that cannot be ignored. But once again, at the end of the day, both sides claiming somewhat of a victory here.


KAREN HANDEL (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE FOR GEORGIA'S SIXTH DISTRICT: They spent upwards of close to $10 million. Just on T.V. alone, $5.5 million compared to roughly $75,000 that I spent on television. So money buys a lot when it's a very compressed race.

[09:10:04] That won't be the same in the runoff. Republicans are united. We know that this is an important race and it's going to stay in the hands of a Republican, and I'm excited about the next 60 days.

JON OSSOFF (D), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE FOR GEORGIA'S SIXTH DISTRICT: And there is no amount of dark money super PAC negative advertising that can overcome real grass roots energy like this. So bring it on.


CARROLL: Bring it on, and it is coming. Handel is well known here in the state of Georgia. She's the former Georgia Secretary of State. She was reluctant to say whether or not this special election was a referendum on President Trump.

She did say President Trump called her to congratulate her. She also said that she welcomes him to come here and help her campaign going forward. It should also be noted that tomorrow, DNC Chair Tom Perez will be heading here to the state of Georgia for a Democratic event. And so it begins -- John, Poppy.

BERMAN: Yes. We have two months, two months, of this in that one congressional district, so brace yourselves. Jason, I hope you packed a big bag. Thanks so much.

All right. We have more political news this morning. An influential U.S. senator says the President has, quote, "a number of flaws." But here's the thing. The person who said it, a Republican.

And seismic tremors in the world of broadcasting. Is the O'Reilly factor about to become the "No Bill zone"? Signs this morning that Fox is looking to replace Bill O'Reilly within days.

HARLOW: And think a first week on the job is tough? New Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch faces a major religious liberty case on Day 3.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning a political reality, 48 percent is not 50 and not winning is worse than winning. Still Georgia is a wakeup call for Republicans, even if it is also a bit of a wet blanket for Democrats. Yes, both can be true.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: They can indeed. Let's bring in our panel, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, David Drucker, our political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner," and Lynn Sweet, looking lovely, at the Washington bureau of the "Chicago Sun Times." So nice to have you all here.

David, to you first. Nuts and bolts, what went wrong for Ossoff here and he had "Who's The Boss" Alyssa Milano. Why is it this guy not get to 50?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think she has to figure out how politics works and she won't be so upset by the results out of Georgia six. Look, it is a district that is drawn for Republicans. It is a district full of Republican voters who re-elected Tom Price with 62 percent of the vote.

It is also a district that wasn't very high on Donald Trump. They only chose him by one-and-a-half points over Hillary Clinton. That's a big deal when you look at the voting patterns there over the past 30 years basically.

So I think Ossoff actually did reasonably well. He came close to winning the seat outright and capitalizing on a lot of Republican infighting and scrambling for second place in what they presumed would be a run off and they were right.

I think the thing that should give Democrats pause in addition to the things that should make them feel good, and I think in terms of candidate recruitment going forward in other races and in fundraising they should feel very good about what happened.

What should give them pause is they had more than $10 million, they had an army of supporters and they had Republicans fighting amongst themselves and they still couldn't get across the finish line.

So I think both sides can take away something good here, but I actually don't think that Ossoff had a horrible, horrible night. I know Democrats don't think so. They were worried he might get in the low 40s. They would have tried to spin that as an achievement but it wouldn't have.

BERMAN: But that one-and-a-half percent that he didn't get means everything here, Errol. It means he is not the congressman today and it means he might never be, by the way. There is a run off in two months and the full weight of the Republican Party will rain down on Georgia six, you know, with mighty pulp fiction like wrath.

And the question is, can John Ossoff handle it? Will he ever be the congressman from Georgia six and what does that tell us perhaps about the resiliency of some of these Republican districts?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it will tell us about this district in particular. But it also does speak to this larger question about whether or not highly educated, high income suburbs, which are supposed to be part of the Clinton coalition and part of what Democrats were going to do, a little bit off their normal base in the working class to see if they can expand their math a little bit.

They came close in Georgia overall last fall, you know. Trump won the state with less than 6 percent of the vote. It is an area that's got to be of interest to Democrats, but they've got some hard questions to answer about can they do this 25 times in 2018? You know, they've got a lot of different districts and they can't pour $10 million into each and every one.

BERMAN: And remember they haven't done it once yet so can they do something they haven't done yet 25 times?

HARLOW: Lynn, we saw the president tweeting, really gloating about this ending his tweet overnight saying "Glad to be of help." Referring to what he did the robocalls and the tweets in this race, but to whom was he more of a help, Republicans by tweeting at them to vote or Democrats by energizing them?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": In this case because -- because a Democrat did so well, came within striking distance of an outright win, my guess is that those tweets only energized the united Democratic base and even if Trump did bring out more Republican voters with those tweets, that activism, that turnout was divided between too many, more than a dozen candidates.

[09:20:00]So I don't think technically you could really say that the tweets alone were decisive. New ball game in this general election. I would think that the big money will be on both sides.

