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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Bracing For Tropical Storm Ernesto; Hurricane Katrina: One Year Later; JonBenet Ramsey Suspect Cleared of Murder Charges

Aired August 28, 2006 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We are live from New Orleans tonight, the Lower Ninth Ward, "Keeping Them Honest," and following the stunning developments in the John Mark Karr case, arrested for killing JonBenet Ramsey, now cleared of murder charges because of DNA.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN MARK KARR, SUSPECT: I love JonBenet, and she died accidentally.

ANNOUNCER: What he said suggested he may have killed JonBenet. But his DNA says he didn't.

SETH TEMIN, ATTORNEY FOR JOHN MARK KARR: The warrant on Mr. Karr has been dropped by the district attorney.

ANNOUNCER: No match, no murder charges. What happens next?

Bracing for Ernesto, bearing down on Florida, due to strike on the anniversary of Katrina. We're tracking the storm.

One year after Katrina, A.C. 360 is back in the Gulf, "Keeping Them Honest" -- thousands of FEMA trailers still sitting unused in Arkansas. And you're still paying for them with your tax dollars.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360. Reporting live from New Orleans, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And thanks very much.

We're come -- we're coming to you tonight from New Orleans, from the Lower Ninth Ward, to be exact. There's some of the devastation that is still all around us, a neighborhood, this, that we have returned to often in the last year. It is hard to believe so much time has passed. Twelve months ago tonight, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history was bearing down on the Gulf Coast. People here were deciding if they should stay or they should go. Katrina was a monster that drowned this city and others along the Gulf.

Three hundred and sixty-four days later, thousands of lives still in limbo, and a lot of questions remain unanswered. We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight. We have a lot more ahead from New Orleans and from the Lower Ninth Ward, but, first, some very big news out of Boulder, Colorado. The prime suspect in the death of JonBenet Ramsey will not be charged with her murder after DNA testing proved John Karr did not do it. The DA made that stunning decision today. But being cleared of the crime does not mean he will be free any time soon.

Our coverage begins with CNN's Dan Simon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Karr's attorney made it official.

SETH TEMIN, ATTORNEY FOR JOHN MARK KARR: The warrant on Mr. Karr has been dropped by the district attorney. They're not proceeding with this case.

SIMON: Boulder district attorney Mary Lacy reached that decision after determining there was no DNA match between Karr and blood evidence at the scene where JonBenet Ramsey was murdered nearly 10 years ago.

KAREN SALAZ, SPOKESWOMAN, COLORADO STATE COURT SYSTEM: Mr. Karr is no longer going to be proceeding through our court system.

SIMON: In a five-page motion to quash the arrest warrant, the DA makes it clear why the case against Karr could never proceed, some of it extremely graphic. The documents say Karr, in e-mails and conversations with Colorado Professor Michael Tracey, claimed to have had -- quote -- "oral sex" with JonBenet.

The DA says, Karr's DNA would have been present in blood obtained from JonBenet's underwear, but tests revealed, it wasn't. Karr's lawyers says, it's ridiculous Karr was arrested in the first place.

TEMIN: We're deeply distressed by the fact that they took this man and dragged him here from Bangkok, Thailand, with no forensic evidence confirming the allegations against him and no independent factors leading to a presumption that he did anything wrong.

SIMON: But district attorney Lacy, in court documents, suggests she had no other choice but to take Karr into custody. Citing the correspondence between Karr and Tracey, Karr admitted to killing JonBenet through -- quote -- "sexual activities that included temporarily asphyxiating her."

She goes on to say that Karr, according to his own statements, accidentally killed her by becoming so sexually involved, that he lost track of time, causing her severe injury, and leading him to inflict a severe blow to the head. Since JonBenet was strangled and had head wounds, Lacy felt she had to investigate those claims.

As for why Karr had to be brought to the U.S. from Thailand, Lacy says she needed a clean swab of DNA. Investigators, she says, were able to get items touched by Karr in Thailand, but that wouldn't have been sufficient to make a match. Karr's legal troubles are not over. The Boulder County Sheriff's Department says, he will be extradited to California to face those 2001 child pornography charges.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So, what happens now? When does he go to California? What happens to him when he gets there?

SIMON: Well, Anderson, first of all, his legal woes here in Boulder are over. He's not going to be charged with making any false statements.

In terms of what happens now, he's going to have this extradition hearing tomorrow afternoon. And this might sound familiar. If he waives extradition, the Boulder authorities -- rather, the California authorities would -- would simply have to come here and pick him up, and we're told they would come here in about 10 days and grab him, and then he would face those charges there in Sonoma County -- Anderson.

COOPER: Fascinating developments.

Dan Simon, thanks.

Prosecutors say that Karr laid out a detailed description of how he became so sexually involved with JonBenet, that he accidentally killed her. His story is sickening, and, because of DNA evidence, pure fiction. We know that now.

Joining me from New York is Lawrence Kobilinsky, a forensic scientist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and, from Los Angeles, Lawrence Schiller, author of the book "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town," a book about JonBenet's murder.

Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.

Dr. Kobilinsky, do you buy this argument that the DA put forward, that a clean swab of DNA was needed, and -- and couldn't have been gotten in Thailand?

DR. LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, FORENSIC SCIENTIST, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Absolutely not.

Anderson, it's nonsense. There have been many cases where surreptitious DNA has determined for investigators whether to go further or not. You know, DNA can exclude an individual, as well as help to convict an individual. They could have obtained a drinking cup or something else. It doesn't have to be touch DNA. It could have been in a pure format. It would have served as an exemplar. They could have, if they...

COOPER: But wait a minute. Wait a minute. The DA in -- the DA said that the type of DNA that was found in the underwear of JonBenet Ramsey, the kind that it was, would require a full-on swab from Mr. Karr, not -- it wouldn't have been sufficient to just have it be touch or even saliva on a glass.

KOBILINSKY: No.

COOPER: You don't buy it?

SIMMONS: I -- I'm sorry, Anderson. I don't buy it. I -- I think she should stick to legal arguments, and not scientific arguments.

When you have a mixed stain, you can determine a -- a large donor and a -- somebody who donates less. And they can differentiate the two. They could tell which is male, which is female, the victim, obviously. And they should have had that surreptitious DNA. They would have known before any arrest if there was a match or not.

So, the science doesn't justify having that arrest. It was a premature arrest. And the rest is now history.

Mr. Schiller, what it seemed to boil down to, in many cases, were -- was these e-mails. That's really all the DA in Boulder had. Karr sent several e-mails over the years to this college professor.

I want to read from one of them, what he wrote. He said -- quote -- "I would like for you to tell them that a person" -- that's telling JonBenet's parents -- "that a person you feel strongly to be JonBenet's killer wishes to speak to them, to explain what happened that night, and to explain, also, that there was never any intention to kill her, to let them know how JonBenet died, and it was not as they think. I love her so much."

The DA also revealed that no other evidence emerged, other than Karr's repeated admissions. Were you surprised that it went this far?

LAWRENCE SCHILLER, AUTHOR, "PERFECT MURDER, PERFECT TOWN": Well, you know, in some ways, I'm not, because people are disillusioned. They -- they fantasize.

Here's a man who's so well-read. He understood this case inside out. And all he had to do is extrapolate something to get Tracey interested and to get people interested in him. And that's actually what he did. He went fishing for 400 e-mails. And, finally -- he even wanted to be in Tracey's book documentary.

Here's a man who, in the end result, was unable to prove to authorities that he committed this crime. They couldn't even place him in Boulder. And this is the crux of it. DNA is not the only way to catch a killer for JonBenet's murder. DNA may be one of the pieces of evidence that is used in a prosecution.

But you have to remember, that DNA could have came from somebody besides the perpetrator of the crime. You have no way of proving that that DNA is from the killer of JonBenet. It could have been put there after the manufacturing process. It could have been put there at some point when it was sold through Bloomingdale's department store.

DNA cannot be dated. I think the -- I think the fact that...

COOPER: So, what -- what else is there? (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: What else is there?

SCHILLER: I think the fact that they couldn't put him in Boulder, they could not tie him to that house on that day, I think that's what really set him free.

COOPER: Dr. Kobilinsky, what else is there? What -- what other evidence might there be? If the DNA cannot be conclusive, what, the partial palm print, the footprints?

KOBILINSKY: Absolutely. Absolutely.

You have a partial palm print, which is as good as a fingerprint. As long as you have a sufficient number of minutia, those very special configurations among the ridge endings, you can absolutely identify the person who made that print.

And, you know, obviously they could include Mr. Karr or exclude him. But they didn't even do that, apparently. They didn't do anything about the slipknot on the garrote. They did do nothing -- as far as I know, they did nothing about the shoe print which was found in the -- in the basement next to the body.

Apparently, the DA was hinging her entire case on the results of DNA testing, another reason why they should have done this prior to the arrest.

COOPER: We're going to talk about why they moved so fast.

Lawrence Schiller, Dr. Kobilinsky, appreciate your perspectives and your expertise. Thank you.