The issues may be a little different in what the Republican, Karen, Hanley has to now do is even if she wants to distance herself from Trump, she can't distance herself from Congress.

Right now, the Trump administration hasn't scored any legislative wins. They have claimed accomplishments mainly through the pen, through executive order. But I'm sure the Democrats will be watching to see what openings they could have in saying, see, this Congress can't do anything.

This guy could come in and maybe make a difference. But he could run a very local campaign on the ground and still take the benefit of national money, which both sides could do.

BERMAN: Look, I don't think there is any question that this race would never have been this close if not for the existence of Donald Trump in the White House. He is what made this close for better or worse. I mean, the Democrats had a chance there because Donald Trump is not popular in that district. There's a question will he go campaign there? Does it help Karen Handel?

There is a question about how Republicans in general treat President Trump because in the last 24 hours, there was some glaring comments from Joni Ernst, a conservative Republican senator from the state of Iowa, who spoke at the convention and had some, you know, not glowing things to say about the president. Listen to this.


SENATOR JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: I think that we have a president that has a number of flaws. I would say I support more of the policies. I think I support a majority of the policies versus the actual person. But I decry, I would decry any time a person is ugly towards another person, I don't think that's appropriate.


BERMAN: We have a president with a number of flaws from a Republican senator, David. What are these Republicans out there seeing like Joni Ernst? We talked about taxes, what are they seeing that emboldens them to create this distance with the White House?

DRUCKER: Congressional CYA of the highest order, but this is where I think Republicans seeing where President Obama and the Democrats ended up during his eight years other than obviously the 2012 reelection, those two midterms.

I think Republicans want to make sure that they have adequate distance from Donald Trump if they need it. I thought the Ernst comments were interesting because she comes from a state that voted heavily for Trump and really Trump support in Iowa is still reasonably solid because a lot of these approval numbers are not evenly distributed.

So Trump is popular in many places even though he is highly unpopular in other places. We saw similar comments from James Lankford of Oklahoma and other state that's not very liberal saying he would like to see the president release his tax returns.

So I think what Republicans are trying to do is make sure that they have some independence and distance from the president where they need it so if the midterm elections get dicey they're able to have a record of standing apart from him and opposing him and it's a smart thing to do.

HARLOW: Errol, a lot of those voters I've talked to in Iowa, there is a great "Washington Post" piece throughout the state of Iowa about a month ago. Those voters that supported the president were focused on results so far they haven't seen a lot of results.

They were willing to take but not like what he said if they saw results. Now they're still not liking some of those comments he's made about women, et cetera, and they are not seeing some of the results.

LOUIS: That's right. Look, the reason a lot of these states flipped, a lot of these states that Trump won were that people are not watching us every day. They're not following issues day after day after day. They saw that their lives hadn't improved and they just wanted a change.

They went in and Trump represented a change. I heard Senator Ernst saying, by the way, if you remember how she won, she came in with this rough and tumble style herself. I castrate pigs and I'll slash pork.

It certainly was, but now -- you know, even she is now saying, she realizes, I'm not going to compete on this level. Donald Trump has got that sort of rough and tumble crazy style all to himself. I'm going to do something different to try and make sure I'm strong in my home state. BERMAN: So Lynn Sweet, what direction do the Democrats take now going forward? Do you sense that there is more unity or not? Because I'm not going to play the sound, but Bernie Sanders last night was asked flat-out, as you sit here, are you a Democrat?

And Bernie Sanders, maybe the most popular person among Democrats right now, he said, no, I'm a Democrat. I'm an independent. That's hardly an endorsement of the direction of the party right now.

SWEET: No, but all you have -- the politics are beyond that for the Democrats. They just need to coalesce and come out and vote for a candidate whether or not how to candidate wants to self-describe themselves.

So Senator Sanders and DNC Chairman Tom Perez were making appearances together. I think it is kind of a difference with no distinction at this point.

[09:25:00]They are consistently talking about voting for the -- if they're talking about voting for the same candidate, that's all that really matters in the practical world of Democrat politics that right now has its own splits within the family.

The indivisible movement for example or the Bernie Sanders supporters who don't particularly identify with the DNC, which was what was the fight over the chairmanship was about, but the point was in the end to get anybody behind a Democrat or someone Democrat enough as Bernie Sanders is in the ballot box.

And I also think you will see in the case by the way of Senator Ernst, I think she is being consistent with who she has always been, which is speaking out. She has that independence.

You know, a lot of military swagger that she has where she will speak her mind. I won't chart this as any reaction to the first weeks of the Trump administration as much as who she essentially is.

When you have Democrats by the way with that authenticity that everyone could get around, even though they might be different wings of the family, that's what the Democrats are or will be looking for in the candidates they recruit.

BERMAN: So beware if you are a hog out there on a farm somewhere. Lynn Sweet, Errol Louis, David Drucker, thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

No negotiations for now with North Korea. CNN's Dana Bash, her next stop on her worldwide tour of exclusives with the vice president. That's next.