The decision to drop murder charges against John Karr ends a bizarre chain of events. Some also see it as another embarrassing misstep for Boulder officials in this decade-long search to find JonBenet's killer, a search that, now, it's really back to square one.

CNN's Rick Sanchez has a look at the one-time list of all the potential suspects.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Mark Karr was the prime suspect in the death of JonBenet. But he wasn't the only suspect.

Over the past 10 years, there have been others who, at one point or another, generated some degree of suspicion, including this couple, McReynolds and his wife, Janet. They played Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus at the Ramsey home just two days before the murder.

He says he gave JonBenet a card that read, "You will receive a special gift after Christmas." That got the attention of prosecutors. TRIP DEMUTH, FORMER BOULDER, COLORADO, DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Statements like that led -- led me to have some suspicion about him, I mean, what was going on between Santa Bill and JonBenet. You know, again, here's an individual who's involved with her, has an interest in her, was seen with her shortly before the murder.

SANCHEZ: But, after submitting DNA evidence, they were cleared of the crime.

Then, there was Michael Helgoth, who died shortly after the murder. It was believed to be a suicide. Next to his body, though, was a stun gun, the kind of weapon that investigators believe was used on JonBenet. He also had a hat with the initials SBTC.

DEMUTH: I remember that -- that he had footwear that was consistent with the footprint evidence. He had a stun gun. He had reportedly made statements to a friend, very similar to the types of statements that we're hearing about today in the press with the arrest of John Karr.

SANCHEZ: Like Karr and McReynolds, his DNA was not a match. Those cases fall into a category of the intruder theory, that the killer, who may or may not have known JonBenet, entered the Ramsey home from a window, murdered her, wrote the ransom note, and then left.

PATSY RAMSEY, MOTHER OF JONBENET RAMSEY: There's someone out there.

SANCHEZ: But, from the beginning, officials weren't so sure about that, focusing on John and Patsy Ramsey as possible suspects. They, though, were also eventually cleared.

So, now the investigation is back at square one. What was, just a short time ago, a hot case suddenly has turned cold again.

Rick Sanchez, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, forensic science continues to be the deciding factor in whether someone has committed a crime or not. Here's the "Raw Data."

Since its inception in 1992, the Innocence Project has helped exonerate more than 170 convicted felons through DNA testing. Out of that number, 14 of those exonerated were on death row.

A good number of those exonerated by DNA evidence were in jail, in part because of their own confession -- coming up, a look at why some people, like, apparently, John Karr, would confess to a crime they didn't commit.

Plus, this past May, Ray -- Ray Nagin here in New Orleans introduced a so-called 100-day plan to get New Orleans back on its feet. Well, it's nearly 100 days later. How's the plan working? Where is the plan? We will take a close look.

And we will investigate why businesses in New Orleans can reopen, when many hospitals cannot, and what happened to all those trailers. Remember the ones that you're paying for? "Keeping Them Honest" -- next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

PAM PAUGH, SISTER OF PATSY RAMSEY: Well, our hope is that we are going to solve it, Larry. Of course, our stance is that we are not going to stop ever looking for the killer of my niece. And that, I know for certain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was JonBenet Ramsey's aunt, talking about the big development today in the case. John Karr has been cleared of any charges in the murder, after his DNA did not match the DNA found at the crime scene.

Joining us now from Denver are criminal defense attorney Craig Silverman, and, in New York, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and Court TV's Catherine Crier.

Appreciate all of you being with us.

Catherine, let's start with you.

What comes next? Does the investigation at all focus back on any member of the Ramsey family?

CATHERINE CRIER, COURT TV: Well, as the DA, Mary Lacy, said during her press conference, she said, everyone is presumed innocent. John Ramsey is presumed innocent, just as John Mark Karr. So, she was not removing anyone from that umbrella of suspicion.

COOPER: But, back in 2003, the -- the retesting of the DNA did clear, apparently, members of the Ramsey family.

CRIER: Well, certainly no family member was -- was put into that -- into that remain remaining evidence bag, but they also had that federal judge, who, in reviewing it during a lawsuit, she came to the conclusion that an intruder was involved in this particular case.

And, certainly, the Ramsey family points at that when anyone wants to -- to deflect attention back to the Ramseys. I just think the situation is back to square one. They have to keep an open mind as to everyone possible, but certainly, more and more, as time goes by, people are looking at the intruder theory.

COOPER: Jeffrey, how do you think the DA's office handled the case? I mean, should they have waited for more evidence?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I -- I have spent the evening reading this 98-page, single-spaced document, which is the affidavit that got them the arrest warrant.

And it has these detailed e-mails that -- that John Karr wrote to Michael Tracey, the professor, and long summaries of these hour-long telephone calls. You know, and it's very disturbing stuff. There -- he talks about, you know, how he killed her. It's very specific, the things he said he did.

So, you can certainly see why they investigated him. It was certainly legitimate to do that. But there's nothing here that couldn't have been gotten out of the press. And there is no forensic evidence. So, I don't see -- I think they did go too far, dragging him all the way back here, based on what was -- I mean, a lot of this is very clearly fantasy.

If -- they should have just left it to the Thai authorities to keep him away from kids there. But I -- I didn't think there was evidence here to arrest him.

COOPER: Craig, do you think the DA's office should have used more discretion?

CRAIG SILVERMAN, FORMER DENVER, COLORADO, CHIEF DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Yes, I do. I agree with Jeff.

They could have done a lot of things, short of the way they handled it, handle it more discreetly, not caused this international hubbub. I have read the information as well. On page 77, they tell the Royal Thai police, you collect his DNA.

Why it wasn't done there, and then analyzed before that caviar and shrimp and champagne return to California, and then Colorado, I don't understand it. They also could have had him deported as an undesirable, and, then, when he hit the closest mainland state, California, taken to Sonoma County, where he skipped out on that bond, and then, quietly and discretely, further investigated the guy.

COOPER: Catherine Crier, he's now up for five counts of possession of child pornography in California, will likely be -- if he doesn't waive extradition, he will be there in -- within a week or two. What's the maximum he could get for that?

CRIER: Well, he wouldn't succeed with extradition if he challenged it. He's going back.

But you're talking about a misdemeanor. You're talking about a year in jail being the maximum in jail time with something like that. The most they could hope for is to try and -- and attach some sort of psychological counseling. But I was talking to a forensic psychiatrist earlier this evening.

And she said, well, he's got to cooperate with that. So, the most they're going to keep him behind bars, one would expect, is -- is about a year, max, and then the guy's back on the street.

COOPER: Jeffrey, you know, the -- the Boulder DA, Mary Lacy, did say that Karr was arrested, in part, because he might have been a flight risk, and also that he was having some sort of interaction Thai student that he had talked about in this e-mail. Is that a legitimate reason for arresting him so quickly?

TOOBIN: I -- I don't think it's a legitimate reason for having the Boulder police arrest him in Bangkok.

I mean, if he's molesting Thai students, the Thai police should arrest him. I mean, that -- that, to me, is just sort of a preposterous argument on her part. Why do you send a cop from, you know, 10,000 miles away, if you're worried about the safety of Thai children?

You should have the Thai police investigate him, share the information with the Thai police. But, certainly, there's just -- I don't think that's a legitimate reason for -- for -- for the Boulder district attorney arresting someone in Bangkok, Thailand.

COOPER: Craig, is it possible that too much attention is being put on this -- this DNA, this small amount of DNA that was found in -- in JonBenet's underwear? I mean, there are other -- you know, there are -- other potential evidence, the partial palm print, the footprints, the -- the open window. Is it possible people are being misled by this DNA?

SILVERMAN: It's possible, but Mary Lacy has endorsed that intruder theory, which gave her a dog in this fight.

I will tell you, people around here still look with suspicion at the Ramseys. And, if Mary Lacy was trying to help the Ramseys with this arrest, it could have a boomerang effect, with people once again looking at the Ramseys. I don't know if that's fair or not, but that's reality.

COOPER: Craig Silverman, Catherine Crier, Jeffrey Toobin, appreciate it. It has been a -- a bizarre day, to say the least.

John Karr is, of course, innocent now, even though he led us to believe he was guilty in his public statements. His case is not unique, believe it or not. So, why would this man and many like him confess to crimes that they didn't commit? We will investigate that ahead.

Plus, as we remember Hurricane Katrina's strike one year ago, another storm right now is threatening the U.S. We will get the latest on Ernesto, when 360 continues, and the latest from here in New Orleans.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happened?

JOHN MARK KARR, FORMER JONBENET RAMSEY MURDER SUSPECT: Her death was -- was an accident.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you were in the basement?

KARR: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you an innocent man? Are you an innocent man?

KARR: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Nearly two weeks ago, in Thailand, John Karr gave that apparent confession. Yet, today, we know the truth. Karr did not kill JonBenet Ramsey.

As you have heard, DNA and circumstantial evidence proved Karr innocent. It is a surprise, considering what Karr himself said. But, in fact, it is not all that unusual for someone to falsely claim to be committing a crime.

Whenever the truth does come out, though, we're often puzzled, asking ourselves, why would those who are innocent say they're actually guilty?

Tonight, CNN's Joe Johns investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The BTK killer, Dennis Rader, pleaded guilty to murdering 10 people.

DENNIS RADER, CONFESSED MURDERER: And then I killed them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Landed right there, right next to the tree.

SANCHEZ: Robert Chambers was convicted of killing a woman he picked up at a bar, confessions of men whose words made them famous for murder, confessions that created a media frenzy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barbara (ph), what's it like to be out?

JOHNS: And there were others. Gary Ridgway confessed to killing 48 women in the 1980s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then I got behind her, and I killed her.

JOHNS: But the fact is that not every confession carries the truth. Some who point the finger at themselves just want to be famous.

In the 1930s, when aviator Charles Lindbergh's baby was kidnapped, hundreds of impostors showed up at police departments, trying to take the credit. SAUL KASSIN, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, WILLIAMS COLLEGE: There are voluntary false confessions, where people often do have a pathological need for attention or recognition or fame. These are people who walk into a police station and volunteer a confession.

JOHNS: Take Texas drifter Henry Lee Lucas. First, he claimed he murdered 350 people. But he turned out to be more talk than proof, ultimately, found guilty of killing 10 people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It didn't matter. I mean, I didn't have no feelings about killing.

JOHNS: To be clear, though, some false confessions don't always come from those seeking fame. A suspect can also be led to believe the confession is an easy way out.

KASSIN: It is OK for an interrogator to say to a suspect that they have evidence, when, in fact, that's not true. And, once you have got that suspect feeling trapped, then, the interrogator is likely to shift gears to make confession sound as if it is not going to have such devastating consequences.

JOHNS: In 1989, when media interest had peaked in the Central Park jogger case, suspect Kharey Wise made a now infamous confession after he had been interrogated for 14 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my first rape.

JOHNS: He spent years in jail, until the real rapist made a confession that was corroborated with DNA evidence. DNA, of course, is pretty much the best evidence any prosecutor can get, one way or the other. It has cleared defendants in about a quarter of the cases that started with a false confession, and actually led to a conviction.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, clearly, we will be learn -- learning more about why Mr. Karr said what he did in the weeks and months ahead.

Here in New Orleans, the memory of Katrina looms large, but we're also keeping an eye tonight on another storm. In South Florida, they are bracing for Tropical Storm Ernesto, expected to make landfall some time tomorrow. Coming up, we will have the latest from CNN's Weather Center in Atlanta.

And, one year later, remembering the storm we must never forget -- the losses, the terror, the failures, the heroes, dispatches from Katrina -- when 360 continues, live from New Orleans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, pictures of tropical storm Ernesto hitting Haiti. We want to welcome our international viewers to the program as we're keeping a close eye on this other storm tonight. Tropical storm Ernesto churning over Cuba headed for south Florida where it could make landfall tomorrow on the anniversary of hurricane Katrina. Right now Ernesto is the mere shadow of Katrina, still a cause for concern. CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras has the latest. Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well Anderson, Ernesto's been scraping across the northern mountains along Cuba throughout much of the day today, still getting rain in Haiti, by the way, as well as into the southeastern Bahamas getting close toward the Turks and Caicos. It's really tough to pick out the center of circulation at this time based on satellite imagery as this thing looks very disorganized compared to where it was even earlier this morning. It has been moving west-northwesterly, maximum sustained winds around 40 miles per hour. So that's barely at tropical storm strength. But we do think it will intensify again once it gets off the coast and moves into the open waters later on tonight. Will it reach hurricane strength? At this time we don't think so but there is a small window of opportunity that perhaps it could get up to a category 1. And that's why the hurricane watches have been posted in addition to the tropical storm warnings across much of south Florida's coast. There you can see the cone of uncertainty, still a decent margin of error this far out. We'll be watching the Keys as well as all the way up to Miami Dade County. We do expect that Ernesto then is going to be making its way up the Florida peninsula and then it's going to be interacting with a trough of low pressure in the upper atmosphere. That's coming in from the Mississippi valley, starting to turn on off to the right, and if that happens it's going to move back over the Atlantic and could intensify again and become a hurricane, perhaps making a second landfall into the Carolinas. Anderson?

COOPER: And I know we're anticipating an update from the National Hurricane Center. We will bring that to you and check back in with Jacqui in about half an hour. Katrina was a category 3 hurricane when it came ashore a year ago with winds of 127 miles an hour. In the wake of Katrina of course came the devastating flooding and then another flood of promises, pledges, and vows to rebuild New Orleans and make it whole again. One of those promises came from Mayor Ray Nagin shortly after his re-election in May. He called it his 100-day plan. And CNN's Randi Kaye has been following its progress tonight with just a week to go, a status report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get a single and put it up there. It's just going to be one light switch there.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We first met Michael Reed 26 days into the mayor's 100-day plan. He was rebuilding his mother's home. He's still at it, without government help.

MICHAEL REED: So you know that I own that property and you sent me a tax bill but you can't send me no help to get that property back up and running.

KAYE: Mayor Ray Nagin had promised his plan would speed up rebuilding, reduce crime, clean up debris, and get the justice system rolling again. Why, then, just a week shy of 100 days do so many residents still feel forgotten?

REED: We're the victims of what the government is not doing. They're sitting on their hands in their offices and they're still sucking up their air-conditioning. They're still doing what they did before the storm. And we're the ones that don't have our homes.

KAYE: Rob Kuwig, who heads the 100-day committee, says there's no magic wand.

You told me 26 days into the 100-day plan that it was unfair of me to be critical of the progress. So now we're approaching 100 days. Is it still unfair of me to be critical or anybody else?

ROB KUWIG, 100-DAY COMMITTEE: No, I think that people can be critical and then they can be realistic. And all I'm saying is you've got to decide which side of the coin you want to dwell on. I think it's more important that we begin to look at the things that are actually happening here.

KAYE: Like the crime rate which Kuwig says has been cut in half. Courts are holding trials again and potholes are being paved. Even some public pools have opened. But should pools be a priority when people have been living in FEMA trailers for a year?

KUWIG: No. But it wasn't as though we stopped trying to build homes so that we could open up pools.

KAYE: And what about the city's $5 million trash pickup program?

KUWIG: Is it pretty yet? No. Is it getting a lot better? Absolutely.

KAYE (on camera): There are some signs of progress, like demolition, contractors are tearing down homes every day. The guy in that trackhoe says he's gotten so good at it he can take this house down in just 12 minutes.

(voice-over): But then what? Will homes like this one be rebuilt? City Councilman Oliver Thomas.

OLIVER THOMAS, CITY COUNCILMAN: I would like to see the city take all of its capital funds, whatever we have, and just spend it. Get together with non-profits, housing agencies, and let them have it. Let them start rebuilding yesterday.

KAYE: For Michael Reed, even yesterday is too late.

REED: 365 days. That's over three 100-day plans. And the city of New Orleans haven't even given us a plan yet. I guess you'll come back in 365 more days and we'll still be waiting on the plan to rebuild.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: There's a lot of federal dollars, hundreds -- tens of billions of dollars, waiting for a plan from local officials. So what's going on with that money?

KAYE: Well, I asked them that back on day 26 when we first checked into the 100-day plan. They didn't have a concrete plan in place for what to do if and when that federal money comes here. And again, they don't know how much of it they're going to get. But now they do have a plan, they say, Rob Kuwig the committee head says that that money will go toward repairing the sewage and the water systems which were destroyed during Katrina and as you know they're still not working. But he does hope that folks can keep an eye on some of the smaller improvements like the street lights are back up and running, stop signs are still down, the street lights are working but --

COOPER: But there's no top down plan for this area what gets rebuilt and what doesn't?

KAYE: No. And they have no plan yet in place for which neighborhoods will be rebuilt and when.

COOPER: Randi thanks. Another promise made with great fanfare after Katrina involved trailers and mobile homes. Tens of thousands of mobile homes paid for with your tax dollars. And something like $800 million that you paid for. The question is why are they still sitting unused in Arkansas? That's right, thousands of mobile homes still sitting there. Coming up, we're keeping them honest on a story we've been following since day one.

Plus, the worst U.S. aviation accident in five years. How did a commuter jet end up on the wrong runway, a runway too short for a jet its size? The latest on the Comair crash investigation when "360" continues live from New Orleans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: One of the images of the storm has been one of trailers. Some people got them, a roof over their heads, others, thousands are still waiting a year later. Nearly 10,000 mobile homes have sat in a field in Hope, Arkansas. 10,000 mobile homes ready for use but never going out, becoming a symbol of the government's blunders after Katrina. It is a story that you first heard right here on "360," one we've been following closely over this past year. Part of our ongoing commitment to not forget the victims of hurricane Katrina. Tonight CNN's Susan Roesgen has an update.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Right after Katrina Hope, Arkansas was filled with hope. All these mobile homes, more than 10,000, ready to be shipped to homeless families on the gulf coast. A year later fewer than 1,000 have left the lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the average American, once they understand a few more details and a few more facts, understands that we can use these in the future to help families that have been affected by disasters.

ROESGEN (on camera): From what I'm hearing, many average Americans think this was a colossal waste of their money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people may feel that way. And again, we will acknowledge that we have today more units than we need just for hurricane Katrina. And that's why we have this plan to use them smartly and efficiently over the next few years.

ROESGEN (voice-over): FEMA's plan is to move about half the mobile homes to several other cities thousands of miles away, ready to be used in other disasters. But most of them will never get to the gulf coast. That's partly because FEMA rules don't allow mobile homes in a flood zone and partly because a lot of hurricane victims want smaller travel trailers that can fit in their driveways instead. FEMA says it has helped more than 800,000 families find housing after Katrina and Rita. But still, these fully furnished two and three- bedroom mobile homes never used, sitting in Arkansas, are an astonishing sight with an eye-popping price tag.

(on camera): So let's add up the numbers. $300 million to buy these mobile homes, $4 million to put gravel on the ground to keep them from sinking, and $25,000 a month to lease the land they sit on. Grand total one year after hurricane Katrina, $304,300,000.00.

(voice-over): For the town of Hope the mobile homes have been an embarrassment and an economic boon. The $25,000 a month lease is being spent to fix up the Hope Airport. And Mayor Dennis Ramsey says if the mobile homes have to be somewhere he doesn't mind having them in Hope.

MAYOR DENNIS RAMSEY, HOPE: People coming through town want to drive out to the airport just to see if it's really true.

ROESGEN: A tourist attraction.

RAMSEY: Well, you said that.

ROESGEN: Who knew? It would be funny, except that a year after Katrina thousands of people are still waiting for FEMA's help to put a roof over their heads.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Has anyone from FEMA just said, look, this was a mistake initially to get all these trailers? I mean $300 million worth of trailers and we're spending $25,000 a month just to store them.

ROESGEN: You mean the M word, mistake?

COOPER: Yeah.

ROESGEN: No, no. What they have said is it's a miscalculation perhaps, but what they believe now is that they have these mobile homes up in Hope, Arkansas and they can send some to people who lose their homes to wildfires out west or they can send some to people who lose their homes in tornados back east.

COOPER: So they're basically spinning this now saying it's a good thing that we have all these mobile homes in reserve?

ROESGEN: Exactly. It's a storage site now, even though most of them won't come to the gulf coast.

COOPER: One way to look at it I guess. Susan Roesgen thanks very much. New Orleans hospitals of course took a big hit from Katrina. Coming up a look at how they are doing now. First Rick Sanchez joins us from Atlanta with a "360" bulletin and some of the other top stories. Rick?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Anderson. Investigators in Lexington, Kentucky trying to figure out why the pilot of a Comair flight took off on the wrong runway Sunday. The crash killed 49 people. Investigators are looking at signs, markings, and runway lights that may have confused the pilot somehow. Also, they're checking to see if the crew had enough rest. Only one person, the co- pilot, survived the crash. He's in critical condition, in fact too critical to be able to talk to investigators about what happened.

North of Los Angeles there's a growing wildfire. The blaze has burned at least 150 acres and several vacant commercial buildings as well. The fire's only 20 percent contained right now. Triple-digit heat and low humidity are making it extremely tough for the firefighters trying to do their jobs.

In Detroit school may be out before it starts. With classes set to start in eight days the city's teachers are on strike. More than 9,000 of them rejected a two-year contract proposal, a proposal that included a cut in pay of about 5 1/2 percent. Also, higher co-pays for health insurance.

And in Louisiana monster melons. A father and son team set new state watermelon records. The biggest melon grown on their farm weighed a whopping 252 pounds. The other two watermelons were both over 200 pounds, by the way. The duo's ultimate goal is to set a new world record. For that they would need to grow another melon that would weigh 268 pounds. No matter how you look at it, those are some big melons. Anderson, back over to you.

COOPER: All right, Rick thanks. Right now tropical storm Ernesto is threatening the U.S., we're going to get the latest update in just a moment. Plus the medical emergency in New Orleans. Why is the city in so much hurt, having so much trouble getting its hospitals reopened? We'll investigate when "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I feel a quiet sense of determination that's going to shape the future of Mississippi. And so I've come back on this anniversary to thank you for your courage and to let you know the federal government stands with you still. (END OF VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Those words from President Bush as he visited Biloxi, Mississippi today. He says the federal government still stands with the people of Mississippi and the rest of the gulf coast. A lot of folks here don't believe the federal or the local governments have been with them at all, especially when it comes to health care. With many hospitals still closed doctors urgently need help to bring medical services to the area, but a year after Katrina all levels of government seem to be dragging their feet. "360" MD Sanjay Gupta investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just a year ago patients died on this parking deck, waiting to be rescued. As a doctor I'd never seen anything like it.

(on camera): What's going to happen to some of these patients if you don't get them out of here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two of them have already died here on this ramp waiting to get out. In this very spot.

GUPTA: So now a year later you look back on the year. Are you pleased with how things have gone?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think anybody's pleased with where we are right now.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Fred Sarise(ph) is the state secretary of health. He's supposed to be leading the effort to resuscitate health care. But nearly a year after Katrina there still is no plan. He started working on one just last month, when he was tapped by the governor and the federal government.

(on camera): This is a complicated problem. Are you responsible?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's not going to be one person that you can point to and say you're responsible for the health care system.

GUPTA (voice-over): But if the state's top health official isn't responsible, who is? Sarise(ph) doesn't have an answer for us. Meantime, people are at risk, again.

(on camera): There were six shootings in New Orleans last night. There was only two operating rooms available. What's going to happen if this continues to happen as the city repopulates and, don't forget, we're back in hurricane season?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The city is stressed right now. There's not -- there is no surge capacity, if you will.

GUPTA (voice-over): Half the area's hospitals remain closed. Patient-filled ambulances wait hours to unload. The mentally ill have nowhere to go. Suicide rates have tripled. Every emergency room is at full capacity 24 hours a day, every day.

(on camera): This is the famed trauma center of Charity Hospital. They'd actually wheel patients right into this area and try and take care of some of the sickest and dying patients here in the city. What we have found now, though, is it's the hospital itself that is sick and dying. And that has become a metaphor in so many ways for the overall state of health care here in New Orleans.

(voice-over): The building is now deemed unsalvageable. So Charity opened an emergency clinic in, no joke, an abandoned department store, without any beds, incapable of admitting patients, strictly triage. And it opened a center for trauma only in this fertility clinic, 20 minutes from downtown. Some New Orleans doctors say rebuilding health care has not been a priority at any level of government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is crazy. I mean, it's been a year. Hotels are opening up. Businesses are opening up. We're talking about hospitals here.

GUPTA: Three quarters of its physicians have left New Orleans, but not Dr. Jim Aiken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still feel like we're kind of a stepchild in first response.

GUPTA: Sarise's(ph) committee is expected to propose a health care fix in October. Nearly 14 months after Katrina.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a complex multitude of problems. You know, can you do more? Absolutely.

GUPTA: University Hospital will be opening this fall. But it will be a long time before it's safe to get sick in New Orleans. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, New Orleans.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, there have been signs of progress in New Orleans. There's no doubt about it. But when you come to the lower ninth ward you get a sense of just how far things still need to go. This is just one of the signs of the devastation that's still around. This is a house that's actually been turned on its side. Its number 2201, that's the old doorway of the house. This is what used to be a window. But it's completely on its side now, and it's been moved and slammed into this house, which is 2207. So what happened to 2205 and 2203, I have no idea. But these two houses are now slammed together. That's the roof of 2201 over there. There's two cars which are here, one on top of the other, and you can see, you know, the cars are still -- the possessions are still all in there. And then this is the inside of number 2207. I mean, the people's possessions are still just all around. Here's a couch that's completely molded over. The smell is just overwhelming here. And there's still pictures all the way over there, family photos on the wall. And you see this. I mean, a lot of houses have already been torn down in the lower ninth ward but you see this kind of devastation just block after block, and what's so frustrating for people here is there's no clear plan for what gets rebuilt and no central place for people to find out where they can rebuild or where the money's going to come from, just one of the things that needs to still have a lot more work done here in the lower ninth ward. We have an update now from the National Hurricane Center on the tropical storm Ernesto. Let's check in with Jacqui Jeras. Jacqui, where is it looking?

(WEATHER REPORT)

COOPER: We'll continue to keep an eye on Ernesto while looking back at the storm that changed so many lives and raised so many questions about how we take care of the most vulnerable in America. Coming up, a special edition of "360." This next hour, one year later, dispatches from Katrina, when "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Good evening again. It has been one year, one year since a storm named Katrina nearly wiped a piece of America off the map. More than 1800 people are dead, hundreds of thousands more scattered across the country tonight, far from the places they once called home. Tonight we take you back to that terrible storm, to those terror filled days. Tonight we remember the losses, the sacrifices, the failures, the heroes. Tonight we remember, all of us must never forget.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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